It was pouring with rain. The sort of rain you only got in England, beginning with little warning and ending just as abruptly. Fat droplets fell from the steel grey skies, pounding against the roof with a determined sort of ferocity. April showers may have brought May flowers, but as for what October ones brought, Buffy didn’t know. Well, other than the surety that summer was well and truly over.
With a sigh, Buffy cast her eyes up to the ceiling. Despite the sound of the rain, which had now risen to an almost deafening crescendo, it remained steadfastly blue, the artificial sky as cloudless as a summer’s day. She gave it a wary glance, as if she expected the rain to burst though the be-spelled marble and soak them to the bone. Which she did. The ceiling was supposed to mimic the weather outside, or so Giles had told her, and outside it was most definitely raining.
“Does it ever rain in here?” she said, tearing her gaze away from the ceiling to inspect her freshly painted nails with a critical eye. A small frown creased her delicate features as she spotted a wrinkle in the semi-dry polish. She let out a tiny growl of annoyance at the sight, reaching into the bag at her side in search of acetone.
“When it needs to,” Giles replied without looking up, nose remaining steadfastly buried in his book. Buffy rolled her eyes. Sometimes making conversation with Giles was like pulling teeth, especially when he was reading. She watched as he slid his thumb between the yellowing paper, expertly turning the page in a one-handed manoeuvre that had no doubt taken him years to perfect.
“And do you think it needs to now?” she prompted, swiping an acetone-soaked cotton ball over the ruined polish on her right ring finger. Buffy wasn’t dressed for rain, clad in little more than a flimsy halter neck and knee-length skirt. Despite the orange tinted leaves many of the trees now sported, the weather in the garden remained as warm and welcoming as it had in the summer. Buffy revelled in it, delighting in the chance to ditch the dark tights and soft knits of her winter wardrobe once a week. If it was going to rain, Buffy wanted to know. She was damned if she was going to mess up her nails again fumbling for an umbrella.
“I doubt it,” said Giles, taking a swift sip of his drink.
Buffy tossed the now beige coloured cotton ball into a zip-lock bag she’d commandeered for the rubbish. Careful not to smudge her other nails, she picked up the small bottle of polish, giving it a quick shake before twisting off the lid with a pleasing crackle. Sand Dollar, Pantone colour of the year. She wasn’t entirely sure it suited her, but Buffy was nothing if not on trend. Especially now she had the salary to keep up with the ever-changing fashions. She was a stylish Slayer, thank you very much.
The tip of her tongue pressed between her lips in concentration, she dragged the brush against the lip of the bottle to remove the excess liquid and began to paint, covering her nail in one long, meticulous stroke. Satisfied, she screwed the lid back on and tossed it into her cosmetics bag, the clink of glass filling the air as it hit what was probably her perfume bottle.
With a loud sigh, Buffy leant back against the picnic blanket, waving her hands in the air in a vain attempt to make her nails dry faster.
“Is there something wrong?” said Giles pointedly.
Buffy turned her head to look at him in confusion. She needn’t have bothered. He hadn’t moved, his attention still firmly focused on the book he held.
“You keep sighing.”
“So I’ve come to notice.” He cast a distracted glance in her direction, setting his book down upon the grass beside him. He leant over to grab the large glass pitcher that sat upon the very edge of the picnic blanket, filled to the brim with gently sparkling liquid. Fruit, expertly sliced and diced, bobbed upon the surface, mingling with dark green mint leaves in a glorious fusion of colour and flavour. “Top up?”
Buffy nodded, reaching down beside her and passing him her empty glass. She watched as Giles carefully poured, the wet sound of splashes filling the air he decanted the Pimm’s, fruit and all, into her tumbler.
Giles liked Pimm’s. It was one of the decidedly more innocuous things Buffy had discovered about him since the beginning of their arrangement. No sunny afternoon was complete without it, or so he had proclaimed, and it absolutely had to be drunk with the full complement of fruit. Pimm’s without mint, strawberries, cucumber and orange was tantamount to sacrilege in the eyes of her former Watcher. Something to do with being Oxbridge educated and almost offensively middle class, apparently; Buffy hadn’t really been listening, too intent upon spearing an alcohol-soaked strawberry at the time. Not that she was complaining. There was something pleasingly genteel about spending a sunny afternoon relaxing with a book and a rather large glass of sweet, fruity liquid, even if the sunshine was the artificial sort.
“Thanks,” she said as he set her glass down beside her, the strawberries and cucumber slices swirling across the surface of her drink.
“If you’re that bored, you could always go for a walk,” Giles mused as he topped up his own glass before settling back down with the book. “Explore the local area. There’s a rather nice stately home about a mile and a half down the road. Has a particularly beautiful drawing room, as far as I recall.”
She stared at him as though he had grown an extra head. “It’s raining.”
“And? You have a coat.”
Buffy snorted in distaste. “And new suede boots. If you think I’m risking tide marks on £200 worth of shoes, you can think again.”
“Good Lord, two-hundred?”
“They’re Kurt Geiger,” she said, defensively.
“I’m not even going to pretend I know who that is.”
Buffy pinned Giles with a dark glare as she propped herself up on her forearms. Her gaze, however, softened considerably as she took in his appearance, his expression unguarded as he lost himself once more within the book. There was a quiet air of sadness about him she hadn’t seen in months; certainly not since the spring, back when she’d been hell bent on self-destruction. Back before he’d so gallantly come to her rescue in a very effective, if admittedly unusual, manner.
Now that she looked, truly looked, she could see the aura of gloom that hung around him, his entire demeanour redolent with it. It lingered in the fine lines etched around his mouth and across his forehead. She could see it in his slumped shoulders, in the way he leant against the dark trunk of the tree, in the slight tremor of his left hand as he took a long draught of his drink. Buffy felt her breath catch at the sight, worry beginning to curl low in her stomach.
He looked terrible. And was almost certainly hung over to boot.
There were dark circles around his eyes and a rumpled look about him that spoke of one too many empty pint glasses. Buffy knew he had been elsewhere the previous evening, despite the effort he had gone to in order to persuade her otherwise; the calculated misdirection, his insistence on the need for an early night, the stealthy exit once he believed she was asleep. Nope, he’d gone to the pub. Alone.
Giles was a man who looked for solace at the bottom of a bottle. Not the healthiest coping mechanism, and certainly not one Buffy approved of, no matter how hypocritical that made her. Sneaking off to drink alone fell distinctly into the category of ‘Not Good’.
Buffy opened her mouth, the beginnings of a long lecture about the importance of problems, sharing and the subsequent halving of said problems on the tip of her tongue, only to find herself almost immediately closing it again. She slumped a little, the righteous wind knocked out of her sails, her expertly painted lips forming a rosy pout.
This was Giles. The emotional marathon man, a walking talking advertisement for the dangers of a too-stiff upper lip. He wasn’t like Willow or Xander or Dawn. She couldn’t bully the truth out of him. He’d tell her in his own sweet time or not at all, the latter being the more usual state of affairs between them.
No, badgering him about it wouldn’t help. In fact, thinking about it, it would probably only make things worse. Buffy frowned. Sharing a no-go, that only left one course of action: to take his mind off it. It seemed some sort of distraction was in order.
Casting a sly glance at her former Watcher, Buffy pushed herself up into a sitting position, crossing her legs beneath her as she reached for her handbag. A decidedly evil grin curling at the edges of her lips, she carefully searched through the contents of her brown leather bag, a small noise of triumph escaping her throat as her fingers clasped around a tube of moisturiser.
One distraction coming up.
Buffy straightened her left leg in a slow, deliberate movement. She coughed loudly, hoping it was enough to draw his attention away from his book as she squeezed a blob of coca-scented cream into her hand. It was one of Giles’ favourite scents; a piece of information Buffy had gathered one rather pleasurable afternoon three weeks earlier, when he’d spent an excessive amount of time rubbing the moisturiser into every inch of her overly sensitised skin. If she knew Giles, which she did, a little reminder of that particularly enjoyable encounter would be enough to lift his spirits. Temporarily, at least.
Affecting an air of intense concentration, she began to work the lotion into the golden skin of her calf. She let out a quiet moan of appreciation, pitched just low enough to be convincing, as she worked her way past her knee and up to her thigh, gracefully flexing her foot as she lifted her leg. The faint rustle of shifting cloth filled the air. Buffy risked a sideways glance out of the corner of her eye, confident in the success of her distraction, only to find Giles unmoved, his focus steadfastly remaining upon the pages before him.
No dice. Perhaps a more direct approach was required.
Buffy sighed heavily, snapping the lid of her moisturiser shut with a slap of her palm. A practiced flick of her wrist sent the bottle spinning through the air towards Giles. It hit his thigh with a satisfying smack. Not hard enough to hurt, but with sufficient force to grab his attention.
Which it did. Spectacularly.
Buffy giggled as Giles jumped in surprise, inordinately pleased with herself.
“What?” he said with a sigh, resting his open book on his chest. He pinned her with a glare, his tired green eyes peering at her over the top of his glasses.
She stared back, nonplussed at his annoyed expression. “I’m still bored.”
“And what, exactly, would you like me to do about it? You’ve already pooh-poohed my previous suggestion.”
A small, coy smile curled at the edge of her lips. She gave them a provocative lick, watching as his eyes followed the movement. “Well, I know something you could do.”
“Oh really?” he said, feigning ignorance. He took a sip of his drink. “And what might that be?”
“You know full well what.” She watched as he rolled his eyes. “Oh come on. Anyone would think you didn’t want to.”
“And there was I thinking you didn’t want to get wet, what with all that talk of rain earlier,” he said drily. Giles turned back to his book, a carefully schooled expression of indifference gracing his features. “Besides, I am rather busy.”
Buffy ignored the innuendo. “No you’re not. And…” She peered at the front cover of his book. “John Le Carre can wait.”
“Not when I’m about to find out who the mole is, he can’t.”
“Mole schmole,” she said with a glib wave of her hand. “You’ve got a whole two weeks of vacation to find out who the mole is.”
She watched his expression darken ever so slightly at the mention of his holiday.
“It’s not a vacation, Buffy.”
“Fine, a brief sojourn, then.”
“That’s the same thing,” he snapped.
She rolled her eyes at the sudden viciousness his tone had taken. So that was the problem: his vacation. Considering his less than tolerant response to her gentle teasing, Buffy was prepared to bet her Jimmy Choo’s on it. She would have bet her life, but she wasn’t entirely sure it meant very much. Not when the inability to stay dead seemed to be a somewhat of a recurring theme. It tended to ruin the sincerity of the betting process.
“Alright, Mr. Thesaurus,” she said, holding up her hands in what she hoped was an apologetic gesture, unwilling to provoke him further. “Accuracy’s difficult when you won’t actually tell me what you’re doing. But you’ve got two weeks of not-a-holiday to finish it in and only one evening of Buffy-based company left, since some of us have to go back to work tomorrow. Do the math.”
“I don’t appear to have a calculator to hand.” He gestured dismissively in her general direction, the drink he held in his hand sloshing over the lip of the glass as he did so. He made a small noise of displeasure as he felt the sticky liquid coat his fingers. He placed his book back down upon his chest as he fished in his trouser pockets for a handkerchief. “And I’ve already told you, I’m off up to Edinburgh on personal business.”
Buffy leant over and plucked the half-empty tumbler of Pimm’s from his hand. “I believe that’s the answer to ‘where’ not ‘what’, but if you want to be all secretive-guy about it, then don’t let me stand in your way.”
“I’m not being secretive. You’re being nosey,” he said with a sniff, dabbing carefully at his fingers, the pristine white of his handkerchief turning a light brown as it soaked up the liquid. Giles flexed his dry, if slightly sticky hand and stuffed the damp square of cloth back into his pocket. He sighed, picking up the set of keys that lay nestled in the long grass beside him. “Oh, very well then.”
“You could sound a little bit more enthusiastic, you know,” she said as she took the keys from his outstretched hand, replacing them with his drink.
Giles rolled his eyes, the beginnings of a smile tugging at his lips. “I’m sure my attitude will have adjusted accordingly by the time you get back. Top drawer on the right. Bring the box.”
A thrill of anticipation ran through her as she levered herself up off the blanket. She smoothed the creases from her skirt, pleased with herself. “I remember. Anything else?”
“A jug of water wouldn’t go amiss.”
Buffy grinned as she approached the picnic blanket, carefully setting the heavy jug down besides its Pimm’s-filled counterpart. Water sloshed over the rim of the pitcher, leaving a dark mark upon the edge of the tartan fabric.
“Chill out. It’s only water, Giles,” said Buffy, shifting closer to her Watcher. “How’s the attitude?”
“Improving,” he replied, his green eyes settling on the box in her hands. He set his book down carefully on the blanket and levered himself up off the ground with a grunt. Turning to face her, he reached for the box. “May I?”
Buffy shook her head.
“I’ll hand it over on two conditions,” she said, holding the small wooden box just out of reach. “One, you and me make with the actual sex. Not that I don’t appreciate what you do, because, yeah, wow. The whole magic fingers thing, which you totally have by the way, is a kind of an understatement. But you might as well get something out of this little deal we have going, too.” She pinned him with a glare. “Besides, you did promise.”
Giles sniffed, folding his arms as he leant back against the tree. “I did no such thing. I believe what I actually said was that I’d take it into consideration.”
“And you’ve had three months to consider it. If you’re not careful, I’m going to develop some sort of complex or other over the lure of my lady garden.” She grinned as he rolled his eyes. “Less thinking, more doing. That’s what you need.”
“I won’t be doing anything if you don’t give me the box.”
“Tetchy,” she scolded. “I’ll give you the box when you agree, so quit interrupting. Where was I? Oh, yeah, two conditions. One, sex. Two, you tell me why you’re going away. I don’t like you keeping secrets from me. Especially not the gloomy-making kind.”
“The box, Buffy.”
She lifted her chin, her jaw set defiantly. “Do you accept my terms?”
“I’ll think about it,” he said, deftly plucking the box from her outstretched fingers.
Buffy grinned. She had the distinct feeling she was about to get lucky.
Possibly in more ways than just one.