Playing Dead part 5
He slips in quietly, shoulders slouched forward, head heavy with fatigue but he still manages a smile for me.
"Good morning, Jacobs." His green eyes glance beyond the metal gate into the home department, fingers rustling though his hair as he lets out a yawn. Of all the vampires I've known, he seems the most human. It's his strength, I think… able to hide away his demon from the world. He must have had a demon inside him before he was turned, to be so adept at masking it.
"Good morning sir." I nod respectfully. "How did rounds go?"
"Without incident. I should enjoy this while I can. Things will change soon enough."
"You think they're coming, Sir?"
"I guarantee it." He gives me a discomfited smile but still has an air of confidence about him. Another of his gifts I wish I had. "Anything from our guest?"
"Still sleeping, Sir." I can't help my curiosity. "Forgive my prying, Sir, but how did the feeding go?"
"As well as can be expected. He's confused, still quite weak, but he's beginning to understand." There is concern in his stare.
"He's fortunate to have your guidance, Sir. I remember when I woke… alone, scared, hungry."
"You were quite the mess. I remember when I found you." He smirks a little in recollection. "You've done well for yourself. But I fear it's different for him."
"How so, Sir?"
His gaze quickly shifts from the darkness to me in warning not to press my luck. "It just is, Jacobs. Let me know if he needs anything."
"He'll be alright, Sir." I know it's not much coming from a lackey but I feel the need to reassure him somehow.
"Thank you, Jacobs."
I watch him take one last glance and move on with his face bowed forward in contemplation. He thinks too much. It can't be good for him.
We enter from the south end of the city, taking advantage of dried aqueducts, and slowly make our way north. The plan is as it always has been, to be discrete, keeping our presence hidden for as long as we can. But I know he's expecting us. I would. Still, I try to keep my mind from worrying about that. I focus on the trail ahead; stagnant waters smelling of waste and death. The whole city probably smells of death now. After all, it is a city of the dead. We living are the outsiders here. The path isn't too hard. What Buffy can't heft out of our way, I zap clear. Xander takes on the more difficult role of navigator, helping us avoid the most likely candidate tunnels for ambushes and heavily vamp infested hot spots. After all, our purpose here is not to engage all vampires but to seek and destroy one particular vampire. And that is the bitterest pill to swallow.
Things are quiet enough as we make our way through the winding cement tunnels and collapsing sewers lines. It reminds me of the concrete veins of Sunnydale. Hard to believe I'd ever miss that place, but I do sometimes. Actually, I miss what it represented to us. It wasn't a Hellmouth. It was a home, our home. But they got it, didn't they? The demons, the evil-doers and darkness took it whole. That's why they sent us here, to keep Los Angeles from becoming another Sunnydale. I think it's too late, though you'd never guess it from the beginning leg of our journey.
The outlying borders of the city are vacant of any vampires. Most the expedition getting inside is uneventful. Sure enough, as we surface to make our way into South Central we find evidence of a hive waiting for us in an abandoned bus station.
"I'm going in to take a peek. You guys stay down here." Buffy, our competent commander, wants to assess the situation as she climbs the wreckage of a ladder leading to the surface. I can't help but doubt every possible action she chooses. After all, who did she learn from? Who did we all learn from?
"No way I'm letting you go it alone up there," Xander objects, his manly pistol at the ready to empty into the first unfortunate beast to show it's face. Always the cowboy.
"We can try another way in, Buffy. There are probably tons of routes we can take," I suggest.
"Actually, the schematics show the tunnel is filled beyond here. It's up or back or nothing," Xander corrects me. I have a bad feeling about this.
"I rally for us sticking together," I insist. "We're stronger together. Always were."
"Just a quick peek, guys. Stay here. I'll be back in 2?"
"Two what?" Xander whispers furiously. "Two minutes, two months, two years?" She's already up the ladder and carefully lifting the metal grate.
"Some thing's never change, huh?" I whisper and shrug.
"Some thing's change too much." He's right, we've all changed. "I remember a day when orders used to be requests."
"And when you didn't carry guns." I'm not trying to mask my disappointment.
"Hey, you have your hocus pocus a-packin'. I go for the Freudian equalizer, okay?"
"Whatever works, I guess."
"I say we go up."
"I was wondering how long it would take you to say that." I smile and watch Xander climb. He hurries through and I quickly follow but by the time we make it to the surface, it's too late.
"There were five. All dusted," Buffy says, slightly winded as she harnesses her stake within her belt loop. "No biggie."
"Are you okay?" Xander asks, mostly concerned but I can hear frustration there. If we don't work together, this won't work.
"Yeah. But really, they were so not ready for me. Kinda scared and panicky actually. I had to finish them off or they could report back to…" She pauses, brow crinkled with the thought crashing her back to reality. "They might have talked."
"No need to explain, Buff. Just don't like being sidelined, is all." He's trying to be diplomatic but I've lost my patience for it.
"It was stupid." I state my mind and Buffy shoots me a glare. "We need to be together on this or we'll be…"
"Dead?" Buffy finishes sharply. "Look, I don't want you here."
"Again with the love." I sigh.
"But I don't have a choice. I know that. So I'm going to try my darndest to keep you both alive and safe."
"How ‘bout we make us a deal, here. We'll keep us safe, Buffy. You keep you safe and we'll all keep the world safe. It's the way we've been doing it for years." It almost sounds like a joke. One none of us can argue with.
"Fine, let's go do this thing. But I'm not making any promises." She responds and I can actually see a bit of the old humor there. Just a hint, but its there. I miss it.
We make our way through the building. I keep in continuous contact using telepathy to keep Xander and Buffy alerted to movements I hear or shift's of essences. We come across a few vampires, ones obviously not in the loop because they are clueless as to who we are and what we're doing there. But before I have a chance to act, Buffy dusts the entire gang and continues on without so much as a single word. Old habits die hard I guess. We'll die harder if we can't get past this.
We stop at a large, shattered window. It's our first look at the city and we're awed to silence. There is nothing left but a shell, a hollowed out skeleton. The landscape is a desolate, crumpled wreckage of twisted metal protruding out from cement pilings reaching toward the dusky heavens like desperate hands praying. If only the sun never went down, we could contain them.
He is sleeping soundly when I approach, naked and splayed out on the bed, claiming every inch he can on the queen size bed of his choosing. I stand at the foot, gazing down at him as if he were a painting on display, one in my very own private collection. He looks far better than when I'd found him, his body thickening up well with every passing day like a nursing offspring building its strength. I should wake him but I choose instead to take the quiet moment to appreciate my guest of honor. And with the assessment, I realize that for all the years I've known him, there is something I simply can't deny. Ethan Rayne is a beautiful man.
Not as a rose is beautiful, but perhaps more in the realm of the artistic. A figure crafted out of fleshy clay to be tall yet not lanky, perfectly suited for his frame. A torso built for speed, compressed and high positioned, taut muscled and ready for fight or flight; flight being his usual preference. I remember his talent on the track, carried swiftly by those lengthy, tight legs of his. Legs fashioned for perpetual motion, never staying in one place long enough to be caught. But he let me get the best of him on more than one occasion. I often wondered if he wanted me to catch him.
My curious eyes wander lower, admiring his stomach, concaved slightly with his stretching out in all directions. The toning of his muscles is evident though not abundantly so. He has meat to him, a pleasing weight that amplifies his shapely physique. There is an understated strength that commands respect, or at the very least, dark curiosity. Though I would never pay him that compliment for fear of a retort from that arrogant tongue.
Then I find my eyes venturing further down, beyond his dimpled abdomen, to admire his promising flesh lying at rest on the nest of black curls. I should be embarrassed, inhibited even, but I'm not, not now. It's different now. We're different now. Everything is. The vision generates a tug down low, echoing in me from the very place I was drawn to on the sleeping sculpture of a man. This was something I'd forgotten. Something I'd never admit to myself and especially never to Ethan. But as I consider it now, my reservation seems such an unnecessary obligation. We had been friends once, good friends, bonded in magicks and life's experiences. I can't help but wonder what we might have been if my upbringing hadn't shunned such possibilities and my calling hadn't separated us so many years ago.
"You can join me if you like. But a warning, I'm apt to steal the sheets." His plump lips curl to a smile as his eyes lazily open to greet me.
"Night's come, Ethan. It's time to get up. You need to eat." I casually draw my attention away from his rising flesh but find it frustratingly mesmerizing. My body takes to mimicking his, slowly betraying my indifference with uninvited arousal. He can smell it. I know he can, just as I do his.
"Later. Come have a lie down, Rupert. I haven't seen you rest since this adventure began. You look dead on your feet." He chuckles at his morbid wit, leading me to chuckle and the moment quickly passes into silence. He pats the mattress, making room for me as he slips beneath the sheets. I deny his request with a grateful smile.
"I haven't the time, Ethan."
I do what I've always done, the cowardly excusing of myself to other obligations. Better than the worse, cutting down his expectation with a crude remark aimed at making myself feel better and him less than a man. He stares through my excuses and offers an easy smile, not willing to show his disappointed. He's as used to being disappointed as I am to disappointing.
I have a reason for being here, to reveal the reason he is here. "I have to tell you something while I have the chance. You deserve to know why I keep you locked away in here."
He props himself up on his elbows and offers me a crooked smirk. "Not complaining, mate. Figured you had your reasons. Besides, going from an eight by eight to this grand expanse… quite the step up."
It was not a well disguised attack, rather an ungentle reminder of what he still held me responsible for. I had to admit, I saw things differently now, in more ways than one. Had I known then what I know now. No sense admitting what he should already know. I force a deep breath and smell no others nearby. Now I need only to trust in his discretion. Honestly, I should know better.
"And look here, Rupert, a different bed for every night. Come give it a spring."
"When I said I needed you, I meant it," I begin softly. He quiets and watches me as I carefully choose my words. "What I'm about to tell you, the others don't know and must never know."
"Alright," he responds warily, brows knit with concern.
"What looks to be paradise by all accounts is actually a self inflicted asylum. In truth, we are a dying breed, Ethan. What is left of our kind has sought exile here in the ruins of the city. This is the only haven left for our kind. All others have been sanitized from the face of the earth. The world is infested with Slayers now and the Council has all but perfected the means to bring us to the brink of extinction."
His head falls sideways as he assumes me to be exaggerating the facts. "And you would know this…?"
"Because I was an integral part of ensuring our extinction." I hold a strange sort of pride in that fact, even with my recent awakening.
"Well done, Watcher." He sits up, folding his hands in front of him and growing ever more impatient. "Enough of the gloom and doom, Rupert. Talk to me."
"I need a spell. An incredibly potent spell."
"As you know, magicks don't mix well with demons, particularly of the vampiric variety. Sorcerers and witches who've been brought over have all but lost their skills quickly after the transformation or self destructed with anything more challenging than a basic glamour. And then there's you."
"What makes you so pompously confident I'll be any different than the rest?"
"Because you're chaos, Ethan." I can't help but smile. He has no conception of his importance. "The very thing I condemned you for may very well be our only salvation. It's the balance, Ethan… the weight and measures to magicks that make accountable those who choose to brandish mystical energies. When someone is turned, the sacrifice in trade for eternity is the loss of ones mystical capabilities. Those who tempt fate by tapping into their lost powers pay dearly the most extreme penalty. But chaos… chaos magicks are beyond the rules governing other magicks. They are untamable, relentlessly adaptable, ultimately formidable, and unquestionably unruly. You, Ethan, are the exception to the rule."
"I'm tiring of your lessons, Rupert. Get to a point, if you actually have one."
"This is our city, a miniscule parcel of tainted land deemed uninhabitable. Yet they insist on reclaiming it, ripping it from us a block at a time. They have the means and the might. They strike us when we are most vulnerable. They have and will continue to do so and we're helpless to defend ourselves. If we're to keep our sanctuary, we must regain the advantage here. In order to do that, I need for you to stain the sky with everlasting night."
"You're bloody mad." He snickers in disbelief but I'm not laughing.
"Centered above us, above the city…. were the land blanketed by night we could defend ourselves like proper soldiers. It's been done before. It's what set in motion the fall of man here to begin with."
"I say again, you're insane."
I can't beg anymore than I already am and I know he sees it. What I'm asking for is beyond anything he's ever attempted and could mean oblivion for him if anything goes wrong. I fear I've lost him as he shakes his head. Then I see a spark of hope with that mischievous smile of his.
"It's worth a shot."
I could hug him had I not a thread of pride restraining me. I settle for a smile and he sees my appreciation and more, I fear. Those black eyes that see the truth through every disgusted glare, see concern under every indifferent stare, see faith behind every sneer… he sees it too. Ever the exhibitionist, he slips out from the sheets and stands there before me, naked. I shake my head, feigning frustration while chuckling at that impish grin. That soon leads him to chuckle and then we cascade into outright laugher at the thought of what absurdity we were planning. The frivolous laughs die off and we suddenly fall silent, the severity of the situation sobering us both.
"If I do this for you…" he says quietly as he takes a step towards me, "…what do I get in return?"
"I rather thought eternal life was payment enough."
"What's eternal life if spent alone?" He takes another step. "Besides, there's no such beast as eternity, Rupert. You know that as well as I. For all their claims of eternal life, it's nothing but postponement of the inevitable."
"What do you want, Ethan?"
We share a silent exchange of meaningful glances, each saying more than what words could portray. His gaze shifts to my lips and back. Involuntarily, I reflect his subtle movements, feeling that affecting tug at my groin as I glimpse his stout cock awakened. He takes a step and then another. My gaze gives way, seeking escape in his graceful motion. I watch as his body works to propel him towards me. He stands inches away, face to face, and I thank the fates for silencing my heart. If he could hear it, it would be a deafening beat.
Ethan Rayne is a beautiful man.
I swallow, trying to moisten my dry mouth and Ethan smiles at the sight of it.
"Cover yourself, Ethan. We have work to do." I say it with little sincerity but it's enough to set him to the task. He's used to disappointment, and now, so must I be.
"Someday soon, I won't be taking orders, Rupert." He wiggles into his tight, black jeans and straightens up, unbuttoned and defiant. "I'll be giving them."
"Perhaps," I say softly. I want to dare him to resist and take what he wants but something stops me. "We'll see."
We smell the intruder before we see or hear him and are both disappointed with the interruption.
"They've come, just as you said they would, Sir," Jacobs reports. "Numbers aren't clear, yet, but we count at least two teams landing on the highest roofs of the city."
"Arrogant fools. Invading after dark, they must have a death wish." I smirk, trying to display confidence when I know the reality of things. The assaults are increasingly more ingenious and well aimed. Our numbers are fading and our safe havens depleted. We are at our last stand, but they, my loyal boys, must never know.
"Who's this now, Rupert?" Ethan asks then takes a swig of a nearby blood bottle. He admires Jacobs with a shameless grin. The young boy shyly glimpses Ethan in his revealed state and shifts towards me. I find myself holding back a remark I know would only encourage Ethan further. It's a game, his game. I can play as well.
"We have ourselves some gentlemanly callers?" Ethan asks, fastening his jeans. He winks at Jacobs who patiently awaits my orders.
"Not at all. The Council has sent sheep ripe for the slaughter. Care to join us in an evening of sport?" Ethan could do with a bit of solid field time before the real threats show themselves, as I know they will.
"I'm game, Ripper." He salutes with a playful smile, coaxing a smile from me.
"Always were the gambling type, you bloody tease." I shake my head and roll my eyes. Jacobs is pleased with our interaction.
"It's good to see you happy, Sir." The young man says innocently and I practically gasp with his observation. Ethan didn't need to hear that.
"Yes, isn't it, though?" Ethan's smile widens with the smugness he wields so well.
"Good lord, don't say things like that. I'll never hear the end of it." He's right, though. I can't recall the last time I laughed. Ethan's reminded me of something I thought I'd lost. Odd how I would find it again in such a circumstance and with an unlikely source as a former adversary.
"Right you are." Ethan chuckles and winks. He turns and begins marching playfully out to rejoin my boys. "Come along, Captain. Let's paint our town red."
"I'd love to." I heartily agree and hurry after him.