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thewiggins ([personal profile] thewiggins) wrote in [community profile] summer_of_giles2017-06-29 04:54 pm

Heart of the City

Title: Heart of the City
Author: thewiggins
Pairing: Giles/Joyce
Rating: T
Summary: Joyce visits London in the summer of '78, hoping to forget her recent breakup with Hank. She's at the end of a truly terrible day when she stumbles into Piccadilly Circus and meets a mysterious young local who goes by the name of "Ripper".

Joyce's arrival at one of the most touristic spots in London had been an accident, the result of several random turns, well after she’d stopped having any sense of direction or purpose. She was nearing the end of a very long day. It'd started when someone had ransacked her bag while she took a much needed shower at the hostel. She'd felt fresh and bright leaving the bathroom, having completed her beauty routine for the first time since that exhausting flight. Farrah-big hair had bounced on her shoulders and she'd thought that today might be the day that she fully let go of Hank.

Then she'd discovered her things strewn across the bed, next to the deflated husk of her bag. She searched through them care with that desperate, unrealistic hope that comes at such times. Maybe nothing was actually stolen, maybe the whole thing would turn out to be some tacky practical joke on the part of one of the other tourists that shared this small, dim room. But when everything was back as it had been, neatly packed in her bag, she was still missing a handful of jewelry (including the bracelet that Hank had given her, the one that'd just seemed to nice to get rid of), her camera, a few miscellaneous items of no particular wort and $300 in of travelers' checks. Sheer luck had spared her wallet, which had been in the jacket she'd worn to the bathroom to ward off the morning chill. Sadly that only left her with one crumpled 5-pound note and a handful of change.

She'd spent an agonizing hour talking first to her bank and then to her mother on the lobby telephone while the receptionist periodically shot her acerbic glances, her mouth a disapproving pucker. The bank promised to refund the checks as long as she officially reported them stolen, but that would take weeks. Her mother told her that she would send money, but that would take days. As soon as she'd said "goodbye" to her mother the receptionist had snatched the phone out of her hand and set in firmly back into its cradle, informing Joyce that if she didn't have money to pay, she could no longer be considered a welcome guest at the Bright Side Hostel and should leave immediately.

What followed was an exhausting montage of trudging down city streets on an unusually hot British summer's day, punctuated occasionally by brief periods of respite in the cool lobbies of hotels and B&Bs. Not everyone was as uncaring as the Bright Side receptionist had been. Some of the people that Joyce had talked to were sympathetic, telling her that they might have been willing to let her stay while she waited for her money to come in, but, well, on a Saturday in the middle of summer they were just completely booked. Sorry luv, best of luck to ya.

Now Joyce stood at the edge of a busy traffic circle. Cars, people, and double-decker buses were all packed tightly together, all moving with speed and purpose to God knew where. A statue of what looked like Cupid or an angel stood on a high pedestal in an island in the middle of the rushing traffic. Then, this must be Piccadilly Circus. She'd read something about it in her guidebook (which, sadly, had been among the items stolen). She thought maybe she should be excited to be here, but right now Piccadilly Circus could have been any other city intersection -- loud and dirty and barely worth a second glance to the locals who passed through it in droves. Still, the island seemed like a place of relative calm, the eye of the storm, maybe. And Joyce desperately needed a place to sit for a minute and gather her thoughts. It was getting late, and if she didn't find a place to stay soon... Joyce banished this if firmly from her mind. She would find a place. Somehow.

Joyce crossed over to the island. There were lots of people here as well, but at least they weren't pushing or rushing. Here they milled about, sitting on the steps and on the statue's base (which she could now tell was actually a fountain, though no water flowed through it). Joyce claimed the section of the base which would allow her to sit with the greatest possible distance to her fellow human beings. Off to her left a bit her left a German man was taking photos of his wife, and to the right a couple of tough-looking locals sat, smoking and sneering at passersby.

Joyce sighed and slipped her bag from her shoulder to the ground, her hand gripping protectively at one of its straps. Once robbed, twice shy. She leaned her head back and looked at the statue, balanced delicately on one foot high above her. She noticed that the statue’s string-less bow seemed to point blindly off in no particular direction. She lowered her head and looked out at the endless stream of vehicles slipping through her field of vision. They dragged her eyes with them, causing them to slide out of focus. The roar of traffic and of her own thoughts flooded her existence. She closed her eyes and her awareness narrowed to that roar, the orange light shining dimly through her lids, and the rough canvas strap digging into her hand.

But then something broke through the roar, a barking laugh, sharp and alive. The local tough closest to her was laughing in response to something said by his companion. His face in profile captured her attention as he made some quiet response, chuckling softly now, his cigarette-wielding hand poised by his cheek. She envied his confident relaxation.

He was, of course, not the kind of guy Joyce was into. Not by a mile. True, he was more handsome than her initial impression of battered leather, ripped denim, and bad attitude had suggested. But she liked her guys to be smart and ambitious. Non-smoking a must. Guys like Hank, she thought and the thought tore painfully at some sensitive tissue deep inside her. Hank had seemed perfect on paper. She’d ignored the fact that she’d never felt a real spark of excitement towards him. It would have been stupid to end an otherwise good relationship because of that, right? When someone like Hank, with his good looks, good grades, and rich parents, broke off a previous relationship to be with you, you the former head of your high school yearbook committee... Weren't you supposed to be grateful? And she really had been, confident that the long and painful loneliness of her adolescence was finally over. But then he'd called her while she was away, visiting her mother and preparing for this trip. She'd been happy to hear from him, excitedly telling him about her plans. But then he'd said he had something to tell her and his words had crackled across the line that stretched from California to Illinois. After that, Joyce had been forced to accept that maybe it wasn't as easy to predict what would make her happy as she'd thought.

The red buses and black taxis were beginning to blur again. Joyce noticed absentmindedly the way the orange evening sunlight was slicing clean lines across the giant Coke ad on the building across from her.

The idea came to her unexpectedly and she acted quickly to prevent herself from losing her nerve or talking herself out of it.

“Hey.” She said, sliding across the smooth metal to get a little closer to the local toughs. They turned to her, their expressions incredulous and vaguely scornful.

“Yeah babe? Whatchya after then?” The guy closest to her asked, his accent as rough as his appearance.

“Um, I was wondering if you knew of anywhere nearby that I might be able to stay for cheap. Like, 5 pounds cheap. Or, you know, somewhere that would let me sleep for a few nights without, um, paying...”

The two looked at her incredulously. Joyce realized how strange she must seem, an obvious tourist with her accent and her California tan, asking if there was somewhere where she could stay basically for free. She found herself giving a quick, jumbled explanation of her morning.

The guy sitting farther from her sneered, speaking in a voice that was soft yet barbed, thorns hidden in a cotton ball.

“Why look Ripper, it’s a little lost lamb, freshly fleeced. Now, what should we do about that?”

“Oh, nothing she doesn’t thoroughly want us to.” The guy called Ripper replied. He turned to Joyce and smiled an asymmetrical smile that absolutely should not have sent a slick blue current of energy coursing through her. “Well, luv, we’ve got a nice little squat going just now. It’s hardly Buck' Palace, but it’s cozy enough. So whadda ya say? Wanna come back with me to my place? I'll make it an experience you'll never forget.” He raised an eyebrow suggestively and continued to grin.

“Oh!” Joyce wasn’t sure what a squat was, but she’d understood the rest of it well enough. “Umm, thanks so much for the offer, but I-I’m really not interested, thanks.” Joyce pulled her bag back onto her shoulder and slipped off the pedestal.

“Wait.” His voice was softer now, the rough edges sanded down slightly. Joyce reluctantly turned to face him. “Don’t run off. I meant it when I said I wouldn't do anything you didn't want me to. Look, this city can be real scary at night, yeah? I’m trying to offer you a safe place to stay. No conditions.”

His friend rolled his eyes and made a little scoffing noise.

“Ah yes, he strikes again! Ripper, friend to the helpless, savior of the innocent. Watcher over the flock. A truly incurable case.”

There was something pointed in his remark, a reference to something Joyce didn’t understand.

Ripper glared at his friend. “Ethan.” The word was a stern warning. Ethan shrugged with exaggerated nonchalance.

“Fine, fine. You know I’m right though.”

Ripper glared at him once more before turning back to Joyce. It was weird, Joyce reflected, that his friend seemed to be mocking him for being nice but, oddly, Joyce found that comforting. It seemed to suggest that the concern was genuine. And besides, there was something in his expression, a sincerity which had been entirely lacking earlier and which Joyce was already beginning to suspect Ethan was incapable of. Besides, she thought mischievously, despite the silly name, this Ripper really was very cute. Kind of a Robert Redford meets Burt Reynolds, meets… some mysterious quality that she couldn't name but found herself wanting to understand.

“Alright. Thank you.”

“Alright then!” Ripper’s voice was loud and brash again, the soft-spoken version vanished like a daydream. He smiled that crooked smile and hopped agilely to his feet. His hand sprang out and hovered expectantly in the air between them.

What did he want? To hold hands?

“I, uh...”

“Ya gonna leave me waiting here all night? I’m offering to carry your bag, ya dozy bint!” He was smiling still, no real malice in his voice.

“Oh! I, uh, I see.” She felt the weight of the bag digging in to her stiff shoulder already. The looting earlier today had only lightened it slightly. The most valuable items rarely weigh the most. Ripper’s grin was half amusement, half a dare. Oh, what the hell? Joyce had little left to lose, and what had playing it safe ever gotten her anyway? She slid the bag down her arm and handed it to him.

Ripper slug the bag over his shoulder with ease and sauntered down the steps, humming an unfamiliar tune. She paused for a moment, taking in the strange turn her day had taken, before rushing forward to catch up with him at the cross walk. He grinned at her again and casually draped his free arm across her shoulder while they waited for the light to change. That tingly blue energy zipped down through her body, sharper this time. Uh-oh. She felt vaguely that trouble was on the horizon, that no good would come of this, but she also felt the bright rush of knowing that she had passed into uncharted waters. She heard Ethan scoff behind them, but she didn't pay much attention to him as she followed Ripper out of the fading light of the circle and into the shadow draped street beyond. As she left, she turned and looked back at the state one last time. For a moment, she could swear that his invisible arrow was pointing directly at her. Uh-oh, indeed.
littleotter73: pondering (Default)

[personal profile] littleotter73 2017-07-03 01:26 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks! Sorry I wasn't around yesterday to answer.