Disclaimers in Part One Continued in Part Two
Buffy’s smile slipped a little as she backed out of the bedroom and turned to enter the main room of the apartment. It might be easy to joke about the silly sounds Giles was making, but he really was ill and not just making a fuss over a little cold. Not that she’d have ever accused him of malingering, but she’d spent the trip between the office and his place trying to convince herself that it was nothing to worry about … and here she was, worrying.
Slayers didn’t pick up the common bugs and viruses as a rule – and, okay, so she had had that thing back in Sunnydale that ended with her in hospital fighting the ‘only sick people can see me’ demon, but her Mom had been around to help her deal with that. She’d not really been ill since – and neither had Dawn, who appeared to have inherited her Slayer immunities, if not her strength or any of the other things that came with the package. Buffy could write all the things she knew about taking care of the sick on the back of a business card – and most of those came from watching soap operas and TV medical dramas.
It can’t be that hard, she told herself firmly. She’d just have to approach it the way she would any other Slaying problem – except that, on this occasion, she’d be tackling viruses instead of vampires.
“First rule of slaying,” she muttered to herself, glancing around to find what passed for a kitchen in an English apartment. “Don’t die. Well, that’s a given … ”
It was a rather nice apartment, even if it wasn’t quite what Buffy had been expecting. She wasn’t entirely sure what she’d been expecting – a carbon copy of his Sunnydale place, perhaps, something cosy and intimate, crowded with books and artefacts – but it certainly hadn’t been this airy, elegant living space, filled with light and dominated by the high arching windows that looked out onto the park. There were books – quite a few of them in fact – tucked away in alcoves and spilling into a side room that seemed to serve as a study, but their presence wasn’t intrusive; the things that caught the eye first were the paintings and the sculptures, the soft gleam of antique furniture and the well used and heavily padded leather suite. It all looked very comfortable. In fact, it all looked very welcoming, in an ‘this-is-one-of-the-places-Giles-makes-h
The door to the study was on her right, leading off the main room on the far side from the hallway. There was another, closed, door on her left, and in the back wall, opposite the parade of windows, there was what looked like an arch, flanked by glass fronted bookcases and what looked like a state of the art stereo. Beyond the arch lay the object of her search - a neatly laid out kitchenette, which turned out to be barely big enough to turn round in, but was still large enough to hold all the necessary appliances. There was also a sleek electric kettle, a row of pottery jars neatly labelled with things like ‘sugar’ and ‘coffee,’ and a very handy mug tree, complete with a set of matching mugs.
Rule two, she considered, unplugging the kettle so she could refill it. Assess your weapons and determine your available resources … The tap made an odd rattling sound and then gurgled up the water with startling enthusiasm. Buffy filled the kettle, plugged it back in and left it to boil while she investigated cupboards. Sixteen shelves and four drawers later she’d determined that Giles still didn’t keep any first aid supplies in the kitchen, had unearthed a whole stack of herbs and oils she hadn’t seen since her days working in the Magic Box, and had located, among other things, a bottle of lemon juice, and a half eaten jar of honey. She vaguely remembered her Mom doing something soothing with honey and lemon when she was little, so she put those to one side while she focused on making tea. There was only a splash of milk left in fridge, and not a lot of anything else either; a few jars of unidentifiable stuff, a half filled tub of olives, a small hunk of cheese, and a couple of eggs … enough to make a miniscule omelette. If you liked your omelettes really, really small.
This is only his weekday apartment, Buffy reminded herself, setting a tea bag to steep in a mugfull of boiling water and trying to remember if her taxi had passed a grocery store anywhere on its circuitous route through the London streets. Giles probably didn’t keep much fresh food in the place as a rule – although she found herself wondering just how he’d been intending to take care of himself when he had no food, only water - or tea - to drink, and no medicines on hand, either.
Speaking of which …
Third rule of slaying. When you don’t know how to kill something, research, research, research …
“Tea,” Buffy announced brightly, eliciting a heartfelt groan from his huddle among the pillows. There was, in fact, a great deal of appeal in the idea of tea, but the logistics of drinking it – including the necessity of levering himself out of his cocoon of pillows – were a challenge he had no enthusiasm to face.
“It’s not that bad,” she grinned, “I know it’s been a while, but … I think I remembered how you like it.”
He grimaced at the thought, recalling days, still vivid in memory, which he had spent suffering the results of well meaning ‘attempts’ to make him tea … and then he sighed, and began the effort to sit up, remembering that those days were – like Sunnydale – long since lost to the haze of history. Buffy wasn’t sixteen anymore, somewhere along the way she had learnt to make a halfway decent brew – and it was probably a moot point, since he wasn’t going to taste anything, anyway.
“I’m sure it will be fine,” he croaked, levering himself into a slightly more upright position. She sat down on the edge of the bed to hand him the mug and stayed there, watching him as he assayed the warmth of its contents. It was hot, wet and wonderful, nectar on his tongue and succour to his parched and savaged throat. Swallowing it took a little effort, but he savoured each sip with relish, taking it slowly, and pausing every now and again so he could catch his breath. Buffy went on watching him, with a quiet consideration that began to feel vaguely unnerving; it had been nearly a year since he’d last seen her, and that had been in less than welcome circumstances that hadn’t allowed them much time for socialisation. Since then their contact had consisted of the occasional flurry of e-mails and an even more occasional exchange over the phone. He’d begun to get used to not having her in his life – didn’t like it, but had begun to get used to it – and yet, here she was, as large as life and staring at him with unreadable intent.
“Do you need a guide book or are you planning to write one?” he enquired, feeling far too ill to have any patience for whatever game she might be playing. She gave him a bemused look.
“Well, you’ve obviously tired of Roman ruins, since you seem to have come all this way to stare at British ones instead.”
“Giles.” Her frown was affectionate – as was the amused exasperation that she couldn’t quite conceal. “Don’t talk about yourself like that. You’re not a ruin. You’re a … a national treasure.”
He snorted at the thought – and then had to snort again, violently, so he could catch his next breath. “Not at the moment, I’m not,” he croaked, unable to help the petulant note in his voice, caught in and frustrated by the imprisonment of his misery.
“You are to me,” Buffy assured him softly. “Now, come on. Drink up, settle back and get comfy, okay? I need to go out and I want to be sure you’ll be okay while I’m gone.”
“Out?” Giles echoed bemusedly, than added, with a moment of indignant heat; “Oh, Good Lord, I was perfectly okay before you got here, so … “
“So I won’t be long,” she interrupted. “Just long enough to find a drugstore and hopefully some food – or you could just like there and suffer, and I could starve to death. Which really wouldn’t be fun. For either of us.”
She had a point. “No,” he concurred, trying not to think of her, skin and bones, withering away … He blinked, and an entirely healthy – not to mention radiant – Buffy swum back into focus in front of him. Her days of starvation diets and depressed appetites were long gone, but that sudden shift of memory, that echo of desperate and doubt filled days, sent a shiver running down his spine. He took a hasty sip of his tea, both to soothe his throat and to cover his sudden disconcertion. “Right. Umm. You’ll find a .. chemists, on Albany Street. There’s a grocers, and … a - a mini-mart, places like that. Keys … are on the hall table …”
“Got it,” she smiled. “I really won’t be long. Sure you’ll be okay?”
He saved his voice and glared at her instead; it was the kind of look that set lesser members of his organisation quaking in their boots. Buffy giggled.
“Oh, Giles,” she breathed, dipping in to place another of those quick, demonstrative kisses to his forehead. “I’ve missed you … Ciao.”
“Ciao,” he echoed faintly, taken aback by the warmth of the contact, by the depth of feeling in her voice. “Buffy?”
She turned at the door and his courage suddenly failed him; he had no way of returning that unexpected expression of affection without sounding unbearably maudlin, no matter how much he might need her to know it was returned. “Umm … d - do you need any money?”
“Of course not,” she laughed. “The thing about big cities? You only need cash for taxi rides. For everything else …” She tugged a rectangle of plastic out of the front pocket of her very expensive, Italian leather purse and flourished it with confidence. “ …there’s Council-card.”
“Now there’s something you don’t see every day,” he declared. “A lady with an umbrella bigger than she is.” He called across to the teenaged girl who was busy stacking magazines onto a rack. “Get the door for her, Akar.”
Akar reached out and pulled back the door which was trying to eat the umbrella, and Buffy was able to tug it free and close it down, feeling vaguely embarrassed at having to be helped in the first place. “Thanks,” she said. “It’s not mine. I’ve just borrowed it from a friend.”
The young man’s name badge had Randeep written on it. At least, Buffy assumed it was his name. It went well with his grin. “I thought that might be the case. Are you one of Mr Rupert’s students? I keep telling him to send the young and pretty ones to visit me. Not that he ever does,” he added. “But it never hurts to ask.”
Buffy blinked at him. “You know Giles?”
Randeep nodded. “Financial Times and the Guardian weekdays only, Fortean Times every Thursday, and Classic Bikes one a month. Bottle of very good Scotch on order every three weeks, and … everything else falls into the customer confidentiality clause. Are you one of his students?”
“Was,” she answered, almost without thinking, then grinned. “His first, I guess. He’s – ah – taken a lot more under his wing, since then.”
“He works too hard, that Mr Rupert,” Akar announced. “He comes into the Mahjal some evenings, picking up a take-out on his way back from his office. Eight, nine at night. Says he can’t resist the Byriani, but I think he’s just to tired to cook. Or can’t, maybe.”
“Don’t be daft,” Randeep laughed before Buffy had time to respond to that. “He buys more spices than the chef down at the Royal Oak. ‘Course he can cook.”
“The Royal Oak buys retail, you retard.” Akar rolled her eyes with an affectionate exasperation that had Buffy fighting back a laugh of her own. The banter was light, and warmly familiar – evidencing the same confident relationship that she and Dawn had developed over the years.
“I don’t know about that,” she smiled, “but … Giles is a wonderful cook. When he has the time. Not at the moment, though. He has this … bug? It’s – flu, or something. So … umm, I’m doing the nursing thing and … I need some supplies, and … I wondered if I could get on the net? To check out some stuff?”
“Yeah, no problem. It’s 3 pound an hour, or … “ Randeep grinned. “Spend over 15 quid and I’ll throw in 20 minutes free.”
“Done,” Buffy agreed before he could change his mind. She wasn’t going to spend anything near 20 minutes – just a few moments of essential research, which was something she’d become fairly expert at over the years …
Continued in Part Four