"Hey, Miss Peel, G-man," Xander said, grinning happily as he entered the library. "Willow said you wanted to see me about something? Better make it quick; I need to eat before I meet her and Buffy for patrol."
The two Watchers looked at each other grimly for a moment, and Xander suddenly felt much less gleeful. "What's going on?"
Miss Peel finally answered, frowning, "Xander, we're going to have to insist that you not go out on patrol -- for a while, at least."Oh, are we back to this old game again?
"So, I guess the G-man's been converting you to the cult of Let's Keep Xander Out of the Way? I thought you two at least had begun taking me seriously-"
Giles interrupted him sharply, "For once in your life, Xander, stop talking and listen
Xander took one look at the librarian, and gulped; that wasn't a Giles face, it was a Ripper face. Even Miss Peel looked startled at the sudden fury radiating from her fellow Watcher. Xander himself hadn't seen Giles look that angry since . . . well, a year ago, during that whole love spell fiasco.
The Englishman took a deep breath, and visibly calmed himself. Then he said quietly, "I will admit that, in the past, I have not fully appreciated your capabilities, Xander. You have demonstrated recently that you have reservoirs of strength and compassion that truly amaze me, and I will never be able to express just how grateful I am for your support of Faith during this crisis."
Then his expression became more serious again. "But you've done far more than support Faith, Xander. You've become involved with her. You've made yourself . . . irreplaceable."
Miss Peel smoothly took over. "We don't object to your relationship with Faith. And," she glanced at Giles a moment before continuing, "we do
take you seriously, Xander, and we understand your desire to help your friends. And believe that you could be of real help to them. But right now, Faith needs your compassion much more than Buffy needs your strength, and we cannot allow you to risk your life when doing so might jeopardize Faith's recovery."Okay, that's fighting dirty
, Xander thought unhappily. He hadn't really looked at things from that angle, but he had to admit that they were right. After the conversation he had had with Faith last night, with their talk of "later" and "when we're ready," there was the unspoken promise that he would be there when "later" came along.
But there was still something missing. Giles shouldn't have gotten that angry over a little patrolling. Either Mrs. Summers had replaced his expensive, imported teas with Folger's Crystals, or they weren't telling him everything. "If I promise not to go on patrol tonight, I'd like two things in return."
Miss Peel lifted a sardonic eyebrow. "And they are?"
"One: let me at least talk to Buffy and Willow before they go out tonight. We haven't seen each other much lately, and we had a little blowup yesterday over Faith. I kinda won the argument, for once, but I wanted to do the whole 'gracious in victory' thing -- hence, the plan to patrol tonight."
Miss Peel nodded. "Of course, Xander; we would never get in the way of your friendships."
Xander sighed. "Two: tell me what's got you so jumpy."
Giles blinked, and tried to cover -- or make time for an excuse -- with the usual glasses-cleaning routine, but Miss Peel gave him a little shake of her head and said, "We might as well tell him, Giles."
He gave her a questioning look. "You're being awfully free with Council secrets. Come to think of it, your father probably shouldn't have told you, and you shouldn't have told me."
She shrugged. "I'm too used to my family; none of us were ever able to keep secrets from the others, going back to when Mother figured out about the Watchers and what they did -- over a year before she was invited into the club." She smirked a little at Giles' scandalized expression. "Besides, take a look at Xander; he's already trying to guess what we're hiding, and he'll probably come up with something ten times worse than the truth."
"That hardly seems likely," Giles muttered as he looked up at the ceiling, as if hoping for answers from On High. Then he returned his gaze to Xander, and a little bit of Ripper returned to his features. "What we're about to tell you, Xander, does not go beyond this room. You do not tell Willow or Buffy, and especially not Faith. If you breathe a word
of this, I will make you very sorry. Is that clear?"
"C-crystal," Xander replied, cursing the little stammer that Giles' icy-cold tone had shaken out of him.
"Very well then." The Watcher leaned back in his chair, and laced his fingers in front of him. "Miss Peel called her father today, to give him her first report on Buffy and Faith, and to tell him about Buffy and Joyce's testimony regarding the Cruciamentum."
Miss Peel smiled. "He was almost cackling at the thought of having 'that stupid, vicious prat' Travers removed from the Council. But when I told him about what has happened with Faith . . . " She broke off.
Xander felt his stomach clench in fear. "What? Don't tell me the Council will still try to kill her?"
"No, Xander, absolutely not. Father promised he would make sure Travers gets the boot, and secure Sanderson's and Evans' votes as well, before presenting the facts of Faith's case before the Council. But he did tell me . . . why the Council tends to be so harsh with Slayers who take a human life, even accidentally."
She paused at this point, unwilling or unable to continue, and Giles took over. "It goes back to the fundamental nature of the Slayer. Xander, you know how Buffy always takes it personally when a demon or vampire kills someone in Sunnydale?"
He nodded. "Yeah; even when there was nothing she could've done, no way she could've known, she blames herself. And when she killed Ted . . . at least, before she knew he was a robot . . . "
Giles nodded. "I was about to mention that incident myself. It seems that this is not peculiar to Buffy alone; all
Slayers seem to have, for lack of a better term, a guilt complex. Past Watchers have even theorized that this may be the key to the origins of the Slayer -- that in the remote past, a being committed some great crime, related to demons or vampires, and is attempting to atone for it by acting as humanity's defender, through the girls that it . . . well, not possesses, but influences."
"You kinda lost me there, Giles, but I still got the basics. Slayers have major issues with guilt. And this means?"
"It means, Xander, that most Slayers who take a human life, except in the defense of another human life, quickly go mad or commit suicide."
The library was suddenly very quiet.
It took Xander over ten seconds to be able to accept that he had just heard Giles say, "go mad or commit suicide." And then he had a sudden urge to leave the Watchers behind in a cloud of dust to check up on Faith.
He must have gotten up without realizing it, because Miss Peel was saying, "Sit down, Xander. Faith is all right; she just left our counseling session a few minutes ago. She said she was going to see someone -- she wouldn't tell me who, but she insisted it was a personal matter, and had nothing to do with Slaying, and I chose to respect her privacy, as long as she promised to be home by five-thirty."
Xander nodded, but he knew that he wouldn't be able to get rid of the cold lump in his stomach until he saw Faith in person and was sure she was okay.
Miss Peel went on, "We're not telling you this to scare you, Xander; you've already worked wonders with Faith. She said she was able to sleep through most of last night without any nightmares?" Xander nodded in reply, and she continued. "That in itself is . . . extraordinary. I don't know what you said or did, but what you've done is nothing less than a miracle."
Giles took over again then. "However, that brings us back to the question of you patrolling, Xander. Right now, you are the only person whom Faith trusts absolutely. And as for your involvement with the girl . . . " Giles took a deep breath. "As Miss Peel said, I don't disapprove of your relationship with her, but you have to realize the consequences of your actions. Faith has become dependent on you, and if you were injured or killed, it would probably trigger another crisis. And if that resulted in Faith going mad, becoming violent . . . Xander, there's no way to restrain a Slayer indefinitely."
Xander looked into the older man's eyes, and he understood. If Faith truly became a danger to others, the only answer would be to kill her. It would hurt Giles and Miss Peel deeply, but they would do it, because they would have no choice.
And it would be Xander's fault, if Faith lost it because he did something stupid and got hurt.
Xander still had no problem with risking his own life to help his friends. But it wasn't just his life that was at stake, here . . .
He nodded in resignation. "All right, I promise. No patrolling, no stupid risk-taking for a while. But I still want to be able to help, with the books, or even just fetching snacks. I can't just stand by and do nothing."
Miss Peel tilted her head at him. "You're already doing a lot, Xander, by helping Faith. I'll repeat: what you've done with her is truly amazing. You have a magnificent heart, Xander."
Xander flushed at the unexpected compliment. He'd never been told he had a magnificent anything . . . and to be told by a lady like Miss Peel . . .
She was still talking. "You are more than welcome to help out, Xander. In fact, tomorrow you can help us box up Mr. Giles' collection; we're going to be moving-" she rolled her eyes a little, "'Scooby Headquarters' to Mr. Giles and Mrs. Summers' home next week."
Xander grinned. "That mean we'll be getting Mrs. Summers' cooking at Scooby meetings instead of donuts and pizza?"
Both Watchers stared at him for a long moment, then burst out laughing.