Summary: The morning after firing a gun in a tiny room.
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Spoilers and/or Warnings: none
Title, Author and URL of original story: Echoes in the Air by brutti_ma_buoni
The station turnstile was sticky. A shove with his hips and he was through and heading in, one hand on rucksack strap, the other thrust deep into his jacket pocket. Down stairs, past people on the way up and out, spiraling down the tile corridor under sickly yellow lights, down and under and up, emerging at last onto the stuffy platform. Giles blinked in the smeary fluorescent light. Trains and oil and cigarettes. Graffiti on a book poster. Bare, unadorned reality. Last night the world had seemed so different, with Ethan's power rushing stolen through his blood. Some time in the morning after his sleepless night, it had all drained away. He was an empty husk. He ought to be dead. Perhaps he would be soon.
When you fire a gun in a tiny dark room, the muzzle flashes and the explosion deafens you. Six explosions, still ringing faintly in his ears, half a day later.
A glance along the platform, sidelong. No answering look from any of the waiting people, no one looking up, their noses in paperbacks or newspapers. He was early yet. He settled himself to wait, shoulder against a green-painted metal pillar.
A train arrived, preceded by a gust of warm stale air. Doors open, people elbowing past each other, in, out. The doors slammed shut and the train accelerated away with a whine of electric motors. Giles stared after it. Red lights disappearing down the tube and twisting away out of sight. No one approached him. The man they said they'd send hadn't been on it. One bad decision after another, yesterday. Had ringing the Council been another? He let his shoulders sag. Perhaps they had abandoned him. Perhaps he'd only know they'd come when they seized him by the arms to carry him off. Or when the bullet hit.
Someone touched his elbow from behind and Giles started and spun. At his side was a man in quiet tweed with a faint odor of smoke around him, tobacco and bay rum and leather.
"You look just like your father," said the man.
Giles twitched again. "Beg pardon?"
That was the name he'd been given. Giles swallowed around whatever he might have thought to say and shook the proffered hand. Cool, dry, firm grip. Giles's own hands were trembling yet. Had he got off the train with the others? Giles had the uneasy feeling that he'd been on the platform all along. He returned his hand to his jacket pocket and clenched his fist, where it couldn't be seen.
"Your report was commendably thorough. My team found things just as you described them," Fitzhugh said, in a dry, quiet voice, as if he were discussing finance.
"So why did you call me here?"
"There were one or two loose ends."
Fitzhugh stepped back from the platform edge and to the right, behind the clusters of people waiting for the next train. Where a thief might stand. Giles glanced at Fitzhugh, and tried to see him as he was. Not an historian, an academic, the sort of Watcher his father had been. He looked like a Foreign Office type, the sort who'd spent half his life on the Continent, speaking something other than English. Neat, quick, probably a crack shot on the weekend hunt. Or here, on a train platform at close range.
Fitzhugh extracted a cigarette case from his breast pocket and offered it to Giles. Black paper, Sobranies. He lit Giles's cigarette then his own using gunmetal-black lighter, not flashy. Giles wondered what he was about. Last smoke for the condemned man? He'd called the Council and told them everything, but he hadn't thought past the immediate problem of cleanup. Randal writhing trapped in the pentagram, half-demon, half-human. Struggling to escape his prison. Philip shrieking that they had to let him out, scuffing at the chalk on the floor.
When you fire a gun while the power is in you, you watch the bullet move through the air, watch the shock waves ripple before it, the trail it leaves behind itself in the air. You know where it's going to hit before it knows itself, because you are the bullet and the powder and the flash.
A pretty little problem to be solved. Giles had solved it. Fitzhugh was here to solve his own problem.
Giles looked for and saw the bulge under his left arm and felt his stomach twist. Not beyond fear, then, despite himself. Giles edged back from the platform until his back was against the tiled wall of the station. Fitzhugh moved with him without seeming to acknowledge that Giles was even there. They watched a train arrive on the opposite platform. People got on, got off, walked away without noticing them in the slightest. A little magic would ensure they wouldn't notice anything at all.
Giles smoked his cigarette gingerly.
Randal had liked Sobranies. An eccentricity he'd liked to cultivate, along with his professed fondness for absinthe. A harmless vice. Like the weed and the petty theft and the lazy afternoons spent jamming. Scrawny Randal, hair fallen over his face, holding the groove while Giles fumbled for the solo, the black cigarette wedged smoldering in the strings at the head of the bass. Slap and tickle, a steady thumb, Randal's shirt unbuttoned, his bare chest milk-white under the dark red silk. Randal's chest with bullet holes blooming bright.
Blood darkens as it dries.
Giles shivered inside his jacket, and said, "What was it you wanted to know?"
Fitzhugh raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Was this all some sort of test? If so, Giles was washing out. He tried to pull himself together.
"Yes, yes, of course. Um, I, I--" Giles pressed two fingers over his lips to shut himself up. He began again. "My father's service pistol. I knew where he'd kept it and I knew how to use it. I translocated it."
"We weren't aware you were that powerful."
"I'm not. Not normally. I'm a focus. When we did the spells I always-- I was the focus. So I took it from the others. When I realized I needed it."
A moment, one moment, and he'd seen what to do. The circuits were all closed, all live and humming and all he had to do was touch them and accept it all into himself. Fill himself with it. Diedre, Thomas, Philip-- they were nothing. They couldn't even feel him. But Ethan, Ethan, Ethan he could drink from until he brimmed over and overflowed and was drowned. And so he'd done just that, taken it all while Ethan was held helplessly open to him.
"Interesting," Fitzhugh said, still in that dry distant voice. "Why a pistol?"
"Magic didn't work. I tried to stop it, tried to kill it with pure power, but--"
But you can't kill a fish by drowning it. He'd heard the voice of his father then, bending close and wrapping his hands around the grip of the Enfield. If you're going to shoot, shoot to kill. Empty the clip. Safety glasses and heavy muffs over their ears, his father's hands on his, showing him how to move with the recoil. Holes in the paper target, the outline of a human body in black and white, the heart marked as a red spot. Six holes, grouped around the spot. Bloodless.
When you fire a gun in a dark little room, you watch the bullet plunge into your friend's chest and through. Then time speeds up again and the blood splashes bright against the wall and your friend's eyes go blue again before they go blank. At least you can't hear the screaming any more. Except in your head.
Another train arrived. Giles watched a girl get out, purse over her shoulder, short skirt, neat pair of legs over high boots. The girl was pretty, he supposed. Thomas would have panted after her, would have found a way to pull her. Diedre liked boots like that, wore them on wet days. She liked going barefoot in the flat. She'd been barefoot last night, half-undressed already in anticipation of the evening's bit of fun. More sex-magic, just like last week. Time to go to sleep. Randal's turn to sleep.
The girl was gone in the swirl of the crowd, heading up and away from the station. Giles ground out his cigarette underfoot. He turned back to Fitzhugh.
Fitzhugh said, "What happened to the weapon?"
"In my bag. So is the book. The one with the summoning spell."
"Why those things?"
"Only dangerous things there." The only things that Ethan might do further harm with, he did not say. When he calmed down. Ethan's voice was in his ringing ears again. Leech. Parasite. Bloodsucker. And what he had not said: murderer, bloody-handed villain. Had Ethan even noticed that Randal was gone? Giles felt his jaw tighten.
"What were you planning to do with them?"
"Need to return the gun to the strongbox at, at home. Was planning to burn the book."
"Where did you find it in the first place?"
"An occult shop in Soho." Giles named it. "We stole it. Ethan and I." There was, he thought, no point in concealing anything. Let his deeds be known.
Fitzhugh took out his cigarette case again. Giles shook his head and watched him employ that dark metal lighter once more. Bright flame, black paper, blue-white smoke streaming from Fitzhugh's fingers.
Fitzhugh inhaled and let smoke out in a long stream between his lips. "Rayne. The sorcerer. You left him alive?"
"He wasn't a danger. I had all his power."
Had all his power and Ethan had made his opinion of this clear, screaming soundlessly in the stinking room. Giles understood him anyway. Give it back, you little fuck, you pathetic little leech. Ethan had got his hand around Giles's neck and tried to punch him. Giles had punched him into the wall, pistol-whipped him, and turned his back. Took the book and his things and fled. Nothing left but Diedre's bloody footprints and the wax from guttered candles. No sound in the room but Thomas's mouth moving in prayer, too late, far too late. He ran without looking back.
And here he was. Giles looked down at his bruised knuckles, then up again to see Fitzhugh looking at them as well. Ought he to have finished the job? His fingers tightened around nothing.
"Sorry, but I'd like to get it over with. What are you going to do to me?"
Fitzhugh smiled at him for an instant over his cigarette. Smoke drifted between them, and for an instant Giles saw the flames of the summoning candles again. "What would I do to you?"
"Kill me. Lock me away. I don't know."
Fitzhugh laughed. "My dear boy. I'm here to recruit you."
"I-- I don't understand."
"Most men would have broken when faced with the demon. You didn't. I need men with your nerve."
Giles shook his head, slowly. "I summoned the demon in the first place."
"I doubt you'll need to be told not to do that again," Fitzhugh said, gesturing with the fag end of his Sobranie. He flicked it from his fingers and Giles watched the glow arc over onto the tracks. A little smoke curled from where it had landed. Giles watched it burn. They weren't going to kill him. They were trying to take him back.
It was almost incomprehensible.
"I think you'll find the work interesting," Fitzhugh murmured. "As well as rewarding."
A post with Fitzhugh, whose job Giles thought he could name. The sort of job that would need men with his kind of nerve. He'd got it right, then. He'd done something right, for once. Pathetic powerless hanger-on, useful only to translate the Latin as a party trick. Ethan in better times, sprawled on the bed with him, Diedre humming between them, all three of them near peak. Have you ever worked a day in your life, Ripper? Giles watched his fingers move in the air leaving shimmering trails behind themselves and didn't bother answering. Hadn't, wouldn't. Had no plans beyond the next day's pleasures. Live and then die.
An inbound train pulled into the station. Giles watched it slow to a stop, the doors open. The voice of the motorman. Mind the gap. People moving out and onward.
Fitzhugh took a step toward the open doors and glanced back over his shoulder. "Well?"
"Come on, then."
Giles straightened himself and followed him onto the train.