Good grief, first post ever in this journal. Never thought I'd see the day. And it's my first completed fic!
An answer to HeadRush's Giles H/C-athon (master list here.)
Title: Twist the Knife
Author: Ann Emmess
Summary: Trapped together, Ethan and Giles play cat and mouse.
Timeframe: Post-Chosen, spoilers throughout series
Pairing: Giles/Ethan implied
Word Count: 6000
Disclaimer: Not mine, theirs.
Notes: Thanks to Fairfax, Pythia, and Joanna for invaluable advice on atmospherics, medical matters, and giving the boys a good stern Anglicizing.
Inspiration words: betrayal, illumination, delirious, totem, contradiction
Ethan hesitated at the yawning darkness before him, but the talon digging into his shoulder gave a final prod that sent him stumbling onto the stone floor of the cell. "I'm in, all right? Was that really necessary?"
His captors, implacably silent since issuing their ultimatum, merely shut the door with a heavy rasp of old oak and iron, cutting off the light before Ethan had adjusted to the dark. The quiet was instead broken by a groan from farther inside, a faint metallic edge to the noise as if it was bouncing off a hard surface. "Ethan?"
The voice was corded with effort, but Ethan would recognize it anywhere. He peered into the darkness towards the sound. "Ripper? That you?"
"Christ, and I thought things couldn't get any worse. What the hell are you doing here?"
"Oh, just the usual. However do you see in this dark?"
Ripper never could manage any good on-the-spot magic. "Not to worry, old chap. Lumine kantos -- ow! That hurt!" The bright flash, like a magnesium flare, only lasted long enough to sear Ethan's vision, and his fingers smarted like he'd been slapped with a ruler.
The git was chuckling in the darkness. "They've warded the abbey against magic."
"You might have warned me."
"But where would the fun be in that? How did you get here, anyway?"
"Oh, you know how it is for the small-time freelance contractor," Ethan said airily. "Negotiations sometimes sour." He touched the wall and felt cool, moist stone. His nostrils filled with the smell of damp earth; the monks who'd abandoned these catacombs must have suffered perpetual rheumatism.
"Negotiations? You were working for them?" The acoustics made it hard to pinpoint Ripper's location, though Ethan thought he must be up against a wall.
"Well, yes. Sorry, old chap. Believe me, it was completely personal. I -- what's funny?"
Ripper's chuckle cut off abruptly on a groan, and Ethan wondered what was wrong with him. When he spoke again, Ethan could hear the strain. "Oh, Ethan. You utter prat. Didn't you ever learn to do your homework?"
"Not really. Unlike some, I've always learned more from experience."
"Pity your experience didn't lead you to consult your Marley. Chapter two, page 36, 2/3 down…also cited in Ul'grhn, Zandyce, and the entire grimoire of…"
"Oh, do stop showing off your cross-referencing skills, Ripper. We'll choke on the dust. All right, what did I miss?" Ripper's speeches nowadays made Ethan want to search him head to toe for any vestige of the hedonistic boy he remembered, and despaired of ever seeing again.
"Mmmh. What happened just before everything went all pear-shaped?"
"Hmm, let me think," Ethan drawled. "I'd just masterminded that amusing diversion starring you and your little honor guard." Ethan wondered, if he got closer to Ripper, whether he'd be able to feel out whatever was putting that breathy pained sound in his voice. As weak as his old friend sounded, he probably wasn't up to punching him.
He moved along the wall, but barked his shin hard on something low and edged. "Ow! Dammit. Anyway, children today watch far too much television; I thought they could do with some exposure to the great literary classics." Cautiously he felt around and discovered a low wooden pallet that was bolted to the wall, supported by heavy chains. It was large enough that it might once have been used as a bed.
"You would have been proud of them, Ripper, they were magnificent. Pity that while they were evading the Red Queen, or stamping on the Lilliputians, they couldn't keep a closer eye on their Knight of the Woeful Countenance. Did you enjoy tilting at windmills, old chum?"
"I'm only surprised you didn't make me Sancho Panza instead."
"Perish the thought. You're always the star of the story for me. Besides, I wanted to see the look on your face when you finally caught up to your Dulcinea, and she gave you a good demonic snogging, knocked you on the head and took you prisoner. It was most entertaining."
"Yes, you're very funny. And then?"
Ethan found that he had to steel himself for every step gained into terra incognita. The impenetrable darkness was nothing like the white walls and eternal light that haunted him, but without his sight or magic he felt incomplete, incapable.
"And then I followed them back here to collect my fee for a job well done. I asked to see you, now that you were back to your senses. It just isn't as much fun without a good gloat."
"Of course not."
"They said you were rather preoccupied, and I said I didn't mind waiting."
"But they said that you'd be permanently out of commission. I told them that was fine with me, of course," Ethan needled. He shuddered as his hand encountered a mold-slick patch on the damp stone, then crept forward through the long, expectant pause.
Finally Ripper broke the silence. "And?"
"And what?" He jerked back as his fingers brushed something sinewy.
"And what else did you tell them?"
"Nothing! I swear." Cautiously, he reached out again. "Only that I'd gladly see you dead, so I'd just leave them to get on with things."
"You didn't…want me dead?"
"I did!" A vine, he thought, or…no, it must be a root; it was tough and slightly cool. He continued forward, ignoring the other strands.
"Absurd. I ardently and urgently desire your demise. It's why I sold you to them, after all."
"N-no point in denying it. As you'd know if you reviewed your Marley, Finnera demons always know when someone is lying."
"Yes. They can smell it, I believe."
"Bloody hell." Well, that explained a lot, although surely not the way Ripper seemed to think. Perhaps they'd caught a whiff of his determination to go sell Ripper's current location to the next high bidder that came along. Ethan ruthlessly suppressed the awareness that he'd have gone looking for the next bidder rather closer to the New Council's quarters than was good for his health.
His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden faint glow of light from the doorway which disappeared with a metallic clank. Something hit the floor with a papery thud. "What's that?"
Ripper paused. "Supper, by the smell of it."
In a flash of inspiration, Ethan backtracked along the wall until he found the protruding roots. He tugged until one separated from the wall. "There must be a hatch in the door. If I can prop it open, we ought to get a bit of light…there." The hatch lowered down like a letterbox flap. He squinted for a moment into the glow of the lighted corridor, and fancied he heard breathing to the side of the door. "Not easy chatting in all this dark," he muttered.
He anchored the root to the door handle, and tugged until the line was taut enough to hold the hatch open. Light streamed in along a narrow shaft across the cell, and he turned to look. "Much better…Bloody hell, Ripper! What've they done to you?"
"Should have thought that was obvious," Ripper said, with remarkable hauteur considering the broad blade sticking through his right arm.