Something crashed in the room upstairs. Giles cocked his head and listened for another moment. A second crash followed. “I think that was a lamp going over.”
“Oh dear,” said Watson. He handed Giles a cup. “At least he’s not firing a pistol indoors this time.”
“No room for it,” Watson murmured. He took a slice of lemon.
While thumping continued overhead, Giles occupied himself cleaning Watson’s service revolver. It was an Enfield with a strange hinged frame, what he might have called a museum piece, and what the British Army in this time called state of the art. The mechanism was also puzzling, and Giles spent several enjoyable minutes taking it apart and putting it back together again. The man himself was drinking his tea and writing something in his journal. From his occasional glances in Giles’s direction, Giles deduced he must be writing about him, or perhaps about Buffy. Watson had already assured him that his accounts of their adventures together would be locked away in the little tin despatch box, never to be published.
When Mrs Hudson appeared to clear away the tea things, Giles noted that the crashing upstairs had ceased. Some moments later their charges appeared in the doorway. Giles cast an automatic glance over Buffy: she looked fresh, uninjured, though somewhat disgruntled. Holmes, in contrast, looked rather the worse for wear for his hour sparring with a Slayer. His cheekbone was reddened, and his hair damp at the temples. He held his left arm oddly. In a trice Watson was at his side, clucking, his hands on the elbow. Holmes waved him away and said something in a low voice, but Giles could hear the overtones of irritation.
Buffy came over and perched on the arm of Giles’s chair.
“Everything all right?” he asked, quietly.
“Yeah. He held off at first, until I tagged him hard and got him mad. Sexism gets ya nowhere.”
Giles chuckled. Holmes would indeed have difficulty hitting a woman, even one dressed as a boy the way Buffy was at the moment, but once his blood was hot, it had likely been a fight. Buffy examined her nails, casually, while in the background Watson fussed over his man’s scuffed face.
“Good,” Giles said, and turned back to Watson’s strange revolver. He reloaded it carefully, examining each of the bullets. He was still wroth with Holmes. The incident with the cigarettes in the empty house was on his mind, and he’d yet to achieve his revenge. Though poor Watson would likely object, and Giles had rapidly come to enjoy the warmth of that man’s smile, his easy geniality. No, Giles didn’t want to upset his friend.
Holmes extracted himself from Watson’s attentions and found his coat and waistcoat where he’d flung them over a chair. He began setting his dress back to rights. Buffy slipped down from Giles’s chair arm.
“So where’d you learn to fight?” she asked Holmes. “What’s your system?”
“It’s baritsu,” Watson said, proudly.
“Baritsy-bitsy-huh? What is that? Giles, what is this baritsu thingie?”
Giles snapped the revolver back into its holster before he answered. “I haven’t the faintest idea. It’s always been a bit of a mystery. I’m familiar with martial arts of both East and West, and the only place it’s ever been mentioned is, er, by Watson here.”
Holmes had turned his back on the group to rebutton his waistcoat. “I fear it’s an invention of my most perverse biographer–”
Watson spluttered. “I must protest! It’s the very word you used, Holmes! I even asked you how it’s spelt!”
“I do think you must have misunderstood me. It is a system of my own devising.”
Buffy snorted. “Did you mean jiu-jitsu or something?”
“That was its original form, as taught me by a Chinese gentleman I met some years ago.”
“It’s totally weird and dorky. You’re off-balance punching like that. Didn’t matter that you have twice my reach. Simple karate’s better.”
“Perhaps you could teach me to fight as you do. It is clear that you have been well-trained, much better than I have been.” Holmes held up a finger to silence Buffy’s automatic objection. “It would be handy indeed in the fracas we expect with Mr Giles’s, ah, friend. I find myself involved in fisticuffs rather more often than not, in my profession. As your Mr Giles can tell you.”
Holmes studied his bruised knuckles, as if indifferent to Buffy’s response, but Giles could see that he was vibrating with excitement.
“We have, what, a week before Ethan shows up here?” Buffy checked with him, and Giles nodded in confirmation. “Not much time, but I could teach you the basics. Giles could probably teach you more. He’s pretty good.”
Holmes murmured, “I should prefer to learn from the Slayer.”
His eyes glittered strangely, and Giles felt a prickle down his spine. He thought he might be able to put a name to the unease he felt, and his sudden wish to grip Holmes by the back of the neck and toss him into the street. But it was perhaps unfair to Holmes, because the idea was preposterous. And besides, Buffy could do the throwing if she wished.
“It’s an opportunity I might never have again,” Holmes said. “To spar with someone of such great strength. I’ve learned first-hand how it has honed your skills, sir.”
Giles contemplated this. Holmes was wiry and had a surprising amount of muscle for a gentleman, but not as much as he, and Buffy dismantled him without breaking a sweat. And Holmes hadn’t been taught to fight for his life. He would need, one day, to fight for his life. Giles looked away and bit the side of his finger. Then he crossed his knees.
“Go ahead, Buffy. See what you can teach him. You’ll understand it better yourself for having taught it.”
Holmes looked pleased. Buffy caught Giles’s ironic eye. She returned his tiny smile, and nodded. Holmes would spend the week bruised and aching. Clever girl, his Slayer.