anxious

Prologue

Hey. While I struggle with restructuring part 4 of my long Watcher/Slayer thing in the free moments I have while on my silly London vacation, here's a teaser in the form of the prologue.

Title: Prologue: Summons
Author: Antennapedia
Pairing: None; series is eventually B/G
Rating: FRT
Spoilers: The Dark Age; Buffy’s origin
Summary: Giles is called as Buffy’s Watcher.
Warnings: None
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership and am making no money.
Distribution: Hey, whatever. Just let me know.



Giles woke dripping with sweat, though his bedroom was cool. He had been dreaming, but he’d already lost the thread. Dreaming, again. His sleep had been disturbed for weeks now, but he hadn’t been able to remember any of it until now. Tonight’s dream was still with him, in scattered images: a rocky coastline battered by waves and white spray, palm trees lining a ruler-straight street, haze-smeared sun in a cloudless sky. A place Rupert Giles had never seen before. Then he knew he could name it anyway: southern California. Another image returned to him. A girl stood on the beach. Blonde, tiny, fierce. She spun a stake in her hands. “Hey, Giles,” she said. “We’re all here. We’re waiting for you.” She grinned at him impudently. She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

The meaning of the dream came to him. She was the Slayer. He had to go there. The certainty slammed into him. He had to go there. He could feel it in his throat, in his chest. Compulsion. Go. Now. She was waiting.

He staggered out of bed and nearly fell. God, it was strong. He hadn’t realized it would feel like this. Hadn’t expected to feel this at all. He wasn’t supposed to be called to a Slayer. Not him.

He leaned on his dresser and tried to think. The call had to be answered. He knew how. Any Watcher did. It was a ritual spell found in every extant version of the Handbook. Magic. Ritual magic. Giles hadn’t performed magic in nearly twenty years. Not since— he straightened and wiped sweat from his face. He had no choice now. The call had to be answered, and soon. He would do it properly, in the safety of the ritual space in the compound.

Giles dressed, pulling on the trousers he’d worn during the day, the first shirt that came to hand. Glasses on. Wallet, keys, a penknife. He struggled into his wool overcoat as he descended the steps from his flat. The December air bit his lungs as he gasped, but he was still sweating. No trains at this hour; he’d have to drive. Reflex took over, allowing him to start his little car and navigate the wet streets.

The Council would have to be told. Merrick had been dead some weeks. They’d only just learned it. He was no longer on active duty, but he was still in the net of gossip, and he’d learned the story. They’d been talking of sending somebody out, he had no idea whom. They’d have to be told not to bother, that Giles would be going. He should have phoned ahead before he left the flat. Too late now.

The drive did not take long, but to Giles with the throbbing in his chest it was an eternity. The need to go to her had begun to hurt. He was nearly past speaking when he reached the compound.

The guard in the booth at the gate knew him and let him in. Giles could hear the man dialing a phone and speaking quietly into it as he stumbled past. He must have seen other Watchers in this state, maybe even Merrick scant months ago. Fewer than six months? So soon. So quickly for another Watcher to be called. The last several Slayers hadn’t called anyone at all, and now this Slayer had called two Watchers. Called him. Why him?

Candles burned in the chapel. They always did. It was tradition. Watcher tradition. So was the ritual space in front of the altar, the circle of beautifully inlaid wood set in the floor. Every Watcher chapel had this circle, some more discretely than others. The wards for magical workings crafted into the circle hummed with potential for those who had the sense to feel it. Giles did. Shoes off, coat off. He flung himself face-down in the circle, head at the eastern point, arms outstretched. A few hoarse words awakened the wards. The circle glowed green around him. He screwed his eyes shut and shuddered. The taste of magic in the back of his throat still terrified him, twenty years on. But this must be done, or the compulsion would kill him.

He lay there for some minutes, struggling to control his breathing. The floor beneath him was bitterly cold. This was what he had lived for, had given the years of training and self-denial for. What he had been told as a child he was destined for. He’d thought he’d never have to face this moment. He had believed he’d thrown all his chances away, when he’d killed Randall. The Council had spent nearly twenty years telling him that. They would never have chosen him, but the Powers had. Chosen him. For the Slayer. Was his soul worth something after all? Could he be mistaking this? No, the dream, and this need burning his chest— he was called to the Slayer. And he would answer, and dedicate himself to her, however imperfect a tool he might be in her hand. With this conviction came enough self-command to continue.

Giles pushed himself up to his knees. He didn’t have much time if he wanted this to be private. Now that he was warded they couldn’t stop him, but they might try. He knew the words. He’d learned them years ago, the various forms of the ritual. He would use the oldest version he knew, not the watered-down version the Council wanted these days. He pulled the penknife from his pocket, opened it, and laid it before him. His signet ring he laid carefully at the eastern point, the focus point for Raphael, lord of the air and mind, the element of the Watchers.

Giles clasped his hands, brought them to his forehead, and began to speak.

“The Slayer calls me and I am come to answer.
Let the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit witness my oath to her.”

The stutter never interfered when he worked magic. He could face the Powers and speak clearly to them. They knew what he was and could wipe him away if they wished. They hadn’t yet done so. Giles swallowed and continued.

“She is given to us as a sword against our enemies.
I am given to her as shield.
She burns bright in the darkness of the world.
I am her spark.
She breathes and bleeds for all mankind.
I am her steadfast servant.

I give myself to her, body and soul.
She is the Slayer.
I am the Watcher.”

Giles reached down for the knife. He found a lock of sweat-drenched hair and cut. He cupped the lock in his hands, toward the altar, and shouted:

“I pledge myself to her!”

Flames leapt in his hands. His offering burned in an instant and was gone. The warding circle flared to the ceiling far above, suddenly orange and red. Heat and light shot through him, from chest to fingertips, a flash of utter ecstasy that held him for a long moment. He cried out. It released him, and he fell forward to hands and knees. The catch in his throat unknotted. Giles felt peace. His heart slowed. He picked up his signet ring and slid it back on. The metal was hot to the touch. The onyx looked odd to his magic-altered eyes, as if fire now burned at its center.

Past the hot glow of the circle he could see the figures of men standing. The council-members who lived on the grounds had been awakened, and were cautiously approaching the circle. He would need to deal with them. He let himself bask for a moment longer in the warmth of the ritual, then gathered himself. He stretched his palms over the wards, releasing them. The glow sighed away. Giles stood, bowed toward the altar, and backed out of the circle.

The air in the chapel had gone warm, and sweet. Chimes sounded faintly from the shadowed corners.

“Always so eager to taste the magic, eh, Rupert?” Travers, dry, looking at some paper he held in his hand and not at Giles. During the years when Travers had been Giles’ minder and direct superior, he’d made his distaste for magic plain. More than plain. Though Giles’ right to perform this ritual could not be denied, Travers still had the power to make Giles suffer for having the temerity to exercise that right.

“It-It is our tradition,” Giles said, knowing this argument would be difficult for Travers to counter.

“A rather old one, and a trifle overwrought,” Travers said. “No matter. I take it that you have felt the, ah, Call?” He looked at Giles then.

“Yes.”

“And you accepted it?”

“As you saw.” His forehead itched oddly. Giles rubbed at it.

“Was this genuine?” Travers addressed this question to a man sitting in the first row of pews. Roberts, old guard, member of the dwindling magical operations division.

“Yes, genuine.” Was that a touch of sarcasm? “He would have been struck down instantly if it hadn’t been, Quentin. Oh, quite genuine. One of the strongest calling rituals I’ve seen, actually. Makes Merrick’s look—”

“Thanks, that’ll do. Well, where will we be sending you, Rupert?

“Southern California. S-somewhere on the coast.”

Travers walked to the altar, then paced back to Giles. He was immaculate, despite the hour, and Giles was suddenly conscious of his own sweat-draggled hair and misbuttoned shirt. “You had no sense of a new Slayer being chosen? No? The Summers girl is there, still alive then. Her mother will soon be moving them to a town called Sunnydale. North of Los Angeles, a couple of hours up the coast.”

Giles nodded, keeping all expression from his face. He hated that Travers had been witness to anything this evening. He looked at his minder again. The power was still present in the air, still a sweet taste in Giles’ mouth. He wondered if Travers could sense it at all. He scrubbed at his forehead, still troubled by the itch.

“We had been making arrangements for Cartwright in the town. They’ll do for you, I suppose. Librarian at the school she’ll be attending. A bit out of your field, but you’ll be able to function. The books are, ah, already in transit. We’ll leave it up to you whether you decide to separate her from her mother. I’ll have her file couriered to you in the morning.”

He knew the bones of the story already: an unspotted Potential, coming to power on her own. Completely untrained, aside from whatever Merrick had accomplished in his short time with her. So short. Giles wondered what had happened. Well, he’d learn soon enough.

“Take a few days to arrange matters here. We’ll send an assistant round to help with whatever you cannot accomplish in time. You needn’t resign from the Museum. Take a leave of absence. Go home now, Rupert. Get some sleep.” Travers turned and strode out of the chapel.

The Council leadership, the inner circle, followed Travers out, leaving behind the rank and file, the group he’d been part of until this evening. Trainees. Men and women with Council jobs that required rooms in the compound. They had all turned out of their beds for this. They came to him, touched him on the shoulder, shook his hand, murmured congratulations. Perhaps a little wistfully; this was the pinnacle of their ambitions, to be graced by the Powers or by politics, and sent to the field with a Slayer. Giles had got the prize, against all odds, and he could see the envy.

He shook hands, nodded, repeated his thanks, watched them leave one by one in a bit of a daze. He found his shoes and coat.

The prize was not what they thought. Didn’t they know? His future held blood, pain, and death. Merrick had died, after all. And so had his father, died with his Slayer. The job was his until either he or his Slayer died in the line of duty. And yet, was it not all in the service of life? of humanity? The prize was there. Joy flooded him, a taste of the ecstasy of his oath, and he was suddenly longing to meet his Slayer.

Giles left the chapel and walked to his car. He’d go home, sleep, and he’d wind up his affairs. And then he would go.
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I love how you're setting up the Watcher culture - the idea that people like Travers find actually doing magic more than a little scandalous rings very true to me. It's wonderful to see a good ritual, and to see Giles' calling as something that he experiences rather than something the Council hands out. There's not enough fic that takes the mystical (as opposed to bureaucratic) tack with Watchers.

It did strike me as odd that he calls on the Christian trinity to witness his oath, an oath that is presumably older than Christianity. However, that does make a good deal of historical sense, if (for example) the oldest text the Watchers have, or that he's been able to get a look at, is medieval, since if I'm remembering my reading, at that period lots of prayers and charms of European nature religions seem to have been lightly Christianized by tacking on references to saints, Mary, or Jesus.

I'm excited to read the next installments when they're ready!
> I love how you're setting up the Watcher culture - the idea that
> people like Travers find actually doing magic more than a little
> scandalous rings very true to me. [...]

Heh, thanks.

> It did strike me as odd that he calls on the Christian trinity to
> witness his oath, an oath that is presumably older than Christianity.
> However, that does make a good deal of historical sense, if (for
> example) the oldest text the Watchers have, or that he's been able to
> get a look at, is medieval,

Aha! Note that I'm not entirely sticking to the canonical history and the canonical explanation of Watchers and Slayers. In particular, if it came up in a 7th season script, I'm probably ignoring it while I stick my fingers in my ears and sing loudly trying to pretend seasons 6 & 7 never happened.

I found myself thinking about the history of the Watcher's Council. Giles at one point mentions a tradition spanning 1200 years. That puts the start in the 8th century. Britain was Christian then. And what says the Watchers were originally an English institution, anyway? Any world-spanning organization that long-lived would surely have had something to do with the Church. Suppose the British branch of a larger organization happened to do particularly well because of some saint or other. And suppose further that the fun, fun, fun of the Reformation and the 1530s and Henry VIII caused a schism in that organization. And that in the years since, one branch did rather better than the other at holding true to its real aims, despite coming out on the losing end of the political struggle...

Suppose further that religion is *real* and anybody with magical senses can have direct experience of God. (By which I mean that rational people argue about it in this world, and can reasonably conclude it's not. But I think a rational person in the Buffyverse could *only* conclude that God or gods exist, the soul exists, and so on.)

I make some further suppositions to set up my Watchers, and my system of magic, and my explanation for the demented behavior of the Powers That Be, some of which is hinted at here. But I'm gonna hold off saying more right now, because revealing it is some of the fun.

> since if I'm remembering my reading, at that period lots of prayers
> and charms of European nature religions seem to have been lightly
> Christianized by tacking on references to saints, Mary, or Jesus.

True of more than just the prayers and charms. Entire now-Christian holidays are adaptations of practices of earlier religions. This led some of the more joy-killing Protestant sects to abandon things like Christmas. And I think some of the practices of Latin American Catholics would surprise a European Catholic.

> I'm excited to read the next installments when they're ready!

Yay, hooray!