Disclaimer – BtVS, Magnificent Seven and it’s ATF AU. Not mine.
A/N - I’ll be blunt, I can’t be bothered to faff about with ‘two days’, ‘1 week later’, etc., so on the whole as the chapters pass I invite you to use your imagination and insert the timescale of your choice… think of it as interactive reading! :)
A/N2 – So, I have discovered having a firm idea of where I want a story to go is the antithesis of my writing style! Sorry, it’s taken so long and I hope you enjoy. H_K
Josiah sat at his desk staring absently ahead, mulling over the conversation he’d overheard in the break room. He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop on Vin and Ezra. The simple fact that he’d been able to, without either of them noticing, was disturbing on its own.
At first he’d thought they’d been playing some kind of prank, hoping someone would overhear them and think that… Josiah shook his head. The topic had been so ridiculous there was no way that anyone could be expected to believe it.
However, the main reason for ruling a prank out was due to the brief glance he’d seen of their faces. Ezra had looked careworn, no sign of his usual mask of imperviousness, and Vin’s expression contained sadness as well as empathy for their friend.
The team had been off-balance ever since Chris’ confrontation with Xander. Ezra had been strictly professional, only acknowledging their leader when directly spoken to. No one had been shy in pointing out just how far out of line Chris had been. Equally, however, none of them -- with the exception of Ezra and to some degree Vin -- had been comfortable with the idea that young Abby was part of whatever Xander had been involved in before coming to Denver. They’d all seen the evidence of the brutality of Xander’s so-called childhood in his scars, both physical and mental.
Josiah had little doubt from his inevitable study of the boy’s behaviour (profiling was instinctive for him now) that if Xander could have prevented Abby from getting involved, or done anything more to protect her or any of ‘his girls’, he would have.
None of these facts altered his automatic denial of what the two men had apparently been discussing.
Josiah frowned as an unexpected memory of a rare childhood visit with his grandfather sprang to mind. His memories of his grandfather were few. The visits, always accompanied by his father, inevitably ended with arguments shouted behind closed doors before finding himself being whisked away with barely the time to say goodbye.
It was on one such occasion that his grandfather had managed to speak to him alone as his father had stormed off to their room to pack. The old man had pressed a book into his hands, telling him to keep it hidden from his father and that one day he would understand; that fire and brimstone were to be feared in this world as well as the next. As a child, his grandfather’s words had scared him and so he’d hidden the book as requested but never looked further. Early in his travels, in preparation for one of his many trips, it had been packed away and left behind in storage.
After the formation of Team Seven and their brotherhood, Josiah realized that Denver would be his home, probably for the rest of his life. He was old enough now that he’d retire rather than accept transfer anywhere else, so gradually he gathered all of his many caches from his past.
The memory wouldn’t leave him alone, and after catching yet another concerned glance from Nathan, Josiah decided he needed to deal with it now. He wasn’t getting anything done anyway. Pulling up the requisite form he filled in the application for the afternoon off.
Josiah entered Chris’s office. “Chris, I need to take a little personal time.”
Chris was about to question the man further but was surprised to see the big man’s unease. “You alright, Josiah?”
“I just need a little time to sort out a personal matter. I would have waited but…” Josiah had no idea how to even begin to explain his suspicions.
Chris sighed. “OK, Josiah. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” The team hadn’t been on form ever since his outburst. Someone needed to have their head straight, and the profiler was the most likely one to be able to bring Team Seven back on track. He needed Josiah with his head in the game if they were going to fix this any time soon.
After reassuring his teammates that he would be fine, Josiah hurried home to dig through the many boxes stored in his loft.
Xander glanced at the caller ID before answering.
“Hey, Papa Bear, how’s it going?” Xander was surprised to hear from the older man, but he knew Josiah was still feeling guilty about the events at the mission.
“Good evening, Xander.” Xander frowned at the unusual tone in the profiler’s voice. It didn’t bode well.
“Are you alright, Josiah?”
“I, er, . . . I’ve got to be honest and say I’m not entirely sure.” Josiah sighed. “I was wondering if I could talk to you?”
Xander bit back his automatic retort that they already were talking. “Sure, now?”
“I would prefer it if we could talk face to face.”
“OK, do you want to come over to my place?” Xander offered.
“I’m not sure that’s the best idea…” Josiah was reluctant to bring any more potential disruption to the boy’s home.
“Alright, Josiah, I’m intrigued and a little worried now. Just tell me where you want to meet?” Xander wasn’t in the mood to play 20 questions.
“Would tomorrow afternoon, about 5.30, at the park outside the Sisters of Mercy be alright with you?” Josiah wanted somewhere he felt comfortable-- where, if he got the answer he was expecting, there was somewhere close by for quiet reflection. He prayed he was wrong, but…
Xander was unnerved. Had Josiah picked holy ground for a reason? Could he know? There was only one way to find out.
“I’ll see you there.”
Xander approached the park with a feeling of trepidation. He’d discussed possible topics for Josiah’s meeting with Spike last night, but seeing as the vampire had been saying that the whole team should be told for a while, he hadn’t been much help. He considered phoning his Dad this morning, but in the end this was his world, his problem. He’d listen to what Josiah had to say and go from there.
The sight of the big man pacing didn’t ease his concerns. Josiah was a man of serenity most of the time, but -- when the situation called for it -- followed his actions through without hesitation. Seeing him nervous shook Xander. His Dad’s team usually had a strong sense of purpose, they assessed situations quickly and decisively, and yet here was one of the anchors of the team clearly anxious.
Xander took a fortifying breath and called out to the man.
“Xander, thank you for coming.” Josiah shook his hand firmly, which was some reassurance at least.
“It’s no problem, Josiah. How can I help?” Xander placed the ball firmly in Josiah’s court, making the other man smile.
“I overheard Vin and Ezra talking about you and Abby earlier in the week,” Josiah began. “I can assure you they had no idea I was even in the office at that time. They probably felt safe in discussing such matters.”
Xander had stiffened at Josiah’s words. Even though he realized it was not his father’s nor Vin’s fault, this was exactly what he had feared would happen. Xander briefly considered trying to make up an excuse for whatever Josiah had overheard, but in his heart he doubted the older man would have approached him rather the his team mates without good reason. He remained silent and waited for the rest of Josiah’s tale.
“Once I decided the ‘terrible twins’ weren’t trying to play some kind of prank on me, I was left with the disturbing possibility that these creatures of which they spoke may actually be real.” Josiah watched a shadow of sorrow pass over the young man’s face. Josiah was touched that the boy had so much heart, to care that even an old soldier such as himself would lose his ‘innocence’ in regard to the monsters in the dark.
Before Xander could say anything, Josiah reached into his bag and pulled out a worn- looking journal. “I was surprised to find that the words they spoke brought to mind an old memory. I was given this a long time ago but never cared to look until now.” Josiah held out the book for Xander to take.
“I don’t understand.” Xander was puzzled by the profiler’s reaction.
“Look at the title page.” Josiah settled back on the bench and gazed out over the peaceful gardens, allowing the other man to examine the book in his own time.
Xander cautiously open the page, having no idea what to expect. He drew in a surprised gasp at the handwritten words.Watcher’s diary of Godfrey Webster. 1946-1947
“Where…?” Xander was stunned by the coincidence.
“Godfrey Webster was my paternal grandfather. My father took my grandmother’s maiden name as a final act of rebellion against his father’s ‘heresy’.” Josiah sighed. It had come as quite a shock to discover the reason for the unbreachable rift in his family’s past. He let out a dark chuckle that fate should bring things full circle. His rebellion against his own father’s beliefs had echoed the past, and now here he was faced with proof that his grandfather had known a truth that his father simply couldn’t accept.
“You didn’t know?” Xander flipped slowly through the pages, quickly skimming the information contained within. It appeared that Godfrey had been a watcher to a potential who had never been called, judging by the descriptions of training but no accounts of actual slaying.
“I don’t think I would have been prepared to accept what’s in those pages even had I read it when it was given to me.” Josiah gave the one-eyed man a rueful smile. “I guess I’m older and wiser now.”
“Still, it’s a pretty big leap of faith - on the gossip of two friends and a 50-year-old journal.” Xander was still trying to wrap his head around it; what were the odds?
“It came from people I trust. And I’ve watched you, Xander, and Abby. She’s the slayer, isn’t she?” Josiah asked the question but his tone held no doubt.
“A slayer.” At the profiler’s querying look, Xander shrugged. “Things have changed.”
“As all things must,” Josiah sighed. It was true. A small part of him had hoped it was still all a flight of fancy, but Xander had confirmed the existence of a slayer; therefore, what she fought must also be real. He didn’t bother to suppress the shudder that rippled down his spine. Monsters.
“Josiah… I don’t know what you want from me. It’s unlikely your path will cross with anything more of this. Most people seem to suppress the knowledge of the supernatural.” Xander was unhappy that Vin and Ezra had been dragged into his world, but although the extra support for Abby would be good, he couldn’t in good conscience drag the others in too.
“You’re trying to protect us, I understand that.” Josiah appreciated the thought but he knew in his heart that he couldn’t ignore the dangers the young man beside him, and the girl in his care, had faced and probably still did. “Thank you for trying, Xander, but I would like to help support you and Abby any way I can.”
Xander sighed. He had little doubt that this would be the response of all of his father’s friends. Even knowing his life would be easier if he just came out and told the whole team, he couldn’t bring himself to do it to them. He would shelter them for as long as he could.
“Understood, and thank you, Josiah. First, I need your word you won’t go looking for trouble. There’s a reason they created the slayers: the things they fight are stronger and faster than us.” Xander waited for Josiah’s nod before continuing. “Second, I’ve kept this secret for good reason. If any of the others ask, you tell them to come to me. I don’t want anyone going off half-cocked. If they ask the right questions I won’t lie but neither am I prepared to make this easy. There are times when I wish I’d never fallen at the Slayer’s feet.”
Josiah thought for a moment about the second proposition. It was going to be hard keeping this from their brothers, but Xander’s reasoning was sound. Plus, without hard proof he suspected the others, except maybe JD, were unlikely to accept this truth anyway.
“It’s hard to believe you’ve been dealing with this since high school, my friend.” Josiah found it hard to imagine dealing with the trauma of puberty alongside battling monsters.
“Well, that’s the consequence of making the Champion a young girl. Of course, we were never meant to get involved, but there was no way I was going to leave Buffy to fight alone. No offence to your grandfather, Josiah, but the old Watchers were a bunch of blind, power-hungry idiots. They treated those girls like tools, not people, for centuries.” Xander felt the old anger rise up again, and fought to rein it back.
“Old watchers? Aren’t you a watcher?” Josiah asked.
“Me? No. Well, not really. I’m just looking out for Abby while she’s here. She needed some time away from her calling. The old Watchers’ Council got blown up in the build-up to Sunnydale being destroyed. They’re working on rebuilding the council, but things have changed so much now that there aren’t any potentials, just lots of slayers.” Xander gave Josiah the highlights.
“They?” Josiah realised he’d disturbed an old wound from Xander’s reaction. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”
“No, it’s OK. ‘They’ are the other Sunnydale survivors. I left them after we got to LA. They are putting together a better system to support the slayers.” Josiah watched the other man’s discomfort.
“You’re supporting Abby, are you not? I suspect you’re more a part of this new system than you might think,” Josiah offered.
“You have no idea.” Xander was still uncomfortable with the whole paladin thing. He hadn’t yet contacted the others to find out what they intended for his role in the new council.
“Thank you for being honest with me, Xander. If there’s anything I can do for you or Abby, please just ask, OK?” Josiah held out his hand to the other man. There would be plenty of time to ask more questions about what dwelt in the darkness; for now, Josiah just needed some time to deal with this confirmation of his discovery.
Xander shook Josiah’s hand, before handing him back the watcher’s diary.
“Please, could I have a copy of that at some point?” Xander asked. “We lost a lot of stuff when the Watchers’ Council blew up. I know several people who would love to read that.”
“Of course. Perhaps your friends could return the favour, if they have any more information about my Grandfather.” Josiah was looking forward to the possibility of rediscovering part of his past.
“No probs, Gramps.” Xander smiled at Josiah’s grimace. “You’re welcome to come over anytime, if you want to talk more about this -- you know that, right?”
“Thank you, Xander. You may come to regret that offer.” Josiah felt a familiar tingle of anticipation at the chance to discover a whole new field of study, even if it was more than a little terrifying.
Xander tensed as he realised that Josiah’s thirst for knowledge would probably drive him crazy, but relaxed as a solution came to mind.
“If it gets too much, I’ll just sic you on Giles. You two can geek out to your hearts’ content.” Xander smirked at Josiah’s eye roll.
“I’ll choose to take that in the spirit of our quest for knowledge.” Josiah sobered again. “I’ve studied many religions and cultures, and there are some things that transcend all our perceived differences: the monsters in the dark and the champions that protect us. Those who are pure of heart, full of courage, and faced with hard choices.”
“The sacrifice of the few for the many,” Xander muttered
“Is that how you see Abby, a sacrifice?” Josiah asked softly, seeing the pain on the younger man’s features.
“We drafted those girls into a world of danger. Some of them died before they even understood what they were. Others…” Xander felt his stomach clench at the thought of losing any more girls.
“Not without cause.” Josiah didn’t need all the details to see how the repercussions of the change in these ‘Slayers’ were still tearing the young man beside him apart.
“We should have come up with a better way!” Xander felt his self-loathing rise once more.
Josiah found a strange comfort in seeing there was a way he could help his young friend in the fight against the darkness. The monsters still lurked in the shadows, but he could help Xander, and perhaps Abby, in their battles with their all-too-human fears and self-doubt. “The outcome may have not been as you wished, but I doubt you had many options left to you. I’m sure that you and your friends made a reasoned decision, and one not lightly taken, either.”
“Yeah, well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” Xander ground out.
“You can’t save everyone,” Josiah stated softly.
“I can damn well try!” Xander yelled.
“And that’s why I know
you’re a good man, Xander.” Josiah held the young man’s gaze, letting him see the conviction and truth in his words.
Xander felt the tight knot of fear and anger loosen slightly at the unconditional support he was being offered. He’d just helped turn the man’s world inside out, and here he was trying to help him. He forced himself to relax.
Xander gave Josiah a small smile. “Thanks, Papa Bear.”
Josiah returned the smile, as he looked proudly at Ezra’s son.