Pairing: William, G/E, (G/J implied)
Disclaimer: anelith likes these guys and I thought I’d try my hand at ‘em. So if you’re gonna sic your law-dogs on someone, Joss. . . .
Notes/Spoilers/Warnings: All-human AU; a prequel, I guess, to the True Meaning of Family!verse.
Summary: Happily Ever After . . . enter the Wicked Stepmum.
Once upon a time, there was a boy named William. He lived all the way across the sea, on a magical and rainy island named England.
William’s parents loved him very, very much--even more than they loved each other, it could be argued. But their family was a happy family, their life a happy life . . . a tad dull, but happy, for all that.
A few days before William’s seventh birthday, the low and ominous doorbell rings once, echoing throughout the house. William, hoping his mother has returned from her appointment with Dr. Travers early--and with arms so full of presents she can’t use her key--runs for the door before his father can stir himself from the library.
William stumbles on the carpet in the parlor and keeps going--slides the whole eight meters down the perfectly waxed front hall floor--to collide solidly, but not painfully with the front door. He bounces back and yanks the front door open, not even slightly out of breath.
“Mum, mum, you’re ho--! Oh.” A tall, pale man with cold, dark eyes regards William from a height of at least ten storeys. “Hello. Calendar-Giles residence. How may I help you, sir?”
The stranger gives William a wintry smile before stepping across the threshold uninvited, as if he is entering his own home.
“You must be William.” The man looks around the hall with a critical frown.
Though not afraid of this scarecrow of pales and darks, William is wary of him, doesn’t like him. He doesn't yet know the word prescient, but if he did, he would follow his instinct and do his best to put this man out of his home. But he doesn’t, so he can’t. All he can do is be polite. “Yes, sir. How may I help you?”
“You may help me by letting Ripper know that Ethan Rayne is here.”
Relief spreads through William like warmth. “There’s no Ripper here, sir. You have the wrong residence.”
“Tell your father Ethan Rayne is here, child.” The man turns that critical frown on William for a moment, then turns to examine a painting, utterly dismissing him.
Now, William is a child doted on by every adult who’s ever met him, thus is unused and disinclined to being dismissed. His immediate instinct is to kick this tall stranger right in the shin. In fact, he’s drawn his skinny little leg back to do just that when the stranger chuckles darkly. “I wouldn’t, if I were you. I kick back. Now, do as you’re told and let Rupert Giles know that I’m here.”
Dismissed again and confronting the awful possibility that his father might actually know this alarming person--and that said alarming person might indeed kick back--William is off for the library. Another glide down the main hall, another stumble-slide that straightens out the carpet and he’s being caught and swung into the air by his father. After a kiss on the cheek and a few seconds of airplane, both father and son are laughing.
“Where are you off to in such a hurry, William? Who was at the door? Did your mother come home with--packages?” Rupert’s kind, near-sighted eyes say he knows exactly why his son had rushed to the door. William starts to smile, then he remembers who’s waiting in the hall.
“There’s a man here to see you, Dad.”
“Ethan Rains. He said he was looking for Ripper and then he said he was looking for you and then he said if I didn’t fetch you, he’d kick me. Hard,” William adds in a solemn whisper.
The look of surprise, dismay, and yearning on his father’s face is like nothing William has ever seen there before, and it frightens him. “Dad?”
“Rayne, son. Not Rains. Ethan Rayne,” Rupert says absently, putting his son down. “My God--he can’t mean to--why now?” Rupert’s suddenly unhappy eyes fall on William. “William, go to the kitchen, ask Mrs. McArdle to make you a snack and I want you to stay there until I come to get you, alright?”
“There’s a good boy, Will.” A distracted pat to William’s head and Rupert is hurrying out of the parlor and down the hall.
Worried--another thing William is unused to being--he turns to obey his father, not even a little interested in snacks or Mrs. McArdle, but determined to do as he’s told.
But then the voice in his head--the one his mum calls his ‘mischief-voice’--nudges him back in the direction of the front hall. After all, that Rains character has a rather ill-favored look, unpredictable and dangerous; William’s kind, bookish father almost certainly isn’t prepared to handle such a person. It only stands to reason that Rupert needs his loyal and brave boy at his side to deal with any menace this stranger thinks to present.
(And at any rate, the mischief-voice rarely has to try hard to get William into trouble.)
William creeps back through the parlor and the front hall and peers ‘round the corner, into the small anteroom.
His father and that dreadful Rains fellow are merely standing a few feet apart, silently staring at each other. Going by the tense line of Rupert’s back, he must expect some sort of trouble from this man. From the unwholesome smile on Rains’s face, trouble isn’t safely out of the realm of possibility, as William’s mother might say.
Eventually, it’s Rains who breaks the silence.
Dad is Ripper?
“Hello, Ethan. It’s been so long. . . .”
“Too long, old man.” The sly, sickle of a smile widens and Rains is transformed from a scarecrow, to a malignant wizard, like right out of The Fellowship of the Ring.
William knows that this time, he’d been right to disobey.
“I imagine you’ve come to put an end to me, then.” Rupert’s voice is calm, resigned. “I ask only, as someone you once claimed to be fond of, that you spare my family.”
“Darling Ripper . . . so noble, even now.” Rains’s mask of cold contempt slips for a moment, revealing adoration and desperation so naked and intense it repulses William. Then the mask is back in place. “I’m not here to kill you or your little family.”
“Well. How--generous of you. Then I suppose you have a night of torture planned, or something along those lines?” Despite his words, Rupert’s voice contains a small amount of dry humor. Rains’s sickle-smile improbably widens.
“For a man who fears malice in the form of his old friends, you’ve been remarkably complacent so far. Your lack of vigilance is really rather disturbing--letting junior answer the door when I could’ve been anyone at all?” Rains tsks.
Rupert’s voice is still as dry he takes off his glasses; a clean handkerchief is ready to polish the lenses. “Is that why you’ve come here, Ethan? To criticize my parenting?”
“No, Ripper, I -” Rains takes a deep, shaky breath, the haughty mask slipping away completely; he takes a step forward. Then another. Then another. Then another. After the briefest of hesitations, Rupert’s arms slide slowly around him, pull him even closer.
Rains lets out a breath and a smile lights up his dark eyes, warms them. “I came here for this. For you. I love you, Ripper. I always have. And try as I might I can’t seem to stop loving you. I let you chase me off because I thought--well, it doesn’t matter what I thought, but I won’t let you do it again.”
“Ethan.” Rupert brings one hand up to touch Rains’s face gently, as if he fears it will break, or disappear. When Rains leans into the touch, Rupert jerks away, as if he’s been burned. “It’s too late. I have a family. Responsibilities. I--I’m not Ripper, anymore,” he says softly. His arms fall away from Rains and he takes a step back.
“You don’t have to be. Ripper or Rupert, I love you to distraction. I gave up summoning Eyghon because it was what you wanted and I loved you.” Rains takes a small step toward Rupert. “And now, I’ve turned away from my God because I want to be someone you can love in return. Ripper, please.”
“You gave up worshiping Chaos?” This is said in same tone William occasionally hears when he announces he’s completed his homework or washed behind his ears.
There’s a flash of frustration and hurt in Rains’s eyes before he looks down wearily. “Ripper--I’d give up oxygen if it meant having you. How many times and in how many different ways must I say it before you’ll believe me?”
“How long?” Rupert demands.
Rain’s sighs and it makes him look older, tired, but he meets Rupert’s eyes squarely. “One year. I thought if I could give chaos up for one whole year, giving it up for the rest of my life might not be such a hardship. I also thought it would prove my love and devotion. What I want from you is more than just your body and more than just a whim.”
“What is it exactly that you want?” Rupert asks, as if he’s not quite certain he wants to hear the answer. William, however, is quite certain he doesn’t want to hear the answer; yet he can’t seem to turn away.
“Your heart and soul,” Rains says without blinking.
“Oh. Is that all, then?”
“It’s asking a lot only if you no longer have them to give. I happen to know you do.” Rains's smile is almost boyish.
William can hear his father swallow from down the hall, doesn’t miss the way the slight, ever-present slump to father’s shoulders straightens.
“Once upon a time, you cared nothing for either of those things.”
“Once upon a time, I was a foolish prat.”
Rupert turns his face away and takes off his glasses again. Instead of getting polished, they go in the right front pocket of Rupert's pants. “My life is--complicated, Ethan, I can’t just--”
“We can deal with complications, Ripper, the way we used to. Together. Together, we’re a force to be reckoned with.”
“Things change, Ethan. Considering your-- former religious convictions, you should understand that more than anyone.” Rupert’s voice is so low, William strains to hear it. . . .
. . . and so sad, it breaks his heart to.
“Things do change, old man, but not us. Not what we feel for each other.” Rains’s dark eyes burn with something William can’t name, but has only ever seen in his mother’s eyes. And only ever when she looks at his father. “You don’t love her. You never have--not the way you love me.”
Rupert’s laugh is small, bitter. “Ethan, I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you. Be that as it may, I will not destroy my family--not even for you.”
“Yes, your little family--a wife who’s a pawn of the Council that nearly stripped us of our powers and that odd, changeling of a child. Your . . . family.” The clinical disdain in Rains’s voice makes William start to hate him, just a little. “You would grow attached to that boy, Ripper. Your greatest flaw is your bloody sentimentality.”
“As I recall, my bloody sentimentality saved your life and your powers, Ethan,” Rupert says very quietly.
“Neither of which are worth having without you.”
Shocked to silence, Rupert says nothing and Rains goes on softly, implacably. “I want you, I need you. I love you.”
“You have no right to say that, Ethan. Not now.”
“Now is all we have, Ripper. You can’t continue to hide in this sham of a life. You can’t lie to yourself forever.”
“--is yours, not Jennifer’s despite what she likes to pretend.”
William gasps so loud, he’s sure one or both of them can hear him. But when they both go on speaking--at least William thinks they’ve gone on speaking, he can’t actually hear what they’re saying over the pounding of his heart--he ducks back around the corner, stunned.
Not Jennifer’s? Not Jennifer’s? What did he mean? His heart seems to plead on every beat. If not hers, then whose?
William is entirely unaware that tears as hot as his face is cold are rolling down his cheeks.
No! He’s a liar, that’s what he is! An awful old liar, making up stories to trick Dad into letting him in. But it won’t work. It can’t work. Mum--
not hers . . . oh, not hers. . . .
--will be home soon and she’ll put him out and we’ll never see him again and everything will be alright and--and--
When the rabbity-scared thud of William’s heart slows and quiets enough for him to hear what his father and Rains are saying again, he takes another peek ‘round the corner.
“--is a good companion, and more importantly a wonderful mother. I can’t imagine depriving William of her, or vice versa,” Rupert is saying very firmly.
But he didn’t say that he loves her, William realizes with cold dread. He suspects that little omission didn’t get by Rains, either.
Rains lays his head on Rupert’s shoulder and laughs softly. “I adore you, Ripper,” comes his muffled, amused murmur. “And I’ll take you any way I can get you. If it means being your--bit of fluff on the side, till you realize what you really need and want, I can accept that. For now.”
“No!” Rupert recoils, pushing Rains away. “I couldn’t possibly!”
“Oh, couldn’t you?” When Rains pulls Rupert’s arms back around his waist, Rupert doesn’t stop him and William, for the life of him, cannot understand why.
“I most definitely wouldn’t! It would be beneath us both to carry on in such a disgraceful fashion! No!”
“I won’t take no for an answer, old man. Not when I know what you really want.” Rains leans back a little to look into Rupert’s eyes. “Tell me, Ripper. Tell me what you really want.”
“You,” Rupert says gravelly, without hesitation. “Always you, from the moment I first laid eyes on you. But I will not entertain the notion of--of sneaking around with you as if you’re some sort of shameful secret to be kept. And even if I could end my marriage without hurting William, he will always come first in my consideration and in my heart--even ahead of you. Could you live with being second, Ethan?”
A silence that’s several minutes long.
“I think,” Rains says finally, slowly, as if swallowing a very bitter pill, indeed. “That you’re mistaking me with someone who has a little pride left, Ripper, and you really shouldn’t. If it means having you, I can live with anything, even being second in your heart.
“You would never have accepted that, seven years ago,” is Rupert’s response, soft and breathless. Rains’s sickle-smile returns, but the dark eyes above it are still anxious and hopeful.
“Seven years ago, darling Ripper, I hadn’t spent seven years apart from you.” Rains’s laugh is mirthless, self-mocking; it put William in the mind of sobs, rather than smiles. "It’s amazing how well loneliness and utter despair can sort one’s priorities.”
Rupert sighs and holds Rains tighter and kisses his forehead gently, the way he kisses William’s when he’s had a nightmare. “I didn’t know.”
“I didn't want you to know."
Even without seeing Rupert’s face, William can recognize when his father is thinking quickly--furiously about something. When he’s . . . considering.
There's nothing to think about, Dad, just send him away! Can't you see he's no good?
“I’ve missed you,” Rupert finally whispers.
“And I’ve missed you, too, Rip--Rupert.” Rains’s smile has turned boyish again, almost shy. He leans in until his forehead touches Rupert’s. “I’ve missed--”
William doesn’t find out what else Rains had missed. Rupert leans in and kisses him long, hard, and possessively. Passionately.
Shocked, William stands up and steps out into the hallway. And why shouldn’t he be shocked? William knows his father is only supposed to kiss his mother like that. He also knows his father never has.
This dreadful Rains fellow--aside from being an awful liar--is some sort of Adulterer, like in one of Mrs. McArdle’s afternoon programs. And Rupert--
William watches his father and Rains with growing dismay; doesn’t allow himself to think of what Rupert might be.
Eventually, the intensity of their kiss lessens, turns into a long embrace with Rains’s chin resting on Rupert’s shoulder. They're swaying gently, as if they have no cares and all the time in the world.
I hate you, William thinks helplessly, uncertain to which of them he’s thinking it.
Immediately, Rains’s eyes flicker open to meet William’s. The sickle smile twitches in amusement and a voice--too strong, too deep, too old to be William's mischief voice--echoes a single word through William’s being.
The word is: shoo.
Rains’s eyes close contentedly, without waiting to see if he’s being obeyed; William runs to the kitchen and Mrs. McArdle, wishing he’d gone straight there, when he’d been told.
This story prequels the series
The True Meaning of Family
The True Meaning of Family
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