The father-daughter team, Richard the watcher and Kara the slayer, were introduced in previous stories, but you don’t have to read those to follow along. I got the idea for this story when I came down with strep throat -- and didn’t want to be bothered.
When Richard Philips was sick, he didn’t want to speak to anyone, see anyone, hear anyone. He wanted to be left alone. Most of all, he hated to be awakened, especially when he was so ill that he had trouble getting to sleep in the first place.
It was the chills that woke Richard, this time.
The watcher lay there shivering, keeping his eyes closed. The last time, he’d awakened to find his sheets soaked with sweat, and was so weak he had to live through the indignity of letting his daughter change them, while he struggled into a dry pair of pajamas. If there was one thing he hated it was to be coddled, but the dizziness that hit whenever he tried to raise his head kept him from doing much for himself.
Isn’t this something? Richard thought. He’d survived a decade of teaching; raised a teenaged girl; struggled to success as a novelist -- not to mention getting thrown through a wall by a huge green demon. Funny to imagine strep throat would turn out to be the end of him.
Apparently there were two kinds of strep throat: the mild kind, and his kind.
Richard reached out to pull his covers over him, and realized they already were, along with a pink comforter that had no doubt come from Kara’s room. Shaking, he opened his eyes and reached for a bottle of water on his nightstand, dreading the prospect of swallowing. Chantel, the slayer/nurse who had somehow provided him with antibiotics, had assured Richard his condition would improve, so he was probably being overly dramatic. He wasn’t going to die -- he just wanted to.
Then he froze, with his hand still outstretched. A young woman sat in the armchair at one corner of his small room. He supposed that wasn’t surprising, considering this floor of the Chicago high-rise was teeming with girls, but she didn’t appear familiar to him. Instead of getting the water, he fumbled for his glasses and put them on.
She was larger than Richard would have expected -- not fat, but not slim and wiry like the slayers he’d been working with for almost a year. She had a unique, classical beauty, with sleek, dark blonde hair that flowed straight to her shoulders, and eyes that shown with the knowledge of ages. She wore a long peasant skirt and a simple cotton blouse.
Richard was quite certain he’d never seen this young woman in the secret, heavily secured watcher’s headquarters.
The woman’s eyes widened and she half turned, like a shy deer caught in a spotlight. “Oh! Can -- can you see me?”
What an odd question. But before Richard could answer, the door opened, letting in light that blinded him for a moment. When he could see again, Faith stood by the bed, but the girl was gone. “Who was that?”
Faith glanced around. “Who was what?”
“That girl. Didn’t you ...” Richard trailed off, remembering his temperature had been 103 when Chantel stopped by earlier. The mystery woman couldn’t possibly have gotten out of the chair and gone through the room’s only door without Faith seeing her, which could only mean she wasn’t real. Odd that he’d hallucinate someone who looked only mildly familiar, but in the last year he’d learned just how odd the world could be. “Nothing. I thought you were on your way to New Mexico?”
Faith shrugged. “Old Mexico, actually, some place in the Yucatan where a new slayer just popped up. But Giles is meeting with an insurance guy in Hartford, Xander’s going over plans for the expansion project with an architect, and Robin’s up in Canada freezing his ass off. When you got sick, Giles decided someone mature and trustworthy should stay with the new slayers.”
“Mature and trustworthy.” Richard managed a slight smile, remembering the first time they’d worked together when -- quite literally -- he’d had to open an old wound to keep her from ignoring the battle plan and doing her own thing.
“Yeah, I got a kick out of that, too.” She handed him the water bottle, and watched while he took a sip. Swallowing was like having his throat slashed. “I’m on fluid patrol. Chantel says if you don’t drink at least half a bottle every time you wake up, we’re going to make you swallow cod liver oil.”
“She’s a peach.” He tried to clear his throat, which hurt worse than swallowing. “How did you know I was awake?”
“I heard movement. These temporary walls Xander put in are thin as a blade.” True to her word, Faith watched until he managed to down most of a bottle. “You need anything else?”
“Yes -- kill me now.”
Shaking her head, Faith stepped toward the door. “No way are you leaving me alone with all these kids. That Malaysian girl Xander and Chao-Ahn brought back is only ten -- can you imagine how dangerous I would have been with slayer powers at ten?”
“I’m shaking in my jammies.”
“You’re shaking, all right. Somebody’ll check on you later -- until then, try not to be such a sicko, huh?”
Richard nodded, and settled heavily back onto the pillow. For a long time he laid there, curled into a fetal position, unable to control the shivering. A few times he opened his eyes long enough to glance toward the empty armchair, but after awhile he dropped off to sleep.
The smell of soup woke him and he opened his eyes, surprised to find his body had straightened out, and he was no longer shivering. At some point he’d kicked the covers off, but the pink comforter had been pulled back over him, and he felt only a little feverish.
“Oh, you’re awake! Just in time. Can you sit up?” A woman stood by the bed, holding a tray.
“Didn’t work last time.” But, with difficulty, he managed to prop himself on a mountain of pillows. The woman set the tray down on his lap, revealing a bowl of chicken noodle soup, crackers, a glass of orange juice and a small pill. Richard looked more closely, and realized the pill was in the shape of Scooby Doo.
“A vitamin,” she explained. “Chewable. I know how hard it is for you to swallow right now, but you need some nourishment to fight those bugs off. Go on, now.”
Obediently, he chewed up the pill, then managed to spoon down some soup. He could actually taste and smell -- a good sign, although it still went down like fire. It was the first food he’d had in two days, and only when the bowl was half empty did Richard realize he had no idea who his new nurse was.
“Have some orange juice. Lots of vitamin C will help.” She seemed the stereotypical motherly type, complete with carefully styled curls of brown hair, a light colored ensemble of slacks and sweater, and that concerned expression he could still remember on his long dead wife, when their daughter would catch cold as a baby.
“This is very nice,” Richard said carefully, trying not to stare. “Thank you.” The food certainly seemed real. Could someone smell and taste figments of their imagination?
“It’s the least I can do. The way you take care of these kids is wonderful.” She rested a hand lightly against his forehead.
It was like the touch of dry ice, so cold his whole body shook. She leaned back and examined him, concern written on her face. “Your fever’s still very high. Have you been taking the antibiotics?”
“Yes. Um ... Chantel said I had to just wait it out.”
“I suppose so. It’s so nice having a nurse around. It should have been that way -- before.” She sighed, and for a moment a wistful look crossed her face before she refocused her attention on the bedridden watcher. “Is there anything else you’d like?”
Tea, Richard thought, with honey, but he didn’t speak. Had this woman actually been hired to nursemaid him? That didn’t make sense, not with so many others all too willing to do the job. “Excuse me, but ... who are you?”
“Oh!” Her hand fluttered to her chest. “I’m sorry, that was impolite of me. Just call me Joyce.”
The door swung open, revealing Faith along with Richard’s daughter. Richard glanced toward them, then turned back to find Joyce gone. “What --”
“How ya’ doing --?” Faith stopped short at the sight of the tray, then turned to Kara. “I thought you said you hadn’t been in, yet.”
“I haven’t.” Stepping around the older slayer, Kara laid a hand against her father’s forehead. It was cool, Richard noted, but nowhere near as cold as Joyce's had felt. “Chantel must have brought it in.”
Faith shook her head. “She’s out on a supply run. Vi?”
“She’s scared to death of getting sick, herself.” Setting the tray aside, Kara started adjusting the covers. “Who’s your nurse, dad? Did some fan sneak in here to give you TLC?”
“I don’t know ...” Richard felt his skin moving from cold to hot again, and was hit by a moment of perfect warmth that set him sliding toward sleep. “An older woman,” he murmured. "Haven’t seen her before ... she said her name’s Joyce.”
Just before he drifted off, Richard saw Faith’s eyes widen.
The first thing Richard heard when he woke was a woman’s voice -- again, not a surprise, but again, he didn’t recognize this one. He lay with his eyes closed, trying to identify the owner.
“He’s handsome, in a watcher kind of a way. Not as handsome as Giles, much better looking than Andrew, but no match for Xander.”
“I don’t think it’s fair judging his looks right now,” said a second voice, which made Richard think of the first woman who’d appeared in his room. “He’s very sick.”
“True,” said the first voice. “But just to be clear, you’re hardly the best judge of male appearance.”
“Girls, please.” That would be the one called Joyce. “You’re not here to pick up guys.”
There was some kind of freakin’ convention going on in his room. Richard opened his eyes, closed them against stabbing pain, then opened them again -- slowly, this time.
The two women from before stood there, along with a third -- a tall, pretty but rather severe looking woman with blonde hair, who stood to one side of Joyce with hands on hips. The first young woman was at Joyce’s other side, a look of concern on her face.
“Are you real?” Richard asked.
The door burst open, and Buffy Summers hurried into the room. Now Richard knew he was hallucinating, because Buffy was in Italy, along with her sister and Andrew. Yet there she was, scanning the room, in an action stance.
Joyce stared back at her, one hand to her lips. “Amazing ... it looks just like her.”
“Acts like her, too,” the third woman added.
Buffy turned toward Richard. “Are you all right? Are you in distress? I have limited first aid skills, but I can assist you to the bathroom, get water, or kill any demons that might happen to have sneaked into the room.”
“Buffybot.” The robot, unearthed from the wreckage of Sunnydale and turned over to the Watcher’s Council by Riley Finn, kept casting a suspicious gaze around the room. “What are you looking for?”
“I heard your voice through the door. Faith told me to investigate any evidence that you aren’t alone.”
“Ah.” Thinking back, Richard tried to remember what he might have said to make Faith suspicious. “And did you hear -- by chance -- any other voices?”
Richard let out a breath and looked toward the foot of his bed, where the three women watched Buffybot with bemused expressions. “I’m feverish. I’m probably just talking to myself.”
Buffybot placed a finger against his forehead -- Richard’s forehead was Grand Central Station. “Your temperature is 101.3, which is down substantially but still rather high for an adult. You could be imagining things, but that doesn’t explain the tray. No one will admit to bringing it in, but it is from the kitchen. That means if you’re really seeing dead people it isn’t The First, because it couldn’t touch anything, so that’s good.”
If he didn’t have a headache before, Buffybot was there to do the job.
“I don’t think we’re helping,” the first woman said. “First we upset Mr. Philips, and now we're causing others to interrupt his rest.”
Buffybot showed no sign of hearing her, but the third woman turned. “That may be so, but you let him see you, and so now we owe him an explanation.”
“I -- I didn’t let him --”
Joyce stopped them with a sharp voice. “Tara, Anya, don’t start that argument again. In a way we all volunteered for this task, so we need to do our best at it.”
“What task?” Richard managed to rasp out. His throat was hurting again, but he didn’t want to turn from the women and have them disappear again.
Buffybot spun around to face where he was looking. “What? What ‘what task’?”
“She’s so cute!” Tara exclaimed. Anya stuck her tongue out at the robot.
“Bottie --” Oh, bother. Richard reached for the water bottle, half hoping the room would be empty when he turned back. It wasn’t. He took another swig, hoping to buy some time to consider the issue, then almost choked when the realization kicked in. Joyce. Tara. Anya.
Oh, Lord. He was being haunted.
“Why are you here? Is it because I’m close to death? Did you come to take me?”
Bottie spun like a top, looking for the object of Richard’s sudden ire.
“Oh, no, no!” Tara stepped forward, raising a restraining hand. “It’s nothing like that.”
“I’m sure you’re going to be fine,” Joyce added. “Buffy had strep throat when she was ten, and got better in no time.”
“Of course,” Anya put in, “When middle aged people get diseases like this the mortality rate tends to go up.” Tara stared daggers at her. “I’m just saying ...”
“Can other people see you?” Richard demanded.
Bottie walked across the room, hands extended in front of her, and passed right through Anya. The robot ducked down to peer under the bed, then sent a suspicious glare at the pile of blankets covering Richard.
“We didn’t even know you could see us,” Tara explained. “I was shocked ... we asked Jenny, and she said --”
“Jenny?” Bottie repeated, spinning again.
“A friend of ours, Jenny Calendar,” Joyce said. “She’s off with Rupert right now, although of course he doesn’t know it. Tara usually follows Willow, and I tend to stay close to Buffy and Dawn.”
“I’m freelance,” Anya said, but Tara gave her a look that said it wasn’t entirely true.
“I get it,” Richard said.
“Get what?” The Buffybot was beginning to look like it wanted to cry, and Richard wondered if that was possible.
“Ghosts, Bottie. During the rising of the slayers last summer, we encountered the spirits of Tara McClay and Jenny Calendar. It seems they never went away.”
“Oh.” Bottie stopped in one corner and again scanned the room, this time more slowly. “I’m detecting temperature differentials and electromagnetic anomalies.”
“That’s what we’re reduced to,” Anya griped, crossing her arms.
In a comforting tone, Tara said, “Bottie can only report what she detects, Anya.”
“But why are you here?” Richard asked. He felt like he was fading again, but now his curiosity was overwhelming him.
“Who’s here?” Bottie asked. “It would be nice to see Tara again.”
“She’s here, along with Anya and Buffy’s mother. Did you meet them?”
“I’m not sure. I have problems with my early memory. Strangely, I remember very clearly every moment of being Spike’s sex slave.”
Tara blushed so deeply her cheeks glowed. Joyce gasped and looked away, while Anya tilted her head with an intrigued expression. “We should compare notes,” Anya said, “because I --”
“Wait -- wait!” Richard weakly waved a hand. “I’m going to be sick --”
Joyce, Tara, and Bottie stepped forward with expressions of concern, while Anya backed away rapidly.
“--If you continue that topic of conversation. My question is, why are you here? None of the people you stayed to watch over are in the building. Xander’s the only one who’s even in the city.”
“You’re an intregal part of their lives, now,” Tara explained. “We were called to your distress. We weren’t even sure why, at first, but Jenny told us severe illness can weaken the walls between a living person and the spirit world.”
“Especially fever,” Joyce added. “That’s where some hallucinations come from. So we came to watch over you, but we didn’t know you’d get so feverish that you’d be able to see us.”
“It’s very strange, hearing only one side of the conversation,” Buffybot said.
“They’re saying I won’t see them anymore after I get better,” Richard told her. He turned back to the spirits. “Isn’t that right?”
“I don’t know,” Tara admitted. “We didn’t exactly get an owner’s manual; just a kind of general permission to come to this plane, and we don’t have much influence. It took all three of us to get that tray of food ready.”
“And,” Anya said, “we don’t get a single bite.”
“Sorry.” Richard laid back again, to ease his spinning head. “Maybe you’d be better off talking to the people you stayed behind for, Anya. You want me to kiss Xander right on the mouth, while I’ve still got germs to share?”
“Oh, Gross!” Buffybot squealed.
For a moment Anya looked intrigued by the possibility, but before Richard could protest she shook her head. “Xander doesn’t do well with diseases.”
The door burst open yet again, revealing Kara and another young slayer.
“I should sell tickets,” Richard murmured.
Although the other slayer immediately plastered herself against the door, Kara continued the short distance to the bed, where she took a protective stance beside her father. “What’s going on? Bottie, we heard your voice rise. You were supposed to report back right away.”
“My mission parameters were compromised.”
Kara blinked. “Huh?”
“I see dead people.”
“Oh.” Kara looked to her father, who wasn’t about to clear things up: The look on her face was the first funny thing he’d seen for days. “She wasn’t damaged when she came in here.”
“I’m not damaged now,” Bottie protested. “My sensors are picking up three anomalies that are consistent with paranormal activities.”
Bottie stamped her foot, then enunciated carefully. “I. see. dead. people.”
“Well, Dana and I don’t see any dead people.”
For the first time since entering, the girl hovering by the door spoke. “Yes, I do.”
Richard turned his head to look at her. As usual, most of Dana’s face was hidden by tangles of dark brown hair, and ever since being healed of her psychosis she’d developed a habit of tilting her chin down when she spoke, giving her gaze a mystical, otherworldly appearance. For the first time, Richard realized just how mystical it was.
“Three.” Dana pointed toward the spirits, who stared back in surprise. “Slayer’s mother, witch’s lover, demon other. One, two, three.”
Anya looked offended. “Demon other?”
“She’s on a roll,” Richard told her. “Let it go.”
Kara took a step back, her head swiveling to regard each of the people in the room -- at least, each one she knew about. “Am I the only person in here who’s not seeing ghosts?”
“Pretty much,” her father told her, while Buffybot said “Yep,” and Dana nodded slowly.
The door opened, causing Dana to jump to one side. Faith marched in and glanced around.
“A lock,” Richard decided. “I’m going to have Xander put in a lock.”
“What’s going on?” Faith was being deliberately casual. “Planning a coup? Why is everybody in here bugging the sick guy?”
“I was just wondering that myself,” Richard grunted. Everybody started talking at once -- including the spirits -- so Richard made an effort to raise his hand until they quieted down. Died down, he thought, with a sense of irony. “I was talking out loud, which I tend to do even when I’m not sick, and the girls just jumped to conclusions. Isn’t that right, girls?” He gave them what he hoped was a meaningful look.
Buffybot opened her mouth, but before she could speak Kara nodded vigorously. “That’s right. You should hear him singing in the shower, too.” Naturally, Kara was the person most experienced with her father’s meaningful looks.
Dana wrapped her arms around herself. “Everything’s okay.”
Buffybot looked from one girl to the other, then shrugged. “I don’t think there’s any danger.”
“Well, then, why don’t we all let Richie get some sleep?” Faith set a water bottle on the nightstand, picking up the empty one. “After he gets his hourly dose, of course.”
Casting a look back at the three ghosts, Buffybot headed for the door. Kara followed, also glancing back, but Dana hesitated at the sound of Richard’s voice. “Dana, I need to speak with you alone, for just a moment.”
That made Faith lift an eyebrow. Dana hadn’t been allowed to be alone with a male since the slayers took her under their wing, after her attack on Spike in Los Angeles. “Everything really okay in here? You’re not seeing anything ... odd?”
Richard shook his head, and Faith -- after one last sweep around the room -- gave up and closed the door behind her. Dana gave Richard a shy look, appearing ready to bolt, until she heard Joyce’s voice: “It’s all right, honey, we’re here.” Tara nodded encouragement.
“Their being here is what I wanted to talk about, Dana.” Richard forced himself to take a swig of water, and noticed his throat didn’t burn as much. But he felt himself fading again, and wanted to sleep without wondering who’d be there when he woke up. “Can you see them clearly? And hear them?”
“And you three -- why aren’t you with your loved ones?”
“We were drawn to you,” Tara said.
Anya added, “It wasn’t voluntary.”
“Well, I’m improving, and there’s a whole building full of people watching over me. I don’t think you need to watch over me anymore.”
“That’s good,” Anya declared, “because this room is small and plain, and smells like sweat socks.” And just like that, she was gone.
Tara turned to Joyce. “Can you smell?”
“No. Anya passed on last, but she lived a lot longer than us. Maybe she picked up some extra ability.” Smiling, Joyce looked at Richard. “If you’re sure you’re okay, I’m going to check in on Buffy. That man she’s been seeing ... I just don’t like him. I’m not sure being immortal is a good character trait to fixate on.”
“It was good to meet you, Joyce.” From the corner of his eye Richard saw Dana give a little wave, and an instant later Buffy’s mother was gone.
Tara hesitated, and Richard noticed her face had reddened again. “Tara? You don’t want to go look in on Willow?”
“She’s at an inn in Connecticut right now, and I don't think she’s in any trouble at all, or any need. Um, she’s happy.”
“Yes, but don’t you --” To his surprise, Dana interrupted.
“Willow’s with Kennedy. I like Kennedy, but ...” Dana turned away. “Willow’s with Kennedy.”
“Kennedy’s a good person.” Tara’s voice was faint, and for a moment her form seemed to flicker out of focus. “She’s not like me, but she’s good inside.”
“But you still like to watch over Willow,” Richard guessed. He felt sorry for the poor girl, who knew her part in this world was over but couldn’t move on.
“Then while you’re waiting for them to come back from their ... vacation ... why don’t you stay with Dana?”
Dana looked up, her eyes wide.
Tara looked just a surprised, but also hopeful. “Would you like to have company, Dana? No one else could see me -- except Bottie -- but we could talk when you’re not busy.”
“I’d like --” Dana thought for a moment, then her chin lifted upward. “I’d like another friend.”
“Then we’ll let Richard rest, and go walk around some. I have some ideas for that floor above us that the Watcher’s Council bought -- have you ever heard of feng shui?” Smiling -- both of them -- they left the room. Dana opened the door, of course.
Richard took a sip of water, moved some pillows out of his way, and settled back into the bed. He couldn’t decide whether he was warm or cold, so he settled for pulling the pink comforter up to his chin and closed his eyes, waiting to either sweat or shiver.
It certainly had been an interesting year, full of all sorts of new experiences. It almost made getting strep throat worth it.