Disclaimers in Part One Continued in Part Two, Part Three , Part Four, Part Five and Part Six
Buffy was right there beside him, supporting him, reaching to twist the tap and sluice away the evidence of his distress.
“Oh, good lord,” he groaned, turning to share his weakly pained protest and an equally weak smile with her anxious expression. He felt ridiculous, stripped of all his defenses, along with his dignity, which was probably whimpering in a corner somewhere. He might have tried to recover a little of both – but for the fact that Buffy was the only thing holding him upright and there really didn’t seem to be much point after all that …
“Better?” she hazarded, since his frantic struggles had subsided into long, gasping breaths, and he nodded – slowly and gingerly, since he didn’t want to set everything off again. He did feel a little better as it happened; his throat was raw and his body ached, but at least he could breath. “Good,” she said, her expression relaxing into a relieved smile. Her hand was still applying soothing circles of pressure across his back. “That’s good. You had me a little scared for a minute there.”
She nodded, her eyes reflecting the depth of her concern. Giles decided his dignity could go hang, and leaned into her support with a sense of relief. “Make that – bloody terrified, and I’m with you all the way …”
Now she smiled, dropping her hand so she could pull him into a hug instead. He was shaking, he realised, and he let his head drop to rest against hers, feeling the surety of her strength and the certainty of her care.
“Let’s get you back to bed,” she said. “Unless you’d rather – sit up for a bit? That sofa of yours is pretty comfortable. And I could …”
“…change the sheets?” he sugested wryly, realising he was probably pretty ripe by now.
“I was going say; get you a good hot cup of tea, but … yeah, that too.”
“Tea would be … sublime,” he decided. “And … perhaps a couple more of those tablets …”
She guided him into the living room, carefully matching his shaky steps and letting him lean his weight on her shoulder. It probably looked absurd – a man of his height and build depending on her slight and slender frame – but she was a Slayer and she could just as easily have picked him up and carried him the entire way. He sank into the welcome support of his sofa and leant back to catch his breath.
“Thank you,” he croaked and she smiled.
“You’re welcome. Back in sec …”
She vanished from his line of vision for a moment, then reappeared to drop an opened box of tissues onto the coffee table and lay a blanket over his knees – one of his grandmother’s hand crocheted affairs that usually lived in the bottom of the airing cupboard. “Here. Blow,” she ordered, offering him a handful of tissues and moving a wastepaper bin to within easy reach. He obeyed without protest, relieved to clear a little more of the gunk out of his head. “’Kay?” she asked and he nodded gratefully. “Good. You stay there and I’ll fix the tea. You want anything to eat?”
He shook his head; just thinking about food turned his stomach. “No. But … don’t let that stop you if – “
“I already ate,” her voice floated out of the kitchen, accompanied by the rush and rumble of the cold water tap. “I saved you some soup – but it’ll keep.”
“Maybe later,” he agreed, frowning at his coffee table and wondering why it looked so different … he blinked, and squinted a little, and the soft coloured shapes swum into semi- focus, revealing themselves to be an almost overflowing fruit bowl and a pewter comfit dish, both decorated with a delicate arrangement of tiny white flowers. He blinked again and took a wary look around the flat – at least, as much of it as he could see from where he was sitting. More unexpected flower arrangements revealed themselves to his questing eyes; elegant, striking arrangements, artfully placed to be spotlighted by the floor and table lamps, some no more than a single bloom showcased in a twist of wire and foliage. His Athenian bust was garlanded with laurel and lavender, two white lilies adorned his mantelpiece, and there was a spray of something red and orange curling across the top of the TV like a miniature firework display, filled with frozen movement and bright with energy.
“Good Lord,” he murmured. He hadn’t seen arrangements as subtly presented as this since the last time he visited the Japanese embassy. Sandra Parkinson filled Council HQ with big, overblown bouquets, displays designed to be as flouncy and as fancy as the paintings they sat beneath. Compared to those, these arrangements were stark indeed; visions of understatement, tucked in among his furniture like hidden treasures waiting to be found and explored.
“Here.” Buffy was back, wrapping his dressing gown around his shoulders with gentle attention. “The web-doctor said I have to keep you comfy.” The back of her hand tested his forehead for fever. “And that fever and sweating is good …“
“Is that so?” Her touch was soothing, but the intimacy of it disturbed him a little; he sought refuge in words, inwardly bristling at his own helplessness, which warranted such concern. “So good to hear that modern medicine has finally figured out what folk lore and witches have known for centuries. “
“Yeah?” Buffy grinned. “So you gonna take some more tablets or shall I pop out for some eye of newt and a little bat’s blood?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he countered. “You need lizard tongues to fight the flu, not eye of newt … “
She stepped back and gave him a long hard stare. “You are joking,” she ventured. “Right?”
He held the tease a little longer, then sighed and let the moment go, too tired to fight her on any level, even in friendly banter. “Of course I am,” he admitted, his voice rasping through a dry throat. “You can’t fight natural disease with magic. Hold it off a little – mask symptoms, or draw on extra energies to disguise its effects … but not for long, and not with any real efficacy. It costs too much. There is some truth in folk remedies, but … all you can really do is bolster the body’s natural defences, and let nature take its course.”
“With the help of a hot cup of tea?” she smiled.
He sank a little further back into the sofa and returned the smile as best he could. “Definitely.”
Continued in Part Eight