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In Blue
bow bells
by Raven

PG-13, slash. Midsummer melancholy.

Now, years afterwards, Ethan plays a game with himself. On Midsummer Eve, in a pub near the old bells, he orders seven shots of vodka and dares himself to live till morning.

On the first day, in the morning, Ripper helped Ethan clean up the mess. There was less blood than there had seemed to be at first, spreading out in a thin layer across the kitchen floor, so Ripper mopped it up with kitchen towels and an ancient dishcloth whilst Ethan went out for black bin bags. They worked in silence, and as the sunlight crept in, waited for the inevitable explosion of dust and demonic ashes.

When it happened, Deirdre shrieked a bit and it was Ripper who soothed her. Phillip had retreated into a state of shock, and like him, Ethan was feeling curiously detached from proceedings. Only the sunlight seemed real; that, and Ripper’s voice, gentle and somehow losing all traces of Cockney.

In the afternoon, Ripper got to his feet, walking with heavy footsteps, and pulled the Malleus Maleficarum down from a shelf. Ethan, looking over his shoulder, realised he was reading about spells for revivification and resurrection, but the edges of the page began to singe under Ripper’s hands and he snapped the book shut.

Ethan didn’t say anything. He knew, and Ripper knew, that Randall wasn’t coming back.

The first one is always the hardest. The second shot he takes is slower, more like an ordinary drinker in a pub than a chaos mage. It’s sharp to the taste.

On the second day, Deirdre and Phillip were gone. They must have left during the night, Ethan noted dully; they usually did anyway. They didn’t live with him and Ripper, it only seemed as though they did.

The silence was getting too much, Ethan decided. He was talking to himself. Morosely, he padded round the flat, looking for Ripper, and found him at the kitchen table poking a bowl of cornflakes with a spoon. As Ethan watched, he stood up and threw it away untouched. He didn’t sit down again and he didn’t notice Ethan in the doorway; he walked around the table, once, twice, barefoot and green-eyed, and there was something too deliberate in the way he moved.
Ethan wondered if he’d slept at all, and knew it wasn’t worth asking.

Ethan is a Cockney by the strictest definition; he was born within hearing distance of the Bow Bells, with the obvious caveat that those bells were destroyed by a bomb in 1941.

He hears them anyway; he takes his third drink and remembers he meant to ask Ripper if he heard them too, if it was something about magic in your blood that let you hear the chimes of times past, but he forgot and then it was too late.

On the third day, Ripper slept straight through morning, afternoon and night, hair falling across his face in fretful curls. Ethan picked him up off the floor and carried him, pushing a pillow under his head and pulling off his boots. Ripper was dead weight in his arms and Ethan understood what was happening. He found the mess of pills soon enough, crushed between careless fingers and strewn among broken brown glass on the floor.

When Ripper woke up, it was with the suddenness with which he did everything, choking and gasping for air. His lips were bleeding. Ethan watched him get up, glance around, eyes slipping in and out of focus, and abruptly bolt for the door, pausing only to grab his boots. He stayed out for the entire day, and in between sleeping, pacing and working on a casting, Ethan worried. Ripper didn’t return until late at night, and there was the faint scent of perfume on him and grass in his hair. He threw himself down, staring into space, and Ethan didn’t ask.

The next drink he takes is not knocked back. He sips at it almost meditatively, trying to taste rain and history and betrayal, all things that have no taste and are at last submerged beneath the clear alcoholic sting.

On the fourth day, Ripper went out again and that night he didn’t come home at all.

The glass after that is thrown at the wall. The glass shards fall to the ground and liquid drips slowly down the dingy paint. The bartender starts to walk towards Ethan, hands waving menacingly, but at the last moment his expression becomes glassy, fixed, as if trying to remember something he has forgotten, and Ethan nods and is left alone.

On the fifth day, Ethan found Ripper rummaging through the mess in the fridge. Among the herbs for spell-casting and occasional vial of holy water, he found an apple, which he chewed on moodily, and an almost empty vodka bottle, which he finished before he smashed the bottle.

Ethan helped him sweep up the glass. “Why the hell did you smash it?”

There was no answer.

Another one knocked back. Time is growing short.

On the sixth day, it was still too dark when Ethan woke. He shifted, felt the missing weight and warmth, and knew what had woken him.

Ethan sat up and saw the window was open, with Ripper sitting on the windowsill and looking out at the night. It was too cold in the room.

Ethan got up and walked across, wrapping an arm around Ripper’s shoulders, feeling him shiver. “You’re freezing.”

“I’m not cold.”

“Yes, you bloody well are.” Ethan reached across. “Here.”

Ripper submitted to having the blanket wrapped around him, but his hands in Ethan’s were still like ice. “I don’t like this, Ethan.”

“Come back to bed, then,” Ethan suggested. “Sleep.”

“Can’t sleep. I’m so tired and I can’t sleep.” He shifted as he spoke, leaning back against Ethan’s shoulder. In the sodium-yellow of the streetlights, his eyes and lips were black.

“But you don’t try.”

Ripper ignored this; his attention seemed focused on something beyond the window. “I have to go, Ethan.”

“What?” Ethan stared at him, trying to see beyond the blank expression.

“I have to go.” He moved as he said it, pushing away Ethan and the blanket and standing up. “I have to go back.”


“Oxford. The Council of Watchers.”

Ethan merely looked at him. “You can’t do this.”

Ripper looked sadly back, and kissed him once. “I wish I could stay,” he said softly, almost sincerely, and then turned away.

“They’ll never take you back,” Ethan pointed out. “You’re a junkie.”

“I know.”

“And a murderer.”

“I know.”

“You can’t do this,” Ethan repeated helplessly. “You can’t.”

“I am doing it,” Ripper said. He was reaching for his boots as he spoke, pulling them on over bare feet. “I should have done it a long time ago.”

“Ripper, no.” Ethan knelt down unashamedly and pulled the boots back off, not caring if he hurt Ripper in the process. “You left for a reason. Do you want to be back there shackled alongside the biggest pricks in the universe?”

It didn’t prompt a smile. But Ripper relaxed slightly, responded to the touch, and Ethan got him down from the windowsill. “That’s right,” Ethan continued. “Just come back to bed, Ripper. It’ll be all right in the morning.”

Ripper’s hands were warming up. Ethan led him towards the bed and wrapped the blankets over him when he showed no sign of doing it himself. Ethan got in beside him, half-wrapped up in him, and felt Ripper fall asleep by degrees. Together, they were warm; together, they’d got this far.

And at last, enough alcohol has been consumed to send the drinker into sentimentality. Each thought, each sip, each crystal drop of liquid – all for Ripper.

On the sixth day, again, Ethan woke when it was light. He was warm and comfortable, wrapped up in far too many blankets. He rolled over, then jumped out of bed as he felt no resistance.

Ripper had gone.

The drinks are never paid for. Ethan leaves the empty glasses and goes out. One Midsummer, after Sunnydale, Rupert Giles stands with his hands in his pockets by the doorway, head turned to listen to the bells that are no longer there. He lingers, but when Ethan passes he stays in the shadows, and Ethan doesn’t look back.

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