A special thanks to Cecile and mmooch for betaing this for me. I am looking for two permanent beta readers. Please contact me if you're interested.
I couldn't decide whether to shriek like Dawn, or laugh like a loon. There hanging outside my window was Parker, her cheeks flushed from all the blood rushing to her head. I'm not sure I had ever seen her this happy. There wasn't much I could do except invite her into my room.
The really freaky part was that I hadn't heard her behind me. There was this strange little niggle at the back of my head when Parker was around. I had to wonder if she was a potential that being Called.
I opened the window, and stepped back. Not that it would make a difference, but I couldn't bring myself to say the words and verbally invite her into my room. Old habits die hard, and all that crap. She did some cool type twisty thing with her body, and slid right through the window. It was as if she was boneless, and again this had me wondering about her background. I had enough on my plate, and just needed to let it go. I went back plopped down on my bed and waited for her to speak.
Parker stared at me for several long seconds, and then took a running leap to land on the bed beside me. I couldn't help the laughter that escaped from my lips. My eyebrow rose in perfect imitation of my mom. She could speak an entire speech with a single raised eyebrow. Parker's lovely smile faded away and she stared at me. Her face was completely impassive. Remarkable, and certainly would have impressed me, if I hadn't spent years staring down Big Bads.
"Where were you at? And, why did you go out your window rather than use the door?" She waited for an answer, though when she noticed Mr. Gordo, her body relaxed, and then sent me one of her beautiful smiles.
I couldn't seem to stop from scooping up my little stuffed pig, and giving it a little squeeze. Next thing I know something soft and whitish was shoved in my face. I had to lean back to get a better look, and understanding blossomed in my head. It was a well-loved and worn-out stuffed rabbit.
"What's its name?"
Parker's brow furrowed as if I had asked her to explain quantum physics. I decided to help her out by speaking first. "This little fellow…" I held up my lifelong friend. "Is Mr. Gordo, and he's an extra special pig."
She pulled the bunny back to her, and held it almost as if it were a baby. Parker stared down into its button eyes, and then nodded her head, answering some internal question. Or, who knows, maybe she mind-linked with the little ball of fur.
"His name is Buttons." She rolled the name around on her tongue, and then kissed the bunny's nose. "Yeah, Buttons."
"Hello, Buttons," I said softly, and felt as if I had witnessed something really important.
Parker's sharp eyes turned back to me, and the tenderness leached away. "Soo, where'd you go?"
"Just around the grounds. Being inside all day is hard for me, I'm used to lots more action." Would she believe me, or keep digging? My fingers crossed without me even realizing it.
"Oh." She bounced on the bed and hugged Buttons closer. "I totally understand what you mean. Maybe next time you want to work off some energy, I can show you how to climb."
I realized Parker was trying to be friendly, and didn't have the heart to tell her I could scale this house, or the Tower of London with no problems. Her enthusiasm for her favorite pastime was infectious, and words just seemed to tumble out of my mouth.
"That would be cool. Do I need to get my own harness or do you have extras?"
I tried hard not to laugh when her brow furrowed when she realized she might have to share her toys. It smoothed out as if Sophie had whispered in her ear saying friends share with each other.
"You can use my spare, and if you like it, I'll make you your own harness." She nodded her head, happy with her resolution.
I had to work hard not to laugh at the goofy expression she wore, but understood her better than she knew. She was an interesting mix of Anya and Willow. Anya had no verbal filters or any social skills, and Willow still fell back on her shy, introverted ways when she didn't understand a situation.
Parker got up off the bed, and headed for the window. I didn't say anything, just watched what she planned to do. Parker didn't disappoint. She practically dove through the open window, and shot back up the outer wall before I could say…well, anything.
I got up to close the window. It was time to get some rest. Tomorrow was another day closer to completing our mission. I couldn't help but wonder what other secrets lay hidden within the Watchers Council compound.
My possessed phone rang at the ungodly hour of 4 am. It had to have some poltergeist operator on the other end attempting to do their part to drive me insane.
"Did I wake you, love?"
Ali's smooth voice came over the phone. If I didn't love him so much, I might have reached through the line to smack him upside his head.
"Ali, you do know it's still dark outside, right?"
"Oh, oh, my dear. I didn't even think of the time. Erm…do you want me to call you back?"
I could practically see him shuffle his feet like a naughty child. Scooting up in the bed, I got as comfortable as possible, took a deep breath and went about reassuring him. It took me nearly ten minutes to convince him to tell me what had him making this call.
"Well, love, you know I have been gathering as much information regarding the covenant between the Watchers and Slayers, and well…"
"It's okay, Ali. Whatever you found it's best to know about it now."
I heard him take a deep breath, and I knew he had his eyes closed.
"It's better and worse than we thought." He paused and gathered his courage to finish, "They hid the real covenant, and replaced it with a facsimile. It has many of the same factors, but they switched the roles around. Watchers were only ever meant to be another tool in the Slayer's arsenal. They were to be her eyes and ears, and provide any support she needed."
I felt as if I was about to vibrate right off the bed. This wasn't something new per se. We already knew that they weren't helping the Slayer as intended. The idea that men who held the written word in such high esteem would even consider altering such an important document kinda blew my mind. Oh, I knew they had to appear to take control during the time of Inquisition, and for appearance sake when the laws made women practically chattel to men. But, this was an entire group created to aide the Slayer however she needed. The Slayer was always meant to be the Hand not the Tool. Those bastards didn't want to play second fiddle to some supernaturally-empowered young girl, so they decided to change the rules.
One thing I have learned in my time as the Slayer, is you could bend the rules but you couldn't break them outright. Karma was a funny mistress when it came to the supernatural, because that bitch has a mean sense of humor.
Humans felt it at times. The high school princess who made fun of everyone would gain 200 pounds after graduation. Supernatural karma was the same, but to the nth degree. Insert the Master here. H e was caught underneath the Hellmouth for 100 years, and his freedom lasted not even a day. Course I had to die first, but that's beside the point.
I couldn't even imagine what was about to happen to the Watchers who knowingly followed this bastardized covenant. The hereditary Watchers might be able to say it was all they knew, but those recruited from the outside had no such excuse. More importantly the ones at the top would know about it, and had nowhere to hide when there deception came tumbling down around them.
Jumping from the bed, I had to move or I would scream. I started pacing my room.
"Buffy, are you still there?"
"Yes. I'm just trying to take it all in, and figure out what to do with this."
"It really doesn't surprise me that they would do something like this. I'm sure when the covenant was first written, and probably for centuries after they followed it without question. The problem would have come about from one simple thing – greed. Greed for power, money and all the things that come from both."
"This doesn't really change anything. Now that I think about it, I think it only gives us more ammunition to work with. We need to get the original covenant before we show our hand. I'll talk with the team and see what they think. It plays into the story I already told them. They are really good at thinking outside the box, and it should be interesting to see what they want to do with this information."
I considered several approaches, and then told Ali what I thought they should do, and how to go about doing it. He hadn't said anything about my other request, and he told me everything was in place, and ready whenever I was.
________________________________________I couldn't go back to sleep, of course. So, I ventured downstairs as soon as the sun came up. It surprised me to find Eliot already in the kitchen. I took a deep sniff and almost begged like a happy puppy waiting for a treat. He was making homemade scones. Scones…one of the really great food items from England. I know, I know…they gave us tea, but I'm a coffee girl all the way. But I could so get behind some scones. I had to blame Merrick for my addiction to the yummy treats. He introduced me to them, and Giles kept me supplied with them until he left for England.
Funny enough, this was really the first time I had thought about my Watcher. I hoped that he and Willow had found someone to help Tara. The sweet face witch deserved to get her life back, and Willow could really use some guidance with her magic. It was tempting to give them a call, or even take a day and go and see them. Tempting but very stupid, not to mention dangerous. No doubt the Watchers Council was watching them.
"Penny for them."
A deep gravelly voice spoke and I nearly jumped out of my shoes. Great Slaydar you got going there, Buffy. Of course it was Eliot, no one else could possibly be up this early in the morning.
"Couldn't steal your money that way." I tried punning, but it fell kinda flat. It just wasn't fair that he was just so damn nice to look at. Plus, he seemed like a nice person. Oh, I knew he was a bad ass, but so am I and I can be nice when I want to. What? I can, really.
"Have some that about ready to come out. Grab the clotted cream, and I'll get them. They're best fresh from the oven."
I couldn't help myself from almost running to the fridge. Unless you've had hot scones and clotted cream don't judge. I practically jumped into my chair and slammed the container onto the table. Eliot placed three scones on my plate, and I closed my eyes as I breathed in their heavenly scent.
My fingers unerringly reached for the closest warm triangle and brought it to my mouth. I know I was making happy noises that probably sounded more appropriate in the bedroom than the kitchen. It really didn't matter to me at the moment. My taste buds were in heaven, and my tummy was doing the happy dance.
"What's going on in here?"
Sophie stormed into the kitchen and stared at Eliot as if he had destroyed her favorite pair of Pradas.
I turned around to watch a pretty blush grace her cheeks, while she tried to ignore Eliot's smirk. I tried to hide my own embarrassment and went into babble mode.
"Soph, you have got to come try one of Eliot's scones. They are pure, sconey heaven."
Her eyebrow rose at my nickname for her, and even seemed to go higher when I ignored her. She sauntered across the room, and I wondered if she even knew any other way to walk. It was as if her hips weren't connected in the same way mine were. Maybe the Slayer kept me too tightly wound to pull off moves like hers. I think it was just something unique to Sophie.
She slid into the chair next to mine as Eliot placed a plate and a hot cup of tea in front of her. Wow, I was impressed.
"Any reason you're up so early?" She turned those dark eyes on me, and I had to work hard not to wiggle.
My shoulder shrugged of its own accord, and I quickly popped the last bit of scone into my mouth. It didn't fool Sophie. She simply sipped her tea, and waited.
"I don't sleep well if I don't get enough exercise. Yesterday, we just moved books all day, and it left me pretty wound up."
Quickly scooting away from the table, I headed for the back door before she could stop me, or ask me any more questions. Eliot's lips quirked into a smile he was careful not to let Sophie see. He nodded at me and turned back to his teammate.
I went through the door, and shot through the garden to my little refuge. Whoo hoo, go go Slayer speed! The garden was quiet this time of morning, and the sun was just starting its slow ascent in the sky. I breathed in the crisp morning air, and let everything else fall away.
________________________________________When I returned to the house, the kitchen was empty. I snatched several scones from the table and headed toward the ballroom to look for the team. They ended up there most days, unless we were at the Council.
They were huddled around Hardison's computers, listening intently to him explain the data on the screens. I stood in the doorway watching for several moments before Eliot raised his head to stare at me. What, does he have reverse Slaydar or something?
Time to tell them about Ali's phone call, and see what they did with the information. I had several ideas, but had found it best to let them work their way through theirs before I added in my two cents.
"Morning, everyone. Ali called me earlier with some news." I didn't say anything else, and waited for Nate to do his leader thing.
He exchanged glances with his team, and then gave me one of his patented smiles. Ooh boy, what crawled up his butt?
"Parker told me you left your room last night, and came back in your window several hours later. Where did you go?" His cool blue eyes leveled on me, and I had to fight not to let my Slayer stare back at him.
This was not turning out to be so great of a day – well, except for the scones. I looked at Parker, and couldn't help the hurt her tattling caused. She looked away, and then right back at me with her chin tilted up in challenge. Guess we didn't bond over stuffed animals as much as I thought. Okay, how to respond without completely blowing everything with him and his team.
"I just needed some time to unwind and think about everything we're doing." I saw him start to say something, and raised my hand. "Please let me finish. I think you guys are great, and I'm really enjoying working with you. The problem for me is that there isn't enough physical work to keep me from getting antsy."
"Antsy?" Nate repeated as if he had never heard the word before.
"Yeah. I'm very physical, and although the work is interesting, it isn't enough for me. So, I needed to kinda try wouldn't be bouncing off the walls today. You guys are looking at me like I broke a cardinal sin or something."
Nate looked at Sophie, who looked at Parker, who looked at Hamilton, who looked at Eliot, who looked at me. He studied me for several long moments, and then looked at Nate and tilted his head in acknowledgment.
That was weird, and I had to wonder if the Scoobies would have done the same thing. We were so disconnected at the moment that it was hard to think we would ever regain this team's synchronicity.
"Buffy, you have to understand that we aren't used to having an outsider join in on our jobs. Yes, we have had clients who play some small parts, but they were all carefully orchestrated, and very limited…"
I had to stop him before they decided I was going to cause problems, or worse that they would rather continue on without me.
"Nate, I understand, and I'm happy to answer your questions. You can ask me anything, really. And, I'm sorry if my leaving the house last night caused any concerns. I promise not to do it again without clearing it with you first."
He stared at me for several long moments, and then nodded his head. "Okay, I can live with that. Just let Eliot know if you need to stretch your legs, and he can go with you."
In other words, don't leave our sight unless escorted by our muscle. Got it. This guy was a little bit of Hitler, but I understood him. Hell, I kinda hoped to be him when I grew up.
"If we're all copasetic, I got some news from Ali this morning."
I waited for Nate to send me from the room, or let me speak. He glanced at the others, but I knew the choice was his. He gave me what I considered the barest nod, and if I wasn't staring right at him, and had exceptional situational awareness, I would have missed it. Man, this guy so needs to learn how to share.
"Ali and his cohorts found the actual covenant, and it's pretty much what we thought. Sadly, I think Ali still held out hope that it was a simple matter of ennui, which grew into something more. The Slayer was always the top job, and the Watchers were pretty much her helpers. I prefer minions, but I have issues."
Parker snorted, and Hardison chuckled. At least someone gets my humor.
Nate looked at Sophie and waited for I don't know what - twitch her nose, nod her head, cross her eyes. I have no clue. As far as I knew, she was the con artist. I'm not sure how that would prepare her to know any implication my news would or wouldn't have on the situation.
"There are two different views on these types of matter. One is whether this is considered a religious law or secular law. Then, where does the jurisdiction lie on determining the authenticity and boundaries pertaining to its natural evolution from the time of its inception up to modern times?" Sophie paused with a far off look on her face as if she was trying to remember something.
Well, color me impressed. These people had so many hidden talents it was scary. Good thing they decided to help people. Otherwise, I could so see them taking over the world, or at least the nice parts of it.
Sophie nodded her head; I'm guessing she came to some conclusion and started speaking again.
"Even though the Council's main headquarters resides in London, I think it's safe to consider them an international organization. We can follow UN guidelines in this case, and consider the original covenant as such. Taking this route garners us much more power than attempting to follow British law. The Watchers that signed the original covenant did so with full knowledge that this would include any successors, and was in all cases legally binding and irrefutable."
I think I followed along, but wasn't sure what the bottom line was. "Uh, that's good for us, right?"
Nate hid his smile when the other three bobbed their heads at my question. I'm not sure if they were agreeing that yes, it was good, or they wanted to know, too. Sophie let out a dramatic sigh, glanced at Nate and then proceeded to dumb it down for the rest of us.
"Yes, it's very good. You, as the sole heir, have legal standing to do whatever you want with the Watcher's Council's personnel and holdings. The only issue that might arise is proving that you are, indeed, the heir."
I was ready to do the Snoopy Dance, since I had already figured out how to do that very thing. Now, how do I convince them that this would work without telling them about Slayers, and magic, and well, everything? Not sure how they did this all the time; the pressure to keep in character was damn tough. I'm so glad I never even dreamed about going to Hollywood like Cordelia. Seriously, I couldn't even remain Secret Identity Girl for man, what a day in Sunnydale, and I had already been the Slayer for over a year. Here goes nothing.
"Uh, I have an idea about that, but I'm going to need Parker's help to pull it off."
Parker jumped at hearing her name. She turned to look at me with wide eyes, unsure how to respond.
"Don't worry, Parker, I've already talked about it with Ali, and he thinks it will work. We can pretend we're playing the Guitar Game."
"Fiddle," Nate immediately corrected me. "Not sure what you have in mind, Miss Summers."
Oops, he wasn't a happy camper. Better just put it all out on the table and let them pick it apart. So much for waiting my turn.
"Ookay," I sighed and tried to not to squirm under his electric blue gaze. "Remember how Ali told us the Council's booty is in the Bank of England, and uhm that its all really mine but I can't get to it cause they have people in the bank to stop me. Well, I was thinking that if I was like already at the Council yelling at them, then Parker could just kinda walk right in and take it."
"What!...Are you out of your mind…We would never expose you to them that way…What about the blood test?"
Funny, but Parker didn't join in the 'scream at Buffy party'. I watched her as she seemed to come to some conclusion.
A shrill whistle silenced the room. Nate looked from Parker to me. "Okay, everyone calm down. We aren't doing anything with this information right now. Buffy, we still haven't agreed to you playing a more active part, and would have to work through how this new information changes things. I say we continue with the original plan. When and if your friends can find the original covenant, then we will consider including it into the plan, and go from there."
No one said a word, or moved as they glanced from Nate to me. I wasn't sure what to say, and went with the tried and true shrug.
"Okay, people we have books to scan. Chop, chop get going or we won't get them all done."
That pretty much got everyone in gear, and we headed to our rooms to change before heading back to the Council and to another day of moving books. I have to say I'm rather happy to go back to the Land of Tweed. Maybe, I can fall through another wall and find a pot of gold.