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31 July 2006 @ 01:54 pm
Bookstore Surprises  
Dawn waited an entire hour after Buffy left before grabbing her purse and heading out the door. She’d done some preliminary research online about water magic, but nothing beat a few good books, and since she had the Council credit card – and she’d give her purchases over to the Council library when they got home – she saw no reason not to do a little shopping. A new rare bookshop had just opened – she wasn’t surprised Buffy had completely missed the signs – and it wasn’t even that far – just a few blocks away - and it was still light out.

Feeling virtuous, she whistled as she stepped out of the building into the warm summer air. It didn’t take her long to push open the door, the little chime ringing.

Ethan looked up from the counter, a rather benign smile in place, feeling a bit irritated that he had actual customers. It wasn’t that he would turn down a few pounds—honest money was a bit of a novelty, really—but he would rather do without the tiresome effort of earning it. “May I help you?” he asked solicitously, wincing inwardly as he saw the young teenage girl approach. Wonderful. She’d probably want some Silver Ravenwolf tripe or something equally banal and inane. Luckily, he’d stocked a few things just for this type of occasion.

“Hi, I’m looking for your myths and legends section,” Dawn said, smiling brightly as she looked around the shop. Her favorite books had come from the ancient history and mythical stories section – they generally had the most pertinent information. Better than that new age crap.

She looked the man full in the face, her eyes widening slightly as she recognized him. Ethan Rayne? Maybe she was wrong. She probably was. It was a coincidence. Ethan Rayne was locked up in some high security military prison back in California. Or Nevada. Whatever. He was far away from here, and this was all some very bizarre coincidence.

Why was the girl staring at him like that? Her accent proclaimed her an American, and there was something vaguely familiar about her which told him he should know who she was. Smiling, he came around the counter. “Myths and legends. What a lovely surprise. I’m used to young people your age requesting books of an entirely different genre. To learn how to summon demons to eat their math teachers, and all that.”

He gestured her to follow him, moving back through the section of books where all of the really interested material was located to the rather more benign section of which she’d inquired. “Here you are. Is anything in particular I may help find, Miss…?”

“Um … I’m just browsing,” she said quickly. Summon demons? That didn’t sound good. What had Spike always said? Once was chance, twice coincidence, three times and you better fucking get something sharp? “And … I’m Anya. Anya Rosenberg.”

Rosenberg…? He decided to do a spell at the earliest opportunity to find out who this girl was and why he felt so keenly that he knew her. “Well, Miss Rosenberg, I would happy to answer any questions you may have if you cannot find anything you like.” He gazed at her slowly, taking in the full measure of her appearance, that tickle of memory sharp in his mind. “And how did a young American girl like yourself come to be browsing in my humble shop? An odd destination for one on vacation, if you don’t mind my saying.”

“What? Oh no. It’s the latest thing, browsing rare bookshops. All the cool kids are doing it,” Dawn said, looking at the man and trying not to quail underneath his gaze. She was a Summers! Summers didn’t quail. Or goose. Or any other bird-like thing. “Thanks, Mr …”

“Rayne,” he said politely, watching carefully for any sign that she recognized the name. “Ethan Rayne.” He made his voice just a shade lower. “At you service, should you require it.” With that, he turned away and went back to his desk, his mind whirling. Rosenberg…Rosenberg….wait. Giles’ little witch.

But that was impossible! He remembered that one well, and she looked nothing like the young woman currently perusing the stacks of books in his store. Ethan didn’t believe in coincidences, however, and thus he began murmuring an incantation under his breath. When she came again into his line of sight, he’d have proof if he did indeed know her or not.

Oh God. Oh God. Ethan Rayne. Really, truly Ethan Rayne. Was he planning something? Some dastardly plan that involved rare books and … did she just think dastardly? She’d been hanging out with Andrew too much.

Thinking about her chances of making a run for it, she realized she’d have to play it cool. She’d have to be … smooth. She perused the stacks for another few minutes, plucking a volume about water myths off the shelf. She flipped through a few chapters and decided it was enough. Besides, now she wasn’t quite as concerned about Buffy. Ethan Rayne was HERE. Oh My God.

Tossing her hair over her shoulder, she strolled up to the front counter. “This one, please,” she said, giving him her best ‘I’m not doing anything wrong’ smile. It worked on Xander. Sometimes.

The moment she came into view, he felt a brief surge of satisfaction as his suspicions were confirmed. The incantation was designed to draw a bright green light around the subject if they were known to the spell caster, and there was definitely a light around this supposed Miss Rosenberg’s head. Except that it was fuzzy, diluted more than it should be, and he was honestly at a loss at what that meant.

“Water myths,” he said, nodding as his mind raced through the possibilities. He had to keep her there for a few more moments so that he could attempt another incantation to flesh out the nature of their connection. “I do have a very old volume on water demons, as a matter of fact, in my private collection. It’s upstairs in my flat—would you care to look at it? I’m afraid I can’t bear to part with it, but I’m happy to let you look at it if you’d like.”

Dawn thought for a moment before nodding. “That’d be great, Mr. Rayne, thanks. I really appreciate it. I’m doing an extra credit project for school and I can use all the help I can get,” she said, flashing him a shot of her dimples. He seemed to not have recognized her. Perhaps she could figure out why he was here. It’d be easier for when Buffy got back – oh God. She’d have to admit she went out before Xander got here. Well, hopefully Buffy would be so focused on Ethan being here that she’d overlook that.

He smiled and inclined his head. “Of course. One moment. Please make yourself comfortable—there’s a nice reading area I’ve set up there in the back. May I bring you some tea along with the book? It’s really no trouble, I assure you.”

Well, in for a penny – or would it be … no, they had pennies in England. “Thanks,” she said, hoping she hadn’t given herself away with anything. Her hand casually slipped into her pocket, mentally cursing when she realized she’d forgotten her cell. She’d been out of Sunnydale too long. Her instincts were fading.

She glanced behind him. “Is it back there?”

“Indeed it is. Come this way.” He led her to the small area he’d assembled with couches and a small table—more for his own comfort, really, than any of his customers. He left her there and went upstairs to his flat, brewing the tea and adding a small herb that would hopefully loosen her tongue a bit, though not enough for her to suggest she’d been drugged. He found the book he’d mentioned among his private collection and headed back downstairs, carefully levitating all the assorted items until he’d arrived downstairs. Then, he placed everything neatly on a tray and carefully went back to find her.

No need to play one’s hand so early in the game, after all.

Dawn sat down on the very edge of her seat. Now that she was alone, she was beginning to rethink her decision to stay. But, he was upstairs, and she could just leave the book and get out of there. She made a move to leave when she heard him coming back downstairs.

With a wince, she settled back into the chair and crossed her legs. She could do this. It’d be easy. He didn’t even recognize her. Affixing a sunny smile to her face, she thumbed through the book.

“Here you are,” he said easily, setting the tray down on the table between them. He poured her cup of tea and passed it to her, along with the book. “I think you’ll find that book particularly useful. It has none of the nonsense those Christians added in later years to make the myths more palatable to virtuous eyes.” He smiled slowly at her. “My apologies if your eyes are so virtuous, of course.”

“What?” Dawn asked, jerking her eyes up to meet his and blushing. “My … oh … um .. no. Those darn Christians with the witch burnings and the dunking and ... and the … the Inquisition!”

She looked away quickly. Real smooth. She took the book from him, giving him a faint smile as she read the title. She opened the front cover reverently, as it was obviously an old text and Giles had harped enough for her to know how to show proper respect for books. He’d tried to tell her that they were older than her, but for once her status as The Key had come in handy when she’d just smirked and he’d taken to polishing his glasses.

“Alas, one should give the Christians credit for inventing all sorts of new forms of torture,” Ethan said amicably, leaning back in his chair. He watched her like a hawk, noticing her slight flare of nerves and filing it away. She knew him, he was sure of it. “You know, I find myself possessed of the strangest notion that we’ve met before, young Anya. If you will permit me use of Christian name, of course.” He smiled again. “You Americans are so informal these days, I imagine it doesn’t bother a young lady such as yourself. From where in the States do you hail, if I may ask?”

Dawn put down her tea. It was just like Giles brewed it. She wondered if it was a British thing to make tea the same way or if it was just ‘cause they knew each other. “California – a little town that isn’t really there anymore,” she said, her eyes widening. “I mean … it’s so small it’s like it’s not really there. It never was. Not many people know about it. Well, I mean, it’s not unknown in some circles, but not the nicest place.”

What was she doing? She sounded like Willow after she’d drank one too many café mochas!

Sunnydale, it had to be. The light around her flared bright for a moment, and he felt he was arriving closer to the truth about who she was. “California…the land of movie stars and gold,” he murmured, keeping his expression pleasant. “Are you finding what you need for your…school report, was it?...in that book, my dear? I have others, if that one isn’t sufficing. Perhaps you could give me a bit more information on what it is you seek?”

“Oh, it’s about water magic for this … mythology class I’m taking. Yay public school system. Though that means something different here, Gi – a friend told me. Her name was Gin. Ginny. Dear Ginny, my British friend.” She glanced at him with an uncomfortable smile. “I think I’ve got enough to start with. It’s not due until September, when we go home to Cleveland.”

Cleveland—the Hellmouth was in Cleveland. The feeling of association grew stronger, and the light began to sharpen around her head, forming something bright and almost tangible. He was getting closer. The British friend she spoke of was most certainly Giles. “Such a change from California, Cleveland. In the frozen north, isn’t it, for a warm-climate girl such as yourself?”

She took another sip of her tea. “It snowed in Sunnydale once, when …” She glanced at him, her eyes wide. Damn, damn, double damn. “Well, once. But yes. It’s cold. Very cold. Though your summers aren’t much better. This? It’s like early spring in California. And it rains too much.”

Sunnydale. The light flared sharp and strong. He smiled, knowing he was close to discerning her true identity. “Yes. It rains a great deal here. One must find beauty in less conventional ways, on occasion.” He leaned forward. “Do you know what they say about Kelpies, Anya? They sing a song so beautiful, they lure hapless travelers to their deaths. Quite an unfortunate way to go, wouldn’t you imagine? Wading in water as cold and dark as the grave, finding yourself dragged under by some powerful being that was able to seduce you with a song?”

Dawn’s smile faded and she shrugged. “I can think of worse ways actually. At least you wouldn’t really know what was going to happen that way,” she said, memories flashing through her.

“Oh, but you would. At the very last moment, when you opened your mouth to scream and all you tasted was water and death, you’d know. Tell me, are you in London on your own or with your family? I do hope they know where you are.” He made his voice firm, though only just. No sense in scaring the girl away with paternal over-protectiveness.

Rolling her eyes, she glared at him. “They do, thanks,” she said a bit sarcastically. She was almost able to forget who he was. Almost. “And at least you wouldn’t see it coming. It’d be out of left field. Er … or whatever the cricket equivalent is.”

“Behind the batsman, or some such. I never was much of a fan of sport. Always locked up in my room, reading something.” The mystery of her remained a tantalizing prospect to unravel, and he was loathe to let her escape him before he did so. “My brother, now, he was a right genius when it came to cricket. Won all manner of awards. My parents were forever fawning over him and his trophies. Do you have any older siblings? Perhaps you know of what I speak.”

“You have a brother?” Dawn asked, frowning. Giles had never mentioned it. Though really, why would he? “And yeah, I’ve got a sister. She’s way overprotective. It’s annoying. I mean, hello, I’m almost eighteen! By the time she was my age, she … had done a lot of stuff.”

If she got any more obvious she’d have to walk around with a sandwich board. Seriously.

Suddenly, he had the strangest thought that he knew who she was. There was something strange about her energy signature, something very wrong that he found utterly fascinating. “You sound surprised. Do I not strike you as the sort of man who would have a family? Everyone does, you know. I had an older brother, and I quite idolized him. Though him capable of doing anything, even slaying demons. No doubt you think the same of your sister.”

The cup clattered onto the saucer as she looked at him and set it on the table. “Uh … yeah. Those darn projects that seem like demons. They’re awful. Though Buffy’s not so good with school.”

Her hand clapped over her mouth. What was she doing? She usually wasn’t this bloody stupid! Her eyes narrowed as they fell on the tea cup and she looked at him. “What did you put in my tea?”

“Tea leaves,” he said innocently. “I do hope you enjoyed the brew.” So he was right after all, was he? He saw her expression and gave a low laugh. “Oh, my dear, let us dispense with this rather pointless subterfuge. You know very well who I am—I did give you my true name, after all—so I was only attempting to even the score a bit.” He grinned at her, his smile completely devoid of deceit. “And now what shall you do?”

“Um … leave? Yes, I think I’ll be leaving now,” she said, clutching the book to her chest and standing up. She kept her eyes on him as she tried to inch her way to the door, stumbling a bit on a throw rug.

“And where are you going with my book, Miss Summers? I do believe I mentioned that one wasn’t for sale. Come, now, let’s not be silly about this. You’ve obviously come here to find out something to help your sister the slayer—wouldn’t you like to know if perhaps I may be able to be of assistance.” His smile sharpened. “Unless of course, you’d rather leave. Then you may return my book and do so, and I’ll bid you good day.”

She hesitated, looking at him. “Do you even know my name?” she asked, fumbling for something to show that she wasn’t scared of him, wasn’t afraid of anybody.

“Oh, my dear, I know something about you. I know your energy is that of a person much older than yourself, and that you are barely able to constrain it. It must be tiresome, being treated as one so young when you are anything but.” Ethan reached forward and took up her cup, stacking it neatly in his own. “Though no, I don’t believe I know your name. Though I would be charmed indeed if you would provide it.”

Dawn’s eyes narrowed. “Ha! You’re just like Giles always said you were!” she accused, though really, he wasn’t going around casting spells and trying to raise demons. Yet. “With the manners and the …”

She trailed off, blushing. “It’s Dawn,” she said, begrudgingly before she pointed out him, frowning. “My name, I mean, and not the time of day, so no stupid jokes, mister.”

He placed a hand on his chest. “You wound me, Dawn—may I call you Dawn?” He didn’t wait for her to answer. “And Giles is far too stuffy for his own good. Now, how may I help you? I won’t bother with ridiculous tales of redemption, as it’s doubtful you’d believe me. You are looking for water magic…tales of mythological beings. Kelpies, sirens, and the like. Would you like to know the best way to entrap a being of myth and magic?”

“Does it involve blood sacrifice and large amounts of yak cheese?” she asked skeptically, crossing her arms in front of her chest. He wasn’t acting so bad really, and he’d nailed Giles on the head with that stuffiness. If she didn’t know about his Ripper phase, she’d have thought he’d have come out of the womb polishing his glasses.

He laughed at that, rather pleased with her wit. Cleary, there was more to this young woman than met the eye, metaphysical or otherwise. “Alas, it does not. One catches dark things by thinking like them, you see. If you want to catch a siren, you should learn its song and sing it back. Unless of course…”

He trailed off, standing up and turning his back to her. His smile was wicked, though she couldn’t see it. “Unless of course, you’re scared. I’d understand, of course. I’m a very bad man.” With that, he began walking back towards his desk at the front of the store.

“If you’re trying to make me ask you just to prove I’m not scared, it’s not working,” Dawn said, following him out into the store, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “For the record, I’m asking so I can help my sister not break the first rule of slaying. Again.”

She tightened her jaw and gave him a ‘believe me or else’ look.

He stifled a laugh. “There are rules? How fascinating. Are they etched on some ancient tablet in blood?” He turned to her, looking briefly interested. “If so, may I take a look at it? I’m rather fond of that sort of thing.” He felt a brief flare of triumph at her obvious capitulation. “Very well, I shall help you find this thing out of curiosity and my own amusement. Now that we’re clear on motives, is there anything else you can tell me about this research project of yours?”

She was sure he was up to something, but maybe if she could get him to do some of her research for her, it’d go quicker. After all, if she knew what to ask, she could find out if he was lying or not. Buoyed by her logic, she relaxed a bit. “She didn’t say much. Scotland, water magic, Xander’s coming to look after you because you’re clearly not old enough by now to stay by yourself even though I had run away and turned my boyfriend evil by sleeping with him by your age.”

Dawn blushed again. “Um … mostly the first two. The third was more of a paraphrase.”

He listened to that without expression, but there was something interesting to be gleaned from the knowledge that the Summers women preferred their men with a touch of darkness. “Water magic, Scotland…perhaps it is indeed kelpies after all. I shall make you a bargain—speak with your sister and see if you can find out anything else to help in our search. You’ll come back here, and I shall help you in your task. Then perhaps your sister will relax her stringent rules on your behalf. What do you say?”

“All right,” she said, staring at him. “What’s in it for you then? I get help on this and maybe Buffy not freaking all the time. What do you get out of this?”

“Your charming company, and a chance to balance out my reputation by putting a little good in the world?” He waited expectantly. “No? You don’t believe that? My own amusement, then, though you seem to be of amicable enough company when you’re not lying to me. You won’t do that again, will you? It would be very…tiresome.” His smile faded, and his eyes narrowed slightly.

Dawn’s eyes widened and she stepped away. “Yeah, well, you trying to kill us all the time is tiresome too, you know,” she blustered.

“I suppose it is. I’ll not kill you if you don’t lie to me, how’s that? Seems a fair deal.” He looked up as the bell above the door rang, announcing another customer. “Take the book home with you,” he urged, nodding towards the volume that lay between them on the counter. “I’ve others. Read up well before you come see me next.”

She snatched it from the counter and glared at him. “Yeah, and I won’t have Buffy kick your ass if you stop being one,” she hissed before she headed for the door. She stopped and gave him a tight smile as she pushed open the door. “Thanks for the book.”

He gave her a low, mocking bow, and watched her long after she left the shop. An interesting development, to be sure.