Five Ways To Fail To Be A Watcher
by Ruth

Things keep going missing. No matter how careful an eye he keeps, he can't stop it. Stock disappears from the shelves. School kids, two by two as instructed by the card in the window, coming in out of the rain; single mothers, tottering on their platform soles, platinum cornrows with dark roots always showing; sweet old gimlet-eyed ladies, knotted hands fumbling in tapestry purses. It might be any, or all of them, surface appearances are so deceptive.

Mr Allen warned him about it, the very first day he brought him into the shop, fostered as an act of kindness to old friends. Rupert, after ten years of whispers behind closed doors, a day away from finding out what it all meant, and his father suddenly missing. Gone into silence, as his mother had years before, before he was old enough to notice that she no longer sang him to sleep. The shelves of Father's Library had gaps, he noticed, the day he left home: the books taken by stone faced men and women in tailored tweed, thieves of the knowledge that would have been his, if only he had watched more carefully when Father went out at night, and with whom.

A grocer's livelihood stood or fell on his stock keeping, Mr Allen taught him. The right solution for the right customer, give what they need, concentrate on service. Above all, keep watch for things that walked when they shouldn't. For those who took without proper payment, preying on a man's trust, draining the lifeblood of his business. One could never be too careful, especially at night when there were fewer folk about, and those folk not entirely...honest.

In the end, Mr Allen had gone missing too.

 

Sunset here is an art gallery all to itself. A dust cloud on the horizon is late period Turner, the Fighting Temeraire as a dhow on the Red Sea. Oasis by Dadd (pre-Bedlam), or Leigh Hunt. No Hirst's bisected animal corpses, or Francis Bacon's ripped, slurried slaughter of the human form. Calm. Timeless. Whole-cloth canvas, on which could be painted a man's dreams of past, present and future, and where they could all be the same.

His wife understands, as does his son. They work day by day at his side from before sunrise, on into the white heat reflecting off the hewn stone skeletons of a city, soaking up the sweat and din of the digs. His daughter, heartachingly pretty, worryingly flirtatious and worldly, shakes her blonde head at him with condescending affection for spending his life here, instead of using his brilliant mind, his capacity for intense concentration, in climbing the corporate ladder. Life is for living, for taking risks, for seizing by the tail, she says.

He'd had enough of risk, a decade before she was born. Enough of ambition, of follow-the-leader, of carving out a name for himself on other people's flesh. Returned to the fold of the Council like a sacrificial lamb; ultimately passed over in favour of others more...corporate than himself. So, in due course, another had gone to serve the Slayer. Rupert Giles was set free to do as he would, and what he would, was this. What kind of life is that, his daughter laughed, when last he saw her, the evening he packed for this year's digging season, a month and more ago, now. A life amongst dust and dead things? Not for me, thanks, Dad.

Come to think of it, he hasn't heard from her in a while.

 

He is pursued, harried by the doctors and physical therapists. Your injuries won't heal if you keep this up - long hours in cramped airline seats, missed meals, little sleep, forgoing the painkillers which may cloud your consciousness a little, yes, but will reduce the mental stress, lend some respite. It is probably marked on his notes: difficult patient, uncooperative, query personality disorder, does he really want to get better? Good question, when by rights he should be dead, the secret kept and Buffy never faced with the choice between love and duty, the test that he himself had failed so miserably.

He is pursued, harried by gnawing anxiety and the hopeful faces of her friends. The grown-up will make it all better; the researcher par excellence will come up with the (damaged) goods, one slightly or wholly the worse for wear Slayer; one desperate, runaway teenage girl. Surely she wants to be found, wants to hear the voice of her Watcher and friend bid her welcome and beg her forgiveness, take the responsibility for all that has happened, and free her from it. Surely.

He is pursued, harried by memories: not of torture, nor even of Jenny's empty gaze and the sweet, choking smell of roses, but of the sound of steel on steel in the courtyard, of the hope that she had kept her blade turned just so, as he had taught her; of the knowledge that she never did as he had taught her, yet survived just the same; of the constant fear that he has been worse than useless in his calling. He loathes that he wasn't strong enough, hard enough, to have forced her to see sense about Angel long before now. That he had watched his tongue, and not his charge.

If only she would return, he would do better next time. He would not spare the rod...and she would do it all over again, some other way.

 

Early one morning, just as the sun was rising, he hears one who is most certainly not a maiden, singing that damn folk ditty off key, blank-eyed, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth and staring with amazement at his fingerprints defined in red. No, Spike doesn't know where he's been, what he's done, and who the hell is Rupert to question him, when he has the Slayer's favour? No, he has no bloody idea where she is, and what's it to you anyway, didn't you get the redundancy notice last night?

Well, he's still working out his notice, so he searches for her again. Echoes of five years before, only the wounds are self-inflicted this time, and may never heal, for what therapy can there be when she, his only healer, will offer none? He should have known better than to second-guess her, to try to make the deed hers. It was his, just as it had been under the tower, as a man struggled away from his clamping hand. His, to take the burden from her and keep her clean and pure.

He finds her, and she's anything but clean and pure now. She cowers in a corner, shrinking from the early morning light: the white scar, the bare board where she was first feasted on, overlaid with crimson tassels. She is the broken bread of a more recent meal, transubstantiated into the image of a demon, glowing eyes and snarling brow. This time he must not fail to bear her burden.

He has never hated more being proven right.

 

It's about power. They have it. He doesn't. The fantasy of a reformed, rebuilt Council of Watchers, accepting their place as aides and partners to the Slayers, was naïve conceit. The Slayers need cheerleaders, Internet search engines, the occasional living, breathing punch bag. You don't need an Oxford degree and thirty years' experience of demon hunting for those things. You don't need another, possibly inconvenient, perspective. Government requires the consent of the governed, and it has been forever withheld. He should have known his days were numbered before they had scarcely begun, the moment she spoke to him out of her childish ambition:

"You'll be stopping me how?"

Stopping them when, stopping them why? In the new world, older was never wiser, caution was never merited, knowledge was never power. The Slayers had the casting vote now, for is not might, right? They needed no reason to act beyond the counsel of their own hearts. What need had they of him, warning that the heart can lead one sorely astray, as in that Sunnydale sitting room, long lost to the void? She had looked for his approval one last time, and it was not her plan he was attending to, but her trust. Watching her face, not her words. Government requires the consent of the governed, and he gave his consent the first time one of the new Slayers bloodied his nose, not to stop him going in her place to save the world, but because she didn't care to, today.

His heart had led him astray and now he, and the world, will live evermore with the consequences.

With anarchy.

 

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