Title: A Watcher's Word
Length of chapter: 3500
Setting: Post Chosen but AU straight away. So no comics and no Angel Season 5.
“Do come and join our little party, Rupert. No need to be shy. My creatures have been keen to meet you for some weeks now.”
Giles walked forward confidently and passed Buffy and the girls on the floor. He’d rolled the sleeves of his crumpled shirt back down and was carrying the cutlass he’d had before.
“Rupert Giles: The last Active Watcher. What an intriguing fellow you are,” continued de Groot.
Buffy was dismayed to the pit of her stomach at such an unbelievably dumb thing he was doing. He should have been the other side of the city, buying a ticket for somewhere fast and expensive and yet he thought one sword could make a difference? Giles walked through the ranks of the Pokarroh demons impassively. They looked a little confused at their inability to detect the intruder their master was addressing.
Buffy shot a pleading look to Robin to try and keep Giles safe and he nodded imperceptibly.
de Groot’s eyes sparkled with amusement as Giles stepped confidently into the Pentagram. “You’ve been a hard man to trace, Rupert. And yet here you are all of a sudden, in the thick of the action. It’s not been your usual style.” He eyed the cutlass with amusement. “Whatever do you imagine you can do with that?”
Giles scowled slightly. “Which one of your demons killed Ariela?”
“Does it really matter which?”
“I’d like to know for later; I intend to kill it.”
de Groot snorted with a barking laugh. “Such passion for a Slayer! Really, we didn’t intend her any harm. The girl got in the way when we only wished to talk to you.” A sense of playfulness overcame de Groot. He pointed at the creature holding Buffy down. “It was that one if you really want to know.” Giles stared very coolly at the demon and nodded as if sharing a private joke.
Robin folded his arms, the razor sharp creases on his shirt stood firm. “I don’t know what you think you are doing here, Giles, but this is my Council now. You are of no importance anymore.” He turned back to de Groot by way of dismissing Giles’ appearance. “You want a Watcher? Then you deal with me,” he said impressively. Buffy saw the gesture for what it was and understood. Robin was a good man and he was going to protect Giles even if he didn’t like him much.
Giles unexpectedly put the cutlass on the floor and slouched his hands in his pants pockets. “I don’t accept your authority here, Wood. You’ve never taken a Watcher’s oath, never had to watch over a Slayer in the field.”
Robin spluttered back. “I watch out for all of them. They are all my responsibility.” He looked with a mixture of distain and pity at Giles. “Stay out of this. You really don’t want to win this argument. You wouldn’t want the prize on offer,” he added pointedly.
“But Rupert doesn’t wish to stay out of it, because he cares for the Slayers so, despite the danger to himself.” de Groot found the whole situation terribly funny and addressed Giles. “So single minded in your loyalty. You really are a credit to your profession. But I think you should really be blaming your Miss Summers for that girl’s death. The child should never have been in this fight. She should be at home with her family, but this one’s interference with our magick changed all that. Instead of one powerful Slayer she created an army. An army that are being slaughtered daily as the frightened children they really are.”
“We gave them a power they couldn’t hope to understand,” muttered Giles with more bitterness that Buffy thought he had about the situation. He’d been on board with her plan at the time.
“We don't have enough resources to support them all yet,” Robin conceded, “Though if you lent more of a hand we might do better. You waltz in here now. Big man with the big gestures, seeking vengeance for about a Slayer you barely knew. But where have you been this past year whilst we rebuilt the Council? When we needed your help the most?”
Giles was surprisingly icy at Robin’s words. “You’re an accountant not a Watcher. You have some nice buildings and paperclips but you’ve had no training, no destiny, no Slayer. So back off, Wood. Buffy was my Slayer and I'm her Watcher.”
Buffy wanted them both to shut the hell up about which was top dog. de Groot however was being thoroughly entertained.
“Well this is thrillingly competitive,” he gushed. “Miss Summers, as this concerns you the most, let’s canvas your views. Which one of these gentlemen is your true Watcher?”
“Neither of them,” she answered quickly. “Giles is being sentimental and Robin just issues my pay checks.”
The Shadow Caster wagged a finger at her. “Such loyalty to Watchers all of a sudden. One would never believe you’ve had one killed and two fired. Let me put it another way then, which of these men’s word do you trust the most?”
She looked at them both nervously. She trusted them both implicitly of course. Robin had been her friend and strongest ally for the past year. He’d worked hard to rebuild the Council as she’d torn around the world putting out demon fires. He’d strategized, planned, and based all his decisions on the welfare of the Slayers not the corrupt power hungry self-gratification policy of the Old Council. A Council that had raised Giles and indoctrinated their values into him. He’d certainly been mixed up about his loyalties for a time but he’d come good for her. Who did she trust the most? She did not want to choose and certainly not if it meant the death of one of them. A small voice inside her knew the answer but that didn’t mean she had to share it.
“I trust both of them more than I trust you,” she said sticking out her chin a little and gesturing to the Slayer Axe de Groot still held. “I’m not going to decide which one you can murder.”
His response was one of genuine puzzlement. “My dear girl, who said anything about murdering either of them? On the contrary we wish to reward the Watcher you trust the most.”
“There is nothing I want from you,” declared Robin.
“Oh you don’t realise how wrong you are about that,” de Groot replied menancingly. “Let me explain. The power harnessed to make a Slayer is like a simple plant in the desert. It is hardy, resilient and a beautiful miracle. This proliferation of Slayers is like a great unruly bush. Cheap and common, with thin roots that make it increasingly unstable.” He gestured to the Slayer Axe. “We intend to do a little pruning that’s all. Your witch used this and the power from your unstable lineage to unlock the potentials. We intend to undo that spell.”
“To kill all the Slayers,” declared Robin with contempt.
“No, no. You misunderstand. We are not barbarians. The power will simply seep from the girls and they will return to their normal lives. The Slayer line will continue as before through the one called Faith. She is Pure.”
“Can I be there when you call her that?” quipped Buffy.
“Hardly,” replied de Groot, his eyes now flinty in her direction.
Robin was struggling to comprehend. “But you said you needed a sacrifice. If not a Watcher then….”
“Then an Impure Slayer; the one that is the source of the proliferation. You, Miss Summers. Oh don’t look so shocked. You have died twice before I would have thought one more time would make very little difference.”
“Me?” She was the first of the line of course but it was still a struggle to comprehend the cold-bloodedness of the Shadow Caster plan to restore their power interests.
“You are at the root of this approbation of our power. You must die as part of our spell to restore the Slayer tradition to its natural balance. One Slayer, Miss Summers. One girl chosen in all the world to fight the forces of darkness. Not a ragtag gang of misfits and psychopaths.”
Julia spoke up bravely from Buffy’s side, “Willow will just do the spell again.”
“Oh indeed yes. I agree that normally your little witch is capable of reversing any spell we do. She's dragged Miss Summers from the grave once and I believe her quite capable of reactivating the potentials a second time. However-”
Buffy interrupted him, her heart racing. “You want to seal the spell, so it can't be undone.”
His eyes sparkled in appreciation of her intelligence and reasoning. “The best seal of all.”
Buffy looked at the Pentagram dubiously. “Is this the Seal of Gethsemane?”
de Groot positively purred his congratulations. “Not exactly but you are very well informed.”
“I wish I was,” muttered Robin who was standing like Giles in the Pentagram with de Groot.
“The Seal of Gethsemane is not a physical object or artefact. Quite simply it is an Action, an atrocious Action. If your witch had been a little cleverer she’d have known that such great magicks requires an equally great Action to make it fast. Magick is based on spells and words but it also requires deeds and resolve for absolute completion. For example a resurrection spell that requires the Blood of the Innocent does not require the blood per se. It requires the resolve of the individual to shed that blood. It is the deed that cements the action, the will necessary to do the unthinkable. And the Seal of Gethsemane is the best of all seals. It is the ultimate Seal of Betrayal. From such an action, no roads can be returned from. Betrayal is so final.”
de Groot swelled his chest as he declared, “And the Watcher that kills his own Slayer is unprecedented, it is unthinkable and that broken trust will seal our spell irrecoverably.”
“No,” breathed Buffy.
“Our spell upon this Axe and your death will reverse the Slayers back to mere potentials. And the Watcher that takes your life will seal the spell for eternity.”
“Sorry to burst your bubble but that’s never going to happen,” interposed Robin, but de Groot seemed quietly confident.
“One of you will agree. One of you will have to,” he stated simply.
de Groot moved swiftly to Giles who was looking thoughtfully at Buffy, and placed a hand on his chest. The Pokarroh demons all shifted their heads in unison; their orange eyes turned in interest and shone a little brighter. They had a fix on Giles again now that the Shadow Caster had marked him with his touch. Buffy sensed his new vulnerability keenly. He was in the game now.
“Will you be the one to do it, Rupert? Or are you merely the last footnote of the Old Council?” Giles shifted slightly and the demons’ eyes all turned brightly as he did so. “I could have them just kill you here. You may be resourceful, l but if I order your death, the Pokarroh will simply slaughter you like an animal where you stand.”
Giles shrugged. “I dare say you could.”
de Groot leered even further into Giles’ personal space. “And then you could go see those nice hell gods that are so looking forward to meeting you,” he taunted. “Oh yes, we know all about your little problem. You have no secrets from us.”
Giles remained impassive in the face of the provocation. “I'm a popular chap these days. Doesn't get you your sacrifice done though,” he answered calmly.
“Mr Wood here would do it easily enough.” He turned his attention to Robin. “Or he will when we start to butcher the two girls here.”
Robin squared his shoulders and said, “I am not about to execute Buffy for you.”
“Do you hear that children? He values her life above yours.”
Buffy looked to Fallon and Julia. It was an impossible situation. Their captures held all the cards. She smiled some reassurance to the two girls but they were both too shocked to acknowledge her.
“And then we will bring in more of your Slayers. You can watch as many of them as you like die until you agree.”
“Still never going to happen,” Robin stated.
Buffy looked again to the two Slayers. Fallon looked stern and resolved. Julia appeared outwardly calm but her foot was shaking. Buffy hoped it was because she didn’t like being treated as a pawn in the game and not with resentment at Robin.
Giles had seen their reactions too. He shook his head at Robin. “It’s not really a choice. How many would you let them kill before you change your mind? Would let them all die, just because you can’t get blood on your hands?”
Robin gritted his teeth but before he could reply, de Groot had sidled up behind Giles and said with an almost seductive purr over his shoulder, “On the other hand, if you were to help us, Rupert, we could help you with your curse.”
“What?” Giles looked like he’d been caught in the headlights of a truck. Buffy fought for her own breath and the suddenness of the temptation de Groot was offering.
“You can lift it?” Robin asked suspiciously.
“No. No. It is a gift from gods. No-one can change that. But after he betrays the Slayer, he could join our ranks, as I crossed over to the Shadow Casters so could he.” He turned his full negotiating charm to Giles. “We offer you a new gift of time a future with us. We could have a great many fascinating conversations together. We have such resources, such knowledge we can share. Think of the time you could spend with our great library. Studying, not desperately skim reading for someone else’s needs.”
Giles was very quiet.
“I don't understand how that helps him,” Robin put in.
“He would be immortal as we are.”
“Oh god,” Buffy groaned softly. They had hit on his single point of vulnerability. He’d still be restless and unsettled, but he could cheat death and not have to spend eternity as the puppet of vengeful gods. Giles was rubbing his beard rather anxiously. He was also making no eye contact with Buffy whatsoever. Would he actually kill her in order to escape the hellgod’s revenge? The idea was unthinkable to her. Giles seemingly was thinking about it though. In fact Giles was thinking about it way more than she was comfortable with.
“And all the other girls,” he asked. “You said they would be safe, just lose their powers, but no actual harm would come to them?”
“Don't you dare even consider this,” warned Robin.
“Perfectly safe, I give you my word as one ex-Watcher to another. They would have a chance to return to their normal lives. To put things back to how they were. You said yourself it is a monstrous act to impose such a burden on children. You would be saving all their lives.” de Groot made it sound so heroic. He had sized up his target, found Giles’ weakness and was playing it for all he was worth.
“I was raised to believe in One Slayer. One chosen girl to protect the world.” Giles spoke almost dreamily.
“Quite rightly. So gentlemen, one of of you must betray the Slayer. Which of you will do what is necessary? What has always been necessary?”
Robin took a stop and pulled on Giles’ shoulder.
“This is not the right thing to do,” he pleaded. “Don’t accept this offer. You would sacrifice Buffy for this? Does she mean so little to you?”
“She means everything to me, but I can’t…” he broke off. Buffy leaned forward, desperate to hear how he felt about her.
Giles looked at Robin, wearily. “You can't protect them all, you said that yourself.” He shrugged rather sadly. “We can’t even protect the ones in this room.”
“That’s no reason to give in to them,” Robin insisted.
“I think it is.”
“I think you’re tempted because of the offer of protection from the curse. Can you look me in the eye and say this is about nobly saving lives? That is isn’t about protecting your sorry skin?”
“It doesn’t matter. One of us has to do it and you’re not going to kill Buffy for them, ever.”
“Damn right.” Robin was getting increasingly frustrated.
“You would let others die before you could do what was necessary. You think these girls’ blood wouldn’t be on your hands like Buffy’s would? That you wouldn’t see their faces in your sleep?”
“Of course I would,” said Robin.
“But not the same as if you’d actually killed them. You may be the Head of the Council but you can’t make that hard decision. You can’t kill one to save many. You just don’t see the necessity of the thing. They will kill the girls here, then bring more, then unleash a torrent of violence against all the Slayers in the world. And you would stand by your principles and let them all die.”
“You are a pragmatist I see,” encouraged de Groot.
“He’s a murderer,” countered Robin angrily.
Surprisingly Giles didn’t respond with any attempt to justify himself. Instead he smiled and spoke softly, “And you’re not.”
“I will surely kill you if you do this thing,” Robin hissed, “I will send you to the hell that waits for you.” De Groot gestured and two Pokarroh stepped in and pulled Robin out of the pentagram.
“Not if he accepts our offer of immortality. Do try to keep up,” de Groot clucked in joy.
Giles stood up more in resignation than resolution. “I’m the Watcher, Buffy’s Watcher. I should be the one to do this.”
“I like you Rupert Giles. You know how to play the great game. Sacrificing the pawns is one way to win, but it takes a real player to recognise when it's time to sacrifice the queen. You are a true Watcher. We will be honoured to have you join us after you have performed the sacrifice.” He made a little to bow to Giles who looked more like a condemned man that someone about to freed from a curse. Buffy understood why.
“Do I have your word on it, Rupert Giles?”
“A Watcher’s word,” Giles mumbled, nodded and put his hand out. de Groot smiled and reached out his own. The two men shook solemnly on their pact.
Robin was incensed and shouted, “A Watcher has never killed his own Slayer, Giles. Don't do it.”
But Giles wasn’t listening. de Groot handed him the Slayer Axe and sparks of magick flew along it’s shaft. It glowed red with the spell of the Shadow Casters.
The demon foot soldiers grabbed Buffy to her feet and pulled her in to the pentagram. She gasped as she entered the magick. Apart from de Groot and Giles she could see wisps of the other Shadow Casters surrounding Giles. He seemed so lost, so unhappy.
“Giles please,” she pleaded, more to get his attention than anything else. He picked up his thoughts and studied her.
“I’m sorry, Buffy. The girls can all return to their families. Creating the original Slayer was an act of barbaric cruelty. To rape a girl with magic to protect the world instead of taking arms themselves. And we did the same thing; we are just as guilty in unleashing all the potentials. We have taken their crime and made it a thousand times worse. You never wanted to be the Chosen One. You didn’t want a Watcher that always let you down.”
“You haven’t,” she whispered.
He pulled a stray lock of her hair behind her ear and rested his hand briefly on her shoulder.
“I’ll make it quick. It won't hurt I promise you.”
She calmed down at his soothing words and let the tension ease from her body. She was aware that it was faintly ridiculous of her to decide at that moment how much she cared for him, how much she wanted his voice, his eyes and his touch. But then her timing with men always did tend to suck.
Giles spoke softly, “Untie her hands please. She’ll give us no trouble now.” de Groot agreed and nodded to the Pokarroh to release her. Buffy felt the bindings on her wrists give, and stood completely still, looking up expectantly into Giles’ eyes. She had absolutely no doubts.
For his part, Giles was looking intently back at her as if his heart had stopped and he needed her to restart it. The Shadow Castors continued to swirl around him. de Groot looked terrifically excited.
Giles took a deep breath and said, “On the count of three then.” And then with the slightest of shy smiles he added, “Do you trust me, Buffy?”