A Thing in His Hand

Timeline note: early series, shortly after Cordelia and Xander started dating.

The doors to the ER clanged open, and the brunette approached the triage nurse with an authoritative bluster.

"So, he's got a thing in his hand," she said.

She pointed to the doorway, where a hunched-over and breathless man was limping after her, a towel draped inexpertly across his palm. The girl made a half-hearted reach to help him, recoiled with a grimace of distaste, then finally pinched the corner of the towel between two delicate fingers and retained this almost-effort of guidance until he reached the counter. He clutched the desk with his free hand, hitched himself upright, took a deep breath, then levelled a resentful stare at his companion.

"Some help you were," he complained.

She shrugged. "I drove you here, didn't I? And sacrificed a perfectly good beach towel so you could keep your insides inside and all."

"More like so I wouldn't drip blood on your leather upholstery," he said. He took the crumpled towel off his hand and offered it to her. She recoiled, and the nurse got her first look at the man's wound.

There was a wooden stick impaled in his hand. "I tried to pull it out," the girl said. "But he told me not to."

"I should think so!" the nurse exclaimed. "How on earth did you get such a wound?"

"An accident," he said. "Might we get on with this? It's rather painful..."

"Yes," the nurse said, with a clearly impressed nod. "I imagine it would be. This is...Nellie, come take a look at this one!"

A withering crone of a woman is a nurse's uniform began to slowly, creakily shuffle over for a look. The man shifted his weight uncomfortably. "Might we please..."

Nellie was barely halfway across the room. In the intervening moments, four other nurses had come and gone, peering at the inflamed, impaled lump of hand with impressed ooh's and aah's while the girl boredly played with a make-up compact and the man made assorted noises of discomfort and embarrassment. At last he blew out a breath and addressed the nurse with arctic chill. "Perhaps something for the pain while you finish your little exhibit?"

That finally snapped her to alertness. "Oh, good heavens, no! No medication for you until you have been assessed and seen by a doctor!"

He nodded, eyes pinched in a wince. "Might we do the assessment, then?"

"Oh, good heavens, no!" She smiled brightly. "No assessment until you've filled out the paperwork." She looked doubtfully at his throbbing hand. "Perhaps your friend should help you. The wooden stick might make it awkward for you to print clearly and legibly."

"Oh, I'm not his friend," the girl clarified. "I just drove him here." She turned to her wounded companion. "Should I maybe call one of your friends? Do you...do you have any friends?"

"None worth calling over something like this, at this hour," he managed through gritted teeth. "Can we please just..."

Nellie had finally made her way over, and, after spending an eternity angling her creaking body into a suitable position for viewing, declared "Well, I never!"

The first nurse joined them at his side, holding a fistful of coloured triage tags. "So, what do you think? Red, yellow or green?"

Nellie poked a claw-like finger into the wound, prompting a hiss of pain from her patient. "Yellow," she finally declared. "He can wait."

The younger nurse nodded, shoved a clipboard and pen in the man's free hand, and snapped shut the partition, marooning the new arrivals in the waiting room.

Cordelia averted her gaze from the ripe, oozing hand with a pained swallow. Vampires were disgusting. Stakes were gross. And combining the two with somebody's hand, that just resulted in putrefying badness that was messy and sticky and smelled vaguely like rotted corpses. That couldn't be good.

"So...should I go get you coffee or something?" she offered with a pert smile.

He looked like he was ready to throttle something. "Can we get on with this, please?" he nodded to the clipboard, which had fallen forgotten to the chair beside him as he fought to maintain his dignity. "They won't even see us until we..."

"Us? You mean I have to STAY here?" she whined. His eyes shot icy daggers, and she relented. "Okay, okay. Like I have something better to do. God, how pathetic does that make ME sound? Well, that's what I get for dating a loser like Xander Harris! Did you know what he actually thinks he's..."

"Cordelia, unless you really do want to see a grown man cry..."

She bit her lip, then picked up the clipboard and started writing. "Okay, name, address, I got that. And...wow, I can barely make this out. Not sure if it's because the print is so tiny or because there's this giant bloodstain covering up the printing..."

"Cordelia!"

"Fine, fine, no need to shout at me. I am the one whose being all sacrificing and helpful and all, driving you here and hanging out with you because you don't have any friends to..."

"Cordelia!!!"

She sighed. "Look, I'll just point to the blanks and you can start reciting numbers at me, okay? Now, health insurance..."

A few minutes later, they had the paper work filled out. Cordelia began to collect them together for delivery to the nurse, while Giles dabbed the ragged bit of towel at his wound with hiss of pain.

"Cordelia?"

"Hmmm?"

"Look..."

She braced herself, grimaced and squinted at the wound. The blood was crusting around the impalement, and was tinged with streaks of purple and yellow.

"Ewwww! What IS that?"

"I believe it's the beginnings of a roaring infection," he said, with a placid calm that impressed her. "Perhaps, if the excruciating pain is not enough to attract some medical attention, that detail will be..."

Cordelia nodded, then hopped resolutely to her feet. "That's it," she said. "I'm taking action, Giles. It's getting to the point where even losers like us have an elsewhere to be. You stay here. I'm getting us some help."

She returned moments later with the younger nurse, who was wearing a scowl and shaking her head even as she allowed herself to be led over by Cordelia.

"I am not the triage nurse," she greeted Giles without preamble.

He flexed his uninjured hand and fisted it to his temple, breathing deeply. "And I am not a lawyer," he replied calmly. "But if I do not receive medical attention involving something narcotic within the next 5 minutes, I shall be contacting one. Do you understand me? Or shall I take my glasses so that you can get a better view of the look in my eyes while I elaborate?"

The nurse bit her lip, swallowed, then skittered away, whimpering "Just wait there!"

He collapsed in the chair with a tired exhale. "You know, I really hate doing that."

Cordelia shrugged and sat down beside him. "Well, we all do things we hate. Dating losers even though we are cool, hanging out in creepy hospitals with teachers when we have an elsewhere to be..."

"And getting impaled with a stake to save a vain, foolish girl from a vampire?"

"Well, that," she sighed. "God, I am such an idiot! I just took my mind off the creepy for one second, and...that'll teach me, won't it? Stupid vampires. Is there any possible way my life could suck more?"

"Well, if it had been you who got stabbed and not me," he suggested.

"Well, that. of course there wouldn't have had to BE any stabbing if I paid more attention while I was shortcutting through the graveyard late at night all by myself!"

"On that, I quite agree. If I might offer a suggestion, Cordelia?"

"Hmmm?"

"Park closer next time, stay out of cemeteries, and don't drop your shoulder when you right hook."

She sighed again. "That's three suggestions."

"Be that as it may."

The nurse hurried out again. "The doctor will see you now. Your...your friend can stay..."

"Oh, I'm not..." Cordelia started. Then she looked at him, shrugged, muttered 'what the heck' and followed after them with a faintly proud smile.