"I'm going to run out of blood," Ethan grumbled. He was sitting cross-legged on the bed, with his left sleeve rolled up to the elbow, pressing a cotton pad to his forearm. "How much more are you going to need, anyway?"
"A lot." Snape put the hypodermic back in its case and snapped it shut. "In fact, I'm planning to draw half a gallon on Saturday, so drink a lot of fluids for the rest of the week."
"You're kidding, right?" Ethan forced a laugh as he tried to read the nuances in Snape's habitual sneer. "Right?"
"You ask too many stupid questions." Snape's voice was cool and sarcastic, his hands perfectly steady as he put away the needle case and the three freshly-drawn vials of blood. But his posture was just a little too stiff, and a vein in his temple throbbed rapidly, only half concealed by a greasy black fringe. Weeks of close observation had taught Ethan to note these little things, and to interpret their meaning. Severus Snape was more nervous than usual, and that was saying something.
"And you give too many evasive answers." Ethan lifted the pad and stared glumly at the bruise-mottled skin beneath. The needle marks tracked from the crook of his elbow down to his wrist, stopping about an inch above his watchband. "I look like a bloody junkie," he complained.
"And you sound like a bloody nuisance," Snape said irritably. "Take off your shirt."
"Huh?" The sudden change of subject actually rendered Ethan speechless for a few seconds. "What?"
"Did I use insufficiently short words? Which one did you fail to understand? Take… off… your… shirt."
Ethan folded his arms and thrust out his chin. "I want flowers and chocolates first."
Snape glared daggers at him and did not continue the banter. Instead he reached into the pocket where he usually kept his wand and pulled out a polished wooden cube, about three inches on a side. Snape held it in his palm, and rapped the knuckles of his other hand sharply against one side. With a click, the cube's top face slid open to reveal a hollowed-out interior. The box looked smaller than Snape's fist, yet when he reached inside it, his arm disappeared up to the elbow. Snape's narrow face furrowed in concentration as he rummaged inside some hidden but obviously large space. He appeared to be trying to find something specific by feel. Ethan thought he could hear rattling and rustling as invisible items were shuffled about, but that might just have been his imagination filling in the details.
Ethan wondered if the box was an actual interdimensional pocket, or if it just folded ordinary space. He'd done both in his time, so Snape's little trick didn't impress him much. He was just about to say so, just starting to mentally compose an appropriately scathing pronouncement, but the words scattered when he saw what Snape was pulling from the box.
"Is that what I think it is?"
"I don't pretend to know what goes on in your little Muggle mind." Snape put the stethoscope on the desk and dug inside the box again, producing a blood pressure cuff and, after an especially prolonged bout of searching, a mercury thermometer.
"Those are Muggle things," Ethan blurted out, and immediately wished he hadn't. That didn't sound scathing at all, and Snape didn't even dignify it with an answer. Ethan gathered his wits and tried again. "Are you telling me that your oh-so-superior Wizarding World has never come up with a magical way to take a temperature?"
"Don't be absurd," Snape said sharply. "Of course we have. But Lucius almost certainly has ways of knowing what spells I cast in here. Now, are you going to take your damned shirt off or not? I don't have all day."
"You've charmed me into it, you silver-tongued devil, you." Ethan unbuttoned his shirt and shrugged it off. "There, happy now?"
"Thrilled beyond my wildest dreams," Snape drawled. He was looking at Ethan as if Ethan was a particularly unattractive insect he was about to dissect. Then, abruptly, his eyes went cold, and his mouth uncurled from its habitual sneer. "What's that?" he demanded.
"What's what?" Ethan followed the direction of Snape's gaze, and found himself looking down at his left bicep. "Oh."
Eyghon's mark stood out dark and ugly against his skin. He hadn't been concealing it on purpose, just as a matter of habit, and the fact that he'd let the habit slip so carelessly now just went to prove how distracted he was. Well, bugger it, he decided. It was none of Snape's business anyway.
"It's a tattoo. Muggle teenagers get them to demonstrate their coolness, rebelliousness against authority, and utter lack of brains. I'm sure you people have your own arcane rituals for the same purpose."
"Actually, we do the exact same thing." Snape sat down on the bed next to Ethan and plugged the stethoscope into his ears. "Inhale."
Ethan sat up straight and obediently sucked in a deep breath. It was hard to sit still. The combination of the stethoscope, the wizard robes and Snape's ugly, ill-tempered face was utterly surreal, and the chestpiece felt like an ice cube against Ethan's skin. He gripped the edge of the bed with both hands and clenched his teeth, struggling against the desire to shiver and the even stronger desire to laugh like a maniac.
"What's wrong with you?" Snape glowered irritably at him. "I believe this is not supposed to hurt."
"I'm fine," Ethan wheezed in a strangled voice.
He managed to maintain his composure for the next several minutes, while Snape brusquely snapped instructions to inhale, exhale, cough, hold his breath, exhale again… Eventually Snape stopped, scribbled something in a small, leather-bound notebook, and wrapped the blood pressure cuff around Ethan's left bicep. Ethan studied him dubiously.
"Do you actually know how to work this?"
"It came with an instruction manual. As did this." He held up the thermometer. "Do you think you can shut up for four minutes, or do I have shove it up your arse? This model works both ways."
"Give me that." Ethan snatched the thermometer from Snape's hand. Snape made a barely audible noise that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle.
"Well?" Ethan demanded when it was safe to speak again. "Give it to me straight, doc, will I live?"
"Not if you keep annoying me." Snape clapped his notebook shut and began to pack his supplies back into their box. "Your blood pressure is higher than it's supposed to be." He sounded as if he suspected Ethan of elevating it on purpose.
"That comes from stress," Ethan told him. "Which, in turn, comes from being kidnapped, poisoned, and held captive by a bunch of sadistic psychopaths. Oh, and the regular torture sessions aren't helping, either."
Snape shrugged. "You have only your own uselessness to blame for that. Really, the Dark Lord has been remarkably generous with you and your pathetic failures. I've seen him kill loyal followers for less."
"I'm doing the best I can!"
That stung more than it should've. Ethan never expected any actual sympathy from Snape, but these slurs on his magical ability were completely uncalled-for. All his spells had worked exactly as advertised. He was especially proud of his most recent effort: a variation of the standard shielding spells that caused everyone inside the shielded area to be trapped within, rather than merely protected against attacks from without. If Voldemort's enemies were still breathing, it was Voldemort's own damned fault, not his.
"Lucius is planning to see you later today," Snape closed his box with a sharp click of the lid and stowed it back in his pocket. "I suggest you have something promising to show him. If Voldemort kills you for incompetence, I'll have wasted a great deal of time and effort for nothing."
Ethan could think of any number of sarcastic responses to that, but Snape was already making his departure, complete with obligatory dramatic stride and swirling black cloth. As always, Ethan hoped the slimy bastard would get his hem caught in the door as he walked out, and as always, Snape refused to oblige. The door slammed shut without mishap, and Ethan was left alone to listen to the echoing sound of Snape's footsteps receding down the corridor.
"I never have any luck," he complained petulantly to no one in particular, and went to put his shirt back on.
Malfoy arrived in the evening, a few minutes after the house elf had cringed away with Ethan's dinner dishes. He stood in the center of the room, twirling his wand idly in his fingers, and sneered down at Ethan, who'd been reading by the fireplace. At first glance, his expression looked identical to Snape's, but Ethan had learned to tell the difference. Severus Snape behaved as if Ethan was too stupid, ignorant and ill-mannered to bother having a civil conversation with. Lucius Malfoy behaved as if Ethan was too disgusting to exist.
"Our Lord is displeased with you," he announced. Ethan assumed that was meant to be the royal "we." "But he is willing, in his mercy, to give you one last opportunity to redeem yourself. Have you found a way to get rid of Albus Dumbledore?" There was a mean, anticipatory glint in Malfoy's eyes. No doubt he was already imagining the fun he would have punishing Ethan for his inevitable failure.
"As a matter of fact, I have." Ethan gave him a quick, thin-lipped smile. "It took a while, but I think I've finally tracked down the perfect spell. The Sanguacidulus Transfusion. It's a direct attack, so there are no incompetent demons to botch the job. It can be cast from a distance; it doesn't require a physical link to the victim -- a picture will do; and it kills in under ten seconds, so there's no time for a counterspell. Even if there was a counterspell, which there isn't. It's perfect, see?" He lifted up the book he'd been reading, holding it open for Malfoy's inspection. Malfoy barely glanced at it.
"What does it do?" he demanded.
Ethan indulged himself in a dramatic pause before replying. "It turns the victim's blood to sulfuric acid."
For a fraction of a second, Lucius Malfoy actually looked impressed. But all he said was, "I suppose it might work."
"It will definitely work," Ethan said. "But there's one minor catch."
The wand in Malfoy's hand stilled, its tip pointed squarely at Ethan's chest. "A catch," he repeated, his voice so soft it was almost a whisper. Ethan's skin crawled, but he flashed another smile and kept his gaze fixed steadily on Malfoy's face.
"The spell must be cast by two people working in unison. Which means I'll need an assistant."
This was the risky bit. Ethan felt certain that Voldemort had another Muggle-trained wizard in his service. He'd realized it after he'd completed the work on the reverse shielding spell. The spell couldn't be cast remotely, and Ethan had expected Voldemort or Malfoy to take him to the site so that he could do the work himself. Instead, Malfoy had made him write down the instructions on a sheet of parchment, which he then took away. That meant somebody else must've set the shield, someone with training and at least a little power, but without Ethan's expertise. Ethan could only hope that it wasn't Malfoy or Snape.
If he had an assistant, he'd have a ready-made scapegoat for future failures. He'd be able to stall for time as he trained the other wizard at an appropriately leisurely pace. And stalling for time was Ethan's biggest concern at the moment. On the one hand, he had no intention of actually killing Albus Dumbledore -- not that Ethan cared what happened to the old bastard, but he knew perfectly well that success would put an end to his usefulness, and Voldemort was not just going to thank him and let him go. On the other hand, repeated failures would eventually exhaust the Dark Lord's patience. Snape might effect a rescue before then, or he might not -- Ethan was still not entirely convinced that Snape intended a rescue at all. He had his own ideas for an escape plan, but they were vague and required time. Stalling, therefore was vitally important. Ethan found himself actually holding his breath as he waited for Malfoy's reply.
Malfoy looked as if he just stepped into something unpleasant, but he didn't launch in with the Crucio right away, which Ethan took as a good sign.
"I will inform Our Lord," he announced in a magnanimous tone and marched from the room.
"Gosh." Ethan slumped in his chair as he slowly released the breath he'd been holding. "I can hardly wait."
For the next two days, nothing happened. Snape arrived to deliver his daily doses of antidote, but if he knew anything about Ethan's request or Voldemort's opinion of it, he gave no sign. The house-elf remained his usual obsequious self, and Malfoy was conspicuous only by his absence. Ethan spent most of his time sitting by the fireplace, browsing through his books, nibbling on the elf-delivered food, and trying not to go too obviously insane.
On the morning of the third day, Lord Voldemort himself put in an appearance.
Ethan scrambled out of his chair, spilling books and notes all over the floor, and shuffled forward on his knees to kiss the hem of Voldemort's robe.
"You honor me with your presence, My Lord," he proclaimed in what he hoped was a suitably obsequious voice. All this groveling was tiresome and undignified, but painful experience had demonstrated that the consequences of not groveling were a lot worse. "What can this humble Muggle do for you?"
"Humble Muggle?" Voldemort sounded unimpressed. "Useless Muggle is more like it. All these months as my guest, and still you haven't produced the results I need. Tell me, Muggle, why should I continue to let you live?"
"My Lord." Ethan pressed another kiss into the fold of cloth clutched in his fist, and touched his forehead to the floor for good measure. "I believe I have the answer. I have found a--"
"A spell, I know." Voldemort gave a slow, satisfied hiss. "For which you need a partner. Very well. Rise, Muggle."
Ethan climbed stiffly to his feet just in time to see a robed and hooded figure slinking into the room at Voldemort's heels. The newcomer was short and fat, and walked with a hunched, cringing posture that suggested a desperate desire to be somewhere else. The posture was all Ethan had to judge by, since the stranger's face was concealed by a smooth, blank mask.
"This is Wormtail," Voldemort said. "He's been trained in your Muggle Tricks -- isn't that right?" He ran the tip of one clawed finger down the side of the fat man's mask. It made a soft rasping sound that set Ethan's teeth on edge. Wormtail shuddered and seemed to shrink a little inside his robes.
"Y-yes, My Lord," he squeaked. Voldemort gave him a shove and he staggered forward a step, tripping over his too-long robes and narrowly avoiding a fall.
"His abilities are as pathetic as the rest of him, no doubt, but it will be your job to teach him what he needs to know. You have a fortnight to prepare this latest spell of yours. But I warn you…" Voldemort gripped Ethan's chin in one hand and tilted Ethan's head back, forcing him to look directly up into Voldemort's gleaming red eyes. "I've lost patience with your failures, Muggle. If you don't succeed this time, you will not get another chance."
"Yes, My Lord," Ethan said steadily. Two weeks was not as long as he'd hoped for, but longer than he had actually expected to get. And if he couldn't get away by then… well, he'd just have to negotiate, that's all. He'd done it before. If his new assistant was really as wretched as he seemed, deflecting blame wouldn't be difficult.
Voldemort departed, hissing more threats. Ethan gathered up the books and parchments he'd spilled earlier, and returned to his chair.
"I'd offer you a seat," he said to Wormtail, "but I'm afraid there's only the one chair. Unless you care to conjure up your own?"
Watery, pale blue eyes blinked at him through narrow slits in the mask. With Voldemort gone, Wormtail stood a little straighter, without any obvious cringing, though he still looked ridiculous in his Phantom of the Opera get-up. He gazed at Ethan in silence for a few seconds, then pulled out a wand.
"Formasella." The chair that appeared looked a bit rickety. It creaked ominously when Wormtail sat on it, but did not collapse. Ethan tried not to look disappointed.
"So," he said. "Wormtail. Is that a first name or a last name?"
"It's a name." Wormtail's voice now sounded sulky and resentful rather than sniveling. He was sitting up very straight and obviously trying to look dignified, but the effect was spoiled by the fact that his feet didn't quite touch the floor. Ethan grinned at him.
"So what's the mask all about? New fashion trend? What the well-dressed evil minion is wearing this season?"
"Lord Voldemort's orders." Just saying the name was enough to start the small man cringing again. "Look, we're not supposed to talk, all right? Just teach me."
"A little hard to teach if we can't talk," Ethan pointed out. "I have to know what you've learned already before we can start. Who have you been studying with?"
"I can't tell you. Lord Voldemort's orders."
"Lovely." Ethan sighed. "Can you at least tell me how long you've been studying?"
Wormtail spent a ridiculous amount of time pondering that question. "A little over two months," he said finally.
"I see." Ethan had no idea what the date was, but he thought it had to be either late August or early September, which meant Wormtail had begun his training sometime in June. It couldn't be a coincidence -- he had to have been studying with Giles.
And Giles, as Ethan remembered all too well, had all sorts of quaint morals and scruples. He'd never knowingly teach someone who was working for Voldemort. If he was teaching Wormtail, then he believed him to be a friend, or at least an ally. A fellow white knight, working for Dumbledore's side. Well, I'll be damned. The fat little bugger is a spy.
That explained the mask, too. Voldemort didn't trust his own people. He wasn't concealing Wormtail's identity from Ethan -- he was concealing it from Malfoy, and Snape, and anyone else who might be lurking in the shadows in Malfoy Manor.
Well, it wasn't any of Ethan's business. Let Voldemort and Dumbledore play their little spy games. He just wanted to get out alive.
"All right," he said. "I assume, then, that you know the meditation techniques and the basic alchemical transformations?"
"Good." Ethan shuffled through his notes and held out the first page of diagrams so that the other man could see it. "Let's get started, then."
By the end of the first week, it was perfectly clear to Ethan that Wormtail was going to be useless. He learned the technical aspects of the spell quickly enough, mixed the ingredients with a light and steady hand, and even showed some skill at the alchemy exercises Ethan made him practice. For a brief time, Ethan worried that their attempt at the Sanguacidulus Transfusion might not fail without some dangerously extensive sabotage on his own part. But when the time came to actually practice the spell, Wormtail's competence fell apart. He had neither the power to channel the required magical energy nor the control to direct it properly.
Halfway through the week, Ethan had requested a small animal for them to practice on. The next day, Malfoy -- looking even more tight-arsed than usual from the indignity of playing errand boy -- delivered a plump brown rat in a wire cage. Wormtail, for some reason, was deeply perturbed by this.
"Can't we get something else?" he whined. "I rather like rats."
"I'm not asking you to vivisect the thing. You won't even be looking at it when we cast the spell -- it'll be shut up in the bathroom."
Wormtail's shoulders drooped, and Ethan was sure the sad little bastard was pouting behind his mask. "But I'll still know it's there," he complained. "I'll know we're hurting it."
How did someone that squeamish end up working for Voldemort in the first place? Ethan rolled his eyes.
"Fine," he said. "You go and tell Voldemort that he needs to send us another test subject because the one we've got is just too cuddly. I'm sure he'll be very understanding."
Wormtail made no further complaints, but when they cast their circle and began the Transfusion, his focus was shaky right from the start. Ethan could feel the magic in the space between them, contained at first, then bursting like a bubble to dissipate uselessly into the air as Wormtail's concentration slipped.
"Pay attention, damn it," Ethan snapped. "Try again."
They tried for three days, always with the same result.
"Tell your boss I want a new assistant," Ethan grumbled to Snape. "The one he sent me is defective."
Snape frowned. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"You know what's a bad idea?" Ethan snarled. "Me getting killed because I'm forced to work with a moron. Three days straight I've been putting that idiot through his paces, and what have I got to show for it? This." He gestured toward the far corner of the room, where the brown rat was placidly nibbling on a celery stalk.
Snape raised one eyebrow, looking mildly inquisitive. "Who is this mystery assistant of yours, anyway? Lucius is positively beside himself with fury at not knowing."
"Is he?" Ethan shrugged indifferently. "Personally, I'm perfectly fine with not knowing. He comes in his cloak and mask, and he goes in his cloak and mask, and he does nothing useful in between. Maybe he's deformed under there. Maybe he's a house elf. Who cares?"
"Just curious." Snape didn't look at Ethan as he stood next to the desk, packing his supplies back into their little enchanted box. "Is he tall, short, lame, hunchbacked? Voldemort always makes us keep out of the way when he brings him in."
Ah, so that's how it is... Ethan had to turn his face away to conceal his smirk. Wormtail was spying on Dumbledore for Voldemort, and Snape was spying on Voldemort for… somebody, but most likely Dumbledore. And he had to be pretty desperate for information, to ask his questions so unsubtly. Well, tough. Snape and Dumbledore had brought Ethan into this mess in the first place, and they were taking their sweet time about getting him out. Let them play their little spy games till they all dropped dead of old age. Ethan didn't owe them a thing.
"Tall," he said. "Athletic-looking fellow. Seems to think rather highly of himself, though I'm damned if I know why. So will you tell Voldemort I want somebody else, or not?"
"I'll tell him," Snape said. "But you might not like what he does about it."
Ethan was quite sure he wouldn't like it, but he thought it was worth the risk. He didn't think Voldemort would actually kill him outright before his fortnight was up. With a new assistant, he would have an excuse to start all over again, possibly winning himself more time. And at worst, he'd still have his remaining week.
It all sounded logical enough in his head, but logic was little comfort when Voldemort stormed into the room the next day, Wormtail slinking behind him like a whipped puppy.
"Severus tells me you've failed again," he hissed once Ethan had completed the obligatory grovel. "I've warned you what the consequences would be."
"I haven't failed, My Lord." Ethan slowly backed away, putting the desk between himself and Voldemort. He knew it wouldn't really help, but somehow it still made him feel better. "I can do my part -- right now, if you wish. But I must have someone competent to work with in order to complete the spell, and instead you give me that." He pointed to Wormtail, who obligingly cringed. "Really, My Lord, if I didn't know better, I'd say you wished me to fail."
"Does he speak the truth, Wormtail?" Voldemort loomed over the smaller wizard, who dropped clumsily to his knees, whimpering and wringing his hands. "Are you really unequal to a task that a Muggle performs with ease?"
"Forgive me, My Lord. It is a complicated spell, I have done my best, but--"
"And your best is still not as good as a Muggle's?" Voldemort raised his wand. "You're a disgrace to your pure blood, Wormtail. Crucio."
Wormtail shrieked in a high, ear-piercing voice as he writhed at Voldemort's feet. Ethan felt a small twinge of sympathy, which he quickly suppressed. Better him than me. The little toad had brought it on himself, after all, and then didn't even have the wherewithal to come up with a decent excuse.
Voldemort lowered his wand and Wormtail curled into a ball, sobbing into the folds of his cloak. "My Lord… Master…" He reached out with one violently trembling hand to grasp at Voldemort's cloak. "Please. Haven't I done well for you? Haven't I been a good spy, brought you useful knowledge? Dumbledore and his friends don't suspect a thing, why they all think the McKinnons--"
"Silence!" Voldemort kicked Wormtail's hand away. "I'm interested in results, not excuses. Crucio."
Ethan backed away from the desk until he bumped the wall, then shuffled sideways into the corner. Voldemort was clearly in a mood, and he didn't want to attract notice. Looking down at the cage at his feet, he saw that the rat had abandoned its celery stalk and retreated to the back, where it burrowed under a pile of cedar shavings until only its twitching nose showed. "I know how you feel, mate," Ethan told it softly. If he could've dug himself into a hole to hide in, he would've done it too.
"Please, Master…" Wormtail was pleading again, his voice hoarse and broken from screaming. "I cannot do this spell, but there are others who can. Maybe I could bring them to you..."
"Dumbledore's pet Muggle, you mean?" Voldemort sneered. "You think he would do better than you?"
"Him, yes." Wormtail sniffed loudly and lifted his head off the floor. His hood had fallen back to reveal thin, mousy hair and very pink ears, but his mask was still in place. "Or… or maybe Lily Potter. She is very strong, My Lord. Giles said she has more power than he does."
"Lily Potter?" Voldemort's eyes narrowed to thin scarlet slits. "She's the red-headed witch, yes? What was that prophecy you told me about? The one made by that Trelawney woman? She will take the world into darkness?"
"Yes, My Lord." Wormtail struggled up to a sitting position. His voice sounded cautiously hopeful now, though he was still trembling. "'She will lose her way when she loses her love. Only the boy can bring her back. That was what Trelawney said."
"The boy..." Voldemort tapped the tip of his wand against his chin. "And who would that be?"
"I-- I don't know, my Lord. Her son, perhaps? He's only a baby, but--"
"But a boy baby, yes? I'll have to get rid of him. And the husband, of course, if she's to lose her love… Very well, Wormtail. If you can deliver Lily Potter to me, if she succeeds where you've failed, then I may forgive you."
"I will, Master." Wormtail clutched at Voldemort's robes again. "You are kind, Master. You are generous. You are--"
"Sick of the sight of you. Stop sniveling and get out."
"Yes, My Lord." Wormtail scrambled to his feet and staggered out, still sniffling and whimpering. Voldemort turned his head, and Ethan found himself frozen in his corner, trapped by that cold red gaze.
"Don't think you can escape your punishment, Muggle. You knew what you were supposed to do, and you failed to do it. Be grateful I'm letting you live. Crucio."
Later than night, Ethan flipped over the mattress on his bed and dug out the items he'd concealed inside. He wasn't sure if he had enough to do what he needed to do. The candle stubs might burn down too quickly, the herbs might've lost their potency after weeks of improper storage, the crystals might not be pure enough. But he had to try. His time was running out.
It took him three tries to cast a circle and draw the proper runes inside it. His hands were shaking so badly, he kept dropping the chalk and smudging the lines. But he did get it right in the end, and by the time all the other components were in place, he was calm enough to recite the incantation without a hitch. Ethan lay on his back inside the circle, closed his eyes and let the magic flow into him, seeping in through his pores, flowing through his veins… His body felt cold and leaden, an inert container for his real self. He pushed at the walls, wanting to be out, wanting freedom. There was a moment of pressure, of stifling, breathless darkness, and then, between one moment and the next, he was free. He floated up to the ceiling and looked down. His body lay still and slack-faced inside the circle. Ethan raised one ghostly hand and waved at it.
"Hold down the fort for me, will you?" he told himself, and drifted out through the wall.
He had no idea where in England he was, but it didn't matter. All he had to do was imagine himself in London, and there he was, hovering over Piccadilly Circus. Getting to Tottenham Court Road took a little more concentration, but he knew exactly where he was going, and it took only a few seconds to pinpoint the right building. Ethan drifted through the wall into a dark room and looked down at the softly snoring man in the bed.
Wonder how long it will take him to notice?
Not long. Ethan barely had time to count to ten before the sleeping man awoke with a start and sat up.
"Hello? Is anyone the-- oh, my God..."
Ethan grinned a spectral grin as he drifted closer. "Hello, Ripper. Long time, no see."
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