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Strength of Magic

Title: Strength of Magic
Fandom: Buffy
Pairing: Giles/Ethan, poly
Summary: Written for tx_cronopio, for giles_ficathon 2005. The 'poly' bit is a Ripper-era mass orgy. (S)

Of all the people that might have come to his door that night, Ethan Rayne was one of the last ones he would have expected. They had not parted on friendly terms; and anyway, there was no reason for Ethan to know where he was. Giles wasn't living in Sunnydale any more -- there wasn't much of it to live in, anyway -- and he hadn't exactly left a forwarding address.

But as unexpected as it was, the fact remained that Ethan showed up on his doorstep one night, gaunt and tired-looking, swaying from exhaustion that was both physical and mental, nothing in his eyes but the glazed look of someone running on not much more than luck.

"You," Giles said. It wasn't the most welcoming of words, but it was the only thing that came to mind.

Ethan gave him a brilliant smile, said a cheerful "Hello, Ripper," and collapsed in an unconscious heap.

Giles stared down at the crumpled form, an expression of annoyed disgust on his face. For a moment, he considered simply nudging Ethan out of the way and closing the door. And bolting it. And setting magic wards on the place to prevent anything untoward. He really didn't want to take part in any of Ethan's schemes, even by proxy.

On the other hand, keeping him close might mean knowing the chaos he was bringing *before* it fell full-tilt upon them.

Sighing, Giles half-dragged Ethan inside and managed to wrestle his limp form up on the couch. It wasn't the most comfortable of beds, but Ethan was hardly in a position to complain about it. He was feverishly hot, and looked almost frail. Giles, watching him, was aware of a stirring feeling of pity-- he forced it back down, remembering the unwelcome changes that Ethan tended to bring with him. "The last time we met," he said softly, "you turned me into a demon. What are you up to now, I wonder?"

Ethan, being unconscious, didn't reply. With a small, wry smile, Giles disappeared into the bedroom of the small apartment, preparing to go to sleep himself.

A moment later, he came back, set up cautious wards that would alert him to any magic being done within the room and to any movements that Ethan might make, and then disappeared again.

Ethan slept for a day. Giles was never sure when he awoke, because he didn't move, didn't speak, didn't do anything but watch Giles as he moved about the apartment.

"Good morning," Giles said, with a brusque politeness meant to tell Ethan very clearly where he stood: /This is not a sanctuary for you. I will be polite, for politeness' sake, unless you give me even the slightest reason otherwise./

Ethan said nothing. There was an unnervingly empty look in his eyes.

"Can you speak?"


Giles frowned, and crouched down next to him. "What are you doing here, Ethan?"

Silence, still. Ethan's gaze flickered, enough to show that he had heard and processed Giles' words, but he didn't even try to respond.

"Fine then," Giles murmured, with a sigh. "Keep your secrets for now."

Another flicker of those dark eyes, and it seemed like the corner of Ethan's mouth twitched up slightly.

Giles made supper for himself, and tea; but for Ethan, he provided toast (lightly buttered, but otherwise plain) and weak tea. That, at least, got a reaction. In a hoarse, raw voice, he asked, "Bread and water?"

"No," Giles said. He could feel old habits returning, a hint of mocking sarcasm creeping into his voice, cocky superiority creeping into his body. With effort, he pushed the habits aside. He was not Ripper. "I didn't know what foods you'd keep down."

Ethan's mouth tightened slightly with irritation. "For god's sake, Rupert, I'm not *sick*," he said, starting to show a bit of animation.

"You're acting like it," Giles snapped.

There was a moment's silence, then: "I'm not sick, I'm dead."

Another long silence, as Giles considered Ethan's words and his appearance. Then, sounding a little startled, Ethan added, "--not *literally*."

Giles relaxed a little, and gave a small smile. "What, then?"

Slowly, Ethan said, "Those soldiers you sent me off with--" He stopped abruptly, staring down at his tea, obviously searching for words to continue. It took Giles that moment's pause to place 'those soldiers' as the Initiative, who had taken Ethan into their custody. Ethan tried again, "Do you know--" and again faltered. Finally, he said, "Do you remember when you raided your old man's library?"

(...he had come back with a handful of books, each with very detailed instructions on any number of magic rituals, of the sort that Should Never Be Done and, therefore, were quite attractive to their small gang. The books were meant to discourage the rites they described, but the descriptions were complete enough that they served very nicely as instruction manuals. (Some of them were illustrated, too; Randall took one of the books and flipped through it; at one page, he stopped, and tilted his head sideways and the book the other direction, and said, "Fuck, is that even physically *possible*?" and Diedre leaned over his shoulder, one arm draped down his chest, the other reaching to flip to other illustrations.) They had titles along the lines of "The Deleterious Effects of Sorcerous Rites and Black Magic Rituals"-- to which Ripper commented that sorcery was not in and of itself black magic, which in turn set Ethan into a counter-rant on how magic didn't have any bloody color at *all*, let alone black, and none of these people even understood half of what they were talking about, half of the *reality*...)

"Yes," was all Giles said.

Ethan's eyes closed, but he didn't seem to be asleep. "Do you remember the-- the types of magic?"

(...Besides which, Ethan had said, black magic was hardly descriptive; better to call it strong magic, or sacrificial magic, since sacrifice was where the power came from. Death magic was the strongest, with humans providing more power than animals, and children providing the best power -- which Diedre bristled at, since she occasionally had moods of wanting children, and was in one of those moods now -- but there were, really, four types of strong magic, of which death magic was only one. Blood magic, of which death magic could be considered an extreme case, where the shedding of blood was used to fuel the magic. Sexual sacrifice, using sex acts--

--at which Ripper snickered, and said, "We've been using magic to make our sex better--"

("Not *just*," Philip said. "There's also..." he ticked points off on his fingers: "getting high, getting rich, getting, um..." and Randall suggested "...laid?", and Philip threw a pillow at him that missed by a mile. "That's sex, you gormless oaf.")

Ripper continued as though they hadn't interrupted him. "--and now you're saying we can use sex to make our magic better, instead?"

Ethan gave a slow, wicked grin. "I didn't say *instead*.")

"You didn't finish the lecture, as I recall," Giles said dryly.

(--and it degenerated quickly into a free-for-all demonstration. They had been integrating sex with magic for a long time, and none of them were ever averse to another chance, which meant that it took very little to get them into a naked and generally disorganized roiling mass in their flat, with Ethan at the center of it this time, shaping a spell that would draw on the power that their sex generated and turn that power back in on itself to amplify every touch, every taste, every jolt of pleasure--)

Ethan smiled, the ghost of his usual fierce grin. "We got distracted."

(--Ethan's hands had a deathgrip on Ripper's upper arms; he, in turn, had one hand on Ethan's cock and the other on Diedre's hip, and Thomas is on his knees behind Ethan, licking his way up the spine; there are body parts brushing against him, hands and knees and mouths and elbows, though he's not quite sure who they all belong to; he's vaguely aware of Randall kissing Diedre's neck with his hands nestled in Philip's hair as he's being sucked off, and Ethan's standing in the middle of the chaos, head thrown back in tense ecstasy, chanting as he rode the tide of the magic they were generating--)

"That would be one word for it," Giles said mildly.

(--and afterwards, sated physically and magically, lying in a sleepy tangle with Diedre and with an passed-out Ethan, he vaguely remembered that there was something they'd been talking about; but in the haze of the room, thick with echoes of magic and with the heavy smell of sex, it slipped his mind, until he wasn't aware of forgetting anything; and he dozed--)

Ethan was silent for long enough afterwards that Giles wondered if he actually had dropped off to sleep again. His eyes opened, after a while, staring upwards at the ceiling, still not speaking. Finally, Giles said, "Do you have a point, or are you just talking to hear yourself talk?"

Ethan's gaze snapped to him; Giles grinned, and after a moment, Ethan's tired glare turned into a slight smile. "Prat," he said, in a voice so quiet it was almost inaudible. "I never talk just to hear myself talk."

"You always did."

"Same thing." Ethan licked his lips; they were very pale. "Do you know, children aren't the biggest source of power, for death magic. I said that, but mainly to annoy Diedre. No; the biggest source of power is if the mage casting the spell dies doing it. Isn't particularly fun," he added wryly, "and you can't hang around to enjoy the aftereffects; but it's strong as sin. Nearly permanent, if the mage is good enough."

Giles shrugged. "You aren't dead," he said.

"Should be." Ethan shivered. "The fourth type of strong magic is the sacrifice of-- power. Of... of magic itself. And..." He faltered.

Giles waited.

"There are four types of strong magic," Ethan murmured, "but two types of sacrifice: willing and unwilling. It... we were willing sacrifices, back when we..." He trailed off, but Giles was able to fill in the pause. /Back when we were doing magic together. Back when we were young and stupid and--/ Ethan spoke, cutting off his thoughts. "But it is possible, sometimes preferred, to use unwilling sacrifices. Your soldiers..."

Not my soldiers, Giles corrected silently.

"--they aren't magic users themselves, but they've found ways to... fuel technology with magic." Ethan grimaced, as though that was an intolerable pollution of magic. "And they needed sources of power."

"You," Giles said, piecing it together.

"They knew how to harvest... not the magic energy that gets released from casting a spell, but the potential. Taking magic from *people*, rather than from the air. Taking it, leaving just enough that it will re-seed, like a plant, and then taking it again." He hesitated, and then said, "It's rather like having your soul stripped away, again and again."

Giles bit back his first statement, a halfhearted joke about Ethan having a soul in the first place, and then said, "I didn't know."

Ethan looked over at him, and his mouth quirked up in a smile. "If you had known, would you have done anything differently?"

Giles smiled, looked down, and didn't bother answering. They both knew that he wouldn't have. That he had given Ethan to the Initiative not because of what they would do to him, but because of what Ethan could do otherwise.

"I had barely enough magic left in me, when they freed me, to do a locator spell on you. Damn near killed me," he added, sounding almost cheerful. "I'm not used to being cautious about how much power I spend. Did you know that when the magic's gone, spells drain your life force? With a strong enough spell, you could kill yourself. I'm sure some people've done it."

Cynically, Giles wondered how much of his story was true, and how much was a ploy to seem harmless and deserving of sympathy. "Why bother, then? Why did you need so badly to find me?"

"What," Ethan said lightly, "can't I look up old friends just for old times' sake?"

Giles raised an eyebrow.

"Ah well," Ethan said. As though he'd answered Giles' question, he closed his eyes and was very quickly asleep.

Giles dreamed, that night, of their time together-- before Eyghon, before they had gotten into stuff they couldn't handle. Before he'd been shocked sober by what they'd done-- and in the manner of dreams, it was confused and disjointed. At one point, it seemed to settle down slightly; they were in their old flat in London, except that it opened onto the Magic Shop in Sunnydale, and in the dream Ethan had made a habit of raiding the shop for spell supplies; it was just the two of them, though, and no spell between them. The flat was dark; it had no roof, and Giles could see the stars if he looked up, but somehow the light of the stars and the moon didn't seem to touch the room itself, and so he could barely see Ethan. Shadow in shadows, and then they were touching, kissing, speaking only in the language of bodies. In the way of dreams, their sex leapt from one point to another without any intervening realities such as actually changing position; and then Ethan pulled back, breathing hard, sitting on his heels, hand moving over his own erect cock with a restless desperation. Giles, in the dream, reached forward, and said, "Ethan--" but Ethan shook his head, gasping wordlessly, and his fist moved with a faster, fiercer pace, until his whole body quivered and he was coming--

--except that the stuff that came pulsing out was not semen but a strange, translucent material that glowed silver-blue. Ethan quickly gathered it up into a glowing ball, and handed it to Giles, saying, "Here, take it."

Giles did, confused, holding his hands out for it. "What is it?"

"My soul," Ethan said-- it was warm, and sticky like cobwebs; and it started melting into Giles' hands, disappearing into him, and Ethan said in a low intense voice, "I know you'll keep it safe," and Giles woke, breathing hard. There was sweat on his palms that made him shudder and wipe it quickly off.

He lay for a while in the semidarkness, staring up at the ceiling. Then, frowning, he got up to check on Ethan; but the other man was sleeping still, and the wards were intact. Very well, then, Giles thought, as he went back to bed, and he forced himself to ignore the vague feelings of foreboding that crept over him.

Ethan said, with a casualness that meant it was wholly deliberate, "We were good together."

"I'm sorry?" Giles said, blinking.

"Magic." Ethan grinned. "Surely you haven't *forgotten*."

Giles just said, "That was a long time ago."

Ethan snorted. "Please. Don't pretend you've changed all *that* much. Just because you try to deny the wilder aspects of your self-- of your true self-- doesn't mean they weren't there. Aren't still there. You can't deny that we had power, working together. It was always *better* with you." He gave an odd, wistful look. "We could do a spell together. Here. Now."

"I thought your magic was gone," Giles said dryly.

"Flayed," Ethan said solemnly. The word brought to mind images of actual flayed people, and Giles found it darkly amusing that everything defaulted to literal meanings, literal images. "But *you* have some still. You can channel it, shape it, use it." He leaned forward. "*You can heal me*. I know a spell that can restore my magic. The reverse of what your soldiers did, only less painfully."

Giles looked at him for a long moment. "Let me guess," he said finally. "Strong magic?"

"Naturally," Ethan said, with a fleeting grin. "And I don't need magic to have sex." Giles just shook his head without answering, and Ethan said, almost begging, almost desperate, "Please?"

Giles closed his eyes, collecting himself. "I let you stay here for the sake of the friendship we once had; I will keep you from magic for the man you are now."

"Don't you trust me?" Ethan asked, laughing to hide the flash of hurt.

"I never did."

"I'll be good this time, I promise," Ethan said lightly. Giles just looked at him, and his smile faded slowly. "Damn," he said quietly, and then: "You changed, didn't you? Why can't I?"

"You *did* change," Giles said, face and voice grim. "You started worshipping chaos. Darkness that makes what we did" --even after all these years, the name Eyghon sticks in his throat, doesn't want to come out-- "seem like child's play. Hell, it *was* child's play."

"And now we know better," Ethan said, mockingly.

Giles didn't flinch away from his tone. "Some of us do."

"Don't be a bloody *idiot*, Ripper," Ethan said. "I always liked chaos. You did too; the real you did, at any rate."

"We liked chaos," Giles acknowledged. "Flirted with it, even. But-- then it became your *god*."

"Had to," Ethan murmured. "You weren't there any more."

Caught off balance, Giles paused, uncomfortable. He stammered an excuse for leaving and rose to his feet.

"...'the friendship we once had'," Ethan murmured, as Giles was almost gone.

"Hm?" Giles realized, belatedly, that Ethan was quoting his earlier words.

"I don't have many friends." It was spoken with a raw honesty that probably wasn't feigned. "I thought you were one of them."

"There is a limit to the bounds of any friendship," Giles said, regarding him. "You deliberately put me in danger, multiple times, without regard for the consequences. You put people I care about in danger. These were not *willing* sacrifices, Ethan, none of them."

"But it was fun," Ethan protested.

"And that is why I won't give you any magic." Giles turned again; he wasn't sure where he was going, but he knew he needed to leave, to get out away from Ethan for a while.

"Rupert." Giles paused but didn't turn, didn't want to see the expression on Ethan's face. "I need you. *Please*."

He couldn't help looking, then. There was desperation in Ethan's voice, raw fear in his face. "I'm not abandoning you," Giles said, and then grimaced. "As much as my sense of self-preservation says I should."

"But you won't help me."

"Oh, I am helping you."

"I need magic," Ethan said, with the desperation of an addict. Giles thought of Willow, reaching for more and more power, each bit making her thirstier still. He almost said something, but thought better of it.

"You knew who I am; you had to have known, or at least suspected, that I'd say no to you. Why come to me? There are people with fewer morals who wouldn't hesitate to help you."

Ethan said promptly, "Wouldn't work. The spell has to be done by someone who's jointly cast other magic spells with me. And..." He stopped, but Giles finished for him, silently: and the others are all dead.

"All right, then," Giles said. "Choose. I can do this spell of yours that will give you back your magic, but I have friends that know how to unlock the doors between dimensions; if you choose to have magic back, you will be sent to another dimension, at random, and the door locked behind you and warded so you cannot pass back through."

"At random?" Ethan grimaced. "Do you know the proportion of unlivable alternate dimensions?"

"Yes," Giles said simply. "Or, you can stay here, without magic."

"But with you," Ethan said, and settled back. He didn't even seem to be deliberating the matter at all.

Giles gave him a faint smile. "I can even try to keep Buffy from beating you up too badly, next time she visits."

"Ah," Ethan said. "Terribly kind of you."



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