Title: A Watcher's Word
Length of chapter: 4000
Setting: Post Chosen but AU straight away. So no comics and no Angel Season 5.
There was nothing he could do and he’d never felt so helpless. Not since Giles had witnessed Buffy Summers jump to her death from Glory’s tower, had he felt so wretched and useless and now here he was in a New York alley, watching Ariela losing a battle with two Pokarroh demons. They’d jumped them from out of no-where on the way back to her apartment and Ariela, with a street fighter’s instinct, had backed them off away from the lights of the late night cars and into an area where she thought she could deal with them. She had snarled at Giles to remain behind her as she fought and as he had no weapon he could do nothing but helplessly comply. It didn’t make him feel any better about the situation though.
The taller of the demons feinted a move to her left. Giles cried out a warning which was at least enough to startle the demon and give Ariela time to react first and swing her sword at its neck. She found her target and a wave of blood and goo shot across the alley and splattered Giles’ leather jacket. But as she grinned, her other opponent turned sharply to Giles, its orange eyes lighting up brightly as it curiously detected him for the first time. It had new prey and it lunged for him, its bladed arms outstretched. Giles ducked, swerved, stumbled and panicked into garbage cans. He crashed to the floor backwards just as the demon was dramatically cut in two from behind. Ariela was no longer grinning, instead her trim features were business-like as she addressed him.
“How the hell did it lock on to you like that?” she asked, offering him a hand up.
“The blood,” he replied with a grimace as he rose. “If they can’t find their target with magick then they use a marker.” He took his jacket off and threw it to the dumpsters
“Profligate,” Ariela chided as she darted to pick it up again. “It will wash out you know.”
Giles smiled at her practicality and was about to tease her about her domesticity when three further of the demons filled the exit of the alley.
“Slay-er,” one hissed.
Ariela coolly wiped the blade of her curved sword against one leg of her jeans and offered it to Giles. He took it eargerly but she tilted her head in a frown when he hadn't understood her meaning.
“Take this as a precaution. Get round them and get out of here,” she explained.
“I can’t just leave you,” he protested.
She pulled a short hunting knife out of her backpack. “Yes you can, Mr Giles. Go to the main Council building and wait for me. Go and explain everything to Buffy.”
“But I can help you.”
“I know, but Buffy would be very upset with me if I let anything happen to you. Go to the Council. Don't use the main elevator – here are the spare keys for the service stairs.”
The sides of the narrow alley loomed up over him and seemed to hide the sky. The few doors and windows wore steel shutters and the atmosphere oppressed him, filling him with an irrational claustrophobia he’d never experienced before. He stood as panic and indecision mixed with chivalry and a lifetime of decency. Everything was happening too quickly: the attacks on the Slayers, his search for the Seal of Gethsemane, and now Ariela the Slayer bossing him around just like Buffy used to
“I don't know how to stop all this. I don’t know what it all means,” he confessed quietly.
“But you know where to look it up,” she reasoned and smacked him on the side of his face for good measure. “We can't all be the Hero. Deal with your role as eternal sidekick and go.”
“But-” Ariela glared away his objection and fixed her attention on the three approaching attackers.
“Don’t worry,” she smirked. “I have no intention of dying on the street. Be very assured of that.” Giles believed her implicitly but he was still unsure he could ungallantly leave her to fight alone. She rushed forward to engage the Pokarroh, parrying blows and almost encouraging them to circle her. Giles gripped the cutlass and followed, the blade raised determinedly to help, but Ariela saw his intention, blocked him and then spun round him by his sleeve to push him clear from the danger and back out into the street.
“Run,” she demanded as she returned to the battle. And, hating himself, Giles finally did as he was told.
Buffy looked at him imploringly but he hardened his heart and stood motionless to let the protection aspect of his curse shield him from the Pokarroh once again. She must despise him so much he thought. He wanted to run forward, to hack them to bits with something, to strangle one with his bare hands if necessary but he held back and waited. He watched as the demons carried her away into the library, and saw her twist in their grip to look at him once more. He thought he saw hatred flash in her eyes at his cowardice. He had betrayed her for the sake of his own selfish life. Giles blinked away a little excess moisture from his eyes and waited till the commotion died down and he was finally alone in the corridor.
“Good show Giles, my bloody hero,” he muttered in self-disgust and thrust his hands in his pockets petulantly. It had been the surprising way the creatures had sought to capture rather than kill Buffy that had stopped him from interfering. However much a heel he felt, he knew rationally there was another game to be played out for her life and he hoped he could somehow make amends in her eyes when the time came. He just wished he understood more about what was happening.
Giles stripped away from the wall and headed back up the corridor just as the nearest door to the library opened once again. Caught in the open, he ducked into the nearest office space only to realise he’d chosen Robin Wood’s office and that that was the Pokarroh’s destination also. He had a split second to marvel at the Slayer Axe, hung as a trophy behind the man’s desk as a sure symbol of his authority. He hadn’t seen it since the collapse of Sunnydale when Willow had used it to unlock the potentials and defy the convention that there should be only One Slayer. He wondered why Buffy or even Faith hadn’t kept it: it was a weapon not a showpiece but then he heard the shuffling tell-tale noise of the Pokarroh behind him in the main corridor, and dived ignobly to hide behind a filing cabinet in the corner, his pulse racing.
He crouched and waited. Rupert Giles was a rational man and, having learnt the nature of the curse and the effects it had on him, he applied logic whenever possible. He knew a good deal of his paranoia was without cause. He knew his fear of being hunted; of being trapped were also, most likely, symptoms. But he also knew a Pokarroh demon that could slit his throat so easily he’d barely notice. And with that knowledge, Giles grimly thought, even paranoid men have a rational reason to cower every now and again.
He watched as the demon swept the shelves that housed some of Robin’s exotic collection, smashing items to the floor as worthless before finally ripping open on of the desk drawers and producing something that met with its satisfaction, Giles couldn’t see what. The creature then went purposefully to the wall behind the desk and ripped the Slayer Axe effortlessly from its secure brackets. Happy with its hoard, the Pokarroh withdrew and left Giles alone in the office.
Damn. Once more, Giles was left feeling inadequate, and thwarted in his plans to help. They had the Axe, they had Buffy and all he had was eight bucks in change and a card for the subway in his pockets. Giles got up off the floor and was startled to see his own travelling bag had already been flung on to one of the casual chairs. He checked the contents: his wallet, his passport, clothes, everything was there like it had been laid out for him. He could run again, hide again, but no, Giles had had enough of running for one day. Eight bucks or eighty didn't really change that.
He snuck back to Buffy’s office and the books she kept. He needed to help her in some way. His mind had drifted a lot to Buffy in the past ten months. She didn’t want him around and he’d understood that and respected the need to keep his distance from her. Ariela had looked very doubtful when he’d explained the situation to her, but then she’d been young and had seen everything in black and white. Ariela hadn’t had a chance to understand how badly Giles had let Buffy down; how he’d betrayed her, disappointed her. And how he was doing it all over again. Sitting on the floor with his back to the main door, Giles retrieved the discarded flashlight and turned his focus once more to the ‘dangerous’ texts that Buffy kept away from innocent eyes. Maybe he wasn’t a Watcher anymore, but he was still one hell of a good reader.
The creatures bound Buffy's hands behind her back and pushed into the library space. Without the main lights the place looked ghostly. The tables had been neatly stacked to one side freeing up a much greater floor space, in the centre of which, one the demons was painstaking chalking out a circle using twine tied to a chair leg. The hair bear bunch had a plan then that involved magick somehow. They really didn’t seem the type.
“Buffy!” Robin called from a huddle on the floor. “Thank god.” He was kneeling with his arms bounds, Fallon and Julia, the two junior Slayers had been similarly captured and the demons pushed her down to join the group. She assessed the two girls: bruises and cut lips, but nothing that wouldn’t heal. Julia perhaps looked a little green. Half a dozen of the Pokarroh futzed around as a guard detail, two others were lighting candles.
“Are you all OK?” Buffy asked the girls.
Fallon nodded. “They seemed to want to take us Slayers alive.” She was brisk and business-like but even she looked shaken by the speed and the success of the attack
“We couldn’t… We heard them kill George. We tried to… but….not our best day,” Julia added, sucking her cheeks to keep her emotions in check. She was angry at a failure that she couldn’t possibly be responsible for. She reminded Buffy of Faith in that regard.
She looked to Robin who, despite sporting some swelling near his left eye, was pretty unscathed. “They killed George but not you?”
He shrugged. “I’m not about to argue the discrepancy, though the poor guy never stood a chance.” They all dropped their eyes a little in respect. “It’s been a big day for unexpected visitors popping in,” added Robin idly, casually looking around the library before dropping his voice further and enquiring, “Speaking of?”
Buffy shook her head briefly and admitted, “He bailed.”
“Why am I not surprised?” Robin rolled his eyes but stopped when he saw Buffy’s glare. “No, it’s sensible. I can’t really blame him,” he added as an olive branch, but Buffy knew his views on the matter were a little darker.
The Pokarroh with the chalk and twine had moved within its circle and began to draw straight lines bisecting it at points. Julia bit her lip and looked nervous.
“Why is it always a pentagram? What’s wrong with the other shapes?” Buffy joked to raise the girl’s spirits.
Robin joined in with his best school teacher voice. “You’ll clean that up afterwards, young man.” Even Fallon smiled.
They watched as the demon completed its slow task and then make way as another produced a familiar looking leather satchel and slashed it open. Brass figures about 6 inches high jangled to the floor. Robin looked warily to Buffy. That had been his mother’s bag, and to their knowledge, the figures served only one purpose. Buffy narrowed her eyes to watch the demon as it lay five of the figures on each of the points of the pentagram, then begin to make a noise she guessed passed for low chanting in Cousin-It speak. Slowly, the brass figures started to revolve on their own accord.
There was no human narrative voice required as at last time, instead the figures took on specific human shapes and began to cast small shadows on the floor. The other Pakarroh joined in the chanting and the shadows grew elongated as they spun until they touched in the middle of the pentagram. With contact their shadows grew, rising upwards, becoming more substantial and solid as they fed off each other’s energy, twisting and dancing and changing into solid grey shapes that represented grey figures of real men.
“They seem to be coming here this time,” Robin stated flatly
Buffy nodded. “I think the pentagram is acting as a gateway. Maybe they can only exist in there?”
“Who can?” asked Julia in exasperation.
“We've met before. Creature-features here are just the foot soldiers. We are about to meet the paymasters. Oh, I know these guys,” Buffy smiled and watched as the five grey blobs merged their energies and fused into a single more solid, more colourful man.
The chanting stopped, the figures stopped spinning and all that remained in the pentagram was a surprisingly dapper gentleman who looked like he'd stepped out of some sixteenth century Dutch painting. He wore a dark velvet crush jacket, pantaloons and white stockings that led down to shiny black shoes with rather pretty buckles on them. Buffy looked up in disbelief at the classic white frilly ruff at his neck that was straight out of Rembrandt, and above which was an auburn goatee beard and sparking dark eyes betraying amusement and excitement.
“Ladies, Gentleman. My greetings,” he beamed as smoke and shadows swirled around him slightly.
Buffy blinked and had to admit, “Don’t know him though.”
“Good morning,” the dapper man continued. “I trust it is morning anyway? Time is relative and so fluid don’t you find?” He shot his lace cuffs and surveyed his audience indulgently. “And this is the New Watcher’s Council.” It was a statement rather than an enquiry. He beamed at Robin. “I am so very pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr Wood. So very pleased.”
Robin stood awkwardly with his hands bound. The new comer gestured impatiently at the Pokarroh demons to release his ropes. Buffy remained kneeling with the other girls, waiting for an opportunity as Robin rubbed his wrists and stepped confidently forward.
“Mind telling me who the hell you are?” he asked suavely.
“My dear sir, where are my manners indeed. My name is Anders de Groot and we have a great deal in common, Mr Wood.”
“I’m a snappier dresser,” Robin declared.
de Groot smiled and turned his attention to Buffy. “And Miss Summers. Most propitious. As I’m sure you’ve guessed; we have created a portal here rather than invite you to our dimension again. We have business to attend to that concerns the others.”
“Who is he, Buffy?” asked Fallon.
“The brass figures would suggest they are the Shadow Casters. The guys that made the first Slayer."
He made a little bow. “We are and we did. I’m so pleased you remember. We are the ones that harnessed the Power necessary to create a Slayer, and every single subsequent Slayer after her.” He stressed the word single with a playful smile.
Buffy shook her head. “I don’t remember you being there. You can’t personally have created any Slayers because I understood the deal to have been done a long time ago. Although if you are trying to keep up with fashion, you’re a long way behind, buddy.”
“I was not an original member of the group, I concede your point. I was however one of the founders of the Old Watcher’s Council. So you see we do have a lot in common, Mr Wood. When the Council first formed there was a conflict with the Shadow Casters. They opposed the idea of an institution to help the Slayer and sought to destroy ii, so I was given those brass figurines and the magick necessary to enter the portal to argue for Peace and their Acceptance.” He beamed with not a small amount of pride. “I was successful in my mission and the Watcher’s Council was permitted to remain. I argued that in the modern era, a Slayer should have a guide to help her. Someone to help target her killing instincts. They invited me to join them by way of a trade. It has been a fascinating experience.”
Buffy quirked an eyebrow. “You must be a big hit in the desert."
But he was not to be riled, instead, he seemed to find their taunts and conversation amusing.
“What you saw was a little pocket of time and our dimension. You can’t begin to understand the knowledge and reality of the eons we have at our command.”
“Why don't the others show themselves?”
“My voice is sufficient. One speaks for all."
“You don't have the power to all come through the Portal?” suggested Robin.
de Groot seemed happy to admit as much. “We have some limitations. A wise man always accepts his weaknesses. But I’m afraid it’s not a limitation that will be of any help to you today.”
Robin nodded and then moved terrifyingly swiftly. He entered the pentagram and threw a punch at de Groot, but his fist made no contact, instead his momentum carried him through de Groot’s entire body, and he staggered to regain his balance as he fell through empty space.
“An interesting demonstration, Mr Wood. I should perhaps explain that I cannot be harmed. As a member of the Shadow Casters I am as immortal as the elders. Perhaps you should explain that to your children, Miss Summers.” His face darkened slightly. “In case they get any ideas of further futile assault. Explain to them our Power.”
“I don’t accept your power,” answered Buffy. “When I visited your dimension, you guys wanted to force a demon on me as you’d done to the original Slayer. You thought I needed to trade my humanity in order to defeat the First. Well, I managed anyway without your help. You boys can saddle up back to town. We don’t need you anymore.”
He snapped back with his first sign of anger. “You ‘managed’ by this act of gross larceny. This abuse of the Power we gave you; by creating all these Slayers.”
“Where I come from we have a phrase more the merrier,” shrugged Buffy, acting on her instincts to unbalance him, to provoke him with insolence. It seemed Watchers, the centuries over, had never understood Slayers with comebacks.
“Where I come from, we don’t,” he replied with a smile that was no more than a thin line of his lips. “There should be only one Slayer. Miss Summers. These are abominations, created from stolen magicks and it ends here, today,” he added with an air menace. Buffy felt a chill in the room and knew the two girls felt it too.
“Ah.” His eyes lit up as he saw the Slayer Axe. One of the Pakorrah shuffled with it in into pentagram, holding it almost as a votive offering. “Well done.” To everyone’s surprise he took the weapon cleanly; this at least represented solid reality for him. “Forged by the Women to arm the Slayer in battle. How sentimental.” He tested the weight and looked lovingly at the blade.
“You know of the Guardian?” Buffy asked.
“Guardian?” he replied with a sneer. “They guarded nothing and they achieved nothing in their misguided efforts to help the Slayer. They sat back passively just the same as the Men before the Watchers.” He paused to reflect on the perfection of the weapon in his hands. “However, maybe I should give them some credit as excellent blacksmiths. It is an effective tool for our purpose.”
Robin recovered his poise and returned to the conversation, “And not that I want to hurry you, but what is your purpose?”
de Groot spoke simply, “To put an end to this proliferation of Slayers of course. This new plague that scourges the Earth. And we will achieve this with a sacrifice.”
“Oh god.” Julia had gone very pale watching de Groot play with the weapon yet addressing Buffy.
“They are children, you see? You have diluted the source of your power, weakened it for all, passed it on to those unprepared to receive it. What you have done, can you see it is not right?”
Had she weakened herself? A moment of doubt crossed Buffy’s mind. She needed reading glasses now and her recovery time after injury took a little longer. But, no. She clenched her jaw and refused to be swayed.
“You’re wrong,” Robin challenged before she could speak. “We are stronger together. The Slayers in this room, around the World, they are all making a difference.” He grinned like a boy. “I think you’re just pissed because she stole your power.”
“You stand by your Slayer’s actions then, Mr Wood?”
“She has always had my complete confidence, respect and trust,” he declared.
“I’m delighted to hear it. History turns so often on individuals and who they trust. There are so many stories of betrayal and broken promises; of small men making sacrifices.” He smiled dangerously again. “Whereas we require a very large sacrifice and I’m confident you will help us.”
They wanted Robin. Buffy’s heart sank at the implication. They had killed George but made an effort to keep Robin alive for this moment. She thought back to her previous meeting. These men were not above brutal actions if they thought the ends justified their means.
“It’s a question of inheritance you see,” de Groot continued. “The axe was forged by the Women to be the weapon of the Slayer. We would have called upon them but their line is now extinct - destroyed by their weakness - it is no matter. So next we turn to the Watchers Council as the most credible authority in their place. Watchers also have a childish duty to protect that which is stronger than themselves, not understanding the thing that needs no protection. Yes, we have considered this matter most carefully and a Watcher’s sacrifice will be sufficient.”
“They are going to kill him,” whispered Fallon in horror. “I don’t understand.”
Robin backed out of the pentagram only to be intercepted by one of the Pokarroh who gripped his shoulder at the risk of snapping his collarbone. Robin had no option but to bend and be proffered to de Groot.
And it was at that point in the discussion, with ancient history, lives and futures being debated over, that Buffy somehow became aware that Giles was there with them. She didn’t understand the feeling and hadn’t heard either sets of doors open, but she knew it was him just as sure as she’d seen him. She felt panic rise in her chest. Giles was putting himself in danger when even Robin had thought him better off out of this mess, and now the stupid, stupid man was trying to be a hero?
Buffy made to stand even with her wrists bound but one of the Pokarroh intercepted her. She struggled against her captor but it held her effectively. Robin gave a smile of understanding and gratitude.
“It’s OK, Buffy.” He turned an impressive figure of authority to de Groot. “I’m the Head of the Watchers and I will do whatever is necessary to protect my girls.”
“A thing I am most delighted to hear,” flattered de Groot but then he broke off suddenly and Buffy, sickeningly, guessed why. “Oh now, this is socially awkward,” he drawled. “I see we have another candidate to consider.” To Buffy’s horror, de Groot snapped his head directly behind her, to where she’d sensed Giles was. “I think it’s about time we asked Rupert to join us.”Chapter Five...