I'm not as done as I'd like to be on this, but it will be posted uninterrupted to the end since it is mostly finished. Yay!
Title: Facing the Heart in Darkness
Author: Eva Swithin as told to Lizbeth Marcs
Rating: PG for violence
Spoilers: All of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel
Genre: Future fic, adventure, gen
Canon Character: Xander Harris
Apperances by Canon Characters: Rupert Giles, Willow Rosenberg, Andrew Wells, Roger Wyndham-Pryce
Main Original Characters: Eva Swithin, Jonathan Whyte, Alexandrienne, Radar, Sister Ig, Dr. Mboto, Nurse Riley, Grandmother Touré, David Johnson
Summary: Watcher Eva Swithin is sent to Mali to investigate what some Senior Watchers believe may be the greatest threat facing the newborn Reformed Watchers Council — Alexander Harris.
Disclaimer: Rupert Giles, Willow Rosenberg, Andrew Wells, Roger Wyndham-Pryce and all associated characters and organizations are the property of FOX and Mutant Enemy. Any mention of real life events and real people are done to serve the story and are not meant to imply that the incidents in question have any relationship to reality. All original characters and the plot are mine. No payment was asked for or received in the writing of this story and no profit was earned. No copyright infringement on FOX or Mutant Enemy is intended.
Author's Note: Written for the Scatterlings and Orphanages Africander Fiction Challenge by ludditerobot.
Facing the Heart in Darkness
As told to Lizbeth Marcs
From The Company You Keep: The Life, Times, and Tales of an Accidental Troublemaker by Eva Swithin with Lizbeth Marcs, copyright 2028; publication copyright 2103.
Excerpted with permission from the Reformed Council of Watchers — United Kingdom and the League of Slayers, London. Excerpt from the U.S. edition courtesy of Dorling-Penguin Metamedia Publishing Co., Inc., NY, NY.
When I was 10 years of age, I was told a frightening secret.
My parents managed the best they could, of course. Favors were promised, markers were called in, money changed hands, and records were misplaced.
It all would have come to naught, however, had they not impressed upon me, Tell no one. Show no one. Keep the secret.
When I was 15 years of age, the point became moot.
Once more, favors were promised, markers were called in, money changed hands, and records were destroyed.
Yet the drumbeat continued. Tell no one. Show no one. Keep the secret.
When I was 27 years of age, I was in the midst of acquiring my second PhD from university. During that year my father disappeared and my mother was killed.
Then my secret came back to haunt me with a vengeance.
The lesson my parents had taught me, however, remained ever uppermost in my mind.
Tell no one. Show no one. Keep the secret.
In those dark days that followed, I had mentally added, By any means necessary.
Once upon a time, there was One Girl in All the World.
I’m fairly certain I don’t have to explain this to you, dear reader. If you are reading these memoirs, you no doubt are already well aware of this.
The history of the First Council is written in the blood of the One and her Watcher. The other histories and records are nothing more than support. They represent generations of research and theorizing and philosophies, all honed and sharpened for one single purpose: to support The Slayer. At a moment’s notice, researchers, librarians, philosophers, and translators could be called upon to hunt and find that critical piece of information that could save the world, or end it.
When there was only One, the competition to be her Watcher was fierce. Most Watchers knew they would never train a Potential, nor would they ever guide a Slayer. Most Watchers knew they would be confined to research positions or tending the archives. Even the best of us could only hope for a position in the field as an archeologist, or as a negotiator for rare books and mystical trinkets. Truly high achievers might be spies, or would serve as a contact for the peons that lived to serve the Council in far distant lands.
Rare indeed was the Watcher who was called forth to go and serve the Slayer for however long she might live. Although Slayers outliving their Watchers was not something that happened often, it wasn’t unheard of for a Slayer to outlive her first Watcher, as in the case of Miss Buffy Summers or Miss Faith Lehane. I suspect these Watchers who preceded their Slayers beyond the veil of death were the lucky ones.
I should state for the record that I was more than content to be one of the Watchers who nested among the books in the Council’s London headquarters. Tending to ancient tomes and conducting research seemed a much safer course of action to me, not because I feared for my life, although I confess that was part of it. I had seen several Watchers who had lost their Slayers and they seemed empty and lost in shadow. They would drift around the London headquarters like ghosts, marking time until they retired with honor and mechanically doing whatever busywork the First Council saw fit to give them to keep their minds occupied.
I wonder if those abandoned and heartsick men and women welcomed death when the First Council’s building collapsed and burned around them in that terrible year of 2002. I don’t like to think that they did, but I suspect that this was the case.
The year I turned 27, the dynamic of what had risen out of the ashes of the First Council — between Watcher and Slayer — changed. Now the One was Many and every Watcher who was capable, fit, and willing could work with a Slayer. No more was it the elite vs. the drones. We all could be one of the elite if we so chose and, trust me dear reader, many so chose.
This left the Council, the Reformed Council you are no doubt more familiar with, with a problem. Now that all had the opportunity to fight alongside a Slayer, few were willing to undertake the less glamorous, but exceedingly necessary, task of research and archiving. One such as myself, who was young and willing to work long hours without the glory of standing on the frontlines, suddenly became someone worthy of note and trust. I was to be treasured and pleased and catered to, lest I take it into my head that I, too, wished to fight side-by-side with a Slayer.
Perhaps that was where I made my mistake. Who’s to say how my life would have been altered if I feigned enthusiasm for the field? I could have easily sabotaged myself in a thousand subtle ways and no one would have been the wiser. Indeed, all would have agreed that I simply was not fit to wield a weapon and I am sure that I would have been left in peace.
Forgive my indulgence, dear reader. I know that there is ultimately nothing I could have done. My parents’ desperate bid and my own vow to keep the secret was doomed the day the Sunnydale Hellmouth fell. It wasn’t a question of whether I would be unmasked, but only a question of when and by whom. And although I was bloody furious when I realized that those with eyes could see me clear, looking back I now realize that I could not have hoped for a better outcome to my years of silent desperation.
I am getting ahead of myself.
In the closing months of 2003 and the early months of 2004, I was Head Archivist and Statistician for the Sunnydale Project. The title sounds rather more impressive than it actually was. The Sunnydale Project was a personal indulgence of Mr. Rupert Giles, the new First Watcher of the Reformed Council. He charged that the Reformed Council divert some of its then-precious resources to tracking down and interviewing all civilian survivors of that unfortunate town. I will not get into the reasons here, as you no doubt have access to the estimable Mr. Giles’s notes and memoirs, as well as Council records. Suffice to say that his reasons at that time were an utter mystery to us. However, he was the man in charge and, despite grumbling from certain quarters, we were compelled to undertake this task.
How little did I realize, dear reader, that my blessed ignorance would be shattered in the most wrenching way possible. The motivations behind this mysterious indulgence of Mr. Giles will become most horrifically clear later in this narrative, I promise you.
I was not charged with conducting any interviews. Indeed, I made sure the position would keep me chained to the Reformed Council’s new London headquarters before accepting it. Instead, I was responsible for reading through the reports and watching the video interviews. I was to find any trends or similarities in the survivors’ stories and behavior and make note of them. Then, every month, I was to compile all this information in a detailed report and send it on to Mr. Giles for his personal review.
If you, gentle reader, will indulge me, I would like to note here that the work left me unsettled, even then. The civilian Sunnydale survivors were a uniformly odd lot. You can see in the video records a thousand subtle physical tics and psychological defenses. You can see in their guarded expressions the knowledge that they had spent almost their entire helpless lives as nothing more than prey animals for creatures stronger than they. Most troubling of all was their eyes. Behind the flat, snakelike gaze danced dark knowledge that they dared not allow themselves to know, let alone understand.
I suspect you might think I am speaking on the strength of 20-20 hindsight, given the ultimate fate of many of these who contented themselves with willing and forced ignorance and callously hid behind a young Slayer, her Watcher, her young friends, and whatever allies they had. They were willing to close their eyes and sleep comfortably in their beds while others paid in blood for their safety. Were the fallout not so hideous, I just might be tempted to call it justice.
If such a statement reveals me as being unsympathetic to the civilian Sunnydale survivors, so be it. It is not an impression I’m inclined to apologize for. In my varied and oftentimes wild career, I have seen normal men and women with far less to lose fight so very hard to keep all they hold dear safe from the forces of darkness, even at the cost of body and soul. I have held the blood-covered hands of the grievously wounded. I have whispered words of comfort into the ears of the dying. I have tried in some small way to offer succor to the heartsick and soul-shattered, with varying degrees of success.
For the survivors of Sunnydale who lifted a sword only in self-defense and then dropped it in the gutter the next day, who abdicated their responsibility to contribute to the commonweal of that town by standing shoulder to shoulder with those willing to fight, I have nothing to spare. Far too many worthier souls have already laid claim to the compassionate reflex that still lives in my heart and soul.
Forgive me my soapbox moment. There are many Sunnydale apologists who still walk these Council halls, and their incessant arguments for understanding and pity drive me mad. I am intimately familiar with the cost that bedraggled band of Sunnydale fighters paid to keep an ungrateful populace whole and sane. Perhaps seeing what so few others have been privileged to see is what makes me inflexibly unforgiving. It is a fault of mine, I admit, especially since the Sunnydale fighters of my acquaintance still had it in them to continue fighting for these sorry creatures long after the town was destroyed and even after such fighting was doomed to failure.
Although I am writing this memoir at some years’ remove, I assure you that even at the time those of us involved in the Sunnydale Project were haunted by these people. We were unable to say why they seemed so off the beam, but we could say it was the case. As a result, we fairly early on twigged to the fact that this was Important Work, despite continued grumbling from certain Senior Watchers about Mr. Giles’s so-called “vanity project.”
While we all sensed that what we were doing was important, I am ashamed to admit that all of us, myself included, kept sharp for a chance to transfer out of the Sunnydale Project. We all desperately hoped to land a more pleasant job, such as serving as Gnarl demon bait in Antarctica.
Yes, the civilian Sunnydale survivors were that disturbing.
I do find it somewhat odd that, despite my involvement in the Sunnydale Project, I had not met any of the Council personnel who’d actually fought there. Not one Slayer or Watcher or human or witch or souled vampire who had stood on the Sunnydale Hellmouth when it closed was included in the interviews, nor had I been directly contacted by any of them by either phone or email. Even my missives to Mr. Giles was a strictly one-way affair, aside from the brief emails from his office informing me that my report had arrived on Mr. Giles’s desk.
In fact, the first “personal contact” I had with any of these rarefied personages was actually a video interview with the parents of Mr. Alexander Harris.
“He’s so drunk his eyes aren’t focused,” I commented as I watched the tape.
“We taped that at 10 a.m.,” said Jonathan Whyte.
“I can see the timestamp perfectly well,” I sniffed.
“Far be it from me to suggest your eyes aren’t working,” he chuckled.
Jonathan was a top-notch interviewer. He early on had distinguished himself and by this time was assigned only the most difficult cases. That’s not to say that any of the interviews and surveys of the civilian Sunnydale survivors were easy, but some were far less easy than others. Sometimes it was a matter of convincing people to share their histories, or breaking through to people who were uncommunicative, or individuals who simply seemed unable to keep their stories straight. Sometimes it was because the subjects in question needed a delicate touch due to external circumstances.
Whenever the others hit a wall, or felt there was more to discover even though the subjects would insist they had nothing to add, Jonathan was the man they turned to.
As you no doubt can tell, I was rather fond of him. He was a good-looking sort, intelligent, and eager. Like the rest of us, he hoped to soon escape the never-ending grind of the Sunnydale Project, although in his case he hoped to parlay his experience into working undercover for the Council.
I hope you will not think me conceited if I confess that I believed Jonathan was equally fond of me. When present in London, he would always go out of his way to see me and he and I would parse the videos and compare our impressions. Many’s the time we would linger over lunch at a nearby café or indulge in a late dinner at the office, our feet planted on the cluttered desktops as we leaned back in our chairs and traded high-spirited jibes.
Yet, as fond as we were of each other, I made sure to keep him at arm’s length. I could not afford a romantic entanglement or a physical relationship and had steered clear of them for the year prior. Yet, with Jonathan, I was very much tempted. I eagerly absorbed all his attentions and hugged to myself all evidence of his willingness to cross the line from friendship to romance.
I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that I came very close to sharing my secret with him. I believed him trustworthy and, to this day, am convinced that he would’ve kept silent out of love for me, had fate and temptation not intervened and closed that road. While I look back on my relationship with Jonathan with a touch of bittersweet, I would not trade the could have been for the heart I eventually won, especially since he and I ended up on opposite sides of an unbridgeable gulf.
There is a certain irony that the fault line from which our separation sprang was rooted in this very interview.
So, this exchange between he and I as I watched this drunken sot half-coherently recount his life was not at all unusual. However, Jonathan’s insistence that I had to put this video at the top of my queue, and his absolute silence as I watched until I made my comment, were.
“I don’t understand what you want me to look for,” I complained as the man on the screen continued rambling.
The cheeky bastard grinned at me.
“He doesn’t seem a particularly outstanding specimen, although I can see why they called you in,” I continued.
That wiped the grin right off his face.
I rolled my eyes. “It’s not a barb, Jon. Given the early hour, and the fact that the subject is already inebriated, I can easily guess that he lives inside a bottle. Prelim probably took one look at him and immediately recommended that you conduct the interview.”
Jonathan’s grin returned. “Do you know who that is?”
“You didn’t let me read the accompanying report,” I complained. “So, no. I have no clue who he is.”
“Is that name supposed to mean something to me?”
Jonathan wilted. “Eva, think. Who is a Watcher and a member of the Council solely because of Mr. Giles’s patronage and has the last name of Harris?”
My head whipped round to look at Jonathan full on. “No!”
Jonathan barely suppressed an evil giggle as he nodded.
“How are they related?” I asked.
Jonathan burst out laughing. At first I thought it was because of my naked curiosity, or because he enjoyed springing the information on me and watching my reaction. I was wrong on both counts.
“That sorry piece of work is his father,” he said.
My eyes whipped back to the blathering fool on the screen as I considered this fact. Very few of us even knew what Alexander Harris looked like, and none outside of Mr. Giles’s inner circle had ever met the man. Very early on he had gone to Africa and, according to reports, had headquartered himself somewhere in Mali, where precisely none of us knew nor had we any cause to know.
It is safe to say that, to me, Alexander Harris was nothing more than a name and a figure of mystery. All I knew was that he was Mr. Giles’s man, he had fought alongside Miss Summers years before Sunnydale collapsed, and that he was given free reign to do as he wished in Africa. More than that, I couldn’t say.
“Oh dear,” I said when I finally got my wits together enough to make a comment.
Jonathan nodded, “That sums it up.”
“We’re looking at a political minefield,” I said.
I looked back at Jonathan.
He responded with an embarrassed shrug. “This interview is bad. The interview with his equally soused mother is just as bad. I knew who they were going in, since the preliminary survey team warned me. After I completed my interviews, I thought it best to contact Mr. Giles’s office and inform him that I had spoken to the Harrises.”
“How politic of you,” I dryly said.
“Can you blame me?” he retorted, but without much heat as my accusation was not without merit. “You can be sure that Mr. Harris has Mr. Giles’s ear. Aside from Miss Summers, he’s the only one who operates without direct oversight from any of the Senior Watchers, which means he most likely answers directly to Mr. Giles. This is a potentially embarrassing situation for both of them.”
“He is not the drunkard,” I pointed out. “At least, none of us has ever heard rumors that Mr. Harris is a drunkard.”
Jonathan sheepishly grinned. “We’re both from Old Families, you and I. We both know that if the sins of the fathers or mothers can be held against you, someone with a grudge will do just that to get ahead.”
“And you’re afraid that someone might do that, even though Mr. Harris’s position is so exalted,” I said.
“The old boys are choking on that, you can be sure,” Jonathan said. “None of that lot loves the idea of fresh blood in the ranks.”
“I don’t see what they can do about it,” I shrugged. “We’re short-handed as it is. Lord knows they believe our work is a waste of time, and yet we’re here at the pleasure of Mr. Giles, despite the fact we’re right under their noses. I cannot imagine they’d be any more victorious if they wished to remove a Watcher from a post nobody is eager to take.”
“There might be a principle involved.” Now it was Jonathan’s turn to sound dry.
“One that makes utterly no sense to me.”
“Ours is not to question why.” And like that, Jonathan shrugged off the whole notion. He seemed as certain as I that the Senior Watchers preferred grumbling to action. It seemed such a small point when compared to the overwhelming challenges the Reformed Council faced in those heady early days.
I was soon to learn just how wrong I was.
“So, what was the response?” I asked.
“To your politic question,” I reminded him.
Jonathan looked grim. “Guess.”
“I’m to bury this video and the report and pretend I never saw it and you are to pretend you never conducted it,” I grumbled.
“Would you believe that you’re wrong?” Jonathan asked.
I’m certain I must’ve been surprised by this at the time, even though I now find it difficult to believe that I was, knowing all the key players like I do.
“It took a couple of days to get a response, but the directive was pretty clear,” Jonathan said. “The tape and report are to be treated like all of the others. I got the impression that no one really cares whether anyone makes the connection between Anthony and Jessica Harris and Alexander Harris.”
“I guess this means that we really are living in a new era,” I said as I reached for the remote to restart the interview.
“I’m not as sure,” Jonathan said with knowing nod. “I know you don’t listen to gossip, but a few of the old boys aren’t pleased with the new direction. If they can find a way to make use of this, they will. You can be certain of that. Between you and I, I think Mr. Giles is being naïve.”
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