(Author's note: this story takes place during "Ted" and fills in the gap between Giles and Jenny Calendar's leaving the park on the way to the hospital, and their kiss in the library the following day. Rupert Giles, Jenny Calendar, Buffy et. al belong to Joss Whedon and the WB; I'm just playing with them. No copyright infringement intended.)
Rupert Giles attempted to shift to a more comfortable position in the car and hissed in pain. There was no comfortable position.
"Hang on, almost there," Jenny Calendar said from the driver's seat next to him, breaking all speed laws in Sunnydale to get him to the hospital. Unfortunately, going fast also meant going rough and every bump jarred him, causing another wave of pain. He would have told her to slow down but he was afraid if he opened his mouth all that would come out would be a scream. So he pinched his eyes shut and gritted his teeth, trying to take shallow breaths.
He'd meant it when he'd told her he didn't think the wound was too deep. As in hadn't hit any major organs. But it was deep enough and it was bleeding quite nicely. He couldn't tell if the woozy, lightheaded feeling was from blood loss or shock. Possibly both.
Well, he thought, it's only fair. You almost get her killed and she returns the favor. Perhaps you're even now.
That was ridiculous. He knew Jenny hadn't meant to shoot him. She'd been aiming for the vampire who'd been trying to throttle him.
You hadn't wanted her to get mixed up with Eyghon, either.
He frowned, not wanting to go where that particular thought was taking him. The last thing he wanted to think about right now was that demon-and how he'd almost destroyed Jenny. Perhaps it served him right, getting shot. After all, turnabout and all that.
The car bounced over the curb at the entrance to the hospital and he couldn't stop the grunt of pain which escaped.
"Hang on, Rupert, almost there," she said, roared up the drive and came to a screeching halt in front of the emergency room doors.
He managed to get his door open but didn't have the strength to pull himself out of the car. She came around and helped him and he bit back another cry as he clutched at her, using her strength to steady himself. Leaning against her, they made their way through the doors.
A nurse with a wheelchair hurried up to them. "What happened?" she asked, helping Giles into the chair.
"He was-" Jenny began.
"I've been stabbed," he interrupted. They exchanged glances. He wasn't about to tell them what had really happened.
"Where?" the nurse asked.
"In the park. We were walking and suddenly we were attacked. I--when I tried to fight him off I was stabbed by--by some sort of spike thing."
Another glance at Jenny who nodded. This would be their story, then. No vampires, no crossbows, merely a random mugging in the park.
"I mean where are you hurt?" the nurse explained.
"Oh, in the back," he indicated.
"All right," she nodded, grabbing her clipboard. "Can you give us some information or do you want your...." She looked toward Jenny.
"No, here." He reached in his pocket for his wallet and pulled out his insurance card. "That ought to tell you what you need."
"Good," she said, glancing at the card. "All right, Mr. Giles. Let's get you seen to." She started to push him away and Jenny took a step toward them.
"He's in good hands, miss," the nurse said. "Why don't you go to the waiting room?"
He reached out and took Jenny's hand. "I'll be all right," he said looking up at her, surprised by the look of concern on her face. Of course she's worried; she just shot you.
She swallowed and nodded. "I'll--I'll just move the car."
He nodded and let her go and the nurse wheeled him into the ward, stopping beside a curtained area.
"All right, Mr. Giles, let's see what we've got here." She helped him out of the chair and divested him of his jacket and shirt before he had the chance to do it himself. "Hmmm," she said, examining the wound. "What did you say did this?"
"I don't know," he lied. "Some sort of spike I think."
"Looks like it had barbs. This is a mess. Here, let's get you settled and then the doctor will come in and take a look."
The pants went the same way as the shirt and he was given a hospital gown which tied at the neck in back. He let her help him onto the bed where he sat while she took his vitals. Not surprisingly, his pulse rate was fast and his blood pressure was low. She had him lie down and he lay on his side while she hooked up the IV. It felt good just to put his head down. His back hurt like bloody hell and he still felt woozy.
She put a pad over the wound to staunch the blood, then draped a sheet over him and left him alone.
He sighed. He wanted to tell Jenny he was all right. But quite honestly, right now he didn't feel all right. He felt bloody awful. He glanced at the saline drip above the bed. Maybe that would help.
Maybe they could just give him some heavy drugs and he could go to sleep for a week or two. Maybe that would help, too.
He should have known better. He was the Watcher, not the Slayer. But he was reasonably competent with weapons and figured that until Buffy had come to terms with what had happened with her mother's boyfriend, someone still needed to do the work. It might have been successful, too, if not for Jenny. What had prompted her to follow him into a deserted park at night, simply to apologize for a conversation they'd had two days previously?
Sometimes it seemed to him that the gods had a really warped sense of humor.
The curtain rustled aside and the doctor came in. "Mr. Giles, I'm Dr. Keith. I understand you've been mugged."
"Something like that," he said. "We were attacked."
"So I understand. Let's take a look." He moved the sheet and the gauze pad. "Hmm. What caused this, did you say?"
"I'm not exactly sure-some sort of spike, I think."
"You didn't see it? Who pulled it out?"
"What did it look like?"
Giles thought fast. Should he tell the doctor what had caused the injury, or simply try and make up something plausible? There wasn't time to be creative. "Um--a wooden stick with a metal end."
"Like an arrow?"
"Hmm," the doctor mused again. "What did you do with it?"
"What did you do with the spike, after you pulled it out?"
"Dropped it, I assume. I honestly don't remember. I only know it hurt."
In truth, the bolt was in his bag, along with the rest of the weapon, and safely tucked in his--actually Jenny's--trunk. But the doctor didn't need to know that.
"I'll bet," the doctor nodded. "How's it feel now?"
"It still hurts."
"Probably even more. You did some damage pulling the thing out-there must have been barbs on the end. We'll need to get this cleaned out, which I'll just warn you, will hurt. And we'll need to see how deep the wound goes. Then we'll get you stitched up. So hang tight and I'll be right back."
Another rustle of curtains and Giles was alone again.
He sighed. Too many questions. It occurred to him that the police would want to be notified about a mugging in the park. This could cause problems. Perhaps they should have been honest in saying.... No, that would have been worse. You see, I was fighting off this vampire who was trying to kill me, and Jenny was trying to shoot the vampire with my crossbow. What was I doing with a crossbow? Well, you see I was hunting vampires only she distracted me.... No. Honesty was definitely not the best policy in this instance. Even if the police did get involved, he could be sufficiently vague to insure that there could be no investigation. Too dark...didn't get a good look at him...dropped the bolt...don't know what happened.... Vague information which would get the police precisely nowhere. Assuming Jenny went along with it.
Jenny parked the car and returned to the waiting room. It was a slow night at the Sunnydale Hospital. Either that or it was a typical night-she'd never been here before to be sure. The only other occupant was a young father with two little children who were alternately fussing and sleeping. Jenny sat down with a sigh.
Not one of your better moves, Jen, she thought. She'd been so sure she could save the day. The crossbow wasn't that difficult a weapon-aim and shoot-like a very primitive gun.
She frowned. Would she have been so ready to fire a gun in the same situation? Or did the fact that it was a crossbow make it seem somehow less deadly?
The weapon was still dangerous. Rupert was in there right now with a hole in his back because of her. A couple of inches further over and he'd be dead. Or at least severely injured-spinal damage, organ damage, all sorts of terrible possibilities. They were damned lucky the injury was no worse than it was. Seemed no worse. Neither of them really knew the extent of the damage. He'd said it wasn't that deep-made some ridiculous joke about layers of tweed. But he was still in a great deal of pain. It might not be deep, but it wasn't insignificant, either.
Another sigh and she rubbed her hands over her face. Great, something else to give her nightmares.
Maybe you did it on purpose. The thought came unbidden. Maybe you wanted to get back at him for practically getting you killed with that damned demon of his.
That was absurd! Rupert hadn't intentionally set Eyghon upon her. He hadn't wanted her involved. It was an accident, just as this was.
Accident or not, she'd still come close to dying, to losing her identity as the demon took hold of her. And that had scared her like nothing else possibly could. She'd never consciously want any harm to come to Rupert. But subconsciously...?
She shuddered. She didn't want to think about that. The fact remained that she had shot him. She had aimed a crossbow and had released the bolt. Was it bad luck or bad timing which made him end up in the bolt's path?
Did it matter?
She covered her face with her hands and a groan escaped.
"Daddy," she heard a tiny voice, "is that lady sick?"
She uncovered her face and the little boy was staring at her. She managed a half-hearted smile at the youngster as his father shushed him.
It seemed pretty quiet here. Hopefully, this wouldn't take too long. Unless, of course, he required surgery. How long was she willing to wait before she inquired? Who was she that they'd give her information? Not a relative, not a 'significant other'. Barely a friend. Three dates, that's what it amounted to. One kiss stolen in the hallway before class. And the promise of more-a promise wiped out by the horror of a demon. Who was she to Rupert Giles? And who was he to her? They'd gone almost three weeks without exchanging more than a few words. Him coming around, quietly, morosely, like some whipped puppy begging for scraps. Her rebuffing him, ignoring him, avoiding him. All because she didn't know what to say to him.
It didn't make the ache go away. It didn't stop the nightmares. And it had hurt Rupert. He'd walked away from her the other day so dejected, she felt terrible about what she'd said. True or not, it was cruel, and honestly, she'd never wanted to hurt him. She tried to ignore it, put it behind her. But she couldn't forget.
Then she saw him this morning in the teacher's meeting about Buffy. And he'd defended his young charge passionately, while still trying to make it seem like his interest was merely casual. Just that he'd known her because she and her friends often did their homework in the library, and that everything he'd seen said that she was a girl with good intentions, even if not good grades. And that he simply could not believe that the death of Ted could be anything except what it was-an accident. He'd told them that the Buffy he knew was incapable of such intentional violence. It was such a bald-faced lie, but spoken with such conviction that Jenny couldn't help admiring him.
Following his statement, he looked up and she caught his eye. He have her a very hard look, one which said 'don't you dare refute this', and then the hardness faded, leaving a sad and vulnerable man it its place, and he looked away again quickly. He didn't look at her for the rest of the meeting.
So that's why she'd gone after him when she saw his car parked outside the park-to apologize for her cruelty the other day, and to praise his defense of Buffy. Whatever the ultimate outcome, he had been very convincing. It was good for the detectives to see another side of her-the one which was not all trouble-maker and problem girl.
But instead of apologizing, she'd ended up shooting him. Some apology!
She sighed and stretched out her legs, idly thumbing through the magazines on the table next to her. Ancient dog-eared copies of Sports Illustrated and Good Housekeeping, and a children's book about Jesus. What she wouldn't give for a copy of Wired. Or Mother Jones. Or even Time.
She leaned back and crossed her arms, closing her eyes. Well, she was here for the duration; might as well get comfortable.
Giles clutched the railing of the bed fiercely, desperately trying not to scream. The doctor claimed to have used a local anesthetic, but if this was numbed, he'd hate to feel what untreated was like. The pain sent waves of agony all up and down his left side, crashing into his head, knocking his breath away, making his heart pound in his chest. He had no idea what they were doing, but it felt like they were taking a white-hot poker and shoving it into the wound.
He gasped on a breath, a sob escaping as he tried to force air into his lungs.
"It's all right Mr. Giles," the nurse soothed putting her hand over his and squeezing reassuringly. "Almost over, just a few more moments."
Hurry the bloody hell up! he thought. A person could die in a few moments.
As quickly as the pain came, it was gone, only the lingering ache remaining. The poker, whatever it had been, was gone and though the wound still throbbed, at least it wasn't taking his breath away anymore.
He sucked air into his lungs greedily, letting it out slowly. "Christ!" he murmured, his wound-up body starting to relax again.
"Sorry," the doctor said. "But that's the worst of it. We've got the site pretty well cleaned out, so now we just have to stitch you up. I'm going to put some more anesthetic on the area. You'll feel a series of pin-pricks and some pulling which'll be uncomfortable, but it won't be the kind of pain you just had."
"Thank God," he muttered.
The doctor chuckled. "Yeah, well I know this hasn't been pleasant. Next time you get yourself stabbed, do yourself a favor and leave the weapon in. We can do less damage cutting it out than you did pulling it out."
Giles couldn't believe what he was hearing. "I hope never to be stabbed again, thank you."
The doctor laughed. "Wise man. OK, Mr. Giles, let's get you taken care of here. Nurse-"
They lapsed into "medical speak" and Giles tuned it out. He stretched out his fingers where they had been clutching at the bars, rubbing at his hands to ease the cramp. He felt something cold on his back and then, as expected, felt the pricking and stretching. It didn't tickle. In fact, it bloody well hurt. But compared to his previous pain, this one was so minor as to be inconsequential. A paper cut next to...next to a crossbow bolt in the back.
Eventually the pricks stopped as the doctor finished his sewing.
"There you go, Mr. Giles," he said, stripping off his bloody gloves. "You've got twenty-seven stitches. Eleven of them are on the inside and don't show. The rest are on the outside. The interior ones will dissolve. Make an appointment with your regular doctor to remove these in about a week's time. The nurse is going to dress the wound and show you how to care for it. If you notice any redness or swelling along the incision, call your doctor right away or come in here. We're going to give you a tetanus shot, then I want you to stay here until you finish your IV-give you a chance to rest, recuperate. If your B.P. is back to normal, then we'll release you. Go home and take it easy."
"Thank you," Giles said. "Um--a friend brought me in...."
"Let me get you all bandaged and then if you want her to come back, I can call her," the nurse said.
He just nodded and the doctor wished him good luck and left the cubicle.
The nurse bandaged his back, taping the gauze in place, and gave him instructions on how to change his dressings every day, and what to look for when examining the wound. She gave him the shot, then took his blood pressure again, which was still a little low, and his pulse was still a bit jumpy, so she told him to just rest, covered him again with the sheet, and left the cubicle.
Jenny was sitting with her eyes closed, trying to rest when she heard her name called.
"Yes, that's me." Jenny stood up.
"Mr. Giles is asking for you," the nurse said and led her back, directing her to the correct cubicle.
He was lying on his side, dressed in a hospital gown and draped with a sheet. His glasses were on the stand next to the bed and his eyes were closed. He looked especially pale. She stood, watching him for a moment before he opened his eyes.
"Hi," she said softly.
"Hi," he repeated. She searched his face, looking for anger, recrimination, something-anything that would tell her what he was thinking, what he was feeling. But his expression was a little sad, very weary. It broke her heart.
"What did they say?"
"They've stitched it up. I'll be all right."
"Thank God." She took a deep breath. "Rupert, I am so sorry, I--I was trying to get the...."
"Shhh," he shook his head. "Not now."
She stopped, frowning. What did he want from her? Why wouldn't he let her apologize?
"We may wind up having to talk to the police," he said, "since we reported a mugging. I told them I was stabbed by a wooden spike with a metal tip, that I didn't know what it was and that once I pulled it out I dropped it and that it's probably still in the park."
"They don't need to know that. But we need to make sure our stories are straight-it was dark, we didn't see our attacker clearly, only that he was tall. I pushed you out of the way and while I was fighting him he stabbed me. Then he ran. That should be sufficiently vague to prevent any investigation. All right?"
He'd obviously thought it out. "Wouldn't it be easier to tell the truth?"
"And which part do you suggest we tell them-that I was fighting a vampire whom I subsequently dusted, or that you shot me with a crossbow?"
She froze, stunned by his harsh tone.
He let out a breath. "I'm sorry, Jenny. I hurt and quite honestly, tact isn't my strong suit under these circumstances." His eyes closed briefly, then he opened them again. "We need to talk. But it will have to wait 'til later-'til some time when I don't feel quite so bloody wretched."
"Are you in pain?" she asked. "God, that's a stupid question!"
He smiled thinly. "Yes, I'm in pain. It hurts like hell. The local anesthetic must be wearing off-" Suddenly he gasped. "Sorry."
"Do you want me to call the nurse? See if they can give you something?"
He seemed to think about it for a moment, then nodded. "Thanks."
She ducked out and found the nurse's station, explaining the situation. She was told that someone would be in shortly, so she went back to the cubicle.
"They're checking," Jenny told him and he nodded, sighing and closing his eyes. He really looked terrible.
"I'll, um, be here for awhile yet," he said. "You don't have to stay." He didn't look at her, kept his eyes shut. Was he trying to be gallant, or was he trying to get rid of her?
"I don't mind," she answered. "Besides, how will you get home?"
His eyes opened. It was clear he hadn't thought that far. "I'll-call a taxi."
"Don't be silly. I can take you home, I don't mind staying." She paused, suddenly uncertain. She didn't know how to deal with this wounded, vulnerable Rupert Giles. "Unless-unless you want me to go."
He sighed again. "Not especially," he answered and his eyes closed again. But he reached a hand toward her and she took it, holding it tight. Even in his weakened state, the grip was warm, firm. Rupert had nice hands-capable, strong. In many ways, they typified him. Hands capable of wielding a pen or a weapon, gentle enough to wipe a tear or fasten the clasp of a lady's necklace....
The curtain rustled and the nurse came in. "OK, Mr. Giles, let's see how you're doing here." Jenny stood aside while she took his blood pressure and checked his IV. "I'm going to give you something for the pain. It'll make you drowsy, so I don't want you driving yourself home."
"That's all right," Jenny said. "I'll see he gets home."
The nurse smiled at her. "Good." She addressed Rupert again. "You should take it easy for a couple of days. Stay in, get rest. Don't do anything to aggravate the stitches. The doctor's also given you a prescription for some pain meds. Take them as you need them, but don't drive or operate heavy machinery."
He simply nodded in agreement.
"OK, let's just give you this shot." She glanced at Jenny who looked at Rupert. She was about to leave when he reached for her hand again.
"All right," he said and his grip tightened. She was stunned by that tiny gesture of trust.
The nurse merely raised an eyebrow, uncovered his upturned hip and gave him the shot. Never being fond of needles, Jenny focused instead on Rupert's face, saw his flinch as the needle hit home, saw him relax again when it was over.
The hip was covered again. "Just relax, give that a few minutes to start to work. By that time you should have finished your IV and we can let you go. I'll be back."
Another rustle, and the nurse left the cubicle.
They were alone again. Jenny held onto his hand, her thumb stroking the back of it. There was so much she wanted to say, but she had the feeling whatever she wanted to say he didn't want to hear. So she stood there silently, feeling helpless. He lay quietly, eyes closed but his hand securely holding hers.
Well, at least there was that.
"We've sure made a mess of this," she murmured and was shocked that she'd spoken the words out loud.
He smiled and his fingers entwined with hers. "That we have," he said softly. He glanced at her and despite the pain and the weariness there was a touch of gentle humor in his eyes. "But we have time."
"For what?" she frowned.
He gave a one-shouldered shrug. "To try and get it right." His gaze was penetrating. "If you want to."
Suddenly, it was too much; his gentleness was her undoing. She swallowed past the lump which threatened to cut off her air. She tried to speak, but the lump sealed her voice and her lip trembled. All she could do was nod, clutching at his hand desperately. This wasn't supposed to be happening-not to her. She was always the stable one. She bit her lip against the rising tide of emotion, her eyes closing in an effort to keep back the tears which threatened to overwhelm her. Her free hand covered her face; she didn't want to break down in front of him, didn't want him to see this. She turned her head away.
He let go of her hand, sliding his hand up and down her arm soothingly.
"It'll be all right, Jen," he said gently.
In a minute, she got herself under control again. She sniffed and wiped at her eyes. Her fingers came away tinged with her mascara.
"Oh, yuck," she muttered and he laughed softly.
"It doesn't matter," he said.
"Oh yeah, the racoon look is in," she sniffed and grabbed a tissue from the table next to the bed, wiping her eyes carefully, trying to keep as much of her eye makeup as possible on her eyes instead of down her face. She sniffed again and blew her nose. And then she took his hand again in both of hers. "We have to talk, Rupert."
"We will," he reassured her. "Tomorrow. Or the next day. As soon as I don't feel quite so vile. But right now between the pain and the anti-pain medication, I wouldn't trust anything I said at this point. I don't want to say anything that will hurt you and in my present state I'm likely to say things without thinking. Be patient, Jenny. We will have our talk. There's a lot we need to get settled between us."
She nodded. "OK. I can wait."
He smiled. Then he brought her hand to him and softly kissed it, and she uncurled her fingers, stroking his cheek. He moved his head so that the side of his face rested in her palm. And she brought her other hand up, fingers gently stroking his temple.
The nurse came in again, checked his blood pressure one more time, then shooed Jenny out, telling her that they would be releasing Rupert and she could go to the waiting room until he was dressed.
She detoured past the nearest ladies room to try and fix her face, using a damp paper towel to remove the streaks of wayward mascara and liner. She examined herself critically. She looked like hell. She laughed in spite of herself. They were a great match tonight!
This time Jenny was driving at a nice, steady pace. Probably because he'd asked her to, telling her that the speed, well, hurt.
They'd finally let him go with more admonitions about taking it easy, and much to his distaste, he'd put back on his bloody shirt and his bloody jacket. They were starting to stiffen, but they'd be good enough to get him home in.
They were both silent on the drive. He didn't know what Jenny was thinking. For himself, he was trying not to think. He still hurt, but now it was muffled by whatever had been in that shot. It still hurt, but now he didn't care. All he wanted was to go home and fall into bed and stay there for, oh, a day or three. Or five. Or twelve. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
Jenny's voice penetrated his fog and he opened his eyes. "Wha--?"
He blinked and managed to focus at the scene outside the car. Sure enough, they were in front of his building and the passenger door was open, Jenny leaning in to him, a look of concern on her face.
"Oh." He managed to swing his legs out of the car, but relied on her strength to pull him upright, hissing as the movement jarred his back.
"I'm sorry," she said mournfully.
"Not you. There's just no easy way to get out of a low-slung car."
Leaning against her, they made their way to his door. The stairs made for rough going, but eventually, they got to his apartment. He fumbled with the keys and she took them from him, unlocking his door.
He went in and stood there for a moment, staring, trying to remember what he was doing here. Then he felt his coat and jacket being eased from his shoulders and he turned around.
Jenny held the damaged garments in her hand. "Come on, let's get you to bed."
Reality came crashing back. "I can put myself to bed, Jenny," he said softly.
She frowned. "You sure? I mean, that whatever they gave you's made you pretty dopey."
"I'll be fine. I just want to put my head down and get some rest." He took the stained clothing from her. "Honestly. I'm all right."
She gazed at him for a long moment, her teeth worrying her lower lip. "Well, if you're sure. And you'll go right to bed, right? I mean, no sitting up half the night reading ancient texts."
"What, are you my mother now?" he snapped.
She flinched at the words, turning away. He would have felt worse about it if he'd been capable of feeling worse.
"I'm sorry, I'm tired," he simply said. "You'd better go. I'll see you tomorrow."
She turned back to him. "You're not going in tomorrow. What was that the nurse said about taking it easy?"
"I will take it easy. But while we've been playing vampires in the park, Buffy's been having her own crisis. I need to find out how she is."
"You've never heard of the telephone?"
"Oh, that'll be a wonderful conversation: hello, Buffy, it's Giles. Have you recovered from killing your mother's boyfriend yet? I don't think so. Some things need to be handled in person."
She flinched again and he sighed. "Look, Jenny. Discount anything I say tonight. I barely know where I am much less what I'm saying. This is why I didn't want to talk until I was feeling better. I get-snappish. Not an attractive character trait, but there it is." He gave her a weak smile, one he hoped looked more convincing than it felt. "I'll see you tomorrow, all right?"
She looked at him, the hurt naked on her face, and nodded. "I'm sorry, Rupert," she said.
He sighed. "So am I."
Then she turned and left his home, shutting the door after her. He leaned his forehead against the door and just stood for a minute, trying to find the energy to go to bed. He didn't know why he'd been so cruel to Jenny. She was the last person he'd ever want to hurt. But perhaps because he was hurt, he just struck out and she was a handy target.
Finally, he heaved himself away from the door and shuffled off to the bedroom. He peeled his shirt off, frowning at the bloody hole, and tossed it in the corner. She was efficient, he'd give her that. Shirt, vest, jacket and overcoat, all ruined with one single strike.
That was unfair. It wasn't her fault.
It happened, whether it was her fault or not.
Anyway, it was too late to be playing word games with himself. He felt too miserable.
He turned around, trying to see his back, looking at his reflection from the rear in a mirror, but all he saw was a square patch of gauze. He fingered the tape, curious, in a morbid sort of way, to see what had been done to him. But the tape was stuck fast. He'd be better off leaving it 'til tomorrow, when he needed to change the dressing. For right now-bed.
There was a knocking at his door.
"Bloody hell!" he muttered. Who was coming around at this hour-not that he knew what time it was. Unless it was Buffy and there was some new crisis to deal with. That was the last thing he needed tonight-another crisis.
He slid open the slat. It was Jenny.
"You left your bag in my car," she said before he could say anything else.
He sighed and opened the door.
"Thanks," he said, reaching for the bag. She held fast, maneuvering around him and setting the bag on the floor in the corner.
"You shouldn't be lifting anything," she explained.
He sighed again. Having failed to kill him with a crossbow, she was now going to attempt to do it with kindness. He stopped himself just before he could utter that particular sentiment.
"All right, thank you," he said instead.
She didn't say anything else, just stood there, trying not to stare at his chest, casting surreptitious glances at his side, looking for the bandages.
He was too tired to care that he was standing here half naked in front of her. All he cared about was that he was tired, and standing in the drafty doorway was making him cold.
"Can I go to bed now?" he asked.
She ducked her head and flushed, the spell broken. "Yeah, I'm...I'm... I'll see you tomorrow."
"Good night," he nodded and held the door for her.
"Good night, Rupert," she replied and with a final lingering glance, once again left his home.
He shut the door behind her, listening as her footsteps sounded on the steps and down the walk.
Suddenly, he understood "little puppy-dog eyes" far better than he'd ever hoped. That had been Jenny's expression. Sorrow, regret, apology, guilt....
Now she knew how he'd felt when she'd pushed him away. It had hurt, her rejection. But he realized now that it wasn't necessarily a rejection of him, it was simply a rejection of what he offered at the time. Right now he was incapable of accepting her solicitude and her caring. He didn't want her attention; he wanted to be left alone.
Just as she'd wanted to be left alone after Eyghon. Just as she couldn't stand his coming around and trying to "make it all better".
He understood now.
"Oh, Jenny, what a tangled web we have woven," he murmured. And he didn't see any easy way out of it. She was going to want to talk tomorrow. And whether he wanted to talk or not, he knew that putting it off would only postpone the inevitable. The air must be cleared between them, if they were to have any chance of putting this behind them and going on. Otherwise, Eyghon would have won.
And he was damned if he was going to let that bastard of a demon get to him, especially not after its death.
He rubbed his forehead. Great. On top of everything else, now he had a headache. He turned off the hall light and shuffled back to the bedroom. Better try and get some sleep.
Tomorrow was going to prove to be an interesting day.
Jenny was surprised when she arrived at school the next morning to see Rupert's car in the parking lot. They'd left it abandoned by the park last night. So unless he'd sent someone out to get it....
She went to the library but the facility was empty. Either that or he was hiding in the stacks. She called his name but there was no response.
With a sigh, she turned and headed out again, and ran into him just coming through the doors with a coffee cup in his hand. It was only through fast maneuvering on her part that they didn't both wind up doused with coffee.
"Damn," he muttered as a little of the liquid splashed over his hand.
"Oh, Rupert, I'm sorry," she said, staring helplessly.
"It's all right, here, hold this." He handed her the cup and pulled out his handkerchief, mopping off his hand.
This was not the way she'd wanted to start their conversation.
"How-how are you feeling?" she asked.
He glanced at her, taking his mug back. "All right. Managing." He moved past her, heading into the library proper.
"Are...does...are you in pain?"
"Some," he admitted.
"Can't you take one of those pills the doctor gave you?"
"I don't want to get knocked out," he explained. "I took a few aspirins. That should be sufficient until tonight."
She just stared at him. "Why did you come in today, Rupert?"
"I told you last night--I need to see Buffy."
"Have you seen her yet?"
"No, I usually don't until after second period. Oh by the way."
"I don't want her knowing about our little adventures last night. She has enough to deal with without worrying about my, er, extracurricular activities."
She frowned. "How are you going to explain your condition?"
He shrugged. "She probably won't notice. If she does, I'll just say I moved wrong and put out my back."
She watched him as he carefully moved to the circulation desk and fired up the online computer there. He hated the things, but he was resigned to using the system which was already installed when he got there. She followed him to the counter. "I saw your car in the parking lot."
He spared her a glance. "Yes, that is where one's car can usually be found."
"How'd you get it from the park?"
The glance was a little longer. "I went and got it. I'm not an invalid, you know."
"You didn't walk, did you?"
"No, I took a taxi."
"Because I would have-"
"I was up early this morning," he cut her off. "I went and got it because it was easier to deal with it this morning than later in the day."
She heard what he didn't say--that he'd gotten little sleep the night before--and just stared at him. He seemed so nonchalant about what had happened the night before, as if there was no great consequence.
But there was.
The bell rang.
"Hadn't you better go get set up for your first class?" he asked casually.
"Damn you, Rupert Giles, you are not going to avoid me."
He just gazed at her. "You're standing directly in front of me; you'd be a little difficult to avoid."
"Then talk to me!"
"I will. We will talk, I told you that last night. But right now you've got class. Why don't you come back during your free period? I'm not going anywhere."
"Uggh!" she clenched her fists. She hated it when he was right. "Have I ever told you how irritating you are?"
"Yes, many times," he replied, but there was a slight smile, that wonderful, endearing turn of just the corners of his mouth. And there was a slight twinkle in his eyes.
She sighed, exasperated. "All right. I'll be back."
"I'll be here," he said reasonably.
She headed toward the door but turned back. "And-we'll talk?"
"And we'll talk," he nodded.
She gazed at him a moment longer, trying to read something in his expression. It wasn't that the expression was blank, just that it was guarded-wary. No anger, no recrimination, just-caution. And something so deep, so complex she couldn't hope to decipher it, not in a single glance.
With a nod, she turned and left the library and got to class just as the second bell rang.
The first two periods passed in a blur. She managed to focus on her lesson plan, to focus on the students at their workstations, to focus on their chatter and their questions. But while it was a good act, good enough to fool her students and any casual observer, in truth, her mind was back in the library, trying to play out scenes of how she wanted their conversation to go.
What do you say to the man you just shot? The man who was suffering in pain because of you?
What did you say in the park last night? She thought. You know Eyghon wasn't his fault, but you still couldn't talk to him for three weeks. He must know that you hadn't intended to shoot him. Why are you demanding that he talk to you today--less than 24 hours after the fact? Can't you give him the space he gave you?
She remembered Rupert, the Monday following Eyghon, cautiously trying to see how she was. And how, when he'd reached for her, she'd backed away as if his touch scalded.
She'd hurt him. Damn it all, she didn't seem to be able to stop hurting him. And he was the last person she'd ever want to hurt-his gentleness, his thoughtfulness, his kindness, his consideration.... He was a wonderful man, complex, intelligent, fascinating, and god help her, sexy. He wasn't her type-nothing near. She tended to go in for slender waif-types-the artists and the actors. Rupert Giles was tall and though trim, not especially slender. And a good ten years older than anyone else she'd ever dated. No, he wasn't her type at all.
But she hadn't been lying that day when she said she'd wanted to stay in with him. The idea of curling up on her couch together, nibbling cheese and crackers and watching a video, interspersed with easy conversation and ultimately ending up....
She shivered involuntarily. Despite everything which had happened, she realized she still wanted that. It was probably impossible now, after all that had gone before. But that didn't stop her from wanting it.
Fortunately, her second period was an advanced lab; the students pretty much just used their class time to work on their independent study projects. About ten minutes before the end of the period, Jenny couldn't stand it anymore. She felt like she was on fire; she felt anxious, giddy, nervous, terrified, every nerve in her body super-sensitized. She had to talk to Rupert before she spontaneously combusted.
She told her students to keep working on their projects and that if they needed her, they could come in during her office hours sixth period. This was a good group, full of students who were sincerely interested in their work. She knew that if she left them alone, they'd continue to work unsupervised.
So she took the chance and left her classroom, heading again for the library.
The numbers were starting to blur.
It wasn't that the pain was so bad; he'd had worse and the aspirins were keeping the most acute of the pain at bay.
No, this was deeper. This was more intrinsic than pain. This was a turmoil of the soul.
He did not want this conversation. And yet he'd promised Jenny. He owed her that much.
What are you afraid of, Rupert? He asked himself. That when faced with her, you'll forgive her everything?
Or that you won't?
That was the dilemma. He didn't blame her. Honestly, he didn't. He understood, understood it all--the earlier rejection, the accidental shooting, the ambivalence on her part. He understood.
And he cared about Jenny. She was the best thing to happen to him in longer than he could remember. The idea of a woman-a grown up woman with whom he could share his inner-most secrets, someone who understood his sacred calling, understood his world of devils and vampires. It was wonderful. She was wonderful. Intelligent, thoughtful, funny, beautiful-she was so beautiful.... She'd mentioned wanting to stay in that Saturday night and his heart, and other portions of his anatomy, had jumped.
And then he'd destroyed that, destroyed it with Eyghon.
She seemed to be willing to forgive him Eyghon. Or at least accept that it had not been intentional. The question remained whether he could forgive himself. Because that had to be the first step toward getting over this and going on. He needed to come to terms with the fact that while the demon had been of his own creation-his and Ethan's--Jenny's involvement had been completely accidental. And the reason he'd fallen apart the way he had was because he couldn't look at the demon and see an evil thing which had to be destroyed. He could only see Jenny. Thank God for Buffy, for Willow and the rest of the 'gang'--they'd come through when he could not. They'd found the solution.
Now it was up to him to affect the cure.
He went back to his office. Time for more caffeine.
He was fixing himself a cup of tea when he heard the door. A glance at the wall clock told him that second period was still in session. Unless Buffy had cut again. She really had to stop doing that, she was likely to--
Jenny. He looked up. She was standing at the door to his office.
"You're early," he commented. "Don't you have class?"
"I-it's just an advanced lab. They can work unsupervised for a few minutes. And I--I wanted to.... I want to get this over with."
He smiled. "And here I was trying to figure out how to postpone it."
She looked stricken and he gave in. "Don't worry, we won't. We'll have this talk of ours." He waved her in.
She backed off. "It's too-- I'd rather talk out here, if that's all right."
He nodded. His office was very small. That much proximity was bound to be awkward. And while the outer library wasn't very private, it was seldom that anyone came in. He finished making his tea. "Can I get you some tea?"
He took a sip and carried his cup out with him. "All right, do you want to go first, or should I?"
She took a deep breath. "I will." She licked her lips, took another breath, opened her mouth, and stood there for a long moment. Then she let the breath out and shook her head. "God, I wanted this, and now that it's here I don't know what to say. I can tell you how sorry I am. I can say that 'til I'm blue in the face but you don't want to hear that. I don't know what you want to hear. I never wanted to hurt you-not last night, not every time you came by to check on me. I couldn't deal with you, didn't know how to tell you, so it was easier to ignore you. And I know that hurt. I'm sorry. I...." She gazed at him, helplessly.
"So am I," he said softly. "I'm sorry for bringing my past and my nightmares down on you. I'm sorry I-couldn't handle it once it happened. And I'm sorry I tried to use you to assuage my feelings of guilt. That was unfair of me. And we can dance around this particular circle until we're exhausted and it won't change what happened. You're still having nightmares about it. Well, so am I. They're not about the demon this time--they're about losing you. Which," he laughed nervously, "which is pretty funny since I never 'had' you to lose." Now that the words were coming, he just went ahead and let them come. "I was-devastated when you pushed me away. I understand why you did it, but at the time I was upset that I wanted to help and you wouldn't let me. You wanted to make me suffer. You know-" He cleared his throat and took another sip of his tea, refuge against a suddenly dry mouth. "When I felt that bolt hit me I thought 'well this is a hell of a way to tell someone you don't want to see him anymore.'"
"Oh, God, Rupert, no!" she cried. "It was an accident! I--"
"I know that. But at the time...."
"You thought I was trying to kill you?"
"No. Not really. Not intentionally. But I thought it might be the easy way out. I'm sorry, but...but we ought to at least be honest with each other."
She just stared at him, wide-eyed, a look of shock and disbelief on her face. Her gaze was too intense. He'd just hurt her. He hadn't meant to say those things, but he wasn't terribly surprised when whey came out, either. It was really too soon to be having this conversation. Thing were going to be said; things they might later regret. He turned away and put his teacup on the counter. She pulled him back.
"Okay, you want honest, how about what blockheaded moron calls up a demon? Especially a demon he can't control!" Her eyes were flashing fire and she was trembling.
"A twenty-one year-old blockheaded moron," he answered simply. "And I have been paying for that mistake for twenty years now. Three people are dead because of me. It almost was four. You think that doesn't prey on me? I'd love to push all the blame on Ethan-say it was his fault. But it's mine equally. I know that and I accept it. That's why I kept trying to see you, to see if you were all right. Because it was my responsibility. Since I'd got you into that predicament, the least I could do was try and make it better afterwards. But you wouldn't let me atone."
He took another deep breath. "But while we're about it, Jenny, do you have any idea just how dangerous a weapon the crossbow is? It's got the stopping velocity of a rifle. Back in the middle ages the Pope decreed that the crossbow was too vicious a weapon to be used against Christians. What in blazes gave you the idea that you could shoot one?"
"You were being attacked!" she insisted. "What was I supposed to do, just stand by and watch?"
"I told you to give me my bag-you could have given me a stake, or given me the crossbow."
"Excuse me, but since when is the crossbow a close quarters weapon? Come on, Rupert, you didn't have time to sort through your toys and find an appropriate one. I did, and I had him in my sights. But you moved at the last minute."
"And you shot me," he completed. "We're just damned lucky you're a bad shot."
"Well I'm sorry, next time I'll try harder!" she yelled.
Suddenly, her eyes widened and her mouth opened in a silent gasp. She backed off a step. "I-I.... Oh, my God, I didn't mean that. I...."
He was too numb to be shocked by her words. He didn't doubt the anger; he also didn't doubt the regret. "Well," he began, surprised at how calm he sounded, "at least we're fighting. That's an improvement."
She stared at him, disbelieving. "I--I don't want to fight with you."
"I thought you liked fighting with me," he said gently.
"Not about things that matter." Her eyes glittered with tears.
"I don't know. God, Rupert, how did we make such a mess of everything? It's like no matter what we do, it's wrong." She turned her head away, a hand going to her face where she wiped ineffectually at the tears. "How do you do this to me?" she muttered angrily. "I can't even remember the last time I cried, now you've got me doing it twice in less than twenty four hours."
"I'm afraid I have that effect on women I care about," he said regretfully. He hadn't wanted to make her cry. He hadn't wanted to hurt her. Not ever.
He reached for her, turning her face back to him. Her eyes were huge-dark pools so deep he thought he could drown in them.
"I don't know, Jenny. Sometimes I think everything I touch turns to mud. But you're wrong about one thing. There's still part of this that's very right."
"What?" Her voice was soft, almost child-like.
"This." Cupping her face in his hands, he slowly but deliberately leaned toward her. She hesitated, watching him with wide eyes. But she didn't pull away. As he bent his head to hers, her mouth opened slightly-in surprise, in denial, he couldn't tell. But she still offered no resistance. Her gaze remained locked with his as their lips neared, as if to close her eyes was to deny the reality of the moment. He touched his lips to hers tenderly, and only then did she allow her eyes to slide closed, only then did she allow herself to move closer, her arms coming up to embrace him, hesitating, and then moving again, as if overwhelmed by the sensation of their kiss.
Gradually, the kiss deepened, gradually her arms tightened around him. Gradually, his hands drifted to her hair, her back, and when she moved her head, gasping for breath, his own slid easily to her throat, kissing her there.
He raised his head again, kissing her temple, and then the embrace eased-not far, just enough to be able to look at her again. Her eyes still glittered with the remnants of tears and he leaned in, pressing feather-kisses to her eyelids, her forehead, and her mouth.
And then they gazed at each other once more, a long look burgeoning with too many things unsaid.
"This doesn't solve anything," she whispered.
"No," he agreed. "But it's a start." He cupped her face again, his thumbs delicately brushing the tears away. "We can work the rest of it out. If you want."
Her expression was a fascinating combination of fear, regret, cautious optimism and the most tentative expression of hope. "We have time?" she asked uncertainly.
"All the time in the world," he nodded. And then he kissed her again tenderly, feeling her respond, feeling all of her wariness melt beneath his gentle affection.
This time when the kiss ended, she remained in his arms, her head resting just below his chin. She sighed, seemingly unwilling to break the fragile spell they'd woven between them.
The sounding of the bell did it for them. She lifted her head, backing unwillingly out of his arms. There was a glaze in her eyes which spoke of passion still burning, but she ran a hand over her hair, smoothing it, struggling to regain composure.
"I'd, uh, better see what my class left me," she said regretfully, as if she didn't really want to leave.
"Yes, and Buffy ought to be coming by," he agreed. The spell was broken; it was time to return to normal life.
She glanced at the wall behind him and frowned. "Is that clock right?"
"Yes, I believe so," he said, turning around and looking. "That can't be-wasn't that the end-of-period bell?"
"I thought so, but according to the clock, that was the bell for start of third." She looked at her watch and he looked at his. They confirmed the clock on the wall. "I don't remember hearing the first bell."
"Nor do I. Of course," he grinned, "we weren't paying a lot of attention."
She smiled and actually flushed. "No, I guess not."
They shared a shy smile. Then her expression faded. "Well, I've got stuff I need to take care of before my next class."
"Yes, of course. And I need to find Buffy. I wonder why she didn't come by? Perhaps she didn't come to school today."
"Would you have noticed if she had come in?"
It was his turn to flush. "No, perhaps not."
Her smile was gentle. "Me neither."
Right at that moment, he really wasn't interested in finding Buffy. He was far more interested in taking Jenny in his arms again and kissing her until they both forgot to breathe. But it was the middle of the school day; they both had responsibilities. Any further exploration of their newfound--whatever it was--would have to wait.
"Well, um..." he took off his glasses and polished them. "I'll see you later, then."
"Yeah, okay," she smoothed her skirt. "See you later."
They both stood there, staring at each other.
He cleared his throat. "Uh, may I walk you to your classroom?"
Her bright smile lit up the usually dim library. "That would be nice, thanks."
He smiled and took her arm, escorting her from the library. He let go as soon as they got into the hall, but they walked close, side by side.
She glanced up at him. "Do you want to do dinner tonight?"
He almost agreed, then he took a step and his back twinged. He sighed. "I'm sorry, Jenny, but I'm not really up to going out tonight."
At first she looked confused, then she remembered and that haunted look flashed across her face.
"Perhaps another night," he went on, wanting her to know that it was not a rejection of her, merely of the suggestion of tonight.
"Sometime?" she said quietly and he remembered her saying the same thing, saying it as she backed away from him.
"Not sometime," he denied. "Soon. Just--not tonight."
She sighed and turned away. "You know, for just a moment there, I almost managed to forget."
"I know," he said gently. "So did I."
Her eyes had that sad, desolate look again. "But I guess we can't forget, can we?"
"No," he agreed. "But we can go on."
"Can we? Or will this always be between us?"
"Only if we let it. And I have no intention of letting it."
She nodded, but her sad expression didn't change. Then she glanced at him cautiously. "Umm, I know you're not up to going out, but...I mean, I'm not much of a cook, but if you want, I can come over and attempt to fix something...." The words faded and she shook her head. "No, forget it. I'm pushing. You probably need your space."
He smiled tenderly and touched her cheek. "Actually, it's a lovely suggestion. And I wish I could accept. But I'm afraid I wouldn't be much company. I'll probably take one of those pain pills and go straight to bed."
She nodded then, accepting. "Another time."
"Yes. Another time. And you don't need to cook for me. I'm not much of a cook, either, but we can always, um, order in?"
She smiled and there was a sparkle in her eyes. "Sounds like a plan."
They walked the rest of the way in silence, smiling at each other like love struck teenagers.
When they got to her classroom door, they stopped, gazing at each other, too tongue-tied to speak. Too much to say. No words to say it.
She opened the door, looked inside, then certain the room was empty, pulled him in after her. Her arms went around his neck and they shared another deep, searching kiss.
Afterwards, he held her in his arms, breathing in the sweet scent of her hair, feeling his heart thump in his chest. "You make it very difficult to refuse your offer," he murmured.
She pulled back and smiled at him, that delightful, sexy siren's smile which made his insides go all puddly.
"Good. Wouldn't want you to forget me."
"No chance of that," he breathed and she laughed softly.
"Go on," she said and squeezed his hands as she let him go. "Go find Buffy. And let me know if everything's okay."
"All right," he smiled and turned toward the door. "Jenny--" He turned back.
"It will work out. I know it will."
"You think so?" she asked. Then she smiled and the expression was radiant. "Me, too."
The memory of her smile carried him out of the classroom and down the hall, and Buffy, when he found her, wondered why he couldn't stop grinning.