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Title: Crossroads
Written for: [livejournal.com profile] summer_of_giles 2016 - thanks to the mods for making this such a great community every year
Characters: Giles, Ethan
Type: Gen
Warnings: Character study – musings on religion
Disclaimer: Joss and Mutant Enemy et al, own everything. I own nothing.
Summary: In the early stages of their relationship Giles and Ethan take a trip to France. Turns out Ethan has more on his mind than red wine and cheese (although that’s there as well).
Comments and feedback are cuddled and called George
Beta extraordinaire, as always: [livejournal.com profile] thismaz

A/N: Last year I wrote One of These Days, which provided a snapshot of Giles and Ethan’s relationship shattering. This year I wanted to go back and explore a little of their relationship right at the beginning before they were tainted by the events that were to come. This is one way things may have started off

Also, to my fellow [livejournal.com profile] summer_of_giles contributors, apologies if I haven’t yet commented on your post. I know I’m very behind due to RL stuff. I will get there, honest!


Crossroads

Giles glanced at his watch for the third time in as many minutes and wondered why Ethan had told him to meet him in front of the cathedral steps. Cathedrals weren’t exactly Ethan’s style and it piqued Giles curiosity. But then that was the point. Curiosity. Ethan. It’s why they were in France in the first place. When Ethan whistled, Giles followed, curious. He was kind of surprised they weren’t in Hamelin, but it was possible that would be a little too obvious, even for Ethan.

He knew he’d arrived early, and of course, he should have known that Ethan would be late, but finally, only 10 minutes after their agreed meeting time, he spotted Ethan strolling out of the shadow of one of the narrow side streets, hips loose, the sleeves of his white linen shirt rolled up almost to his elbows and a white panama sitting at just the right angle on his head. He exuded self confidence in a way that Giles envied and he wondered if he would magically feel the same when he finally reached 21. Somehow he doubted.

Ethan sauntered across the street. He definitely didn’t look as if he’d been asleep under a tree in the corner of the local bouledrome after a lunch that had far too much red wine and rich cheese, and that was part of the allure. Giles’ own shirt had been rumpled and grass stained and he’d retreated to change in the small hotel in an Autun back street. When they’d first arrived the night before, the concierge had looked at them knowingly, laughed at Ethan’s whispered asides and given them a room at what Giles suspected was substantially lower than the going rate. Ethan had laughed with him. He’d laughed as they finished the bottle of wine at lunch and, as he strolled up and came to a stop at the foot of the cathedral steps, his crooked smile suggested that he’d been laughing ever since.

Giles considered sarcasm for his opening gambit but that was too much in Ethan’s area, so he settled on something innocuous, just to see where it went. “I didn’t think cathedrals would be your thing,” he said. “You’re not exactly known for your piety.”

“I can do pious,” Ethan replied. The quirk of his lips was sly, showing just an edge of teeth. Giles wondered if that was what a Great White would look like if it had lips to quirk. “You should have seen me as a choir boy,” Ethan continued. “I looked extremely fetching in a neck ruff, holding a candle.”

“And I bet you were probably wearing only a neck ruff and I’m not sure I want to know what you were doing with the candle,” Giles replied.

“We could do a re-enactment if you like? I could be the naughty choir boy and you could be the stern and stuffy choirmaster showing me the error of my ways. I’ll even wear the ruff and you can show me just how rough you like it.”

Giles blushed. He didn’t know what it said about him that the more outrageous the suggestion Ethan made, the more it appealed to him. He settled for taking a step back. A little distance seemed like a prudent move, at least until he collected himself. “Why exactly are we here?” he asked.

Ethan’s half smile became a full on grin. “I wanted to show you the doorway.” He nodded his head towards the front of the cathedral. The panama didn’t slip an inch with the movement.

“Okay,” Giles replied. “You wanted to show me the doorway of a cathedral? I know I’m probably going to regret this, but why?”

“You can work it out. Use that brain of yours. Just because you ran away from Oxford doesn’t mean to say it doesn’t work anymore.”

“Ethan.”

“Ruuuperttt.” Ethan sing-songed his name.

Giles fought down the urge to step forward and slap him. It was a bad idea because their fights, more often than not, ended up with spectacular sex. And sex in public, in front of a cathedral, was probably a bad idea, even given some of the things they’d tried in the few short weeks they’d been together. He closed his eyes and made himself think. When he opened them again, Ethan was standing half way up the steps to the cathedral door. “Because Janus is all about doorways, I suppose?”

Ethan nodded. “Clever boy. I knew it the first time I set eyes on you back in that seedy little bar off Fleet Street. You’ve never disappointed me, since.”

“Never? Giles replied. “You only met me a month ago, but I rather thought I’d been disappointing you, more or less, ever since.”

“Frustrated me, yes. But disappointed, no. It’s all in your name, you do know that?”

“My name?” Curiosity made Giles climb the steps towards Ethan until he was standing just an arms-length away.

“‘Rupert’. I’d like to focus on the pert bit of it, because really, that bum is quite gorgeous. But the ‘Ru’ part keeps getting in the way.”

“What the hell are you-”

“Rue,” Ethan interrupted. “It means to regret, to repent.”

“I know what it means.”

“It gets in the way, dear boy. There’s so much there to embrace. To enjoy. To revel in. But you’re always regretting.”

“That’s a bit of a sweeping statement, don’t you think? We don’t know each other that well – I mean, apart from the obvious.” Giles studied the cracks in the flagstones at his feet before he looked back up at Ethan. “I suppose, well, I suppose I thought that was sort of the point of coming to France. To get to know each other a bit better, away from everyone else.”

“Don’t you enjoy our little bacchanals?” Ethan reached out and ran his index finger down the front of Giles shirt. “You make the most adorable noises.”

Giles blushed again and watched Ethan’s finger as it circled the shirt button over his navel. “It’s been....educational. But I think I’m more of a one-on-one person.”

“Well now you know that, I can pat myself on the back for helping you with your education. I told you that Oxford couldn’t teach you everything.” Ethan tapped his finger once where Giles shirt disappeared into his jeans before withdrawing his hand. “Though I could get behind a good lecture or two.”

Giles gave an involuntary shiver at the loss of Ethan’s touch and he had a fleeting memory of his Oxford tutor telling him to pull himself together. “If all you’re going to do is lecture me then maybe I will regret coming.” Turning his back, he climbed another few steps closer to the cathedral door. He stiffened when he felt Ethan arms curl around his waist from behind.

“Look up,” Ethan whispered.

“At what?” He could feel Ethan’s chin resting on his shoulder and he resisted the urge to tilt his head towards Ethan’s cheek.

“At the carvings, of course. At the stonework.”

“You wanted me to see some stonework representing heaven and hell? Really?”

“Just look at it.” Ethan’s breath was warm against his ear. “This is famous. It’s the last judgement, obviously. It’s been called a sermon in stone, which is rather poetic, don’t you think?”

“I don’t think of you as being one for sermons.”

“You’d be surprised.” Giles could picture Ethan smiling behind him. “But look at the work. See Christ and Mary. The angels elevating the saved and humanity being judged. Just look at it.”

There was something in Ethan’s voice that made Giles half turn in the cradle of his arms. “This is important to you, isn’t it? Why?”

“Just look,” Ethan said. “Tell me what you see.”

Giles shook his head. He felt like a dog shaking water from its coat as he tried to work out what Ethan was getting at. He turned back and stared back up at the carving above the door. “There’s Christ in the centre,” he murmured. “He’s so much bigger than all the other figures and he seems to almost come out of the stonework. He’s surrounded by, and almost being supported by four angels. There’s the kingdom of heaven. And those archways almost look like windows with figures looking out. I suppose they’re the saved. Some of them are being helped up by other angels. There’s a scale where people are being weighed. I suppose it’s their souls that are being weighed and judged.” Giles shivered at the thought.

The arms around Giles’ waist tightened. “I’ve got you,” Ethan whispered.

“I’m not sure that’s meant to make me feel safer or more disturbed,” Giles muttered. But his right hand crept up and came to rest over Ethan’s clasped hands, resting above his belt buckle.

“What else do you see?”

“There’s a line of people carved into the lintel below the main sculpture. They’re so much smaller - the little people waiting to be judged. Some of them are being helped up. They’re obviously the lucky ones and there are others that look like they’re frantically hanging on to coat tails, hoping to be pulled up as well. But then there are others. They’re all bent and twisted and their eyes, their eyes are bulging like they’re witnessing horrors.” Giles shivered again. “They’ve been judged and must have been found wanting. That’s terrifying.”

“What is?”

“That figure there. The two giant hands around his head. Like claws. Fuck.” Giles broke out of Ethan’s hold and climbed the last two steps in front of the doorway. He turned and stared back down at Ethan. “Why did you want me to see this? I don’t understand.”

“Because it’s beautiful and terrible,” Ethan replied. “Because it’s about contradictions. Because you’re right, it’s about doorways. This cathedral supposedly holds the relics of St Lazare - of Lazarus - who again, depending on whether you believe, rose from the dead. So here you have this grandiose monument as a tribute to the dead who rose. It’s visited every day by the living who are terrified of dying.”

“That’s a cynics view.”

Ethan shrugged. “Maybe. Then you have this doorway. You step out of the sunlight and into the shade of the cathedral. You have to step under this carving that‘s about the transition from life to death and beyond. It’s about the choices you make and where they’ll take you. To get from one side to the other, you have to make a choice.”

“I’m still not really seeing your point.”

Ethan climbed the final steps to the doorway and pulled Giles towards him. The carving of the weighing of souls was above their heads. He turned, guiding Giles gently, until they were both facing the street, with the door at their backs. “You can’t see it from here because of the buildings in between, but if you could see across the river from here, there’s an old ruin in a field overlooking the town. It’s an old Roman temple dedicated to Janus.”

“That’s convenient,” Giles said. “So why are we here and not there?”

“Because it’s just a ruin. It doesn’t mean it has lost its power of course. I can still feel it if I go up there, and it’s funny, you can see through the crumbling arch and right down onto the town. You can see this cathedral from the temple, but you can’t see the temple from the cathedral.”

“Your point?”

“The older gods, the ones who knew about magic, they can see the ones that came after them. They’re aware of them. But the people who come here, who pass under that doorway, they don’t know about magic. They marvel at this architecture, and they’re terrified of being judged and about the state of their souls, but they’re blind. They don’t understand the mysteries that go on in front of them every day. They can’t see what came before and they don’t understand that it’s all still here if they just knew where to look.” He lifted his right hand and ran the edge of his thumb across Giles face, tracing the line of his cheekbone. “I don’t want you to be blind, Rupert.”

“I don’t understand. You said the carvings were beautiful, they’re obviously important to you. But now you’re saying that they don’t compare with a ruin that no one cares about, but you.”

“The carvings compare,” Ethan replied. “They compare because the stonemason understood. There’s no hard line between the saved and the damned on the lintel. The bodies gradually start to contort as you move from left to right. You can see the transition.”

“And Janus is also the god of transitions,” Giles interrupted.

“He is,” Ethan acknowledged. “Those carvings are hundreds of years old, but you can still taste their power. They almost sing to me - those people desperate to be saved, to repent, who are being judged. Living a life in fear of being found wanting. Those who try and fail through no fault of their own. Those who decide that they’re damned whatever, and chose to live their life knowing where they’ll end up. The creator of those carvings understood that there’s no black and white.”

“But the people who walk below them, that’s what they see.” Giles said slowly. “They see black and white, saved and damned, weighed and measured and found worthy or wanting.”

Ethan lifted Giles hand, his thumb sliding over the palm before he raised it to his mouth and placed a soft kiss on the tips of Giles’ fingers. “I told you, you were clever.”

“But-”

“No buts.” Ethan kissed his fingers again. “You already know so much. You know about the other world. Your background hums with that knowledge. But it’s so black and white. When I saw you in that pub, I could feel you. You might as well have worn a sign around your neck saying you’d run from the future that was planned for you - from the good fight. History is written by the people who win and they say what makes a good fight and what makes a bad one. I want you to understand that there are other ways of seeing.

Giles jerked his hand away and stared back up at the carving before he turned and descended the steps at a pace that his father would have said was unseemly in a place of worship. When he reached the solid ground of the flags at the base of the steps, he turned back and watched Ethan descending at a more leisurely pace. “You want me to follow Janus? To follow you?”

Ethan halted in front of him. “I just want you to look at things with your eyes wide open,” he said. “I admit I want you to listen to me. I’m selfish. I’m self involved. I’m narcissistic. All the reasons you’re attracted to me, and don’t deny it, you wouldn’t have let me lure you to France if you weren’t. But I want you to understand that there are choices. It’s not just the Watcher’s way or a life of powerless mediocrity. There are so many types of power, so many types of magic and they’re there for the choosing if you know where to look.”

“I sometimes think you’re the devil sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear.”

“I’m no devil. And if I was, does that make your family, the Council, the angels? Do they whisper from your other shoulder?”

“I’m surprised I’m not a hunchback from the weight of them,” Giles replied. He watched as an elderly couple made their way slowly up the steps, walking in unison as if this was a journey they’d made many times before. They stopped at the cathedral door and looked up, and Giles wondered what they saw. Whether it was the same as they’d always seen. After a long moment the old couple looked at each other and moved forward under the lintel and into the shadow of the cathedral beyond. Giles scrubbed his hand roughly through his hair. “Fuck, I’m tired. I’m tired of trying to do the right thing. I just wanted some time away, is that so wrong?”

“Nothing wrong with wanting a break.”

“And what if I want it to be more than a break?”

“Do you?”

“I have no idea.” He looked sideways at Ethan. “I’d tell you how damn seductive you are, but it would just fuel your already overinflated ego.”

The shark grin returned. “Tell me anyway.”

Giles laughed. “You confuse me. You admit to being a narcissist, to being self-centred, but you brought me here to try to tell me something fundamental and I’m still not sure I really understand.”

“The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Being selfish doesn’t mean I can’t be truthful when I want to be.”

Giles walked slowly backwards and came to stop by the railings guarding the cathedral from the street beyond, until he could see the whole carving above the door laid out above his head. The fading afternoon sun glinted on the stonework, making the figures look as if they were moving. “It is beautiful,” he said. “But you are right, it’s terrible as well.” He looked back at Ethan. “There is no black and white, is there?”

“No,” Ethan replied. “And there is no Santa Claus, or tooth fairy, and contrary to what Hollywood says, the good guys don’t always win. It doesn’t mean they lose, but sometimes their hats get a little grey around the edges.” He swept off his panama and tossed it in the air, letting it fall into the dust at his feet. He stooped, dusted it off with a flourish and set it back at a jaunty angle on his head. “What do you think?” he said. “Not quite subtle enough?”

Giles stifled the urge to laugh and settled for shaking his head. He ambled forward, studying the old stone of the cathedral steps. It was worn from the thousands of feet that had left their mark and there were indentations that looked like they would welcome a traveller, or a believer, or even a seeker of knowledge, who needed to rest. Rubbing absently at the back of his neck, he sank slowly down on to the lowest step, his legs splayed out before him. “Is that what you want for me?” he said, looking up at Ethan. “To get a little grey around the edges?”

The shark smile softened. “I just want you recognise that the grey exists and that it’s nothing to be scared of.”

“I’m not scared,” Giles whispered. “That’s what terrifies me.”

Ethan lowered himself down beside Giles and eased his arm over Giles’ shoulder. “Good boy,” he whispered back. He kissed Giles lightly on the cheek and tightened his grip until Giles leaned towards him. “I’ve got you,” he said.

Giles nodded. “I know.” He glanced back over his shoulder and the souls of the saved and the damned above the cathedral door moved in their never-ending dance in the shadow of the fading afternoon light. He knew that somewhere, in a field on the other side of the river, in the ruins of an ancient temple, the spirit of Janus danced with them.

Turning his back on the cathedral, Giles closed his eyes and rested his head on Ethan’s shoulder. He relaxed into the soothing song of the half-light and surrendered himself to the dance.


Fin

If anyone is interested, the carving really does exist above the main door of the Cathedrale de Saint-Lazare in Autun, in the Burgundy region of France, You can see it here – click on the picture for a more detailed view. And yes, there really is a ruined temple dedicated to Janus outside of the town. Once I found that out, I couldn't resist sending the boys to France.
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