Late November, with Thanksgiving looming, and the rainy season upon them: Giles liked this weather. He got to drink his tea and put on his warm sweaters and receive less than the usual quota of mockery for his layered caution from his perennially under-dressed Slayer. She’d complained to him at lunchtime, on Monday, that she was feeling chilled, and maybe like she was coming down with something. He’d taken the opportunity to point out that maybe she should wear something warmer than a tank top on patrol. Then she’d exceeded the mockery quota, and he’d sent her away in a huff, under strict orders to go directly home and have something warm for dinner, and not one of those dreadful poptart things either. Though of course he had no hope she’d pay any attention at all to his orders.
The storm system had apparently decided to stay for longer than the Sunnydale usual, which pleased Giles. He did his evening chores listening to rain pattering on the windows and on the tile in the courtyard. Giles heard something behind the front door, on his way past with the recycling container. A rustle, then a muffled thump. He dropped the recycling and pulled a stake from the umbrella rack by the door. A look through the peephole showed him nothing. There went the rustling again. Giles pulled the door open. Still nothing— he looked down, and saw his Slayer curled at the doorstep, soaked and shivering. He dropped the stake and was on his knees next to her. One hand on her arm, and he knew without her needing to speak what the matter was. The Slayer metabolism had folded in on itself at last. Slayers rarely took sick, but when they did it was with a rush and a tumble.
He picked her up and carried her up to the loft. He removed her shoes, hesitated, then her soaked jeans as well. He got his warm comforter from the linen closet and bundled her up. He stood to fetch aspirin and orange juice.
“Giles?” she said, from underneath his down comforter, weakly. He turned and hurried back. “Sorry. Couldn’t make it home from patrol.”
“Don’t worry, Buffy,” he said. “Back in a moment with aspirin.” When he returned he woke her and made her take it. He tested her temperature the fast way, with lips and hand, and fretted. What to do with her? It was absurd to think about taking her home in this condition, and besides, her mother was away for the week on a buying trip or something like. He tucked the comforter over her, and watched until she fell asleep.
Giles bedded himself down on his sofa. He lay awake, staring at the ceiling, thinking of the last time he’d had the flu. It had been a miserable experience, alone in his London flat, wishing that something would stop the aching and shivering. He’d been too weak to feed himself anything for a day. He hadn’t had the flu since arriving in California, though he wasn’t sure why not. Sunshine and fresh produce year round, perhaps. Well, he’d make sure Buffy didn’t have such a lonely experience of it.
In the morning he called in sick for the two of them. Thank goodness it was the holiday week.
Buffy spent two days mostly asleep, in fever-dreams. She couldn’t keep much down; he fed her Bovril and orange juice and chicken broth in turns. He coaxed her into the bath once, so he could launder her clothes and dress her in something clean and warmer than that skimpy t-shirt: his flannel pajama top, and some yoga pants she’d once left at his flat to have the demon blood bleached out. He stripped the bed of fever-stained sheets as well. She felt better when she tottered out, but he carried her upstairs again anyway.
A few hours later, she was awake again and a little restless, though not strong enough to get up. He brought her a tray with buttery toast and a mug of weak Bovril. She ate a slice of toast cautiously, and he watched just as cautiously. But the second slice of toast went down and stayed there.
She took a sip from the mug, then made a face. “Giles? What is this stuff?”
“Wha? Oh. As in good book and a cup of.” At his puzzled look, “What you said to me, the first day we met. In the Bronze.”
“Oh!” Yes, Giles remembered that conversation. The balcony, the noise, the utterly unnerving flush of excitement he’d felt at being so close to his Slayer, at last. The frustration of being unable to reach her, to convince her that she needed him. Though at that moment, he’d been unsure who needed whom more. Well, they’d got past that, and had long since agreed on mutual need. He leaned on his elbow on top of the covers, watching his Slayer take another sip, both hands wrapped around her mug. Her face looked better. She was on the mend.
“It’s really gross, you know. I’ll stick with tea.”
“Right then.” He took the mug from her carefully, and set it aside on the tray.
“What about the good book?”
“I’ve had the weird brown English stuff part of your ideal evening. What about the book part? Gonna read to me?”
“Oh. Er. Yes, I suppose I could. Back in a tick.” Giles took the tray down and came back up with a hardcover book, binding somewhat damaged. This book was older than he. He sat in the armchair by the bed, at first, but Buffy whimpered at him.
“I want to read along,” she said.
He could deny her nothing when she was well; how could he deny her now? He toed off his shoes. She held the down comforter up for him. He stood for a moment, considering refusing, considering what other people would think, considering what he wanted, considering a thousand things in a blink. Then he pulled off his sweater, and slipped in next to her. She made a satisfied sound, and insinuated herself under his arm.
“Giles? Do I have a fever?”
He reflexively bent his head to brush her forehead with his lips. “Er, no. You feel fine.”
“Didn’t think so. Huh. You’re warm. And you have a heartbeat. I think I like that.” She slipped two fingers between his shirt buttons. Giles refused to think about what she meant just now. Later.
“Do you want me to read to you or not?”
“Sorry,” she said, and nestled herself closer against his side.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
It was an easy book to read aloud. Giles found himself relaxing into it, doing different voices for Bilbo, and for the dwarves, and of course for Gandalf. By the time Bilbo was on the road on his pony, Buffy was asleep. The trolls would have to wait for another day. Perhaps tomorrow she’d want him to read to her again.
Giles closed the book and pondered what to do. She had him pinned, with her head against his chest and one arm thrown over his stomach. He could just reach the nightstand; he tucked the book and his glasses safely away, and switched off the light.