Secrets Revealed And Concealed
written by Adrienne


Rating: FRAO for adult themes, strong language.
Spoilers: Takes place during Giles' Ripper days, but the series will span from this story setting to after "Chosen".
Summary: Takes place pre London. Ethan and Giles are at Eton, close friends, and each learns a little more about the other.
Author's Notes: This is the first story in a series about the relationship between Giles and Ethan.
Feedback Author: Adrienne



Early morning of an English spring is a fine and beautiful thing, Ethan Rayne thought to himself as he sauntered along the pathway that led to his lodgings. He had learned long ago that sneaking in was far more conspicious than simply walking through the gates and to his room as if he hadn't a care in the world. If anyone asked, he was simply out for an early morning stroll. Nobody did.

Ethan was fairly certain that a significant portion of the Powers That Be - the headmaster and the teachers - knew exactly what was he was doing, but simply couldn't be arsed to do anything about it. After all, he was leaving in a couple of months and he was in no danger of failing any of his A levels.

Slipping quietly into his room, he plugged in the kettle. He needed a nice, strong cuppa before classes and Ripper was impossible before his first cup.

Once the tea was made, he slipped across the hall to his best friend's room. He paused for a moment to look at Ripper, who was looking particularly cherubic this morning. Shafts of sunlight danced across his face, turning the almost-blond hair to gold.

"Good morning, sunshine." Ethan kicked the end of Ripper's bed, careful not to spill the tea. "Rise and shine, sugarplum."

"Fuck off," Ripper growled, pulling the covers over his head, all of the angelic sweetness gone.

"Get your arse out of bed or your first cup of tea will be an enema, sweetcakes." Ethan informed him in his best sugary tones. He figured he had two, maybe three minutes before the syrupy endearments would get him killed.

"Go fuck yourself, Rayne."

"I would, but I'm a bit shagged out this morning." Ethan sipped at his own tea and waited for Ripper to emerge from the blankets.

"Good God. Sylvia?" Ripper was grinning at him, all his sleepy grumpiness gone.

"Sylvia." Ethan nodded. "A right sweet piece of arse she is, too."

"How did you manage to get into her knickers?"

Ethan sat down on the bed and handed over the tea with an exaggerated sigh.

"Do I have to explain it to you again?" he said, rolling his eyes. "Boys have something called a penis. It's that bit of flesh hanging between your legs. Girls have a..." He broke off as Ripper took a sip of tea, then thwapped him with a pillow. Ethan yelped as a splash of hot tea spilled on his trousers.

"I know that part, you berk. I meant, how did you get Sylvia to spread for you?"

"Struck out with her, did you?" Ethan tried to look sympathetic, despite the smirk.

"I never tried with her." Ripper took another mouthful of tea and threw back the covers. Ethan tried not to stare too obviously. Ripper always slept nude and he had seen Ripper's naked body often enough, but of late it was making him somewhat uncomfortable.

"No?"

"You wanted her." Ripper shrugged. "I don't go after my best mate's girls. So tell all, Rayne. How did you manage?"

"Quite nicely, thank you. Sylvia was as interested as I was." Ethan sprawled over the vacant bed, watching Ripper pull on his uniform. "She snuck out, same as I did. We went to the golf course by the castle."

"The castle? Are you out of your mind? HM's in residence. You're bloody lucky the SAS didn't get after you."

"The SAS? More like some fat pensioner with a spiffy hat," Ethan replied. "We didn't get that close to the castle and, besides, Brenda isn't likely to notice the likes of me. Now, if it was you, my lad, the Honourable Rupert Giles, you'd be hauled on the carpet in no time."

"I'm not the Honourable anything, Rayne. That's mum."

"Still, you are far more likely to be invited up to the castle than me."

"Fat chance of either of us being invited to anything," Ripper grumbled, looking around for his tie. "Besides, I've been to parties of that kind and they're dreadful. All boring old people, or the Sloane Ranger and Hooray Henry types. Not for me, thank you very much."

"Or me. The temptation to do magic would be too great."

"Oh, wouldn't that be fun?" Ripper grinned, mischief sparkling in his eyes.

"So why don't you?"

"Because I don't want Dad to cut off my allowance," Ripper replied. "So, are you going to class or staying in to get some kip?"

"Class. I can sleep in History and get the notes from you."

"All right. Are we going to Latin?"

"I wasn't planning on it. Old Pethick isn't bearable at the best of times, so I'm not going. You?"

"No. I've got a really wicked headache."

"Poor lad."

"Save your sympathy for after lunch. I won't have the headache until then."

* * * * *

Ethan whistled as he returned to his room. Tossing his hat into a corner, he put the kettle on as he went through his mail. There was a letter from Aunt Clara, which he opened, extracted the cheque, and discarded the note. Susan's missive went into the rubbish unread. What part of 'it's over' did she not understand? The letter from Tom, at his old school, he tucked away for later reading. Tom's letters required more alertness than he currently possessed. The shorter letter from Harry, also in his old school, made him laugh.

The last letter was from his mother. He tapped the thick envelope on the table, not sure if he wanted to open it. Father had not said anything about mum since she... he left Rugby. Taking a deep breath, he tore open the envelope and fanned open the letter.

The first page was covered in tiny 2's. Nothing but neat rows of numbers, in all different sizes and styles. He stared at it blankly for a moment, a sinking feeling coming over him. The next page was less startling, at least until he actually read it.

It began 'Beloved son' and degenerated into gibberish after that. There was a long, rather pointless story about table lamps and feral kittens, which didn't startle him that much. Mum always distrusted the lamps. That went on for two and a half pages. Par for the course, so far.

The next few pages were almost coherant, at least by mum's standards. A few comments about Nana and Grandpa, all of them accusatory and bitter. A rather embarrassing and graphic description of how she felt about his father, and how she would eviscerate the old man before she'd let him divorce her. A line here and there, asking how he was getting on in his new school.

The last two pages were slightly more lucid. She told him about her voices, begging him to keep them a secret, just between them. She knew, she wrote, that he heard them, too. He was blessed, just as she was, to hear the whispers on the wind, and to see the threads that connected the world. She cautioned him to be careful, to tell no one about them, that they'd lock him away if he ever told.

She also told him that the voices came with strange, wonderous desires, ones that Father would not understand. And she cautioned him about the dangers of being chosen by the voices.

She described an encounter she'd had when being taken a concert, about a couple of horrible monsters with fangs and brow ridges who growled at her and tried to kill her. They wanted her voices, but she wouldn't give them up for anything.

The letter ended with a cryptic quotation from the Book of Common Prayer's funeral mass, the bit about ashes and dust. That unnerved him greatly. Was mum having visions of death?

Of course, mum had visions of being attacked by light fixtures and had an unreasoning fear of window cleaner, but her visions sometimes came true.

Mum's letters were always unsettling, but this one was downright frightening.

Because he did hear the voices. He was starting to feel things, desires that were strange and beautiful and frightening. And he had seen the monsters.

He had seen the monsters with the fangs and ridges, and not in his dreams.

A few weeks ago, he and Ripper had been walking back to school from a late night, unauthorised excursion into town and they had been startled by someone jumping out at them. Ripper had pushed him back violently, knocking him down. He had stayed down, since Ripper was bigger and tougher than he was. He heard a few blows and then, nothing. No footsteps of a fleeing would be mugger, and no moans of pain.

Ripper helped him up, dusted him off, asked if he was all right, and continued walking as if nothing had happened. When asked, Ripper shrugged it off and changed the subject.

He hadn't wanted his best friend to think he was off his trolley, so he tried to tell himself that he had imagined the distorted face and the gleaming fangs. Ripper had seen the monster, too, and vanquished it, so he'd know if it had been anything more than a run of the mill mugger.

So, either he was seeing things and was beginning the long, slow slide into insanity like his mother, or...

There was no "or". Despite the tests he'd had, he was just like his mother. He had inherited her madness and he'd end up just like her. Locked in an institution, unable to distinguish between reality and his own twisted imaginings, voices in his head telling him to kill his nearest and dearest.

He shivered. The whole reason he was here and not at his old school was to be safely away from mum. He still had nightmares about her coming at him with the knife, pressing the cold blade along his throat, whispering how much she loved him and that was why she had to drain the blood from his body.

That had not been the first time she'd hurt him, but it was the first time that Father had been home when she did. Father vowed it would be the last time and arranged for him to change schools and spend his holidays with Aunt Clara.

* * * * *

"Rayne?" He looked up to see Ripper come in, without knocking, and deposit himself on his bed. "Ethan?"

"Ripper." He hastily folded the letter and shoved it back into the envelope. "Did you want something?"

"No, but you wanted the notes from history class." Ripper pulled a couple of sheets from his pocket and tossed them at him. "You're looking a little green around the gills. Wasn't sleeping through maths enough?"

"Do you have the notes for that as well?" Ethan asked, picking up the history notes and smoothing out the pages. Good God, Ripper wrote small.

"Not worth it. Algebra's easy," Ripper replied. "Since you slept for two solid hours in class today and you seemed all right after tea, what's got you looking like a snuffed out candle?"

"Letters from home."

"Mm." The non committal response was somehow sympathetic. "Anything you want to talk about?"

"No." Ethan shook his head and pulled his legs up until he was sitting tailor fashion in his chair. "Anything going on I need to know about?"

"Pethick caught me smoking in the quad." Ripper shook his head. "A forty minute lecture from Pethick isn't what I'd call a pleasant afternoon."

"He could go on for forty minutes on the evils of smoking? With his pipe still smouldering in his pocket, I'll wager. Or... you were smoking cigarettes, weren't you?"

"You think I'm stupid enough to smoke anything else in the quad, Rayne?" Ripper gave him a mild glare. "No, he left off on the evils of smoking and cutting class and went on to lecture about my boyfriends. Watching him trying to come up with terms for buggering and the like was painful. He could have used the Latin terms. It isn't like I don't know them."

Ethan was always a little startled at how easily Ripper admitted his bisexuality. Discreet affairs were common enough and it was assumed that any boy who'd gone through the public school system had been exposed to homosexual activity of one kind or another, but Ripper was one of a very few who behaved as if it were perfectly normal. He was discreet about the details and only Ethan knew exactly who he was shagging at any one point, but nearly everybody knew about it.

Ripper never got any teasing or into fights because of it, either. Well, Ethan amended his thoughts, one fight. After he'd put Nigel Kenworthy into the hospital, none of the boys dared challenge Ripper.

Nobody ever assumed that Ethan was one of Ripper's lovers, though. Ripper was notorously fickle and, once he'd been with someone once or maybe twice, he'd drop them and pick up someone else. He had the reputation for being a prime bastard when it came to affairs of the heart. As a friend, he was loyal and sincere and an all around good bloke. When it came to the girls or boys he went with, he was a ruthless heartbreaker. It didn't stop the townie girls from going after him, and didn't seem to slow down his getting boys, either, but he never made any moves on his friends.

In a way, he was glad of that. Ripper had rules. No screwing with mates or their girlfriends. He was honest with his lovers and when he was with someone, he didn't roam. He took no for an answer and always made the breakup clean. And he was very, very discreet. Only Ethan knew any details of his love affairs.

"Pethick give you any punishment?"

"No. I wasn't smoking outside the rules and he has to catch me with someone before he can go to the headmaster about it."

"He could tell your folks, though."

"Dad already knows," Ripper said calmly, taking his cigarettes out and lighting two, handing one to Ethan. "He's caught between being utterly appalled and thankful that it reduces the chances of some bird showing up belly high and demanding a cut of the Giles money."

"Considering the way you roam about, the chances aren't that low," Ethan replied.

"Be fair, Rayne. I don't have that many girlfriends." Ripper grimaced. "Only two so far this term and Fiona and I were together most of last term. So, tell me what your parents said to get you in such a state."

"Ripper..."

"No, Rayne. You're twitchy and hanging onto that letter as if it's going to explode," Ripper replied. "Tell me what it says. Get it out in the open instead of letting it rattle around in your twisty little mind."

Ethan sighed. Ripper was almost preternaturally observant. When they first met, he had thought Ripper unbelievably paranoid; he noticed everything. Now he knew it was just Ripper's way.

He looked away and smoked for a moment. Ripper said nothing, just watched him.

"Mum," Ethan said, finally, rising to find an ashtray. "The letter's from my mum."

"And?"

"Take a look at the postmark." Ethan tossed the letter to Ripper, who took it and glanced at the envelope.

"St. Mary's. What's she got?" Ethan should have known Ripper would immediately know that St. Mary's was a psychiatric hospital.

"Dementia praecox."

"I think they call it schizophrenia now. Paranoid type?"

"Oh, yes."

"I'm so sorry, Ethan. Bugger of a thing to deal with."

Ethan shrugged one shoulder.

"I'm used to it. She's been round the bend since before I was born. Father's been a brick about it."

"Still..."

"She said some things in her letter that are not sitting well with me," Ethan admitted, into the long silence. "The part about the lamps and the window cleaner don't bother me much. She's been going on about how her bedside lamp stares at her at night for years."

"So what parts do bother you?"

"She hears voices."

"I thought that was a common symptom."

"So do I, sometimes."

Ethan waited for the reaction. He was disappointed, but not surprised, when Ripper sat up, his languid pose slowly and carefully becoming alert. He rushed to explain.

"When I do magic, I hear things. Not voices, exactly. More like humming or notes of music or something like that."

To his surprise, Ripper laughed.

"If that's hearing voices, I hear them, too," Ripper said, with a wry grin. "It's common enough with magic. I often hear murmuring, like a voice I can't quite make out, especially when I'm speaking in any of the ancient languages."

"Oh." Ethan didn't quite know what to say.

"If you hear it, too, then you're probably more talented than you think," Ripper added. "I wonder if your mum has a touch of the magic herself."

"It's possible." Ethan frowned. He never thought of that. He knew he had some talent and had done some spells, but he never thought much about where the talent might have come from.

"As long as you're not hearing voices telling you to do things, I think booking a room next to your mum is a bit premature."

"She sees things, too," Ethan said rapidly. He was feeling much relieved and was almost babbling. "She told me about seeing a monster with fangs and brow ridges last week when she was out for a supervised visit."

"What?" Ripper looked startled.

"I think it was a trick of the shadows. I thought something similar when we met up with that mugger a couple of weeks ago."

"Ethan, it wasn't..." Ripper broke off, rising to pace around the room. Ethan looked at him in confusion. "Ethan, you'll probably think I'm as crazy as your mum, but it wasn't a mugger. It was a vampire."

It was Ethan's turn to laugh. Then the laughter died in his throat when Ripper didn't laugh along.

"A what?"

"A vampire," Ripper repeated. "Ethan, vampires and demons and werewolves and all those creatures of the night - they're real. They exist and what we met the other night was a vampire."

"And he turned into a bat and flew away?"

"I staked him."

"Pardon?"

"I shoved a stake through its heart," Ripper said slowly. "It's cliche, I know, but it's also one of the ways to kill a vampire."

"Along with beheading?"

"Or setting it on fire or exposing it to the sun."

Ethan looked at his friend's perfectly serious expression and began to grin.

"Okay, you got me. Remind me never to play poker with you."

"I'm not..." Ripper gave him an exasperated look, then took his arm to drag him up. "Look, I've got something to show you in my room."

Ethan watched, arms folded around himself as Ripper opened the trunk under the window. Although he had spent many an hour sitting on the trunk, he'd never seen it open. He had thought it was simply a convenient flat surface and otherwise empty. It wasn't.

The trunk contained all sorts of things that no respectable student of an upper class prep school should have in his room. Ripper removed a crossbow, a handful of bolts, several knives and a half dozen sharpened wooden stakes before removing a large, heavy book. Ethan glanced in, seeing several more books, a sheaf of notes in Ripper's miniscule handwriting and some bottles labelled Holy Water. He turned his attention to the book.

It was old, as old or older than some of the books he had perused in the library, and it smelled of incense and dust, the smell of magic. It had "Vampyr" written on the hand tooled leather cover. It would have been an enormously dramatic moment, had Ripper not simply tossed it on the bed and taken a last drag off his cigarette before stubbing it out.

"Very pretty," Ethan commented, put his own cigarette out. "Want to tell me what it means?"

"In every generation, there a Chosen One. She alone who fights the vampires, the demons and the forces of Darkness. She is the Slayer," Ripper said dramatically.

"Since I've seen you in the altogether, I assume it's not you, then."

"I'm going to be a Watcher," Ripper told him, looking at him with very intent green eyes. Ethan tried not to look into them; Ripper's eyes did things to his insides that he didn't understand. Perhaps it was the intensity, but felt compelled to look anyway. Ripper was holding himself in very tightly; there was something about his stance and his tension that told Ethan that he had never told anyone about this before and that he was afraid of Ethan's reaction.

"Well. Jolly good." Ethan took refuge in flippancy. "Shall I put the kettle on? Then you can explain what the bloody hell a Watcher is."

"Put the kettle on." Ripper sank down onto his bed, as if drained by the little melodramatic speech. "The Slayer is a young girl, usually somewhere in her mid teens. The oldest Slayer called was nineteen, the youngest was thirteen. A Watcher is the one who teaches her which demons are which and how to defeat them. He or she reads the prophecies and interprets the signs to keep her safe."

"How do you get to be one? Pop down to the employment office?" Ethan asked brightly. Ripper glared.

"For the most part, it's a family business. If a son or daughter of a Watcher has the requisite talents, they're trained. Some of the Watchers come from other places, when the talents crop up, but most of us are interrelated."

"Us?"

"The Giles family have been Watchers since before the Conquest. My father is a Watcher and his mother was before him," Ripper replied, as Ethan turned to make tea. "It's inevitable, really. Only another Watcher can really understand what the job is."

"What talents do you need?" Ethan was fascinated. This was so bizarre, as it revealed yet another facet of his friend.

"Facility with languages, research abilities, practical fighting, that sort of thing." Ripper shrugged. "Dad told me when I was ten that I was to be a Watcher and I started training. In the fall, I'll be off to Oxford to read history."

"And when you're done, you'll go off to Watch this Slayer?" Ethan guessed. Ripper snorted.

"Not likely. There's only one Slayer and about a dozen potentials. There are hundreds of Watchers. Most Watchers research or translate or do the administration work. Some are Seers, to read the omens and find the girls who may be chosen as the Slayer, and a few are assigned to these potential Slayers and train them from childhood. Only one can be the Slayer's Watcher."

"Let me get this straight. When you were ten years old, you were told that you would be spending the rest of your life as a bureaucrat or an academic, on the off chance you'll be assigned to teach a teenage girl how to fight monsters."

"Put into a very tiny nutshell, yes."

"And the Slayer's work is dangerous, right?"

"Yes, it is. Slayers generally don't see their twenty first birthday, although the current Slayer in New York is twenty three. She's living on borrowed time."

"I see. So you teach the girl and send her out to fight these monsters knowing that some night, she won't come back?" Ethan pressed. Ripper nodded, his head down. "Pays well, then?"

"Not especially," Ripper admitted, in a small voice. Ethan looked at him for a long time, not sure how he felt.

He had never seen Ripper so vulnerable and it hurt. Ethan wanted, more than anything, to reach out and embrace his friend, to comfort him, to take away the painful uncertainty written all over him. He didn't like the feeling at all, and strove to bury it.

"Sound like it would suit you to perfection," Ethan said finally. "The chance to study all day long, for the joy of it and for the satisfaction of being a paladin to his lady. It's hopelessly romantic, actually. Your family is rich, so you don't have to be concerned with tainting yourself with needing to actually make a living. Shall I book a room for you next to my mum?"

"That might be advisable."

Damn. Now Ripper looked defeated as well as vulnerable. And the need to comfort became more acute.

"Don't listen to me. I'm still in shock," Ethan advised him.

"You haven't said anything I haven't thought myself," Ripper said quietly. "I may never be assigned a Slayer. And if I am, I will be forced to send a girl out night after night to face things that most people only see in their nightmares. I'm not sure I can do that."

"And if you don't, who will? Someone who never thought to ask those questions?" Ethan asked harshly. "You make this sound like a bloody medieval crusade. And we both know what they were all about."

"Power," Ripper whispered.

"Yes. And a few true believers. Where do you fit in?"

"Honestly? I really don't know. I don't know if I even want to do this."

"So don't." Ethan shrugged. "But if they're paying for it, wait until after Oxford. The tuition isn't cheap."

"Ethan... Do you believe me? Or do you think I'm out of my mind?"

"I saw the vampire, Ripper," Ethan said softly. "And you've never lied to me before. Frankly, I'm surprised you told me at all."

"I think I needed to. This whole business is a bit much to cope with on my own."

"You don't have to cope with it alone," Ethan said firmly, sitting down next to him and putting an arm around him. "You have me."

"Good." To Ethan's surprise, Ripper turned and embraced him fully.

God, that felt good. For the first time in his entire life, Ethan felt connected. Even when he had been sharing Syvia's body had he felt alone, but now he didn't. It was a strange feeling, one that he didn't know quite how to handle.

He wanted to hold Ripper forever, to push him gently onto the bed so they could be closer. He wanted...

He wanted to kiss Ripper. He wanted to touch and taste and...

Oh, God. These desires, the strange and frightening and insane feelings he had been having for weeks - the ones mum warned him about - coalesced into sudden, sharp clarity. He wanted to make love with Ripper.

He jumped up, a little frightened by this new revelation. With shaking hands, he poured the tea and sat down again, this time carefully away from Ripper.

"So there you have it," Ripper said quietly, without looking up. "It's been quite a day for secrets, hasn't it?"

"Yes. You find out that my mum's insane."

"And you find out that your best mate's nearly as bad."

But you didn't find out that your best mate is falling madly, insanely in love with you. And you never will, you tosser.

END

Read the next story in this series: Fantasy To Reality