TITLE: Hugh Grant Explains It All For You (Part One)
LENGTH: This part, approximately 4000 words.
RATING: Adult audiences, for language.
FEEDBACK: V. gratefully received.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Joss Whedon and the oeuvre of Richard Curtis, from which it begins and with which it will end, forevermore.
SUMMARY: Season Six, going AU after "Flooded"; rom-com with an edge. In a world falling apart, Anya and Giles test the axiom 'better living through pop culture,' most particularly the masterworks of Mr Hugh Grant.
HUGH GRANT EXPLAINS IT ALL FOR YOU
Anya doesn’t always know what to do with herself on Sunday afternoons. Despite the busy trade which larger shops enjoy on the second day of the weekend, the Magic Box stays closed– she could add new afternoon hours, she’s the manager now and in charge of all operating decisions, but she appreciates the idea of a day off. In theory. If only there was something to do, she thinks.
Xander is changing clothes in the bedroom before he goes out to have a coffee-and-best-friends thing with Willow at the Espresso Pump. She can hear the drawers slamming and the hangers rattling like temper-storms; they’ve been fighting for the past couple of days, both of them making nasty little comments that catch on skin like demon-claws, ever since he refused yet again to tell everyone they’re engaged. But Buffy’s back from the grave, and Giles is back from England, at least for a while....
Anyway, she’s put her ring away in one of the drawers Xander’s slamming. She doesn’t feel like carrying it any more -- it seems like a lie. For some reason she doesn’t feel like keeping it at her little apartment either.
She could stay here and clean, of course. She looks around the light-filled apartment Xander works hard to maintain, with her financial assistance since she almost lives here. It’s weird how bits of herself are scattered, no, buried, amid his stuff – pink nail polish next to his Playstation, a brightly coloured shoe next to one of his work T-shirts. Her things seem alien all of a sudden, as if they’ve been left by a future Mrs Xander Lavelle Harris who has no relationship to herself, a costume she’s taken off like any number of vengeance guises.
Not that she’s taken this one off yet, she tells herself. Not yet.
The TV Guide lies open in front of her, and she picks it up to see if there’s anything on. Sunday is usually sports, sports, and more sports, which she finds uninteresting unless there’s body contact, but occasionally there’s something...oh, the movie channel’s running one of her favourites again. It starts in just a few minutes, too.
She collects a diet drink from the ones she keeps in the refrigerator, then curls up on the couch with her tote bag and clicks on the TV. Once she finds the channel, she settles in and pulls the box of brand-new Magic Box sales slips out of her bag. The feel of specially printed goods with her name on them is always a mood-lifter, much like Hugh Grant.
She’s flipping through the box when Xander emerges, ready to go. He stops by the front door, however, throwing his keys up in the air for a minute in an annoying way before he says, "Four Weddings and a Funeral again? Isn’t this like the millionth time you’ve seen it?"
"Yes. But I find the repetition of jokes soothing -- I finally get the David Cassidy one. Anyway, you know I enjoy Hugh Grant. There’s something very appealing about a handsome, stammering Englishman. It’s a truth acknowledged through all ages and dimensions, except the Francophone ones, and they’re lying." She pulls out a sales slip and admires the new Magic Box logo with the sharp-edged notation underneath: Owners, Rupert Giles and Anya Jenkins.
"Something appealing about a ‘stammering Englishman.’ Is that right," Xander says, with another jangle of keys.
She looks up at that. "Why do you suddenly sound like your dad when the last beer’s gone? It’s disturbing."
He backs into the door, makes it swing. "I’m sorry. Sorry, Anya. Uh...are you going to stay til I get back?"
After all the fights, summer and fall and weekend, she’s finally hearing what he’s not saying. He wants his space back. "Not a problem. I can go." She carefully places her papers back in the box so they don’t get wrinkled.
"No, Xander, it’s fine. I’ll leave the apartment to you today, and I’ll stay at my place tonight to make it easier on you. On us." After making sure she has everything she needs, she bolts off the couch and goes to the door.
He hasn’t moved, his hand locked on the doorknob now, his arm keeping her from going anywhere. "Anya...it’s just a thing for today, not forever," he says quietly. "I don’t mean to hurt you."
"I don’t think you mean to. But you keep doing it anyway."
When she kisses him good-bye, trying to recapture what it’s like to kiss the man she loves, the familiar taste seems to have disappeared, no, turned sour and weird.
This would depress her, but right now she doesn’t choose to think about things slipping away. She doesn’t think there’s time enough in this world to cry about being left alone again. So, holding her bag tightly, she runs down the stairs and out into the California sunshine. It’s only a few blocks to her place, a little studio on the outskirts of Sunnydale’s ‘downtown.’ If she runs all the way, she’ll get there before Hugh Grant starts the humourous litany of curses at the beginning of the movie. She loves that part.
Giles struggles to get his bags through the open door of his new hotel room, then drops them on the floor a few steps in so he can push the door shut with his foot. Then he breathes.
It’s been a... difficult couple of days. He’d just got his head around the idea that he was home again, just begun to find his way through his new job and his old flat, just begun to find pieces of himself he’d left behind, when Willow called him about Buffy. He couldn’t fly across the ocean fast enough – he’d even thought guiltily of calling Maud Harkness’ coven for teleportation – but now that he’s here, held her and reassured himself this is real, talked to everyone, he doesn’t know what to do with himself.
Well, when he says ‘talked to everyone,’ he means that words have been said. However, nothing has been communicated. He doesn’t know why Buffy keeps running from him. He doesn’t know why Willow bloody doesn’t.
He pushes his bags to the side, then picks up his briefcase. His organizer – picked out so surprisingly by Anya last Christmas, he thinks, as he always does when he holds the soft leather – has his important phone numbers and his phone card.
When he jumps backward onto the bed, a boyish habit he’s glad no one knows about, he bounces just a little, and smiles for the first time that day. He uses the remote and turns on the TV at random, mutes it, and then makes a call he’s been dreading.
Robson answers on the first ring. "Yes, what?"
"‘s me, Robson. Giles. Sorry to be late in ringing... Er, just calling to check in regarding the project–"
"The one you’ve abandoned? It’s going as well as can be expected without the lead cataloguer. There are at least seven knives from two different centuries and three different dimensions I have no sodding idea how to classify."
Giles thinks about all the projects he’s abandoned in his life. He doesn’t want to think about them. Instead, he makes soothing noises, elicits basic information about what progress the team has made, parries the request for a fixed return. He has no idea where he’s supposed to be and when anything will happen, no, really, he can’t answer now.
On the television Hugh Grant is waking up late for the first wedding. As Giles listens to Robson, he mouths the words along with the floppy-haired film-star git.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. It’s all that can be said, really.
The Magic Box on a Monday morning is a pleasant place to be, Anya always thinks. The week stretches ahead of her, full of the joys of commerce and serving people and getting money in return.
She’s humming as she straightens the already tidy pile of new sales slips she’s arranged by the cash register. The words Owners, Rupert Giles and Anya Jenkins seem to smile up at her – this is a metaphor, however, not a reality like in that one dimension where paper goods cannot be trusted -- and she smiles down at them in return.
The back door opens, then she hears a familiar footstep. Giles hasn’t been gone that long, but she’s missed his stealthy British entrances in the morning. He’s humming too, just like he always does – which, now that she thinks of it, isn’t that stealthy after all.
He comes around the corner, smiling. "Good morning, Anya," he says, still fiddling with the knot of his tie. She knows that he doesn’t actually put on his tie until the last possible moment before coming into the shop; for someone who everyone thinks is a tweedy suit guy, he really isn’t fond of those kind of clothes. He just thinks suit and tie are appropriate business wear.
And as she thinks of propriety, and then proprietorship, she says, "Good morning, Giles! You look handsome, and alert, and I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that you–"
"–Signed papers," he finishes with her. Then, alone: "I know, I know, you’re the manager. Don’t worry."
She pulls a face. "Sorry. I’m nagging, and I hate that voice, and I hate that activity. So, Giles, welcome back to your shop!" Then she flutters one of the new sales slips at him in greeting.
Smiling more broadly, he comes over to the counter and examines the paper. "Very nice. Er, you chose a lovely font, well done. And really, I’m shocked and pleased my name still comes first."
"You started the Magic Box. It’s only right." She replaces the slip, centring it neatly. "So, um...."
"Actually, I was wondering if I’d got any faxes yet this morning." He leans on the glass counter, elbows planted on the duplicate No Cheques/Checks Accepted and the Shoplifters Will Be Cursed stickers, and she can smell that nice bay rum cologne he always wears. It hasn’t seemed like the Magic Box without him.... "I’m expecting something from Jack Robson, likely with a Council heading."
She doesn’t even have to look. "Nothing yet."
He frowns over her shoulder in what she believes to be the general direction of England. "Well, he said... Yes. All right, never mind."
"It’ll be something about Slaying? About Buffy’s resurrection?"
"Er, no." He clasps his hands together and stares down at them. She can barely hear him say, "I didn’t exactly tell them she died. So the second part, well, doesn’t really apply."
She lays her hands over his, takes a second to appreciate masculine warmth, then says, "Why the hell didn’t you tell them?"
His glare is awe-inspiring this close, as are the fists he clenches in her hold. "Anya, I don’t really think it’s any – Right, fine. Because God knows who they’d have sent to replace her, what they’d do to the Hellmouth. Because I don’t trust them, all right?"
She thinks about what she’s observed of the Council in the past couple of years, what she knew about them before that. She also considers the suppressed violence in his voice, stronger now, part of the edge which he developed after Buffy jumped and which apparently hasn’t been filed off by her return. "All right by me," she says, and to soothe him she pets his hands before moving away.
Who knew Giles would be so warm, she thinks as she heads for the Dried Potion Herb of the Day jars.
"Right. Sorry. Er, anyway," he says as if they were having a normal conversation, with just a little lingering huskiness. "That fax is about, um, a project I’m working on. But, since it’s not here... I think I’ll go fetch the morning drinks. What’s your pleasure this morning?"
"Usual Monday morning drink," she says, and when she turns around, she’s smiling. "Do you remember?"
"I think I might well remember an orange juice cut with Perrier, Anya, yes. Because it’s bloody insane. But I know, I know, you like the bubbles." He inclines his head, smile pulling at his very nice mouth. "Back in a moment."
A customer comes in at that moment, so she walks with Giles toward the door, ignoring the way her knees feel strangely wobbly.
The shop gets a small rush then – the new stock of candles is moving very well – and she forgets for a few minutes that she’s expecting a drink. She’s just finished giving a customer his change when the fax machine behind the counter starts whirring. This must be what Giles is waiting for, she thinks, she should make sure it’s okay, and with a hurried "Thank you for shopping at the Magic Box, we appreciate your patronage and your money," she turns to check the machine–
Only to jolt up against a very solid, tall, nice-smelling male body carrying two cups, one of which is crushed against her chest, which splashes orange juice (cut with Perrier) all down the front of her new white blouse.
"Bugger," Giles says, and he’s suddenly free of cups and there with his handkerchief, dabbing away at the stain.
Big hand, warm even through the linen and liquid, brushing her breasts, catching a nipple there.... Anya has no suitable words for this particular pleasure-sensation. It’s all too new for that.
"Oh God, Anya, I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry." The lovely big hand and the handkerchief are taken away, and Giles is flushed to his ears and practically biting that well-shaped, thin bottom lip of his, and –
Nope. She has absolutely no suitable words.
But she manages a quiet, "Um, that’s okay. My bad. Sorry for being in the way."
"No, my fault. Clumsy, always have been."
"Let’s say, stealthy. You’re surprisingly stealthy."
He almost smiles at that, but doesn’t look up from where he’s wadding the handkerchief in his hands, passing it back and forth, his fingers working. She really would like him to stop being so... whatever it is that she’s finding so incredibly attractive.
The bell over the door saves them – it announces three of their best customers, three local coven members who order big amounts and require a great deal of attention. "Um, Anya, I’ll take care of the Herbals." This, of course, is their private name for these particular witches, and it pleases her he remembers. "Why don’t you take a break, er, go home perhaps and change? I’ll hold the retail fort til you’re back."
"Okay." That sounds weak. She pulls herself together, regardless of orange-juice-stained silk and uncomfortable arousal, and beams at him. "Okay, thanks! But don’t you have to look at your fax?"
"Later," he says, as the oldest Herbal, the one with the twisty silver hair, waves at them from the newt stand. He smiles back. "Excuse me again. And I’m really terribly sorry."
When he goes off with a cheerful "Miss Lavender, how may I help you today?" Anya braces her hands on the counter and breathes in deeply. The wet fabric is cool against her skin.
Warm, strong hand. She can still feel the touch against her breasts.
The phone shrills next to her, scares her, settles her back down. She picks it up: "The Magic Box, here for all your magic needs, this is Anya. What can I do for you?"
"Anya, it’s Buffy." She doesn’t sound like the in-control Slayer right now. "I had a little trouble at Xander’s construction site, I won’t be going back there. Can you, maybe, give me a job?"
Giles looks at the newly faxed report from Robson, then looks back at the one faxed yesterday, compares the images. That one knife with the strange triple-edge, a very particular craftsmanship – the Daa dimension workers always have a notch just at the edge of blade and hilt, he thinks, but he can’t quite make it out. It requires visual and tactile investigation.
He needs to be back in England. He can’t leave yet.
The Magic Box has been quiet this morning, not like yesterday’s mad rush. He can still feel Anya under his hand, feel shivers and softness, barely covered, wet–
He shoves his left hand in his pocket and turns the top page to the light with his other.
Part of him is also attending to Buffy, who’s started her new job today. Over by the bookshelves Anya’s earnestly explaining the basics of stockroom and display arrangement. He can tell Buffy’s not entirely listening, her fingers drifting along the edge of a shelf, her head tipped in an inattentive pose he recognises from a hundred meetings.
He looks back down at the three-sided knife, one capable of giving pain from so many angles.
This morning he’s been to breakfast at the Summers’ house. Willow has had some disagreement with Tara – the two of them were hesitant around each other, dodging and weaving with bodies and words, except for once when Willow snapped out an uncomfortably strong response. In that moment he could almost smell the smoke of a bitter spell, and so could Tara. She’s already stepping back from Willow, he thinks, and what will Willow do then? Not that she spoke to him beyond "Please pass the milk," not that she paid attention to the couple of times he tried to start a nonconfrontational conversation.
Buffy just drifted through, not listening there either, barely eating. At least Dawn seemed happy enough, however, even while explaining to him the vagaries of the yet unrepaired plumbing.
This reminds him to check his watch. He needs to go to the bank this afternoon – he’s had money wired to the account he left open for God knows what reason here in Sunnydale, when he sent everything else home. The plumbing repair’s going to take a huge bite out of his already depleted savings, but he does want to help.
Buffy’s fingers are drifting faster over the shelf now. She’s not listening to anyone.
But Anya’s doing quite a good job with the instruction regardless of her audience, he thinks, she’s got most of the high points – and then he hears her say, "When serving the more frightening customers, I find it always helps to imagine myself naked," and his mind bursts with images of her with that stained shirt ripped open, him licking sticky orange sweetness from the valley between her breasts, going down and –
"Oh dear God," he mutters, trying to blink away the image, getting to his feet in some blind impulse toward flight. He can’t stay here. He can’t leave yet.
She’s Xander’s, he tells himself, her body’s twenty-one years old even if the essence of her isn’t, she wrought vengeance for a millennium, she’s Xander’s. You can’t, Rupert. You know you can’t.
The bell over the door saves him; it rings with a command that Anya pushes Buffy to answer. He collects himself enough to stop Buffy on the way and burble something about the library and how to serve customers, he can’t even listen to himself, he’s got to take off his glasses and polish lenses through which he doesn’t want to see. She says something in return he doesn’t quite hear, and he murmurs something, he doesn’t know what, and she turns away.
He sees Anya catch Buffy and smile at her, and he has to make himself look somewhere else. The reports... He should read his reports. Yes.
Buffy disappears downstairs after talking to that disagreeable woman who’s still hovering by the mandrake roots. After Anya finishes ringing up the customer’s slug candles – why did she ever order them, he thinks as he always does – she comes over to the table and sits down. "Okay. I’m not sure Buffy’s cut out for retail," she says without preface.
"I...I think she’s doing fine so far," he says, studying the faxed representation of a Boko sword. He can’t look at her right now.
"Well, perhaps it’s the merchandise she finds boring or overwhelming. She’s not a magic user, after all, she might do better with shoes or clothes or weapons or something else she’s studied for years. But, Giles, she actually yawned when I showed her my new system and backup for organising the material for the Dried Potion Herb of the Day!"
He’s impressed with the system himself, actually – Anya knows a great deal about proper placement and order, about classifying, about making links between things. "Well, er, not everyone has your gifts. And remember it’s her first day."
"Point taken. My first day wasn’t as stellar as all the subsequent ones," she says, with a dry little twist of voice he doesn’t usually associate with her. But she does have a sense of sarcasm, now that he thinks about it – it’s just usually not self-directed.
Forgetting every good intention he has, he puts his hand on her arm. Soft silk, he registers, although he doesn’t want to. "Anya, you know I wouldn’t have asked you to be my partner if I didn’t think you were more than capable of the job."
"I know. And I do thank you." When she beams at him, the silk moves under his fingers even as he presses down. It’s an oddly private connection in the midst of their public space, a moment where time seems to loop around, it’s happened before, it’ll happen again no matter what he does to stop it–
An unholy clatter from down in the stockroom, a jump and a worrying expletive from the disagreeable woman by the mandrake, and he and Anya are broken out of their stolen moment whether they will or no. He wishes he didn’t regret the loss.
After Buffy finishes ringing up the customer and promising delivery of the special order– although he’s sure they did have an undamaged mummy-hand down there – he and Anya converge upon Buffy at the register. He congratulates Buffy on a job well done, and then Anya discovers the omission of the delivery charge, the same mistake she’d made late on her first day. He’d docked her first paycheque for that, he remembers.
"Yeah, I’ll just take it out of your pay!" Anya beams, frankly softening the blow a bit more than he had.
But Buffy looks at him to soften it further, to take it back. He can’t, it wouldn’t be fair -- but with a sinking heart, he tries, "Er, right. Well, I’m sure Buffy understands that...."
Slam of her nametag on the counter, slam of the door after she stalks out. Oh yes, Buffy clearly understands.
Anya sighs. "Told you she’s not cut out for retail."
"No, it seems not."
She looks down at the cash register, one slim finger playing with the keys. It’s a sign that she’s mentally editing her remarks – it happens more and more these days, he thinks, she’s not as open as she once was. At last she says, "Do you think that door-slamming’s just due to her incompatibility and discomfort with the service sector?"
He fears it’s not. All he allows himself to say is, "I don’t know, Anya. I just don’t know."
The bell rings again: another familiar customer, that Jonathan boy. "I’ll get it. He’s been special-ordering a lot lately," she says, and slides too close to him on her way. He can feel the touch of her silk, of her, even through his clothes.
He tells himself to ignore it, to think about work instead. He’ll check the stockroom – he might have a Daa knife down there, come to think of it, perhaps he can do his job from here after all.
When he flicks on the light, however, he can tell something’s wrong. Halfway down the steps, and he can see it – a wrecked mummy-hand, some broken potion jars from which odd scents rise and intertwine, a couple of weapons twisted by Slayer-strength.
"Fuck. Fuck. Fuck," he says.
Part Two here.