“So this is where we bought the costumes,” the girl said. “I really don’t get why you’re so freaked, Giles. Are you sure you’re okay with Jenny out of town?”
“The name Ethan, plus the magic threads in the costumes, plus the two-faced statue you saw, add up to…”
Time to step out from behind the curtain, Ethan thought. He swept it aside dramatically, and stepped out into the shop.
“Hullo, Rip— Good lord, what’s that?”
The blonde girl made a face at him. “Haven’t you ever seen a baby before?”
“Ethan! It is you!” The man who’d been Ripper Giles cradled the tiny infant strapped to his chest with one hand, and stretched out the other in greeting. Ethan found himself shaking it before he quite knew what had hit him. “Have you been in town long?”
“Just a couple of weeks. I, uh…”
“Listen, Ethan, why don’t you come home with me for dinner? I have to feed Peter soon, and the children will be ringing the doorbell wanting candy. We can catch up there and keep you safely away from whatever it was you were planning on doing tonight. What do you say, Buffy?”
“Sounds good to me, Giles.”
And that was how Ethan found himself answering Ripper’s door and holding out a candy bowl to the rampaging hordes. Not truly rampaging, alas. Those little demon costumes were his, and that cluster of tiny demons would have wreaked lovely, delightful, delicious havoc on this dreadful town. But that blonde thing had turned out to be Ripper’s Slayer, more than capable of removing his arms if he tried anything.
Several high school students with strings of children rang the bell, looked surprised to see him, and demanded to know where Giles was. Ripper greeted them all with what seemed to be genuine delight, and extracted from them promises to stop by in an hour for dinner. His fridge was full of little containers of breast milk. His desk was littered with ritual daggers and pacifiers, tarot cards and wetwipes, demonologies and books on child development. Ripper was a soppy mess.
“Tell me again how you ended up like this?” Ethan took another snort of the Talisker. Since Ripper had refused to pour for himself, on the grounds that he had to mind Peter, Ethan figured he’d drink for two.
“Faculty Christmas party. I’d been here not more than a week. Had one too many. Woke up in Jenny’s bed. Spent New Year’s Eve there too. She broke the news on Valentine’s Day. We were married at Easter. Peter was born on Michaelmas.”
“A tragedy in five holidays.” And a ruined Halloween made six. At least the affair had begun in a manner Ethan could approve.
“Goodness no. I’m quite happy about it.” Ripper had his little finger stuck in the infant’s mouth. The expression on his face was appalling.
“And where is this charming wife of yours?” Ethan figured he’d have to meet her some time, the woman who’d tamed the Ripper.
“Overnighting with her wiccan circle. All hallow’s eve, you know. Ah. That’ll be Buffy and the others.”
Four teenagers descended upon the house like locusts. They were all delighted to meet an old friend of the man they called Giles. A sloppy dark-haired young man sprawled on the couch, Ripper-spawn cradled tenderly in one arm, and demanded to know what blackmail material Ethan had on the G-man.
Ethan grinned. At last, a bright spark of hope for a messy evening. He opened his mouth to tell the story of the night they got those three American birds to go to bed with them, by means of a breadknife charmed to look like Excalibur and a wild tale of their ancestry. Then Ripper loomed over him, eyebrow raised. How a man could loom wearing an apron and stirring something in a white ceramic bowl, Ethan didn’t know. But Ripper managed it. Ethan smoothly changed stories in mid-stream to the one about busking at the Oxford train station in a rainstorm, trying not to get Ripper’s new guitar wet.
Ruined. Utterly ruined.