It took three days before Ethan was able to find a way past the Council warding, as well as the extra security they had placed over Ripper. He had worked out how to penetrate the shields in two, but spent an extra day making sure he could seal them back behind him. He wanted no unexpected interruptions.
He found Ripper asleep in a well-equipped infirmary, and smirked at the odd picture that modern medicine made when combined with traditional magics: a clear IV dripped into Ripper's undamaged arm and his breathing was assisted by a nasal cannula, but a talisman of bones and feathers hung from a cord around his neck and by the smell of it his right arm was smeared with an herbal poultice beneath its antiseptic white bandages.
Ethan was content to sit and watch over his old friend in silence for a few minutes, until he got bored. He tried a discreet coughing fit, but Ripper did not stir. Finally, exasperated, Ethan poked him in the ribs. Ripper opened his eyes.
"Oh. Hello," he said, showing no surprise at seeing Ethan.
"Takes more than a gate of Danae to keep me out, old mate."
"Fancy that," Ripper said. "Come to finish what you started?"
"Which bit?" Ethan asked. "There's a lot to choose from."
"I suppose so. My mind turns to the 'delivering me to mine enemies, then letting them use you to get what they wanted by any means necessary' bit," Ripper said.
"Ah. Well, yes, that does sound rather like me," Ethan agreed. "And then again, I might have come to give you another chance to use me as your sacrificial lamb."
"You, a lamb? Never."
"You know the Finnera would have done me in if they'd guessed the Rite would weaken *them*, not the bitty Slayers. Dumb luck you got sick so they couldn't tell."
"I always heard a shock victim shouldn't drink anything. I just never dreamed it could happen to me," Ripper said innocently.
Ethan couldn't decide if he was more annoyed or impressed. Annoyance won out. "And then you lied to me."
"Not really. You drew the wrong conclusions, and then you lied to them. You just didn't know it."
"And what if I'd drawn the right conclusions, eh?"
"It was a risk," Ripper allowed. "A gamble that you hadn't done your homework."
"And that they hadn't done theirs, or they'd have killed us both anyway."
But there was no apology in Ripper's face. Ethan gazed down at the ruthless, hard-edged man, and once again felt the rush of memory. How had he ever imagined his Ripper was gone?
"How is…that?" he asked, gesturing at Ripper's bandaged arm.
Ripper sighed. "Better than I deserve, really. Willow and the Coven healers have done what they could since the wound was partly magical. Otherwise, it would be weeks before the doctors could even begin the surgery."
Ripper nodded. "Surgeries, most like. Healing the magical aspect of the wound is one thing, but healing the bloody-great-knife-through-the-arm aspect…that's quite another." He looked down at the bandages. "Some restored function is possible, the doctor says. In time."
"Tell me, doc, will I ever fight again?" Ethan quipped.
"She doesn't know," Ripper said, and now he looked sad. "No more guitar, though. That's certain."
"The day the music died," Ethan said. "End of an era." But the thought hit him like a punch in the gut. He remembered Ripper on stage, playing with passion and abandon. How would the young man have felt to lose it?
Ripper seemed lost in thought, sunk in his pillows gazing moodily at his arm. He didn't glance over when Ethan leaned over to the pitcher on the night table and poured a glass of water.
"I came to bring you something," he said, and fished the packet out of his pocket. He waited until Ripper was watching him before he spilled the black crystals into the water with a flourish. They fizzed and cracked.
Ripper watched as he stirred the mixture with a straw. "What is it?"
Ethan set the potion down on the table, making sure the bendy straw poked jauntily at his old friend. He could tell by Ripper's bemused expression that the scent of dark enchantment had wafted over. "It's all in fun, old mate. An amusing diversion. A potion that might help. Might even bring the music back someday."
Ripper objected. "I told you. They've already done all the magic healing they can."
"That's all they can do. I have access to…other forces."
Ripper stared at him. "Ethan…what have you done?"
"Nothing special, mate. Not to worry." But Ripper stared at him as if he could see through Ethan's sleeve to his bandaged right arm, under his shirt to the claw marks on his chest. Ethan felt far too vulnerable, too well understood. He spoke in a rush. "Going to try it?"
Ripper looked at the tonic, which spat out a dramatic black puff of vapor on cue -- the potion reflected the caster, they said. "It doesn't look like a healing draught. It looks like poison."
"Could be, could be," Ethan agreed affably. "Break into your sickroom to poison you? Might be an amusing twist in the tale. Up to you, of course."
Ripper stared at the glass for a long minute. Finally he reached for it and picked it up. His good hand trembled, and Ethan thought he was going to dash the potion onto the floor.
But instead, Ripper lowered the glass back to the table. "I don't think I can hold it. Could you?…" The last words were inaudible.
Ethan wrapped his own hand around Ripper's fingers, and helped him raise the straw to his lips. Ripper stared at Ethan for a long, uncertain minute.
And then he drank.