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Title: Geometry of Chance (2/6)
Fandom: Buffy
Author: Rummi ([ profile] sharelle)
Characters: Rupert Giles, Ethan Rayne, Willow, OC
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Nothing in this chapter, but future trigger warning for violent content, some of which involves children.
Word Count: 3,994

Summary: After escaping from the Initiative, Ethan Rayne goes to the Cleveland Hellmouth for a new start and a chance at real power. What he finds is a lot more than he bargained for. (Set a few weeks post-Chosen.)

Complete work can be found here: LJ Memories / FFN / AO3 / DW

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Rupert Giles had been living out of a suitcase for what felt like months at this point. Initially, there had been all those trips to collect the Potentials during the onslaught of the First. Now, however, he actually shared the responsibility of tracking down all the newly activated Slayers.

Giles didn't understand when he, the apparent black sheep of the Council, had suddenly become the über-Watcher.

. . . And the simple fact that he had actually formulated that last thought told him he had spent far too much time exposed to the verbal disaster that his own Slayer called ‘English’.

He tugged his suitcase behind him through the terminal of the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, listening to a very jittery witch on the other end of his mobile phone.

". . . The coven in Devon got a lock on this one last night," Willow's voice sounded tinny through the earpiece. "She's definitely in Cleveland, Giles. No doubt."

"Any idea where, exactly?" Giles asked, balancing the phone on his shoulder and fumbling to tuck his passport back into his inside breast pocket with his only free hand.

"We're working on it," Willow answered. "We keep getting some mixed signals on our end. There are so many of them, Giles."

"But you're certain the power signature you detected is coming from here?" Giles asked. "I'd hate to land in Cleveland and learn that the Slayer I'm seeking is actually in Tuscarora."

"Absolutely, positively," Willow affirmed. "The seers definitely pinpointed the location near the second Hellmouth. Though I'm sure there's probably an SIT somewhere in Tuscarora, too," she added. "New Slayers seem to be popping up everywhere."

"See what you can do about pinning down a specific location," Giles replied. "Many more people are going to learn about Slayers eventually, simply because there are so many now. But that doesn't mean I should use a bullhorn to announce my presence while looking for the girl."

"Yeah, hello? Anyone out there suddenly get abnormally strong lately?" Willow chuckled through the phone. "Probably just the vibes from the Hellmouth jamming up the works," she added. "And our attention is a little split at the moment with so many new signals coming in left and right. Xander had to go track one down in Africa. Did I tell you that? One of the tribal lands. I can't even begin to imagine how long that's going to take."

"I'm going to head for the hotel first, then," Giles said, glancing at his watch. "I'll check back a bit later."

"I'll try to have more for you by the time you call back. Over and out!" Willow signed off cheerily.

Giles sighed and slipped his mobile back into his pocket. He stepped out of the terminal and shielded his eyes from the bright Cleveland sun as he held up his hand to hail a cab. Somewhere in this city was a girl who had recently become one of the many Slayers created by the power of Buffy's scythe during the battle against the First. It made sense that there would be at least one activated in the vicinity of the Cleveland Hellmouth. Very likely, more than one, in fact. But this was the only one Willow and the coven had gotten a solid lead on so far. Giles knew that the girl, whoever she was, had probably spent the last few weeks confused as to what was happening to her – the changes she was going through.

He also knew that girl was going to need help – someone to guide her through the strangeness her life had no doubt become.

Ethan had never seen such a scrawny little thing eat so much. He watched the top of the girl's head as she practically hovered over her second plate, shoveling food into her mouth. He managed to conceal much of the outward evidence of his distaste, only glancing around at the other patrons in the diner every so often to see if they were staring at him and his scruffy companion.

When his eyes were turned toward the counter, he heard a small voice across from him. "You said you were going to tell me stuff."

Ethan turned back to the girl and saw her looking at him expectantly. It was probably the first time since the waitress had brought their food to the table that he had seen anything other than the crown of her rat's nest crop of brown hair. The girl had hung over her meal as though expecting someone to try and take it from her. Now she was staring at him, her large brown eyes curious and suspicious at the same time.

"Thanks for the lunch," she muttered. "Especially after I took your stuff."

"It was purely mercenary," Ethan replied as he waved to the waitress for a refill of his coffee.

The girl squinted at him. "What's that mean?"

Ethan turned back to her, covering his irritation with a roguish smile. "It means it was my pleasure." When the waitress refilled his cup, he took a drink without adding any cream or sugar. It was only lukewarm and he grimaced. "So, tell me," he prompted shoving the cup aside, "why did you steal from me?"

"Have to," the girl shrugged. Her gaze drifted back down to the surface of the table. "No eating otherwise. The youth center that I was living at . . . they fed us okay. But after they kicked me out I had to look after myself, you know?"

Ethan kept himself from rolling his eyes at her story. "Why would a youth center expel someone your age?"

She shrugged again. "It was just a shelter, really. So kids don't have to live on the street. But I got into a lot of fights there."

Ethan raised an eyebrow. "They kicked you out of a youth shelter for fighting?"

The girl's face was still cast toward the table. She looked up with only her eyes and shook her head. "Not for fighting," she answered. "If it was just the fighting, half the kids at the shelter would be back on the street." She trailed off a bit. "I just . . . I think I scared people."

"Is that right?" Ethan asked, this time with actual interest.

The girl looked around uncomfortably. "A few weeks ago I got into it with this boy – tough jerk, older than me. He used to like to pick on me because I was small. He shoved me down, and the supervisors at the shelter didn't do anything about it. I got really mad, so I hit him. He just laughed and shoved me again. Then," she continued, lowering her voice conspiratorially, "a few days later, he did it again, only this time he tried to take the necklace that my mom gave me before she died." She fingered the choker around her neck. "Anyway, I don't know how I did it, but I pushed him clear across the room. He hit the wall and cracked it. They said he broke a rib too. Everybody was scared of me after that – even the grown-ups." She shrugged again. "They wanted me to leave; I could tell. So I did."

Ethan nodded with a small smile. So she'd only just gotten her powers. That meant Rupert's golden girl must have recently shuffled off this mortal coil. What a shame.

Poor chap, Ethan grinned. He couldn't quite bring himself to feel too badly about that though. One man's loss is another's gain, after all. His mind reeled with all the potential this situation afforded him. The girl had clearly not been discovered by Giles' precious Council yet, which meant Ethan had a golden opportunity here. He could shape this new Slayer himself. If, of course, he could get past the bothersome fact that she was just a little girl . . . and that she could very likely work her way through all his 'earnings' with her extraordinary appetite.

Those little annoyances aside, she was probably the best find since the Rwasundi talisman.

"So," the girl's voice recaptured his wandering attention. "I gave you your little broom back. You said you'd tell me what you know about me."

Ethan nodded with a thoughtful look. How to begin? "Well," he said, "first off, you are what we in the mystical community call a 'Slayer'."

"What's that?" The girl's face scrunched up like she had tasted something sour.

"Basically," Ethan explained, "it's one girl in the whole world who is endowed with supernatural power. So she can fight," he added a bit lamely. "And . . . er, slay."

"I'm supposed to fight? Then why was everybody so freaked out?" She seemed confused. "And slay what?"

Ethan smirked. "I suppose because people are afraid of you, sweetheart. You're bound to the demon world," he said. "And demons are what you would need all that power to fight. Things most people don't usually believe in – things normal people wouldn't understand. Generally, you'd have a Watcher assigned to you, to help you."

"Is that what you are?" she asked curiously.

Ethan laughed. "Bloody hell, no," he said, before really thinking about it. When he did, he attempted to amend his tone. "What I mean is, I'm a sorcerer . . . a bit different than a Watcher. But I can still tell you what you need to know."

"Why did this happen to me?" she asked him. "One minute Billy Charmin is using me for a punching bag, and the next minute I'm tossing him across the room."

Ethan took a sip of his cold coffee. "I'd imagine because that’s the way it works. You’re the Chosen One,” he explained with a small shrug. “There can be only one Slayer at a time, and the one before you was probably killed," he added, rather indelicately. "Doing something repulsively noble, no doubt."

Tactless or not, the news about the previous Slayer’s demise didn’t seem to faze the girl. "So I fight demons?" she asked. Her voice was small and impressed as she added, "Cool."

"Vampires, traditionally," Ethan said. "Though, yeah. The Slayer actually does all kinds of damage in the demon world."

Shifting in her booth, the girl leaned across the table to speak to Ethan in a low tone. "I saw a demon," she said secretively. "In the alley. He was all wrinkled and scabby, and he wore a gray cape."

"Probably just a hallucination," Ethan muttered off-handedly as he downed the rest of his coffee like bitter medicine.

The girl looked disappointed, even a little betrayed. "But – but you said demons are real."

Ethan raised his eyebrow at her. "They are, sweets," he said. "But you were using the Rwasundi charm. Unless you keep it in your hand, time gets all distorted around you, and it causes pretty vivid hallucinations. Seeing a Rwasundi demon is pretty common for people exposed to the talisman. It wasn't really there."

"The garbage truck that almost squashed me was really there," she countered.

"I repeat," Ethan sighed, "time out of whack. A few things happen out of order until the spell wears off."

"So it was a real spell?"

"As real as they get," Ethan said in a bored tone as he dropped a few bills on the table to pay for lunch.

The girl cocked her head as she watched him. "Why are you being so nice to me?" she asked. "Don't you care that I tried to steal from you?"

Ethan swallowed his impatience at her questions as he forced up a grin. "I’m something of a thief myself," he answered plainly. "Guess we're sort of kindred spirits."

The girl smiled. "What's your name?"

"I'm Ethan Rayne," he replied, holding his hand across the table. She took it with just her fingertips. How utterly girly. When she didn't say anything in response, he gave her a prodding glare. "Are you going to tell me your name, love, or do I have to give you one?"

The girl almost looked like she blushed. "It's Frank," she said. At Ethan's skeptical stare, she revised her answer a bit. "Frankie.” She shrugged. “People call me Frankie."

Ethan continued to stare for a moment before bursting into indiscreet laughter. So she was trying to play up the tough girl routine, was she? "Oh, you're such a bloody liar," he chortled in spite of himself.

"What?" she said, a bit piqued. "That's my name."

Ethan nodded, still chuckling. "Fine," he said. "Frankie. I'll call you that – just so long as you don't expect me to do it with a straight face."

Frankie shrugged again.

"So you have no family to speak of?" Ethan asked, trying to smooth over the girl's hurt feelings. Damn it, he didn't know how to talk to an adolescent.

She shook her head. "I got this cross from my mother before she died, but that's it. She said it was for luck."

"She wouldn't be wrong," Ethan said. "You found me, right? Tell you what, Frankie," he added, still grinning as he said the girl's name. "How about you come with me. We can get out of here, and I'll show you a little bit of the world you belong to now."

Frankie looked like she was trying to stay irritated at Ethan for mocking her, but her expression looked intrigued at the idea. "Are you really a sorcerer?" she asked.

Ethan smirked and held out his hand across the table. Frankie eyed it like it was going to do something magical. When it didn't, she turned her eyes to his still-smiling face and slipped her hand into his.

Ethan pulled his other hand from his pocket and opened his fingers. In his palm was the small brushy talisman he had taken back from her in the alley. As soon as she saw it, the world around her seemed to stop: The conversations halted to an immediately eerie quiet; the people walking around paused in mid-step; the waitress at the next table froze as she poured coffee into a customer's mug. The brown liquid hung in mid air between the pot and the cup like a gelatinous blob.

Frankie's eyes went huge in her face. "Wow," she breathed.

Ethan clutched her hand tightly and pulled her with him from the booth. "Quick," he said, tugging her toward the open cash register. Frankie continued to look around, spellbound at what she saw.

"They're all frozen!" she squeaked.

"Not really," Ethan droned, unimpressed. "Just from our perspective because we have this." He held up the charm. "From their point of view, time is going just as wonky as it did for you in that alley. We don't see what they are seeing because we're outside their time. Now hold this." Ethan shoved the Rwasundi talisman into Frankie's opposite hand. "Don't let it go, and don't let go of me."

Frankie's fingers tightened around Ethan's hand. He winced. He'd forgotten how it felt to have a part of his body wrung by a Slayer. He pushed it to the back of his mind as he reached carefully into the cash register and pulled out a handful of bills.

As soon as he'd finished, he tugged the young girl toward the door. "Let's go."

When they reached the exit, Ethan slipped the money into his suit pocket and gestured for Frankie to give him the talisman back. She did, and he tucked that away too. Almost immediately, the motion of the diner returned, though the place was now in utter chaos. People were in different positions, dishes were broken, and everything was in confusion.

Frankie watched the events around her with an odd fascination. When she felt another gentle tug on her hand, she allowed Ethan to lead her out the door.

Ethan smiled to himself, as though he alone had insight into a private joke. This was absolutely perfect. A little training, and this girl could be his ticket to greatness around here. After all, who's going to challenge a man with his own Slayer?

Giles was just getting back to the hotel room when his mobile rang. He fumbled with the card key while reaching for the phone at the same time. By the time he grabbed the door handle, the little green light had gone out, and the door was locked once more. "Bloody hell," he grumbled under his breath. Traveling always made him testy, especially with this much jet lag. He should be eating dinner and relaxing with an evening glass of twenty-year-old scotch by now.

He sighed and pulled the ringing phone out of his pocket.

"Willow?" he said by way of a hello. "Have you found anything?"

"Could be something," she answered. "Could be nothing. Either way, it's way weird. Hi, Giles."

Giles smiled as he slid the card key back into the lock and successfully opened the door. "What happened?" he asked as he stepped inside and flipped on the lights.

"The coven was tracking that signature we found and . . . suddenly it went ker-blooey," Willow replied.

Giles frowned. "They lost it?" he asked.

"Not lost," Willow said. "Just went way off the weirdness scale. It was powerful enough in itself, like all the Slayer signals have been so far, but then it seemed to intensify. Like the energy around it heightened, froze, and died out. After a few seconds it was normal again."

"Any idea what caused it?" Giles asked.

"No," Willow said. "But it was different. Like an outside force was suddenly surrounding the original signal – or adding to it. We're still working on pinpointing a location for you."

"Try to do it as quickly as you can," Giles said, consciously trying to sound more encouraging than nagging. He knew how hard Willow had been working. "I'm going to try a locator spell of my own."

"That's hard when you don't even know who you're looking for."

"Yes, I realize that," Giles replied, pulling off his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose. "But we at least know we're looking for a Slayer. I may be close enough to the source of the signal to get some type of bead on it. It's worth a try in any case."

"Give me a call if you find anything," Willow said. "We'll keep doing everything we can from our end."

"I know you will, Willow," said Giles comfortingly. "It's been a long trip for me, and you've been working non-stop as well. I'll perform one locator spell today and then we'll try again once we've both rested."

"We'll find her, Giles," Willow said optimistically. "This one's just been a little tricky, is all."

"Of course, you're right." Giles nodded, even though he knew Willow couldn't see it. "I'll speak with you later."

He snapped the phone shut and glanced around the hotel room. For as numerous as the Slayers were now, some of them were even harder to track down than Buffy had been when she'd first been called. It seemed this was one of them.

Giles drew the blinds and dimmed the lights, preparing the materials he would need for the locator spell.

Frankie looked around the sparse apartment to which Ethan had brought her. It wasn't much, but it was still way better than the abandoned one she had been living in with a bunch of other homeless people for the last few weeks. The windows had glass in them at least. That was a start.

She paced the main room, looking things over, while Ethan picked up a few items off the floor and the sofa.

"You'll have to excuse the mess," he said as he went. "Been living a bachelor's life, you know. But there's room enough."

"Can I get a soda, or something?" Frankie asked as she stared out the apartment window. The brick building next door blocked most of the view.

"I have water," Ethan said as he poked his head out of one of the doorways off the short hall. "And beer. That's all at the moment."

"S'okay," Frankie shrugged nonchalantly as she turned away from the window. "I'll take a beer."

Ethan raised an eyebrow at her as he made his way back down the hall toward the living room. "How old are you, anyway?" It seemed a question he should have thought to ask from the beginning.

"Seven— no, eighteen," Frankie lied quickly.

Ethan scoffed. "And if you're not a minor, what were you doing at a youth shelter?"

"I just look young for my age," she replied with her chin raised.

Ethan shrugged in response. "Well, I'm not your bloody parent. No concern of mine what you drink."

Frankie's mouth quirked upward. She stepped toward the refrigerator in the small kitchen, opening it. "Hey!" she exclaimed immediately. She pulled out a can of Pepsi. "You said you didn't have any soda!"

"That," Ethan said, hurriedly snatching the can away from her, "is not for drinking."

"Why?" Frankie asked. "Is there a thumb in it?"

"Excuse me?" Ethan squinted at her.

"Yeah," Frankie explained, hopping up on a bench beside the kitchen island. "This girl I knew at the shelter, she said before she ran away from her mother, the woman used to hide thumbs and toes and stuff in soda cans and pudding containers – you know, so she could bring it back to the company and sue them for, like, a million dollars. I said I didn't believe her and I asked where she got the thumbs, and she said her mom knew people at one of the old factories who lost thumbs all the time, . . . you know in the combines, or whatever. So she would take them and plunk them in the soda can and then pretend to be all mentally scarred when she found them there. The girl I knew said it worked, but I guess her mother did it so much that the cops got suspicious."

Ethan just blinked at the girl. Quite the bloody motor-mouth, that one. He shook his head. "While I'm sure that mixing dismemberment with snack foods is a fascinating hobby," he said, "I'm actually using the soda as a replacement for Paluka blood."

Frankie wrinkled her nose. "Yeah, because that's not gross."

Ethan rolled his eyes. "A Paluka is a demon," he explained. "They're small and fairly rare in this climate. But their blood is used for a lot of spells. Carbonated beverages have many of the same properties. Especially the brown ones. And it's cheaper. Ergo, the soda."

"Oh," Frankie said as though it all made perfect sense. She pulled out a beer from the fridge and twisted the top off with little effort. She raised the bottle to her lips and paused, as though expecting Ethan to stop her. When he didn't, she tilted her head back and took a drink. She immediately gagged and made a revolted face. "Oh, my God, that's disgusting!" she exclaimed. "How can you people drink that stuff?"

Ethan glanced at the bottle as she shoved it across the table toward him. "Well, I'm certainly not drinking that one now," he said distastefully. "I'll chalk that up to a solid 'you-owe-me'. When you have the cash, you get me another bottle."

"What? You can drink it; I don't have cooties," Frankie grumbled. "Although there was this kid at the shelter. I think he did. And not the fake, pretend kind – but a real, actual cootie."

Ethan groaned and leaned against the sink. "Must you always yammer so?"

Frankie shrugged. "I don't know what that means." But she must have, because she did manage to shut up for a few blessed seconds.

Ethan grumbled to himself and reached into the cabinet behind him for a glass. He filled it with water from the sink and slid it across the table to the girl. He was beginning to think that allowing an adolescent Slayer to follow him home like a puppy may not have been his best idea – no matter how handy she may be later.

Frankie looked at the glass in her hands and then took a small sip. After a moment's pause, she glanced up at Ethan from across the table. "Can I ask you a question?" she said.

"If you must." Ethan sat down on the bench across from her.

"What we did today, at the restaurant?" She waited for him to nod in acknowledgement. "Is that what we do?"

"You mean the magic?"

"I mean the taking money from the register. Is that, you know, what we do? Besides the demon hunting, I mean."

Ethan tilted his head and glared at her hard. "Don't tell me I'm about to get a morality lesson from a pre-teen pickpocket," he said harshly.

"No, no!" Frankie amended. "No, don't get me wrong, I thought it was wicked-cool. I just . . . thought it was weird, you know. I mean, you said you were sort of a thief. So if you were going to steal, why not take it all?"

Ethan sat back and crossed his arms. "Because I didn't need it all. Moderation, little girl. It was a hard-learned lesson."

"So why did you pay for our meal?" she pressed.

"With the way you wolfed down two plates of food and how many times that testy waitress refilled my sodding-awful coffee? We weren't exactly the least conspicuous couple in the establishment, love. If money's missing from the register, and we skipped out on our bill, where do you think the suspicion would go."

Frankie smiled approvingly. "So we're staying on the down-low," she said. "Under the radar."

"Sure, kid," Ethan returned. "Whatever."

"So, this is what we do: robbery and demon hunting," Frankie reiterated with a favorable nod. "It's not so bad. And so far it's not that different from what I used to do. Except way cooler! You know, with the magic, and all."

Ethan laughed. "Oh, I wouldn't say that," he said. "Petty theft just pays the bills. And, to be perfectly honest, the demon hunting's not really my personal forte. But follow me."

He led her down the short hallway to the room at the end. Its entrance was covered by a thick dark curtain instead of a door. He pulled it aside and ushered Frankie over the threshold. "This, my girl, is what I do."

Frankie's eyes traveled over the lengths of shelves lining the walls of the room. There were candles on nearly every surface and jars containing so many unknown substances. Some of them were labeled with words she didn't think she would ever be able to pronounce. There was a pentagram sketched on the floor near the blackened windows and a circle drawn with colored sand in the middle of the room. There was a statue near the back wall – white, marble-looking, with burning incense at its base. The entire room had a faintly stinging smell, like pine and pepper.

"Wow," Frankie muttered with genuine interest. "You know this is the type of room that weird men take little girls to murder them."

"Well," Ethan said. "I'm not all that weird; just ambitious. Plus you could probably take me in a fight."

Frankie took a couple steps through the room, taking in everything around her. "So this is all magic stuff," she mused. Turning quickly to Ethan with a large smile, she asked, "Will you teach me?"

Ethan chuckled. "It's not really something you can teach, you know. A lot of it hinges on whether or not you have the gift for it. So few people do."

The girl jutted out her chin, pouting. "You said the Slayer was magic."

Ethan regarded the girl with interest. "There's certainly a magic about you. Has to be in there somewhere for a Slayer to become what she is. Not sure how it would translate to spell-casting, but we'll see."

Frankie stepped over to a nearby table and placed her hand inside a shallow cedar box. "What about this?" she asked as she removed the object inside. In between her fingers was the barrel of a silver Ruger pistol. "Is this supposed to be magic?"

"Some may have thought so once," Ethan replied, "around the time of its conception. One thing it is is loaded. So be careful with it." He smirked. "For when magic just isn't enough."

Frankie smiled back. "Will you teach me this?"

Ethan crossed his arms over his chest. "Not exactly the Slayer's weapon of choice," he said. "They tend to favor the sharp, pointy, and wooden variety."

"Real wooden stakes? Seriously?" Frankie's lip curled slightly as though she seemed unconvinced.

"Well, don't forget: Vampire Slayer, first off. Stake to the heart and all that rot," Ethan said.

Frankie snorted. "And do vampires actually say things like, 'I vahnt to suck your blaad'?"

"Only in the movies, sweetheart," Ethan assured her. "And I guess Slayers do tend to get a bit more creative than stakes and crosses, as well. Most other weapons are purely improvisational, but," he added, "I suppose if you're going to be fighting, it's best to learn to use what you can."

Frankie seemed very pleased at the prospect.

"Now, sweets, if we're going to be working together, we should probably have a chat about the rules," Ethan said. "After that, we'll talk about what comes next."

To be continued . . .

Endnotes: The OC of Frankie is loosely based on the characterization and mannerisms of Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Mathilda in Léon: The Professional. Since Wickedfox’s original manip used images from that film, the character herself also served as a partial inspiration.

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NL Rummi

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