The Babysitter




“No.”

“Then can I have some more ice-cream?”

“No.”

“Can I watch Neighbours now, then? Mummy lets me.”

“God, no.”

“Then what *can* I do? I'm bored.”

“Would you like to learn to play a game called chess?”

“Is it a computer one?”

“NO.”

“Do you have a computer?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I do, however it contains not one single shoot-em up, beat-em up or noisy racing or wrestling or banana-throwing or any other game.”

Large turquoise blue eyes blinked in awe at the breathless pronunciation.

“Then can we go and practice my goal kicks?”

Giles raised an eyebrow. “I don't have any sports equipment.”

“I brought my football.”

“Perhaps later. There's a field in town. I doubt there's enough room out the back to swing a cat much less…what now?”

The turquoise eyes were blurring with moisture. “You shouldn't throw cats, Uncle Rupert.”

“What? I don't…I've never…what are you talking…oh.” Giles rolled his eyes. “It was a figure of speech. You didn't really think…you did… All right, I think you need to get out of the flat before I go stark staring mad. Let's go and visit Aunt Gemma.”


*******

“Rupert…how lovely to see you…it's been years, big brother…I can't believe I'm actually looking at you. And who's this? Don't tell me you've been keeping secrets this huge?”

“Don't be ridiculous,” Giles said gruffly, unable to repress the affection for his only, much younger, sibling. “This is Sophie Marchant. Her mother is out with several other Slayers trying to locate a Kret'h'lath demon nest. Been causing rather a lot of trouble of late.”

“Surprise attack while they're dormant. Sensible plan,” Gemma Giles said approvingly as she showed the pair into her sitting room and removed her reading glasses. “Are you hungry, Sophie? Rupert? Some tea? Elevenses perhaps?”

“Starving,” Sophie chirped enthusiastically. “Uncle Rupert doesn't have real food.”

Giles snorted. “When did children stop eating carrots and apples or even cheese sandwiches? I even offered to make mushy peas…you remember how much we loved those…?”

“Things have changed, Rupert. Even here. I daresay to Sophie, pizza and frozen dinners…and possibly chocolate…are real food. Broccoli, on the other hand, is probably evil and your stilton, positively demonic.”

He chuckled. “I used to think broccoli…and Brussels sprouts…were demonic.”

“What's demonic?”

Both Giles and Gemma looked down at the six year old with eyes that were suddenly very old and very wistful.

“Would t'were we were ever that innocent,” Gemma said softly.

“Indeed,” Giles said softly, the child's mother's refusal to explain Slaying or the things that go bump in the night to her small daughter suddenly seemed far less an act of willful denial and far more the kindness of a parent only too steeped in the terrors beyond childhood and innocence. He made a mental note to apologize to Jolie Marchant for trying to convince her otherwise.

At that point an exceedingly large, long-haired cat sauntered into the room flicking its apricot coloured ears and equally apricot tinted, fluffy tail.

“I see Champers is still with us,” Giles observed as the cat wove in and out of his legs. “What was he when I last saw him…?”

Gemma smiled. “Three. He was at the vet when you were here with…what was her name? Willow? A few years back. Last time you saw him you were home for a flying visit while your Slayer was away for the summer visiting her father. Lord, where does the time go? He'll be eleven next birthday.”

“Uncle Rupert throws cats,” Sophie suddenly announced, voice squeaky with alarm as Giles reached down for Champers, who showed every sign of wanting Giles to pick him up.

“He what?” Gemma exclaimed, trying not to laugh.

The little girl blinked, truly agitated as Giles held the big cat in the crook of one arm and scratched his chin with his other hand.

“I swing them in my backyard, apparently,” Giles muttered irritably then at normal volume replied: “Sophie wanted to play soccer. I told her one couldn't swing a cat in my backyard. She has therefore decided that I am a heinous abuser of all things feline.”

Champers started to purr. Loudly.

“Uncle Rupert doesn't throw cats, darling,” Gemma explained. “It was just a way of explaining something. Would you like to meet Champers?”

The small pig-tailed head nodded.

Giles bent his knee and brought the beast down to Sophie's eye level, an exercise of which Champers wasn't entirely approving.

Unable to resist the long creamy fur, Sophie reached out her small fingers to pat the placid head and inadvertently poked Champers in the left eye, prompting the cat to splay every claw it had been blessed with and flex them angrily.

Giles roared and straightened reflexively as every needle-sharp talon dug into his flesh simultaneously, Champers describing a neat arc through the air and landing on his dignity before standing, blinking, then sitting to begin licking his fur as if to convince everyone nothing had happened and he hadn't really bounced across the polished wooden floor like a hairy mop.

“Sorry about that, Gem,” Giles apologized, shaking his head at the cat.

“Do you need any sticking plasters…disinfectant? I think I have some ointment…”

Giles shook his head, ignoring his punctured arm. “I'll have a look when I get home. The beggar has barbed wire for claws…”

“Sophie, are you all right? No scratches?”

The little girl shook her head sulkily, watching Champers continue with his improvised toilet.

“I TOLD you Uncle Rupert throws cats.”


* * *