A Spot of Bother

“Xander, you look terrible.”

“Well thanks, Buff. And the bursting with health you're doing…that's just to rub it in, right?”

Buffy frowned. “No, really. Xand, you're white as a ghost and there's…is that sweat?” She touched the beads on his forehead. “Eiww.”

Giles looked up from the volume he was pouring over and squinted at the younger man. “Buffy's right. How do you feel?”

“Apart from the headache, the gnawing ache in every muscle in my body and the invisible sauna that's been haunting me for the last two days…? Fine…just peachy,” Xander retorted irritably.

Jenny Calendar stopped typing and walked over to the table to lay a slender palm on his brow.

“Febrile. And this temperature's not something to joke about. You should see a doctor, Xander.”

He reddened and shook his head. “I'll-I'll be fine. Really. Don't worry about me.”

Everyone frowned except Willow, who was watching Xander with an expression that was a cross between profound empathy and pity.

“Really, Xander, you don't know what you might have caught in those caves. You should see a doctor as soon as possible. Would you like someone to go with you…or…or I could call your parents…?” Giles offered kindly.

Xander shot out of his chair like it was red hot. “NO! No, it's okay, you guys. Thanks for the caring…but I'll be fine. Now…um…I have to get to class,” he said in a rush and was gone before anyone could even blink.

Buffy raised her eyebrows. “Xander rushing to class…now we know he really is sick.”

“He really is sick,” Willow said forlornly. “But he won't go to the doctor. His parents don't have health insurance and it's not like… Well, the only time Xander has money of his own is if he gets a part time job…y'know, like his paper route when we were kids, box boy at the supermarket…or once he tried cutting grass…but that didn't really work out…his dad's lawnmower was a death-trap and really stinky…a-and the other stuff…with the hose and the sprinkler system a-and the …well, it really wasn't Xander's fault, honest…”

Jenny frowned. “Well, he can't just walk around like that with a temperature that's gotta be at least a hundred and two, or even three. Much longer and he's not going to be walking anywhere. Rupert?”

Giles turned to the others. “Buffy, Willow, you have classes,” he looked at his watch, “in about ten minutes, and Snyder's been on the warpath all week. You can't afford to miss any more. Miss Calendar and I will see to Xander. I suggest you get moving if you're going to get to get there in time.”

“Take care of him, Giles,” Willow begged over her shoulder as the two of them more-or-less obediently headed off to class, Buffy's pout out in full force until the doors swung open. She turned momentarily. “Like Will said. Being sick sucks beyond the telling of it. I can…um…I have money saved i-if…”

“It's all right, Buffy. We'll take care of it. Go,” he said gently and returned her faint smile before watching her turn and follow Willow to class. Then he turned to his companion. “Do we know what class Xander was haring off to?”

Jenny rolled her eyes. “Right. Xander Harris and calculus? Or the alternative…ancient history?”

Giles pinched the bridge of his nose. “Quite right. Then we have to work out where he's gone…or wait for him to resurface.”

“Or we could try the school cafeteria…”

He lifted his head and rolled his eyes in his own turn. “Now why didn't I think of that?”

The cafeteria was mostly deserted but for a scattering of students with free periods and a rumpled pile of clothes in one corner, which upon closer inspection turned out to be a dozing Xander nursing a can of Sprite and a half-eaten muffin.

He didn't stir until Giles' hand rested on his shoulder.

“Xander?”

“Uh? Wha…? Oh, Giles. My…um…class was cancelled.”

There were dark circles under his eyes and his hair was damp and matted at the temples and around his ears.

“Xander, you need to see a doctor. Who is your family physician?”

The boy looked reluctant for a long moment, then shrugged. “For as long as I can remember my 'family physician' has had a big sign on their office that says 'Emergency Room'. Actually it's more like *my* very, very occasional, nay rare, choice of 'physician'. My dad's choice of succor is 'shut up and stop being such a baby…'” He stopped, self-conscious again, and shrugged stiffly. “Bu-u-t then that's a whole 'nother story…”


*******

“Look, Giles, I can deal. My mom'll bring fruit punch…and possibly even open a can of soup. No problem,” Xander croaked as they drove away from the hospital. “It's not like I have anything exotic or mystical.”

Jenny snorted. “Two and a half hours in Emergency to have some schmuck intern tell us that it 'appears' you've got a virus.”

“Indeed. One would have thought they would have at least tried to ascertain what kind of virus…or bacteria, is causing the illness,” Giles agreed, for once not repressing his own irritation. “Given the number of extremely unpleasant options these days I would have thought it essential.”

Xander shifted uncomfortably. “Uh…unpleasant? Extremely? As in…?”

It was Giles' turn to snort. “Yes, well, what if you have resistant pneumonia, meningitis, or meningococcal disease, or something else equally unfortunate? The efficiency of the American hospital system appears to be even more suspect than England's, and believe-you-me that is saying something.”

Xander went from dazed wide-eyed-ness to a deep furrow in his brow. “Wait, isn't meningo-whassis the one on all the news shows…with the flesh eating and…?”

“Something like that,” Jenny confirmed dryly, “but don't take too much notice of him, Xander. He's still working on his bedside manner. You've probably just got a major case of the flu. Look on the bright side, you should stay in bed for at least the next few days.”

Xander, still pale, rolled his eyes. “Yeah, really bright side, in which half my possible school-ditching falls on a weekend…” He stopped, acutely aware that he wasn't in any mood to elicit more pity, accidentally or otherwise. “Never mind. But I still think you should take me home. Even if my mom forgets to check on me for days at a time which...no big…I'll still have my own bed, my music and the phone if anyone needs me…”

He was still objecting when they reached Giles' flat.

“It's all right, Xander. I'll be awake long after you've gone to sleep, fear not. In order to be available with the least disturbance, should Buffy require my help, I'll take the couch. It's quite comfortable really,” Giles informed him, not the least convincingly, as Miss Calendar helped him across to the stairs.

At the base of the steps, Xander looked up. “I'm sleeping in Giles' bed? God, the therapy bill is going to be out of control.” He swayed a little and turned to the very nice smelling woman taking much of his weight. “I'm guessing you wouldn't be interested in carrying me?”

Giles was there in time to catch him as he passed out and to carry him up the stairs, a blood vessel clearly pulsing at his temple from the effort by the time he reached the landing. Xander was no lightweight.

“Is he all right?” he asked softly once Jenny had fixed the bed, settled him and checked all his vital signs.

“I'm no doctor…but his pulse is strong and his eyes are fine…his breathing's deep and regular and his color's good…well, as good as it gets with a fever…flu… whatever. I'd say he'll be coming around pretty soon.”

Right on cue, Xander murmured 'Buffy' in a blatantly amorous way, and opened his eyes.

“What happened?”

Jenny looked amused. “You fainted.”

“Yes. Try to get some sleep,” Giles muttered, not nearly so amused, and headed back downstairs.”

“Some dream, huh Xander?”

He turned crimson as he watched an amused Jenny Calendar follow the librarian out, before sleep claimed him again, right in the middle of a mutter of 'oh just great'.

“Can I get you some tea?” Giles asked, removing his glasses as Jenny joined him again in the living room.

She moved close and took hold of his lapels. “Not tea,” she said playfully and leaned up to catch his sensuous mouth.

The kiss lasted for a very long time, moving from 'hello' to exploration, to urgent and demanding…and threatened to overflow into more than either them had planned on. They both lifted their heads, breathing hard, and flushed.

“Well…”

Jenny traced the laughter lines radiating out from his left eye. “More like 'whoa' and 'yeah', England. But our timing is lousy.”

“Indeed.” Giles moved uncomfortably, aware just how lousy their timing was…or at least the timing of Xander's virus. “About that tea…?”

“Tea,” she chuckled. “Okay. But I'm coming to help you make it,” she added, watching appreciatively as he shed his coat to reveal only the royal blue striped shirt beneath it. He looked beyond good in blue. She sighed inwardly. After the kiss in the library she wasn't sure how much longer she wanted to wait to be with him.

The tea making took two to three times as long as planned, interleaved as it was with more kisses and Jenny's playful hand down the back of his trousers while he was adding biscuits to a glass platter. It did nothing to cool his rapidly overheating libido to feel her warm fingers cupping his right buttock appreciatively while she nibbled on his ear. Again, he turned and took her in his arms. “You are incorrigible,” he whispered against her lips and kissed her hard, drinking his fill and bursting to show her exactly how much he loved her.

When they parted, Jenny smiled up at him. “I like being incorrigible. You're so cute when you blush…and even cuter when you get that dangerous glint in your eye. It's like you're you, but the guy who had Ethan by the scruff isn't that far away. Kind of exciting, and maybe a little scary if I didn't know you better.”

Giles subsided a little as he carried the tea tray to the living room. “Are you sure you know me, Jenny?” They sat down together on the couch. “What I do…who I am…it's a great deal to ask…and Ethan was right…I may be the person you know now…but I was also the Ripper he knew…and that person's still inside of me. Fortunately Ethan, and my father, are still the only people who can reach that part of me these days.” He closed his eyes as her gentle fingers smoothed over the divot in his brow.

“We all have secrets, Rupert. Some worse than others. I do know you…and I'm not afraid of him, or of you,” she said softly, pulled the tie knot undone, and undid his top two buttons.

He shivered as her warm hand slid inside the shirt and began exploring the soft hair on his chest.

“Jenny…”

“Rupert…”

She closed her eyes as he hijacked their love-making, drinking in the strong mouth, exploring the sensitive spot at the back of her earlobe and trailing down her throat with equal talent. When his lips reached the cleft of her breasts above the round-necked blouse she was wearing, she shuddered. She could feel him…the man Rupert no longer wanted to be…could feel the strength, the sureness he brought to the gentle man she'd fallen in love with. It also made her wonder just how terrible the Eyghon incident must have been to move the man he was to reinvent himself so thoroughly.

The next time they paused, Rupert lifted his mouth from a creamy breast and looked down at her, green eyes flashing with fire, passion and a near-earthshaking love. It took her breath.

“Hey,” she said shakily. “That's not fair.”

“What?” he asked, suddenly concerned.

“I'm supposed to be making you squirm,” she complained.

He chuckled. “Ah. Sorry about that.” He drew himself up, smoothing her hair as she sat up along side him and leaned on his bicep. “I want you so very much, but not here, not like this…and most of all not with Xander Harris upstairs.”

“Tea's getting cold,” she observed whimsically. “We could make more…it was kinda fun last time.”

He couldn't help giggling again. “Yes, it was, wasn't it? I shall freshen up the pot while you check on our patient.” He bent his head and caught her full lips in another red-blooded kiss before getting up and heading for the kitchen.

Jenny blinked, desire of a magnitude she'd never felt before pulsing in her veins.

“Oh…dear lord,” she murmured, realized who she was channeling, smiled and shifted, even more aroused. It took a couple of moments of composure before she was able to get up and go to check on Xander. He was sleeping peacefully.

If not for the unmistakable sexual tension arcing and sparking at intervals, the tea taking might have seemed peaceful and uneventful to anyone else.

“Willow,” Jenny said suddenly.

“Willow?” Giles echoed, an octave higher than normal. “I-I don't understand?”

“She can come over and baby-sit for a couple of hours.”

Giles looked at once hopeful and dismayed. “This is a sick house. We don't know what Xander has and it wouldn't be fair to expose someone else to it.”

“That's the point,” Jenny persisted. “If anything, Willow's probably been more exposed than either of us. She spends way more time with him than we do and it sounds like he's been having symptoms for several days at least.”

“Oh,” he said, sitting back, then slowly smiled. “Well, if you put it that way. Do you still have that beeper-thingy?”

Jenny nodded and grinned like a Cheshire cat.


*******

Jenny unlocked her apartment door with clumsy fingers, something she wasn't used to. It wasn't helping that the warm body of the man she adored was pressed up against her back and his velvet lips were kissing the hollow where her neck met her shoulder.

Once inside she turned into his arms and was lost again for the longest time in the rush of passion and the pleasure that came from being part of a moment made up of just two people, completely consumed by each other.

“Do you think Willow suspects?” she finally asked, leaning her brow against a chest that was soon moving up and down as he chuckled at the question.

“I seriously doubt it. I think she quite believed your white lie about going to the school to research the caves, lest Xander picked up something nasty there. I almost believed it myself. It was, in fact, an excellent idea,” he observed, letting his fingers trail down her back to the hem of her top.

Jenny shivered as he drew it off, once again entranced by the man within the man…this confident, powerful lover who could, in an instant, once again become the flushing, stammering fuddy-duddy she adored.

He drew an audible breath as he looked at her. Her breasts were full and creamy white, held in check by the black bra revealed beneath the brightly coloured peasant blouse, patterned on black, and sliding silkily to the floor from his unheeding fingers…

“Then we'll get up at dawn and go to the library. If there's even the slightest possibility…” she managed as she finished undoing his shirt. He'd even redone the tie before collecting Willow, so it was like opening a birthday present all over again, except this time she didn't stop until she'd pulled the shirt out of his pants, and pushed it off his shoulders.

“God, Rupert…you hide so much under that damn tweed,” she breathed, moving to press her body into the contours of his and to lay her cheek against his hard chest, to feel the soft covering of hair against her even softer skin. She shivered again as his arms encircled her and his hands ran possessively down her back, pausing for just a moment so that his fingers could unhook the brassiere, which with the slightest of movements, slid off her arms and fell to the ground before she greedily reclaimed their shared warmth.

Giles shuddered as he felt the silky breasts against his skin. For so long they'd waited…he'd wanted her so very, very much…enough to ache for her sometimes at night, when he'd relived too vividly, thought too much, about the opportunities they'd missed, the things that life had thrown at them…including his own stupidity. He closed his eyes, memorizing the scent of her: the herbal fragrance of her hair teasing at his nostrils, the hint of a perfume, exotic, but subtle in its wiles, and the sheer intoxication of the scent that was uniquely her.

He was disturbed eventually by deft fingers removing his belt and lowering the zipper on his pants before he'd even regained his wits.

“Jenny…”

“Rupert…?”

Her tone wasn't quite the passionate exclamation his was. He looked down and turned scarlet.

“I…I um haven't had a chance to do the laundry for more than a week.”

Jenny smiled lovingly at him. Whatever else he was, however much power lay behind the gentle eyes and quiet ways, this is how she would always love him most.

“Hey, if you want to go commando…I'm good with that…anytime,” she twinkled. “Gotta say I have to admire a man who can do the skin thing in tweed as long as you have without scratching…something.”

They both laughed and Giles immediately slid a hand down, mostly in memory of the number of times during the day that he *had” itched abominably and hadn't been able to do a damn thing about it.

Her eyes followed the hand. “Now that I could have scratched for you,” she teased, those same eyes dancing with devilment.

“I've no doubt,” he growled, having kicked off the shoes and the pants, and swept her up, carrying her across the room, not to the bedroom, but to the bathroom, where he knew resided a huge Italian bath, courtesy of the previous tenant.

Within minutes they were sitting in the filling tub, Jenny's back against his chest, her tender curves provoking his manhood almost beyond bearing as they both reveled in the freedom…the chance to taste, feel…to finally claim each other.

Jenny picked up a bottle and poured some of its lavender-coloured contents into the roiling water.

“Lavender oil…for relaxation,” Giles said idly, in between nuzzling her silky head and caressing her thighs with wandering fingers.

“Mm…not that relaxation's exactly on the agenda, but it's served me well in recent times,” she purred, turning her head enough to catch the lips that were now playing at her ear.

Giles kissed her back willingly but his heart sank a little, involuntarily, at the memory of why exactly Jenny would have needed the lavender oil.

He straightened and kissed the top of her head again. “I'm sorry,” he said softly. “I truly am…I wish…I wish we could start again.”

Jenny leaned back against him again and trailed her fingers down a hard male thigh. “Going back isn't always the answer. Isn't the sum of who we are together all about what we overcome…and how we overcome it?”

He looked impressed, then smiled just a little. “Very profound of you at this time of day, and in a lavender bath,” he teased, then grew serious above the dark head. “I'm in love with you, Jenny. I have been for some time. And, while I've had many dalliances and some more serious relationships over the years…I have never truly been in love…until now. The only reason I would wish to start again, would be to protect you. Nothing is worth what Eyghon…what I…put you through.”

There was a long, worrying moment of silence. “You're worth it,” she said finally, barely audibly. “You're not the only one with secrets, Rupert. I just hope you'll be able to forgive me mine when it's your turn.”

When he didn't immediately reply, she turned, to be gathered in his arms and held close for a long time, neither of them moving even a little, until the water threatened to overflow.

They turned off a faucet each before moving back into each other's arms again.

“You told Willow to call, didn't you?” Jenny asked unexpectedly as she played with the damp golden hair on his chest.

After a long sigh, he spoke with the sound of a smile in his voice. “Yes, I told her. She is doing hourly checks and is under instruction to call us the moment anything significant changes. Willow has an extensive medical knowledge…”

“Willow has an extensive knowledge, period,” Jenny corrected, smiling to herself.

Giles nodded. “Which is why you should now cease worrying and allow the lavender to do its work.”

“I don't think so,” she purred, drawing herself up so that she wasn't laying against him so much as kneeling over his legs. “Relaxation is actually the last thing I have in mind.”

A thrill of desire and pleasure shuddered through him. It wasn't exactly what he'd planned, but they were together, they were happy and above all they were alone.

They made love for as long as the heat of the water held out, their passion so intense both rose to each other again, and again. When they were finally spent, they both slid right down into the, now tepid, water up to their necks, Jenny laying across Giles' chest, in the circle of his arms as they caught their breaths and came down.

“You never told me.”

Giles frowned. “I…something's wrong?”

Jenny kissed his chin. “Of course not, worrywart. You just never mentioned that you were something of a prodigy in bed. You do realize that men your age aren't actually supposed to be able to do that…? And certainly not twice…” She trailed off and looked at him curiously.

His eyes narrowed as he followed her train of thought. He gave her 'the look.' “I don't need any embellishments,” he growled, then the twinkle was back. “Some talents are God-given.”

She could see the truth in the clear, frank green gaze, and smiled back. “Yeah ,well, you must have really been in *somebody's* good books that day.”

He chuckled, then brushed her lips with his, just because he wanted to. “To be fair, it has been rather a *long* time since I last…”

“No girlfriends here in the States?” she was surprised into asking.

After a beat, he shook his head. “My calling pretty much precludes the normal progression of relationships. For a long time after Eyghon, I wouldn't allow myself…and then nature…and loneliness…asserted themselves and I began to see people again. Not often, and not for long. To be perfectly honest I was becoming convinced that I was no longer capable of a long term commitment…if I ever had been…”

Silence fell again for several very long moments.

“Until…?” Jenny prompted, too curious to let it drop.

“Until I almost lost you,” he confessed, burying his cheek in her hair. “Terribly sobering to suddenly realize you don't want to…*can't* live without someone, just when you think they might never want to talk to you again.”

Jenny's expression grew haunted, but her voice was as normal as she could make it. “Let's move to somewhere warm.”


*******

The morning sun crept slowly across the floor of the loft until it reached, and bathed in a soft glow, the two people curled up together in the big bed, tawny head resting above a dark one, both faces relaxed and content, as though no hint of pain or horror had ever touched their lives.

Inevitably, the light on his eyelids roused Giles, as it always did. He stirred slowly, remembering why everything seemed unfamiliar this morning, why there was something warm and soft pressed against his body. He smiled very slowly, closed his eyes again and kissed the top of the dark head. After so many years of being alone, he was going to enjoy the exquisiteness of the moment just a little longer.

A little while later Jenny opened her eyes, the normally familiar surroundings strangely…not, but making more sense a few milliseconds later when she remembered whose heart was beating so rapidly beneath her ear. She lifted her head slowly and kissed his chin.

“Morning, England,” she said in far more intimate tone than ever before. Then she voiced the next thought that popped into her head. “Willow didn't call.”

Giles smiled to himself. “No, thankfully. And good morning to you too.” He bent his head and caught her full lips. When he lifted his head she chased him and kissed him back before chuckling. “How do you do that?”

“Do what?” he asked, mystified.

“Wake up without morning-breath, like a right and proper Englishman.”

It was his turn to chuckle. “We should probably organize some breakfast and get out to the school to do that research before we go and relieve Willow…”

*******

Willow looked up from her computer at the sound of the key in the front door and smiled as Giles and Jenny, glowing and obviously confident that she had no idea what they'd been up to, came in talking softly and chuckling. It was obvious Jenny was teasing him about something.

“Hey, guys.”

“Ah, Willow. You're up. How's our patient?”

“Still out like a light. Which…not unusual for Xander. He really isn't a morning person.”

“I'll go up and take a look at him,” Jenny said over her shoulder, already on her way.

Willow shrugged. “He's been fine. He hardly woke up last night. I had to bring water once and there was some yelling about clowns and vampires…or maybe clowns who were vampires…I couldn't tell, but mostly he's been quiet as a lamb…a very hot lamb…but, you know, quiet, and pink and okay…she didn't really have to check,” she finished as though not sure whether to be miffed, or not.

Giles smiled kindly. “We trust you, Willow. Xander is in our care currently, and given how rapidly things can change on the Hellmouth…”

She finally smiled back. “Yeah, you're right. Did you find out anything about the caves?”

“A great deal that we didn't want to know about both historical and contemporary uses they've been put to, but there wasn't a jot of information about any kind of disease, organism or parasite associated with the caves specifically or the area in general.”

“Or the demons that were living there…” Willow added helpfully.

“Or those, either,” Giles conceded. “Their only known afflictions are intestinal parasites which are species-specific and a form of cancer which only affects those individuals who spend too much time in the sun.”

Willow frowned. “Well, so far he's had a high fever, headache, muscle aches and pains, stiffness…of the musc-ly kind,” she added hastily, “but I gave him some of your stronger headache pills and I made him drink a glass of water…and he crashed again pretty fast.”

“Certainly does sound a lot like every day flu. I will be happier once the fever breaks, but at this point, ruling out anything mystical is definite plus,” Giles sighed.

“Well, it's certainly not mystical,” Jenny said dryly, coming back downstairs.

Her companions looked up curiously.

“Xander has chickenpox.”

“Chickenpox!” The exclamation was jerked from Giles.

Willow giggled.

Jenny crossed her arms. “I wouldn't giggle unless you've had them too, young lady.”

The giggle became a frown. “I don't…I don't remember. Xander and I had everything together; mumps weren't fun…but not as bad as measles, which, we were only six, so being sick was kinda cramping our fun …mumps gave us a week off school when we were nine, so they weren't so bad…at least I only got them on one side…Xander looked like a chipmunk stuffed with way too many nuts.” She stopped smiling and frowned harder. “Giles, I don't remember chickenpox. How could there be no chickenpox?” She looked crestfallen for several moments, then her green eyes lit up. “Oh…oh…I remember. Xander and I had everything together, *except* chickenpox. That's why I didn't remember right away. I had them in New York. We were staying with my dad's brother's family one summer and my cousin Jake brought them home from pre-school.

Jenny grinned. “Well, that's a relief. So we're only going to have to deal with Xander. The spots are well and truly coming out, so he's going to be impossible with the scratching.”

“Y'know Xander seemed awfully sick for just…chickenpox,” Willow mused aloud.

Giles stirred from a brown study. “What…oh. Adults…those who are no longer infants…often suffer much more when they contract childhood diseases.”

“Well, that's pretty much what he's got,” Jenny agreed, on her way to the kitchen “And he's awake…and hungry.”


*******

Xander sat up with a start, tangling his bedclothes, from a dozing dream wherein he was a fish monster chasing Buffy through Macy's during a sale. No one was taking the least bit of notice until a floor-walker who looked a lot like Angel, stepped out and shot him with a spear gun.

“Uhhh…wha…!” He looked around. “Oh, God. So very, very glad that was just my delirium.”

“You were delirious?”

Willow appeared in the doorway.

Xander reddened. “Well yeah…goes with the fever, y'know.”

“And the spots?” Willow grinned as Giles appeared behind her.

“Spots?”

“Yeah, didn't Miss Calendar tell you?”

“There are spots I don't know about? *Please* tell me they don't look like fish scales...”

“Calm down, Xander. You have chickenpox. Provided there are no complications you'll be fine in no time.”

“Chickenpox?!” Xander exclaimed, scratching his elbow.

Jenny Calendar finally appeared with a tray. Giles had sacrificed a can of gourmet chicken soup and his last Kaiser roll, and the girls had added a glass of milk, cookies and the last of Giles' leftover apple cobbler. The fact that he made his own desserts or 'pudding' as he tended to call it, impressed Willow out of all proportion.

Xander surveyed the tray, and the people around him with wide eyes. “Are we sure I haven't got some demonic plague you're not telling me about?”

“No, it's chickenpox,” Willow assured him.

He looked down at the tray again. “Thanks,” he said very quietly, and started on the food with remarkably little banter, for him.

“If you need anything, yell,” Jenny told him as she and Giles withdrew.

“That goes for me too,” Willow added, watching him for a moment. In all the years she'd known him, Xander had only had either his own dysfunctional family or hers to rely on when he was sick. And being sick in the Rosenberg household wasn't really much fun…way better that at the Harris's insofar as you actually got fed sometimes, and you did actually get to see the doctor…but still…Sheila Rosenberg wasn't exactly a nurturer…more of an 'inquire how you are as she passes by on her way to her next project' type.

He looked up, scratching his neck.

Willow batted his fingers away. “Bad, don't do that. I remember that scratching is bad. If you get the spots infected, it's very bad.”

“Hey, I'm not six anymore,” he complained, with a mouthful of bread roll.

Willow giggled. “Right,” she agreed facetiously. “I promise I'll find out what they put on kids to stop them itching and get some for you.”

Xander looked at her plaintively. “Will, I have chickenpox, in Giles' bed, with Miss Calendar making me food. There's an apocalypse, isn't there? This is why Buffy isn't here, right?”

“No…no apocalypse. Buffy doesn't know…I mean, Giles asked me to come over last night and watch you while he and Miss Calendar went to the library to research the caves in case you might have kinda caught something mystical, a-and nobody thought to tell Buffy. It's Saturday. She was going to the mall with her mom today. There's a sale on…” Willow reddened, remembering exactly what was on sale. “Never mind, you don't want to know. Anyways, I promise I'll call her and tell her how you're doing, and that you've only got chi—”

“NO,” Xander cut her off. “Um, sorry, Will, but no. No way on God's green earth does the world get to find out that Xander Harris has a toddler malady. You cannot tell Buffy.”

“What should I tell her then?”

“I don't know. Tell her I have a curse…a demon curse with festering, pus-filled boils…but I'm fine because Miss Calendar is nursing me back to health,” he proposed, a sudden grin getting wider and wider.

“Xander…”

He scowled. “Promise me you won't tell anyone, especially Buffy, about the…you-know-what. Promise?”

Willow relented. “Okay, but I have to tell Buffy you're going to be okay. I-if she wants to visit you, maybe Giles will let us say you're allergic or something,” she mused.

He scowled again. That didn't sound a whole lot more manly than chickenpox. Then again anything sounded more manly than chickenpox…except maybe diaper rash…

Time to focus again. “Fine. Just remember, you promised,” he told her and began devouring the cobbler.

Willow opened her mouth to correct him, then closed it again and sighed. Then she smiled at him with great affection and left him to his meal.


*******

“Chickenpox?” Giles shook his head. “I could have found antidotes or cures for any number of demon curses or plagues or diseases. A week of Xander Harris itching and eating his way through my budget, however…” he muttered.

“Way too much 'fuddy' and not enough 'duddy',” Jenny pronounced without looking up from the phonebook she was pouring over.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Whining isn't sexy,” she told him sweetly. “And I really do prefer the Rip…”

“Yes, well,” Giles intercepted that dangerous train of thought just in time, 'how is he, Willow?”

She came off the bottom stair and crossed to the living room. “Oh, fine. But the chickenpox part of being fine is a big secret. I think he's kinda disappointed that all that feeling bad wasn't something more exciting…more adult, y'know?”

Jenny raised an eyebrow. “He'd rather have syphilis or suppurating Eiskoth demon sores, maybe?” she asked dryly.

Willow looked sheepish. He's sixteen. Yeah, he would…well maybe not the syphilis…because…bad. Oh…and probably not the sores, because…eieww…with the oozing and the smell and…okay this is not going well, but just don't tell anyone about the chickenpox, okay?”

Giles rolled his eyes and Jenny chuckled, but both nodded. “Why don't I take you home so you can enjoy what's left of your Saturday, Willow? It was very kind of you to come at such short notice. I'm sure you could do with a few hours sleep, yourself,” he added, watching her eyelids droop.

It didn't take a brain surgeon to realize that they wanted to be together, such as they could be, with Xander in the house. There had been little looks, and even a Giles-blush or two ever since they'd returned.

“Sounds like a plan,” she told him cheerfully. “But someone has to tell Buffy Xander's going to be okay. You want me to take care of it?”

Giles' eyes widened. “I completely forgot. No, no, we'll tell her…and no. I promise there will be no mention of chickenpox,” he added when the rosy mouth opened to speak again.

It closed. Trust Giles. Willow collected her things. “Can I come back and see him again tomorrow, and maybe after school?”

“Of course…um…and if we need you to er…sit…with him again?”

She grinned. “Sure. No problem.”


*******

“Chicken pox? As in teeny-tiny scabby spots and copious itching?”

“Those are the ones,” Giles confirmed dryly.

“Well then it's a good thing I had those when I was four, for which I am eternally grateful, since all I can remember about the fun-age that is Buffy and chicken pox, is the barfing, the stinky pink stuff they used to stop the itching and a lot of get well presents, mostly of the 'keep me busy so I won't scratch' variety.”

“In that case, I think Xander would probably appreciate a visit next time you're here. We won't be able to train until Monday, but I'm relying on you to do some work on your own and to keep me informed. And remember…”

“…Be careful,” Buffy quoted, smiling into the phone. “I know. I will. And you know that I'm totally heart-broken about not training on my weekend away from the joy that is Sunnydale High, right?”

Giles smiled back. “Absolutely. Devastated,” he agreed dryly, still smiling when she said bye and rang off.

He cradled the receiver thoughtfully and went to start lunch for himself and Xander. Jenny had gone home to shower and change and to run some necessary errands, including stopping by the drug store to pick up something for Xander's spots.

She returned close to dinner time and sniffed appreciatively. “Is that chili I can smell?”

Giles chuckled. “I wasn't sure if you'd like it, but yes. Xander felt the need for Mexican food, and I took the opportunity to try out my own chili con carne recipe on a willing guinea pig. I-I've been working on it almost since I arrived in California. It's improved immensely, I think, but it will be interesting to have a reaction from a near…um… native, as it were.”

She grinned back, her eyes alive with pleasure at his uncharacteristically boyish enthusiasm. “Not to mention mine. I'm pretty fussy about my chili, myself.”

The meal was a raging success. Giles had found a good balance between the spices and the bite of the chili, and made a few embellishments of his own, browning chopped chorizo with the meat, and adding a can of crushed tomatoes to the mix, along the way.

Xander ate two bowls and consumed four sodas and a half a jug of water before he was sated, a good indicator that he was soon to be on the road to recovery.

The others ate their meal in the living room, acutely aware that neither of them really wanted to be eating at that moment, but enjoying the food nonetheless.

Giles wiped his brow for the third time, surprised by the potency of the chili, though no one else had complained. He had thought he was reasonably judicious about the amount of chili powder, cayenne and chopped jalapeno he'd allowed.

When they were done he immediately suggested they go out for ice cream, as much for the cool of the night as for the promised chill of the ice cream. Xander, still hearty after his meal and complaining about the lack of television in Giles-land, assured them he was quite well enough to amuse himself with a brain-teaser puzzle Giles had dug up in desperation.

The evening was lovely, the slightest of sea breezes rippling through Sunnydale as they left the car and walked down the main street to the twenty-four hour supermarket. They spent a long time agonizing over flavors, Giles complaining about the sheer number of them, when his childhood listed just chocolate, strawberry or vanilla as comfortably familiar, though memories of Cornish ice cream still made his mouth water. Ultimately, they left armed with a pint each of something decadent: double chocolate, filled with cookie dough, chocolate chips and nuts for Xander, a confection of chocolate and mint for Jenny, and for Giles an intriguing combination of liqueur, chocolate fudge, raisins and caramel ice cream. On the way out, Giles paused at the donut counter to buy a box for old time's sake, and also to sate the beast that was Xander in snack mode. He hadn't quite counted on the young man feeling so much better so quickly.

He carried the sacks in one hand and held Jenny's with the other, incredibly content just to be alongside her, aware of everything about her from her scent to the way her hair moved in the breeze…even the sheer energy that radiated from her when she laughed or chuckled.

“When Xander has quite recovered, we should do something,” he said suddenly, getting her full attention. “I'm sure there are some lovely 'bed and breakfasts' up the coast…possibly somewhere you'd like to see…? Monterey, perhaps? I think a weekend is doable. A-and we'd have your beeper thingy if an apocalypse decides to happen just to spite us…”

Jenny stopped and turned, sliding her arms around his neck and kissing him passionately. “Rupert Giles, you old romantic,” she teased. “I can't think of anything I'd like better. And you're right, there are plenty of places…A part of me would give anything to be on the road now, heading up the coast…just the two of us…no baggage, no strings…just us…”

For a long moment Giles mentally indulged in the same fantasy, imagining what it might be like to be ordinary…to simply be able to say 'let's go'…to have a choice. Eventually, he smiled ruefully. “Much as I would also love it, this ice cream probably wouldn't last much past San Luis Obispo…”

She wrinkled her nose. “Spoilsport.” Then she smiled conspiratorially. “Okay, so we go back and eat ice cream instead. I can live with that.”

His responding smile was just as rueful as the first one. “As can I…reluctantly. But we will have our day…”

They reached the car, Giles rubbing his neck, then his temple, as he unlocked the doors.

“I know,” she said, sliding into the passenger seat. “I'm just not sure how we're going to fit our day into everyone else's schedules. You've got Buffy and her group. I've got class schedules and Snyder constantly on my back to get the Sunnydale sports heroes through their curriculum, especially the swim team. If he had his way they wouldn't even have to show up to class to get a passing grade. And they know it. I'm getting quite the collection of comic books and magazines from jocks who should be reading text books, not Marvel and Playboy…”

“If you'd like me to talk to him…Snyder that is, I'd be happy to,” Giles offered, starting the car.

Jenny shook her head. “I can handle the little toad. You don't need him snooping around the library trying to get something on you…because of me.”

“Snyder doesn't frighten me, nor should he, you. Just let me know if you ever need someone to deal with him for you.”

She chuckled. “Easy, there big guy. It'll be fine. Just make sure we get that weekend some time soon. I'm sure Buffy and the others can handle one weekend without you on perpetual standby.”


*******

“Rupert?”

The world came into focus very slowly.

“Rupert? Are you okay?”

“Jenny? Mm-hm…fine…” He grimaced. “Other than a broken back. And…” He stopped trying to sit up. “…Oww…every bone in my body is aching. I don't remember this couch being so damned uncomfortable.”

“Well, you don't look fine. You look like hell. You have a fever and your color's horrible. And good morning to you too.”

“What are you talking about? I'm…” He sat up too fast and grabbed his head. “Good God,” he moaned as the top of his head threatened to blow off. “What time is it?”

“Ten forty-three,” she told him dryly.

“There must be some mistake. I never sleep that late,” he objected, rubbing his temples.

“I think the mistake might be in the assumption that someone your age must have had chickenpox at some point.”

He sat up straight at that, then winced again. “I do *not* have chicken pox!”

Jenny grinned and leaned across to pull his T-shirt over his head and to throw it over the back of the couch, before he could object. “Wanna bet?”

Giles looked down at his stomach. “Oh dear lord…” he sighed miserably.
And repeated the observation as the door opened again and Willow and Buffy spilled into the room chattering about something of no consequence.

Until they reached the living room and found Miss Calendar standing over a half-naked, spotty Giles.

“Oh my God…Giles…Chickenpox…!” Willow spluttered.

“Actually I was using most of my wiggins to deal with the nakedness,” Buffy said dryly. “Who knew there was actually nakedness under all that tweed? I just thought there'd be more tweed…”

Giles gave both of them filthy looks. “This doesn't make sense. The incubation period for most viruses is significantly longer than the period for which I've been exposed to Xander's illness.”

At that, Willow bubbled up. “Oh, I meant to tell you. I know where Xander got his chicken pox from. They're going around the school. Snyder has them too. It's the lunch-lady, Miss Schmid. They think she caught them from her pre-schooler grandson and then kinda did the 'Typhoid Mary' thing without knowing it. She's kinda in the hospital right now with pneumonia, but they think she'll be okay. Chicken pox is way harsh on older adults…”

As Willow trailed off, all eyes fell on Giles, who snorted.

“I'll be fine. I don't know how I could have missed the bloody things when I was a child. I remember enough mates missing school because of them. I'd always assumed I had them as a toddler or something. Typical. Bloody typical. And I can't even sulk in my own bed.”

“Xander's much better now. He can stay at my place for a couple more days, till the spots scab over, at least. I think you need the bed more,” Willow proposed.

Jenny Calendar moved closer to Giles and rested a hand on his shoulder. “Willow's right. Willow, you and Buffy go upstairs and tell Xander he's moving this afternoon. I'll drive you all over in the Citroen once we get our new patient settled.”

Giles looked mutinous. “Jolly nice of you all to plan my illness for me. Who says I'm going to bed, or that I intend to let anyone dice with the clutch on my car? It's very tricky.”

Jenny smiled fondly, ignoring the grumpiness. “Rupert, that clutch has been faulty ever since I've known you. I know just how to baby it, exactly the same as you do. Now, are you two going to go and get Xander ready to go home, or are we going to have two impossible patients to nurse, here?”

Giles stood up. “Don't be ridiculous!” he grumbled as he clutched at his forehead and snatched his t-shirt off the back of the couch.

Nobody said a word about the shorts. They all just watched him walking like a spotty nonagenarian toward the stairs, then start climbing them, resting every couple of steps, but refusing to look back at his audience.

“This should be good,” Buffy said under her breath when he reached the landing.

“You're leaving,” Giles announced in a surly voice.

“I am?” Xander's startled one echoed down to the other room.

Then his eyes widened, taking in the extensive rash of spots the older man was now sporting. “Oh, wow, Giles….welcome to the land of Pox…Uh…let me rephrase that…”

“No rephrasing. Just getting dressed. I'm driving you over to the Rosenberg's. Willow has invited you to finish recuperating at her house.”

“She has?” The flicker of disappointment was quickly covered. “I mean…woo and hoo…it's been fun, big guy. I hope they take care of you as well as they did me.”

“I'll be taking care of myself,” Giles groused. “I'm perfectly capable…”

Xander grinned crookedly. “Yeah, right. That's why your spotty self is standing there, swaying…in nothing but a pair of boxers. Look on the bright side, though…you'll have Miss Calendar to administer the tender loving care…hopefully in large and enthusiastic portions.”

“Xander,” Giles said with a little less strength, his color waning even further.

“Giles, you better sit down.” Xander raised his voice. “Whoever's down there, you better come up here now. I need my clothes, Giles needs the bed made and I'm thinking he needs to get horizontal as soon as possible…”

Within half an hour the bed was remade, Xander showered and clothed, though still scratching far too much, and Giles was tucked up and completely out to it. He'd fallen asleep even before he could complain about the fuss.

“He's going to be okay, right?” Xander asked, just before leaving for Willow's house. There was genuine concern in the dark eyes. “I mean everyone said this thing is way harsher on adults. I mean…Snyder actually taking days off, and Miss Schmid with pneumonia. Just because I had it pretty easy, obviously doesn't mean…”

Jenny put a hand briefly on his shoulder. “He'll be fine, Xander. As far as I know his immune system isn't depressed and he's in pretty good physical condition…and despite what you all think, he's actually in his prime. I'm going to stay with him for as long as he needs me. Willow, you'll have to take my classes for a few days. Go see the vice-principal and explain…in a way that will sound, y'know, good, and tell him I said that you're to take my classes and to follow the lesson plan, as is. I'll call when I can to confirm.”

Willow grinned widely. “Sure…I can do that…no problem,” she gushed breathlessly, then looked up at the loft. “Take care of him. It is kinda serious, even if Giles is pretty fit.”

Buffy looked from one to the other, then up to the loft. “Yeah. Don't let anything happen to him. Losing one Watcher was one too many and I'm not planning on trading this one in any time soon.”

Jenny looked at her sharply. The words were almost casual, but the tone was tense and the blue-grey eyes kept flicking up to the loft the whole time.

“He's going to be okay, Buffy. I won't let anything happen to him. If there are any complications I'll see he gets treatment immediately. I know at least two doctors who'll do house calls…for me.”

Buffy looked at her speculatively. “Technopagans, right?”

Jenny smiled. “Yeah, but also qualified doctors. One is a G.P. and one works at Sunnydale General.”

“Wow, if he works the Emergency Room, he may have treated Giles before…maybe more than once, even…” Xander shrugged when all of the women looked at him. “Well, why not? He's been there more times than any of us put together.”

“Maybe,” Jenny conceded, amused. “But there are a lot of doctors at Sunnydale General. The point is you don't have to worry. He's in good hands.”

She watched them all leave, then followed, more than a little reluctantly, though still amused. It was clear that young Xander really didn't want to leave and she suspected it had a lot to do with being the center of attention, for once, and being properly taken care of. She regretted having to move him, but there was only one bed, and despite her reassurances to the contrary, chicken pox was potentially a very serious disease in adults, though she wouldn't have traded seeing the priceless look on her lover's face when he realized what he had, for anything less than a healthy Rupert.

It was several hours after her return, and a half dozen visits to check on him before settling herself, when Giles finally stirred from the exhaustion induced slumber, only to realize several things. First, he was not immune to 'morning' breath by a long shot, second his head was threatening to explode with the force of several atom bombs, and third, Jenny was asleep alongside him. And…Oh, God, there was a number four. A very inconvenient one. He wondered if there was anything worse than having to go to the bathroom when you felt like you'd tied one on for three days and nothing short of a steam shovel would get you up.

The problem was moot however. For all his efforts at sitting up stealthily so as not to disturb her, Jenny was woken by his effort to swing his legs out of bed, anyway.

She wasn't sure if it was the grunting noise, the hiss of cursing or the sound and lurch of the bedsprings as his weight shifted, but it didn't really matter.

“So exactly where do you think you're going, Buster?”

Giles raised an eyebrow but deferred to the tom-toms in his head and didn't turn. “I have an urgent need to relieve myself, but I didn't want to wake you up,” he snorted. Or at least he thought it was going to be an impressive delivery. That was before his voice trailed off into a limp croak, among the labored breaths he needed to get it all out.

In a moment she'd slid out silently and padded around his side in nothing but one of his longer t-shirts, to stand in front of him.

“Logistical problem,” she pointed out. “You're six...what…two?” He nodded, then winced. “And I'd say about a hundred and eighty pounds. Not exactly the dimensions I'd pick for something someone my size might have to carry, except you don't have a bathroom up here. So we have two choices. Either I find you something to go potty in or we move you downstairs for the duration. Except I'm not sure your body is up to several days on the couch.”

Giles rolled his eyes, getting more frustrated by the moment. He was sure Jenny could help him downstairs, but the effort to get back up to the loft every time he needed to go to the bathroom was going to be very wearing, if not rather unrealistic.

“So here's the plan: we're going down, now, to get you to the bathroom. While you're in there you should wash up and comb your hair. I'll get some clothes and stuff together for you, and then I'm taking you to my apartment. It's all one level, for one thing, and for another it's only half the distance to Sunnydale General if there are any problems later.”

“There won't be any problems,” he croaked. “And I can't leave here. What if Buffy needs me? What if …”

“Rupert,” she growled. “They can take care of themselves. Trust me on this. And I'll call Buffy and tell her that I've moved you. She can come to my place just as easily as yours. It's not like all your books are here. They'd still have to research anything important in the library on their own.”

“I really don't think… That git of a substitute librarian will probably move my books to the back of the stacks again. It'll take me a week to find them all. And, bloody hell, I've left Rourke's Compendium of Demon Toxicology in my desk drawer, not to mention several of Buffy's stakes and an amulet I was working on to help Buffy fight those Cetlar demons in the cave on Miller's point without falling under their thrall. Snyder sprang a surprise visit last week and I had to clear the decks rather hastily. Since then, of course, there have been multiple distractions.”

“Wow, our little Mister 'Leon F. Ripley…no relation to…' is going to have an exciting visit. Where does Snyder find them?”

“Under rocks, I've no doubt,” Giles growled. He still hadn't forgiven the skinny, officious little substitute librarian, with his self-importance and delusions of actual intelligence, for the chaos he'd caused last time Giles needed a substitute, interfering in things he'd no business touching, much less reorganizing or moving. Not to mention locking the library after school hours so that Buffy had been forced to break in at least once, in order to find a book with a spell in it that would banish several large new demons.

Necessary, since it didn't seem to matter if she skewered, shish kabob-bed, or beheaded or even did a hemi-corporectomy or two, they still got up again…sort of…just in more angry bits than before. The Monty-Pythonesque element hadn't been lost on her, but, she had informed him, they smelled bad and looked even more gruesome in bits than their usual 'handsome' selves. He smiled to himself, not least because their normal selves looked exactly like yellow-green bipedal…trout; homicidal trout, it had to be said, but nonetheless…

“Okay, then are we agreed that you're going to my place? I'll get the gang to go to the library and pick up your stuff, including all the books they know you use most and bring them to my place. With Snyder off sick, I doubt he'd have organized substitutes yet, and our dear vice-principal will be too busy basking to remember that she's supposed to actually run the place.”

“Clarissa isn't that bad,” Giles pointed out. “She's just tired of being overlooked. For all intents and purposes, she should have been made Principal after Flutie was eat-um-killed. I hope you're right about getting access to the books before that prat comes back.” His head dropped a little and he made a noise that Jenny recognized as extremely…not good.

She helped him to his feet and shuffled him down the steps as fast as they could go, which is to say not very fast, then across the room to the hallway and the bathroom. By the time they'd reached the archway she knew she'd have to park him and make a run for it. She only just made it back with the bucket in time. He was already in the throes of his first hurl.

At least, she thought, wrinkling her nose as she waited for him to finish, she wouldn't need to clean the floor. She did, however, resolve to take him right back up to bed. He was in no condition to travel, even the relatively short distance to her apartment. Buffy would have to be enlisted to help move him in the morning.

Getting Rupert back to bed turned out not to be quite as difficult as first thought. After throwing up, headache tablets and going to the bathroom, Jenny opted, with his grudging co-operation, to put Giles in the shower to bring down his high temperature enough to hopefully relieve both headache and nausea. The long shower helped considerably, despite the difficulty of getting into the bath to take it. He actually made most of the journey back under his own steam, grumpier than ever, but seemingly a little stronger and less distressed. In a few hours it would be time to get up anyway, so she climbed back in alongside him once he'd settled and curled up to try and get at least a little more rest.


*******

“You really should eat something, Giles.”

Giles looked down his nose at his Slayer, in so far as he was able, half propped up by pillows. His tone was biting. “I will most certainly eat something… if you would be so kind as to hold my bucket, next time.”

It took a few seconds for Buffy's puzzled look to scrunch up. “Eww. Nobody said anything about Xander barfing…”

“Lucky Xander,” Giles hissed, sipping his glass of water and wishing it was something much stronger. Jenny had allowed him Scotch, just once, to cheer him up…but there was something rather tragic about ten year old Laphroaig ending up in the bottom of a plastic bucket, where it could do no one any good.

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Hey, I came to cheer you up. Do we have a problem, here? I care, Giles…hence me, here, on one of my…rare…days off. I gave up…stuff…to be here with my favorite Watcher.”

His expression was unchanged. “And it is appreciated. However, one does not expect to share one's sickbed with several…healthy…visitors.”

“Hey, we're not several…we're us. And we don't take up much room, do we Buffy? We thought you'd like my mom's TV set, especially since it's a combo, and, see, tapes. I kinda…borrowed…a bunch from dad's collection. He tapes stuff off Discovery and National Geographic and stuff all the time but he never has time to sit and watch them.” Willow paused, aware that she was venturing into 'too much information' territory.

Buffy picked up the remote and started a tape, cutting out the soap opera that Giles had been half-watching covertly. A middle-aged Eygptian somebody in an Indiana Jones style hat was emoting over a couple of mummies in a tomb, pooh-pooh-ing someone else's theories about their demise. “Wow, Will. Giles-y stuff. Good call.”

Giles snorted at the screen. “He's a git; all self-importance and not a clue what he's doing.”

“You know him?” Buffy asked, starting another jelly donut out of the box Xander had left behind.

“Knew,” was the extent of his grudging reply. “Are you two going to spend all of your Sunday afternoon cheering me up?”

Willow grinned. “Sure…we knew you'd be bored, 'cause Xander…way bored already, and Miss Calendar marking papers and stuff…and we're happy to be here, right, Buff?”

Buffy smiled at her friend. “What she said. Xander actually sent us. He figured he should share the wealth and dispatched his cheer up squad over here to keep you company. He's communing with Willow's Rubik's cube as we speak. We even brought corn chips…and salsa.”

“You must thank him for me,” Giles deadpanned, his implicit sarcasm flying over the teenagers' heads.

“Will do,” Willow said cheerfully, engrossed in the bellicose pronunciations of the Indiana Jones wannabe on the screen while Buffy tried to find something to clean the confectioner's sugar from her sticky fingers.

Giles sighed in the knowledge that his bed was going to end up full of crumbs and sugar, and probably corn chips, closed his eyes, and slid down into his pillows, wishing Jenny would come back and shoo them away, no matter how well-meaning.

When his improvement of the night before had continued into the next day, she'd seized the opportunity to keep up with her classes and her backlog of marking and assignments. He had expected to have a quiet day dozing and working on his pitcher of water, in the hope that by the time Jenny returned for dinner, he would be able to actually eat and retain some solid food. He'd forgotten how tedious being ill actually was. Like an unending hangover, and just as inconvenient, not to mention itchy. At least with most of the physical injuries he'd had to date, one could generally still get around and accomplish things.

The warm, comfortable position claimed him before he even realized it. He woke to find the room quiet, the television off and, judging by the light, the time rather late in the afternoon. The flat seemed ominously silent and there was no glow of light in the loft from downstairs, either. He frowned and lifted himself up enough to look around for a note or something from either Jenny or the girls. When he found none he answered the urge to go to the bathroom, slowly easing his body out of the big bed and taking his time getting to his feet and putting on his robe.

Downstairs, the living area was shadowed and there were no signs of life. After his visit to the bathroom, Giles decided he was doing well enough to attempt tea and toast, at least. When the smell of the toast didn't turn his stomach he decided he was definitely improving. He was still fretting a little when he made his way to the living room to consume his small meal. He knew Willow and Buffy too well to believe they would have simply up and left him alone, regardless of whether or not he really needed them to be there or not, and Jenny should have been back. That was his biggest concern…that the girls might have left to patrol in the belief that Jenny would be there shortly thereafter to take over.

Halfway through his cup of tea, he put it down on the coffee table and headed for the phone. No one was answering at the Summers house, or Jenny's flat. Even his school library number went unanswered. Xander answered the Rosenberg's phone.

“They're out patrolling, Giles. No big. Buffy said it's been quiet for about the last week and half. They're just doing a couple of the graveyards on the east side that Buff hasn't checked out in a while, and maybe a few derelict warehouses over there…oh …and that old, abandoned Church on Maxwell.”

“Very good,” Giles said patiently. “I don't suppose you know where Miss Calendar is at this point?”

“With you?” Came Xander's inevitable response.

Giles rolled his eyes and gripped the handset a little tighter. “Did Willow say anything about Miss Calendar before they left?”

“They didn't come back here. Willow called from your place. She said Miss Calendar was on her way over and that you were sleeping like a little bitty baby. She said she thought you were over the worst of it, as long as grumpiness didn't count,” he added mischievously.

Giles blew out a long breath. “She hasn't arrived. If you see the girls before I do, ask Buffy to call me, then she's to go and check the route between here and Miss Calendar's apartment on Ninth and Broadhurst.”

“Check and check,” Xander replied, serious all at once. “Buffy wasn't expecting to be late. I'll get them right on it.”

“Thank you,” he said softly and listened to the boy's equally soft farewell, before hanging up.

Several more calls to Jenny's number rang out, as did the Summers' number. He wondered in passing where Joyce was, then resolved to get dressed. He wasn't entirely infirm, after all, just running a temperature and skipping through a repertoire of fairly spectacular headaches and assorted joint pain. He couldn't face a suit, instead digging out an old pair of jeans and a well-worn, blue-gray chambray shirt, as well as a slightly battered pair of sneakers he hadn't used since his last game of squash back in England. By the time he was done, he needed to lie down again for ten minutes to recover from the exertion. He used the time to call a cab and write a note for Buffy and Willow…and Jenny, should she turn up.

The cab ride to Jenny's place was a somber one, Giles discovered his equilibrium really wasn't quite up to the motion of the drive, but was considerate enough to refrain from despoiling the remarkably clean taxi. The driver agreed to wait whilst he went up to knock on her door, also a very taxing exercise, though the fresh air helped clear his head and settle his stomach.

As expected, there was no answer, but thankfully no sign, either, of forced entry or foul play, nor could he sense any residual magick in the air. They pushed onwards, this time to the school, where the substitute librarian had indeed locked the side access to the library. Giles swore the whole time he was sorting through his considerable collection of keys on the heavy, Celtic designed, key-ring Jenny had given him by way of rueful penance, after his introduction to 'Monster Trucks'.

The library was predictably dark and deserted and no residual magicks pervaded the air there, either. He went to his office and called Xander again, only to be told the girls hadn't returned yet. On impulse he called his own home number, his heart leaping into his throat when it was answered on the fourth ring.

“Willow!”

“Giles? What's going on? We just got here and the place is deserted. Are you okay? You didn't have a relapse and get hauled off to the ER or something?” she asked anxiously.

“I'm fine,” he lied. “I left you a note, which I assume you haven't found yet. I'm in the library. Miss Calendar didn't arrive. I've been to her apartment, and now the school. There was no sign of her, or the car, en route to her apartment. Tell Buffy I need her out on the street, searching. Also tell her that she must call in on the hour, every hour. Tell her that's an order and it is not negotiable.”

“She's missing? I don't understand. She was on her way out the door when she called us. Everything seemed fine….” Giles made an unidentifiable but impatient sound. Willow jumped a little but got the hint. “Oh…well, okay, we're going now. We'll call, I promise,” she said quickly. “We'll find her, Giles.”

The cab made its way back to his apartment from the school, Giles hoping to see the Citroen *somewhere* along the way.

Buffy and Willow were gone when he let himself back in, exhausted and frustrated. He made himself fetch a large glass of water and take it to the living room, where he stretched out on the couch, easing his aching body into some semblance of comfort while he drank it. The phone was still on the coffee table, where he'd left it, and there was a note alongside it with reassurances from Willow that they would find Jenny, no matter what.

An hour later they called, Giles sinking back disappointedly into the cushions on the couch as Willow informed him that they'd found the Citroen between Giles' apartment and the school, but on the Eastern route rather than his regular one. Less traffic lights, but significantly longer trip, unless one flouted the speed limits rather a lot. It seemed fine, locked up and undamaged except for a very large puddle running out from underneath it. Pushed, Buffy investigated, by dipping a finger, and discovered that the puddle was water, rather than transmission fluid, gas or oil.

“Radiator,” Giles growled. “Either cracked it or the hose blew.” The epithet that followed, libeling the small car, made Willow jump back in surprise. Giles heard her telling Buffy that she had no idea he was such a potty mouth, before relaying the information about the probable source of the water and then returning to him to confirm that they were coming back.

The question remained: where was Jenny? If the car had broken down and she'd started walking she should have reached a public telephone by now. She should have called *someone*. It was time to check the Emergency Room and to make subtle inquiries of the Sunnydale Police Department.

The words: 'yes, we do have a patient by that name. Are you a relative?' were the sweetest he'd heard in a long time.

“Yes, yes, I'm her brother,” he lied, wanting immediate answers, then remembered his accent. “Half brother,” he qualified. “She's been missing for the last few hours. How is she?”

“She seems to have contracted a virus of some kind. We'll know more, soon. She's asleep right now. Has been since she was brought in muttering something about someone called Vekkrath or Ventukath or something like that.”

Giles hung up. A Vitukahth demon? In California? Unusual enough, but the creatures weren't considered dangerous, though if distressed they were capable of emitting a pheromone that could knock someone out briefly…

He rolled his eyes. Of course. The car had broken down and she'd obviously been confronted by one or more of the creatures for whatever reason and somehow agitated them, which explained why she hadn't called or asked anyone to make a call for her.

It was hell waiting for Buffy and Willow to get back, but he spent the timing filling Xander in and calling another cab to take them to the ER.

Jenny was awake when they finally reached the hospital and struggled through the bureaucracy to arrive at her side.

“Hey guys. Hey Rupert…you look like crap,” she croaked.

“Good to see you too,” he retorted, but his eyes were bright with affection and relief.

“Guess I don't look so hot, either, huh?” she asked sheepishly. “And by the way, your car is officially crappy.”

“I thought you'd had the chicken pox?” Giles asked pointedly.

“I don't have the chicken pox,” she snorted. “A couple of demons wanted me to take them to see you. Since when does every demon in Sunnydale recognize the Watcher's car? I told them I didn't have time for games. That upset them …next thing, here I am.”

“Yes,” Giles said softly. “Here you are. However you did not get the fever and the other symptoms from the Vitukahth. The only affect of their defensive pheromone is to render you harmlessly unconscious until they're well out of harm's way. It's not deliberate. It's an autonomic reflex when they're stressed or endangered.”

“I cannot have chickenpox,” she objected. “That's…that's ridiculous. It's a chil…”

Buffy and Willow snickered, but refrained from pointing out the number of emerging spots on the beautiful face that belied that protest.

Giles decided it was time to create a distraction. “The real question here is why those demons were so distressed and what did they want to see me about?”

Jenny was about to say something when a disturbance in the ER coalesced into a familiar and grating voice. He was walking, but he was wearing a powder blue robe and someone who looked enough like him to have to be a relative, perhaps even his mother, was fussing and dithering, making the patient more obnoxious than he already was.

“Oh look, Irritating Smurf,” Buffy drawled.

“Wow, that's a lotta spots,” Willow remarked. Then her nose wrinkled. “…And ick…some of them are infected. He scratched.”

“Of course he did,” Giles and Jenny said at the same time.

“Summers!”

“Sn…Principal Snyder,” she replied, failing to conceal her amusement. In bare feet he really was as tiny as his shriveled little walnut of a heart.

“What is this?” Snyder demanded, taking in all the faces at the treatment station in front of him.

“Chicken pox convention. Xander would have been here but he decided to pass on the hospital gown.”

Snyder gave the Slayer a filthy look and turned to Giles. “I see you're infected. At least you're not slacking.”

“No. *We're* not slacking,” Jenny drawled, her color improving all the time.

“Ah. Ms Computers…dare I ask if any of my teachers are actually still working?” He turned to Buffy and Willow. “And don't you two have homework?”

“Mine's all done,” Willow squeaked.

“Charming, as always,” Buffy muttered then raised her voice to a normal level. “Chicken pox look good on you.”

“Don't get fresh with me, Summers. Why haven't you got chicken pox?”

“Had 'em when I was four. Did they skip a generation or something?”

“Hey,” Jenny protested.

“Sorry,” Buffy managed, suppressing amusement.

“For your information I had them,” Snyder sneered defiantly then lost a bit of steam. “Or at least that's what my mother thought. Who knew that an allergic reaction could pass for chickenpox. ”

“It can't,” Willow pointed out. “No fever, no crustiness.”

Snyder's nostrils pinched. “I never said my mother was a doctor. She nursed me for seven days until the rash was gone. Like I said…how was I to know?” He turned to Giles. “What's your excuse?”

Giles looked a little nonplussed. “Luck,” he offered finally.

A nurse attempted to guide Snyder to his examination cubicle but he stood his ground. “Whatever all of you are up to, I'm going to find out. I know something's going on.”

Willow tried to look innocent, Buffy smirked, Jenny Calendar firmly suppressed a desire to grin and Giles raised an eyebrow.

“Hey guys.”

They all turned, and Xander wriggled his fingers goofily. “I figured you'd need a ride so I picked up the Citroen. Man that's a nasty car…an elephant would be easier to shift than those gears, not to mention, for a piece of junk it has one insanely expensive radiator hose.”

“Harris. I knew it. Whatever you losers are up to, I am going to find out,” Snyder warned, then sauntered off, pulling his elbow away from the harried nurse as she guided him to his examination.”

Xander watched him go, blinking, then turned to the others. “He scratched, didn't he?”

“That would be what all those nasty oozy sores were on his forehead,” Willow confirmed.

“I hope he has nasty oozy sores in lots of places.”

“Harsh, Buff…but I like it,” Xander grinned.

“How on earth did you get a radiator hose for my car?” Giles demanded. “Do you know how difficult…?”

“That would be a 'yes',” Xander confirmed cockily. “Except I have this Uncle, who has business with cars that we don't speak of in polite company. As a matter of fact we don't speak of Uncle Leo in polite company…we just buy car parts from him.”

“Is that why I don't know who he is?” Willow asked, bemused.

“Uh-huh. Remember how much you liked Uncle Rory? Think of Leo as his older, creepier brother…which he is.”

“Oh…*oh*…” Willow shook her head as though to shake that thought right out of it. “Ick.”

“So hey…are we going home…or is Miss Calendar, here, under house-arrest? Oh…look…more chicken pox. Did they skip a generation or something?”

Jenny flashed him a dark look but everyone else laughed. She finally relented and smiled too. “I'm only here under observation. If you can rustle up a doctor, we can probably talk our way out of here.”

She was right. Since all trace of the effects of the pheromone had worn off, and the spots had come out, she was presenting as a mild case of chicken pox. The ER couldn't clear them all out fast enough, accompanied by warnings to go home and stay away from anyone they might otherwise infect.

“Well, now we know how the sardines feel,” Buffy grumbled when they extricated themselves from the vehicle, Giles stretching his back after sliding stiffly from the passenger's seat, and Willow trying to get feeling back into the arm that had been pressed up against the door for the whole trip.

“Yes, well,” Giles huffed.

“It's all right for you,” Buffy shot back, “calling dibs on the front seat just because you have eight foot long legs.”

“Yeah, England, get over it,” Jenny teased. “And by the way…not riding in the back of that thing…ever again. Got that?”

He met her dancing eyes and twinkled back. “Understood,” he said. He suspected that they were both thinking about the same thing but the other three weren't showing any signs of leaving. Then Jenny's color waned alarmingly and she swayed. Xander gallantly supported her, only to be unceremoniously supplanted in the most elegant way possible by Giles.

“Jenny?”

“It's okay. Kinda not feeling so great. I knew I was getting off way too easy.”

“Well, yeah,” Xander agreed. “You were looking way too comfortable after all the suffering Giles and me have done.”

She looked from one to the other and laughed. “Oh God, you guys both look like hell. It was way too soon for either of you to out of bed for this long.”

“And that makes three of you,” Willow said pointedly. “We should go in. Y'know…chairs…sitting… Not falling down.”

Willow and Buffy made coffee and tea. Well, mostly Willow made beverages and Buffy raided the cupboards. The end result for the three seedy looking characters in the living room was a large tea tray filled not only with teapot, cups and mugs of coffee, but buttered toast, plenty of cookies for Xander to hoover, shortbread for Giles to dunk, and M&Ms which seemed to be emigrating mostly into Buffy's mouth every few minutes.

The repast was fallen upon, Giles almost seeming to commune with his steaming cup of tea.

It wasn't until Willow got up to go to the bathroom that Xander noticed her color had waned and that she was looking distinctly mosquito-bitten on her forehead.

“Ah…Will…um…I think a navel inspection is required here.”

Willow looked confused. Everyone else looked up.

“Willow…you told us you'd had chicken pox,” Giles exclaimed.

“I did…I mean I have. Had chickenpox, that is. I don't understand.”

At that moment there was a knock, more like a pounding, on Giles's door.

Buffy rose warily and went to answer it, turning after a brief conversation.

“Um, Giles…some demon buddies here to parlay with you,” she said dryly, her eyes, body language letting him know silently that there was no danger.

“Well, um…uh…show them in, then.”

Buffy stood aside to allow two demons, not much taller than she, to pass.

“It's them,” Jenny was surprised into yelping.

Giles slid her a tolerant glance. “Yes,” he said then faced the visitors again. “I believe you were looking for me?”

The elder of the two, as far as anyone could guess, stepped forward.

“You are the Watcher. Your Slayer…” He pointed. “That one….saved one of our children, six nights ago, from being eaten by a Xynoth.”

Buffy shrugged. “I was hunting the Xynoth. It took out some bums down at the docks and did a lot of damage to a street kid who tried to help them. When I found it, it was motivating down an alley on Palmer with this teeny-tiny demon under its arm. I didn't know it was a baby until after I separated the Xynoth from its head, and caught the kid.”

“And you didn't mention any of this, why?” Giles asked acerbically.

She shrugged again. “No big. First, I didn't see you for two days after it happened, because I was staying at Willow's. You remember: French makeup test. Study. Trying not to crash and burn again…at least not too painfully. Then all the chickenpox drama. Besides, job done. The Xynoth is dust…Or in this case, evaporating orange slime. And the munchkin was fine…mostly. Except for some wheezy noises…which were entirely not my fault.”

“She's right,” the elder Ventukahth confirmed. “It was not her fault. Behnne was becoming ill. A childhood malady. In our people the condition causes children suffer respiratory problems, congestion and swollen lymph glands. It is highly contagious and your Slayer was in close contact, including several sneezing attacks.”

“Is the baby okay?” Willow asked, alarmed.

The demon smiled and nodded.

Buffy's face scrunched up, remembering. “You really didn't have to remind me. I've had drier showers.”

“But you're not sick,” Xander objected.

“She's the Slayer,” Giles pointed out. “Stronger constitution. I would assume that she's not immune to infection, simply more resistant than the average person. Everyone is different. And there is a pattern here.” He flicked a glance toward Willow. “Those who were infected with chickenpox as children have taken much longer to contract this infection. The two viruses must be almost identical...much like cowpox and smallpox.”

“Anyone else here notice the amount of pox involved in this conversation?” Xander asked, bemused, then shuddered for dramatic effect.

“So…we're all going to end up with this…thing?” Buffy persisted, ignoring him.

The demon nodded. “We were trying to warn your Watcher. You saved Bennhe. We did not want the virus to make you vulnerable while you were fighting…to put you at risk. We have delivered our message. It's time for us to go.”

“Sure. No problem. Thanks,” Buffy said awkwardly.

“Your assistance is very much appreciated,” Giles added and watch them nod again before slipping away.

“So the Lunch Lady was libeled. Behold, Typhoid Buffy,” Xander observed, drawing a dirty look from the object of his flourish. He wasn't squashed for long, smiling lopsidedly at a new thought. “Hey, if we're all highly contagious we should all stay together,” he said happily, and looked for someone to second his motion.

“Of course,” Giles said sarcastically. “Because the flat is so well equipped to sleep five people. Are you sure you don't want to invite Principal Snyder while you're at it?”

Jenny and Willow worked hard to repress giggles.

“Mom's not coming back from her buying expedition for another week, Buffy volunteered. “If we have to sit this thing out there might as well be some comfort. There's mom's room, my room, the sofa, and the rollaway. And a bigger refrigerator than Giles's. And mom shopped before she left. Not to mention there's actual TV…”

“We're quarantine-ing at the Buff's? Cool!” Xander's grin widened. “Dibs on the couch.”

Willow rolled her eyes. “You only want the couch because it comes with TV and nearby kitchen.”

He grinned. “Master of the plan, that's me.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Don't worry Will, you can bunk with me. Much more comfy. That leaves the master and the rollaway. You guys can fight that one out between the two of you...”

The Scoobys watched fondly as Giles and Miss Calendar looked at each other.

“So, England, do we have a plan?” Jenny asked mischievously, fully aware of the wide-eyed looks when, after a beat, he started to smile slowly. Then they both grinned wickedly at each other.

Xander covered his eyes. “Oh, God.”

Buffy looked at him, then it registered. She looked back at the other pair and rolled her eyes. “And I thought they were cute.”

“Oh…but still totally a twosome of cuteness. Looks like you won't need to pull the rollaway down from the attic after all,” Willow said cheerfully, then realized what she was saying and went bright red. “O-or you could get it down anyway…”

The two adults had finally leaned in, and were kissing each other, oblivious of their traumatized audience.

Buffy turned to the other two. “I swear if you *ever* mention this to *anyone*…especially my mom…!”

They both shook their heads fervently, as though it would be hard enough overcoming their own trauma, leave alone actually telling anyone else.

“Cool,” she said, mollified, and headed for the front door. “I'm not squashing into that car again. I'll see you over there.” She shot a last, exasperated look at passionate couple.

“I think I need to go and kill something…”


* * *