Fic: Triangle part 2/?
Rating: NC-17 eventually
The first day was a success in all aspects of traditional vacation standards. Buffy managed to eat, sleep and relax, all while mercifully avoiding Rayne during daylight hours. She'd stumbled upon him only once while browsing the duty free shop onboard. A particularly adorable toy caught her eye, a white cat wearing a green, white and red vest. She imagined a heavy sigh coming from Giles', evidence of his impatience for such frivolous things. And even though she was still in the mad wishing-him-dead phase, or at the very least, hoping-he's-suffering-from-a-mild-form-o f-narcolepsy phase, she found the memory of him inspiring a smile. When she glanced up from pondering a superfluous expenditure, as he would have called it, she noticed the mage browsing the wall of liquors on display. He had the common sense, or perhaps the cowardice, enough to keep his distance and remain silent. At any rate, violence was avoided. He made his purchase and moved along, not bothering to even notice her. Strangely enough, that bothered her more than the disappointment of losing a chance at making him bleed. Buffy just couldn't win.
Buffy grumbled under her breath as she pushed through the glass door of the security office. It had been an incredible waste of time and all she wanted was breakfast... or brunch, considering the time. Just when she thought the day couldn't get any worse, she spotted the chaos sorcerer she'd been desperately trying to avoid. She quickly changed direction but it was too late, he'd spotted her.
"Why Miss Summers, fancy catching you being released from the brig? Make my morning and tell me you did something positively wicked."
"Go away." She hurried her pace to anywhere but there.
"Or did they arrange for some sort of cabin arrest with a tracking device hidden on your person somewhere? Judging by your lack of civility and that your outfit leaves little to the imagination, they must have tucked it firmly up your tight little …"
"Shut up or you'll be having your teeth for breakfast." She ducked into the first café she came upon, hoping Rayne would go on his way. But a quick glance behind her proved her hopes were unrealized.
"What did you do, then? Slay some unsuspecting seaman?" At least he managed to say it without snickering. Xander would have lost it at 'slay'.
"What are you, seven? *I* didn't do anything. My room was broken into." Buffy sighed and took a seat at one of the small tables. "Now go away."
“Inconvenient, I know, but I've heard there is an unfortunate lack of psychics on staff here.”
“What?” Buffy stared irately up at him.
“I believe you need to place an order to actually acquire sustenance, unless you're here to scout possible suspects.”
“Whoever they are, they better pray I don't find them.”
“Think I'll go for some tea. What's your preference, then?”
Buffy was immediately suspicious. “Are you offering to get me something?”
"It would be the polite thing to do. Besides, this is a rather unfortunate turn of events."
"I don't want anything from you but absence. What part of 'go away' don't you get?"
"Whereas you are quite fluent in the dialect, I don't speak rude.” Ethan took the seat opposite her. “Did they leave you anything?"
"They took it all, my clothes, my bag, the sheets, even the little mint on the pillow. It's all gone."
She stared narrowly at him. "I'm not dignifying that with an answer."
"They think it was an inside job."
"Hmmm, not necessarily. Wouldn't take much to override the key card reader…" He went silent with her interrogatory gaze. "Inside job, you say? How dreadful."
"Worst part is they got my wallet and my passport and all my money. All gone."
"At least you managed to salvage this delightful once piece catastrophe you're wearing."
"I was swimming when it happened. It's my bathing suit."
"Oh dear, it's worse than I thought." He smiled. "Should make for interesting formal wear. Highly unlikely anyone else will be dressed in similar fashion."
"I can't spend the rest of the cruise dressed like this."
"True, with all that swimming, you'll be left a human prune.”
“You're loving this.”
“Quite a lot.”
“If you had anything to do with…”
“I haven't a death wish, Miss Summers. Aim your blame elsewhere. Besides, why would I ruin a perfectly good holiday by tormenting…” He realized his line of logic was flawed and concluded the statement with, “Never mind.”
“I don't even have a change of underwear.”
"Takes one to know one."
"Yes, well, thanks for that. There's a duty free shop onboard, you know? Perhaps you can replace a few items there."
"Did you miss the part about the money or are you just getting your jollies from my suffering."
"A little of both, really."
"Think they'd let me charge stuff to my room?"
"Doubtful. Stolen credit cards don't particularly promote a sound investment on their part."
"Great. What am I going to do, now? Two days into a week-long cruise and I'm already beached."
"Why not phone dear old Rupert to have him wire you some funds?"
"No! As far as he's concerned, I'm having the time of my life."
"But as far as you're concerned?" Ethan prompted.
"I'd rather be slaying."
"Brilliant bumper sticker, that. Now I know what I'm getting you for Christmas."
"You're a real jerk."
"So I've been told, repeatedly, by you. You know, the Council was surprisingly charitable with their stipend."
"A little less salt in my wound, please. Trying to cut out the sodium."
"And seeing as how I'm such the forgiving sort of gent, I might see it in my heart to sponsor a few incidentals on your behalf."
Buffy cast a suspicious glance to him. "You're offering me money?"
"I'm afraid that's a misinterpretation of the arrangement, Miss Summers. I merely offered to help you with a little shopping spree at the duty free shop. Try as I might, I'm not made of money, you know."
"I don't get it. What's your angle?"
"Vertical, usually. Horizontal, upon occasion but I'm not sure our relationship is ready for such a significant step."
"I meant what are you up to? And ew!"
Ethan smirked. "Nothing at the moment. No underlying agenda, no ulterior motives. A man cannot live by chaos and quips alone, you know? So sorry, did I ruin some prettily preconceived notion of yours?"
"Not really since nothing could lessen my opinion of you."
"Good to know."
"What would it cost me?"
"Dinner, this evening."
"I do dinner every evening."
"With me," he added dryly.
"You want *me* to have dinner with *you*?" She paused, calculating the risks. "No. Why? Don't even answer that. No."
“Schizophrenic curiosity, interesting.”
“I said ‘no'.”
He sighed with frustration, slipped something from his jacket pocket and tossed it upon the table. It looked like twigs and herbs bundled together to resemble some sort of doll. “Perhaps this would persuade you. Recognize it?”
“I didn't know you played with dolls.”
“How very droll. This is a talisman, a representation of Salys the High Priest of…”
“On vacation. Don't care.”
“I would think you should considering it could mean the decimation of all onboard. That is, if you don't stop them, of course.”
“Stop who? Wait, don't answer that. I don't care.”
“Not even remotely convincing. Try it once more with much less feeling.” He took up the talisman and began to make it playfully hop across the table, encouraging her. “You were born to care, Buffy.”
She couldn't take her eyes from the doll. Damn him! “Yeah, whatever. So why do you care?”
“Let's just say it's a matter of professional curiosity. The short of it is that there are evildoers on this vessel and you are the only one to stop them.”
“Why not, I've stopped *you* before. If that's the short of it, what's the long? And make it short.”
Ethan bowed the talisman toward Buffy before releasing it. At least he was amusing himself. "You see, tourist boards the world over like to paint cruises as some grand adventure when in actuality, they consist of three rather ordinary but immensely pleasurable activities. All of which can be enjoyed in the comfort of home at a fraction of the cost. None, however, enjoyed to the fullest without company, in my educated opinion."
"I know I'm going to regret this. And they are?" She finally took up the talisman and examined it.
"Well, the first two happen to be drinking and eating."
"So what's the third?"
He offered only a sly grin. Buffy felt her cheeks blush.
"Again with the ‘ew' and grow up." She tossed the talisman at him. He caught it and chuckled.
"I tried it once. Failed miserably. Not to be recommended." He returned the talisman to his pocket. “So, what's it to be?”
"Guess I have to eat and I'm not about to spend the rest of the cruise cooped up in my cabin. I can't believe I'm about to say this." She took in a deep, fretful breath. "Just dinner?"
"Christ, Buffy, you act as if we're negotiating the carpentry contract for your crucifixion. Dinner, nothing more. If I'd known it would be this much of a bother, I'd never extended the…"
"Dinner, but that's it."
"What about dessert?"
"Mandatory with an option for seconds."
"Pending. With not so much fresh, maybe."
"Ah, so something as dull as your sense of humor. Tea, then?"
"You drive a hard bargain. Do you insist on remaining here or shall we get on with it?" He stood up and offered his arm. Buffy restrained her smile as she slipped off her stool and started storming off in the direction of the shop, ignoring the outstretched arm.
It wasn't Ethan's money, she repeatedly consoled herself. This was council money so it was okay for her to get the new wardrobe, the toiletries, the chocolate, and the perfume. At the very least, they owed her perfume. It was an ironic sort of reparation for the years she couldn't wear it. Smelling like roses could get you killed in her line of work. But this was a vacation and damn it if she was going to salvage it as best she could.
A knock on the door interrupted Buffy's shopping inventory. She opened the door to an empty hall. Empty, that is, except for the toy stuffed kitten wearing a curious Italian flag design shirt. It held a small handwritten note that read, “Consider it a token of affection… from your dearest Rupert.”
Buffy couldn't help the guilty smile.
The cruise dinner called for casual dress which suited Buffy just fine considering the company. Then again, she'd only picked out two changes of clothes and both were nothing if not casual. She settled on the black slacks and white button shirt leaving room for movement if she needed to flee her date. No, not a date. Ew!
She entered the dining hall to see Ethan already seated at a table at the far end of the room. It was a nice bit of fortune since it would give her time to reconsider the pitiful action she'd been reduced to. It wasn't a good idea trusting him even when she wasn't really trusting him. Still, if he was right about the source of his little dolly, she just might find something to do on this boat.
With a quick scan of the dining hall, it became clear that all the other tables had couples surrounding them yet Ethan sat alone. She'd let it stay that way if she could but her rumbling belly made it clear that retreat wasn't an option. She was starving and the smell of garlic steak and dill baby potatoes drew her onward toward her doom. Upon examination from afar, she realized Ethan had also dressed casual and in a fashion that completely caught Buffy off guard. A simple black short sleeve shirt with v-neck cut accentuated his shapely chest and fitted blue jeans, loose below knees and gathering perfectly over the boots, made for a surprisingly nice statement, handsome even. Ew but definitely with a side of huh, not bad.
Ethan stood as she approached. Creep! How dare he act like she's a lady. He pulled out a chair and offered it with a polite gesture. Buffy searched for an alternative before settling on it.
“You look like a new woman,” he grinned. “Though I must admit, I'll miss the simplicity of your previous attire.” When he attempted to guide the seat to her, she took control with a jerk and quickly skid the chair to the opposite side of the table.
“Why are we alone?” She asked without trying to mask her suspicions.
“I thought it best to avoid civilians while discussing business matters.” He returned to his seat and quickly finished off the glass of what looked like scotch to Buffy. “Perhaps company would serve as a nice distraction from your lack of tact.”
“Shut it, Rayne.”
“Yet another verbal checkmate from the Slayer.” As if by some psychic order, a server approached the table, deposited another glass of scotch and awaited Buffy's response. “I'm sure our good man here would love to stand by and cater to your every whim, Summers, but you might do us both the courtesy of ordering a drink or something. Some sour milk to compliment your mood, perhaps?”
“Diet Coke, please.”
“With a side of rum,” Ethan added.
“Off sides, Rayne. No alcohol,” Buffy clarified and the server nodded, hurrying off to comply.
“So we've reverted to last names, then?” He swirled his drink before taking a sip. “This is going along swimmingly.”
“What'd you expect?” Buffy glared across the table at him. The goatee was hard to get used to but worked somehow.
“Not much from you, Summers. Much less than that Watcher of yours, for sure. How is dear old Rupert? Polished through a pair of glasses yet? Celibacy will do that to a man, you know?”
“That's what this is all about. You want to weasel info outta me about Giles.”
“Considering Rupert is the only thing we have in common, I figured it would be a safe, if not dull, subject. Besides, you don't seem particularly please with him at the moment.”
“None of your business.”
“On the contrary, it is… business, that is.” Ethan took a swing of his drink and smiled.
“Just ‘cause you're on the payroll doesn't mean open season share and tell.”
“I suppose you're right, best to avoid business while on holiday.” He stared at Buffy from over his drink with slick grin curling his lips. “So tell me, have you fucked him, yet?”
Buffy was at a loss for words as she watched him casually set his drink down.
“Or is that business as well?”
Her fist struck on its own accord. Ethan absorbed the blow the best he could, barely able to steady his chair from teetering backwards and taking him with it. The strike had been fast enough not to draw too much attention. Those who looked seemed more confused at what they'd missed. Ethan played it very cool for a man intent on bleeding.
“Feel better now?” He retrieved his napkin and blotted the blood from the corner of his mouth.
“Good. Well worth a slight bloodletting. Now, how about some merlot?” He gestured across the room and Buffy sat quietly, trying to size up the sorcerer across from her. “There, in the far corner of the room. See the two characters dressed in a rather blatantly suspicious way?”
She glanced over to the server coming their way with a bottle of red wine. A duo of darkly dressed men sat alone together at a table. “The would-be Blues Brothers?”
“That would be them. Apostles of Sarys.”
“Born and bred religious zealots, psychotic's hell bent on releasing hell on earth. Fluently militaristic and well practiced in the dark arts.”
“Magicks, why did it have to be magicks?”
“I know the concept of discretion is alien to you but we could much better avoid drawing attention to ourselves by… say, not pummeling each other and playing nice.”
“Fine then, more scotch it is.”