What’s My Line, part IV
A/N: Disclaimer, author’s notes, etc., are at the beginning of chapter 1; spoilers are through “What’s My Line”.
“Good lord!” Giles instantly gawked at the ring and rushed into his office to get his magnifying lamp. He stammered out about four ‘oh dear’s in a row, which was pushing pretty hard for the new record.
Buffy sat on the steps while Willow rushed around getting an icepack together to put on Buffy’s knee.
Xander just leaned back and asked, “What’s the what, Deadboy?”
Angel glared at him for a couple seconds and finally said, “What’s it to you… Xena?”
Willow whipped her head over to stare at Buffy. “You promised you wouldn’t tell anybody!”
Buffy whined, “I didn’t mean to!”
Xander frowned, “So, who are you gonna tell next? Larry? Miss Calendar?”
Giles coughed suddenly, and Xander glared his way. “Oh come on! What am I? Rodney Dangerfield?”
Giles polished his glasses and said, “Umm, Je- that is to say, Miss Calendar was quite concerned about your changes in scholastic performance, particularly in light of the Eyghon incident, and I had to explain things to her, to prevent her from doing… something precipitous.”
“Like what?” Xander asked. “Throwing holy water on me in the halls?”
Giles cleared his throat and said, “I believe the threat involved performing her duties as a teacher and meeting with your other teachers and then informing Principal Snyder.”
“Snyder? Wow, that’s a cheap shot,” said Buffy.
Xander just let his shoulders slump, because he knew Snyder was going to find out something was going on, sooner or later. It wasn’t like Miss Calendar was the only teacher who had noticed his grades were changing. And it wasn’t like Cordy had any discretion at all, unless there was something big in it for her. And most of the school knew he had gone out on Halloween as Xena, along with Scott’s Cinderella and Todd and Cam’s mermaid costumes. And how many of the people at school could pull their heads out of their asses long enough to figure out what had happened to you if you bought your Halloween costume at Ethan’s?
Giles said, “Considering that Jenny was planning on acquiring a Maleficent costume for a private party, I think we are all fortunate that she bought her headdress at Partytown.”
“Are you sure?” Willow asked.
Giles blushed a bit and admitted, “I did, as a matter of fact, check that it did have the ultraviolet stamp that Partytown puts on all their costumes. And I would appreciate it if you would refrain from telling Miss Calendar that bit of news, since she is still quite… upset with me over the entire Eyghon fiasco.” He put his glasses back on and said, “However, I would rather face Eyghon again than deal with this. The Order of Taraka. A society of deadly assassins dating back to King Solomon.”
Angel said, “We’ve got to do something to protect Buffy.”
Buffy said, “That guy was seriously hardcore. And I just wanted a nice date going ice skating. I didn’t ask for ‘The Hellmouth Presents: Dead Guys On Ice’. Why are these guys even after me?”
Willow put up her hand like she was in class. “Oh! I know! ‘Cause you’re the scourge of the underworld!”
Buffy frowned, “I don’t think I’ve been that scourgey lately.”
Xander said, “Maybe you beat them in the big cross-town bowling tournament and they’re takin’ it really hard.”
Giles snapped, “Xander! This is serious! We need to… to… to find a secure location for Buffy. This isn’t some vampire lurking in a cave. This is an entire order of assassins. Stop one, and more will come. Once they have been given an assignment, they will never stop trying. Each one works alone, and when he – or she, or even it – fails to return, then more will be sent out.”
Xander stopped and stared at his hands. There was a memory that just wouldn’t surface. Something about the Order of Taraka. Something about King Solomon, maybe.
It was something about Xena.
“Ooh, ooh, I know!” he crowed. “The Order of Taraka! Some rich Greeks paid for them to go hunt down Xena once! She had to kill… Okay, I can’t remember. But it was a bunch, and they weren’t all human, and some of ‘em weren’t anywhere close to human. So she infiltrated the Order in a disguise and killed the top guys and threatened the rest of ‘em if they didn’t stop. And they took back the hit on her. We can do that!”
Giles impatiently said, “A-and how would we go about such an attempt? We don’t know where they are based, or how to gain admission to their ranks, or how to defeat any magical snares which might now be in place to prevent a recurrence of that event. And the only one of us with the abilities to attempt such a thing is Buffy, and Slayers should not have to kill another human.”
Xander shrugged, “How should I know? You and Will are the big brains around here. I’m just the guy Buffy beats up three times a week.”
Willow said, “But Angel could go. He could pretend to be Angelus, and he could track them down, and he could stop ‘em!”
Giles sighed, “Which could take years
, Willow. And Buffy would be without adequate backup the entire time.”
Buffy whined, “I don’t want him to go!”
Angel said, “Well, at least I can put out some feelers and we can see if we get lucky.”
Giles looked up at the clock on the wall and said, “It’s nearly the time when we were going to call England anyway, so perhaps we should do that next.”
Angel said, “If you’re calling the Council, I’ll go start trying to track down leads.” Buffy whined again, but Angel insisted, “Really, you don’t want me in the room in case they use any sort of advanced protective spells during the phone call.”
Xander glanced at Giles, who looked a little suspicious. That probably meant Angel was full of hooey, or maybe the guy was totally out to lunch on the subject. Still, if the Council found out Giles was letting his Slayer date a vampire, there would probably be extreme badness that would be more than Giles losing his key to the secret Watcher clubhouse.
Giles patiently watched Buffy and Angel hug, and then Angel slunk out in his usual ‘mysterious figure of the night’ routine.
Giles said, “Now then. I’ll call London in a couple minutes. I want everyone in my office. However, I intend to… umm… prevaricate and say that only Buffy and I are in the room. This will mean that it is imperative that you two make no noise whatsoever. Understood?”
Xander grinned, “Sure. I mean, if you can tell a fib, I can be silent. It goes against my nature to not say anything when I get a good set-up line, but I can make with the miming.”
Willow nodded eagerly, then mimed zipping her lips closed, locking the zipper, and throwing away the key. So he started pretending he was trapped in an invisible box.
Buffy grinned and teased, “Gee, if I’d known it was that easy to get Xander to be quiet, I’d carry invisible mime prisons everywhere I went.”
Willow made a tiny snicker that was almost a snort. Then she looked embarrassed that she’d already slipped up.
Giles said, “I have some relevant details that the Council may quote.” He glanced at his notes and said, “Ahem, since the start of the available recorded history for the Watchers Council, 25 Slayers have prevented 29 apocalypses, with Buffy accounting for 3 of them, Tjeela the Slayer stopping two, and Niroma the Slayer stopping two.”
Xander stopped him right there. “Whoa, you mean Buffy’s stopped over 10% of all the Slayer apocalypse stoppage in history
Buffy bounced in her chair, “Go me!”
Giles cleared his throat again. “Un-unfortunately, 17 of the 25 Slayers have died in the process or as a result of injuries suffered in the fight, including Asura the Slayer who stopped an apocalypse and was killed when Thera exploded.”
Buffy frowned, “Tara exploded? They blew up ‘Gone with the Wind’?”
Willow said, “Thera, the island that may have been the seat of Minoan culture, and… Hey, wait a minute, Xena knew that one! She said it was a Hellmouth!”
Giles calmly explained, “Actually Willow, it is believed that it was a Hellmouth, until Asura the Slayer stopped a ritual and the entire island exploded, causing tsunamis and earthquakes that were felt over most of the civilized world.”
Xander winced at a particularly nasty sort-of-memory. “Was Asura the Slayer about… oh… 5’5”, skin like an Italian goddess, big brown eyes, full lips, big scar down her right shoulder all the way to her boob?”
“Xander?” Willow gave him a really weird look.
He admitted, “I, umm, I think Xena was there and maybe helped Asura fight those demons.”
Buffy said, “No way. How would she survive the eruption and… and the Sue-gnomes?”
“Tsunamis,” Giles corrected automatically.
Xander scratched the back of his neck. “Umm, I have this weird memory of Asura maybe punching me… her… in the face… really hard… and shoving her inside this huge hollow brass sphere and rolling her down the mountainside into the ocean, which lemme tell you really hurt, and that’s how she rode out the explosion and the tidal wave. Maybe.”
Giles looked at him in awe. “You have literal memories of Asura the Slayer? That’s… that’s incredible
! If you could write them all down, I’m sure we could pass them off as a Slayer dream…”
Buffy frowned, “Hey, I don’t wanna be on the hook for this. There’s no telling what weirdosity they might start, like past-life regressions, or hypnosis stuff…”
Giles sighed, “Very well then, we will skip the memories of Asura until we have some rational way to justify the knowledge.”
He let them squeeze into his small office. Xander would have sat on the floor next to Willow, but he knew she wouldn’t like that, so he squeezed into the corner by Giles’ desk chair. Buffy looked at him, then looked over at Willow, and just sort of gave the both of them a sad look. He wished he knew what that meant, but Buffy and Willow were still really tight, and so he was kind of on the outside there.
Xander sat impatiently while Giles called England through some tricky phonecall trick that Xander really needed to learn, because… hello? Long distance calls getting billed as local calls? Totally cool thing to know how to do. Unless it was something the Watchers had set up only for Giles and only to their office.
Then it took Giles like five minutes to get through a secretary and an executive secretary to talk to Quentin Travers. Q. The Big Cheese. Q-Tip. On the Q.T. Xander wanted to make some silly comments about how the Watchers needed codenames, but he had to keep quiet. Maybe he’d save them up for when he needed to bug G-man. Or make Buffy smile.
When Travers finally came on, Giles said, “Umm, Quentin, I’m sorry to bother you, but we have two crises here, both of which need to come to your attention.”
“Are you alone and untraced, Rupert?”
Giles said, “Y-yes sir, I’m here in the library office, with just the Slayer. And I used the agreed-upon routing system to call you.”
“Good. Good. Now what sort of problem is this?”
Giles explained in his usual blah-blah-blah way. “I organized a small ‘archaeology club’ to give myself some surreptitious research support and to give the Slayer an excuse to be in the library near me more than would be normal for a high school student in America…”
Travers said, “And how is a group of American high schoolers going to provide any sort of research support?”
Giles claimed, “I was most fortunate. This school happens to have one of the brightest students in the country, and she has a true flair for languages. I already have her reading and/or translating Achaean Greek, Latin, Egyptian, and Etruscan, as well as both early and late Sumerian.” Willow turned bright red at the compliments.
Travers sounded impressed, “All that in only one year? Do you think the young lady would make a suitable Watcher?”
Giles glanced over at Willow and said, “Umm, yes, but only if we explain to her about the supernatural and the Slayer fairly soon. Otherwise, she will realize that we kept her and her family in the dark about the dangers in the night while they lived on a Hellmouth. I think it is safe to say she would hold that against us.”
Travers paused for a couple seconds and then said, “Hmm. I’ll take that under advisement.”
Giles said, “I also have a boy who’s very good on Old English and fairly good on Latin and Greek, so between the two of them and Miss Summers, I have sufficient research help here, even if I dare not let my ‘archaeology club’ see most of the relevant tomes.”
Travers stuffily asked, “And what would be the point then?”
Giles confessed, “One of them got into one of my restricted books and saw the Fourth Prophecy of Tilurius…”
Travers said, “But that’s in ancient Greek, and somewhat idiomatic.”
Giles went on, “And she translated it. Successfully.”
Travers said, “So you told her it was a work of fiction, correct?”
Giles continued, “And she has the astronomy expertise to verify when it would occur.”
There was dead silence on the line. Finally, Travers choked, “Can you verify this?”
Giles said, “Yes. And she provided quite graphic proof of her work using a computer program that is apparently available for free to anyone who makes the effort to acquire it. I’ll mail you the details at once, including an electronic address from which your researchers can get a copy of the program.”
Travers finally asked the hard question. “And when does she think the prophecy will occur?”
Giles swallowed and managed not to stutter. “Now. Starting almost two years ago, and continuing on for the next nine years or so. Every six months. Every May and December. Which would be three previous apocalypses averted, and another 18 consecutive apocalypses to go, starting with the next one in a matter of days.”
Travers went dead silent for long seconds. He finally asked, “And how often does this alignment occur? Is it possible that this happens enough that it could not possibly be the prophesized event?”
Giles cleared his throat to admit that he didn’t know, but Willow poked him in the arm and began scribbling. He stalled, “Umm, Quentin, I believe that my student did, in fact, work this out already. Let me just look through my notes…” Willow handed him a paper, and he winced as he looked at it. “Umm, this syzygy occurs once every 65 million years. That is, the last time this occurred, the primary lifeforms of earth were utterly erased.”
“Ah, the dinosaurs and the K-T geological boundary,” Travers muttered. “I wish I could say that sounded less grim than it does.”
Buffy interrupted, “Wait, you mean the last time this happened, the dinosaurs and everything else got wiped out? Across the entire planet? And you expect me to stop it?”
Giles said, “And about 65 million years before that, and roughly 65 million years before that.”
Travers agreed, “Yes, I believe that’s correct, if I remember my paleontology correctly. It has been a while, and the field is considerably changed since the days when I had coursework in the subject.”
Giles said, “I believe that the Slayer did, in fact, thwart the last three attempts at what would be at least a ‘Class C’ apocalypse, but we have an additional crisis on our hands right now. The Order of Taraka is now targeting her.”
Travers gasped, “The Order of Taraka? There? On the Hellmouth? How many have attacked so far?”
Buffy said, “Just one. A huge half-demon guy who was way stronger than he looked. Lucky for me I was wearing ice skates at the time. And he didn’t have any armor around his neck.”
Giles said, “But he was wearing one of their rings.”
Travers said, “For a contract like this one, the Order would undoubtedly send more than one assassin, even if they would operate independently. You should expect that there are two more on-site, and if you defeat them as well, more will come.”
Buffy moaned, “Don’t tell me. This is the first time a Vampire Slayer got picked for this kind of stuff…”
Travers carefully said, “Ahh… no. However, the last Slayers targeted by the Order of Taraka were Portia the Slayer in 1463 and Chastity the Slayer in 1639.”
Buffy perked up, “Oh, so we can win this thing?”
Travers said, “Miss Summers, both of those Slayers were dead inside a week.” Buffy wilted. “After Chastity the Slayer was murdered, the Council contracted with the Order of Taraka to kill those same Tarakan assassins who had been sent to kill the Slayer. It was quite expensive, but we trapped them with their own bylaws and the Order found that it couldn’t refuse a legitimate request with full payment. They lost a number of assassins as they tried to fulfill the contract on their own personnel. They got the message. No Slayer has been targeted for over three and a half centuries since then. We will do whatever we can from this end to convince them to withdraw from this assignment.”
Buffy pouted, “Gee, thanks.” Xander didn’t think that Travers guy was getting the full sarcasm in her expression.
Giles pushed as much as he ever did when dealing with the upper levels of the Council. “Umm, this combination of… of issues suggests that Buffy… the Slayer should have as much assistance as the Council can supply, given the risk of several more upcoming apocalypses.”
Travers said, “Rupert, it’s not like you’re on the only Hellmouth on Earth. We will use all our Council resources guarding the other twelve Hellmouths with Council teams, in case the relevant apocalypse is to occur somewhere else instead.”
Xander looked at Willow and mouthed, “Twelve other
Hellmouths?” Willow gave him a blank look as she shrugged. But if the Watchers were patrolling all the other Hellmouths on the planet with ordinary humans, maybe they really couldn’t afford to let Buffy leave Sunnydale, or get her any help. He’d have to ask Willow what she thought about it, only later when they could talk. If she’d talk to him.
Giles insisted, “Yes, but it seems quite clear that this is the most active one on the planet, so any attempted apocalypse would most likely be based here.”
Travers calmly said, “Agreed. And that’s why you will keep your Slayer there, and any additional support we can acquire will be directed toward the merely human forces at the other Hellmouths.”
Giles finally said, “Yes. Umm… I see your point. Perhaps that is the best logistical allocation. Thank you.”
But they could all tell by his face what he really thought of that idea, and it wasn’t ‘totally excellent’ or even ‘so-so’. Nope, Giles obviously thought Travers’ idea sucked rocks.
Once Travers hung up and Giles followed suit, they started talking. Giles wanted Buffy to go find someplace to hide out where the Order of Taraka would never think to look. Buffy wanted to get a sword and a battleaxe and a crossbow, and go track down assassins. Willow wanted to know what the looming apocalypse was going to be. Xander wanted to get out of the tiny office and sit someplace comfortable, because his butt was hurting.
While Giles drove Xander and Willow home, they bugged him about the other Hellmouths and those Council patrols. He finally explained, “Yes, there are another dozen Hellmouths all over the globe, even if most of them are close to dormant while the Sunnydale one is so active. And yes, there are trained Council teams, armed with holy water and stakes and blessed swords, with crossbow and longbow support, out there right now, fighting supernatural threats that the lone Vampire Slayer cannot attend to. It is a rather high mortality job, even though the Council traditionally hires trained soldiers and policemen, who are better at fighting than your average human.”
Xander said, “Wow, I figured you guys just… watched. And wrote really stuffy reports. And sipped tea.”
Giles growled, “Xander, has it ever occurred to you that if a Watcher is providing close support for a Slayer and the Slayer is killed by vampires or demons, the odds of the Watcher surviving the night are likely to be… shall we say… low?”
Willow said, “But… all the writing in the Watchers’ Diaries about Slayers getting killed…”
Giles admitted, “Often, that is added post-mortem, when the Council uses some of its mages to summon the ghost of the deceased Watcher to tell what happened, so that the next Slayer may be sent to deal with the problem.”
It had never before occurred to Xander that maybe Giles didn’t expect to outlive his Slayer. On the other hand, Xander had to hand it to Giles. That whole ‘Ripper’ thing hinted that maybe there was an iron fist inside that tweedy glove.
Xander sort of thought about that while he snuck into his house and went to bed. Maybe being a Watcher wasn’t all tea and crumpets.