The next hour went by in relative calm. Willow happily helped Barbara in the kitchen. She didn’t shy away from any direct question the older woman asked, but tried to stick mostly with pleasant small talk. Faith had found some space in the living room and was teaching a very eager Grace several basic defense techniques. The new Slayer was clearly enjoying the lesson. And Maurice and Rupert sat across from each other and glared. Mo’s mind racing with memories and desperation to protect his family, and Giles’ to find some common ground they shared to start rebuilding their broken bonds.
The table was set for six and everyone took their places around it. A strained silence remained for the first several minutes of the meal.
Barbara glanced from her daughter to her husband, able to read both their thoughts, and sighed. She decided to act on Grace’s curiosity and began in a conversational tone, “So, what is it that usually happens when you… detect a new Slayer?”
Giles looked up with sympathy at Mo’s low growl. “Well, first a team is sent to find her and assess her current situation. These days we prefer to work in groups of at least three, consisting of a Watcher, a senior Slayer, and one of our mystics. Once she is located, the team will decide the best way to proceed for each particular girl.”
“Best for her…? Here’s a stake, now go fight monsters,” Mo muttered.
Giles gazed seriously at him. “For a few, yes. Those who are ready to be assigned to an active team straight away.”
Willow touched Barbara’s forearm. “But, mostly in those few cases, the young lady had already been in training of some kind for many years. For instance, we’ve located one who is a soldier and another was a deputy sheriff before joining us.”
“And what would you recommend for Grace.”
“I admit,” Giles smiled at the girl in question. “Grace is another rare case for us. Slayers are most often called in their mid-teens, you see. We have found a few that are younger even. Unless they are in danger or a danger to others, we prefer to leave them with their parents until they reach secondary school. It, of course, saddens me that we still have need to employ a few primary school tutors for the youngest children we have taken in.”
“But I’ve already finished university,” Grace said.
“Yes. Therefore, my next step is to ask Faith what she has learned from her time with you.” He looked pointedly at the Slayer beside him who was in the midst of stealing a roll from his plate.
She gave him a cheeky grin and took a bite for show. “Girl’s got the chops, G. She’s fast and accurate. Still a little clumsy, but no more than any newbie. I’d say some intensive training in hand to hand and weapons and she’ll be a star.”
Grace had an expression like she didn’t know whether to be proud or insulted. The redheaded witch smiled at her. “All of that means she likes you.”
Giles nodded. “So we all concur. I’d recommend that Grace come up to the compound for a one year intensive training course. We will teach you to defend yourself, to recognize and assess threats, and to use the weapons most effective against supernatural enemies. After that, I would assign you to a team. You may even come back here to be close to your parents, if you like. There’s a coven nearby that has been of invaluable help to us, and I want them to be protected by a Slayer team in the event that the demon community finds out.”
“Oh, Giles,” Willow beamed, “Miss Harkness would be so grateful. You know how she worries about the students.”
Mo couldn’t take it anymore. He pounded both fists on the table as he stood abruptly. “No! You come in here with your pretty words and promises, saying everything’s all rainbows and ponies now. But I know what your damned Council is like. You can make all the promises you want, but whatever pillock has taken over as Head of the Watchers will never give one bloody bean. I will not allow you to take my daughter and have her end up like every Slayer ever has!”
“And if I give you my word he is trustworthy and what I promise will be done?”
“He’s a bloody Watcher, isn’t he!?!”
“Yes, he is.” Giles removed his glasses for a slow polish.
“And I can only imagine what kind of soulless bastard used a massacre as an opportunity to seize his chance at the big chair...”
Faith suddenly stood to face the large man across the table. “Listen up, numb-nuts,” she pointed her bread at him menacingly. “I’ll have you know that I consider the new head honcho a personal friend of mine. And believe me, I had as much reason to hate the old Council as anyone. But this poor guy didn’t even want the job. He was shoved into it by the Slayers that crawled out of the wreckage of Sunny-hell. Why? Because he was the only one we trusted to always have our backs, even when he was sending us into danger to save the world.” Her fiery eyes swung to a new target, “And you can stop kickin’ me under the table, Red. I’m not Xan. I know when I’m stickin’ my foot in it. And I know it’s not my place to tell him.” Her gaze cut back, “But you make one more disrespectful comment, and I’ll show you what kind of loyalty that good man has earned.” Faith slowly sat and collected herself. “Mrs. Riley, I apologize for being rude at your dinner table.”
“Don’t worry, Faith. Mo has a tendency to bring it out in people,” the older woman smiled. “Especially those who just met him.”
Maurice slowly took his seat. Across the table Giles fidgeted a bit, a mixture of pride, amusement, and affection warring to break loose on his stoic face.
“She’s talking about you, isn’t she?” Maurice mumbled. His brother gave a short nod. “Things must have changed. As I remember, Head of the Council was always a senile old man who would never think of leaving his office, let alone go on a field mission.”
“In truth, this is a rare treat for me these days. You see Willow is actually my regional director for South America, and Faith is in charge of watching over the Cleveland Hellmouth. It was only because they were visiting the compound when Willow sensed Grace that I was permitted to come along. Most the time my young associates worry that, if left to my own devices, I will return to them bruised and battered.” He smiled, placing his fingertips tenderly to his black eye. “Luckily, this was to be an exceptionally uneventful mission.”
His two friends began to chuckle, giving Grace and Barbara the cue that he was enjoying the humor of the situation.
Giles continued seriously. “Maurice, Grace is an adult. And I can already tell you’ve raised a beautiful, intelligent, vibrant young woman. But this is her decision to make. You know that, even if she hid her Slayer powers, the dark forces will eventually seek her out. We only hope to give her the tools and knowledge to keep herself safe.” Mo slid his hand over to hold Grace’s. “And, Grace luv. You mustn’t feel you need to make your decision right now. We can easily arrange for you to come visit us at the training compound before you do.”
“I think I’d like that,” the blonde grinned.
“Oh, Andrew will be so happy to make the plans for your trip and visit. He loves showing the school off to new Slayers,” Willow chirped happily. Soon the women were all talking about how soon both Grace and Barbara would be able to travel to Scotland and see the compound while Willow and Faith were still on their visit. The two men went back to their meals, quietly contemplating everything that had been said.
When Giles had eaten his fill, he pushed his plate forward and ran his fingers through his hair. He was staring somewhere in the middle of the table when he began to speak again. “I…I know you’ve never forgiven me, Mo.” His brother concentrated on the one remaining bite on his plate. “I know you thought I was weak for crawling back to father and the Council. You’re right, I was. I went out into the world on my own and found that I had none of the control I thought I did. I was stupid and reckless, and I and everyone around me paid dearly for my foolishness.” He looked up. “I needed the Council to keep me in line. But I am so proud of you.”
Maurice snorted loudly.
“I am. You walked away and never looked back. You made your own way in this world. I still can’t believe the boy I grew up with, the one who would do anything for a thrill, settled down to become a banker of all things.”
Grace nearly spit the drink she’d just taken all over the table. Her mother shook her head in warning. “What?” the blonde whispered. “They work for an organization that hunts vampires. I think they can keep a secret.”
Giles decided to set the strange exchange aside for a moment and continue with his original point. “The thing is, I came here looking for one more Slayer, but I found so much more than that. I found her. I found family I never hoped to have. And one more thing that I am desperate beyond reason for. I found a Watcher. This is not father, or any of the old guard trying to force you back into the ranks. This is me, your brother Rupert, asking for your help.”
Maurice’s eyes widened in shock, then hardened into a glare. “I must have hit you harder than I thought. Jarred a few wires in that huge head of yours loose. If you even think for a moment--”
“You say you left because you couldn’t stomach a bunch of self-righteous old men using young girls as tools in their ugly war. You were right, but that time is over now. Yes, there is still a Council, and I was placed at its head, but it is a Council populated by both Watchers and Slayers. I and my young friends are working for a partnership that we can be proud of, and that will last long after we’ve passed this fight on.” The passion in Giles’ voice and eyes held the others captivated as he spoke. “But I know I do not have the resources to keep these girls safe. The majority of the old Watchers were killed in the explosion, or trying to protect their Potentials from the enemy. When I was put in command, about half of the survivors refused to return and work under what they saw as a disgraced Watcher. We are recruiting and training as fast as we can, but I have over two thousand Slayers now, and fewer than a hundred field-ready Watchers to give them the information they desperately need to survive. All I’m asking is that you come see the work we’re doing. Come help me re-build the Council as we always thought it should be. To serve the brave young women protecting the Earth every day.”
The four ladies jumped as Maurice suddenly got up and left the table. He was pacing quickly around the room and muttering to himself. Giles removed his glasses and shook his head.
Sliding her hand onto his, Willow squeezed lightly. “All of that is why your Slayers love you, Giles.” She blinked away a tear. “It’s why we all love you. Because you care so much. And we’ll make it all happen. You’ll see. Just like you envision it.”
“I apologize for Mo,” Barbara said softly. “I’m sure you know how stubborn he can be when he has his mind set a certain way.”
“I’m not a Watcher!” the man in question stopped and stated. “I only did less than two years of training while you were gone. I never finished.”
Giles smiled softly. “You knew who Faith was straight away. You knew about Grace, though you didn’t want to consider the possibility. That’s why you reacted as you did when you saw me. I’d wager you can even sense Willow’s power, which is why you knew better than to test her anger. You are a Watcher. It’s in your blood.”
Maurice ran a frustrated hand over his short hair. “Perhaps. But the kind of thing you’re talking about requires so much more than basic instincts. I wouldn’t know the first thing about giving these girls what they need. The last thing you want to do is put lives in my hands.” It surprised Giles that his brother seemed so pained to admit this.
“Then offer them the skills you do have. For instance, I am trying to run a world-class school as well as support Slayers on nearly every continent. We are scraping by for now, but the majority of the Council’s funds are still hidden out there in accounts and vaults that we are becoming desperate to find and secure. The talents of someone who is versed in finance would be a gift right now.”
It was hard to tell whether the look that appeared on Mo’s face meant he was holding back tears or laughter. He turned and walked slowly away, his head slightly hung as if deep in thought. His wife and daughter frowned sadly at each other, but said nothing.
After the silence stretched on, Giles softly added, “I don’t think I can do this without my big brother at my side.”
All four ladies glanced at each other. Faith was the first to speak. “Ok. Was it just me, or did anyone else get it into their head that big G was the big bro here?”
Barbara nodded, “With all Mo’s talk about the family legacy going to Rupert, I just assumed.”
Giles smiled. “That’s not how it works with Watchers. In my case, it became clear to my father when, at the age of seven, I began to have nightmares of women I’d never met being attacked by monsters. On my tenth birthday, father explained to me what they meant and that it was time for me to begin training. However, I am the younger, more dashing brother here.” His smile stretched into a roughish grin.
“You’re younger by all of about three minutes,” Maurice groaned, pacing back to the group.
“Twenty-three minutes, as you never allowed me to forget when we were boys. Funny how the pride of being older shifts as we age.” Their eyes met, and the serious, but gentle, tone returned to Giles’ voice. “Tell me.”
Maurice’s gaze slowly moved to meet his wife’s kind, beautiful eyes. She only gave a small shrug, but he could hear her voice in his head as clearly as if she spoke. He knew his brother’s heart, and it was his decision what to share. He was standing behind her in one long stride and slid his strong hands onto her shoulders.
“You said you’re proud of me, Rue,” he began with a touch of hesitation in his voice. “I wish I could accept your praise. I wish the reasons for it were all true.”
Barbara craned her head up and whispered, “Would you like me to take the girls somewhere so you two can talk?”
“No,” her husband shook his head slowly and squeezed her shoulders. “I… They have a right to know why I’m not worth their…” He put a hand up to stop the concerned comment coming from the kind witch. “I’ve never worked in a bank. At least… not officially. When your life went wrong, you returned to father for help. My contribution to society was no better, but I was too proud for that. Maybe you remember twenty-odd years ago, the news reports of a group they dubbed ‘The Invisibles’? Romanticized heists that baffled the police. That’s what I am, Rupert. Nothing but a thief, a common criminal. Someone I’m sure you don’t want anywhere near your young heroes.”
Giles never broke his gaze, the look on his face an unreadable mask. After several tense moments passed, it was Grace who spoke up.
“Wait a minute. You’re not a common criminal, dad. You are like the best safe cracker ever. And you planned everything. And you never let anyone get hurt. Never ever.” She turned to their guests. “It was a long time ago. He’s retired now.”
Faith was the first to break into a smile. “Criminal, huh? Convicted?”
“No. We never got caught. But The Invisibles are still on Interpol’s most wanted list. They just don’t know who we really are.”
The Slayer chuckled, “So, it’s not like you’re a convicted murderer who broke out of a maximum security prison and is a fugitive now?”
“No… but still.”
Both Giles and Willow finally broke, their laughter clearly confusing the others. “Good,” Faith finished, “Because that would be awkward.”
Giles finally spoke up. “None of us are saints, Mo. All any of us can give is our best, and that’s all any of us can expect.”
“But surely someone like me-” Maurice began.
Willow timidly raised her hand. “I tried to destroy the world once. I was this close to burning the whole thing. That’s kinda why we all need each other. Without Giles and my friends, who knows…?”
The Watcher reached an arm around her shoulders and pulled her into his side. Willow happily ducked her head under his chin in the half-hug.
“We all have our pasts,” he continued, “some dark side to each of us. All that matters now are these girls. As long as we keep working for them, we are doing good in the world.”
“Hey,” Faith piped up. “World’s best safe cracker… Sounds to me like we have a new candidate for Director of the Acquisitions of Rare and Dangerous Artifacts Division.”
“Oh no,” Barbara suddenly interjected. “Mo promised me when he retired that there would be no more ‘dangerous’. I am done with waiting up and hoping he makes it back home to me alive.”
Giles smiled, “Heads of Divisions are rarely in too much danger.”
“Says the man with the black eye!”
He barked a laugh. “Yes, you’re right. And I am truly sorry. I’ve shown up at your doorstep and, in one day, put everyone you love in danger. It… it tends to happen wherever I go.” Willow gently squeezed his hand. “I wouldn’t blame you if you end up hating me for it. Perhaps you will come to realize that I’ve earned every violent reaction Maurice has for me. But I do know that the things I do and the things I ask of others are necessary. Right now, all I ask is that you all come and see what we are trying to accomplish.”
Barbara looked up at her husband and he nodded slowly. “All right, Rue,” he replied. “We’ll come see what your new Council is all about.” The three visitors smiled. “But I warn you that I have baggage you might not want to deal with.”
“I think we can manage,” Giles grinned, glancing at his two associates.
Barbara took a deep breath and let it out in a decisive puff. “Well. Would anyone like some desert? We have ice cream. Mo, if you will? And Grace, get down some bowls please.”
As Maurice was digging in the freezer, a short, rather round man came through the front door with a worried look behind his thick spectacles. He looked straight at Giles and said quickly, “Mo, I need your… Oh sorry, I didn’t know you had company. Just come by when you get a chance.” He swung around and, seeing the man standing at the refrigerator holding a carton of ice cream, said, “Hey, Mo…” The stranger glanced back at Giles, then again at Maurice, and finally landed sprawled on the floor in a dead faint.
“Oh, Sidney,” Barbara sighed and got up to tend to him.
“Who’s that?” Willow giggled.
Mo stepped over his oldest friend on his way back to the table and stated in a long-suffering tone, “My baggage.”
The twin brothers stood in the opened doorway staring at each other for a long time. Sidney’s exasperated voice could be heard coming from deeper inside the flat.
“What do you mean Mo has a twin? He never told me about it. I’m his partner, Mo tells me everything.”
“Oh yes? Well I’m his wife and I never knew either. Don’t worry, we’ll have time to make him suffer for it later.”
A small smile crept across Giles’ lip as he put his hand out. “For what it’s worth, there’ve been many times I’ve missed you beyond reason. Even if you continue to despise what I do, I’m grateful to have you back in my life.”
Maurice gripped the offered hand tightly. Willow knew this was the closest to a hug these two long-lost brothers were going to come. The redhead rolled her eyes and grumbled, “Englishmen.”
“We will be there to see you soon,” Mo was saying to Rupert. “I can’t give you any answers yet. I won’t tell you that you have another Watcher or anything like that. But I promise you do have a brother. I never thought I’d miss you. You were always so serious and annoying. It seems I have nonetheless.” Both men gave a chuckle.
Faith was talking to Grace. “Listen, chick, I know what it feels like to suddenly be all powerful and stuff. Just don’t go out lookin’ for trouble. At least, not until you come let Big G over there teach you what you need to know. There are plenty of things out there that can still lay a hell of a smack down on you.”
“I promise,” Grace nodded with a grin. “And I’ll see you when I get there?”
“I’ll be waiting… Unless an apocalypse shows up to crap on my plans again…”
“Grace, Barbara,” Giles took the new Slayer’s hand. “It was a great pleasure to meet you both. I couldn’t wish my brother better.” He turned back to Mo. “Oh yes, and as soon as we return to the compound I’ll, of course, have my will changed to include Grace. There are a few that I want taken care of when the time comes,” he threw an unconscious glance at Faith, “But the bulk of the family estates will be passed to your daughter… My niece,” he added with a grin.
“Wait, wait, wait… Family estates?” Grace gaped at her father.
Barbara and Sidney were closing in on him. “Maurice Riley! All your hatred of the upper class? All your rants about how the rich people and old families can’t be trusted? And now we find this out?”
Maurice turned to his family and said without flinching, “And I think I’ve proven my point.”
“You have so much explaining to do.”
The door swung closed and Giles shook his head with a smile. His young ladies laughed as they each took one of his arms and led him away together.
“I wouldn’t be grinning if I were you,” Willow chuckled, hugging his arm tighter.
Faith snaked her arm around his shoulders. “Just wait ‘til B and the Dawnmister find out you’re not a one-of-a-kind.”
“Not to mention Xander. Oh, and I can’t wait to tell Andrew!”
They only laughed harder as a put-upon groan rumbled through the subject of their teasing.