Word count: 1950
Summary: Young Giles and a friend attempt to scale a mountain. Spoiler: It doesn't go well.
Now nominated in the 2016 Headline Awards for the The Watcher Watchers Award and The Rather British Award!
The summer before the start of university Giles and his friend from school, Reginald “Binky” Smythe, were looking for adventure and finding not much of it. There was plenty to see in all the usual places, and the hostels were full of like-minded youths and pretty girls with which to hoist a pint of an evening, of course. His successes with the fairer sex abroad had been nearly enough to distract him, as they were each delightful in their way and none stayed for more than a few days before heading out on their own adventures. American and Australian women were particularly refreshing, he was finding.
After the departure of the spirited Kate from Melbourne, he looked around Barcelona and found it wanting. The lack of anything that felt remotely challenging was beginning to chafe. He was covering well-trod ground and he knew it. After a night in the El Raval district loudly bemoaning this sorry state of affairs over local spirits, it was decided — by whom was rather blurry — that he and Binky should conquer a mighty peak, like real men. They found themselves on a bus to Andorra in the wee hours. It was not a smooth ride, but they were drunk enough that they slept through much of it. It was past noon by the time they disembarked in Nadal and managed to hitch a ride on the winding road into Arinsal, the starting point for trekking up Coma Pedrosa, the highest peak in Andorra at nearly 3,000 meters.
The mountain didn't look too daunting.
“Shall we?” Giles asked Binky.
“I expect we shall. After all, it's just there,” said Binky, shading his eyes. “Seems a shame to leave it unconquered, don't you think?”
“Just what I was thinking, old man.”
They filled their rucksacks with chocolate bars, topped off their canteens, made sure their runners were tightly laced and started off.
It was a pleasant enough climb, or would have been if not for the excessive brightness of the day. The wobbly stomachs and threatening headaches didn't help, but all that was manageable. Binky fell behind a few times, but Giles hectored him about lollygagging.
“Don't be a prat, man. Keep up!”
They kept on, pausing occasionally to take in the views and nibble on a chocolate. Giles began to doubt the level of adventure when smiling trekkers making their descent began to greet them cheerily.
It was nearing four when they made it to the refuge overlooking l'Estany de les Truites (Trout Lake). This was the designated resting place about halfway along the route, so they stopped. There were a few hikers gathering themselves for the return trip.
“Dead gorgeous,” volunteered one when he inquired about the summit. “It's a little late in the day, though, isn't it?”
“We'll manage,” said Giles. “There's plenty of daylight left.”
“Only, your friend there is looking a bit green,” added another.
“We had rather a night last night, is all. He'll be fine,” said Giles.
The first man shrugged. “You boys be careful up there. The last bit's rather tricky,” he said. The man and his friends resettled their rucksacks and started off down the mountain.
Giles bristled at being thought a boy in the midst of his adventure. Binky didn't seem to notice and continued to gaze at the lake. At Giles' prompting, he roused himself to check his canteen, which was empty, so they refilled it before setting off again.
“Hup hup. Let's go!” said Giles, hoping to rouse a lethargic Binky.
They passed a few more people coming down, but by the time they made it to the next stopping station, they hadn't seen anyone for an hour. It was clear that all was not right with Binky. Not only had it taken half again as long to get to the Estany Negre (Black Lake) stage as it should have, but Binky was sweating profusely and very pale. As soon as they had stopped, he sank to the ground and put his head between his knees.
“Smythe, old man, what's the matter with you? Is it the altitude, do you think?”
Binky looked up at him uncomprehendingly. Giles rummaged around for a chocolate bar, opened the wrapper and thrust it into Binky's hand. Binky looked at it blankly for a few moments, but then bit off a huge portion, chewed and swallowed. Giles picked up Binky's canteen and shook it: empty again. He unslung his own and held it out to Binky, who stared at it.
“Easy, old fellow. Here you are.” Giles held the canteen to Binky's lips and was relieved to see him drink. He unwrapped another chocolate and handed it over. This time, Binky seemed to know what to do right off. He took the canteen when it was offered and drank deeply. It was soon drained. He still hadn't spoken.
Giles settled heavily next to him, elbows on his knees. The view over the dark lake was spectacular and chilling. The sun was still out, but lower than felt comfortable, considering the slow pace they'd set so far. If they turned back now, they might make it back to the little town shortly after dark, if they were very lucky indeed.
Even worse, he was now remembering the farewell meeting with Binky's parents, and the long speech to which he'd not paid much attention. A few words had managed to penetrate. “Diabetic” being one of them.
“D'you suppose there's a creature in there?” asked Binky slowly, slurring his words.
Giles looked over to see him pointing at the lake. He considered. “Creature of the Black Lagoon? Perhaps. I'll wager the stories come from somewhere. Here's as good a place as any.”
Binky nodded in a way that looked like it was trying for “sage”, but only managed “careful”.
“Listen. I don't think we should try for the summit. It's later than we thought and we should be heading back. Will that be alright with you?”
Binky nodded again, but didn't speak.
Giles waited another 10 minutes before urging Binky up and onto the downward trail.
“I don't know what's the matter with me,” said Binky as they started out.
Giles again felt relief at this little sign of improvement.
“We'll we've been at it pretty hard, haven't we? Might want to take a day to rest before doing something like this again,” he laughed. It would be alright.
A half hour later, it was not alright. Their pace was very slow. Binky was shambling. Finally, at one of the turnings, he missed entirely and slid 50 feet down the embankment. Giles picked his way to where Binky was sitting looking at his leg. His trouser leg was ripped from knee to ankle, and a wide scrape marred the entire length of his lower leg. It was a bloody, mangled mess, studded with the stones that gave the mountain its name.
“Binky! Have you broken anything? Can you walk?”
Once again, he was met with the unspeaking stare.
Heart hammering, he checked him over as well as he could. The scrape seemed to be the only serious damage, apart from the eerie lack of speaking. He managed to load up Binky with the rucksacks and then slung him across his back and carefully made his way back to the trail. Fearing the dark, for more reasons than his father had ever been able to instill, he set off at a trot down the trail. It was very hard going with the extra weight, and he nearly cried with relief when the way station came into view as dusk began to gather.
He pushed on and made it to the refuge before he collapsed. After getting Binky settled as comfortably as he could, he had a look around. The caretaker had already left, and there didn't appear to be any way of calling for help. There was perhaps an hour of weak light left, and the upward trek was supposed to take over two hours. With Binky, it would probably take twice that long staggering downhill, if he could even do it at all. There was no help for it, he was going to have to leave Binky and go for help. Perhaps he'd meet the caretaker on the path and one of them could go for help while the other returned to wait.
He knelt next to where Binky was reclining.
“I'm sorry, Smythe. It looks as if you need a doctor. I'm going to go fetch one. Promise me you'll wait here? Don't wander off or there will be the devil to pay, do you hear?”
Binky blinked at him. Giles patted his hand roughly. “I'll be back soon. Get some rest.”
He walked swiftly on down the trail and after the first turning, he ran like hell was after him.
He did catch up to the caretaker, but by then the lights of the town were already in sight and full dark was only moments away.
“SOS! May day! Aidez moi!” He yelled the words for “emergency” in every way he knew. Naturally, Catalan was not one of those ways, but between French, Spanish and a lot of pointing he was able to get the situation across. Friend, diabetic, hurt, and refuge were the gist of it all.
The caretaker took his elbow and hustled him into town. He found himself deposited on a cot in a little clinic, surrounded by a flurry of activity as people collected equipment and rushed out. He was then left with a woman who took his temperature, wrapped him in a blanket and brought him a steaming mug of something that smelt like goat milk. She stood there with her arms crossed until he drank it down. She nodded with satisfaction, and he suddenly felt the weight of all his exertions. He lay down on the cot and drifted off.
Sometime later, he awoke to find Binky, pale but alert, lying on the cot beside him.
“Sorry about that, old fellow,” said Binky.
“As long as you're feeling better,” said Giles.
“My brains aren't as scrambled, at least.”
“How can you tell?” asked Giles with a smile.
“Touché. Listen. They're sending me to hospital. Something about the leg. You can go on without me.”
“Nonsense. I'm going with you. I've had just about enough of this adventure nonsense for one summer. Pamplona will just have to wait.”
Giles stayed with Binky through the amputation. He comforted his mother and gravely withstood the thanks of his father. He knew full well that his stupidity had contributed to this disaster and that anything he might have done to mitigate it was nothing that deserved any thanks.
He began his first term without his best mate.
Naturally, the feeling passed, and within a year his thirst for thrills returned with a vengeance and even more serious consequences.
When Buffy teased him about packing for his retreat like he was going to settle down and grow crops, he took her ribbing in stride. He didn't want to sour the mood, not when her life was brimming with new possibilities.
There was no need to bring up the grisly truth. He packed like an old woman because of another of his youthful mistakes, for which someone else had paid the price. That he had made a serious misstep when under the influence of that cursed chocolate, didn't help. An object lesson in the wages of thoughtlessness, a lesson to which he'd been repeatedly subjected before it finally took hold. Or so he'd believed. Now he knew he was still that person, just waiting for any opportunity to throw caution to the wind. He vowed to continue to prepare for every eventuality.
A/N: Please feel free to Britpick! This didn't get an official one due to lateness!