“Magna est veritas, et praevalebit.” (1 Esdras 3)
Chapter 27 - Xander 4
Warnings, notes etc are here.
Universe: Et Praevalebit
Specific chapter warnings: quotations from Oliver Cromwell.
Xander just sat there, looking at Wesley, and wondering what the enormous lump inside his chest might be.
It felt like guilt.
He rather thought that he wasn’t the only one feeling that way, given Buffy’s stricken expression, and the way Willow kept opening and closing her mouth without saying anything. But Wesley, it seemed, hadn't finished. He rounded on Willow.
“And you said you cast a revelatory spell on Mr Giles, didn’t you? Only you didn’t like the result. I didn’t think about that until later... what did you cast and why did you think it showed that Mr Giles was doing something improper? Because I’m not seeing any other evidence, and I’m wondering if whatever it was, you did it right. It’s plain enough that you’re not as damn clever as you think you are.”
“I did do it right,” Willow assured him, obviously struggling to subdue her offence. “It was only a little simple thing, a schoolyard spell.”
His expression hardened. “Oh dear God. Please, please, tell me you didn’t cast Quam Sentire?”
From her guilty look, she obviously had.
“Sweet mercy. Don’t you know anything?”
Xander thought he ought to intervene before Wesley exploded and Willow dissolved into tears. “What’s Quam Sentire?”
Wesley cast him an irritated look. “It’s what she said: it’s a playground spell. It’s one of the first ones children who are being taught magic learn. You don’t learn it from your tutor, you learn it from some other kid, you play with it for six months, you move on. It shows you how somebody feels about somebody else. It’s the magical equivalent of pushing your mate and goading him about some girl because he lent her a pencil or gave her a sweet or tacked her plait to the desk; it’s, it’s... it’s Willow and Xander sitting in a tree... You cast it on somebody and you ask how they feel about somebody else; they show a temporary aura. The stronger the colour of the aura, the stronger the person’s feelings. Bright colours are good feelings, dark colours are bad feelings. It’s an idiotic little spell, almost impossible to fail to cast. I expect you could do it.”
“So... what’s wrong with the way Willow did it?”
Wesley glared at her; she had retreated to sit with Buffy, and she flinched from his accusing glance.
“Ask her. Ask her why she thought it meant Mr Giles had bad intentions towards you.”
He didn’t have to ask; Willow cried out at once. “Because his aura was all glowy gold, very strong, so... but there was this horrible black stuff all through it, like a spider-web. And that’s bad feeling, and Giles was showing bad feelings about Xander!”
Wesley sneered. “So, about Xander, Willow... Quam Sentire?” He swept his hands upward, and then flicked his fingers at her; they could all see the bright green aura form around her.
They could all – including Willow – also see the throbbing network of ugly brown and black lines lacing it. Willow bit off a squeal.
“I don’t suppose Mr Giles ever told you not to use a spell if you didn’t know exactly how it worked? Oh, he did? Amazing. And you follow his instructions so well.” He drew his hands down and the aura vanished.
“O.K., what?” asked Xander, shakily. Wesley turned his head, and gave him the sort of chilly smile that Wesley himself used to get from Giles.
“The nice bright green bit? That’s Willow loving you. Looks like she does, Xander. Congratulations.”
He stopped, and Buffy was brave enough to ask. “And the scuzzy looking veins?”
“Ah yes. Those. Those are the things she doesn’t like. Those are the times Xander pulled her hair, or teased her, or cracked a joke against her, or promised to meet her at the mall and turned up late. Those are the times she thought he was tiresome, or annoying, or... what’s that word you use? Oh yes – lame. Those are the times they quarrelled, or she compared him with somebody else and he didn’t come out looking good. Those, basically, are the bits of a relationship that you simply get over and don’t usually talk about. They’re the irritating little habits – the constant split infinitives, the leaving the top off the toothpaste, the insistence on having bread sauce at Christmas despite the fact that nobody else likes it. There’s a reason that this is a playground spell: it’s only very young children who see their relationships as ‘I like you’ or ‘I don’t like you’ with no overlap. By the time they’re nine or ten, they’re getting the idea of ‘I like you sometimes’ or ‘I like you a bit’.”
He had to ask. “Will... did Giles... when you did the spell on Giles, did it look like that?”
She was crying, but Buffy looked at him and nodded. “The webbing was black and... do the colours matter, Wesley? It was real bright but it was yellow, not green like Willow’s. Is that important?”
He shook his head. “Not really.”
“So... all it showed was Giles liked me... but. And... well, we already knew that, I guess. He liked me well enough to come after me, but... it’s not hard to work out that he’ll have been ticked that he had to. He told me that I was doing something dumb, and I blew him off. He’s gotta have been pissed about that. And that’s on top of that he doesn’t like it when, when I call him G-Man, he doesn’t like it when I tease him about the tweed, he thinks I’m an idiot, he gets pissed when I flake on the research, he was really, really pissed at me over the whole love spell thing back at school.”
“And given what you said about the sort of place Serpentine is,” said Wesley, wearily, “if Mr Giles thought about you at all that way, it would show dark. Controlled violence, violence with express consent, but violence nonetheless. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Nobody’s perfect and the people who love us allow for that.”
“Yeah. Except that we didn’t.”
“No,” agreed Wesley, acidly. “You didn’t. You didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt at the time, you didn’t – any of you – consider the possibility of there being another explanation to the first one that popped into your heads. Oliver Cromwell knew about that: he said ‘I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.’ But oh, no, you couldn’t be mistaken, could you, you knew best.”
Xander's stomach tightened on another recollection. “He... when he did it, when he did the brand, he cried. I’d forgotten, but he cried. He did it real quick and it hurt... you have no idea. It hurt so much. I screamed, but he cried.”
Oddly, it wasn’t Willow who whimpered at that picture; it was Buffy; she looked as if she was remembering something.
“But why didn’t he tell us?” That was Willow; Xander gulped.
“He promised me he wouldn’t.”
They were all looking at him; he swallowed hard again. “He knew I was... he knew the whole thing gave me the complete wiggins, and he promised he wouldn’t tell you anything I didn’t want him to.”
“Oh,” said Willow faintly. “And he hadn't seen you, so he didn’t know what you had told us and what you wanted not to. Or, or what you hadn't told us because you didn’t know. He kept telling us... he kept saying that you would tell us anything we ought to know and if you didn’t want to tell us then we had no right to know... But you didn’t know why he’d done it either. And he didn’t know that.”
“And we didn’t ask.” Xander felt sick. “Or try to find out, after he left.”
Wesley snarled again.
“You could have found out what I did probably much more easily. All right, so Mr Giles took a month to discover the slavery stuff, but he was searching without knowing that what he was looking for even existed. You had the advantage of knowing that he had found something so there was something to find. I got half the data by using my old Watcher contacts and you don’t have those, but Buffy is the Slayer. If she had called the Council directly and said that her Watcher was missing, or that he was ill and behaving oddly, they could have told you the finance side straight off – and would have.”
They exchanged miserable glances, and Xander gave in. “Look, Wesley, I don’t get much but I do get that we’re the bad guys here, we screwed up big time, we’re losers, we’re ignorant, we’re generally inadequate, we have cooties and we probably smell bad. I totally get that I at least don’t have an IQ above ankle level, but I’m sorry, I’m not keeping up. What about the finance?”
Wesley folded up his notebook, and slipped it back into his pocket. “We were right about what Mr Giles wanted money for. Apparently he put in a request to the Council bursar for a, a sizeable sum of money before he went tallyhooting through the dimensions looking for your lost lamb. They refused his request, so he took the money anyway.”
Buffy gave a snort of laughter. “Go Giles!”
Wesley glared at her. She shrugged. “Wesley, he didn’t tell us. We didn’t know about it.”
Wesley frowned. “I imagine he didn’t tell you because ahead of time there wasn’t much you could do. You don’t... Well, I presume you don’t have access to large sums of money.”
Buffy gestured mutely at their surroundings. Wesley nodded. “I also presume that Mr Giles couldn’t predict how long his rescue bid would take and what it was likely to cost. The bursar viewed it as embezzlement, because he had no real means – and according to the Council generally, no intention – to pay it back. That, presumably, is why he wanted to speak to Willow. He needed her – urgently – to play the markets and find the money for him.”
Willow gave a little squeak of unhappiness, and found herself on the sharp end of Wesley’s glower. “Perhaps if you had done that, Mr Giles wouldn’t be on the wrong end of a big pecuniary claim.”
“How big?” whispered Willow.
“I don’t know what it is in dollars, I can’t do the conversion in my head. The exchange rate between this dimension and the other one apparently wasn’t in our favour. The Council is looking for repayment of something in the region of three-quarters of a million sterling – from a man with no job.” He glanced round at them and added sarcastically, “In case you don’t know, the numbers will be bigger in dollars.”
“Shit,” whispered Xander. “I... Wesley, I never even thought about it. About the money. . I never thought that I... that Giles...”
“No,” agreed Wesley, icily. “You didn’t. None of you thought. You don’t think, apparently.” He got up. “I wish I could say that it’s been nice seeing you all, but it hasn’t.”
“No, but Wesley,” objected Buffy, “where are you going?”
He raised one eyebrow, looking disturbingly like Giles.
“Back to L.A., of course. I’m going to do some more research and see if I can find where Mr Giles is.”
“Yeah,” said Xander, blankly. He swallowed; it hadn't been a good evening and he at least was feeling like he wanted to go away and hide in a corner, preferably never coming out again, but he had to ask. “Will you tell us when you find him?”
The stare was utterly incredulous and hardly needed Wesley’s pronouncement of “Hell, no!” Xander winced. Wesley spelled it out.
“At the moment my sympathies are entirely with Mr Giles. If he hasn’t told you where he is, that presumably is because he doesn’t want you to know, and I don’t for a moment blame him.” He looked round. “You do realise that I think there’s a reasonable chance that he’s dead?”
Willow burst into tears again; Buffy cried out; Xander felt his stomach heave. Wesley’s expression was stony. “He’s been fired by the Council; there’s no help for him there. When he abjured the Slayer, he lost all the protections and wards conferred by being a Watcher. If he’s still alive at all, he’ll be living on whatever magical skills he has in his own right. We know he has them, but you’d better believe it: there will be major kudos to whatever sort of demon can kill a Watcher, even if he’s an ex-Watcher on a blacklist. He’ll have a huge target painted on his back.” He looked at the floor for a moment and then back up at them. “It occurs to me that Mr Giles went to a lot of trouble to make Xander safe, to ensure that if Xander went missing again, you would be able to find him. I grant you that his method was unpleasant but it certainly looks to me as if it would have worked. It also occurs to me that if Mr Giles had gone missing – and if he had been interned, I think that would have been almost certain – then until they moved him to a dimension without the damaging effect on his magical abilities that Coblan had – which they would have had no reason to do – there would have been no means at all of you finding him. The safest thing for Mr Giles to have done would have been to try to bring Xander home regardless of the state of his memory. Then Mr Giles would have been safe and Xander would have been physically safe even if he never regained his memory. And if Xander hadn't made the jump, if he’d got lost between the dimensions, he wouldn’t ever have known what he was missing, so he’d have been no worse off than when he was first taken. But he didn’t do that, did he, Xander? He kept you safe in the face of all the risks, when the risks were likely to fall – have fallen – not on you, but on him.”
Xander had nothing to say, and for once, neither did Buffy or Willow. Wesley smiled, without humour. “Maybe some of his choices weren’t the greatest, but it doesn’t sound to me as if he had much by way of backup. Sometimes you just have to decide and hope for the best, live with the consequences.”
He opened the door. “I hope he is still living with the consequences.”