Hyperventilating, Ethan could barely walk much less run. With a glance back at the shop's back exit, he ducked behind a trash bin. It wouldn't hide him, not if anyone came looking, but it was the best he could do for the moment. His arm, where acid had burned his tattoo away, hurt like a son of a bitch, but he couldn't let that distract him, not if he wanted to live.
Ethan turned his thoughts inside. The terror and the pain, they belonged to him but were not part of him. He let them go, let them drop away. In his mind Ethan was in the air, dressed in robes of black and white, watching lava erupted from a volcano and flowed down over the countryside, changing everything. When he opened his eyes only a minute or two had passed. He grimaced at the pain in his arm but at least the terror had been dulled down to manageable fear. He could think again. He could plan.
Reaching a hand across his body, Ethan let it rest an inch above the bandages, the last remnant of what had been the Mark of Eyghon tattooed on his arm. There were two others bearing the same mark. Eyghon should go for them, not him. That might not be true. The demon had touched his soul. The mark might be more than physical. He needed more information.
The shop was full of people: three children including the Slayer, Rupert, that Jenny Rupert had seemed so attached to, and one other. The other, a man, was fighting off Eyghon, but that couldn't be. No human could … Ethan felt as if his heart had stopped beating. They'd put Eyghon into a vampire? How could Rupert do something so incredibly stupid? That would only stabilize Eyghon, allow him to remain in the body without decomposing. Rupert had just gone and made Eyghon stronger. Ethan knew he should run – it was the only way to survive if indeed survival were at all possible now – but he couldn't move, and then he saw the vampire win. Eyghon was contained.
Ethan fell against the bricks, allowing the building to hold him up. Safe, he was safe. He wanted to collapse into little more than a puddle, but he wasn't safe. Rupert and his Slayer were one small room away. They wouldn't stay in the shop, not for long, and Ethan couldn't hide out here on the street. He ran, to his car and to his motel. Not wanting to think what Rupert would have one if he'd caught him, Ethan poured himself a scotch and thought of Rupert and his new toy: that dark haired little lovely, that Jenny.
So, Rupert had moved on had he? That hardly seemed fair, and after Ethan had taken so much trouble to spice up his life. Damn but that pain in his arm wasn't going away. Well, there was one thing he could do. A spot of magic, a bit of transcendence of the mundane world, could always shift his thoughts to other things. He pulled out a bowl, filled it with water, lit a candle and then incense. He closed his eyes and let the scent carry him until he, his astral self that is, was floating. Looking down he could see himself meditating before the altar. Rupert, he thought, let me see Rupert.
He was with Jenny, of course he was, but they weren't embracing. They were in a diner, sitting across from each other. He had tea but wasn't drinking it. Her coffee cup was raised between them, held in both hands. From where Ethan was floating it seemed as thick as a wall.
"We knew each other." Rupert sighed and continued. "Very long ago. My youth was far more misspent than you might imagine. I broke it off." He gave her a guilty glance. "I left. I never wanted to see him again but he does turn up. If it helps, I doubt it was Ethan who raised Eyghon. The demon was as much a danger to him as to the rest of us. He wouldn't risk his own life."
It was nice to hear that Rupert still understood him.
"You were lovers."
Ah, Ethan had wondered if she'd picked up on that.
"To put is succinctly, yes." There was no reason for Rupert to look ashamed. "But that was ages ago, decades ago," Rupert continued.
"There's still something between you."
She was an insightful one. Ethan could see what Rupert saw in this Jenny.
"I told him to leave town."
"You took too much joy in beating on him, Rupert. There's still passion there." She put down her cup. "I have to go." When Rupert started to rise, she added. "No. Stay." Wrapping her arms around herself, she looked as hopeless as a lost waif. Aw, poor thing. "I need to be alone."
Rupert stayed. He never did know when to go running after. "I told him to leave," he whispered. "It's not my fault he came back, keeps coming back. If he had come back, that first night, I wouldn't have taken him back. I wouldn't." He reached a hand out to where Jenny had been sitting but his words made it clear he wasn't thinking of her. "Would I?"
Ethan let go and felt himself being drawn backward into his body. He opened his eyes to the slightly dingy motel, to the altar before him and to the statute of Janus on the far table. "I think we can answer that question for you Rupert."