*joke* I swear that boy is just thrilled he finally gets the spotlight. *joke*
The next part should be up in a few days. Sooooo close to the end. Sooooo close. It's looking to settle in at 50 or 51 parts. Yay!
For the Scatterlings and Orphanages Africander Fiction Challenge by ludditerobot.
All previous parts can be found here.
Continued from Part 45.
Alexandrienne turned around to face me as Mr. Harris grinned and gave me a friendly wave.
I blinked in surprise at the gesture, as Mr. Harris and Alexandrienne turned back around. As his arm settled once more around her shoulders, it occurred to me that perhaps I did have something to offer after all. Mr. Harris may be able enough in his own way, but it was equally clear that he had a lot to learn about being a Watcher that would pass muster with the Council.
The only question I needed to settle to my satisfaction was whether such an offer would be tempting enough for Mr. Harris to accept.
Then I had to decide if I had the stomach to put that offer on the table.
As the sun set, I nervously paced the floor of my hut as I mentally rehearsed what I planned to say. I had early on decided that simply offering to play Professor Higgins to Mr. Harris’s Eliza Doolittle was fraught with too many pitfalls.
For a start, Mr. Harris might be insulted by the implication that I didn’t believe him to be a “proper” Watcher, regardless of his hard-won experience. That he wasn’t a proper Watcher, there was no doubt. His behavior with his charge would have horrified Council traditionalists and the absence of any Watcher bloodline in his family tree was quite frankly a heavy black mark against him. Even if he were a Watcher by blood and behaved impeccably, his lack of education would have effectively barred him from Council membership. As it stood I could well imagine that the Old Guard would much prefer a man of Dave’s caliber over Mr. Harris, even though Mr. Harris undoubtedly had years more experience.
Even if Mr. Harris was not insulted by my offer and agreed that he needed tutoring in how a proper Watcher comported himself, I could see that it wasn’t a big enough carrot. Mr. Harris had said he was acting under Mr. Giles’s direct orders. That meant whatever I had to offer had to be grand enough for him to be willing go against a man who was not just his direct superior, but the man who had a hand in tempering Mr. Harris’s steel in the fires of Sunnydale. However, thanks to my chat with Dave, I knew that Mr. Harris was willing to go against Mr. Giles if he thought the cause was just. He had done it in an effort to find proper care for Liwaza, now I needed him to do it for me. In short, I had to convince Mr. Harris that I was worth taking a risk for.
Looking back, dear reader, I sometimes wonder why I didn’t wish for a rocket ship to materialize in my hut and for little green men to emerge and offer to chauffer me to wherever I wanted to go while I was at it.
In either case, I knew that I had to sweeten the pot. Once more, Dave’s talk with me gave me the vital linchpin: the village. Mr. Harris’s primary concern — barring the wellbeing of Alexandrienne and perhaps Liwaza — was the village.
No one in the village bothered to hide from me that Mr. Harris was stretched too thin, even though they all most likely knew I had been sent to spy on him. The running narrative was the same from Sister Ig, Dave, Dr. Mboto, Alexandrienne, Sue…in short, everyone who was in Mr. Harris’s inner circle and capable of communicating with me in English.
In the early days the village was created to solve a problem and it worked admirably for a time. Then, as the village evolved from a temporary settlement to a permanent one, Mr. Harris felt compelled to reach out to the surrounding communities. Call it bribery, or call it being a good neighbor, but before all was said and done, Mr. Harris had opened both school and medical clinic to the general population, took the lead in both diplomacy and negotiations with the surrounding villages and the nearby Djenné, and was working closely with Mr. Giles’s office to skim enough resources from the Council for his people. The problem was that he couldn’t skim enough, and so the village leaders had to get by on less than what they needed to properly fulfill their duties.
Beyond his civic responsibilities, Mr. Harris also had a heavy Watcher’s burden. He had to be prepared to travel across an entire continent on a moment’s notice whenever the Devon seers found something that may or may not be a Slayer. He had to be a Watcher for Alexandrienne, and he had to serve as a Watcher pro tem for any Slayer who was still in the village and waiting to be paired with one. He had to be available as a resource for any working unofficial Watcher-Slayer team he had in the field. And he was required to deal with the avalanche of regular Council paperwork that naturally came with his responsibilities.
In between all this, Mr. Harris had to plan for and lead his people whenever an emergency reared its head. I was already well aware of three: the excretable cult that tortured the unfortunate Liwaza, the human-vampire consortium that victimized the refugees in Gao, and that same consortium’s attempt to exact revenge on Mr. Harris and his people.
Through it all, his people worried about him behind his back and took him to task to his face about the fact that he wasn’t taking proper care of himself. He wasn’t eating properly, he wasn’t sleeping enough, and it was starting to take its toll in a thousand little ways. Although part of Mr. Harris’s problem was that he was taking too much on himself, the lion’s share rested on the simple fact that there were some tasks that only he, as the Council's lone official representative on the continent, could do.
What he needed was someone who also had the Council’s official recognition to take on some of the administrative tasks and to interact with the Mr. Giles. He needed someone who knew the people that made up the Council, specifically, someone who knew which people could be trusted to fulfill a discreet request for supplies or information, and which people had to be avoided. He needed someone who was plugged into the old girl and old boy network. He needed someone to free him from the administrative burdens of the village so he could more fully concentrate on his primary responsibility of finding Slayers before something horrible found them.
To put it bluntly, Mr. Harris needed someone like me.
If I could sell my idea Mr. Harris, he would see the benefit of not sending me back to London in shame. He would see the benefit of allowing me to keep my Slayer burden a secret since my Watcher training would be far more useful to him. If the external pressures on him were as great as I suspected, he might even be willing to intervene with Mr. Giles on my behalf.
There were some problems with this plan, however. For a start, I would have to stay in Mali. I had already set my mind to extending my stay for several months in order to buy time for Dave to plead his case before the Council and hopefully gain official recognition as a Watcher. If Mr. Harris accepted my scheme, it would mean that my stay would be extended to a year, perhaps more. I was not at all happy with the prospect of going that long without regular access to running water or a flushing toilet.
Also a significant stumbling block: convincing Mr. Harris that I was trustworthy. There was no point in denying that I had been sent here to spy on him at Mr. Wyndham-Pryce’s behest. There was no point in hiding that my mission was to utterly destroy his character and reputation to such an extent that he would be placed on a very short leash for the rest of his life. I would have to face both of these issues head on, but I couldn’t see how I could successfully move beyond this point and convince Mr. Harris that I wouldn’t stick a knife in his back at the first opportunity.
Then there was the issue of Mr. Wyndham-Pryce. I had already earned the enmity of Mr. Giles and his inner circle thanks to my disastrous agreement with the man. If I became a turncoat, I would surely make an enemy of out Mr. Wyndham-Pryce as well. In this, however, my plan did have one small benefit if I succeeded. I would be effectively out of Mr. Wyndham-Pryce’s reach for a quite awhile. If nothing else, staying in Mali for an extended period would buy me enough wiggle room to figure out how to deal with this particular perilous situation.
Finally the wildcard: the First Evil itself. If it really was on the rise again, as a full member of the Council I was almost surely in harm’s way. I had to admit that throwing in my lot with Mr. Harris would be akin to walking outside during an electrical storm, pointing a long metal rod toward the sky using my hands, and daring God to strike me dead. Yet, if there were any people on this earth who knew how to survive the machinations of the First Evil, Mr. Harris and his allies were those people. Danger may be greater in their vicinity, but they were also the people most likely to keep me alive.
Much as it shamed me to admit this, the First Evil’s reappearance could well work to my benefit. It was just that much more pressure on Mr. Harris. It might just be enough to tip him over the edge and take a chance on me.
There is a certain awful irony the above list I’ve shared with you. It’s not in any of the factors that I’ve included, so you won’t find it there. It’s the one factor that I left out. Considering what I was before Mr. Wyndham-Pryce and his schemes set loose the forces that set me on my path, you would think that it would have at least crossed my mind.
Funny how it was the factor that was uppermost in Mr. Harris’s mind, so much so that it affected every single decision he made with respect to myself even before I left London.
It still terrifies me that Mr. Harris’s plans and my ultimate fate could be summed up with an oroborus represented by single word: Sunnydale.
As I crossed the open center of the village surrounded by a disciplined cadre of a half-dozen Slayers, I felt like an honor guard was escorting me.
Despite Mr. Harris’s friendly overture mere hours before, he did not deign to fetch me himself. Instead, he sent Alexandrienne as his representative. Her expression gave me no cause for hope, but it didn’t give me cause to feel despair either. She was cordial enough in her words, and her actions were nothing less the epitome of a lady well aware that she was involved in events that were both delicate and of great import in nature. Not even her eyes gave away her thoughts as she politely informed me that Mr. Harris requested the pleasure of my company in his hut.
The few moments it took me to cross the village gave me cause to cautiously believe that I had a chance to plead my case. The night air was cool and a soft, gentle rain had begun to fall. The smell of the earth and air was clean, and the oil lamps within the huts glowed with homey feeling of welcome. It seemed to me to be an auspicious sign.
When the Slayers, including Alexandrienne, politely stepped aside and indicated that I was to enter alone, cautious belief gave way to cautious hope.
When I stepped inside Mr. Harris’s oil lamp-lit hut, however, cautious hope crashed into despair.
Spread out across his desk were my files containing reams and reams of uncomplimentary information and speculation about his person. His head was bent over a rather thick file that I guessed contained the affidavits from his fellow townsfolk swearing that he was one of the most despicable characters of their acquaintance and that his crimes included the broadest range of sins ranging from petty bullying all the way up to cold-blooded murder.
I swallowed hard and clasped my hands behind my back.
Mr. Harris continued to read and failed to acknowledge my arrival.
Lord knows how long he made me stand there until he finished reading the page, but at long last he looked up. In the flickering lamplight, I could all-too-clearly see the cold fury in his eye and the harsh expression on his face.
I was convinced that I was out of luck. I would find no pity, nor any human feeling here with which I could negotiate the terms of my surrender. To hide my disappointment, I looked down at my feet. There was no escape now. I had been foolish to believe there ever was any escape. All my schemes had been nothing more than the cotton-candy dreams of a drowning woman.
“I’m not angry at you.”
The sentiment jerked my head upright and I stared at Mr. Harris in surprise.
Truth to tell, dear reader, if he wasn’t angry with me you certainly couldn’t tell by the look of him.
He once more looked down at the open files on his desk. “It’s overwhelming isn’t it? Hell, I’m overwhelmed and I was warned ahead of time that what I’d see would be pretty bad. And have I mentioned how unbelievable this is? If I’m reading this right, I spend my nights planning to take over the world.” He looked up and, against all my expectations, he was grinning. “I feel like I’m watching an episode where Pinky’s been promoted to The Brain.”
“I, unh, I’m not sure I under—”
Mr. Harris winced. “Ahhh, sorry. I’ve kind of been thrown for a loop. Okay, maybe not so much with the ‘kind of’ and more like with the ‘completely.’ I didn’t mean to be a jerk and leave you standing there. Grab a seat.”
I cautiously settled into one of the rickety chairs scattered around Mr. Harris’s quarters and realized just a little too late that the hideous Dogon hyena mask was firmly in the peripheral vision of my left eye. I would have to turn my head almost completely in the opposite direction to avoid seeing it. However, that would mean that I would have only one eye on Mr. Harris’s face. Better to put up with the distracting visage of the mask than risk annoying Mr. Harris by refusing to look him in his singular eye.
Mr. Harris’s grin returned. “So, Eva, are you pondering what I’m pondering?”
“I, unh, I’m not sure,” I hesitantly answered. “What are you thinking?”
Mr. Harris snapped a pointed finger at me. “Wrong answer. You’re supposed to say, ‘Gee, I think so Brain, but I’m afraid everyone will look at us funny if we shave the monkeys.’” He then started laughing at his own joke.
I glanced at the door and wondered if the Slayer guards would believe me if I ran out there and told them that Mr. Harris had cracked under pressure.
Mr. Harris coughed to bring his laughter under control. “Sorry, sorry. Bad habit. I deal by going all pop culture and making bad jokes.” He inhaled deeply and exhaled with a shuddering breath. “Believe me when I tell you that it could’ve been so much worse. I was very close reading my psych report out loud and throwing in sarcastic commentary like I was Joel and the Bots.”
“Joel and the Bots?” I weakly asked. “Who are—”
“Aaaaand that ends our lesson in American pop culture for this evening,” Mr. Harris interrupted with a shake of his head. “The last thing I need to do is convince you I’m even crazier than this.” He waved a hand at the open files on his desk.
I thought there was no time like the present to begin tentatively rehabilitating my character in Mr. Harris’s eyes. “I don’t think you’re crazy.”
Mr. Harris sat back in his chair and regarded me with amusement. “Eva? Cut the crap. If you don’t think I’m crazy, you definitely think I’ve got massive problems that require professional intervention before someone gets hurt. This doesn’t even include the fact you think I’m out of my league, in over my head, and giving myself too much credit. We won’t even get into what you think about me as Watcher material.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but Mr. Harris held up a hand to signal that I shouldn’t bother.
“I read your notes,” he said.
He looked down at the open files on his desk. “Not that I don’t blame you. Jesus.” He shook his head. “It’s a hell of a job they did. I can’t even begin to defend myself against this. Aside from the avalanche of proof they pulled together that I’m one messed up guy, there’s enough truth in here that even if I tried defending myself, I’d only end up proving them 100% right, instead of only a little right.”
Mr. Harris once more took me by surprise and I gapped at him.
He looked up at me, but this time his smile had a sad edge. “What? You didn’t think I thought I was a saint, did you? I know I’ve got issues. Then again, I’m not the only person in this room with issues, so let’s just leave that little confession out there without any comment, hunh?”
“Yes sir,” I mumbled as I reflexively folded my hands in my lap.
Mr. Harris sat up and began closing the files. “Hate to say it, but when your Mr. Wyndham-Pryce goes after someone he doesn’t leave to much to chance, which is kind of surprising considering that he went after me. Giles is head of the Council and has too many people around him for Roger-Dodger-Old-Codger to get a clear shot. He took one look at Willow and figured she was too powerful a witch for him to go right at her. Willow and Giles I can see this kind of hatchet job, but me? Pffft.”
I startled at this confession. Once more, I became cognizant of the fact that Mr. Harris’s view of himself did not jibe with other people’s views of him.
“Then you have the other extreme,” Mr. Harris continued. “Andrew’s not even worth going after because no one’s going to get too worked up if he becomes even more useless than he already is, and Roger knows it. And Buffy? She’s just irrelevant and happy to be that way. Me? Well, I’m just me, aren’t I? I’m plugging along out here with a high school diploma and construction work on my résumé and that’s about it. You’d think this kind of thing would be overkill because he’s got plenty of public and true information that he could use against me.”
Mr. Harris finished gathering the paperwork and began stacking the files.
“I mean, I’m just such a tempting and annoying target,” he continued. “I’m pretty much on my own out here in Mali with almost no oversight, unlike Robin who’s surrounded by a couple of Watchers who remember his dear old adopted dad from the good ol’ days and are salivating over the idea that they get to finish his training. I’m pretty much in the Council’s face, unlike Faith who got a staring guest role on America’s Most Wanted and is now underground in some undisclosed location in Mexico living life as a blonde with purple streaks in her hair. When you think about it, the only thing I’ve got propping me up is that I’m in Giles’s inner circle.”
The piles were now neatly stacked on his desk, which was Mr. Harris’s cue to sit back and regard me with an amused grin.
“Honest to God, Eva, if Giles dangled me any harder in front of Rodger’s snooty nose, I was going to turn into a carrot. As it was I was getting this close,” here Mr. Harris held up a hand to show that his thumb and forefinger were pressed together, “to showing up at his house at 2 a.m. so I could dance naked on his front lawn while singing show tunes at the top of my lungs. Trust me when I tell you, no one wants that to happen ever again. Especially the naked part. Not that I’ve ever danced naked and sang show tunes. The last time I sang show tunes, I was wearing silk jammies and had dance partner. The dancing naked part was a completely separate thing and involved a desperate need to raise enough money for a car, cheap baby oil, a stage, and about ten women screaming in horror and fear.”
My jaw dropped, not at his ridiculous asides hinting at yet more tall tales, but at what they revealed. “You set him up!”
“Nooooo. No one set him up. He did what he did all on his own. Giles just had a sneaky suspicion that old Council habits die hard,” Mr. Harris shrugged. “From what I gather, power plays have always been the sport of choice among bored London Watchers. He figured that ol’ Roger would be leading the charge. That meant we had to be honest about who’d look like the weakest link, which took all of about, oh, 3 seconds’ worth of brainpower. Between you and me, I’m kinda shocked it took that long for Giles and Willow to figure it out. I was waaaay ahead of them on that one. Anyway, that’s how I ended up becoming the baitest bait that ever baited. Roger didn’t have to go after me, but I was so irresistible that he couldn’t help himself. I gotta admit that it’s kind of comforting in a twisted way.”
“Comforting?” I asked in a weak voice.
Mr. Harris tapped his head, “Shows that Roger isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. If he really wanted to throw us, he would’ve left me hanging all by my lonesome in Mali and gone after someone whose loss would’ve really hurt. If I were in his shoes, I would’ve ignored all the non-superpowered people. Willow would’ve been my A-number-1 target.”
I stared at him in disbelief. I couldn’t even begin to suss out why he was telling me this. It was then I realized that Mr. Harris may in fact be every bit as much as a snake-in-the-grass as his personnel files had led me to believe.
Dear Lord, I thought, I have fallen out of the frying pan and am now being consumed alive by the fire.
“Now why Willow? She’s the biggest gun Giles has got, and out of all of us she’s probably the person who’s the closest to him,” Mr. Harris nonchalantly continued. “Sure, it would’ve taken longer to take her down, not to mention that I can guarantee that Willow would’ve been fighting back with every witch-y trick at her disposal. But everyone’s got a weakness, even Willow. It’s just a matter of figuring out what it is and using it against her. Putting Willow on a leash would’ve crippled Giles in a way that putting me on a leash won’t. Instead, Roger went for the obvious choice. I have to say that I’m not impressed.”
Once Mr. Harris was done telling me about how clever he and his allies were, he sat back, regarded me with a slight smile, and waited for me to respond. The rain outside began to fall harder. In the silence that stretched out between us, the sound of drops pattering against the thatched roof became nearly unbearable.
I maintained my confused silence for so long, that Mr. Harris felt compelled to prompt me. “Questions? Concerns? Comments? All lines are open to take your calls, radio listeners.”
I clenched my fists in anger as a thought occurred. “You set me up as well.”
Mr. Harris sat forward, folded his hands on his desk, and looked down. “Not intentionally. Well, yeah, intentionally, but not from the start. When Roger yanked you into his little—”
“It comes down to the same thing, doesn’t it?” I harshly interrupted.
Mr. Harris looked up with a weary expression on his face. “I won’t lie to you. Someone screwed up. Someone screwed up big time and make no mistake. I don’t know who made the really bad decision to pass over giving you ‘the talk,’ but someone did.”
“The talk?” I asked with a strangled voice.
“You know the one. ‘Hey, you’re a Slayer. We know you’re a Slayer,’” Mr. Harris said. “In your case, we’d have to add, ‘And you know you’re a Slayer, too. But guess what, Eva? You get a choice. You don’t want to be a Slayer, no one’s going to make you. If you don’t want to take that Watcher training of yours and come work for the Council, we won’t make you do that either. If you want to go off and get a high-paying job doing something less dangerous with your life, go and do it. If anyone complains, we will personally kick their ass because it says right in the of the rules of this New Council, now 1,000% warmer and fuzzier than your daddy’s Council, that you get to choose.’”
I closed my eyes to stop the threatened tears and bowed my head. “A choice? I had a choice?” I whispered.
My question was met with a beat of silence. When Mr. Harris spoke again, I was surprised that he sounded shocked.
“You honestly thought Giles would’ve made you pick up a stake?”
I looked up and saw that Mr. Harris’s expression matched the tone of his voice.
He shook his head. “Oh, that’s just perfect. It just shows just how colossal this particular bad decision was. Unbelievable.” He looked at me again with a frown. “You had to know we were giving every Slayer a choice. While I’m really nervous about coming across like I’m blaming you, why the hell did you think you wouldn’t get the same deal?”
You wouldn’t understand,” I muttered.
“Then explain it to me, because I’m seriously lost on this point.”
I straightened up in my chair, looked him right in the eye, and said, “The Council would have almost certainly forced the issue. I’m a Watcher and I know better. I am not some frightened girl who never saw a vampire in her life. I am someone who has been raised in the Council’s traditions and is cognizant of what exactly lives in the dark. The Council would have viewed it as incumbent upon me to do my duty, because the Slayer—”
“Slayers,” Mr. Harris interrupted, putting particular emphasis on the ‘s.’
“—has a destiny, and that destiny is to fight the forces of darkness—”
“Good thing there’s a few volunteers for Superwoman’s cape because that’s a pretty big job for one person if you ask me,” Mr. Harris interrupted.
I ignored him. “—and to lay down her life to protect this sorry old world—”
“What’s sorry about it? Sure it’s not all roses, but there are some really nice neighborhoods. Take Mozambique’s beaches, for ex—”
“She can’t just walk away from her responsibilities,” I interrupted with exasperation.
“Why not? I know one who didn’t just walk away, she ran away,” Mr. Harris countered.
I couldn’t believe I had to explain this to him. “Because the Slayer is the Chosen One”
“Ones,” Mr. Harris interrupted.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake. The Slayer—”
I gritted my teeth. “Fine. The Slayers—”
“Now we’re getting somewhere.”
“Are not part of this world!” I shouted in frustration. “They walk in it, but aren’t of it!”
Mr. Harris’s face took on a long-suffering countenance. “Please, tell me we’re not heading where I think we’re heading. It was crap back then, and it’s even more crap now.”
I was very close to leaping out of my chair and strangling him. “This is not a game!”
“Never said it was,” Mr. Harris responded. “But you’re talking like you’re the one and only, and you’re not. I got a village full of Slayers out there who’d really like to beg to differ on this, and when they beg to differ there tends to be bruises involved. So if you want to go out there and announce that they’re not Slayers, be my guest. I’ll be hiding under the desk until they’re done pleading their case.”
“The principle is the same,” I argued.
“No. The principle has changed,” Mr. Harris countered. “I don’t know about England, but I do know that not every able-bodied adult enlists in the Army in the U.S. of A. The way you’re talking, we should all be shoved in a uniform and taught how to drive a tank.”
“That’s not the same thing,” I countered. “There are more people who can qualify for military service than there are people who are capable of doing what a Slayer does.”
“It’s exactly the same thing,” Mr. Harris interrupted. “Like I said. You? Not the one and only. Not any more. There are plenty of Slayers who like the idea of being a superhero. There are even more who are less thrilled, but figure they better get a handle on this Slayer thing before it gets a handle on them. That means Slayers who don’t want to know can stay out of it. The draft is over, Eva. It’s been over for a while now. You should know. You got the memo.”
I crossed my arms and glared at him. “Fine. If you really believe that, then why the ruse? Why threaten to send me back to London in disgrace? Why inform me that upon my return, I will be forced to become a Slayer?”
Mr. Harris deflated. “Finally, we get to the real problem.”
I slumped in response, I suppose because deep down I thought that Mr. Harris was about to set me free. His reaction to my questions showed that returning to London and being forced into the Slayer life was very much in my future.
“It all comes down to the snake pit that is London and some really bad decisions,” Mr. Harris continued. “Like I said, I don’t know who fluffed off on the job of knocking on your door and telling you that you had choice, but it happened. That’s a fact. I don’t know who decided to let that sleeping dog continue snoozing when you went knocking on the Council’s door to claim a Watcher spot, but someone did, and that’s a fact, too. Then they leave you dangling for more than a year with not a word or a peep, even though you’re right under everyone’s noses. That’s a pretty big honking fact that’s inexcusable. So, because of one bad decision after another that was completely out of our control, here we are faced with a boatload of bad choices.”
“Because no one talked to you, I’m guessing from our chat here that you thought you had something to hide,” Mr. Harris ticked off on his fingers, “which makes you someone who’s just begging to be blackmailed. A little pressure from the right direction, even if they don’t know about you, and next thing you know you’re compounding the problem by making the wrong kinds of friends and agreeing to do something you know is at least questionable, if not out-and-out wrong. How am I doing so far?”
I nodded, but didn’t dare say anything. I was afraid that anything I said at this point would be held against me.
“Now I’m going to throw out a whole bunch of hypotheticals,” Mr. Harris continued. “Hypothetically, Giles has little birdies flapping around in Roger’s camp, just like Roger’s got little birdies flapping around Giles’s camp. Hypothetically a little birdie saw you hanging with the wrong kind of people and tweeted a little song in Giles’s ear about it. Hypothetically, Giles waited to see what would happen. At some point, Giles hypothetically finds out that you never got the talk and decides to diffuse the situation by rectifying that little screw-up. However, before he can call you in for a chat, a little birdie hypothetically tweeted a little song in his ear that Roger-Dodger recruited a local Slayer to work for him on the sly as his muscle in exchange for keeping her identity secret from the Council at large. That’s when Giles not-so-hypothetically blew a gasket and decided to turn you into an object lesson.”
I slumped in my chair. “So it’s true, then. Mr. Wyndham-Pryce knew I was a Slayer. He held my job over my head and once I did his bidding, he planned to use the fact I was a Slayer to blackmail me into staying in his service in exchange for not telling what he knew about me.”
“Yeah, I don’t think it makes any sense either. I think there’s been a serious case of mistaken identity.”
I sat up and once more I found myself staring at Mr. Harris with disbelief. “You mean to say that you really believe that I had no idea that Mr. Wyndham-Pryce knew?”
“Number one, you said he threatened your job. Roger’s Mr. Obvious. I think he would’ve played the ‘You’re a Slayer’ card right from the start to keep you in line,” Mr. Harris said. “By approaching you the way he did, he took a chance that you’d either walk or turn state’s evidence. Granted it was a very tiny chance, but still a chance.”
I wanted to protest that Mr. Wyndham-Pryce did take a risk in approaching me, except that reality rather had a nasty habit of showing that Mr. Harris was being too generous with respect to myself. As it turned out, the chances of me quitting the Council or going to Mr. Giles were absolutely nil.
“Then there’s the fact that you’re so deep in the Slayer closet that you’re in serious danger of being mistaken for a pair of shoes,” Mr. Harris continued. “When you got outed, you were waaaaay too upset about it, to the point that I honestly wasn’t sure what you were going to do. If someone had outed you before now, you would’ve reacted a lot less,” Mr. Harris paused as he searched for the right word, “extreme.”
The sense of relief was overwhelming. “So your informant was wrong.”
“I didn’t say he was wrong,” Mr. Harris countered. “I said ‘a case of mistaken identity.’ The birdie who sang is someone who’s totally in the know. Roger’s got a Slayer, all right. I just think it’s as obvious as my eye patch that you’re not that Slayer, but I have to admit that I’m basing that on how you’ve been acting since you got here. Giles fingered you because you were the obvious choice, not because the birdie tweeted your name. Our birdie has no idea who the Slayer in question is. To be honest, Giles didn’t go to the seers to double-check. He just jumped at a you-shaped conclusion.”
I began to smile. “So it’s settled then. You can explain that it was all a horrible mistake and that I have absolutely no plans to become Mr. Wyndham-Pryce’s enforcer. We can all put this rather nasty business behind us and—”
“Not so fast.”
I slumped again. This conversation was turning into quite the rollercoaster.
“There’s no getting around the fact that you threw in with Roger to stab Giles in the back. And no offense, but I take it pretty personally that you were coming after me.” He glanced at the file with a bemused look. “Okay, maybe you thought you were justified, but still. Going by your own notes that mission never waved, even though you figured out that I wasn’t as bad as the files say and had decided to leave some key information out.”
I jumped at the chance to reinforce the idea that I was no danger to his people. “Like everything about the village.”
Mr. Harris nodded. “Yeah. Like that. Except I’ve got some bad news for you there. Giles was planning to make this all public anyway. Well, not everything. Some things were getting edited out, like Liwaza and Doc. In either case, even if you told Roger all about it, it wouldn’t have done you any good. Giles planned to unveil the village’s existence before Dave went up to London for his interview. I guess the plan was to do it in some carefully staged dog-and-pony show to cut down on the nay-sayers and play up the atta-boys. All you would’ve done is make him announce a little earlier under circumstances that weren’t 100% in his control. Besides, if they shut me down, they’re going to have to shut down the other major centers on two continents. Cleveland’s not as open to the public, but they’re running close to the same deal as here. Not only that, Willow’s started her own little network in Brazil that looks a lot like what I’m doing. You would’ve gotten some awkward for your trouble, and maybe you would’ve had Doc on the run and Liwaza slammed into the Highlands Facility, but the most you would’ve gotten for me is a slap on the wrist because Giles would swear up and down that I was acting on his orders.”
Once more my spirits sank. My one trump card had been swiped out of my hands before I had a chance to play it.
“Of course, there’s always the problem of getting the resources I need out of the Council tightwads, but that’s another issue,” Mr. Harris grumbled.
The comment made my ears prick up. On second thought, it appeared that my idea was not so outmoded after all. I’d have to fine-tune it, but it seemed my trump card was still in play.
Mr. Harris waved a hand as if to dismiss his last complaint. “The fact is, Giles believes that you’re Roger’s Slayer, and that’s the reality we’re stuck with. The way Giles sees it, dragging you back to London and putting you into the Slayer career track will put a stake in the heart of Roger’s plans. The fact that you get your hands tied to boot is considered a bonus. My job was to rip the mask off your face so Giles could parade you around the Council as ‘Exhibit A’ in his case against Roger. I’m pretty sure he’s got some kind of independent proof of Roger’s plans, but the way things are going in the London snake pit, I have no idea if Giles’s proof is legit or completely made up. Either way, I’d say both you and Roger are pretty screwed if you head back to London.”
I closed my eyes and dropped my head. That was that, then. I was still a pawn, and nothing I could say or do would change that. It was horribly fitting. I started this caper as a pawn, and now I would end my days as a pawn.
Once again Mr. Harris fell silent and once again the sound of raindrops on the roof filled the space.
Eventually, Mr. Harris got sick of waiting for me to speak. “Ummm, you’ve got to have something to say. I know you’ve got to. You never had your tongue in your pocket before.”
“There’s nothing to say, is there?” I asked quietly as I looked up. “I’m surrounded by your people, I’m in an unfamiliar country, and any action I take will be met with force. I admit that I have some fault here, but you also know that I stand accused of charges that aren’t true.”
“Welcome to my world,” Mr. Harris dryly countered.
“And let’s be blunt,” I added. “You don’t have a choice. Mr. Giles gave you a direct order and like a good solider you carried out that order. Like it or not, my fate is sealed.”
Mr. Harris seemed disappointed. “That’s it? C’mon, Eva. I know you’ve got a backbone and a brain to go with. You’re just going to sit there and take that crap from me? You’re a Slayer. You could snap me in half with your pinky, for Christ’s sake. Sure, the Slayer guards out there would be on you in heartbeat, but I’d still be pretty dead, or at least in some serious hurt requiring long-term rehabilitation. And even if you weren’t a Slayer, you’ve still got that squishy Watcher brain, so use it if taking the Slayer’s way out isn’t your thing.”
My response I thought was quite intelligent under the circumstances. “Hunh?”
Mr. Harris threw up his hands, got up from his chair, and circled around to the front of his desk. He muttered angrily under his breath as if he were deeply irritated with me as he settled on the edge of his desk and folded his arms.
I shrank back in my chair.
Upon seeing my reaction he grumbled, “Good grief. If I was even half that scary, my life would be so much easier.”
I bit my tongue to prevent myself from pointing out that perhaps he should try sitting in my chair for a change.
“I swear to God, you don’t listen,” Mr. Harris informed me. “What have I said over and over? There’s always a choice. We may not love the choices, and maybe they all suck, but there are choices.”
“Yes, I suppose I have a choice about whether I go back to London with chains or without,” I mumbled.
“Or at all.”
I looked up and hope renewed itself in my chest.
Mr. Harris leaned forward and said with a grin, “Let’s look at all our options, okay? Let’s do this the Watcher’s way, whatever the hell that is. We’ll list ’em, and then logically look at the pros and cons. We’ll totally keep emotion out of it.” He straightened up, unfolded his arms, and rested his hands on the edge of the desk. “Tough call in this room, I know, but I think we can manage it for a few minutes at least.”
I took a breath. “Well, I do have some thoughts on this matter, but it might be difficult to—”
Mr. Harris held up a hand. “Whoa. Before you jump in with your hot idea, I want to list the obvious options first. Then we’ll talk about whatever’s on your mind, because I want to hear what you have to say. First, though, we really need to look at the London option.”