Notes: Written for The Back to Highschool Ficathon by request
Rating Below R
Requests: Willow is a bit sick/hurt/depressed at any rate Giles insists on taking care of her in his apartment. Willow gets giles to read her a Winnie-the-Pooh story (pref one with Eeyore) complete with character voices.
Restrictions: For once I don't want smutty--there can be sexy overtones given Willow's crush but mostly just sweetness/tenderness/bonding (very father/daughter stuff)
Tissues and Thistles on a Tuesday
Willow sniffled and then sneezed with equanimity into the soggy tissue she was holding. She wrinkled her nose in distaste, wanting to set it down, but didn't quite dare place the sodden mass on the messy yet somehow organized chaos of Giles' desk. She still felt kind of like a stranger here, a little bit awkward and kind of out of place, and despite the reassuring familiarity of researching supernatural events, she could still feel a tickle in her belly that made her think of nauseous butterflies. Or that could be all the Dayquil she'd taken.
This summer wasn't like any other she'd ever lived through. This summer it wasn't her and Xander spending all their long, empty days quoting movies and haunting the theaters downtown, or spending long afternoons pretending to fish down by the docks or at the local amusement park. This summer Xander seemed to be finding his own things to do sometimes, and she had a boyfriend—a guitarist boyfriend!—and she was getting used to holding hands and kissing and loving and being loved and learning the art of reaching second base, and it was a new and wonderful world.
And then she would remember Buffy, and suddenly, the unhappiness that had clouded so much of the school year would descend again, and she was torn between missing her friend desperately, worrying about where she was and what was happening to her, and being incredibly angry at her for spoiling such a great summer. And then Willow would feel guilty about forgetting to worry about Buffy sometimes, and feel like a bad friend because of it and feel even more guilty for getting annoyed, but then she'd remind herself that it was Buffy's decision to leave and didn't she have a right to feel good when she could, and surely Buffy wouldn't begrudge her this, would she? But what if Buffy was sad, or hurt, or even…
She sneezed again, barely catching herself with a fresh tissue from the box next to her laptop.
"Willow, I appreciate you coming over to research vampire activity when you're so clearly ill, but shouldn't you… be at home?" Giles asked as he emerged from the kitchen, looking vaguely disturbed. He hesitated in the doorway a moment, looking lost and somehow all the more cute for it, and fussed at the edges of his tweed suit as if he wanted to reach out but didn't quite dare for fear of killer-pygmy-flu-germs. That made her smile despite the sodden pressure behind her eyes. And that was good, because she wanted to focus on that and not think about the fact that what they were researching was not so much "vampire activity" as possible Slayer sightings.
"You worried you might get my cooties?" she asked, her voice coming out even more nasal and squeaky than usual. Darned cold. She hated the way her voice usually rushed through her nostrils like she was some kind of babbling dolphin that didn't take time to speak with proper measure and breath—but she hated it even more when she did it around Giles. He was so… proper. With his cultured words and handsome mouth and rugged jawline and she'd never been in his apartment alone with him before and… wow, was she wandering, or what?
Wool-gathering, her mother spoke up, scolding inside her head.
Nah, piped up a slightly loopy internal voice, just tweed-gathering.
She thought maybe the cold medicine she'd taken was affecting her brain more than a little.
"Cooties?" he asked, his brows rising slightly above his glasses, and she wondered how anyone could be so befuddled and poised at the same time. She figured it had to be a British thing.
"You know. Germs?" She looked up at him from beneath gently teasing brows.
"Oh, why yes. Yes of course," he nodded. "I mean, ah, er, no. I'm not worried." He paused a moment and then looked at her with continued concern. "But you should be at home."
She gave him a lop-sided grin and then shied away, looking back to the laptop screen. "Oh, no, I'm fine, really. Besides, Mom's out of town at some psychology convention anyway, and I figured I could be sneezy and miserable alone with my laptop or come here and be sneezy and miserable with company with my laptop."
"I see," he said, and his tone made her glance at him in time to see his mouth curling in a faint, sardonic smile.
"Oh. Oh! Not that you're boring or anything Giles, just," she scrambled for words to cover her slip of the tongue. "Summer colds, you know, they're the worst." She pulled the soggy tissue back up to her nose and faked a sneeze to demonstrate.
As if in response to her words, a real sneeze seized her with such sudden force that her forehead bounced of the laptop monitor before she even had a chance to register what had happened.
There was a moment of disorientation, and then blooming pain that added insult to injury against her swollen sinuses, and then she forgot to breathe for a second as Giles' hands came up around her shoulders.
"Willow? Are you all right?"
She managed a slow nod with muscles that felt like molasses, and noted that she felt slightly woozy. Maybe she'd taken a bit too much cold medicine.
"That's it," Giles said, gathering up her books and her jacket. "I'll see you home, myself. You're far too unwell to be messing about on that, that… thing," he said with a distasteful wave in the general direction of the computer.
"There's no one home," she said, and the words seemed far away somehow. Was she getting delirious? Her face felt awfully hot.
"Then let's get you to the couch," he said, helping her rise with a gentle hand beneath one arm, the other on the middle of her back. She could feel the movement of her shirt beneath his fingers as it pressed against her skin, the sensation standing out beyond the discomfort of her body, and her cheeks flushed with a bright pink she hoped would pass for looking feverish should he happen to notice. She shouldn't be feeling like this, alone with Giles in his apartment, her boyfriend out practicing with his band, and whoa, couch!
She didn't sit so much as collapse, and on instinct, as if her body had only been waiting for its chance, she pulled one of the pillows he had scattered about the couch under her head, curling up against one arm.
"Yeah, that feels better," she agreed with a slow nod.
"I'll put on some tea for us," Giles said moving toward the kitchen.
"Don't want any tea," she protested sleepily. "Already hot."
"Nonsense. This isn't just any tea; Earl Grey with a touch of honey and a splash of bourbon. My father used to swear by it for curing fevers."
"Bourbon?" she asked, her voice rising to its familiar squeaky pitch. Now not only was she alone in Giles' apartment with him feeling feelings for him she shouldn't be feeling in light of her boyfriend blissfully playing guitar somewhere not too far away, she was also lying on his couch and getting drunk in addition to being delirious.
Giles hesitated a moment as he remembered that she was, after all, a minor. "Right. Just the honey then."
She nodded and relaxed into the couch, nearly dozing to the comforting sounds of movement in the kitchen. When he returned, he was holding something that looked rather odd in his hands, and her first thought was maybe she was more delirious than she'd thought.
"Is this yours?" Giles asked, holding up a little book that looked too small for his hands.
"Oh, that," she said and tried to laugh, but it came out more like a nervous titter. "No, that's…" she fumbled for an explanation, and unable to find one, grew angry at herself and at Giles for making her feel so embarrassed. "I mean, well, yes. It's mine. And just because a teenage girl finds comfort in reading children's books when she's not feeling well is no reason to think she's immature." She paused, not quite sure she'd hit the right note. "Besides, you read the Demon's Almanac for fun," she added pointedly, as if nothing more need be said.
Giles smiled slightly, a smile she couldn't quite interpret, and flipped open the pages of the book. He seemed wistful, and somehow fond, and she'd never seen him quite like this.
"I used to love Winnie-the-Pooh when I was a boy."
"They wrote Winnie-the-Pooh when you were a boy?" she asked, blinking.
Giles gave a sardonic frown. "Yes, well, it was shortly after people stopped hunting dinosaurs, but I assure you, I was of an age to enjoy the stories. My father wasn't very fond of fictitious stories or cartoon characters, but he loved to read aloud, and sometimes I could convince him to read something besides Watcher Diaries."
"Oh," she said, suddenly feeling quite silly. Another brilliant moment of letting her tongue get ahead of her brain. She really needed to work on that. But wait… there was an opportunity here.
"Did he do all the voices and stuff when he'd read to you?"
Giles almost laughed. "Heavens no. He read them in the same surly tone he read the evolution of the Gronk demon and the Holy Bible. He took everything very seriously."
"But didn't you wish he would have?" she prodded.
"It would have been very strange, but yes, I suppose I wished he would have."
"So, you wouldn't mind reading to me, then?" Willow asked before she could think too much and stop herself. Giles blanched in surprise, and she hurried on. "I mean, uh, no one's ever read to me. Well, not since I was three and mom decided I was old enough to read her psychology journals on my own," she added with a disgusted twist of her mouth.
Giles shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Willow, I don't think—"
"I'll read to you, too, after, if you want. And it would make me feel a lot better," she added, allowing her eyes to plead with him just a moment before she had to look away.
"Well… I, ah. I don't see what harm it could do," he allowed after brief consideration.
He settled back into the arm chair with a discomforted expression, and skimmed the pages for a few moments. Slowly, his concern and self-consciousness began to fade as he was caught up in the story, and he gave a small smile of contentment as he turned back to the beginning and began to read aloud.
"Eeyore, the old grey Donkey, stood by the side of the stream, and looked at himself in the water. 'Pathetic,' he said. 'That's what it is. Pathetic.'"
"Voices," Willow prompted in a whisper, trying not to smile.
Giles cleared his throat, hesitated a moment, and then his voice came out rather nasally, like her own, broken in a pitch that was neither quite up nor down but both, and back and forth, quivering on the edge of despair, yet still somehow reasonable.
"'Pathetic,' he said. 'That's what it is. Pathetic.'"
She smiled with delight and held back the giggle that wanted to bubble out at hearing Giles—reasonable, stuffy Giles—read in Eeyore's sad cartoony voice.
He read on a bit more, and Willow was fascinated and entertained by the story as she'd never found herself before, able to see Eeyore so clearly in her mind as he splashed back and forth through the stream.
"There was a crackling noise in the bracken behind him, and out came Pooh," Giles read, and Willow tensed with anticipation.
"'Good morning, Eeyore'," Giles read in a refined but rumbly voice that was in all ways the essence of Winnie-the-Pooh, so very polite, yet trembling on the verge of uncertainty and shining with good will.
And this time she couldn't contain her glee as she giggled and clapped her hands together. "Giles! You're a natural at this!"
He raised his eyes to her, as uncertain and polite as his Pooh voice, saw her face, and smiled.
He looked back down at the book and continued with renewed vigor, his voice for Eeyore growing louder, more strong and certain with its drama.
"'Good morning, Pooh Bear,' said Eeyore gloomily. 'If it is a good morning,' he said. 'Which I doubt,' said he."
"'Why, what's the matter?'"
"'Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it.'"
"'Can't all what?' asked Pooh, rubbing his nose." Giles rubbed his nose, affecting a curious, slightly befuddled look.
And then his features drooped as he dropped into the sad voice of Eeyore. "'Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.'"
Giles read on and Willow listened, smiling, her illness forgotten as she lost herself in the simple whimsy of the story. She snuggled deeper into the couch, pulling a yellow and brown afghan over her body, and leaned, contented and warm into the pillow beneath her cheek.
And she didn't think about Buffy, or Oz, or any of the odd feelings she'd been having for Giles.
We can't all, and some of us don't. But she could, sometimes.