RATING: Just barely Teen
LENGTH: 1600 words
SUMMARY: Going AU mid-"Flooded," Series 6, a few days after Giles has returned to Sunnydale. Unsteady in all sorts of ways, Giles is drinking Scotch and doing inventory late at night. Anya finds him.
Seventeen bottles of essence of rosewater (blessed), three bottles of essence of rosewater (cursed; nasty, but useful in the occasional spell of repellence), two mute mandrake roots, one mandrake root properly contained –
This after-hours inventory lark was rather tiring and just this side of dull, Giles thought. Time for another drink.
He poured the Glenfiddich with a free hand. Unfortunately he wasn’t quite far enough gone not to note that his hand was shaking.
Bloody inventory. One had to note everything, even the things one would prefer to repress.
He’d been shaking since the moment he’d heard Buffy was back. He’d trembled his way across the Atlantic, then felt himself starting to break when his Slayer had hugged him– only partially because of the strength of her hold. He’d kept right on with these ridiculous inner shakes for the past three days.
Buffy was back, but she wasn’t well. And he had nothing to help her.
The drink was perfect, as had been the first and the second. He closed his eyes, smiled to himself as the warmth traveled down, and then made himself straighten. Pre-Halloween inventory, Giles, he told himself. It would help Anya.
She too had almost hugged him to pieces upon his return, but oddly enough it had been (slightly painful) comfort. The Magic Box, and its manager, had become more of a refuge than he’d realized before he’d left. His arrival had brought that truth home to him.
Anya had been almost unobtrusively checking in with him during these few joyous-difficult days. (“Almost unobtrusive” for Anya was saving her blunt “You okay, Giles?” for their private moments in the shop, rather than blurting out the questions in front of angels, demons, Scoobies, and random passersby.) In an effort to be fair, he’d been paying attention to her as well. She still shone brightly in the throes of sales or receipt-tallying, but otherwise her eyes seemed darker than usual, and she’d been distant with Xander. Who, it had to be said, was no less distant with her.
He felt the most unaccountable… whatsit… at the possibility of Anya no longer with Xander. The need to define tugged at him, frightened him, but –
One mandrake root, properly contained…. No, wait, he’d already counted that. Three jars of dried rue --
The door at the top of the cellar stairs slammed. “Show yourself, thief! Or Spike, which is the same thing,” Anya’s voice declared, just before Anya’s person descended far enough to see Giles hanging onto the Glenfiddich. “Oh. Giles, it’s you.”
“Good evening, Anya,” he said. “Thought I’d get a start on this quarter’s inventory.”
“Already started.” She clattered down the stairs so quickly that he almost didn’t have time to feel the jab of uselessness her words gave him. She didn’t seem to mean anything sharp, however, as she came near and reached over his shoulder to check his ledger. At the press of her body, he took another drink, and she said, “Yeah, we did that set of shelving. This one, though, is all yours.”
She turned his stool to the left, and then abandoned him in order to fetch – somewhat gingerly, which he found odd -- the enormous ledger book he now saw wedged on the top shelf. Her dress glittered and flowed in the light, silken, molding her bum –
He took another drink, quickly.
“Here you go.” The ledger landed on the table with a flurry of – no, not proper dust, it was –
“Yes!” The brightness of her voice was palpable. “Look at the second shelf there.”
He did. Squinted a bit – the world was suddenly a bit golden and fuzzy – but then he saw. “Anya, is that a, a mummy-hand?”
“Yep yep yep.” She pulled up a stool right beside him, put her elbow on the table, and then rested her head on her hand and smiled at him. Too close, far too close, too golden. But she was speaking again. “It’s the acquisition you set in motion last March. Finally Mr Chatha got back to me.”
It was simple duty to go look at it, he told himself. Not a craven fear of enjoying far, far too much Anya’s presence. Just duty. Inventory.
He all but bolted up, got himself tangled in the rungs of his stool, and almost tripped. She caught him, “Whoa, there, Watcher,” she said. “How much Scotch have you had?”
“The merest, er, trifle. A sip or two.” He found himself hanging onto her just a bit too tightly. He found himself even more reluctant to let go. That meant he let go too fast, and then had to grab the edge of the table.
She saved the Glenfiddich, then sighed. “Do you want me to bring the mummy-hand over here? The thing is, though, it’s a choker.”
Squinting against the light, he worked out what she possibly could mean…. “Oh. You mean, it chokes whoever grasps it.”
“Or who might be standing over it, unpacking it,” Anya said. “The day it arrived, if it hadn’t been for Tara’s quick spell, I’d have been just about as dead as the mummified corpse, and less lively.”
He caressed her shoulder absently while considering what his old friend Chatha might have been thinking in sending such an…active piece. It might have been just a matter of clearing his warehouse, according to Watcher-gossip there’d been some turnover recently in the Cairo business, but he wasn’t sure. “Anya, may I see the invoice?”
“Sure. Let me just have a slug of your drink first, though.” She suited action to the word, not waiting on permission. Of course, he thought, she rarely waited on permission.
He watched the movement of her throat as she swallowed. He closed his eyes against the lovely sight.
The problem was then that the world seemed a bit, well, spinny, as they said here in Sunnydale.
“Stop swaying,” came a muffled Anya-voice. He opened one eye to see her face buried in his jumper and her arms around his waist. Instinctively he closed his arms around her – Oh. Yes. He was swaying.
He steadied himself. Then, unplanned, “Why are you and Xander not speaking?”
“Are we going to do this now?” She looked up and blew the hair out of her face. Her lips were wet from the Scotch, oh god stop it Rupert. “Because we were doing inventory just a minute ago. Dangerous mummy-hand inventory.”
“Yes, we’re doing this now.”
She laid her head against his chest – in an attempt, he thought, to make sure he didn’t see her eyes. “I guess that promises not to tell are nullified if the proposal is also nullified….Okay. Xander and I were secretly engaged since the night Glory practically broke the town, but he wouldn’t tell anybody until Buffy came back. And then she did, and he still wouldn’t tell anybody. Which I figured out was that he didn’t actually want to marry me.”
“Oh, Anya. I’m…” Not actually sorry, he thought.
She shrugged out of his hold, grabbed the tumbler, finished off the drink. “I don’t want to marry some guy who’s just going to lie to me about how much he loves me. Been there, done the thousand years of vengeance.” She flashed a look at him. “Does that mean you’re going to fire me? Because I’m not a sort-of-Scooby any more?”
“Bloody hell, no,” he said. “However, you might be fired for finishing my drink so uncere…unceremon… for finishing my drink.”
Her grin was all light and sunshine and gold as she took a step toward the table. “I’ll pour you another, Giles. And thank you.”
“Thank you, Anya.”
A splash, a glance up. “Why?”
He had no idea. “Just give me the drink.”
Laughing, she offered the glass. “Here. And I’ll go brave the mummy-hand. The invoice is underneath.”
After he took another long drink, he draped his arm around her shoulder. “Let’s go together. As you say, could be dangerous.”
He could all but see her contemplate several literal-minded rebuttals, but wonder of wonders, she suppressed them all. “Okay. Together.” She wrapped her arm around his waist and began to steer them both. Then, as they rounded the table, “You couldn’t fire me anyway, actually, because –"
“I signed papers, yes, thank you.” He kissed the top of her head fondly. Wait, why did he kiss her, it wasn’t that he hadn’t thought about it for months, hadn’t thought about doing more than kissing her hair (which smelled of the blessed rosewater, interesting choice) because of course he had. Of sodding course he had.
His slightly fuzzy ruminations were stopped by the mummy-hand’s sudden flip out of the box which held it.
Anya gave a small shriek, then threw herself in front of him. “You’re too drunk to fight the mummy-hand, Giles, and I don’t want you to be strangled – Mmmp.”
The mummy-hand had gone for her throat. Again.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” he muttered, and plucked the mummy-hand off her.
It went for his throat this time.
But Anya screamed out the proper incantation– nice Coptic accent, he noted dimly – to make it quiescent, and without further ado put it back in the box and slammed down the lid. “Okay,” she said breathlessly. “Note to us – send a stiff letter of complaint to Chatha tomorrow.”
He started laughing. He couldn’t have said why, except the Scotch, and Anya, and the ridiculousness of it all, most specifically him.
Buffy was alive. He was alive, and here, and Anya was free and just a step out of his arms, and between the two of them they knew enough to get through this strange trembling time. Together they could help Buffy. And, well –
He yanked her into his arms and kissed her. She tasted of their Scotch and a certain tang he’d never experienced before but found absolutely inviting. And bloody hell, she was a delicious armful indeed.
It was some moments later that she pushed back, just a little, and said, “Giles. Giles, are you going to be too drunk to remember this tomorrow?”
“No. And be quiet. I’m taking inventory,” he said, and pulled her back in.