Title: About Time
Characters: Giles, OC in this one
Trigger warning: Mental Health issues (I probably should have warned for Giles’ PTSD long before this).Series: Bookends. All the Companion pieces in the series are listed here... It might not make much sense on its own.
They were sitting on two easy chairs in the ward’s private consultation office, but Giles had grown accustomed to all such consultations as being far from easy and consequently, he slouched in front of his new therapist and hoped the time would pass quickly. He had been waiting patiently enough when she had burst into the room, carrying a large bag of files and documents most of which she promptly spilled on the floor. Giles, soberly dressed in jeans and a sweater, had opted, ungallantly, to remain seated and watch her pick them up for herself. She was young, mid-thirties he thought and mildly chaotic in appearance in as much as she seemed to float in an aura of flyaway fabrics and scarves with a livery of such bright and contrasting colours that Giles wondered if she might actually provoke more nervous breakdowns than she cured. Dr Carole Daniels, he learnt. With red streaks in otherwise auburn hair, at least three ear piercings that he could count and a good number of chunky bangles and rings, none of which looked to be a wedding band. She’d begun by stating that she’d read all the police reports and all his case notes from the other doctors, and had then embarked on a long history of herself and career, to which Giles hadn’t been particularly bothered to listen, noting only that she’d been involved with survivors of the destruction of the Watcher’s Council and had first personally encountered a vampire at age twelve. She was a specialist in her field she said, was not based at his hospital but would be visiting weekly and further available by phone. She had been brought in by Dr Clarke, Captain Appleby and Buffy Summers because they’d felt she could offer a new approach. Did he understand? He did and he nodded. Did he have any questions? He did and he asked it.
“When can I go home?” He was feeling a little blunt and belligerent but she wasn’t fazed.
“When it’s the next best step for you.”
She had very large brown eyes and she waited until he met them before answering.
“Rupert, you have experienced an extremely traumatic experience that I cannot begin to imagine. And however you want to nobly dress up your Norfolk expedition, it was still an attempt to get yourself killed. Now, because of your history and specialist knowledge of the occult, you’ve drawn a good deal of attention to yourself with the Army and, not unreasonably, they want to be sure your next attempt won’t take the world with you.”
“I promise it won’t.”
“Good, but I can't let you leave here to make a quiet appointment with your car exhaust either.”
He shifted in his seat, hating that she probably saw the reflex but replied, “I promise I won’t do that either.” with a good deal of charm, and though she smiled, he felt she clearly saw right through him.
“Good,” she repeated. “But I’m not here to be lied to or to act as someone you need to hoodwink somehow. As my contract with you, I’m also not here to trap you or force you into admissions I already know about. I won’t demand you give me a full history of your past life, my focus is your recovery, not ripping open fresh wounds and having a jolly good poke about.”
He murmured, “How charmingly expressed.” But she was not to be deflected.
“I commiserate with your losses, but we need to find strategies to help you cope with the experience.” Giles shrugged, torn between feigning indifference and trying to look like he was complying. Dr Daniels glanced briefly at her notes. “The staff record you’ve had two nightmares since you’ve been here. Is that typical for the time period?”
He shifted again but didn’t answer.
She scratched her chin, rattling her chunky bangles, and offered, “It doesn’t have to be of course. Being admitted to hospital can be disconcerting. The loss of freedom, the staff, rules to follow, other patients. All that can be frightening in and of itself.”
“No, I went to boarding school. It’s actually not so different. Less Latin I suppose.”
“Very well.” She didn’t smile at his joke. “Tell me what you do immediately after a nightmare.” Giles was somewhat disconcerted she hadn’t asked the usual questions about triggers or content, jumping to the end as it were, quite bypassing the good stuff. “How do you calm down again?” she persisted. “Can you sleep straight away? Or do you read? Sing? Brood? What?”
“If you must know I usually make a cup of tea, but I can hardly do that here.”
“Why not?” Her face lit up. “I can get the staff to-”
“No,” he interrupted, the point suddenly being incredibly important to him. “I don’t want one brought. I want to make one myself.” He realised he’d raised his voice and felt self-conscious, but she responded with equanimity.
“Then I’ll arrange for you to have access to the staff kettle. Would that be acceptable?”
He fidgeted but eventually muttered, “I suppose.”
She leaned forward and Giles found he liked that she trusted him with electrical appliances and he no longer noticed the bizarre clothing or the red streaks in her hair. “I’m really not trying to trap you here,” she said softly. “Doing something mechanical, something practical, something familiar that requires a small level of concentration can be a good coping mechanism.”
“It doesn’t make them stop coming though,” he said grudgingly.
“No. But it helps when they do come.” She sat back. “I really don’t want this to be some battle of wits between us. I want to help you, Rupert. This isn’t about cut and thrust, or some psychological game of chess.”
Giles suddenly lost it. “Fuck you,” he spat, his anger was unexpected, even to him, but all his brain was telling him was that her soft words were all lies and he’d caught her on it. “Chess? Yes? You know! You know what happened,” he accused, but then in a horrible second he realised she was either the world’s greatest actress, or she didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. His anger immediately evaporated away to shame, but the doctor was clearly used to irrational outbursts from her patients for he registered that she hadn’t flinched, or looked scared, or even particularly rattled. Under the surface flamboyance, Dr Carole Daniels was tough stuff.
She broke eye contact long enough to give him a moment to compose himself but then surprised him by not challenging him on his outburst or pushing back to assert her authority, instead she dived to her untidy bag and produced a folder of official looking photographs. Upside down, Giles recognised them as crime scene records from his parents’ house. Dr Daniels pulled one picture and passed it across to him. It was his father’s study and showed a broken chair, an upturned table, chess pieces and a dark stain on the carpet that Giles realised was probably his own blood.
“We thought the chessboard was collateral damage, caught up in the fight. So I promise you, I wasn’t trying to trick you. Can you tell me why it’s important?”
Giles nodded his comprehension and stared at the photograph. She couldn’t have known of course, but she was smart enough to have made the connection, and he quite liked that.
He asked, “Can I see the others?”
No-one had ever given him such concrete evidence of that horrific night before. He leafed through them in fascination, travelling through rooms he’d known since childhood, but now distantly tarnished by violence. The bodies had been removed but there were white tape outlines and evidence tags. Stray scraps of damaged clothing or jewellery were numbered so that he actually found himself guessing which victim had died where. And he wondered who had put up a fight and who had never stood a chance. His mother’s bedroom seemed barely touched with the bed sheets undisturbed, and he was profoundly grateful for that scrap of evidence.
“Rupert, what’s the significance of the chess pieces?” Dr Daniels’ voice brought him back to the study and he flipped at those photos again. He found one of the mantelpiece, grunted, and passed it back to her. He felt like a game.
“You’ve read all the case files, all the police reports. Why don’t you tell me the significance of this photograph,” he proposed.
She considered his gaze for a while, then the brown eyes dropped to stare intently at the picture and to accept his challenge.
“I can see the top of a fireplace, with a heavy wooden surround giving a broad mantelpiece, simply carved but painted many times. I can make out the bottom of a landscape painting, gilt frame but no artist name.” Giles found he rather liked her literal survey. “On the mantelpiece there seems to be a pipe rack and three pipes.” His father had been the last of the great British pipe smokers, he mused. Giles remembered an absent minded tendency to stuff the pipe in his top pocket before the thing had been completely extinguished. As a boy he’d found the trail of smoke coming from his father’s tweed jacket mesmerising. She continued, “Also a clock that I’d say was from the 1930s, and a stack of letters and envelopes, at least one seems to have blue and red air mail markings. I can’t make out any of the names or addresses.”
She looked up but he waited.
“OK.” She turned the picture abstractly. “I’m looking at a 10 by 8 glossy photograph that is a little under exposed. It is printed on Fuji film stock with a standard white border. The photo has been date and time stamped in the bottom right corner, probably by the camera itself. There are three code letters which I presume identifies the camera or the photographer, probably the former. The date stamp indicates it was taken the morning after the incident, which fits the timings we know. Oh! The clock!” Giles felt a sensation akin to pride. “The clock is wrong. It’s stopped?” He could see her thinking. “No, it’s slow. It’s about 45 minutes too slow.” She handed him back the picture and made the simple deduction. “He wound the clock back.”
“Yes, he must have.” Giles looked at his fingers and explained, “When I came to, I was tied to a chair, and he wanted to play chess with me.”
Giles frowned. “A grim wager. He said if I won, he’d kill me, but if he won, he’d not only kill me but turn me as well. But I could see the clock on the mantelpiece and I could hear music in the rest of the house.”
“So you played him?”
“I played to stall, played for a stalemate, played to prolong the game. Because the clock was telling me only five minutes had passed since he’d knocked me out and I’d come to. It was telling me that everyone in the party was alive and it was up to me to keep them that way.”
“You couldn’t have known he’d done that.”
“No, I suppose not.” He looked at the photo. “But I’ve wondered since. Maybe I wondered at the time, I’m not sure. It’s certainly nice to have corroboration of a theory.” He added it to the file of others and gave the folder back, watching patiently as she stuffed it untidily back in her bag before speaking again. “Actually,” he tentatively began, “the nightmares aren’t all that frequent. It’s the daytime flashbacks that are more of a problem. They can be more…debilitating.”
“Ok.” His doctor nodded sympathetically. “Let’s talk about how you cope with those then.”