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Four days in December

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Summary: A sequel to CHANGING THE GUARD by DonSample. Giles explains to Matt Santos How Things Really Are. Features politics and a lot of talking. Slight edit 09/02/07.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > West Wing > General(Past Donor)vogonguardFR1546,40231613,9086 Feb 076 Feb 07Yes

Day Four

See Chapter One for Disclaimers and stuff.

The last and longest chapter. A lot of talking.

=====

The next afternoon.

Giles had slept most of the morning away, before showering and eating the sort of generic lunch that can be found in any hotel catering for Americans anywhere in the world. Then into the car with Riley and along to a suburban but prosperous district which had been suddenly transformed by the descent of the United States Secret Service. They parked the car a couple of blocks away, in a temporary secure car park and walked the rest of the way. Riley showed the humourless men with the radio earpieces his military ID. Giles showed them his passport and then they were walking up to the back door of the house and being admitted to a kitchen where a brown skinned, athletic man was waiting, sitting in his shirt sleeves, his tie loosened.

“Mr. Chairman, thank you for coming.”

”Mr President-Elect, thank you for inviting me.”

”This is my last day in my old house for a while. My wife and kids are at a farewell party at their old school. Most of our stuff is in boxes. But we won’t be disturbed for a while. I thought it better than meeting in Washington.”

”Very kind of you, sir. I would rather keep my face off as many records as possible. And totally out of the newspapers.”

”Hmmm. Sit, sit. Coffee?”

”Coffee would be fine.”

”Major.” Riley made his way to the coffee pot and began to serve, standing at attention when he was done, a young officer waiting for his commander in chief’s orders.

“You haven’t been totally successful in keeping your face out of the papers.”

”Hmmm?”

”There’s a lot about the collapse of Sunnydale on the Internet. And you are one of the mysterious people on ‘The Last Bus’.” The President-elect did little air-quotes around the last phrase.

“Ah, yes. Them.” Giles sniffed. “Happily, the people who frequent alt.conspiracy.sunnydale and the related web-sites have mostly got things wildly wrong. And some of my younger colleagues take a perverse delight in leading them up the garden path. If the demon community frequented the Net more often the picture would be different but happily they are mostly very conservative when it comes to technology.”

”’The demon community’? That sounds very… troubling to me. The things that go bump in the night have communities?”

”They always have had. The Council classifies demons by much the same criteria as a doctor will classify diseases and injuries. By triage. We say there are the ones who are harmless all the time. Those we leave alone or even treat as potential friends. There are the ones who are deadly to humanity all the time. Those we seek to contain or wipe out. And there are those who may or may not prove a threat depending on how they are treated by us or how circumstances turn out. Those we treat…. Variously, depending on circumstances.”

“Hmmm.”

There was silence for a few moments. Giles sipped his coffee while the President-elect sat watching him, his face as still as a stone mask. Then the younger man began again.

“I’m wondering what I should do about you, Mr Chairman.”

”Why do you feel you have to do anything about us, sir?”

”Why, suh, for one thing your people, according to the information I have, regularly kidnap young women all over the world and recruit them as soldiers in your war against the ah demon communities. That is surely going to be of concern to any government.”

”You’d be surprised how much some governments are willing to ignore for the right price. But no, we don’t do ‘kidnapping’ any more. Oh, under the old Council, yes, on a regular basis, potential Slayers were taken from their families and trained. Even then we preferred persuasion or bribery. For a lot of cultures a daughter is not an asset. Nowadays, we have different standards…”

”And a lot more Slayers…”

”Yes, that makes a difference too.”

Matthew Santos frowned. “Was it really necessary?”

”Sir?”

”To create so many of them? How many do you have now, anyway?”

Giles smiled coldly. ”I see absolutely no reason for me to tell you that, Mr President-elect.” In the background, Riley went slightly rigid and watched to see his about-to-be-Commander-In-Chief’s reaction. There was none.

“But as you say a lot more. As to the necessity…” Giles paused, absently took a handkerchief from his pocket and began polishing his glasses. “I thought so at the time. To a great extent I still think so. The army of Turok-Han were a terrifying threat by themselves. If the First Evil had managed to become corporeal again… It would have been a rapid route to Hell on Earth. Buffy’s scheme was brilliant and I was ready to grasp at any straw. Occasionally, though in the middle of the night, I wonder if there was some other way. If I had thought through things in a different light…. If we had used Willow’s magical potential differently… But these are just second thoughts. Just guesses. What we did try worked and I have to be content with that. You have been a military officer. I suspect you know all about second thoughts, the regrets of hindsight.”

”Something about them, yes.” The President-elect paused for a moment. “I have a daughter, you know.”

”Yes, sir. I do know.”

”It’s been keeping me awake a night, since I found out about you people. What I would I do if she was…. What’s your word? Chosen?”

”Yes, that’s right.”

”Should I be afraid? Can you even tell me?”

Giles paused and framed his answer very carefully. “No, or rather not yet. We have spells that detect Potentials: and we used to be able to find them from their early childhood. But Willow's modification of the spell seems to have changed that: now we cannot find them until they enter puberty. Girls are never Chosen before the age of menarche: we think that there is some connection between becoming a woman and becoming able to receive the power of the Slayer.”

”Only think? After all this time?”

”We no longer have the ability to create a spell such as the one the Shadow Men wove to create the Slayer. Even Willow could only modify it, not really understand it. We also think that the spell looks for a suitable personality. All the Potentials are brave, all are healthy, all have a trait we term ‘protection-orientated’, for want of a better phrase. They will want to keep the darkness away from those they love. They are… great souled, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. Does any of that describe your daughter?”

”Hmmmph. Maybe. Who can tell that sort of thing when she’s still playing with dolls and doing finger painting?”

“Certainly not me.”

”There are other concerns, other reasons for me to consider what the policy of my administration should be to the Watchers.”

”Perhaps you would be so kind as to list them?”

“OK…. Firstly, I don’t understand you. I don’t understand what it is you do and what it is drives you. You can do stuff that no-one else can do and you do your best to keep it to yourselves and not let anyone else learn what you know. Secondly, whatever it is that you’re doing you’re not answerable to anyone else but yourselves. You are your own judge and jury. You’re a sovereign power, in effect, a secret nation that no-one knows about. And thirdly, like any other sovereign power you have an armed force to do your dirty work, to fight your wars and enforce your will. And you recruit that force from all the other nations in the world and fight your wars in secret on their territory, on our territory without so much as a tip of the hat or a by-your-leave to the legal authorities. And fourthly, while Major Finn has made it clear that he admires you personally he also thinks that you are one ruthless sonuvabitch when anything gets in your way.” The President-elect paused and took a sip of his coffee. “Comments?”

”Oh, yes, well… To all charges, guilty. With the same excuse in each case: because it’s necessary.”

“Is it?”

”Indeed. It all springs from your first accusation. We do, indeed, try to keep our knowledge secret. We fail, all too often, because in some ways magic is frighteningly easy.”

”It is? Major Finn gave me the impression that magical talent was a rarity.”

”If we’re talking about the sort of talent that Willow Rosenberg has, then yes. Very few people can create new magics, modify old ones or simply will the universe to behave the way they want. But that’s not what most magicians do. Most magicians use spells that have been recorded by previous magicians. They invoke demons and spirits in precisely the same way as they have always been invoked and get precisely the same result. There is always a price, whether it is paid in gold or blood or the soul of the invoker. But it is reliable. And often very effective. One can, if one is persistent enough, find all the knowledge that is needed to build a nuclear weapon or breed a war plague in public sources. But there are books in existence which make the power of the atom or DNA look like water pistols. And often they require only a few simple ingredients to make them work.”

”Such as? You don’t give me a lot of specifics.”

”Well now, let me see… Tell me, sir, have you ever heard of Jonathan Levinson? Does the name mean anything to you?”

”I… Ummm. Yes, it does. He was…. In that TV show? The teen thing…. I caught it a couple of times. He played the boy next door…. What was it called…. Or, wait no! Didn’t I see him in a feature in the Economist? About the future of nanotechnology and its applications in medicine? He was running some biotech company they were puffing up. A few years back.”

”No, sir.” Giles pulled a photograph from his briefcase. “This is Jonathan Levinson.”

”Yes, yes, that’s the face I remember. What’s this all about?”

”You sir, like a large number of people around the world are suffering from what the pop-psychologists are calling False Jonathan Syndrome. People remember him as starring in movies, as releasing records, as working on a cure for cancer. But this is the boy they are remembering and he lived and died in Sunnydale. He was a rather sad little fellow, not one of life’s successes until he came across a book and discovered he had a talent for magic. The very first spell he cast rewrote the universe to make him… the most amazing, talented, admired person in it. Fortunately, his conscience wouldn’t let him keep on paying the price that was required in the deaths of other people. Now his fame is just a few ghost-like memories in people all around the world. Another person might have ridden such a spell to become… I don’t know… King of the World. There are thousands, perhaps millions of books out there which will give you power like that. Even more power than that. We are the ones who contain the threat from such things.”

The President-elect grunted and stood up for a moment going to look out across the lawn. After a moment’s thought he turned back.

“I’m a Catholic, you know.”

”Yes, sir. I did know.”

”I… I got in contact with the Vatican about you. I eventually got referred to a Cardinal Guzman.”

”Ah, indeed. And what did his Eminence have to say?”

“He said…. That the Watchers Council does a lot of good work and that you were all probably eternally damned by the means you use to do it.”

”Hmmph.” Giles smiled. “That’s uncommonly generous of him. Naturally, he would feel that way. But considering the hostility that has existed between the Church and the Council since the days of the Apostles… That’s really very kind. We may be able to come to some sort of rapprochement with them… That’s something we haven’t had since the Inquisition drove us out of Rome in the thirteenth century.”

“Why did they do that?”

”Well, because the Church regards us as bunch of arrogant bastards who meddle with things clearly forbidden by holy writ. We use magics of all sorts, including the raising of spirits and demons and are just as subject to the temptations that come from power, both mundane and supernatural as others.”

”What keeps you from being corrupted by that power?”

”We have a ferocious internal discipline and will kill those of us who go out of control as readily as any demon. A Watcher who goes bad… There is no resigning from the Council. You only leave in a coffin, one way or another.”

”And do you believe you are damned?”

Giles stopped polishing his glasses and looked into the distance for a while.

“Some nights, I believe I am damned. On the really dark nights, I believe we all are. The Watchers, I mean. Not the Slayers. Never the Slayers. But I never believe that the job is unnecessary or that I can walk away from it. Most of us are agnostics of one sort or another. We know that there are things that call themselves gods. We even know for certain there are higher powers that look after mankind and try to protect it. We don’t know for certain if there is a One True God behind them. Those of us who are monotheists of one stripe or another manage to believe despite all the Things that they know Which Man Was Not Meant To. And they probably sleep sounder than I do at night.” Giles sniffed and started polishing his glasses again. “In my more cynical moments, by the way, I suspect that the Inquisition was set on us by the Church’s own magicians, to get rid of their biggest professional rivals.”

”The Church has…?”

”Ask His Eminence about the Simonites. I should be very interested to hear what reply you get.”

”I’ll do that.” The President elect prowled around the room, as if caged in it, his gaze returning to Giles as if examining something distasteful.

“You fight this war of yours as you will, where you will. You are not being held responsible by anyone outside your own organisation. Do you wonder if I find it hard to trust you.”

”We do not fight for our sake, sir. We fight for humanity’s sake. That is our Oath.”

”You fight for humanity but you don’t trust humanity to know what you’re up to.”

”Watchers don’t trust individual humans however much we may work for humans in general. We are perhaps prejudiced: we tend to come in contact with those members of humanity who are willing to sell it out for power, money, sex. And the ones who just like the idea of hell triumphing, who are on the side of the demons for philosophical or religious reasons.”

“Religious reasons?”

”You’ve been brought up to worship a god of love, of justice and mercy. The religious impulse can just as easily be found in people who want to worship… other things.”

“I…. I do not. I cannot trust you, Mr Giles. You are a man quite without restraints. I’ve spent the last few weeks discovering that although I may be, quote, ‘the most powerful man in the world’, unquote, I am still bound by the Constitution, by circumstances, by politics, by all sorts of things. The more power I get the greater the controls on that power. Which is as it should be, as our Founding Fathers intended it to be. What binds you, Mr Giles? What keeps you under control?”

”As I say, my Oath, my fellow Watchers and the… practicalities of our situation. I do not have nuclear weapons at my disposal, Mr President, but the horrors I do keep leashed are subject to just as many failsafes and precautions as yours. The cold war that we fight will probably go on until the end of the world really does come.”

”You will not tell me what those constraints are?”

”I… Most of them would be meaningless to you, sir. But if I may…”

Giles reached into his briefcase and brought out a set of papers, laying them carefully on the table between them.

“This is a copy of the treaty between the Watchers Council and the British Crown. The photocopy shows the original: the typescript is a version with modern English spelling. It is quite straightforward.”

”Hmmph.” The President-Elect picked up the document with deep suspicion. “Take me through this.”

”Well, firstly you will see that it is with the Crown, not the government. The Watchers report direct to the Monarch, not to any of her Ministers, although clause four provides for a permanent point of contact to be maintained by them. Even today, Her Majesty will be briefed before the Prime Minister. We also maintain the right to keep even the Premier in ignorance of our existence if we think it necessary.”

”The first clause says that the Crown entrusts the defence of the realm against the threat of the supernatural to the Watchers Council exclusively. The Crown will not use other organisations for that purpose and any military forces that are used for that purpose will be approved by the Council. In return the Council promises to base itself in the Kingdom and to provide for the said defence with its best endeavours.”

”The second clause says that the Crown will not retain any magician or use any form of magic without the approval of the Council.”

”Didn’t Queen Elizabeth have a court magician?”

”Doctor John Dee, yes. He was one of ours and one of the primary negotiators of the treaty.”

”Go on.”

”The third clause says that in return for the concession in clause two, the Council will not use magic for any political cause but will leave governing of the Realm to the Crown and its Ministers. Specifically we are forbidden to spy on one faction or party for another, to interfere with elections or the appointment of Ministers and officers. We are required to ensure that the Crown and its Ministers are not corrupted by dark magics: when the Monarch dies and there is a Succession Council the Chairman of the Council will arrange to check that the Heir isn’t a demonic impostor or possessed or under magical control but that is the extent of our involvement in constitutional matters. The Crown takes care of the mundane business, we are not a secret government or cabal of Illuminati: we have enough to do ensuring the world does not fall into Hell.”

”The fourth and final clause says that the Crown will maintain a permanent office that the Watchers can contact where they can request the aid of the state in carrying out their duties. That office has been hidden in various ways at various times, sometimes as part of the Royal Household, sometimes as part of the intelligence services. At the moment, it’s part of the Ministry of Health.”

”That’s it. All on one side of A4 paper: the basis of our arrangement with the English and later the British Monarchy.”

”Hmmph. And why haven’t you tried to negotiate something similar with the US government?”

”Ahh. Good question. Do you want such an arrangement?”

“Answer my question first.”

”Partly because my predecessors in the post were… unbelievably conservative. Even my grandmother, God rest her, who was perhaps the biggest reformer ever to hold the Chairman’s seal, still lived in the shadow of traditions so ancient that they predate the founding of the first cities. They felt that the US government was a rather new-fangled thing and wanted to give it more time to prove that this Republic idea of yours could be made to work.”

”I suppose that two hundred years isn’t enough proof for them.”

”No, it wasn’t. And there is one other thing.”

”Oh yes?”

”You have an admirably open and accessible government. This is no doubt a wonderful thing. But the Council doesn’t work openly or accessibly. It prefers governments that can keep its secrets over centuries: a President has only eight years if that before he must hand over to someone who may not be able to keep his mouth shut. I would ask you to imagine what it might have been like if John Hoynes had been president when the Initiative blew up: a man who could keep neither his fly nor his lips zipped.”

”I take your point. It was bad enough he had to impress his mistress with material from NASA and the CIA…”

”My immediate predecessor was in fact moving toward the idea of making formal contact with the Federal Government. He maintained that the founding of the CIA and the NSA showed that your Republic was finally maturing, by which he meant becoming as secretive and conniving as everybody else on the planet. However, the passing of the Freedom of Information Act gave the conservatives on the Council the chance to block that move.”

“I see. There is a difficulty isn’t there? Even if I decide an agreement with you people is desirable. I’m not authorised to sign treaties and you would never let me tell the Senate about it even in closed session….”

”No, sir. But if you were to sign a secret executive order it would I believe have the same effect….”

The President-elect fingered the typescript gingerly for a few moments as if afraid it would blow up in his face. Then he picked it up and looked at the other man and Giles knew he was home safe. Won’t have to use Willow’s little failsafe after all. Good. Hope I can remember how she said I was to disarm it…

”May I take this? I’d like to show this to my Secretary of State.”

”That is why I brought it. And you might like to give Secretary Vinick this: it’s a letter from one of our people he was friends with at Yale. It reminds him of certain things he saw one night…. Memories he may have suppressed.”

”I think Arnie Vinick might surprise you. He always did me….”

“Yes, I saw the Presidential debate… He is a remarkable man.”

”Hmmph. What exactly do you mean by keeping out of politics. I’m a politician, suh. Everything is political to me.”

”What it says. We don’t take sides, even in the event of civil wars. Which was hard for us during the Commonwealth period: Cromwell financed England’s only corps of official Witch Hunters. Some of our people died at the stake to keep the Council’s secrets. We deal with the government as it is, not as we would like it to be. There are Watchers all over the world and we do come and go and deal with the threats no matter which states are at odds with which. We do ask that friendly governments keep their spies and counterspies off our backs.”

”How many ‘friendly governments’ are there?”

”That varies, from time to time….”

”You’re not above a little blackmail or corruption if it will get the job done…”

”We like people to be friendly. Different people need different encouragement. But we do not permit ourselves to be financed by any government. Financial gifts we accept but nothing that would make the rulers think they own us or have any right to audit us. ‘Who pays the piper calls the tune’ and we will not dance to anyone’s tune but our own.”

”Lucky you. I’ve got a Congress full of hungry mouths to keep fed.”

”It is for the protection of the political process as much as for our protection sir. If we once chose to take sides in any dispute, there is very little that could stop our chosen allies. We could arrange for the peccadilloes, sexual, financial or otherwise, of the party we were not friendly to, to come to light simultaneously or one by one. We could arrange for tactically convenient and forensically undetectable murders or for selected individuals to go barking mad in a public and undeniable way. We don’t. Unfortunately some of our enemies are not so restrained.”

”Meaning?”

“May I show you something further?” Giles reached into his briefcase, pulled out a brown folder and handed it to the President.

”What am I looking at?”

”That is a photocopy of the LA coroner’s report on the death of Senator Brucker.”

”I remember. She and her staff got slaughtered by some sort of gang attack. They never discovered the culprits.”

”Gangs use firearms, Mr. President, not axes. And there was only one man, a very brave and rather desperate man, involved in the attack. Take a look at the photograph marked Number 3.”

”What the hell is that?”

”That is what they found when they cut open the Senator’s skull and looked at the brain. That is why the autopsy was never released and the original report was ‘accidentally’ shredded just after our people managed to copy it.”

”It looks like some sort of snake embedded in her skull….”

”It’s a Phrynanx demon. They’re parasites: they need a human host. Helen Brucker was a rather wild young lady: drugs, drink and sex were her crutches for dealing with a life made intolerable by abusive parents and poverty.”

”I remember. She had some sort of spiritual experience, got straightened out…”

”No, Mr President. She tried adding diabolism to her repertoire of crutches. The presiding ‘Grand Wizard’ had some talent and enough knowledge to make him dangerous. Helen Brucker died during the ceremony, of an overdose probably, and that moved into her still warm corpse and took over.”

”Oh, God…”

”For the next thirty years, the demon worked her like a glove puppet: wore her body and looked out at the world through her eyes. If it’s any consolation, the soul of the original girl was not kept captive but went on to… whatever reward awaited it. But the demon wanted more than just the simple pleasures of the flesh. It straightened out the mess she had made of her life and started to make something of … herself. She forged alliances on a supernatural level and then on a political level. We believe she had her eyes on a White House bid. I don’t know what we would have done if a demon had managed to get elected President. Fortunately, some…. Associates of ours chose to give their lives to end the ambitions of the Senator and some even more unpleasant things that were then corrupting the West Coast.”

”The….riots in L.A. the night the Senator died?”

”Were our friends falling beneath the wave of demons that were let loose at them in revenge. We got there too late to save them, in time to stop the demons from spreading out and taking the city.”

“I see. I suppose you would like me to thank you for that.”

”We so rarely get thanks, Mr President. Stormcrows are never appreciated.”

Matt Santos turned away again. Through the windows he could see the cluster of photographers at the end of the drive starting to come out of the somnolent doze that they had fallen into. Helen must be returning with the kids. Time to wrap this up.

“I will take into consideration everything you’ve said, Mr Chairman. I’ll consult with my people…”

”As few as you can, please Mr President,” said Giles, rising and closing his briefcase. “We will not provide any confirmation of anything that leaks to the press. Indeed, if you were to denounce us to the press we would vanish altogether. We’ve done it before.”

”I can believe that. I still feel as if I should take steps to have you shut down entirely. But I’m finding that as President I often can’t do the things I want…”

“In this field, more than most, Mr President-elect, you will find your options limited….”

“I have no shortage of people willing to mutter ‘Remember thou art mortal’, in my ear, thank you Mr Chairman. Starting with the Congress and working on down to talk show hosts.”

“Indeed. I may have to deal with un-nameable things from beyond the edges of the world seeking to overthrow the cosmic order and tribes of feral ghouls living in some of the slums of India but those two crosses I do not have to bear and I hope I am suitably grateful for it.”

“Mr Chairman.”

”Mr President-elect.”

They shook hands and as the press cameras fluttered outside, taking pictures of the First Family coming back for one last night in their old home, Riley lead Giles away to the car and off to the hotel.

“That went well, I thought.”

”He’s still pissed with you.”

”Yes, but only in the way he’s pissed with the French. Not the way he’s pissed with the Russians and the Chinese over Kazakhstan. And certainly not the way he’s pissed at the Mafia or the Columbian narcotics families.”

”And hey, maybe you can move up the scale and he can be pissed at you like he’s pissed at the British.”

”I was aiming for the Canadians…” Giles paused. “If he had stayed really pissed…. Would you have helped? To round us up, I mean?”

”Maybe. I’ve got a wife and family now, you know. Makes a man less liable to want to be an anarchist.”

”Hmmm. Well, I won’t tell Buffy that.”

”Appreciate it.”

The End

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