As requested by immery.
mature, Buffy is sixteen
tags: apollo, artemis, au, author's favorite, award winner, buffy, council, giles, gods, greek myth, los angeles, magic, ritual sex, season 1, watchers
The photomanips embedded are by wickedfox.
What if the Watchers were an Apollonian cult? What if those religions were still active in Europe, because the history of religion went very differently in this world than it did in ours? What if... well, a bunch of things. This story is a classic alt-history AU mixed with some classic fanfictional AU thinking.
I posted it for summer_of_giles in 2007, so it's fairly early in my writing career. Unlike most of my SOG stories, I finished this one early and it got some solid beta reading from emmessann and my husband. It's all the better for it. glimmergirl provided some Greek translation.
I listened to Galaxie 500's cover of "Ceremony" a lot as I wrote this. Some echoes are in the story.
Here are the notes I wrote to myself when I started working on this.
play on meanings of "know"
play on meanings of "sacrifice"
• the external/physical sacrifice is Buffy: nearly killed in offering to a demon, life as a Slayer
• Buffy sacrifices her virginity so she can live
• the internal/emotional sacrifice is Giles: life as a Watcher, his emotional needs on the altar of his Slayer
• Giles sacrifices any remaining claim he has on conventional life as a Watcher
images of the sun & fire & dryness: Buffy should echo descriptions of Apollo from 1st story
earthquakes & overturning
prophecies and the ironies of their fulfillment
distance / intimacy
hidden / bared
ignorance / awakening (the usual blather)
The Tower: a moment of drastic change & sudden revelation
This is a world littered with immanence. Gods exist and will act when correctly invoked by those with power. Such an action might have consequences…
Watchers are members of an ancient Apollonian sect. Gifts of knowledge and prophecy. Giles was touched by Apollo himself when he was chosen as Buffy's Watcher. Buffy is special to Apollo, so the god had a few special things to say to her Watcher.
Look for these things as you read to see how well I carried out this initial plan. The other thing I'm going to do in this commentary is point out the structure of the story. This has a fairly tight Syd Field 3-act structure, so all the plot points are lurking. Note also that I'm going to assume you've read it, so I can discuss how certain things set up later reveals. So if you haven't read it and want the fun of an unspoiled experience, go do so now.
Act 1: setup.
The first time Buffy called him on her new cellphone was at two in the morning. Giles was asleep when the phone at his bedside rang. He slammed awake and was almost frantic with worry until her calm voice convinced him that she was not in danger. Just reporting in, she said. She was fine; her father was being nice; LA had lots of vampires and what was up with that? He was speechless with surprise, because she'd always resented being asked for kill rates, for an accounting of time. He cleared his throat, leaned back onto his pillow, and asked her softly how she'd found the vampires. She sounded more quiet and subdued than he remembered her.
First repetition. Some setting cues: she's in LA with her father. The reader very familiar with canon might have placed it already. Giles & Buffy's relationship is already moving here, and Giles comments on it.
The second time she called, he was in bed with a novel from the public library, lounging in his boxers with a splash of whisky over ice in a tumbler. He felt odd at first, talking to her so informally, so close to nudity, as if she could see him. She made her report, still in that quiet voice. Then she asked him how his day had been. Nothing much, he said. A day at the library. Cataloging. Inventory. Assisting the contractor in estimating repair costs. The earthquake damage had been extensive, from the floor under the skylight to the roof itself.
Second repetition. I bring up earthquakes for the first time. The setting is probably clear now, because the library was only once damaged like that from an earthquake. We are discussing the aftermath of Buffy's encounter with the Master.
The third time, he was drowsing, light on, book slipped down onto his chest. He'd been waiting for her call, and dreaming half-lucidly about training her. He had warned her about dropping her shoulder. She'd grinned at him and launched a graceful kick at the hanging bag in their training space. The room had brick walls, upon which someone had drawn symbols of protection in white paint. It was their space, and it was home. The cordless handset buzzed in his ear, and he slid up to wakefulness, and her voice. "Hey, Giles. Killed four tonight."
Third reptition. A sly forward reference to the Magic Box. Giles is perhaps dreaming prophetically, which is possible in this universe.
She called every night.
He adjusted his sleep schedule to match hers. The Slayer was a creature of night as much as the vampires. He wanted to be awake for her calls. They came no earlier than midnight, no later than two. He told her about his new crossbow. She told him about her new shoes. A few days later, he told her about his new running shoes and she told him about the vampire she'd talked into handing her his sword, which she'd then used to behead it. She gave him kill counts, though he had long since stopped requiring them from her, and recounted particularly difficult fights. She asked him for weightlifting exercises. He reminded her to stretch. Sometimes he talked to her until she fell asleep, about anything that came to mind.
A little turnaround in that one: they echo each other. Not sure it means anything specifically, but it stood out to me as I re-read.
She never asked about Willow and Xander, though sometimes Giles volunteered tidbits about them. The one time he attempted to bring up the topic of the Master, she changed the subject, and instead asked him about the earthquake damage. He took his cue, and complained about delayed repairs on his library, about the tarpaulin over the broken skylight that made the space eternal twilight, even as summer stretched to its height.
Sunlight and darkness imagery makes its first appearance. Darkness is almost always associated with lack of knowledge in this story. Twilight is not a good thing.
And so one week passed, and then another. Giles felt he understood the rhythm of this summer, his first summer in the States. Long slow sunny days, under a cloudless sky that never changed. Short desert-cool nights, spent in solitary quiet, save for her voice in his ear.
A statement about tone.
One night she called him earlier than usual, a scant minute after midnight. He'd been in bed, but sitting awake to read and await her. She sounded distracted as she ran through the usual patrol and beach reports, and kept him on the phone longer than usual. Giles was tired following a long day with the contractor installing glass in the library skylight. He attempted to bring the conversation to a natural close, but she prevented him.
"Giles? You know the dream thing? How can you tell if they're prophecy or not?"
"Oh! Oh. Usually the Slayer, you, you will have a sense of it. You'll wake up knowing. They're more vivid and intense than normal dreams. And they're often repeated."
"Huh." She breathed in his ear for a minute. He lay back on his pillows, waiting for it. "So, ah, yeah. Dreams. So, like, I'm dreaming about having my heart ripped out."
"What? Gods, Buffy." Giles sat up, and reached for his journal.
A minor thing, but he swear with "gods" instead of "dear lord". The hard thing about an AU like this is combing out all the details so they align with the way things would be in this universe. Character needs to stay intact, but the details shift around it. The other thing I did as I edited this and the other stories in the series was to try to use words with Greek roots as much as possible, preferring them to Latin root words. This is harder than you think because English doesn't have all that many. Even worse because I am a fan of Hemingway's simple declarative sentences and equally simple vocabulary. I've spent a lot of time training myself to prefer Anglo-Saxon monosyllables. But nontheless I tried for the Greek vocab. My theory is that it has a subconscious effect on the readers. At the very least it'll contribute to an atmosphere of other-ness, making the AU feel more alternate.
Now on to Buffy's dream, which she describes in popcult terms.
"I'm chained up by demons and guys in masks. Then one of them rips my heart out, just like in that Indiana Jones movie. And then he drinks the blood and eats it. Though how I'm alive to see that part, I don't know."
"Masks? Humans in masks?"
"Yeah. And at least one demon."
"Masks of what?"
"I don't know. Just... masks."
Buffy doesn't have the details yet.
"That's... There's got to be something in my books of prophecy. Or in the Pergamum Codex."
"I hate that book."
This is the book that Angel brought to them that had the prophecy about the Master. The setting here is just after that incident, while Buffy is still trying to cope emotionally with having died. One of the ways she's doing this is, of course, calling Giles every night to talk.
He jotted a note, then set the book aside. "Can't blame you. Are you... are you all right?"
"Yeah, sure, why wouldn't I be? Just another sucky phase of the sucky Slaying gig. I didn't ask for it, but I gotta do it. So, you know, get cracking with the research, fighter-pilot-guy. Though it's good you never did the pilot thing. You would look awful in those aviator glasses. Though those leather jacket things? Maybe you'd look good in a leather jacket. I'm trying to picture it and I'm not getting anywhere. Have you ever been anywhere near leather?"
Buffy is trying to distract Giles.
"Been near a leather jacket. I still have it."
"My brain is now dribbling out my ears."
"Buffy? Is there something else about this dream?" She was silent in response. He made his voice as gentle as he could. "You can tell me anything. I'm here to help."
Giles refuses to be distracted.
"It was... Giles, I died again. In the dream. Only this time nobody was there to help. I was alone."
I'm not sure she'd say it this directly. Oh, the problem of being on the nose! People should never talk about what they're really thinking about.
"Buffy, oh, Buffy, don't worry. We'll stop it. It won't happen. And I'll be there. You'll never be alone." He soothed her until she calmed and began to yawn in his ear.
Giles hung up and pulled the chain on his bedside lamp. He lay for a time watching the shadows of leaves shift on his ceiling. Waxing moon. It would be full in a week, and the next night was the Solstice. High summer. She'd been given a scant month of respite. Not enough, not nearly enough. And she never would be given enough time.
An allusion to the Council's practice of killing the Slayer at Cruciamentum time as a human sacrifice to the gods. Ancient civilizations used to malign each other by accusing them of practicing human sacrifice. We don't, but those barbarians down the street do! It's perhaps a reaction to having once practiced it themselves. At any rate, these civilized heirs-of-the-Greeks practice it just as their forebears did. And we'll see another example in a bit.
And here we have our inciting incident: Buffy's dream.
Giles' morning was spent assisting the workmen who were completing repairs on the skylight in the library roof. He had no time to research Buffy's dream until the afternoon. They finished the job shortly after the lunch hour, and rolled away the tarpaulin. Giles had often grumbled about the sun allowed to shine in unfiltered upon his precious books, but now, after more than a month of darkness, he was glad to see it. He sat in the smeary sunlight gracing his study table, and opened his books to search for the interpretation of Buffy's dream.
Sunlight arrives and Giles welcomes it. With it comes knowledge.
The answer came more quickly and with more certainty than he liked. The Pergamum Codex had something that seemed to clearly reference Buffy. It followed the prophecy about the Master that had distressed them all so greatly, and built on it. Giles read it through once, supplying a rough translation from memory. He transcribed it into his Watcher's journal, then wrote out a more careful translation, Liddell-Scott at his elbow.
Writing this gave me fits. I am no poet. I knew what I wanted it to say fairly early, but I struggled to get it reading properly. This is a tricky bit of writing because it has to have a double meaning. It must clearly be interpretable the way that Giles & the cultists interpret it, but it must also have a deeper interpretation that fits the events of the story. Also it contains the seeds of its own fulfillment the way any good prophecy should. It's the only way to make them tolerable in fiction, I think.
I'll try to unpack all the layers of meaning of which I am aware. This is one of those places where the reader might be aware of more than the writer is.
The valley of the earthshaker that has not paid tribute that has not honored its god will be consumed in flame and ash
Los Angeles. Tribute is owed to the bull-god and it's going to be destroyed.
The masked ones of the earthshaker who have sold themselves to the demon who are drunk on the blood of the bull will offer him the demon-killer's heart
About as on the nose as it gets, because this is the bit that has to catch Giles's attention. Adherents of the bull-god are going to rip out the Slayer's heart.
On the longest day the earthshaker comes At the sun's height the earthshaker tramples
The demon-killer risen from darkness who has tasted death but not life who has been known by neither man nor demon will be a pure sacrifice
Buffy, the Slayer, who just died at the hands of the Master.
The watchman marked by darkness who has dealt death but not life who has been known by man and demon will bring fire to the sacrifice
Giles, the Watcher, who slept with Eyghon and killed his best friend.
On the longest day the sun's tower falls At the sun's height the moon's daughter dies
Now we get tricksy. Solstice, noon, repeated in a parellel of the earlier lines. Giles will read the references to the sun & the moon as both referring to Buffy (a creation of both Apollo & Artemis, as established in that Watcher teaching story "The First Slayer". The sun's tower could also refer to Giles directly. But there's another layer intended there: the sun's tower is the current institution of Watchers, and the moon's daughter is the tradition of the Slayer belonging to Artemis. What's going to happen is much bigger than just one Slayer being killed.
The god demands his due sever the head drink the heart's blood their end will be flame and ash
The god in one reading is the bull-god. But the true meaning (the one that Giles will laugh upon understanding) is that Apollo is demanding his due, and the bull-god's worshippers are going to bite it. And in the reading Giles suspects but is frightened by, the corrupt Watchers are going to end that way too. Eventually. In the Cruciamentum story, which I haven't written yet.
Note that I work in the Tower tarot card, which I think I drew randomly early on in the writing here. Giles is a Theseus figure in this story, which means that he's going to be overturning an established order and founding a new one. The Tower is all about that overturning.
Giles swore. He stared into space, at the dust motes floating in shafts of sunlight, then got up and moved into the dim stacks for a cross reference. What he learned did not calm him. He carried his Attic cults compendium with him back into his office and sat down heavily. The earthshaker's cult still lived. There was record of recent activity from them, in Los Angeles. The States were Christian, in the main, but Los Angeles was a cosmopolitan center, and the religions of Europe were tolerated. Though the bull cults would not be practicing openly, even there.
Earthquakes & bulls. Sunlight and dust. This is an imagery-heavy story.
Vile. These men were vile.
He reminded himself that Buffy had already thwarted prophecy once, and could easily do so again. Or not thwarted rather; she had died. She apparently could not forget that fact, and neither should he. Prophecy had been fulfilled, and then twisted past. He would need to find a way-- But that was getting ahead of himself. First he needed to be sure this was the prophecy she dreamed of.
Before he left the school, he wrote a memo informing Snyder that he'd be away for at least the next week.
Turning point #1: the hero decides to confront the problem. We have a prophecy and it's probaby going to apply to Buffy. Giles is going to stop it somehow. He let her die once already and he doesn't want it to happen again.
That night, he was unable to rest. He paced the lower floor of his flat, from door to fireplace and back, a glass of whisky in hand. At midnight he sat at his desk and watched the phone. By one, the glow of the whisky had faded and he was left with a faint headache and the taste of peat in his mouth. He thought about how to frame it, how to ask what he needed to know. If she'd been raised by the Watchers, he would know the answer. She would have been carefully guarded, raised to prize her chastity as sacred to the goddess. If she'd been a Watcher, he would know. She would have lost her virginity in school, to an older schoolmate chosen by lot as her mentor for the year, in a trembling-hands-solemn ritual deeply important for the both of them.
A Watcher rite mentioned. I was thinking of them as a sort of surviving Band of Thebes thing, though completely bisexual instead of boys-only in these modern times. I want to try to build up how alien this culture is to us. Or to Buffy, rather, who grew up in the US.
She was neither. She'd been raised by the ignorant, and he had some hope.
The phone rang at last. "Buffy? Oh, good."
She sounded better, once again cheerful as she reported. "I had the dream again last night. Noticed something new: they were dressed up like cows. Full-on Gary Larson cow-head masks. Thus tipping it right over into the surreal. Find anything, research-guy?"
Tipping. Snort. But now Giles is certain this prophecy is relevant.
"Yes. Buffy? I, er."
"What?" Her voice in his ear was amused, tolerant. He stammered, but couldn't get the words out. "Okay, now you're wigging me, Giles. What's up?"
"I need to ask you something rather personal. I assure you that I have a reason."
"Just ask, Giles. It's not like I can smack you."
He stammered out another apology.
"Giles. Ask already."
"Are you a virgin?"
A few breaths of silence in his ear. Then, "Oookay. That was totally not what I was expecting."
"I'm sorry. I need to know. The prophecy is--"
"Pardon?" he said, stupidly.
"Yes, I am. Did I give the right answer?"
"Damn." Dismay, and he confessed it, a breath of relief. Slayers were not supposed to taste that fruit.
"Sounds like a no."
Giles struggled to control his stammering. "I found a prophecy. In the Codex. It fairly clearly refers to, well, to you and to me. And to a Minoan mystery cult. They take a virgin girl and, and, and, give her to their bull god to be, be deflowered. And then sacrifice the girl. To propitiate the god. It might be Minoan. It might be a later corruption of the rite. Whatever it is--"
We are clearly in minotaur country here.
"Whatever it is, it's yucky."
Silence for a long minute. Giles would have given anything to be with her just then, to comfort her. Or even to be a target for more thrown books and punches. Anything but leave her alone with this news.
She spoke abruptly. "I need to see this prophecy. Come down here tomorrow."
The separation cannot last. This is a medium length story-- I think it falls right in the middle of novella territory-- but it's mostly about the two of them interacting. So I need to get them in the same place soon.
"Buffy, it's in Greek--"
"I need to see it. Bring a bathing suit. For the hot tub. And hey. Giles? Could you bring me more stakes? I'm kinda out. Nursing my last one."
He swallowed his urge to complain that she was sloppy with them, and merely promised to bring more. He'd been planning on going to her anyway. Though he didn't know what he could do. The Codex was reliable, unlike so many other books of so-called prophecy. It was a true oracle. And if it applied to her, and to him-- What if it didn't? What if it was made not to?
He went to bed turning the implications over in his head, and wondering at himself for even daring to think it.