Chapter 5 - The Sentinel
VOICES IN MY HEADChapter 5 – The Sentinel
Methos shifted in his cramped airplane seat in a futile attempt at getting comfortable and watched as his student tried to charm the Slayer and fend off the Witch simultaneously. He was surprisingly adept at it which suggested he’d had lots of practice at it. If it wasn’t for the circumstances it would have been cute.
Thinking of recent events, of course, left him questioning his sanity and wondering just why he stayed with this group of lunatics.
The easy answer was that it kept him away from Duncan MacLeod. The Scoobies, the potentials and the Slayers’ branch of the Council weren’t the only ones attacked by the First. Duncan MacLeod had also been targeted by a minion of the First known only as Arhiman. It wasn’t until after he’d joined the rebuilt Slayer’s Council that Methos had made the connections and realized that Duncan had been neutralized because he could have prevented much of the damage if he’d been in Sunnydale helping the Slayer.
Duncan still hadn’t recovered emotionally from that horror so Methos walked softly around him and was giving him the space he needed.
His research into what happened to Duncan had just been wrapped up when Xander took an unexpected challenge in Tanzia. It was unexpected in the sense that no one, not even Xander, had realized that he was Immortal. When Rupert asked him to go to Xander and help him with the realities of being an Immortal, he had very nearly refused and dumped the boy in Amanda’s lap. He didn’t mainly because Amanda already had a student and Duncan would never forgive him for sending Amanda into danger.
So he’d caught the next flight out to the airport nearest to the newborn Immortal and spent the next few months in some of the most remote and war-torn parts of the world teaching the lad and trying, unsuccessfully, to get him to return to England.
Of course, meeting Xander in person had been a bit of a shock. The young Immortal wasn’t at all like he’d been led to expect. The Slayer and the Witch in particular seemed to have a skewed idea of who and what Xander was.
Buffy had pulled him aside before he had left for Africa to warn him that Xander was brave as a bear but he didn’t know the first thing about fighting. That Adam would have to stop him from throwing himself recklessly at opponents that would and could kill him. She strongly emphasized his need for training and his lack of self-preservation. She was particularly worried that the African slayers wouldn’t be able to fight his challenges for him.
Willow also pulled him aside before he had left. Her warnings were only slightly different. She told him that Xander meant well, but he wasn’t very book-smart so he tended to follow his heart instead. That Adam would have to be careful how he explained things so as not to confuse him. Also, she warned, he has a very odd sense of humor and it might seem that he isn’t taking things seriously, but don’t be offended because he doesn’t mean anything by it.
Rupert pulled him aside as well, but that was more to warn him not to listen too closely to what the Slayer and the Witch might have told him about Xander. The Council’s Head had said, “He’s still the most stubborn and bull-headed person I know, but he’s not the reckless teen or the dimwitted young boy that the girls have fixed in their minds either. Make your own decisions based on the man who you will meet once you arrive.”
And that was the best advice of all.
No, Xander hadn’t been what he had been expecting; which was a demon hunting version of Richie. There was a real hardness to Xander that Richie had only pretended to possess. Not that Richie hadn’t had the potential to become dark and haunted, but Mac had made a lot of effort in restoring the boy’s faith in humanity and preserving what innocence he’d retained. Xander obviously hadn’t had that luxury.
Buffy was correct in that he was brave, but unlike her mental image of image of him, he could fight. And well at that. It wasn’t in any one formal technique, but a mish-mash of various styles that evolved as he went through life. The intensive training that he had provided was absorbed quickly and helped to polish out a lot of the rough edges.
He interpreted Willow’s comment about not being book-smart as to mean formally educated and that was true enough. Xander’s schooling left a lot to be desired, but the man was not stupid and as for the joking goof-off that he’d be warned about, there was none of that in evidence. Instead he had found a man with a dark and morbid sense of humor complete with a lot of sarcasm spilling over to cover the fact that he was almost overly serious to the point of obsession.
Methos had liked him instantly.
He’d also attributed the girl’s unreal ideas of who Xander was to the Cassandra effect. Bluntly put, they saw what they wanted to see by looking at him through a filter of the past. Cassandra looked at Methos and only saw the Horseman of Death; she didn’t see the past two and a half thousand years of peaceful living, avoiding the game and becoming a doctor over and over again in an effort to redeem his acts of terror.
Buffy and Willow looked at Xander and saw the highschool boy who made dumb mistakes, was just learning how to fight, was confused by the complex world around him even as he was trying to find his place in it. Methos met the man that young boy had grown up to be.
So, he had spent several months following Xander across Africa, hunting down newly activated slayers, slipping past civil-war front lines, lending a helping hand in refugee camps, dusting vamps and of course, training with a sword and axe so that Xander could keep his head when challenged. He tried endlessly to convince Xander to leave the demon hunting business and concentrate on settling down and training for the Game. Needless to say, that didn’t work and he had eventually returned to England alone.
But he had stayed with the Council in the guise of Adam Pierson, hiding his past from his new employers and co-workers easily. It was an interesting job and one that was fairly safe. It also kept him busy while he waited for Duncan to feel social again.
He had helped Giles research the Key. He had helped Willow research James Ellison. He honestly believed that this would work as long as Ellison was willing to help out and didn’t think that they were all nuts. He also had a real desire to help out Xander.
On the other hand, he really didn’t want to be on this cramped airplane winging its way to Cascade Washington.
From what little he could tell, Cascade wasn’t like its sister-city Seattle. Seattle had a fairly large demon population, particularly vampires. Cascade didn’t. Instead, Cascade had been a haven to a few quiet Immortals with the occasional headhunter moving through it. Methos didn’t want Xander taking a Quickening until he had a better handle on the changes made in him by the Key. Who knew what would happen if the amount of energy and power generated by a Quickening was poured through the boy before he was ready. On the other hand, he didn’t want to end up taking anyone’s head either.
His past was long and not too pretty. He could hide it easily enough until he ended up in a challenge and then his real personality, his true self so to speak, came through. Adam was a nice enough fellow; smart, concerned, gentle and inquisitive. Methos was a survivor that didn’t believe in giving quarter to an enemy.
Xander, he was sure, had his suspicions, but the boy would never say anything unless he felt that the secret he could practically smell was a danger to his friends.
And despite their almost intentional blind-spot when it came to Xander, Buffy and Willow were very perceptive and intelligent warriors. If he wavered in his pretending to be Adam even once, they would pick up on that. Now that he knew them, he believed that they would forgive him his past, but he wasn’t so sure about the fact that he lied in the first place.
The whole situation was enough to give him a headache and make him crave a beer.
Still, headache or not, he was here for the duration. Both Xander and Dawn were worth it and they were the ones that were truly suffering here. If he ended up fighting a challenge in order to protect them, then he would. Afterwards, when Buffy and Willow could no longer deny what it really meant to be an Immortal, he would do everything he could to keep them from locking Xander up in some tower all wrapped in cotton bunting.
Willow in particular would be difficult to deal with. She had the notion that the Game was just that: a sick and twisted game of one-upmanship. It wasn’t a game; of course, it was only called that because there was a supposed prize at the end. It was a Game, in the same nature as the games at the Roman Coliseum had been; deadly contests of strength and skill where the loser died and the winner was rewarded with his life and possibly his freedom. It was an ancient and barbaric practice that Willow’s modern sensibilities simply couldn’t accept.
Thinking of Willow made Methos shift his attention back to the trio sitting in the row in front of him once again. Xander had finally convinced the red-haired witch that yes he could drink alcohol, no he didn’t need a blanket or a nap, and yes he was fine despite the god-awful racket the creaking of the plane made to his sensitive ears.
Adam sighed with slight pity for the young Immortal. One of his wives had mothered him terribly and it had been an interesting and novel experience for a while. Then it had just gotten on his nerves and been insulting. He’d faked his death and left that wife fairly quickly.
Between the witch smothering him and the Slayer acting like she would break into tears if he shouted too loudly, Adam didn’t know how Xander put up with it. No wonder the boy made sure to spend so much time away from Council Headquarters.
Methos stepped out of the cramped hotel bathroom only to see Xander sitting Indian-style on one of the beds meditating. Rubbing his short hair dry with a cheep cotton towel, he considered the young Immortal sitting so still and quiet.
Until recent events had proven otherwise, he hadn’t believed that Xander could actually be still and calm for any length of time. His Quickening only seemed to amplify a natural hyperactive personality that was constantly being hit with large shots of adrenaline and fear. Xander was the kind of person who preferred to pace than to stand still or sit down and when forced to do the later would fidget and twitch the entire time.
And yet, here he was, perfectly calm and totally still while immersed in his own mind.
Methos knew that it was because he could contact Dawn, talk with her and get her opinions on what was going on. He also had some suspicions that he could chat with the other mental riff-raff that he’d collected over his years battling the supernatural, but he hadn’t confronted him on that. He hadn’t wanted to take the chance that Buffy or Willow would overhear. That would just lead to a huge, and probably loud, lecture on how dangerous it was and that Xander should know better than to risk himself. It would be easier just to talk to the young man when they were alone.
For now though, he wanted to review the material they had collected on James Ellison again. In the morning the four of them would head over to speak with them and Methos had a feeling that all the little revelations that they were going to drop on the guy were not going to be accepted with a smile.
Tossing his towel aside, he quickly pulled a pair of sweatpants out of his travel bag and stepped into them. Another moment and he yanked a faded Henley over his head and started digging for socks. It was cold here in Cascade and just as rainy as London. He thought it was a pity that Ellison didn’t live in the Bahamas.
Pushing that irrelevant thought aside, Methos pulled out the folder of printed information that Willow had put together for him and opened it up. The top sheet had his current bio on it with all the pertinent information including a small photo.
Name: James J. Ellison
Address: 852 Prospect, Cascade, WA 98765
Parents: William and Mary (deceased) Ellison
Siblings: Stephen Ellison
Job: Cascade Police Detective; Major Crimes Department (several time winner of the ‘Officer of the Year’ Award)
Willow also had a sheet listing the basics of many of the high-profile cases that he had worked on. His partner for the vast majority of these cases was one Blair Sandburg. Methos glanced over at the second folder, one that contained information on Detective Sandburg. Methos turned back to what he was reading; he’d review the other file in a minute.
The next section detailed Ellison’s military experience. It was actually pretty impressive, at least what little Willow had been able to get. Most of the files were literally blacked out. Ellison had been in the Army Special Services doing covert-ops and as such his files were very hard to find without a lot of creative editing going on in them.
What they had been able to find was that he had been a member of an eight man Anti-Insurgents team that had gone down in a helicopter crash in Peru. He had been listed as Missing-In-Action for about eighteen months. When he was finally found, he complained of intense pain from extremely heightened senses. All five of them; hearing, vision, smell, taste and touch were recorded as being completely off the chart for human standards. Medicine didn’t help and neither did therapy. Eventually, the Army offered him a medical discharge and Ellison went home to Washington State.
He laid low for a while recovering and then joined the Police Academy. Willow speculated that between leaving the Army and joining the Police, Ellison had somehow learned to control his senses or they somehow faded back to tolerable levels. Methos agreed.
Blair Sandburg coming into his life seems to be another turning point for Ellison. Methos had a few theories about that. Picking up Sandburg’s file, Methos flipped it open and sorted through it.
Name: Blair Sandburg PhD.
Address: 852 Prospect, Cascade, WA 98765
Parents: Naomi Sandburg
Job: Cascade Police Detective / Profiler; Major Crimes Department
The interesting thing about Sandburg is that he hadn’t originally been a Police Officer when he first met Ellison. He had been a graduate student working towards his PhD. His original dissertation topic had been on Sentinels; beings whose senses are naturally heightened far beyond any other beings, human or animal. Apparently, he had been on the educational fast-track and many thought that he would be the youngest person to be awarded their Doctorate Degree at Rainer University.
Then he’d met Ellison and his dissertation stalled and never started again. From what he and Willow could piece together, Sandburg’s apartment blew up and he moved in with Ellison. Then he got a ride-along pass with the Cascade P.D. and worked as an unpaid profiler while gathering information for his dissertation, which was listed with the Cascade P.D. as being about the Department as a modern day closed society. It wasn’t until two years later that Sandburg had officially switched topics with Rainer University.
Then things got confusing. Blair had apparently, kept writing his original dissertation as well as the second one. The original, the one on Sentinels in general and Ellison in particular, got sent to a publisher instead of his dissertation review committee. Blair publicly denounced it and was kicked out of the PhD program and fired from his part-time teaching position. He immediately joined the Police Academy.
Apparently there were some legal problems with the city because of a bunch of loose threads, so Sandburg hired a top lawyer and got things straightened out by suing the publisher, the University and his own mother. It turns out that she was the one who sent his dissertation to the publisher without permission, only now he was calling it a rough draft of a possible work of fiction whose main character he modeled after Ellison. The publisher had published and promoted his unfinished book without permission or a contract. He claimed the University had fired him and removed him from the PhD program without just cause since they knew what his dissertation was supposed to be and he had yet to turn it into his review committee.
It had been, to all intents and purposes, a media circus and Sandburg came out smelling like a victimized rose instead of being labeled a fraud. He had then entered Washington State University’s PhD program and defended his dissertation about closed societies and was awarded his Doctorial Degree.
Methos saw several possibilities when he read between the lines. Either Sandburg found out about Ellison’s heightened senses and he agreed to help the student with his studies or Ellison lost control of his senses and sought out Sandburg when he heard about his area of expertise. Either way, Methos was fairly sure that partway through his dissertation, about two years into it to be exact, Sandburg decided it would be harmful to Ellison to publish it, even with a backwater University that no one ever heard of.
Willow had tried to get a copy of the dissertation, but all copies had been destroyed by Court Order and only Sandburg himself had the original. Reports stated that he might still edit it into a true fiction story, but Methos doubted that highly. And even if he did, Xander couldn’t wait for a maybe that they’d still have to sift truth from fiction with.
Most important of all was the fact that these two men were dangerous. When he had pointed that out at the beginning of their trip, only Xander seemed to agree. He recognized Ellison as a highly trained warrior and a predator in his own right. He also saw Sandburg as a scarily intelligent man who knew how to manipulate events to favor him.
Buffy was a Slayer, one of the last ones called in the traditional fashion and as such she tended to use force and blunt strength when subtlety would be better. Her attitude of ‘they’ll help or else’ wouldn’t go over well with either man. In fact, Methos figured that was the totally wrong way to approach them. Human enemies were sometimes worse than demonic ones, and that was something that Buffy had never had to learn.
Willow was of the opposite extreme; she believed that if they were very honest and just explained the situation that they would be moved to help Xander. In spite of all that she had seen and done, Willow still had the innate belief in the goodness of people in general. Methos thought it was romantically old fashioned of her, but also naive to the point of willful stupidity.
Not that Methos didn’t agree that honesty would be necessary; simply because if Ellison’s hearing was anywhere as good as Xander’s, he’d be able to spot a lie from twenty paces. It was after that point that Methos was worried about. Nobody reacted well to learning about the supernatural at first. Denial, fear and anger were normal.
If Ellison and Sandburg thought they were nuts, then it would be a legal battle of epic proportions to keep themselves out of an asylum or jail. If instead they actually believed them, then they had to worry about the two of them suffering some sort of existential crisis or diving head first into a bout of paranoia.
Hopefully things would go well, but he wanted to be prepared for it to get ugly.
With a sigh, Methos closed the two folders and slipped them back into his bag. He walked across the room and flopped down on his own bed when Xander shivered slightly and gasped deeply. Turning to face the younger Immortal, Methos carefully shifted his face into an expression worn by his alias Adam when he was being politely curious.
Xander opened his eye and smiled.
Methos sat at the small cafe table and despaired of ever making Buffy and Willow understand the warnings that he was trying to give them. What they were trying to do was unlike anything they had attempted before and it was with a type of person that they were not used to dealing with. He was going to give it one last attempt and then if they still didn’t understand, he would focus on damage control.
“Look, just listen for a moment.” Buffy’s face was an expression of mule-headed stubbornness and Willow’s was slightly condescending. “These men aren’t what you think they are. They are fighters in a way that no slayer could be, because they don’t face monsters, they face off against their fellow man and that is a totally different mind-set.”
One of Buffy’s eyebrows lifted slightly. He was sure she was trying to convey interest, but it came across as disdain.
“These men are highly trained Police Detectives,” he raised one hand to stop the flow of chatter that he could see coming when they both opened their mouths, “and after listening to Dawn rant about her hometown I don’t think either of you understands just what that means. From what I could gather, Sunnydale’s government was corrupt from the top down. That means that any cops hired or trained there were chosen for the job for one of two reasons; easily corrupted themselves or gross incompetence.”
He fixed them both with a sharp glance.
“You won’t find either of that here. These men will be wary, observant and dangerous. One is a highly trained warrior and the other has proven to be able to manipulate both the laws and public perception to his will.”
He pointed at Buffy, “Strong-arm tactics won’t work here and will only put them on the defensive. A war with a Sentinel Guardian is not how I want to spend the next thirty years. No threats. Neither man will cave, but they will take them deadly seriously.”
He pointed to Willow, “You are very used to being the smarted person in any room you step into. Blair Sandburg is at least as intelligent as you, if not more so. On top of that, he’s probably a bit less naive when it comes to human nature. You tend to towards the black and white ideal of human-good, demon-bad. He knows better. Being condescending to him will be an insult that he won’t let stand.”
Both of the women looked shocked and hurt by his words, but he could only hope that because of that they would sink in.
“We are about to dump the true reality of the world into the laps of two of the most dangerous men on the planet. Personal revelation is always accompanied by fear, anger and denial. This could get very ugly, very quickly. Be polite, be understanding and please don’t be threatening.”
Buffy recovered from her shock first and a look of understanding slid over her face. Unfortunately, Methos’ hopes were dashed as soon as she opened her mouth.
“Adam, you don’t have to be afraid of these men. I won’t let them hurt you if they get upset. I’m the Slayer. Plus, you know, Willow could always stop them with magic.”
A look of disappointment flittered across his face before he could fix a mask of resignation in its place. “And what will you do when they put out an alert to every government on the planet warning about four armed and dangerous lunatics wandering about talking of fighting off vampires?”
“That won’t happen.” Willow’s voice was earnest in her attempt to soothe him. “I won’t let it.”
He pinched the bridge of his nose and then turned a helpless look at Xander. Xander merely looked back at him with his face a blank mask and shrugged.
“Don’t look at me, if I agree with you that will only make them argue against you harder. No matter what you say, they will always think they are right and that you are wrong. Even after the dust has settled and everyone has to pick up the mess from their mistakes.”
Twin looks of indignant shock turned towards the young man, “Xander!”
Xander’s look on the other hand turned smug, “See? I’m wrong again. Even though I can sit here and list specific examples until the sun sets without repeating myself once.” He shrugged. “Let’s just take it as fact that both of the girls will offend and insult these guys at least once and get this day over with.”
Methos swallowed half of his beer in one long pulled and then let out a tired sigh. He hated being proven right at times like these.
Neither Sandburg nor Ellison seemed to like or trust Buffy and Willow very much. Oh, it had started off okay. They had gone to the two Police Detective’s apartment in downtown Cascade and knocked on the door. There had been a brief introduction period followed by a sincere plea for help. Then came the explanations of the ‘real’ world and how Xander had been affected by his contact with various magics. All mention of Dawn and the Key were left out.
Then, just as Methos had predicted, Sandburg and Ellison had freaked out. Sandburg was open to the idea that something weird had happened to Xander that might have woken up latent Sentinel abilities, but he baulked at the idea of that something being magic. Ellison was just catapulted into an extreme state of defensive paranoia. It was only the girls intervention that prevented the big cop from calling in backup to have them all arrested and held for psychiatric evaluation. Methos’ smug smirk and muttered, “I told you so,” probably didn’t help any.
Finally, the only recourse left was to demonstrate the truth for the two skeptics. Buffy bent a metal tire-iron into a pretzel with her bare hands only for Willow to fix it with glowing sparkles of magic. He did his part by cutting the palm of his hand and letting it heal in a shower of blue sizzling energy. Then Xander capped the show by sliding into one of his fugue-states and freezing up like a statue.
Actually, that was probably the best thing that could have happened at that point. As much as is sucked for Xander, that was what was needed to get both Sandburg and Ellison from feeling incredibly blindsided and helpless in the face of the unknown and into a position of expertise and experience. By focusing on Xander and helping him come back from whatever la-la-land he’d drifted off to had allowed them to step back from the immediate fear and horror of magic and mystically super-strong women and strange men that lived forever hiding amongst the mortals. It was, after all, a hell of a lot to take in all at once. By the time that Xander was focused on what was going on instead of being stuck inside his own head, the two men had calmed down a whole lot.
That’s when Xander took up the story. He explained how back when he was a teen, way before he had found out he was really an Immortal, he had dressed up for Halloween in a set of old Army fatigues that he had bought at a local Army-Navy Surplus store. He and Willow had then woven a horrifying story about a cruel mage that worshipped the forces of chaos enchanting costumes so that people would turn into whatever it was they were supposed to be. Xander had, for a single night, become Captain James Ellison; US Army Ranger. The chaos magic born spirit of Captain Ellison, trapped inside of the teenaged Xander, had run around Sunnydale protecting the 17th century noble-woman that Buffy had dressed as from all of the people who had been dressed as vampires, werewolves and pirates. They didn’t mention that those things, baring the pirates, were actually real.
Buffy then took up the tale and spoke about how Xander and her sister Dawn had been attacked. She told that Dawn had died, but Xander’s immortality had saved him. Only now, whatever had happened had woken up the strange abilities the possessing spirit of Captain Ellison had inadvertently left behind.
After that, Ellison had called out for some take-out and Sandburg had run Xander through a series of tests and examinations while simultaneously quizzing him about his experiences. It had taken a while and Willow had sat with them through the whole thing, alternately asking a question that sparked a great flood of information from Sandburg or getting in the way with her fussing and interruptions.
He and Buffy had sat further away with Ellison and tried to answer as many questions as they could without going into to much detail about vampires and demons and Immortals. They didn’t lie, but they down played it a lot. Neither of them wanted the big cop to flip out once again and despite him clinging to calm acceptance with his fingertips, it wasn’t hard to see that it wouldn’t take much to upset him.
By the time the food had arrived, Sandburg had pronounced that Xander had the ‘gift’, although from the expression on Ellison’s face one could easily see that he considered it closer to a curse than a gift. Still, whichever way you looked at it, Xander had it. According to Sandburg, he wasn’t as talented as Ellison, especially in the areas of touch, taste or sight. His sense of smell and hearing, though, was another story all together. Those were so far off the chart that the chart might as well not even exist.
They had finally called it an evening as Xander was exhausted, everyone’s nerves were shot and both Sandburg and Ellison had a hell of a lot of information to process. Plans were made to meet up the next night so that Sandburg could do some more tests and then teach Xander as many tricks for learning to control the sensory spikes he was suffering as possible.
And now, he sat in the darkened motel room drinking as many beers as he could down and watching Xander sleep. He sincerely hoped that the two cops could help the younger immortal control and deal with his heightened senses; not only because he was in constant danger from headhunters until he could prevent himself from slipping into those fugue states that Sandburg called ‘Zone-Outs’, but also because if the Slayer and the Witch didn’t back off soon he was sure the boy would completely freak-out over their constant mothering and unintentional put-downs.
Unfortunately, he didn’t know how to make them stop. ‘Them’ being either mystically heightened senses or mystically enhanced big-sisters, or both.