Roundabout Ways
by Scy

The desert made a man obsess a little over what constituted 'comfortable.'

Laboratory strength lamps and measuring his responses to prods and voltage went beyond what Ethan thought of as payback for a small joke. Instead he came to the conclusion that there was such a thing as too much sun. Being warm nearly all of the time was all well and good, but not being able to cool off when the urge struck set his teeth on edge.

Heat could sink into the bones and make one crave nothing but a way to avoid baking slowly in whatever passed for a furnace.

In his cell he was ignored when his reserves had been tapped and there was little more that he could show them that they would understand.

He reflected that the American military had been raised on good wholesome 'take it apart and figure out how it works' lectures. They didn't understand the subtly of many things, least of all magic. Restraining something mysterious couldn't be done with metal and threats. So he waited, gave out hints of what lay beyond the measurement of instruments, and let curiosity provide an opening for departure.


Seated on what had been a rather uninspired piece of architecture he cupped his hands around a sphere of Power. It had the consistency of toffee and could twist and stretch according to the wishes of whoever controlled it.

Ethan rolled the spell to and fro unhurriedly. It was a simple incantation for seeking out that particular sort of interesting thing that might be worth a second look.

Sugary crystals of potential crumbled over his fingers and he decided to follow the trail, thinking about the fascinations of uncertainty. Not knowing something could make one uncomfortable, or they could choose to educate themselves. Revelation led in many directions but no matter where, it was bound to uncover more than had been expected.

Reason might dictate that haring off after anything wild and dangerous only got him into trouble, but he would respond that the trip was often the surest way to Janus.

Still, he thought as he stretched against the memory of a girl's amateur interrogation, it might be a nice change to 'happen across' something not quite so clean.

After all, crossing paths with Slayers had become something of a habit, not unlike checking up on Rupert, and recently, both left him bruised in ways that he would rather avoid. There was little amusement in suffering the lectures of a girl whose mind had long been shuttered to unorthodox means of experiencing the world. An overdose of 'righteous Rupert' had shaped her into someone who wouldn't hesitate to give him a bloody nose, and then let the desert do the rest of her work.

But not everyone had the joys of being under Rupert's protection, and he smiled as the crackle of knowing intensified with proximity.

The other was far more accessible. No Watcher to speak of, a home that had cracked long before she began to exhibit the signs that made Destiny sit up and take notice. Interestingly enough, she had enough of an independent streak to realize just how much she mattered to the Council and to those around her, and then she stepped out to find someone who might better appreciate her.

Rumor had spread of course about the Mayor and 'his girl.' What jokes went along with speculation were quickly abandoned when there were successive demonstrations of just how well they worked together.

All those qualities that made Faith a disappointment in the eyes of 'the good guys' formed a nice little beacon which encouraged an interested party to take notice when the dust settled and then move after her onto the path of 'anywhere but here.'


He found Faith in the sort of shady establishment that gave him hope that the world hadn't been wholly tamed by wires and virtue.

Though trumpet and the more traditional announcements of an important entrance weren't practiced in such places she picked up on his presence at once. Her eyes ran over him like those of a professional thief.

Some people looked further than 'everyday masks' and they were the ones for whom more elaborate moves were designed. For example, he was utterly certain that he fit some molds and still had enough of a blatant edge to his smile for other expectations to fall back. The label of 'dirty old man' gave him license to blend in as people carefully didn't see what wasn't painted and pretty.

Settled in a place designed to show off the dance floor to whatever possible advantage he examined the girl with eyes not blinded by the flash of those around her.

While trying to attach herself to her dance partner with sweat and frantic twists of her body, she was by nature more alone in a crowd than even the most solitary adolescent. Like some wild and brittle creature waiting just past the floodlights of civilization she would run at the first sign of restraint.

He could see that she could not help but shift uncomfortably under the weight of 'responsible things.' It was impossible to envision her trailing at the heels of someone who told her that she had a duty to everyone but herself. In her mind obedience was just a game that soon got boring. So clearly unwilling to let anyone see how vulnerable she was, that a safe place would win more than just loyalty.

All of that was clear as their eyes met and he smiled like closing time and failing sunlight.

At last the music cut off and something too slow for the girl's taste was put on. That apparently counted as a reason to do a an obvious evaluation' of Ethan.

Her approach was slower than a 'wait for it' tease, more like there was painful friction between bone and skin. Heroics didn't agree with everyone, and more than that, living according to the rules of others could prove tiring. Small wonder she slipped off to have some time where nobody understood enough to ask things of her.

There were traces of a scared little girl, but with all the damage already done to her of an older woman. He'd always liked the more experienced ones, gave them more seasoning. She glanced at his hands no obvious weapons he could see flash over her face, and didn't attempt to hold in the smile. The more feral thought of claws first.

She took the seat across from him in a fascinatingly blatant 'there will be no prisoners taken' way that Ethan appreciated openly.

"So nice to see a girl unafraid of showing off."

Faith smiled at him. "I've always thought so." Head back she narrowed her eyes. "And who're you?"

"Ethan Rayne." He didn't expect that Rupert would have given a lecture on 'how to rebel in seven easy spells,' complete with pictures and references. Even if there had been a chapter on 'who not to approach when meeting randomly', she would have disregarded the warnings. He knew that the same way that he was sure that if he hadn't been more than unsafe she wouldn't have bothered coming over to learn more.

"And you know who I am."

"Faith, the interesting Slayer."


He shuddered dramatically. "Please, it's a bit soon for insults."

Head back to take him in, he could almost see her relaxing a little. She might not trust goodness, but other things were easy to deal with.

He could have made a 'come here' gesture but that might be too predictable. Better that she close the distance between them.


She straddled him in a way that suggested if he wanted to get out of this at all he had better be armed, and even then she would just enjoy that. But he didn't want to escape, and ran his fingers through dark hair until it was necessary to pull her closer.

Lipstick smeared under his fingertips and she arched into the touch without worrying about appearances. Her beauty was the sort that made promises but had several clauses hidden with curves and experience. Beneath the skin was reality and both of them could see past the first layers.

Each wary twitch was a little death, microscopic tragedies, her innocence, trust. All things that could be taken without words or acknowledgment.

He ran Power over the chips in her and she leaned back, her laughter louder than manners dictated. People glanced at her in annoyance that was transparent over unease. The sound would have been right at home in some cozy kitchen, with the smells of roasting meat and frosted cookies. But neither of them were anything but obvious outsiders and her laughter was too happily torn to fit in.

She held on as he gripped the small of her back and splayed his other hand on her belly. It was a matter of concentration to send a tingle through her as he whispered a twisting thread of sounds. Magically borne they quivered and clapped down on the sweat-need-pleasure of the room and rolled it into a sphere that went down. Faith reacted to the spell like it was a flowery sonnet and rocked against him.

She slumped against him in a way that could have been weak if her nails weren't still leaving marks. The kiss was more of a bite and he felt her grin as he didn't pull away.

Under the dim lighting Faith's mouth might have been smeared with blood and her eyes outlined with friendly shadows. At that moment it would be hard for anyone to call her normal.

As he traced her features, Ethan reflected that being considered 'something else' was more than acceptable in the right company.


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