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A Song in the Dark

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"Pryce." A hand tightened around Wesley's shoulder. "Pryce. Pryce..." The voice held no note of urgency, but the touch was insistent. "Wake up."

Wesley kept still and kept his eyes closed, straining his ears for some clue of where he might be. Not his parents' home, certainly, and - he risked a small movement of one hand and found upholstery - apparently not in a proper bed at all, though he could feel bedclothes over his body and a good pillow under his aching head. School? Not possible - he didn't sleep on a sofa there. The knowledge that he'd left school years ago followed slowly.

The hand moved from his shoulder to his cheek and tapped lightly. "Pryce... Dammit, Wesley, wake up..."

Wesley opened his eyes, then quickly closed them again. "What...?" His voice came out in a thin croak.

"Oh, dear. Sorry." The hand vanished, and from somewhere near his head came a faint metallic click. "I've shut off the lamp; it should be better now."

Cautiously, Wesley opened his eyes again, and squinted at the figure crouching beside him. "Mr. Giles?" Sunnydale. Oh, dear God. Sunnydale. It all came to him in a sickening rush - two Slayers, an evil city official, murky prophecies of doom. A curse and a bad bump on the head, and a rogue ex-Watcher - a damnably attractive rogue ex-watcher - doing duty as his nursemaid.

"Sorry to wake you," Giles said. "Unfortunately, in these situations it's rather important that one be tormented a few times in the course of the night." He flashed a penlight in Wesley's face.

"Ugh..." Wesley pulled back, telling himself sternly that hiding under the covers would do nothing to restore his shredded dignity. "You turn off the lamp and then molest me with a pocket torch?" He rubbed his eyes.

"Welcome to America." Giles put away the device. "That's the last of the light torture, for the moment. What's your name?"

It took a few seconds for Wesley's sleepy brain to draw the correct conclusion. "Ah. To see that I'm alert and oriented, of course."

Giles looked expectant.

"Er, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce." He elbowed the pillow into a new position against the arm of the sofa so he could sit up a bit, ignoring how the movement made his head throb. Now, if he could just lay hands on his glasses, he'd be... well, at not much more of a disadvantage than he usually was, when in conversation with Rupert Giles.

"And your address?"

"Permanent, London, or Sunnydale?"

"I'll consider that a yes, you're quite clear in your mind." Giles tipped his head to one side. "Permanent and London? Two different addresses?"

"My... father's house in Hampshire and the, my, flat."

"Hm." Giles nodded. "How's the nausea?"

Not 'I know your father,' thank God. Though, really, of all the living Watchers, Giles was perhaps the least likely to go into proper British rhapsodies about Roger Wyndham-Pryce. Thank God. "Better, thank you."

"Do you think you could manage to eat something? Drink, rather?"

Wesley finally located his glasses on the end table by his head and slipped them on. The dim room sprang into welcome focus. "I think so. I could try, certainly."

"Good. Sit up." Giles started to turn away, then leaned in again. "Sorry, could you use a hand?"

"N-no, fine, thank you," Wesley stammered, trying very hard not to notice how Giles' moss-colored velveteen robe made his eyes very green, or how the spill of warm yellow light from the kitchen alcove fell on his tawny skin - tawny skin? Wesley, control yourself! He couldn't help reflecting that Giles seemed to be one of the lucky men who looked even more handsome rumpled than he did when properly turned out. It struck him as dreadfully unfair.

Giles returned from the kitchen with two mugs, a glass, a jug, and an ice pack on a tray. He set his burden down on the coffee table, sat down, and handed a mug to Wesley. "Careful, it's still a bit hot."

Wesley held the mug carefully in both hands and sipped. Chicken broth, with a hint of ginger, a few grains of rice, and not too much salt. His stomach protested briefly, then settled, and he tried another taste.

"Slowly, that's it." Giles nodded his approval. "Just drink what you can."

"It's very good." Wesley sniffed the steam appreciatively. "I rather expected some kind of horrible, er, electrolyte replacement drink."

"Oh, good lord, no." He shuddered. "The color alone... ugh. No, I find that this," he raised his own mug "does the job quite as well, and much more pleasantly."

"If it's not an impertinent question, where did you get it?" Wesley asked, between sips.

"Get it? I made it."

"Made...?"

"Yes." Giles stiffened. "I'm sorry, is cooking another disqualification for serving as Watcher to an active Slayer?"

"No! N-no, I... I was simply hoping it... that I might have it again sometime. Get it myself, I mean." Wesley quickly hid his face in his cup before he could babble any more.

"It's not at all difficult, especially if you get a chicken that's already been..."

Wesley shook his head. "I've only a microwave and an electric kettle," he explained. "I think homemade soup might be beyond my capabilities."

"You haven't even a gas ring? Well, no," Giles answered his own question. "They don't seem to go in for that much in America. What do you eat, then?"

"Well... a great many sandwiches."

"Dear lord. That sounds grim."

Wesley glanced around the warm, cluttered flat and thought of his sterile room at the Holiday Inn. "It's adequate," he said steadily. "C-comforts and... such... can be a distraction from the job at hand, isn't that so?"

Giles made a contemptuous noise and studied his own soup. When he spoke, however, his tone was noncommital. "Your housing allowance really would go farther if you took a flat." Giles retrieved Wesley's now-empty mug and poured him a glass of water. "Drink this, now."

"I'm sorry," Wesley said. "I didn't mean to..." He swallowed and looked up at Giles. "As far as I can see, you've done well with Buffy. I, I'm sorry I..."

Giles studied him in silence for a long moment. "Thank you. It's all right." He took off his glasses and untied his dressing gown in order to polish them on his t-shirt. "Not your fault, in any case." He slipped his glasses back on and bent over Wesley. Wesley froze, acutely aware of Giles' face coming closer to his own, of the flecks of silver in the stubble on Giles' jaw, of the soft smile lines perceptible at the corners of Giles' pale, mobile lips. Lips, oh good god…

Seeming oblivious to Wesley's attention, Giles was frowning at his forehead. "You're going to have quite a bruise, I'm afraid. How's the head?"

"Not bad, as long as I keep still." Wesley breathed in the nighttime smell of Giles - toothpaste, flannel and cedar and faint musky perspiration - and told himself firmly that he was merely practicing olfactory observation.

"Good. Lie down, now, and let me put a compress on."

Wesley obediently lay back and let Giles arrange the ice pack on his forehead.

"Here, you'd better have your glasses off." Giles deftly removed them. "I'll put them on the table just behind you, all right?"

"All right," Wesley answered softly, closing his eyes. "You're good at this," he added, without quite meaning to.

"You're lucky to have an injury I have some experience with." The sure hands moved to his blankets, plucking and arranging. "If you'd broken a limb you might find me very unsatisfactory help. Now, rest. I'll have to knock you up again in a few hours." Giles moved away with a whisper of stocking feet on carpet.

Wesley found himself feeling disproportionately bereft. He kept his eyes closed, but opened his ears wide to the slight sounds of Giles puttering in the kitchen. When first humming, and then singing became audible, he gave up pretending to try to sleep and opened his eyes.

"... A suitor lowly born, with hopeless passion torn, and poor beyond denying..."

Wesley formed the words with his lips. Has dared for her to pine, at whose exalted shrine, a world of wealth is sighing… Surely it couldn't be merely concussion and homesickness that had him mentally comparing Giles' voice to wine. So pure and mellow, so unlike the harsh California accents that sometimes set Wesley's teeth on edge and made him long for the familiar sounds of home.

Moving very carefully, he inched his way up against the arm of the sofa until he could peer through a gap between the sofa back and the end table. By shifting onto his side, and rearranging the compress, he could just see the back of Giles' head and shoulders. Silently, he echoed the last line of the aria.

Oh, pity, pity me! Our captain's daughter she, and I, that lowly suitor.