Chapter 16: Good Advice Considered
A/N: Ack! The plan to start stripping the Slayers…of their powers (get your minds out of the gutter, people) got pushed back until after Buffy/Phoenix could talk to somebody. Hopefully the end of this chapter will make up for that. There's a slight backing up in the story; something I had written before the confrontation with Cassandra that I wanted to put in somewhere.
Warning: I don't know; maybe language and innuendo somewhere along the way.
Challenges: #1599 'Queen of Slayers' by Claddagh; #4372 ''Death is your gift' Challenge' by ChaosCarlos; and inspired by #2324 'New Occupation' by raynee.
Thanks to my betas: zigpal, winddancer and AerynSpeedleCaine.
Disclaimer: BtVS characters belong to Joss Whedon / Mutant Enemy. Highlander characters belong to Davis-Panzer Productions. M*A*S*H characters belong to H. Richard Hornberger, Larry Gelbart and 20th Century Fox Television. I claim no rights to any copyrighted material. Please do not copy or take this story without my permission.
Before Phoenix had to worry about removing the powers of the Slayers, she took the Immortals – and the new Council was up to a few dozen of them after word got out that Darius was back –out on patrol with her and Methos, teaching them how to fight creatures that weren't just out to take their Quickening. If their heads were taken by these things, it was more likely that their enemies wanted something to eat. And it was a moment for sick reflection when they realized that. More than one of them requested not to be a field agent afterwards.
Radar and Sidney were two Immortals that didn't have to worry about going out into the field – at least not much. They did accompany Phoenix on her patrols a few times so they could understand what the girls had to go through. Sidney found it particularly insightful, and started to get some ideas for how to counsel the warriors he would eventually be seeing. He also was making plans to be sure that all the Council members had ways to blow off steam – preferably healthy ways.
Phoenix was amazed at Radar and his ability to anticipate her needs. It was almost supernatural. Actually, Tara confirmed it was supernatural. Radar had low-level telepathy which allowed him to sense people's thoughts. It wasn't strong enough to be considered mind-reading, though.
And his organizational skills were phenomenal! Within only a couple weeks, he had the files set up for all the members; set up one-on-one meetings with Phoenix and the Immortals; came up with a budget – with the assistance of some bean-counters; compiled a list of properties in several different cities for them to set up their new headquarters, keeping in mind some of their more unique requirements; and he was coordinating with Tara and Cassandra to scan the books into the computer.
It was funny, for somebody who died right around the time that computers were invented, Radar didn't seem to have the technology block that Phoenix expected him to have. It must have had something to do with his ability to find the most efficient way to handle things.
The books were either brought by the Immortals and witches from their own libraries or purchased by them from reputable dealers. Between Cassandra and Methos – who worked separately during all this – they had a list of several dealers who were trusted enough to have legitimate books on demons, magick and other supernatural stuff.
Darius, Methos and several other Immortals they trusted to handle translations quickly browsed the books before they were given to the scanning teams – just a precaution after Phoenix shared the story of Moloch the Corrupter. Tara, Cassandra and their growing witchy team would check for spells that they didn't want scanned.
Sidney's suggestion after he spoke to Phoenix – other than she should have regular visits to discuss past hurts and future concerns – was that she talk to somebody who could relate to the situation she was in currently.
"It's doubtful that you'd be able to find somebody in the exact same situation, but you should know that the military is full of people who have been thrust into a command that they were not prepared for. They would at least be able to understand what it feels like to order people into dangerous conditions. While it's possible there are people on the Council who have done this as well, I believe it would be best to talk to somebody impartial – even if you have to hide certain things from them," Sidney explained before she could point out some obvious choices from her inner circle.
Phoenix had him repeat his suggestion to the core Council members.
When he was finished, Duncan inquired, "Is it important that it's the military? They aren't the only ones who have to send their people into harm's way. From what I can tell, you just want somebody who has dealt with uncertainty…right?"
"That's an accurate assessment," Dr. Freedman confirmed. "Why? Do you have someone in mind?"
"Not personally, but I know Cassandra has a friend in American Intelligence. Seems to me that the leader of an intelligence team would fit the uncertainty principle. Is it okay to ask her for an introduction? I know things are tense-" Duncan began to say.
Phoenix cut him off, "As long as the person isn't evil, I will accept help from anyone…if it doesn't endanger my girls. And despite her feelings about Adam, I don't think Cassandra would do that to them," she allowed graciously. If it was Adam's safety at stake, she wouldn't be so trusting, but Cassandra didn't feel like the kind of woman to hurt innocents – even if they were super-powered warriors.
While Duncan slipped out to find the Immortal witch, the group discussed other possibilities. Connor just finished telling them about a top secret military program in Colorado when Duncan and Cassandra came back into the room.
"Did Duncan tell you what we need?" Phoenix inquired. "Do you think your friend could help us?"
Cassandra nodded at the first question; she wasn't entirely sure about the second one yet. There was something else she needed to make clear before she agreed, "She isn't just a friend; she was my student years ago."
"Oh, is she a witch as well?" Tara asked, wondering how many immortal witches the new Council would have.
This brought a shake of Cassandra's head, "Only passive…for the most part. See, she can influence the emotions of people around her. But it isn't something she can control, and she can only influence positive emotions." Thinking back on one of the stories her student shared, she chuckled lightly, then explained, "She told me about one time when she managed to convince two groups who had orders to kill each other to call a truce on Christmas Eve."
As grateful as he was that she might share this asset, Joe felt compelled to comment, "Intelligence groups are notoriously secretive; do you think she'll talk to an outsider, much less introduce Phoenix to her leader?" Yes, he knew it was ironic that he – a Watcher – would be talking about secrecy. Or maybe not so ironic when you thought about it.
"The group she was involved in dealt primarily with the old Soviet Union. Since she and her co-workers are 'too old' for fieldwork, they've been put out to pasture." Turning to glance meaningfully at the Council leader, Cassandra added as a peace offering of sorts, "Besides, she'll trust Phoenix because I say it's safe to."
Phoenix nodded in gratitude; it was a start, "Thank you, Cassandra. I appreciate this." Maybe there was hope for a better future between the two older Immortals.
Cassandra just nodded and left the room to call her former student.
Her talk with Tara went about the same as the one with Phoenix. Holding on to the pain for so long was hurting her more than it hurt the man who brutalized her thousands of years ago. It wouldn't change how she felt about him, but letting go of the anger did lift a tremendous weight off of her shoulders.
So that made her feel slightly indebted to Tara and Phoenix. But even if that wasn't the case, she would still ask her student for help. This wasn't about her, Death or even Phoenix…exactly. This was about making sure the people Phoenix would someday be in charge of had the best possible leader. And that meant getting advice from people like her student's old handler.
Back in her room, Cassandra dialed a familiar number, then waited for an answer. "Mandy? You still in touch with your old boss? I have somebody who needs to benefit from his experience and wisdom. *pause* I can't say I trust her taste in men, but she's on the side of good. *pause* Whichever you think he'd prefer. *pause* Okay. I'll be there in a day or so with her and another woman. I think her boyfriend would prefer that somebody he trusts is there to watch her back, not just me. *pause* You too. Stay safe and I'll see you soon."
The next day…
"I've set up a meeting for us in Virginia. I thought maybe it would be a good idea if Tara came along; that way you aren't alone with me," Cassandra announced, forgoing any small talk when she arrived in Phoenix's office.
Phoenix looked up in surprise at the unannounced visitor; Radar must have slipped away for some reason. "If you want her along to watch your back, that's your choice – and hers. I'm not worried about myself, though. Duncan knows that, for now, I'm the cornerstone of the Council, and he wouldn't intentionally put me at risk. I think he knows you well enough to know if you would try to kill me because of my friendship with Adam. He trusts you, and for this mission, so do I," she replied. Then she thought to herself, 'And it isn't as if you could permanently kill me anyway.'
While Cassandra packed for the meeting with her former student, Phoenix and Methos had a rare moment to just be alone with each other. In the safety of his own living room, Methos admitted, "You know…a year ago, I would have been among the people who wanted to stay in the research room where it was nice and safe."
Phoenix couldn't help but chuckle at his confession. "Not sure how 'safe' researching is. Those people tend to be the ones the bad guys go after when they need to learn about a ritual or something. That reminds me; we need to have the witches set up an extra protection ward or two around the library." She saw the bemused expression on his face and realized he didn't want to really do shop-talk; he was leading up to something with his comment. "So, what's changed in the last year that you're willing to put your neck on the line?"
He cupped the side of her face gently, stroking her cheek with his thumb. "You have," Methos declared earnestly. "The Boy Scout could usually get me to go along with him, but it was with a reluctant heart. For you, I'd gladly storm the gates of hell. You have given me a reason to want to fight for good again."
Just as she was about to speak, he moved his hand slightly so it blocked her lips. "And before you ask, it isn't merely gratitude for forcing everyone – myself included – to realize that I am no longer Death, and haven't been for a long time." Methos smiled at her and it filled his eyes. "…Although that has lifted such a weight that I could never repay you for it. No, the reason I want to help is nothing more than a man wanting to be with the woman he cares for, easing her burden any way he can. It may not be love yet, but it will be with time," he vowed, pinning her in place with his intense gaze.
He slid his hand to the base of her head, weaving it into her hair. Then he pulled her towards him slowly so she could stop him if she wanted to.
However, if he had even Radar's level of mind-sensing abilities, Methos would have found out that she couldn't remember her own name at the moment, much less move away from him, when he touched her like that. Sure they had touched before, but that was either in comforting or sparring actions – never romantic. If he were a vamp, she would have claimed he was using a thrall on her.
She couldn't help the slight tremble that ran through her as he drew close. If it weren't for the glazed look in her eyes, he might have thought she was afraid of him. But he kept moving in until their lips touched in an act of completion. For Phoenix, it was everything she liked about her past lovers rolled into one man: sweet, tender, passionate, consuming, fiery. For Methos, he felt young again; like the past 5000 years had just been swept away.
When they finally broke apart, gasping for breath, she ran her hand along his jawline and over his lips…marveling in the wonder of this man who made her feel so alive. Never before in her life had she felt like this – before her resurrection or after it. All of her happy moments up until then paled by comparison to what she was feeling. And all from a single kiss.
A/N: Next…Phoenix meets Cassandra's student. Can you guess who it is?