Changing of the Guard - Part 5
Changing of the Guard - Part 5
"Buffy?" When Giles led the other two men into his flat, he was surprised that she was nowhere to be seen. His heart rate started to increase slightly before he heard —
"Up here, Giles."
Frowning slightly, he thought she sounded a bit off. Not unhappy, precisely, though certainly not the way she'd sounded before their guests arrived. With a brief look to the others, he said, "We'll be back down in a moment."
At the top of the stairs, he paused, taking in her appearance as she sat on the bed, fingering the jewelry he'd set out earlier. In a quiet voice, he asked, "Are you alright? Did Mrs. Jenson —?"
She looked up at that, her expression bemused, and said, "I've met some of the most evil, vile-tempered, vicious demons spawned in this dimension or any other."
Making an educated guess, he asked, "She surpasses them all?"
"Easily. And I can't tell you how glad I was to hear that she's retiring at the end of her leave," she said, her heartfelt gratitude evident in her face and voice.
He approached the bed and slid the tray toward the middle so he could sit down. "What did you talk about?"
"Family — mine, mostly. She knows about George and Annie — and our other children — and that George was half braachen. She said she wouldn't say anything, but the Council pays her. How the hell am I supposed to believe she won't say anything?" As she spoke, the words started coming out more quickly with a hint of incipient panic in her voice.
He took her hand and shushed her before she could get more upset, saying, "When she left, Mrs. Jenson said only that you were who you claimed to be. She gave no details about your discussion. Travers didn't seem to expect anything more of her, so I think she was telling you the truth."
Buffy's hand tightened around his convulsively, and he noted how cold her fingers were just before he stifled a small yelp of pain. He was almost positive she hadn't broken any bones.
"I just wish you knew how they'll react if they find out Annie's part demon." She loosened her hold on his hand, though not enough for him to check to see if he could still move his fingers. The change in grip, however, meant that circulation could resume.
"I —" He swallowed and continued a bit unsteadily, "It's not likely they will be terribly upset. Braachens are balancing demons, for the most part. At worst, I suspect you'll have to put up with a certain amount of bigotry from them. What else did Mrs. Jenson tell you?"
With a small, almost bitter chuckle, she said, "We haven't been able to contact George's parents because they're visiting his mother's side of the family. They should be back in a couple of weeks."
Giles frowned and asked, "She was that specific?"
"Yeah," she answered. And then she took note of the surprise in his voice. "Why?"
"It's just that seers aren't exactly known for giving straightforward messages," he said. "Was there anything else she said that might be important?"
A quick glance up and then away told Giles the next words out of her mouth were likely to be a lie. "Nothing. Just that."
He sighed. "Buffy."
Another glance before she focused elsewhere in the loft, and she said, "No. Really. We should go down there."
She didn't stand, however, so he took that as a sign that despite her reluctance, she most likely wanted to talk about the rest of the conversation. Gently, as if to a stray animal that might bolt, he said, "Please."
At that, she did stand, letting go of his hand as she started to pace. He was happy to see she didn't head downstairs. When she approached the bed again, she stopped, saying in a low voice, "I hate this. All of it. I've been fighting for most of my life, and all I can think of these days is how much I don't want to fight anymore. I want to retire to a nice little condo on the beach so Annie and I can go for long walks in the sun and not have to worry about the next demon coming after me or the next damn apocalypse."
Worried at the look on her face, he reached out and took both of her hands into his. "I don't understand."
"Mabel — Mrs. Jenson — she said I would never stop being the Slayer. If I tried to run from it, my destiny would be nipping at my heels for the rest of my life." Before he could respond, she added, "I'm so tired, Giles. The only thing that kept me going for the last six years was the thought that I could stop fighting when I came home — that Annie could have the life George and I wanted for her."
She sounded utterly defeated at that moment, so he stood to bring her into his arms. When she seemed to relax into the comfort he offered, he said softly, "I'll send Travers and Wyndam-Pryce back to their hotel. They can come —"
"No!" She leaned back far enough to be able to look him in the eye and said, "It has to be today. If Travers thinks I'm weak, he'll take advantage of it, and I'll be doomed."
Stammering slightly, he said, "He's not a demon, Buffy."
Her expression hardened slightly and she said, "No. He's worse. He's human."~*~*~
"Are you going to keep moping, or would you like to help me start sorting through Bu — through your mother's things?" Joyce stood at the entry to the living room, watching Annie — 'My granddaughter!' — look away from the television, a scowl on her face. She thought that for a young woman who had been raised in Hell, she was moving incredibly fast toward becoming a normal teenager, complete with bouts of sulkiness. It was almost like having Buffy home again.
"She's ashamed of me," Annie said, her scowl deepening.
"Oh, honey. She's not — truly," said Joyce, immediately going to the couch to sit down with her. "She's just worried about this Council Mr. Giles belongs to."
"I could help, though! Back home, I always sat in with Mom when she had to negotiate. I took notes and kept track of which alliances were important for her and which ones could be ignored," she said, sounding angry and hurt.
Joyce's breath caught at Annie's perception of Hell. It never occurred to her that part of what Annie might be suffering was homesickness, though really, it should have. She took one of Annie's hands in hers and said, "Sweetheart, your mother knows this world better than you do, and Mr. Giles knows his Council. When they sent you to stay with me for the day, it was because they were genuinely worried about your safety. You have to believe that."
Her eyes cast downward, she mumbled, "I guess."
Joyce heard a bit of jealousy in Annie's voice and thought another part of the problem was that her place had been usurped by a man she'd only just met. And lord, but she could identify with her granddaughter on that score. Though she wished she could commiserate directly, she kept silent on the subject. No matter what she thought of Mr. Giles, Buffy clearly held him in high esteem, and any hint on her part that she felt differently would lead to unnecessary complications. 'In some ways,' she thought, 'this is worse than having to hide my opinion of Hank. At least he had the decency to live down to my expectations.'
Coming to a decision, Joyce said, "Enough moping, Annie. I promised your mother I would start boxing up some of her mementos for her, and I think it's just the thing to take your mind off your troubles."
She stood and tugged on Annie's hand, biting back a grin at the expression on the girl's face. She really was a near-perfect copy of Buffy at that age.~*~*~
Giles went down the stairs first, carrying the tray of jewelry with him. He set it on the shelves that backed his couch without explanation to either Travers or Wyndam-Pryce, both of whom still stood where he left them. He turned to watch Buffy come down at a rather deliberate pace, and when she drew up next to him, he spoke to her, saying, "Miss Summers, I would like to introduce to you Mr. Quentin Travers and Mr. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, both of the Council of Watchers, London, United Kingdom."
Buffy watched Travers' face get red as he realized what Giles had done. By choosing to introduce them to her, he had made it quite clear that he believed Buffy to be the most important member of the group. For a moment, she was torn between wanting to stick her tongue out at the intruders and wanting to smirk. In the end, she did neither. The meeting was too important for her to indulge in childish behaviors. Instead, she nodded at both men before looking at Giles expectantly.
He picked up on his cue flawlessly and turned to the other two in the room, saying, "Mr. Travers, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce, I would like to introduce to you Miss Buffy Summers, First of the Hersalk Clan; General of the Desault Matriarchy; Prima of the Besa Falchon; Beloved of ..." He continued listing her titles and rank for an interminable time, finally concluding with, "And, of course, the Vampire Slayer. Miss Summers? May I escort you to your seat?"
She nodded her agreement, unable to speak without laughing. Not only had he memorized all those pointless names and titles she'd picked up over the years, he'd managed to reel them off with a straight face and a perfectly serious delivery. She stepped forward, which compelled Travers and Wyndam-Pryce to move aside to let her through, and she took the seat she'd had earlier. Giles bent down, apparently solicitous of her comfort, and whispered, "I believe we've made our point."
She twitched her left eyebrow ever so slightly to acknowledge what he said, then waited for him to continue on with the script.
"Gentlemen, please be seated," he said. Travers looked fit to be tied, and Wyndam-Pryce looked stunned. Satisfied that they were in the proper frame of mind, Giles said, "You are here, I believe, because Miss Summers has indicated that she wishes to retire from her longest-standing responsibility, that of slaying vampires."
When Travers realized that Giles stopped speaking to allow for a response, he clenched his jaw. This meeting was not going according to his plans, and he wasn't the slightest bit happy about it. That a Slayer should take on such airs was abhorrent to him, yet he couldn't do a damn thing about it at the moment. He'd lost control of the meeting.
Travers relaxed his jaw and took a deep breath, hoping to salvage what he could, and said, "Though the Council are naturally saddened to hear that Miss Summers wishes to abandon her duty, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce and I are here to help you settle your affairs in preparation for your immediate return to England."
Giles was surprised that Travers led with that particular threat — they must have put the man off balance more than they expected. He glanced at Buffy, who indicated her own surprise by a slight lift of her eyebrows, then turned to Travers and said, "Why should I return to England?"
Feeling that he was on firmer ground, Travers answered, "As Miss Summers no longer wishes to be the Vampire Slayer, she has no need of a Watcher. I'm certain the British Museum will be happy to see you back on staff."
Buffy remained silent, even though she really wanted to tell the man to leave. She had agreed to let Giles handle this part of it, and she would stick to that agreement if it killed her.
"I see," he said, sounding as if he didn't see at all. "So rather than maintain an extra set of eyes to support Faith's endeavors here, you would rather remove me and my experience entirely, thus making it considerably more difficult for her and her Watcher to survive here?"
'Go Giles!' thought Buffy, as she watched Travers flush red, then purple before going completely pale. Wyndam-Pryce just looked confused, which told her he wasn't nearly as versed in politics as he should be if he had any hope of surviving the Council.
Travers answered, "I have every confidence in Miss Douglas. I'm certain she'll be fine on her own."
"Of course," Giles said in that same inoffensive tone that seemed to increase Travers' blood pressure for some reason. "However, is there a particular reason to make things more difficult for the active Slayer and her Watcher? The more help they have, the greater Faith's chances for survival into adulthood, don't you think?"
"I should think you would be more concerned about your fellow Watcher, Mr. Giles. She, after all, does not have the gifts that a Slayer has," Travers said, giving Buffy her cue to enter the conversation for the first time.
"So the Slayer's life is less important to you than the Watcher's life?" She spoke as if mildly curious about the answer.
Travers frowned at her, much the way he might at an annoying child who had spoken out of turn, and said, "To be absolutely blunt, Miss Summers, Slayers die and are replaced. The new Slayer is ready to fight almost from the moment she is called. A Watcher, however, is not so easily replaced. His knowledge and experience are far more vital to the safety of the world than is a Slayer."
"She doesn't matter, then? The girl who's called?" Buffy maintained a mild tone with effort. She didn't dare look at Giles, convinced that if she did so, she would give away the game.
Astounded at the woman's witless reply, Travers said, "Of course the Slayer matters!"
"I wasn't talking about the Slayer, Mr. Travers," she answered in a deceptively calm and reasonable manner. "I was talking about the girl who was called to be the Slayer. Does Faith matter? Did Kendra? Did I?"
Buffy continued to watch Travers, though she could see that Wyndam-Pryce seemed to have had an epiphany of sorts. She had only a moment to wonder if he had the balls to point out that his boss had made a misstep before Travers said, "The Slayer is the Champion, Miss Summers. As I said before, of course she matters."
"I didn't ask if the Slayer matters, Mr. Travers," she said, her voice taking on a slight edge. "I asked if the girl who is called matters, and from your inability to answer that simple question, I would have to say that no, she doesn't matter."
"The individual girls come and go, Miss Summers. They are tools to be used to fight the spread of evil and darkness," he said, his voice taking on the conviction of the true believer. "Each girl who is called brings to the office her own sensibilities, of course, but in the end, she's just one of a long line of Slayers, and when she dies, another girl will be called."
Giles couldn't help himself. Dumbfounded, he stared at Travers as if seeing him for the first time. He thought, 'Is this really what I was taught? Could my father and grandmother have been so completely blind as to believe this themselves?'
Buffy's face hardened, and she said, "In other words, we're less than human to the Council?"
"Slayers come and go, Miss Summers. The Council remains," he said, sounding smug in his conviction.
At that, she relaxed back into her chair and asked, "Who calls the Slayer?"
Confused by the abrupt shift in topic, Travers said, "I beg your pardon?"
She cocked her head to the side and repeated, "Who calls the Slayer?"
"Oh! I know this! The Powers that Be call the Slayer!" Buffy thought Wyndam-Pryce would burst with pride at being able to contribute to the conversation. Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — it didn't occur to him that he should have kept quiet, and she was glad he didn't catch the glare Travers shot at him.
Thoughtfully, she said, "I see. So the Council doesn't forge this particular weapon, they just take advantage of its existence, is that it?"
Travers sensed a trap, but for the life of him, he couldn't see where it was. He cautiously agreed, adding, "Naturally, it's to the benefit of the Slayer as well. She gains access to the knowledge and experience of every Slayer who went before her, because her Watcher has access to the journals of every Watcher who came before."
She leaned forward slightly and said, "You believe, then, that a Slayer should have as much support as possible in her fight against evil?"
"Of course!" As soon as he answered, Travers fancied he could hear a steel door slam behind him. After a brief pause, he added, "Well played, Miss Summers. Well played indeed. Alright, then. Mr. Giles may remain in Sunnydale."
She smiled, then, content with her first victory of the day. 'Really,' she thought. 'Giles was right about how Hell's rumor mill exaggerated the threat of the Council.'~*~*~
"Gran?" A frown on her face, Annie pulled one of Buffy's shortest leather miniskirts out of the closet and held it in front of her. "Did Mom use this for armor?"
Joyce looked up from the dresser and said, "What, honey?"
Annie held the skirt over her breasts and said, "Did Mom use this for armor? Because the leather isn't that thick, and it's kind of loose at the bottom."
It took another moment for Joyce to shift her mind into what she was starting to call "Annie mode" and figure out why her granddaughter was confused. "That's a skirt. Your mom wore it when she went out to The Bronze to go dancing."
Looking at her grandmother with a great deal of disbelief, Annie lowered it so the waistband was where it belonged and said, "She went dancing at night, right?" When Joyce nodded her agreement, she asked, "But what happened if she ran into a vampire or a demon when she was outside? How could she fight in this?"
About to answer, Joyce closed her mouth with a snap. She suddenly realized she had no idea how Buffy managed to fight in an outfit like that. She even remembered her coming home last November, bearing the skirt like some trophy and saying that it would be perfect for dancing. If she'd known then what her daughter was really doing at night, she would have made her take the damn thing back to the store. Or she would have made Mr. Giles tell her she couldn't wear it.
'Too late now,' she thought, frustrated at all the chances she missed to understand and help her daughter. To Annie, she said, "I really don't know how she managed to fight while wearing that."
"I'll ask Mom. Maybe she can show me how she did it," Annie said, carefully folding the garment and setting it on the bed. Though she didn't want to take much clothing back to Uncle Rupert's home, her grandmother seemed to think that the item was special to her mother. ~*~*~
Long years of practice kept Buffy still and her face a careful blank, even as she fought the urge to just stake Travers and put him out of her misery. She should have known better than to gloat over her early victory. Even so, a small, optimistic part of her brain was convinced that if she kept her victory dance quiet, neither fate nor the Hellmouth would see it as an opportunity to make her regret it.
'Stupid optimism,' she thought, as she listened to Giles and Travers haggle over the price of the last item for offer that day. The amulet had no particular mystical qualities, and its worth was historical as well as artistic. The only reason it was on the tray was at Giles' insistence. He said the Council did, in fact, have a collection of similar pieces, and the amulet would be a worthy addition. Unfortunately, Travers seemed to disagree.
"Enough!" Buffy willed herself not to look surprised as she realized she had said it out loud. With all three men looking at her, she continued, "Giles, it's clear that the Council has no interest in giving me fair value for the piece. I'll see if Mom has any clients who might be interested."
Irritated at the interruption, Travers said, "Miss Summers, it isn't that we —"
Cutting him off, she said, "I believe I said enough, Mr. Travers. Unless the next words out of your mouth are, 'Agreed to the price of ten thousand,' we really have nothing more to say on the matter." She watched as his jaw clenched and a vein jumped to life on his temple. His color wasn't that good, and she thought there was a good chance he would end up in the hospital if he didn't regain control of himself.
Though he didn't know it, Travers' thoughts were very similar to Buffy's as he felt the staccato beat of his heart, and it was with an effort of will that he was finally able to say, "Very well. We agree to the price of ten thousand for the Kilndon amulet."
Before Buffy could respond, Giles said, "Lovely. I think now might be a good time to break for refreshments. Does everyone agree?"
"I believe we can conclude our business fairly soon," said Travers, his voice tight and precise. "I see no reason to have a break."
"I think he's right, Giles," said Buffy, enjoying the brief appearance of shock on Travers' face that she would actually support something he had to say. His surprise was hardly out of place, given that they had been locking horns all afternoon.
Still, he recovered smoothly and looking at Giles, he said, "Very well. You said you had one more request?"
"Buffy does, actually," he said as he sat back into the corner of the couch.
"It's really several requests, but they're all related," she said. "All of the paperwork in this world says I'm a seventeen-year-old girl, so obviously, I need a new birth certificate, social security card and passport. My daughter has none at all."
Sounding more than a little testy, Travers answered, "And I suppose you will want high school diplomas all the way around? How about a full credit history while we're at it? Perhaps Council can arrange to have you awarded with the Congressional Medal of Honor."
Looking quite startled, Wesley unwisely blurted out, "We can do that?"~*~*~
Annie pulled the drawer from the vanity, and as she stood there, she started to pick through the objects, some familiar, others not. For her, rummaging through her mother's childhood was very much a matter of looking at her through a distorted piece of glass. On the other side of the glass wasn't a woman who took charge of an army, but rather, a girl who was more concerned about how she looked than how well she fought. She shuddered lightly at the thought before firmly suppressing it. She couldn't cope with the idea of Buffy, the Slayer, behaving as gormlessly as the teenagers she and Faith had seen at The Bronze.
"You okay?" Joyce's light touch on her shoulder startled Annie, even as it comforted her.
She smiled and said, "Yeah. I guess. It's just — it's kind of weird thinking about Mom being my age."
Joyce nodded sagely, replying, "If it's any comfort, Buffy felt the same way thinking about me being a teenager, and I went through the same thing when I realized my Mom had been a teenager once upon a time."
Still holding the drawer, Annie moved to the bed to sit down, taking care to leave room, should her grandmother wish to join her. She started sorting the items into piles on the bed — writing implements, combs, jewelry — and said hesitantly, "Was Mom more like me, or was she more like Cordelia? Or Willow?"
"I'm not sure how to answer that," Joyce said, thinking back to the way Buffy had been during her junior year of high school. It was more difficult than she expected, given that she'd only known the older version of her daughter for a week. "She's always been her own person — always outgoing and social."
Looking up from the silver ring she held, Annie paused to consider what she'd just been told. It wasn't that she was unfamiliar with the words. Rather, it was the context of the words. She said, "Mom? Outgoing?"
"Sure, honey. She liked spending time with her friends and just having fun," Joyce said with a smile, completely missing the disbelief in her granddaughter's voice. Then she looked down at what Annie held and said, "Look at that. It's a claddagh ring. I wonder where Buffy got it."~*~*~
It was all Wesley could do to sit still and not squirm from near-fatal embarrassment. He really should have kept his mouth shut and not tried to contribute in any way, shape or form to the discussion. His father would no doubt have quite a lot to say about this, should Mr. Travers mention it to him, and that was enough to make Wesley's blood run cold.
In an effort to stop thinking about how truly terrifying Roger Wyndam-Pryce could be, Wesley returned his attention to the discussion at hand. Mr. Travers had finally agreed to facilitate the creation of identity papers for Miss Summers and her child, and now they were talking about —
"Out of the question!"
Alarmed at Mr. Travers color, Wesley very nearly started to hunt down a phone to call for an ambulance when he heard Miss Summers say, "You really need to stop taking all this so personally. If you don't, you'll land in the hospital tonight."
Travers took a deep breath before answering, "Understand me well, Miss Summers — Council will not tolerate a Slayer who hires herself out to mercenaries."
"Then how do you suggest I provide for my daughter? Should I go down to the Doublemeat Palace and get a job working the drive-through?" Wesley stared at her, amazed that she looked so calm despite the venom in her voice.
His jaw clenched and a vein popping out at his temple, Mr. Travers said, "It would certainly be preferable and more honorable than what you have proposed." He paused to take a sip of tea, grimacing before adding, "In any event, I thought the reason we were here is that you no longer wish to fight. Your stated career objective is hardly in line with that goal."
Though it happened very quickly, Wesley was certain he saw Miss Summers' lips twitch upward slightly. Had he not made a complete fool of himself earlier, he would have said something, convinced she was playing them. However, he refused to take that risk of looking like a fool again, so he remained quiet.
"Mercenaries need tactical advice, just like anyone else," she answered, sounding rather bored. "I would hardly be expected to go into battle."
Wesley didn't buy her statement. He'd seen that same glimmer in her eye when she manipulated Mr. Travers into allowing Mr. Giles to remain in Sunnydale.
He opened his mouth to speak, only to close it when Mr. Giles said, "You can hardly blame her, Mr. Travers. She has a child to support and no real marketable skills other than her military background. Since Council won't acknowledge her existence if she isn't an active Slayer, I don't see that she has any choice."
Wesley had been watching his superior during Mr. Giles' speech, concerned that he might yet have to call an ambulance, and he was shocked at the look of sly triumph on Mr. Travers' face when he said, "There are always options, Rupert."
His tone of voice alerted the others in the room, and Buffy sat forward slightly, a look of mild curiosity on her face as she said, "Oh?"
"It strikes me that you argued earlier for providing as much help as possible to the active Slayer and her Watcher, did you not?" All traces of physical distress had disappeared from Mr. Travers' face, and Wesley felt a small surge of victory rise at the understanding that whatever Miss Summers had been angling for was now lost to her.
She and Mr. Giles exchanged a quick glance before she said, "Yes, of course I did." Wesley thought she would have said more but for an inopportune sneeze from Mr. Giles.
"In that case, I think we can come to an agreement of a different sort," Travers said, sounding quite generous.
Wesley noted another quick glance between the Slayer and her Watcher, and this time, it was Mr. Giles who spoke up. "What did you have in mind, Travers?"
"Wyndam-Pryce is to remain in Sunnydale," he said, and it was only with a supreme effort of will that Wesley kept his objections to himself. "I propose that Miss Summers take him on as a pupil of sorts. Help season him."
"For what? Sunday dinner?" Her sarcasm notwithstanding, Wesley didn't think she was nearly as upset as she sounded. For one thing, she seemed entirely too relaxed.
Travers smiled, and Wesley thought vampires must smile like that before they claimed a victim. "At some point, he will be assigned to a potential Slayer, Miss Summers. I think you can see how beneficial it would be for him to learn his job from someone with your particular resume."
Wesley noted that this time, the pair didn't even bother to look at one another before she answered with a sigh, "Fine. You're leaving Watcher Junior here on the Hellmouth. What's my salary, and do I get medical and dental?"
"Not even an argument, Miss Summers?" Mr. Travers sounded smug enough to set off a number of alarms in Wesley's head. He thought that perhaps neither Mr. Giles nor Miss Summers had yet sprung the trap laid out for them.
She sat back with a mildly amused look on her face and said, "I don't have a problem training your Watchers for you, especially if it means better support for the next Slayer. As long as we can agree on a fair salary for me training your boy, we'll be fine."
There was a brief pause as Travers clenched his jaw just once before saying, "Very well, Miss Summers. If there's nothing else?"
He stood up to leave, and Wesley followed suit. If for no other reason, he had to return to the hotel in Los Angeles to retrieve his luggage. He tried very hard not to think about the fact that he had just been exiled from London, forgetting entirely that if he were in California, it would be too far away for his father to drop in on him unannounced.
Miss Summers stood, and looking rather embarrassed, she said, "Actually, there is something. Mom's having a party Tuesday night — to celebrate my return and all. She — um — she said to invite you. The two of you, that is."
With barely a pause, Mr. Travers said, "As interesting as that sounds, I'm afraid I won't be able to attend. Wyndam-Pryce, however, will be more than happy to enjoy your mother's hospitality, I'm sure. Rupert, as soon as I return to London, I'll be in touch about payment for the baubles."
Mr. Giles, the tray in his hands again, said, "You don't wish to take them with you? They survived a jump through an interdimensional portal. I'm certain they'll survive a trans-Atlantic flight."
"I'm sure they would. However, the Council may want to keep some of the items here. Until we know, I would just as soon not be sending them back and forth across the ocean. When a decision is made, my personal assistant will be in touch to make arrangements for shipping them," Mr. Travers said. He turned back to the Slayer and said, "Good day, Miss Summers. You will hear from Mrs. Crenshaw on Monday regarding the paperwork we discussed."
When he finished speaking, he nodded at the other two and said, "Good day to you both. Come along, Wyndam-Pryce," before leaving the apartment. With no other choice before him, Wesley followed, stumbling slightly in an effort to keep up with the other man and feeling yet again like the world's biggest fool.~*~*~
When the door closed behind Travers and Wyndam-Pryce, Buffy turned to Giles and said, "I give up. Who won that one?"
He looked up from the tray he still held, a thoughtful frown on his face, and answered, "To be honest, I haven't the slightest idea. In some respects, he gave way too easily. I expected better of him."
With one eyebrow raised, she paused before saying, "Better?"
"Yes, Buffy, better," he said a touch impatiently. "For all that I support you, I also support the basic mission of the Council. Travers is the voice of the Council in such matters as occurred today, and I thought he should have put up more of a fight."
She gave him a long, considering look before going to the coffee table to start collecting cups and saucers. After a moment, she asked, "Do you think he's playing a deeper game?"
"Without question," he said promptly as he set the tray of mystical baubles on his desk. He took the cups and saucers from Buffy's hands and went into the kitchen to wash them, adding, "I'd feel better if I knew what he was up to."
"You think he left Wyndam-Pryce here as a spy?" She brought the remainder of the tea things into the kitchen and pulled a dish towel from the drawer.
"Possibly, though the way he treated him, I rather think Travers believes the young man to be a fool," Giles said, filling the sink with hot water and soap.
Buffy frowned at the memory of Travers' behavior and said, "He's wrong. Wyndam-Pryce isn't stupid. Terrified, but not stupid."
Giles turned off the water, hesitating to bring up a closed subject. Still, he was frustrated at what she'd done just before Travers and Wyndam-Pryce left. He asked, "Whatever possessed you to invite him to your mother's party?"
Judging by the look he received in response, he gathered his question sounded somewhat more aggressive than he planned. On the other hand, the more he thought about the situation, the more upset he became and the more his gaze felt as if it were turning into a full glare.
She looked at him in disbelief, asking, "Don't you think we have more important things to worry about?"
"At the moment, no," he said, removing his suit jacket and laying it over the bar. He tugged on his tie, and off that came as he said, "You do recall my mentioning the trouble Elizabeth and Faith had with Roger Wyndam-Pryce, don't you?"
A slight flush rose on her cheeks as she answered, "Yeah? So? Different man."
"He's Wesley's father," he said, speaking calmly and precisely as he rolled up his sleeves. He turned back to the sink, washing and rinsing the first tea cup as he added, "Given that the name isn't all that common, I'd rather hoped you would have assumed a connection of some sort."
"I did," she said, taking the clean cup from him to dry it.
Her admission did nothing to soothe his own temper, which was rising despite his best efforts. A flush rose from his neck, and he asked, "Did it not occur to you that there might be just a hint of bad blood between Wesley and Elizabeth?"
Buffy's mouth dropped open in obvious surprise. "What? That's what you're worried about? They're adults, Giles, they'll deal. I'll do what I can to keep Faith from going after him, so I really don't get what the problem is."
He gave up all pretense of washing the tea things and leaned hipshot against the counter so he could look at her. He took a deep breath and said, "Faith is the least of my worries, Buffy. She's quick-tempered, yes, but she's easily diverted. I'm far more concerned about Elizabeth and what she'll do."
"Elizabeth? You're kidding, right?" A look at his all too serious face told her otherwise. "Okay, you're not kidding. Giles, she's what — ten or twelve years older than you? She should be able to cope with problems like this."
His shoulders slumped, and he sighed at her irrefutable logic, saying, "I'm afraid that she can't. That first night we went patrolling, she told me how she feels about Faith. It isn't —"
"Seemly?" she said with a hint of anger returning to her voice.
"Healthy, I was going to say. Granted, I understood what she was saying with regard to wanting to shield her Slayer. I went through much the same thing with you after — after Angelus arrived. Elizabeth, however, is far more protective of Faith than any other Watcher I've heard of, and I include myself in that list," he said, hoping she would pick up on the gravity of his tone and allow him to finish without jumping to the wrong conclusion.
Buffy looked up at him, concerned at the level of worry in his face. "You think she's a little obsessed?"
Relieved that she understood, he nodded and answered, "I believe it goes beyond 'a little' and is heading toward the realm of 'completely'. She thinks of Faith as her daughter, which might not be so much of a problem if Faith's real mother hadn't been so completely unfit and cannot remain involved in her daughter's life. I may be reading more into this than is there, but I believe Elizabeth would have preferred that Faith had never been called."
Uncertain about what he was trying to tell her, Buffy said, "Mom feels the same way about me being called. Is it any wonder that Elizabeth does?"
Frustrated that he wasn't explaining himself clearly, he said, "Were she Faith's mother, I could understand and sympathize. She isn't, though. She's Faith's Watcher, and that calls for a somewhat less — familial — interaction."
She frowned, asking, "Isn't it kind of important for a Watcher to care about her Slayer?"
"The Council stresses otherwise," he said quietly, sounding uncertain as to the wisdom of that policy. Despite thinking an explanation would be useless, he nonetheless added, "To be fair, it's not that they want a Watcher to despise his Slayer. Rather, it's that they know how difficult it will be after she dies."
She thought for a moment, then said, "How long does a Slayer live if her Watcher keeps his distance?"
"Not very," he said. In a quiet voice tinged with shame and regret, he continued, "Yet the Watcher is still able to function after her death if he maintains the Council-sanctioned attitude."
"You were told to keep me at arm's length, weren't you?" She spoke quietly, with neither censure nor surprise in her voice. If anything, Giles thought she sounded sympathetic, though he didn't think that made very much sense.
"I'd been trained to do so for nearly twenty years before coming to Sunnydale," he answered. He followed his admission with a muttered, "Fat lot of good it did me."
Without thinking, she put her hand on his chest and said in a light tone, "Hey! Standing right here. And if it's any comfort, I sort of get where the Council is coming from."
He covered her hand with his and said, "I — you do?" Her empathy was as unexpected as it was welcome, and he wondered just where it came from.
"Yeah. I went through a phase at the start of the war where I tried hard not to give a damn about any of my soldiers," Buffy said.
It was the first time she'd really mentioned any of what she'd gone through as the leader of an army, and Giles was worried that if he said the wrong thing, she might not say anything further. 'Still,' he thought, 'Nothing ventured, nothing gained.'
"What happened to change your mind?"
Her lips twisted into a wry, self-deprecating grin, and she said, "George happened. Slipped in right under my radar. Next thing I knew, I gave a damn. You wouldn't believe how pissed off I was."
"Yes, of course," he said dryly, though his amusement was evident. "I take it from your reaction, that it was a capital offense?"
"It should have been," she answered in the same spirit before turning serious again. "I'm glad it wasn't, though. I was a better leader with George around, because he made me care again. It made me a hell of a lot more effective than the enemy commanders who threw their men — demons — away."
Giles nodded thoughtfully, absently running his thumb along Buffy's still-trapped hand and enjoying the physical contact. 'It really is nice to be so comfortable with her again,' he thought.
Still, he wanted to be sure she agreed there might be a problem, so he returned to the topic at hand, asking, "Do you understand, though, why I'm concerned about Wesley being at the party?"
Absorbing what he'd told her and matching it against her own experience, she said, "I guess this is the time to slap my head and declare myself to be an idiot, but I won't. I don't regret asking him to the party."
"I know what you're telling me," she said. "And I can see why you're worried. I am too, but it doesn't change the fact that Elizabeth is going to have to deal with the situation. Face it — if she makes a fuss and scares Wesley enough that he complains to Travers, she'll be yanked back to Merry Old England faster than you can say your own name. Do you think Faith could deal with losing her Watcher?"
Defeated, he said morosely, "No."
She turned her hand to squeeze his gently and said, "It's going to work out. We'll make it. I'll talk to Faith, you'll talk to Elizabeth, and —"
"I'll be in Hell before ye," he finished ruefully. He returned her affectionate squeeze with one of his own and said, "Let's get these things cleaned up before Annie comes home for supper, shall we?"~*~*~
Joyce paused at the front door and asked Annie, "Got everything?"
"Yep," she said, holding up the bag filled with a few of her mother's more treasured belongings. She patted the front pocket on her blue jeans and added, "The ring is in here. I can't wait to find out where it came from."
Having had an hour or so to consider the matter, Joyce thought she might know the ring's origin. If she was right, she wasn't at all convinced Buffy would be pleased to see it again. She bit back a sigh, frustrated at not knowing how much Annie had been told about why her mother ran away in the first place. It would make it so much easier for her to convince the girl to leave the jewelry here, rather than take it to her mother.
"That's nice, honey," Joyce said, hoping Annie wouldn't notice her smile was less than sincere. "I think I'll drive you to Mr. Giles' apartment." If nothing else, perhaps she could provide some emotional support to Buffy, once Annie showed her the ring. ~*~*~
Words. Just words.
They had no real meaning in a dimension where such things were considered to be on the happy end of the scale of existence.
During his first decade in this particular hell, Angel was treated to endless replays of stalking Buffy after he lost his soul. If all he'd had to do was watch, though, he might have tolerated it somewhat better. Instead, he was forced to participate again and again, with occasional variations on the theme.
The beings in charge of punishments were particularly fond of forcing Angel to alternately kill Buffy or turn her into a vampire, just so they could enjoy the flavor of his despair at such moments. At other times, he would kill Willow or Xander instead of Jenny, and then he would turn Giles, just to watch Buffy slip into a deep and endless depression.
During his second decade in hell, they apparently grew tired of forcing Angel to behave as Angelus. Instead, they had Buffy torture him in endlessly inventive ways. Though he knew that the being before him wasn't the young woman he loved, it didn't stop him from eventually begging her to please forgive him, to please leave him alone.
During his third decade in hell, Darla came to him. And addled as his mind was becoming, he was fairly certain that it was Darla, and not some golem or simulacrum come to inflict pain. She was far more herself than the Buffy thing had been, and she seemed to delight in his agony much the same way she had when they first ran together.
The Master joined them during his fourth decade in hell, and he added refinements to Angel's torment that Darla could never have thought of on her own. The overseers of Angel's sojourn in hell must have been well pleased with the Master and Darla's work, because they left them to continue it for the next sixty years or so.
Or possibly it was the next sixty decades or so. Angel wasn't sure.
He wasn't sure of anything anymore, let alone his own name. The only constant for him was the soft voice of a woman telling him she loved him just before she skewered him. He'd long since lost track of whether it was a true memory, or whether he had made up the part where someone said she loved him. The skewering, he knew, was absolutely true. No one had removed the sword from his belly in all the time he'd been there.
Such was his frame of mind when something asked, "Will you do what I ask if I allow you to leave this place?"
"Yes," he answered, quite without thinking.