“Magna est veritas, et praevalebit.” (1 Esdras 3)
Chapter 29 - Xander 5
Warnings, notes etc are here.
Universe: Et Praevalebit
Specific chapter warnings: Light blue touchpaper...
He could still hear Wesley’s footsteps outside when he got up, reaching for his jacket; he could feel his expression shift to determination.
“Buffy, need you to call the old guys at the Council and ask them where Giles is.”
She blinked and nodded; Willow was already booting the computer. “Yeah. He’s got to be found, and they probably won’t tell you straight off, but it’s the obvious place to start. I’ll see what else I can find here. Xan, what are you gonna do?”
“Pack. Find my passport. Look up flights to Watcher-land for me, Will. Giles is almost certainly in England and if he’s in England, I need to be in England too. Seems to me I’ve got some real heavy grovelling to do.”
Buffy nodded. “Three tickets, Willow. This is team grovelling. Synchronised grovelling.” She picked up the telephone. “What time is it in England? Am I about to call them in the middle of the night?”
She put the call on speaker as soon as it connected, identifying herself formally, not as Buffy Summers, but as the Slayer, and demanding the Head of the Council. The voice at the other end was startled; she waited only half a minute before a rounded English accent greeted her cautiously.
“Where is my Watcher?”
There was a beat of silence. “Miss Summers, since you didn’t contact us about a new Watcher...”
“Not a new Watcher. My Watcher. Where is Rupert Giles?”
“Rupert Giles is no longer a member of the Watchers’ Council.”
“Well, duh. I know that. Where is he?”
“Forgive me, Miss Summers, but why do you want to know?”
“Because he’s my Watcher, and he isn’t here and I don’t know where he is!”
“He isn’t your Watcher...”
“He is the only Watcher I am ever going to accept. Get that into your heads. Giles is my Watcher.”
“Our... we are aware that he feels differently.”
“Look, we’ve had... we have our differences, O.K.? But he’s my Watcher. He’s the only Watcher I want.”
They could all hear the shrug. “Rupert Giles is no longer a member of the Watchers’ Council; it is therefore not possible for him to be the Slayer’s Watcher.”
Xander hadn't known that Buffy could sound so cold. “I didn’t ask you that. I didn’t ask you what he is. I asked you where he is.”
He had rarely heard anybody sound quite so patronising, either. “Miss Summers, you may not be aware of it, but Rupert Giles has abjured you. That means...”
“I know what it means.” Her voice was low and tightly controlled. “Where is Giles?” She carried the battle to the enemy’s camp. “I know that when he came to you and told you that we, your Slayer and your active Watcher, needed help, that we needed money, you let us down. I also know that you didn’t contact me, to tell me that you weren’t going to lend him the money.”
Xander suddenly realised that Willow was writing little notes and pushing them in front of Buffy, giving her ammunition for the fight, and he nodded: Buffy was implying that she had known all along what was going on, and had agreed to it.
“He... it was a ridiculous thing for him to have asked. He had no right to take the money unapproved, and for such a reason. We couldn’t possibly approve such a transfer. I appreciate that your friend... you must understand that the Watchers’ Council has always taken heavy casualties in its work with the Slayer, and we accept that as the cost of what we do. There is always collateral damage and we could not agree to Rupert’s demand that we fund his, his rescue attempt. The likelihood of success was statistically too low and the possible benefit too small.”
Xander flinched. The term ‘collateral damage’ meant him, naked, striped, on his knees, in a collar. Well, now he knew what he was worth in the eyes of the Council.
“I simply don’t believe that he didn’t tell you that you would be repaid straight away.”
“Miss Summers, we haven’t been repaid now.”
They all winced; Buffy rallied. “And that’s because you didn’t tell me that there was a problem. I’ll have it for you...” she glanced at Willow, who was scribbling notes again, “I’ll have some of it by the end of the week. Early next week latest. If you’d only told me... Somebody needs to email me a copy of the account,” and now she was reading Willow’s bullet points, “and let me know precisely how much it is. I’ll arrange the refund. It might take several instalments, I’ll need to make special arrangements. This could have been done months ago if anybody had bothered to tell me. Has Giles made any of the repayments? Yes? Then I’ll need a list of those as well. Well, because he shouldn’t have been asked to make any payments at all, so as soon as you’ve been paid – will you accept dollars or do you want us to make the currency translation at this end? That might take another couple of days. Say Wednesday next week – as soon as you’ve been paid, you’ll need to ensure that whatever he paid you is refunded to him. And believe me, I will be following that up.” She covered the phone and mouthed “Why?” at Willow; Xander wondered too. Why not pay the Council whatever was still due, and then pay Giles back – because he was so going to pay Giles back, although he had no idea how – afterwards.
Willow mouthed back “Get Giles’ bank details – he’s moved his bank, I tried to trace it before,” and Buffy nodded.
“So that will be with you in a few days. Meanwhile, where is my Watcher?”
“I – ah, that is to say, we don’t actually know.”
“Has he been there?”
“He came in for a meeting, yes.”
“And you fired him.”
“Is he still in England?”
“It is our opinion that he is still in the United Kingdom, or possibly the Republic of Ireland. We, ah, there is a block on his passport.”
Willow was making faces and scribbling.
The voice sounded startled. “Miss Summers, surely you realise that we aren’t going to allow an ex-Watcher, who has had his employment terminated for gross misconduct, to leave the country? It is still possible, although not as easy as it once was, to get into the Republic of Ireland un-noticed, but this is an island, and Ireland is an island. We are watching the borders. There is no question of Rupert Giles being able to go abroad while he still owes us most of half a million pounds.”
They all winced. “He doesn’t owe it to you,” said Buffy shortly. “I do. And I’d have arranged payment a long time ago if anybody had told me what was going on. It’s my debt, not his.”
It was Xander's, and the size of it was making his stomach knot. Giles had been prepared to spend that much for Xander? And afterwards, Giles hadn't just dumped it back on Xander? This was gonna require gold medal standard grovelling.
The voice turned cunning. “Well, if, as you imply, everything between you and your Watcher was so wonderful, why did he abjure you?”
Willow dropped her pen and Buffy, for a split second, panicked. Still, she wasn’t the Slayer for nothing: she dealt well with the unexpected. “That’s between him and me. It can’t be new that Watchers and Slayers fall out and argue sometimes. It’s nobody’s business except ours.”
“The Slayer works for the Council. It’s our business if you’re coming back and getting aggressive with us simply because you work for us and Rupert Giles doesn’t.”
When they went around that for the third time, with Buffy insisting that the Council worked for the Slayer, and not the other way around, it became obvious that the argument wasn’t going anywhere useful. Buffy broke it off.
“Send me the details. Email them to me, like right now. Send me details of what Giles has paid you back and when and how, and when you saw him last and all the places any of you think he might be. I want that within an hour. Then I suggest that you start doing what will keep the Slayer happy, and look for him.”
He started to argue and she put the phone down; it looked satisfying. Then she glowered at Willow and Xander.
“Go pack, guys.”
It wasn’t quite as quick as that. First of all they went through the documents that the Council, rather to their surprise, emailed over; Buffy said sourly that they obviously wanted their money real bad. Then Willow spent another day doing something on the computer, squeaking at intervals about how unbelievably illegal it was, which ended up with the first slab of a simply huge number of dollars being transferred to the Council bank account, and some minor headlines about small unexpected blips in the stock market. After that she did something with passwords, and emerged after a twelve hour hacking session with a headache, a smug expression and an address in Scotland.
Then they went to pack.
He managed to persuade Buffy that she didn’t want to drive a car in Watcherland. He had enough trouble himself with the rental car; they hadn't had an automatic, it was stick shift or nothing, and although he remembered to drive on the left, he had to think very deliberately about which direction he needed to look at junctions. The distances were much smaller than he had somehow imagined, but once they got to Scotland, there seemed to be not quite enough signposts, and they got lost approximately once an hour. It didn’t help that although they had a road map, nothing seemed to be pronounced the way they expected, so asking for directions was something of a lottery. They had passed a house called Fasnacloich and read the name; then they had looked at each other and driven on without speaking.
Xander was queasy with nerves by the time Willow, armed with the map, said quietly, “It’s here,” but he found a wide grass verge with no apparent ditch and pulled the car to a halt. They climbed out, looking around at the trees, the long slope down to the water, and the complete lack of anywhere anyone might live. After twenty minutes of casting up and down grassy tracks that faded away to rabbit runs, they climbed back into the car, and Xander, with a certain amount of profanity, turned it back towards the town. It wasn’t much of a town – barely more than a village, with a wide crossroads decorated with shops, an odd spiky turreted thing that turned out to be a war memorial, and a small park around the two bridges over the fast-flowing river. A few side streets were filled with narrow stone houses and it had a serious parking problem.
Willow took her turn with the local accent.
“It is where we were,” she said, when she came back. “Three miles that way, on the left.”
“There was nothing there,” objected Buffy; Willow fastened her seat belt and shrugged. Xander turned the key in the ignition.
“Further on, maybe?”
They tried again; eventually Willow ran a quick tracer spell, and Xander stopped the car on the same verge as before.
“It should be here. But there’s nothing, there’s not even a gate.”
Xander looked over the wall, which looked like a disorganised pile of rocks, but which, when he put his hand on it, was solid and rooted; he felt like an intruder. He fought against the desire to get back into the car and just go. Giles didn’t want them here, wherever here was, and he knew they still weren’t all chasing the same thing. Buffy and Willow wanted Giles back, wanted everything to be as it was.
He... didn’t. He didn’t know quite what he wanted but it started with Giles, for once – he could admit now that it hadn't happened often – with Giles getting what Giles wanted.
He looked down the hill at the water; something moved on a strip of shingle just offshore. “Hey, what’s that?”
Willow came to stand beside him. “What?”
He shook his head. “There was something in the water. Big dog, maybe?” He looked again, but whatever it was had vanished.
Willow reached into her pocket for the candy bar she had bought when asking directions, and Xander felt a sudden blast of homesickness. Even the candy was different... but he took his share, and hitched his hip on the wall, and looked again at the water.
Willow and Buffy were poring over the map; he moved to join them, leaned over to look, put his hand on the wall...
He landed on his knees, bewildered, and looked down to find that his leg appeared to be pressed through a rock. He gave a squawk of dismay, and Willow answered him with a yelp of triumph and a sudden powerful word.
The rock melted away; there was a wide gateway, a long grass track and at the bottom, a whitewashed right-angled house.