Voices in the Dark
by Aadler
Copyright January 2000

Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.

Season: Third (Buffy)
Spoiler(s): through "Enemies" (S3-17)

Part I

She's out there, somewhere: park, graveyard, alley, any of the places where shadows assume dreadful substance, where earth and hell intersect. Perhaps she is accompanied by one or more of the other youngsters, but the odds don't favour the possibility. It is well past midnight, after all, and on a school night, and years of experience with the arcane have inculcated in them the habit of seeing to sufficient sleep in all except extraordinary circumstances. She requires less sleep, and her sense of responsibility is keener, so she will still be facing the darkness while they take refuge in slumber.

I do indeed recognise the twin oddities that rest in the preceding statements. First, that her compatriots (and she, and I) should look upon vampires as routine: a serious matter, to be sure, but one that she can normally accommodate without aid, so that we reserve our assistance for out-of-the-usual threats. And second, that I should so readily acknowledge her responsibility, who have so frequently chided her for the lack of that selfsame quality.

In truth, though there have been glaring exceptions, I have had little doubt about her mettle since the night she went to meet the Master. She has faced sterner trials since that time, endured deeper pain, but it all began there: knowingly going to her death, because the cost of shirking her fate was less acceptable to her than the cost of meeting it. She looks to me as a mentor, an authority figure (she who so reflexively bridles at authority!), and I endeavour to play the role because she draws strength from it, while in actuality I long ago ceased to be other than an adjunct to what she has become.

A Slayer without a Watcher is still a Slayer. A Watcher without a Slayer is a supernumerary, an irrelevance. And, of course, since my dismissal by the Council I haven't even the official capacity to claim. Yet still she turns to me.

The Council. So much tradition, knowledge, history, power; and still they don't understand, apparently cannot understand, the truth of what we have in her. How many bitter reprimands have come to me regarding her "undue reliance on outside parties"? Yet time and again she has shown that ultimately she relies only on herself. Time and again she has prevailed even when forsaken by those whom she trusted …

Objectivity requires that I face the facts squarely. Part of me would prefer to avoid the subject; and another part, egocentric and self-flagellating, would look only to my own appalling behaviour. Regrettably, I am but one of many. We have all turned on her at one time or another.

Yes, I betrayed her in helping to subject her to the Cruciamentum. Xander betrayed her in withholding the information of Angel's prospective cure, although I personally feel that to have been a sound tactical decision. Jenny betrayed her as a spy for the Romany in their transgenerational vendetta against Angel. Her mother … I can't quite call it a betrayal, Joyce's desperate ultimatum on the night Angel succeeded in unbinding Acathla, but certainly it operated in the same fashion. Faith betrayed her, and the rest of us, and her own humanity, in her despicable defection to the Mayor. (At the moment I can think of no comparable transgression by Willow; she has always been the best of us, the purest and most steadfast heart; yet she, too, was part of the awful cascade of recrimination that was interrupted only by the zombie party crashers.)

Angel, of course. First, worst and always, Angel. Months of calculated torture, doubtless the same kind of campaign that drove Drusilla to madness before her induction into vampirism. A lover's intimate knowledge of her vulnerabilities, and an artist's delicate precision, and a monster's sheer delight in cruelty, all dedicated to her destruction; and she survived, and defeated him, and even more incredibly survived his defeat.

Even that, however, is not the greatest wonder. Greatest is that she has never forsaken those who forsook her. We all are still part of her life; all except Faith, too caught up in her own rage to accept whatever absolution awaits her, and Jenny, who at least before her murder knew she had been forgiven. We still live in her world, revolve around her axis, and will continue to do so until the day death divides us.

Quentin, in his casual termination of my position as her Watcher, observed that I have a father's love for the girl. So true in so many ways, but in the end inaccurate and inadequate. A father sets standards, labouring to help his child grow to completeness; but she has already grown beyond my ability to teach or guide, and now exemplifies the standard against which I measure myself, too frequently to my discredit. I remain not because she needs me, but because my paltry contribution to her efforts nonetheless makes a greater difference in the world than anything I might do alone. The threat posed by the Mayor's coming Ascencion is but the most recent of impending apocalypsae; if — when — we thwart it, more will come, and she will meet them all.

Ironically, the one time I came nearest to the familial situation of which Quentin spoke could easily have destroyed my relationship with her. That sodding candy … My most acute regret, second only to the memory of debauching her mother, is that I was prevented from introducing to Ethan's brainpan the bullet it so urgently needed. She did not know, then, of my offence with Joyce, and I still find it miraculous that, upon finally learning of it, she let it pass into the realm of the unspoken. (After the one devastating reference, that is to say; but even that was revealed as a blessing, for it told me I need no longer fear the sword that had hung over my head through months of troubled sleep.)

Needless to say, no blame devolves upon her mother for that deplorable episode. The unknown potion in Ethan's candy served, in my case, merely to strip away the inhibitions that hold my more loutish persona in check; but for Joyce, obviously, it operated as a mind-altering agent of near-hallucinogenic potency. Even then, her primary concern was for the infants imperiled by Trick and (we now know) the Mayor. She is a remarkable woman, and I have often fancied that her influence must have compensated markedly for the years of training her daughter should have required in order to successfully assume the role of the Chosen One. How else to explain this Slayer's victories over menaces sufficient in number and power to have filled the careers of any dozen of her predecessors?

A remarkable woman … and there is the danger I must avoid. We share a love of the girl, and a dedication to her welfare, but an affiliation between us would poorly serve that welfare. Each of us has a station in life, and were I to step out of mine insofar as to attempt to build something with her mother, it would be a source of confusion and turmoil that would subvert my responsibilities. She has sacrificed far too much in her unsought calling; it would be obscene for me to indulge my selfish wishes at her expence.

I detest coffee, particularly this loathsome "instant" swill. I selected the brand especially because those insipid advertisements for it on the telly were so nauseating, I knew I couldn't possibly derive any relaxation from the brew. So I sit here on such nights as this, swallowing black alkali and rehearsing my demeanour for her arrival in the morning. Slightly condescending, a touch weary, crushingly patient. She expects that, she relies upon it. I have little else of value to offer her now, and the privilege of giving it is far more than I deserve.

"They also serve who only stand and wait." I cling to the hope that Milton's words hold true in this instance. She has given her life to the defence of a world that will never know of her service. How can I do less?