A Drive in the Country
A/N: I was working on 'Buffy and the Goa'ulden Spaceship' and wrote this as part of a chapter yet to be published. But, as sometimes happens, it didn't fit. It had the wrong tone, it neither fit nor advanced the plot, etc; so I pulled it out, filed off the references to Stargate SG-1, and made it into a stand-alone short story.
Disclaimer: I'm playing on turf owned by Joss Whedon, but not for profit.
Rating: PG-13 for language.
Space-Time-Continuum Placement: Several years past the end of BtVS, in England.
The One Chapter
"So Giles, we're off to the Cotswolds? Forward ho to the new and improved Watchers and Slayers Retreat? And what is a cotswold, anyway – a pile of old cots?"
"Right Buffy, let's be off," Giles replied while ignoring her question, "I've already packed a few necessities in the new car."
"Oh goody, I'm glad we're taking the new one, I was afraid you wanted to drive that ridiculous antique contraption out in the barn."
"Well, yes, that's what I'm referring to. Newly reclaimed from an obscure Council warehouse, newly restored, and newly delivered."
"Ahhh hell," said Buffy while tucking her hair into a headscarf, "well, this should be interesting. If that piece of crap breaks down, you get to push it while I steer."
"Not to worry, we're equipped with a very important tool, one guaranteed to fix anything."
"Okay, I'll bite."
"A cell phone."
Buffy laughed, "I'll give you that one."
Giles slid the doors open and smiled at the car within. He said reverently, "This is a 1935 Aston Martin Mark II (S), equipped with a 1.5 litre engine. Isn't she beautiful?"
Buffy tried to smile, "Very, uh, car-y. But I dunno if I would call it beautiful, it looks like it's held together with bubblegum and bailing wire." Searching for something polite to say, she added, "The color is, uh, kinda nice, sort of. If it it wasn't for all those little bumps in the paint."
Giles said reverently, "It's BRG, British Racing Green. The perfect color for a motorcar of this vintage. And the reason it appears a little, um, rough around the edges – is because it was mostly hand-made, and its almost seventy-five years old."
"It looks like it was made by guys using hammers and tongs pounding on anvils."
"Well, for a few of the parts, maybe. In the last century the advancements in manufacturing technology have been incredible. But this is still a lovely example of the art of the automobile, when you factor in the time differential." He paused for a moment of reflection, then added, "Come on, get in, it's a capital morning for a drive."
"At least it's not French."
Giles smiled indulgently, "The Citroen is a well-respected car, Buffy."
"Yeah, well, yours wasn't."
"And some Citroen's were built in England."
"That's not anything to be proud of."
"I still miss that old car of mine."
Buffy started to go the right side of the car, only to bump into Giles heading the same way. Buffy still wasn't used to riding on the wrong side of the car. Shaking her head, she went round to the left side. "Geez," said Buffy as she gave up looking for the handle and stepped over the door, "Look at this – no seatbelts or shoulder straps! Aren't those required here in the great nanny-state?"
Giles grumped, "I suppose our cradle to grave non-risk taking government pounces will eventually require me to get them custom made, but for now antique cars are exempt."
"Oh, I can't wait to fly through the windshield if you have to slam on the brakes," Buffy said sarcastically.
"Oh I shouldn't worry, I doubt the brakes are that capable."
Giles laughed, "That's a joke. Although, to be sure, modern brakes really are superior to vintage brakes. But this vehicle has had a full mechanical restoration, so the brakes are up to spec, in fact, better than original."
While starting up, Giles fiddled with some controls that Buffy couldn't fathom, and after he was satisfied with the sound of the engine they took off – Giles shifting smoothly up to highway speed.
Buffy, glancing over the side toward the front, muttered, "Oh, so that's where they put the door handle. Backwards much?"
Once they got going on the open road, Buffy became enchanted, although she would never admit that to Giles. The wind blowing around her, the open sky, the immediacy of the scenery flashing by, the rumble of the engine and the burbling of the exhaust all contributed to her feeling of well-being. Of course, the lack of vampires may also have been a major factor.
Giles glanced at Buffy and said, "Looks like you're enjoying the ride."
"Hmm," she said with a slight smile.
"You see, it's a beautiful day for a lovely drive in the countryside; you've nothing to worry about."
"GILES! How could you say that? You know you just jinxed us!"
"Now Buffy, there's no such thing as jinxing."
After a couple of hours Giles pulled off the motorway and into a small service station. "We need some petrol, and I think I'll check under the bonnet. I don't like the way the oil gauge needle has been jumping about."
"Howza bout some food? Any chance of a decent burger around here?'
"Hmmm, your California taste might not care for what passes for a hamburger in these parts. Fish and chips might be a better bet."
Buffy frowned, "Well, all right, that'll work – as long as you don't expect me to eat Bubble and Squeaky or Toads, whether in holes or not. And maybe we should put the top up, those clouds up ahead look a little dark to me."
"First of all, we call it a hood, not a top. Although in this case, it would be a convertible and therefore often referred to as a roof."
"Yeah, senseless much?"
"And what you call a hood, we call a bonnet."
"Huh. Whatever you call it, let's put it up."
Giles looked at the car doubtfully and sighed, "Well, I'm sure it had a roof at one time, but it certainly doesn't have one now. It seems the roof menders are behind schedule."
"What? No top? What are we gonna do if it rains?"
"I expect we'll get wet."
"Well, that's just great." After a moment passed she brightened up and said, "Then the Council will have to pay for a visit to a stylist for some emergency hair repair since I'm on the clock."
Giles rolled his eyes. "As long as we drive fast enough most of the rain will just go over our heads; caught in the air stream from the windscreen you see. But never fear, I came prepared for bad weather, there's Wellingtons and brollys in the boot." He paused to study the clouds, then mused, "Too bad there wasn't enough room for the oilskins."
Buffy said, "I'm not even gonna ask what that means – I just know I won't like the answer."
"Oh stop worrying Buffy, we might get a little wet, that's all."
"Hummph. Yeah, this is England after all. It doesn't rain all that hard here anyway."
Giles started to say, 'This time of year, sometimes...', but decided to keep that thought to himself.
After Giles fueled the car and fiddled with the engine for a few minutes, adding oil and checking the tyre pressure, they found a small restaurant and had some perfectly delicious fish and chips. Buffy even made a comment about never having tasted the real thing before and it was really good. Finally, back on the road, Buffy frowned deeply at the sky ahead.
An hour later it started to rain. At first it was as Giles predicted, the rain passed overhead. It was a bit dampish, but they didn't get truly wet until a traffic jam caused a slowdown. It took twenty minutes to creep by a couple of lorries that managed to smash into each other and block all but one lane of the motorway. Buffy glared wet daggers at the lorry drivers as they passed the front of the crunch, although that didn't accomplish anything.
Finally they got back up to speed, and after a few more miles left the M-4 for a two lane country road. They passed through several picturesque towns and villages, the road got smaller and rougher. But now the sky got even darker, even though it was only three in the PM. The rain got heavier; coming down in buckets was hardly an adequate description. The rain whooshed onto the bonnet and windscreen and flowed up and over and onto Buffy's head in a nearly solid stream, or so it seemed to her. Water rushed down her head, her scarf having disappeared into the maelstrom ages ago, and flowed down her back, down her face, soaking her front and back from head to toe in cold water. Her underwear was shrinking, her jacket was wet through and through, her shirt was plastered to her skin, her hair was a disaster, her shoes overflowed. And the less said about her soaked leather pants, the better. Buffy was miserable.
When she looked at Giles she was floored to see that he appeared to be enjoying himself. He glanced at her and said with an irrepressible grin, "Wonderful motorcar for this sort of weather, what?"
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Buffy snarled.
"Aren't you having fun?" Giles asked, honestly surprised.
"Buffy, it's just a little water. Although I suppose it's more fun for the driver." He glanced at her for a moment.
"Yeah, maybe. Pull over and let me drive."
"Do you want me to have a heart attack?"
"Well, I guess not," Buffy allowed.
"Thank you for your concern."
Buffy said, "Nothing would make me like this as much as you anyway; I think this is yet another example of testosterone poisoning." A particularly loud lightning strike forty meters away punctuated her unhappiness.
"The turnoff to the grounds should be just ahead."
"WHAT?" Buffy had to shout now to be heard over the wind and thunder.
"THE TURNOFF – IT'S JUST AHEAD!" Giles shouted back.
Buffy scrunched down in her seat in a pointless attempt to find a slightly drier spot. She had just managed to find a position that shielded her face from the worst of the downpour when a new stream of water jetted into her nose and mouth. She looked at the windscreen in disbelief. "GILES!"
She pointed angrily at the bottom of the glass, where water had broken through the seal and was squirting happily into the car.
Giles grinned wider. "WHAT A DAY!"
Buffy growled softly.
A few minutes later Giles braked and turned with a controlled skid onto a side road. They drove through a gap in a stone fence and suddenly found themselves facing a mud pit that extended over the road to the ditches on either side. Giles was going too fast to stop before hitting the mud – he briefly contemplated trying to persuade Buffy to get out and push the car out if he got stuck, but hurriedly put that thought that aside. He had only one option left – he put the pedal to the metal.
The car roared into the mud and standing water. A bow wave flew out like wings on both sides of the front wheels as well as straight over the radiator – covering the windscreen with mud. They slowed rapidly halfway in, Giles downshifted to second and accelerated again. The rear end swerved to the left, he automatically steered to the left to compensate for the skid. Buffy looked at the left front wheel in horror as it sent a stream of thick dark heavy mud right over the windshield and into Buffy's face and down her front and onto her lap. Glops of wet mud stuck in her hair and she feel mud sliding down her collar under her shirt.
Giles fought to get the Aston Martin under control. The inadequate wipers were slowly clearing away the mud from the glass so he could almost see where he wanted to go. He was still losing speed and skidding as he fought nearly free of the mud. He had to double-de-clutch into first and the skinny rear wheels sank in and found just enough purchase below the surface of the muddy water to keep the car moving forward. Now normally the stream of mud off the driving wheels of a car arc out to the rear in a rooster-tail formation, well clear of the cars occupants. But the wind had shifted behind them, and the muddy stream flying off the tyres was light and thin. So the stream, caught by an errant gust, arced straight up and over, drenching both Buffy and Giles with more gallons of watery mud.
With a combination of luck and skill, Giles finally got the car under control and they flew out of the mudhole and over the rise onto a graveled and properly drained drive. Giles slowed his headlong rush across the commons and sedately motored the last mile to the Watcher's Lodge. The rain was a dying down now, and there was no longer any reason to rush, at all. They were both as wet and muddy as they could possibly be without being drowned.
"First dibs on the shower!" yelled Buffy.
"Well, funny thing that..." said Giles.
"What?" Buffy asked anxiously.
"I'm not entirely certain if modern plumbing has been extended to this otherwise idyllic dale."
Buffy glared murderously.
"But I haven't been here in some time, so perhaps it's been modernized - there must be tubs or pools or something."
They pulled up in front of a moderately sized Cotswold-stone building and parked. Giles said, "I could have sworn the main lodge was equipped with a canvas awning the last time I was here," as the now lighter rain cascaded gently, rivulets of brownish water bubbling merrily away from the car. He looked around. "Oh, there it is," he said, pointing to a dark pile of fabric and aluminum tangled up in a grove of trees.
He looked at Buffy, noticing that she seemed quite angry. "At least the rain is starting to wash away some of the mud now," he observed optimistically.
Buffy was about to burst forth with serious swearing and cursing, but instead she started to laugh. Giles laughed with her.
An older gentleman, wearing what Buffy thought of as a butler's uniform, came out with an umbrella. He opened Buffy's door, and holding his umbrella over her head, said, "Welcome to the Retreat, Miss Summers and Mr. Giles. I trust you had nice drive."