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Title: Geometry of Chance (3/6)
Fandom: Buffy
Author: Rummi ([personal profile] sharelle)
Pairings / Characters: Gen / Giles, Ethan Rayne, Willow, OC
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Future trigger warning for violent content, some of which involves children.
Word Count: 4,390

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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III.

They hit four different places that week. The most recent had been the gift shop of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. A day earlier, they had gotten several hundred dollars from the admission booth at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ethan had to admit that having a child with him opened doors to new possibilities he hadn't considered before. For one thing, he felt less conspicuously suspicious walking into certain establishments hand-in-hand with a cute little doe-eyed girl. Once Frankie got cleaned up, the kid actually had a pretty sweet face and nice large eyes. She could look charmingly innocent when she wanted to and Ethan felt that could only work in his favor.

She hadn't taken to the magic aspect of the work, and she quickly grew bored of trying. That didn't bother Ethan much, however. He preferred when she kept her hands off his things anyway. Of course, he may have even orchestrated a few spell failures in the hopes of getting her to lose interest.

He didn't know the first thing about training a Slayer to use her own innate abilities, so he got her a punching bag and set it up in the back room. It wasn't long before she brought it crashing down – and a good chunk of the ceiling with it. He decided that he would have to choose his training materials more wisely, or he was going to end up spending all of their money on new equipment and repair jobs.

Ethan was already certain he wouldn't be getting his security deposit back.

Ultimately, he picked up a pair of boxing target mitts that he could wear on his hands as she trained. He figured it would give her a chance to practice on small moving targets, rather than a stationary punching bag. What he hadn't realized was how badly it was going to sting when she punched into them.

"Ouch." Ethan shook out his throbbing right hand after a particularly long training session. "Careful there, love. A sorcerer's hands are his instruments, you know."

"Sorry," Frankie said, chewing remorsefully at her bottom lip. "I'll try and ease off."

"No, no," Ethan grunted. "Want you at the top of your game, of course." He slipped his numb hand back inside the mitt. "And don’t drop your shoulder."

Frankie looked at him quizzically. "What does that mean?"

Ethan thought for a moment. "I haven't the foggiest idea," he said. "They always say that in the pictures, though. I figured it would be good advice. Now try again."

Frankie followed with a series of punches into the mitts. Ethan attempted to keep her alert by constantly moving his hands around. After a few successful jabs, she failed to track one of his movements, got through his guard and struck him squarely in the nose. Ethan went down like he was made of lead.

Frankie's hands flew over her mouth. "Oh, God! Oh, I'm so sorry! Ethan, are you okay?"

"Ow," Ethan muttered lamely as he tried to sit up. Frankie fell to her knees and tugged on his arm to help.

"I'll get you some ice!" She dashed for the door, her long coltish legs clumping noisily down the hall. She quickly returned with a cube of ice wrapped in a paper towel. She tried to hold it to Ethan's nose for him, but he took the makeshift compress from her fingers.

"A bit tender there, sweets," he said, his speech sounding a bit garbled through his bruised nose. "I'll do the honors."

"I'm really sorry," the girl repeated. "Did I break it?"

"Don't think so," Ethan answered, touching the slope of his nose gently. He glanced over at her concerned face. "And don't worry about it," he added with a small roll of his eyes. "It's not like it's the first time I've been clouted by a Slayer."

Frankie seemed to be heartened at hearing that and she smiled. She settled herself down on the floor beside him and drew her knees in toward her. "Can I ask you a question, Ethan?" she said.

"Go right ahead," Ethan replied, groaning as he leaned his back against the wall.

"When is this deal you were talking about? The one you need all the money for?"

"With any luck, tomorrow," he said. "I'll be meeting with a big man in the underworld community. He's got some merchandise I'm hoping to buy."

"What kind of merchandise?"

"Black arts stuff," Ethan said. "All sorts of material to augment power. Things I'm going to need to be one of the big honchos here, myself."

"So . . . ," Frankie droned innocently, fidgeting with her fingers and looking at the floor. "Can I come?"

Ethan glared at her with a raised eyebrow. "What the bloody hell do you think I've been training you for? Of course you can come. I'm going to need backup, aren't I? And how many blokes can say they've got their very own Slayer in their corner?"

Frankie beamed. "Really?" she said happily. "Ethan, thank you!" And she flung her arms around his neck.

Ethan sat there for a moment, utterly flummoxed at the pile of pre-teen girl that was hanging off him. He raised his hands awkwardly and patted her on the shoulders, then eased her gently away. Frankie was still smiling.

"O-kay," he said uncomfortably. "Glad to see you so eager, kid." He started to rise to his feet.

Frankie was immediately at his side to help. She looked like she was concentrating, as though helping him was the most important thing in the world. It sent another twinge of discomfort through Ethan.

"So who's the guy?" she asked once he had straightened fully. She was suddenly all business – it was almost funny.

Ethan grinned amusedly. "Bloke named Bartholomew Carter," he said. "He's a big-time underworld executive sort. Kind of like head of the mob for the mystical community around here. That's why I need you – he's going to have his own muscle; you're mine."

"Is he a demon?" Frankie asked.

"Not that I know of," Ethan shrugged. "He's human enough, but he deals a lot with demons. So he won't be any stranger to what a Slayer is. I finally convinced him to make this deal with me, but that doesn't mean he won't try for a double-cross. He may think twice with you there," Ethan added with a wink.

"You think he would?" Frankie asked. "Try to double-cross us, I mean?"

Ethan nodded thoughtfully. "It's a good possibility," he said. "But I need what he has if I'm going to build up my power. You know," he smirked, "so I can double-cross him later."

"What kind of muscle has he got?" Frankie asked, her tone and words ridiculously serious. Ethan was more than a little amused at her innocence as to the real nature of the demon world. It was almost like she didn't realize this wasn't just some kind of game.

"Could be vampires," Ethan told her. "They tend to make good minions for the elite. They're not as tough as some of the larger demons, but they can be more presentable than, say, a Fyarl or a Fungus demon."

Frankie nodded once with determination and bounded around the room, collecting equipment as she went.

"What are you doing?" Ethan asked as he watched her pocket her practice stake, which had once been the leg of his easy chair.

"Well," she said cheerfully, "I thought maybe tonight we'd practice. You know, scout out the cemetery, hunt down a few bloodsuckers. I can't go into tomorrow's meeting never having faced a vampire before, can I?"

Ethan chuckled. "No, love," he said amusedly. "You don't actually have to fight Carter's goons. You just have to stand there and look threatening."

"C'mon, Ethan," she pleaded in that whiny, little-girl way. It made Ethan want to groan. "Please? You said I was a 'Vampire Slayer'. And, I mean, how threatening will I really look if I've never gotten any real practice, huh?"

"You don't need practice, kid," Ethan argued. Wandering through the cemetery wasn't exactly high on his to-do list. "You just need to stand around, looking grouchy."

"I can do that," she said, "but what if they jump you? How can I protect you if the only real opponents I've ever faced were those practice mitts and your nose?" She came up to him with huge pleading eyes. Her expression looked so earnest, like she was willing to do whatever he asked. It was strange; it had been years since Ethan had had anyone so eager to help him. Ethan was so used to only looking out for himself. This was very new. He felt an odd twist in his stomach.

It was touching in a way – this child's desire to assist him. Sweet. So much so that Ethan couldn't stop himself from laughing.

"All right," he said before she got the wrong idea. Wouldn't want that eager smile to change into a kicked-puppy look. "Just for an hour or two. I don't much fancy hanging out in graveyards all night like some people I know."

Frankie squealed with delight and returned to gathering the necessary equipment.

"You may want to give it a little bit, though," Ethan told her as she swept through the room in a flurry. "Won't be dark for at least another hour, and the vamps don't come out until then."




Giles hadn't heard from Willow for at least 24 hours. Of course, he knew that she was probably busy tracking down other Slayers whose signals weren't being distorted by the energy of the Hellmouth. During their last conversation, she had informed him that Robin and Faith had been dispatched to Sydney to locate three new Slayers in that city, and Kennedy had gone to São Paulo. Willow hinted at joining her there once she'd helped the coven track down the Cleveland Slayer for Giles.

Giles, for his part, had followed his own series of wild goose chases over the last few days. A promising power source here, an intense signal there – but each had resulted in a dead end. The Hellmouth was filled with stray energy, and without the coven's seers getting a specific lock on who they were looking for, Giles could easily spend weeks chasing down false leads.

When he finally heard his phone ring after so long, it was almost a foreign sound. He picked it up and greeted Willow with a mild reprimand. "Willow, I appreciate your dedication but for goodness sake, it must be 2:00 in the morning your-time."

"Just about." The witch sounded strangely rushed. "Giles, where are you right now?"

"I'm just getting back to the room," he answered, tossing his card key on the nightstand. "I had a late supper. Why? Is everything all right?"

"How soon can you get to the Erie Street Cemetery?"

"It's not far," Giles said cautiously, having a sinking feeling at what she was getting at. "Have you—?"

"Yep," Willow answered without letting him finish. "We found her. The lock was brief, but it was there. You've gotta go fast, though, Giles. I don't know how much longer she's going to be there."

Giles didn't remember hanging up. He did have the presence of mind to grab his card key and a stake on his way out the door.




"When you said 'Vampire Slayer', I guess I kinda figured it would be a little more exciting. This is more like just walking around." Frankie clomped between the gravestones, swinging her arms distractedly. She rolled her head from side to side to occupy herself.

"You were the one who asked to come," Ethan reminded her, moving forward at an even stroll. The wind coming off the lake had cooled the night air and he shoved his hands into the pockets of his coat. "I imagine tomorrow night will be more of the same. Except less with the walking and more with the 'just standing around' while I conduct my business."

Frankie hopped up onto one of the headstones. "The last Slayer must have died from boredom," she grumbled sullenly. She performed an unsteady jeté from one headstone to the next, then jumped down.

"Are you ready to go back, then?" Ethan asked, not even trying to mask the relief in his voice.

"I guess." Frankie kicked at the ground dejectedly. "It would have been cool to see a real vampire, though."

"You will tomorrow, I'm sure."

They began their trek back to the cemetery gates but froze when they saw a lone figure approaching them through the haze. Frankie squinted and clutched the stake she had been carrying. She felt an odd tingle at the back of her neck. "Ethan?" she said uncertainly as she looked up at him.

Ethan was merely looking straight ahead, watching the figure as it advanced. "Well," he mused. "Looks like you might get your wish after all."

The newcomer lumbered into view. He was dirty, bedraggled, and although he was dressed in a nice dark suit, he looked as though he'd spent the last several hours wearing it to roll around in the dirt. When he was close enough for Frankie to see his face, she grimaced. It was bumpy and misshapen, and when he smiled, she caught a flash of long white canines.

Frankie felt a bubbly, nervous feeling in her gut and the hairs on the back of her neck continued to tickle like mad. She glanced up again at Ethan, as if uncertain as to what she should do.

He shrugged. "Have at him, sweets. It's what you came for." He backed up to stand beside a nearby mausoleum.

Frankie stepped forward and held up her stake. She slapped on her best scowl and placed one hand assertively onto her hip. The vampire growled and she felt an odd thrill at the sound. Infused with confidence from Ethan's encouragement, she spoke. "I'm Frankie the Vampire Slayer," she announced. "I think I'll call you Mr. Dusty."

Ethan rolled his eyes with a groan. She was definitely going to have to work on those quips.

The vamp rushed her, and she squatted down to meet him. In his place, Frankie imagined that bully Billy Charmin. She remembered how she had clobbered that jerk and how she wished she could have been able to give some of those other kids what was coming to them before she'd left the shelter. The vampire lunged at her, and she met his chest with her hands. She wrapped her fists around the lapels of his suit and propelled him through the air. He sailed headfirst into a nearby grave. A corner of it broke off at the impact.

Frankie smiled. She was beyond pleased with herself. She turned to look at Ethan to make certain he was watching. He lifted his chin in acknowledgement as he leaned, cross-armed, against the mausoleum. She waved back at him happily.

In an instant, the vamp was back on his feet. Encouraged further by her first successful pass, Frankie struck a dramatic battle stance and prepared to meet the bloodsucker again. She smiled confidently. The vampire rushed at her with a snarl and she countered with a well-placed hook to the face. The creature staggered back and Frankie immediately followed with a fierce backhand. It felt so natural – almost as though she had been doing this for years.

"Best to finish them off quickly, love," she heard Ethan's voice call from across the cemetery.

She nodded dutifully and, before the vampire could fully recover from her previous attack, she plunged the stake directly into its body. She watched it fall backward, then she spun around to look at Ethan again. She was beaming with pride and she searched her companion's face for that same look. She had wanted to do well for him – to show him that he could count on her to be his 'muscle'. Slaying that vampire was probably the most invigorating moment of her life, and it would never have happened if she hadn't met Ethan Rayne.

"Hey!"

Ethan's voice carried strangely to her ears. She caught sight of him at the mausoleum. He wasn't smiling at all. In fact, he looked angry. Frankie's heart lurched; she fumbled to think of what she might have done wrong. Time seemed to slow as she stared back at Ethan in confusion. Then she heard a deep growl rumble up from behind her. Frankie slowly turned her head.

She saw the vampire standing there, grinning predatorily as it yanked the stake out of its body and tossed it into the shadows.

Frankie blanched as though she had seen a ghost, and her heart gave a frightened jump. She instinctively tried to run, but she suddenly felt herself get tackled from behind and thrust to the ground. She couldn't move; she couldn't breathe. There was a dead weight on her back, and the thick, moist grass from the earth was practically filling her mouth. She squirmed, but she felt completely immobile as the vampire's heavy body pressed her down. He was so strong; she'd had no idea he was going to be so strong. Frankie felt a sensation like a set of sharp needles grazing the side of her neck above the seam of her choker. She began to scream.

Suddenly, there was nothing holding her down. The weight instantly lifted as though it had never been there. A thick swirl of dust suddenly stifled her attempt to draw breath. Coughing, Frankie surged to her knees as though exploding out of a bad dream. Her face was dirty and stained with tears. Her head whipped around, searching for the vampire. But it was gone.

Ethan Rayne stood over her with a very bewildered expression, clutching a stake in his hand.




Frankie was up like a shot. Faster than it took for Ethan to process what he had just done, the small girl had thrown her arms around his neck and was gulping down large sobs against his ear. Ethan bent almost in half to accommodate her shorter size as she clung to him, crying. After a frozen moment, he brought his arms up, patting her awkwardly on the back.

"I didn't know . . ." she whimpered. "He was so strong . . . I couldn't move . . . I-I didn't know . . ."

"There, there," Ethan muttered, for lack of anything better to say. He couldn't honestly recall the last time he'd been expected to give someone comfort. And now, here was this girl, clutching him as though he was the last piece of driftwood in a rushing river. The simple fact that he actually felt the need to reassure her was the ultimate indication that his life had been turned completely upside down.

Ethan had never staked a vampire before. Sure, he had interacted with them, dealt with them, even worked with them back in Sunnydale. But he had never killed one. Never had the need. Ethan Rayne had ties to the demon community; he spoke their languages – listened when they whispered. It had always been far better to remain on the fringes and watch the damage unfold than to become actively involved. It was one of the reasons he and Giles had never seen eye-to-eye.

But when the girl had screamed, Ethan hadn't thought. He hadn't even realized that he was plunging his own stake into the creature's back until he had already done it. It made him feel strange . . . to break from a pattern he had known for so long. He wasn't sure if he liked it, but it still hadn't felt wrong.

He managed to straighten to a fully standing position. Frankie had loosened her grip a little and was now wrapped around his torso. Ethan allowed his arms to rest against her back for a moment before easing her away. "Are you all right?" he asked soberly.

She nodded, but her chin quivered. She looked ashamed.

"All right, now," Ethan said, straightening away from her. "None of that."

"I'm sorry," she murmured with a slight hitch still in her voice. "I'm sorry, I didn't . . . I mean, I thought . . ."

"Hush, you did fine," Ethan said, uncomfortably placing his hands back on her shoulders. He looked at the girl's face, then quickly away. "It takes some practice to find the heart, is all. Most Slayers miss on their first try."

"Really?" she asked.

"Sure." Ethan had no idea if that were really true. And lying to spare someone's feelings was yet another thing he had never done. "Tell you what. We'll get you some targets, and you can practice. You'll be a pro in no time."

Frankie nodded tearfully and wiped at her face. She began to smile again.

"I think that's enough for one night," Ethan said, pocketing his stake. "And I'm sure it was enough of a trial run that you'll be ready for tomorrow. Just as important to know the wrong way to do things, right?"

"Right." Frankie nodded a forceful agreement. She sniffed back the remnants of her tears.

They started their walk to the cemetery exit when she halted abruptly and took a few steps back in the opposite direction. "My stake," she said. "That creep threw it away somewhere. We've gotta go find it."

"You won't need it now," Ethan countered. "We're going back. We'll take another leg off my easy chair," he grumbled. "Sodding thing's no good with only two legs anyway."

"Yeah," the girl said as she took a few quick steps in the other direction. Her youthful confidence seemed to have returned. "But what if we meet another vamp on the way out? Gotta be prepared!"

Ethan gave a grudging wave of his hand and she scampered off without waiting for him. "Just be quick about it," he muttered to no one as he reluctantly made to follow her.

He heard a noise a few seconds later and halted, cocking his head to listen. Pulling his coat tightly around him, Ethan scanned the shadows. In the darkness behind him, he caught sight of another human form. Thinking it was another vampire, he gripped the stake in his pocket. Slowly and carefully, he changed direction and took a wary step toward the figure.

The opposing form prowled toward him; the shadows clung to it like a living thing. When the headlight from a passing car swept illumination over their corner of the cemetery, Ethan steeled himself, expecting what he thought would be the second vampire he would need to dispatch in one night. He hadn't been prepared for what he actually saw.

Neither, apparently, had the other man.

"Ethan," a surprised voice breathed as the shadows ebbed away from the man’s face. "Ethan Rayne."

"Well," Ethan grinned in reply. "Hello, Rupert."




Giles stared at Ethan for what felt like a very long time. After a few moments, his shoulders relaxed, but his steely glare did not.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Giles asked accusingly. "Last I saw, you were headed to a military detention center for 'rehabilitation'."

Ethan shrugged, a smarmy grin still on his face. "Time off for good behavior, mate," he drawled. He lowered his voice and leaned conspiratorially toward Giles. "So good, they barely knew I'd left."

"And tonight?" Giles challenged. "What are you doing here?"

Ethan's rakish smile broadened. "Why so suspicious, Rupert?" he asked. "Can't a bloke enjoy an evening stroll through a vamp-infested graveyard without garnering some kind of mistrust as to his motives?"

"You can't," Giles replied.

"Well, that's just a bloody shame, old friend," Ethan said. He placed a companionable hand on Giles' shoulder. "It's a terrible thing, not to trust."

In a flash, Giles had twisted the hand that had touched him behind Ethan's back and shoved him against a marble monument. "You're fortunate that I don't kill you where you stand after what happened the last time I saw you, old friend," Giles spat. "However, to your immensely good fortune, I have a more important duty ahead of me this evening. But I swear to you, the next time I see you, so help me, I'll—"

"Ethan?"

The small voice derailed Giles' threat before he had completed his thought. Both men turned to where a small figure was standing amidst the graves. Frankie's large eyes shifted nervously from one man to the other.

"Ethan?" she said again. "What's going on? Who is that?"

It was Giles, however, who spoke.

"Good Lord," he breathed. Giving Ethan a final shove against the monument, he released him and took a step toward the young girl. "This isn't . . . ," he fumbled. "Are you . . . ?"

"The Slayer?" Ethan finished from behind him. He smirked. "Absolutely." He stalked up behind Giles, speaking in low tones. "Don't tell me this is where you play the concerned Watcher, Rupert. Swoop in like the proverbial white knight and welcome the little lost sheep into the fold of your precious Council." He snorted. "I hardly think so."

Giles rounded on him. "What the bloody hell are you talking about? What are you saying?"

Ethan shrugged impassively. "I guess I'm saying that I'm sorry about your Slayer," he said coldly. "But you can't have mine."

"You bloody imbecile," Giles droned. "I thought you pow-wowed with the demon world on a regular basis. Nothing's happened to Buffy. Quite the contrary – she found a way to awaken the Slayer ability in all the potential girls around the world. There are hundreds of Slayers now."

Ethan looked surprised for a moment. He blinked several times in astonishment, then his face dissolved into another amused smirk. He scoffed. "Then, all the more reason for you to mind your own damn business."

Fire glinted in Giles' eyes. Without warning, he grabbed Ethan by the lapels and drove him backward into the nearby monument again, pinning him there. He wrapped one hand tightly around Ethan's throat.

"You think this is a game, Rayne?" he hissed. "The girl is not a trophy or a conversation piece. She's not a fun new addition to your repertoire of chaos-inducing paraphernalia. She's a human being who needs the proper training from a proper Watcher. She's not a toy, and you're going to get her killed if you treat her like one."

Giles froze at the sound of a catching click just beyond his ear. He knew the sound – not well, and not from a wide range of personal experience, but it was familiar enough to send a visceral chill through his body. He turned his head to see the young girl leveling a silver Ruger revolver directly at him.

Giles felt an ominous prickle creep across his skin. "Ethan," he warned the man in his grasp, although his gaze was still trained on the girl beside him. Her cold eyes stared into his as she grasped the pistol with both hands. "Ethan, this has gone far enough."

Ethan was smirking through the pain of Giles' fierce grip. "Seems the little lady's made her choice, mate," he said, a hint of pride in his strangled voice. "Maybe it's you who should think of leaving us in peace."

"Young lady," Giles entreated the girl beside him, "I don't know what this man has led you to believe, but I assure you he is a very dangerous—"

Frankie interrupted him by cocking the gun's hammer back with both her thumbs.

"So am I," she retorted. When she spoke, it was cold and dispassionate – not at all reminiscent of the young girl she was.

"Ethan," Giles grated, focusing his words back at the grinning man in his grasp even as his eyes remained glued to the murderous expression of the shockingly young girl. "I will not stand by and permit you to corrupt this innocent child with your sadistic dogma. Do you hear me, you bastard?"

Ethan snorted. "And just how do you plan to stop me, mate? Check the other side, Rupert. I've got a Slayer in my corner, for once. What have you got?"

"This is wrong," Giles growled in protest. He turned his attention back to Ethan, his face livid with fury. "A Slayer isn't built for this viciousness, Rayne, and you know it. The Slayer stands up for what's right – for the innocent. She's meant to protect people. Look at her, for God's sake!" he exclaimed. "Even someone as shallow-minded as you should be able to see that this . . ." He indicated the gun-toting girl with a jerk of his head. ". . . isn't right!"

Ethan simply continued to smile calmly. He tilted his face toward Giles. "I think you're confusing her with your Slayer, Ripper," he whispered.

Giles' features trembled in unabashed rage as he stared across the small space between him and Ethan Rayne.

"Besides," Ethan added, more casually, "she is protecting . . . she's protecting me." His grin widened triumphantly. "So you may be wanting to let me go now."

Giles froze, not making a move to release Ethan from his grasp.

"Come on, Ripper," Ethan prodded. "You're the one who doesn't want to see her corrupted. Best to do what you can to keep her from pulling that trigger, then, right?"

Giles' face hardened, and he shoved Ethan roughly against the monument, releasing his hold on him. Ethan stepped past him with a gloating grin, gingerly rubbing his throat. He moved to stand behind the young girl, who hadn't budged since pulling the gun on Giles.

"How're you doing there, Frankie?" he asked in a relaxed tone.

"No sweat," she replied, keeping her eyes narrowed at Giles.

Ethan placed a hand on her shoulder. He shook his head at Giles, whose chest rose and fell with heavy anger. "You said yourself the game has changed, Rupert," he said. "Why do you insist on following the old rules? You say there are hundreds of Slayers now?" Ethan shrugged. "Great. Go. Watch them."

He muttered a quick "come on" to Frankie, and she broke her menacing stance. She shifted the gun away from Giles and held it upright. Flashing him a defiant sneer, she spun on her heel and began walking away. Ethan gave Giles a mockery of a courtly bow, then followed behind her. The two made their way swiftly toward the cemetery exit.

Giles watched them go and every muscle in his body strained with tension. Events were spiraling out of control. And now, with Ethan Rayne involved, they could only get worse. Somehow, he had to put a stop to this.




When they were far enough away, Ethan reached down and delicately removed the Ruger from Frankie's grasp. "Don't remember giving you permission to bring this along," he said.

"You said sometimes magic isn't enough," she reminded him. "And you said I should learn to use what I have."

Ethan chuckled as he listened to his own words coming from her mouth. "I suppose if Rupert ever finds out that you don't actually know how to use one of these things, he may just die of embarrassment. Might be funny."

"So, I did okay?" Frankie's eyes were earnest and hopeful.

"More than okay, sweets," Ethan replied. "I'd say you redeemed yourself tonight and you'll certainly make an impressive showing tomorrow if you stick to the same formula. You've got yourself a viscous little game face."

"I wasn't going to let him hurt you," she said, her entire expression echoing her promise.

Ethan felt oddly touched.

As they left the cemetery, she turned back to him and said softly, "Ethan? You called me by my name."

He glanced down at her again. Frankie looked very pleased.

"And you said it with a straight face."

Ethan grinned again. "That I did, I suppose," he replied. "Old Rupert brings out the best in me, it seems. And you do tend to grow on a person."



To be continued . . .
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