three stooges and a farm fresh foul
“So, it’s working?” Andrew asked, trying to slip into the shadows of the abundantly lit hospital hallway. He lowered his voice and whispered discreetly, “No problems with the counterfeit documentation or falsified identity?”
“Paperwork’s all in order. Simple glamour took care of any suspicions. Everything’s coming along brilliantly.” Ethan Rayne offered a smug smile and leaned back against the wall, arms crossed and oozing confidence. “Think I missed my true calling in life, lads. Should ‘a been a doctor. But then there’s that whole Hippocratic Oath nonsense and I do so deplore the sight of blood.”
Jonathan shifted in his spot, trying hard to mask his apprehension around the practiced sorcerer. “You have everything you need, right? ‘Cause I have really good sources and can get more scarlet root and devil’s breath if…”
“Please, I was casting long before you were even a tickle in your mum’s knickers. Everything is well in hand.” Ethan shook his head at the threesome irritating him. “Why so bloody worried? This isn’t brain surgery…” He paused with a contemplative smirk then winked mischievously, “Well, let’s hope we don’t have to take things quite that far.”
Andrew looked warily at every passerby, suspecting everyone. “So we aren’t going to hurt him, right? I mean, the last thing we want is to make a certain ayer-slay supremely o’ed-pay at us.”
“Can’t blame you. Unpleasant girl, and so very rude. Not to worry, I won’t harm a hair on Rupert’s stubborn scalp. Keep with the plan and no one gets hurt... much.”
Warren grumbled under his breath. “This is weak. Still don’t get why we don’t just declare it open season on the Slayer’s Brainiac and call it a day.”
Ethan pushed off the wall and moved forward, getting into the face of his objector. “Because that is not part of the deal. If anything happens to him, I will be… disappointed.” There wasn’t the faintest hint of humor in the sorcerer’s dark, intense eyes. “Trust me when I tell you, friend, you don’t want that.”
The cocky young man dismissed the threat with an unconcerned wave. “I couldn’t care less as long as the Slayer is sidelined.”
“I second the not hurting Mr. Giles proposition,” Jonathan said with a raised hand, as if asking permission to speak in class. “He’s helped me a couple of times. This one time, I had this really harsh book report on the Incas…”
“Pfft… you’re such a library groupie. If you like him so much, why don’t you just marry him, already?” Andrew teased with a juvenile nudge.
“I’m just saying he’s a nice guy.”
The three young men degraded into infantile bickering. This, in turn, quickly led into a pitiful display of wrestling.
“Why do I allow myself to be hired on by such imbeciles?” Ethan sighed as he pried the three apart, stepping between them to regain some control.
“Listen up, you moronic gits. If you want the Slayer distracted, it’ll happen one way and one way only. Send one toothy fellow -- and only one -- to pay his regards to Rupert tonight. Tipping off ‘His Girl Friday’ will send her charging in like the bloody Light Brigade to come to his rescue.”
“What if something holds her up?” Jonathan interrupted.
“Rupert’s coming along splendidly; probably handle the nasty bugger fine enough on his own.”
“What d’ya mean he could handle it?” His protester grumbled again. “I told you we needed him Gumpified…”
“He’s still quite incapable, I assure you. I may be damn good at what I do, but magicks can only go so far without delving within the darker arts and you boys aren’t ready to pay the price that goes along with such risks. This’ll work. An unfortunate attack on hospital grounds should encourage the Slayer to take things into her own hands.” The sorcerer’s face fell serious, bordering on solemn. “The fact of the matter is that little Miss Small-Town-Hero will have her daintily brutal hands full enough juggling Special Needs Rupert to take any notice of you lot and your petty crimes.”
Ethan’s face brightened when the man in question appeared from around the end of the long hall.
“Speaking of the devil…”
Giles made his way leisurely around the bend of the north wing of Sunnydale Hospital. It was his fourth lap and he was feeling confident he could easily complete a fifth but he had become bored with the same old scenery. One could only take so many polite greetings and friendly interruptions before it grew tiresome. He rather liked the nurses’ attentions, especially the petite blonde who reminded him of his recently recurring visitor, Buffy. He wondered if he was going to see her again the coming evening. He hadn’t had a chance to show her the secret way he’d discovered to the morgue.
“Rupert, come meet some associates of mine.” Konton flagged Giles down from the end of the hall.
Giles quickly noticed his friendly doctor and three young strangers accompanying him. Or perhaps he should know them. He carefully examined the young men’s faces. Oddly enough, they all seemed to grow nervous with his approach, especially the shortest, pudgy, dark haired one who was sweating profusely. Giles continued to stroll along, taking advantage of the time to try and remember them. Perhaps the young men were fellow patients or aides to the doctor.
“Hello Konton,” Giles called out cheerily, waving to the welcoming doctor who smiled and waved back.
“My god, that’s him. Wha… what are you doing?” the stout one whispered, twitching in his spot. “That’s really him.”
“I don’t think this is such a good idea,” the blonde squeaked as he pivoted behind the tallest of the trio.
“I don’t mean to interrupt you if you’re busy, Konton. I can speak with you later.” Giles turned to walk away.
The doctor gently gripped Giles’ arm and directed him back. “Don’t be daft, man. These three have been dying to meet you.”
“Actually, that’s what we’re trying to avoid,” the shortest mumbled under his breath.
“You’re sort of a celebrity in local circles, Rupert. Word’s gotten out around town about your miraculous recovery.” Konton crossed his arms, pleased with his patient. “Rupert Giles, meet…”
“Kenobi,” the shortest one intervened and held out his trembling hand. “Richard… William… Kenobi… the Third. Nice to meet you Mr. Giles.”
Giles shook the strange young man’s hand and smiled politely.
Konton rolled his eyes at his awkward associate and gestured to introduce the taller brunette, “And this is…?”
“James T. Picard. Pleasure,” the man said insincerely. He offered his hand, giving Giles a swift, jerk of a shake.
Konton shook his head as he motioned to the last one. “And of course that leaves…”
“Andrew… NO!” The blonde’s eyes went wide as he slapped his hand over his mouth and mumbled inaudibly to himself as the others and Giles waited for him to collect his thoughts. “Not Andrew. I mean… I am… my name is Ahnnndufson… you may refer to me as Anrdoverkusmo… erm…”
“Julie Andrews,” Konton finished, irritated.
“How do you do, Mr. Andrews?” Giles reached out to shake the young man’s hand. Julie shot the doctor a glare as he took Giles’ hand and shook it for a long while.
“Been better, actually. Thanks for asking. I keep having this ringing in my ears and slight dizziness and I’m not sure what it’s from…”
The taller one, James, interrupted his friend with a slap upside the head, shutting him up.
“That’s not a wise thing to do,” Giles suggested and pointed to his bandaged head. “It’s all fun and games until…” he paused, lost in pondering the rest of the phrase.
“Until someone gets hurt?” Kenobi asked helpfully.
“Until you poke an eye out?” Julie suggested.
“Until someone loses,” he finished. “Believe me, I know.”
“Yeah, well… that’s great advice, pops. We’ll take that under advisement. But don’t ya think it’s about time you get back to bed,” Picard urged with a patronizing pat to Giles’ shoulder. “Don’t want to miss out on today’s exciting menu of sugar free Jello shots and creamed corn. Mmmm, yummers.”
Konton’s eyes narrowed at the glib tone of his associate.
“Oh… um, alright. I’ll talk to you later, Doctor,” Giles said uncertainly. Konton followed after him a few steps.
“Up for another checkers match, Rupert?” He offered, coaxing Giles to stop in his tracks and glance back.
“Or you c-could just hand over the candy now to save the time.” Giles smirked confidently.
“Why you right bastard…” Konton chuckled, dipped into his jacket pocket to retrieve a chocolate bar and tossed it to his patient. Giles caught it and grinned with satisfaction at his easy victory. “Just you wait, Rupert.”
“I’ll see you later, Konton,” Giles said as he continued on, considering the curious characters he’d been introduced to. Andrews and Kenobi seemed nice enough, though awfully nervous. The Picard fellow wasn’t very likeable, rude even, and he treated the others poorly. He wondered why they’d put up with it.
After the Watcher disappeared around the corner, Ethan turned fast and pointed a threatening finger toward Warren.
“You best show some respect, boy. That man could beat you senseless if he had the mind to.”
“Lucky for me he doesn’t have much of a mind at all anymore,” the pompous young man answered with a grin. “You probably think that was a cute little stunt, introducing us to the Watcher and all, trying to throw us off guard. You wanna play it all cool and act ‘the man’, wait ‘til after the job’s done.”
“You’ll get what you paid for, pound for pound.”
“Listen up, you Saruman wannabe. We’re paying you an obscene amount of Benjamins to get that Yoda flunky to outpatient status by tonight. What happens beyond that is our business. You set him up and we’ll knock him down, that’s the deal. Got it?”
Ethan crossed his arms and stared the young man down. “Perfectly.”
Warren’s lips curled to a smug smile. “Then go attend to your patient, Doc-tor.”
The sorcerer clenched his jaw, biting back a retort until he finally surrendered and marched off with determined strides.
“So who’s gonna tip off the Slayer?” Jonathan asked.
“No one,” Warren said, staring daggers at the back of the retreating mage.
“But you heard Mr. Rayne, if anything happens to Mr. Giles…”
“Slay-gal will become a complete mental cripple and that’s just what we want, right? Get her out of the picture long enough to make a few more bank withdrawals?”
“I don’t know,” Andrew shook his head, unexpectedly siding with Jonathan. “I don’t like the sound of that plan.”
“You don’t have to like it. Just sit back and enjoy the chaos.” Warren snickered wickedly. “Only this time, Chaos is gonna bite the hand that feeds it.”
Ethan strolled through the empty halls of the hospital; surveying the shadows for any sign of the trouble he knew could come at any moment. He didn’t know why he remained there, exactly. Some part of him didn’t trust the spiked tongue of his arrogant client. Most likely due to the unsettling fact he could see a little of himself in the boy and he wouldn’t trust himself either.
A quick glance to the clock on a nearby wall verified the assumed time; it was midnight. From his vast experience, vampires tended not to pay much attention to time but this delay gave the sorcerer a bad feeling. That coupled with his mistrust of his client made him restless. Sure enough, his concerns were realized when three brutish beasts came strutting around the far end of the hall, their yellow eyes keenly examining the inhabitants of each room with stealthy peeks behind closed doors.
“You bloody bastard,” he grumbled as he fetched his cell phone and quietly made his way towards Rupert’s room.
Tara strolled down the hallway and paused at Buffy’s open bedroom door when she heard the sound of a sniffle come from inside. She found Buffy sitting at the edge of her bed, her back mostly to the door. It was strange that she’d be home so soon from patrolling. Then again, her behavior hadn’t really been the same ever since she was brought back. And Giles’ condition didn’t help matters.
Buffy bowed her head, sniffled again as she dabbed a tissue to her nose and mumbled, “They always leave.”
Tara glanced around to see if someone was there. She’d just left Willow’s room and Dawn was in her room pretending to study. Xander and Anya had made their intimate plans for the evening exceedingly clear, complete with blush-inducing details courtesy of Anya. The only other possibility would be the vampire, Spike. She hoped that wasn’t the case. As human as the demon could seem at times, Tara couldn’t help but feel the darkness he drew out of Buffy. It wasn’t good for her. But to Tara’s surprise, Buffy was alone.
“You won’t leave, though. You are the only constant in my majorly screwed up life.”
Who was she talking to? Tara decided that if she made a noise, something subtle to alert Buffy to her presence, maybe she would feel like talking to her instead of the invisible friend she’d chosen by default. Before Tara had finished the thought, her meddling body put the plan in motion and sent her tripping against the open door. It swayed open with unintentional authority, thudding harshly against the wall. Buffy shot around to face her, hand instinctively snatching up a nearby stake and preparing to strike. Tara recoiled, assuming a defensive pose.
“Oh, Tara, it’s you.” Buffy sighed with relief and discarded the stake back to its place beside the bed.
Tara took a few calming breathes and tried her best to regain her balance.
“I’m… um… s-sorry… I didn’t mean to…” She paused, pivoting away to escape the room and her embarrassment.
“It’s okay. Really. Did you need something?”
“I didn’t mean to s-scare you…”
“You didn’t… not scared, more like mildly startled, is all.”
“I’m sorry, it’s just… I heard you talking and I got curious because Willow and Dawn are in their rooms, Xander and Anya are… well, you know.” She smiled shyly. “I thought maybe you and Spike…”
“Spike?” Buffy chuckled. “So not going there again! Ever since the overemotionally charged encounter in the alley when we were all possessed by the spirit of Andrew Lloyd Webber…”
“Actually, I think he’s still alive,” Tara smiled. “Maybe we were channeling Rogers and Hammerstein?”
“Either way… Spike is way done… over done… undone, even.” Buffy sighed, gaze searching the ceiling for strength. “God, if only life had an eraser…”
“Um, I don’t mean to be nosy or anything but who were you talking to? I mean before... before I...”
“Oh,” Buffy gave a slightly embarrassed smirk. “You’ve never been formerly introduced. Tara, meet Mr. Gordo.” She released a stuffed toy pig from her arm, setting him upright beside her. “He’s a mighty fine listener.”
“Nice to meet you Mr. Gordo,” Tara said, amused. “He’s quite the handsome pig.”
“Yeah, and dependable. The dependablist, actually.”
“So I heard.” Tara took a few steps further inside. “Would you like to… you want to talk about it?”
“I’m fine. Just trying to get my head screwed on tight. I think with all the drama lately it’s gotten a little loose.”
“Sometimes it helps to talk, take inventory of things out loud,” Tara suggested. “I mean, you were doing just fine on your own but if you want to talk to someone…” She paused, shying away as she headed to the door. “S-sorry… I didn’t mean to interrupt you…”
“It’s my fault.” The words were nearly a whisper.
Tara stopped and turned back. “What?”
“He was going to leave me,” Buffy continued in a soft tone thick with shame. “I was so angry. You know, we fought that night. The night he…” she motioned halfheartedly to her forehead, unable to speak the words for fear they would reveal the emotions she needed to lock away for the sake of her sanity. “I practically ran him out of town and then some demon hits a homerun with Giles’ skull and everything changes.”
“But Giles is improving. It’ll be alright. He has Willow and Xander… he has all of us to be there for him… to help him. Most of all, he has you.” Tara smiled, genuinely displaying her admiration for the Slayer. “And though you may not see it now, you’re a good friend to have. After all, you save the world for a living, Buffy, you’re a hero.”
“I don’t feel like one.” She sighed as her hands fidgeted with the frayed tear along the knee of her jeans. “It’s all just a big, ugly blur that I stand from day to day, minute to minute until one day I find I can’t breathe anymore. It’s like I’m drowning.”
“We all feel that way sometimes.”
“And the worst thing, for all my visits, for all my attempts to be strong through this and play the hero, I lay awake at night staring at the ceiling, thinking.” Her eyes lifted to meet Tara’s. “You wanna know what the Chosen One thinks when she’s alone?” She waited for an answer and all Tara could do was shake her head in sympathy. “That Giles still left me. It’s not him. It’s just some sweet, simple-minded guy wearing his face. And though I know how bad that sounds and how entirely selfish and unreasonable it is, it’s not him I’m worried about.” Her eyes filled with tears from the words she was about to admit, “It’s me.”
Before Tara could manage to voice her understanding, the crass ring of the phone broke the emotionally strained silence.
obscene phone call
“I said I got it! Sheesh!” Dawn yelled and rushed to answer the phone. She picked up the receiver, distractedly licking her fingers clean of her freshly microwaved marshmallow. “Y’ello, Summers residence and PMS palace, kiss your masculinity goodbye.”
“Where’s Buffy?” a gruff voice demanded on the line.
“Who is this?” Dawn asked suspiciously.
“Just put the bloody Slayer on.”
Dawn’s eyes went wide with mention of the Slayer. As if by telepathy, Buffy came down the stairs, equipping her belt with a few stakes and a bottle of holy water.
“Who is it, Dawn?” Buffy asked quietly.
“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” she answered and returned her attention to the phone. “Let’s try this one more time, buddy. Who is this?”
“A friend, alright. Just put her on.”
“You don’t sound like a friend. You sound like a weirdo.”
“Put the sodding Slayer on the line. It’s a matter of life and death.”
Dawn shrugged and handed the phone over to Buffy who stared expectantly at her sister for an answer.
“Well?” she asked.
“Dunno. Won’t say. Sound’s kinda like Spike, only not. Says it’s a matter of life and death.”
“So what else is new?” Buffy took the receiver and put it to her ear. “What’s the red light special catastrophe now?”
“Your Watcher is in danger.”
Buffy’s face fell deathly serious. “Who are you?”
“Doesn’t matter now, does it? Point is, three vampires are looking to feast on Rupert and if you don’t get your pretty little arse down to the hospital this instant, he won’t ever be leaving.”
Buffy was out the door before the line disconnected.