Disclaimers in Part One Continued in Part Two, Part Three and Part Four
The drink was bright orange, smelt peculiarly sweet and spilled soft bubbles up the inside of the glass. Buffy hadn’t expected it to be carbonated, but then she’d come to learn that there were a lot of things in England that didn’t turn out to be quite what you expected. Rather like gawky, tweed clad librarians, who somehow managed to metamorphose themselves into rakishly handsome, kick-ass, sword wielding, mojo using, Watchers …
… with nasty, miserable, snotty colds, that made them all sweaty and feverish and oddly cute despite the puffy eyes and the reddened nose – and the grumpy bear with a sore head glare he was currently giving her.
She grinned to herself as she held out the glass with one hand and the flu tablets with the other. He did look a little like a bear, all huddled up inside his duvet. A rumpled, just out of hibernation one; his hair was mussed, and a little damp from sweat, and he was squinting a little in the light … probably due to his headache, she realised and glanced over to the window to see if there was anything she could do about that.
“I really don’t think …” Giles was saying, frowning doubtfully at the bright red and white capsules in her hand. He probably intended it to be a masterful protest, but it came out sounding more like a whimper. A very croaky one, at that. Buffy’s lips tightened. She knew he was sick, and she knew he hated it. Knew that he felt weak and helpless and not at all in control. It was making him cranky, and – really – she got that. She was willing to let him be as pig-headed and macho as he wanted to be about any number of things - but not taking his medicine wasn’t going to be one of them. She dredged up her sternest Dawn, go to school right now look and gave him a resolute glare.
“Don’t,” she said, probably a little more sharply than she’d intended. “Think, I mean … well, of course you can think, but … Giles – only six year olds refuse to take their medicine, and you are definitely not six years old. Take the tablets. You will feel much better afterwards, I promise you.”
He tried to return her glare with a matching one of his own, but his heart clearly wasn’t in it; he sighed instead, tugging the glass out her hand to down both tablets in one quick gulp and swallow – a painful one judging from the expression on his face. “Well done,” she said, letting her expression soften along with her voice. She didn’t want to bully him, but sometimes the resolve face was necessary – as Willow had so often proved over the years.
He harrumphed at her, a soft snort of sound that made him seem more like a grumpy bear than ever – but after it he settled back into the pillows and sipped begrudgingly at his drink, giving her a look that asked a pointed and rather plaintive happy now?
She was, and she smiled to show it, bounding up from the edge of the bed to tug the curtains across the window and rearrange the scatter of items on the bedside cabinet to her satisfaction.
“Okay,” she said warmly, “… throat sweets here if you need one, bottle of Luco-stuff if you want a refill … tissues in reach … umm … vapour rub?” She picked up the tub and turned to her patient in time to see his eyes go wide – although whether in alarm, horror, or something else, she couldn’t quite tell, because his sharp intake of breath triggered another of those nasty coughing fits and he was arching up, hacking and snuffling and struggling desperately to breath. Buffy dropped the vapour rub, grabbed the glass from his hand and offered up the tissue box instead, biting at her lip in anxious sympathy as he gagged and choked and finally trumpeted several explosive sneezes into a handful of crumpled tissues. The experience left him pale and shaking, and he sank back into his sweaty cocoon with a heartfelt groan.
“Bloody hell,” he grimaced, his eyes closing in a moment of utter wretchedness. “Just kill me now, will you? Save us both a lot of pain …”
“You, maybe,” she said, relieved to see that he seemed to be over the worst of it. For now, at least. “Me? I’d have bad-ass wicca-Willow on my case, demanding to know what I was thinking of … Xander would get all those young and eager Slayers of his to chase my tail and never give me a moments rest … and the full weight of Council disapproval would descend on me like the opening day crowd at an Ikea sale. Andrew would put a bounty on my head. Every Watcher worth their salt would be looking up curses to cast. Heck, the Pope would probably ex-cu-whatever me or something.”
“Excommunicate,” Giles supplied with automatic habit and Buffy nodded, not wanting to lose her train of thought.
“Know you’d know. Anyway – I kill you – my life becomes a living hell. Again. Dawn would hate me. Angel would hate me. Faith would hunt me down like a rabid dog. And I’d let her. Because I’d hate me too. Even if it had been to … end eternal suffering or … save your soul …” she concluded with a gulp, wondering how all of that had started off as an intention to tease and ended up somewhere else entirely …
Giles put out his hand and rested it over hers, giving her fingers the gentlest of squeezes. “My dear Buffy,” he whispered. “I’m sorry I …”
“No, no,” she hushed him. “S’okay. I just … I mean it, you know? You can’t just … you hurt, and you’re miserable and you hate it and I know that. But you mean too much to me … to all of us, to want to give up because of some stupid little flu bug thing …”
His grip tightened and he gave a look that somehow managed to be pained and patient and penitant all at once. “I wasn’t exactly … being serious,” he said.
She turned her hand over and squeezed back. Gently. “I know.”
“And I hope I never have to ask you …”
“Although,” he added reluctantly, “should the need genuinely arise, I’m sure …”
“I’m not.” She half grinned at the thought, her equilibrium restored by the solid warmth of his hand, and the reassurance of the strength it offered her. “Bad-ass wicca-Willow on my tail, remember? We’d find another way.”
He gave her hand a second squeeze and then let the contact slip away. “I’m sure you would,” he smiled tiredly. “You really think Andrew would put a bounty on your head? For my murder?”
“Oh, totally.” She couldn’t help the grin. “He worships the ground you walk on, you know? Does the whole ‘wanna-be Watcher’ thing … when you’re not around. I don’t think he dares do it in front of you.”
“Andrew,” Giles observed thoughtfully, “is turning into a remarkably good Watcher – at least when I am around. But don’t tell him I said so.”
“I won’t.” He was exhausted, and here she was, keeping him awake and talking when what he really needed to do was rest – and not aggravate that croak in his throat, which did not sound good. “I should let you rest. You want me to do the … vapo-rub stuff before I get outta your hair?”
His hand snatched the abandoned tub before she could reach it – which was pretty impressive given that she was a Slayer and he was hardly at his best – and gave her one of those glares. “I am perfectly capable,” he announced, “of applying this obnoxious concoction myself … and if you really want to employ appropriate aromatherapy, ring Sandra and get her to get … Beth, or Janin to blend some sensible oils for me. This will do for now,” he went on, no doubt catching the way her face fell as she realised that was what she should have done in the first place. “Buffy – I do appreciate what you’re trying to do here, and I’m sorry if I’m … a less an ideal patient, but … please … don’t fuss. You can … make yourself at home in the guest room, and … go out, visit the zoo, do some shopping, or .. whatever … I’ll be fine. Right here. With – “ his eyes darted to the bedside cabinet and all the stuff she’d piled there. “- everything I need to hand.”
“You sure?” She’d been intending to back out so he could get some sleep, but she didn’t want him to think she was eager to go. The look he gave her was one of weary patience, and she sighed. He did need to rest, and he was hardly going to get any if she stayed hovering over him like some over-protective watchdog. “Okay. You … um … snuggle down and get some sleep and I’ll … I’ll be next door. Doing – stuff. Yell if you need me. Or - throw something,” she added. “Easier on the sore throat.”
He smiled at that. “True,” he acknowledged. “If I need you … I’ll attract your attention, I promise.”
“Good-oh.” She bounced up from the edge of the bed, caught the box of tissues before it slid onto the floor, found it a place on the bedside cabinet, just within reach, and then dipped in to drop another of those quick, affectionate kisses onto his cheek - the ones that should have felt totally awkward and somehow just felt right.
Continued in Part Six