Slayer Central 7: The Centurions
Timeframe: About two week after the events in "What He Does".
Summary: Gunn and Giles tour the training area at Wolfram & Hart, and discuss the future.
Angel stared, appalled at the creatures shambling towards the group: "What are those things?"
"Their names aren't important, but they're big, tough, and hit hard--that one in the middle is their leader." Andrew sounded uncharacteristically calm as he stared ahead at the oncoming enemies. "This fight's gonna be a tough one, guys."
"Yes, because the previous fights were just so easy." Xander grumbled, holding his sword tightly and wondering where exactly you should stick one of the critters that had almost reached them.
"No time to complain now--the battle is joined. Onward!" Wesley charged ahead, weapons drawn, and started hacking at the apelike creature on the right. Andrew joined him, while Angel attacked the leader with the huge two-handed axe he was holding and Xander set his jaw and began hacking at the final unengaged foe.
After a few moments, things had begun to go badly.
"Ow! That one really hurt, damn it! How much punishment does it take to kill these guys, anyway?" Angel complained, though he never let up in his attacks. Unfortunately, the same was true for his massive opponent.
"It looks like they're all weakening, but they still got a lot of fight left in them--keep on hacking!" Xander yelled and kept fighting as hard as he could.
"Things are getting a bit bloody over here." Wesley was calm, though he was sorely wounded and not liking the way things were going. He turned to Andrew and complained as he continued to direct precision strikes at the thing in front of him, "You've got those wonderful summoning powers--can't you summon something to turn the tide here rather than flail away ineffectively with that staff?"
"Oh, so now you like having the evil magician around, huh?" Andrew sounded smug, but then his tone changed to frustration. "I need raw materials for my magic, and there aren't any corpses nearby."
A strangled cry echoed over the landscape, and Wesley groaned. "Wonderful. Angel's dead."
"Big deal. He's been dead for two hundred and fifty years." Xander snarked as he received two more wounds, then turned to Andrew and pointed at Angel's mangled remains. "Say, will that corpse do the trick?"
"Hey!" Angel's voice echoed through the room.
"So, this is what you mean when you say you're off to research demons."
The four men flinched as one, and turned away from their computer screens to see Buffy, Willow and Dawn standing in the room, arms folded and wearing reproving expressions. Buffy, who had spoken, shook her head sadly and commented, "You know, before we came here all of these men were brave demon fighters--well, more or less." Andrew smiled brightly, oblivious to the implied putdown, and Buffy rolled her eyes and turned to Willow as she continued, "'Install a computer network at the Hyperion,' you said. 'It'll be great for research and education for the Slayers,' you said. And what has it gotten us--a room full of Diablo 2 addicts. Pitiful."
Willow looked mournfully at the group. "Sorry, Buffy--must have been temporary insanity."
"I say, Buffy--that attitude is uncalled for." Wesley managed to summon a note of genuine outrage in his voice as he stood up and glared at the three women. "We've done plenty of research already today, and I believe that these activities can give us invaluable insights into the way in which the mundane world perceives the demonic one; furthermore--" Wesley noted the derisive nature of the look that Buffy was directing at him, and whispered to Angel, "Bugger--she's not buying this, is she?"
Angel sighed. "Nice try, Wesley."
"Yeah, you gave it a good try, Wes." Xander looked resigned.
"Hey, still need help here!" Andrew had lost interest and turned back to the screen where the ape-things were inflicting massive pain on the hapless characters.
Buffy rolled her eyes again and sighed loudly. "Boys will be boys, I guess."
"Sorry I'm late, all. Had to run by the office to supervise the repair of the plasmotronic containment orb." Fred passed the trio and wandered over to an unoccupied station, and quickly had it warming up. She looked over her shoulder and called out, "You guys don't just have to stand there--there's plenty of open stations. I hear that adding a Druid and a couple of Amazons to a party can work wonders."
The men looked smugly at Buffy and the others, and Buffy's lips thinned as she replied, "Thanks, but we've got plans." She frowned and asked, "Speaking of boys and their toys, why aren't Giles and Gunn in on this little expedition?"
"Gunn wanted to show Giles something at W & H: they'll be back later." Angel had turned back to the screen, and Buffy found that she was being ignored. She directed a final glare at Angel's back and swept out of the room: Willow and Dawn followed, sensing that an innocent training dummy was about to receive the brunt of the Slayer's irritation.
Giles raised an eyebrow. "An impressive installation, to say the least."
Giles and Gunn were standing on a catwalk overlooking a warehouse-sized room, with training equipment of various kinds as far as the eye could see. Gunn inclined his head at a nearby staircase, and they headed down to the floor level. A security guard waiting at the bottom nodded at Gunn as they went by, and Gunn led Giles to a door on one of the walls. A flat white panel was on the wall next to it, and Gunn placed his right palm on it while saying simply, "Charles Gunn, entrance."
The door slid open, and the lights clicked on inside, revealing a forty by forty room that was positively bristling with weapons of various kinds. Gunn walked over and picked up a nasty looking automatic shotgun and commented wistfully, "Could have used one of these in the old days."
"You're not the only one," murmured Giles, pondering how a flamethrower or two might have turned the tide more readily on certain occasions. He chuckled and added, "The attention it attracted might not have been worth the additional ease of victory, however. Wolfram & Hart had a private army here?"
"More like a few on-staff leaders and the phone number of every morally challenged merc on the West Coast." Gunn replied, as he put the shotgun down and walked over to a case containing a collection of archaic weapons. "We'd tangled with them a few times, and they were good--though obviously not good enough. The leaders left and went to the main W & H company--good thing, since some of us would have killed the bastards on sight--and we were left with the contact list: five hundred mercenaries that we have right of first refusal on."
"Ah yes--the ethically ambiguous gift that keeps on giving." Giles' tone was dry, and he frowned at the implications. "What did you do with the list?"
"We thought about just tossing it--it wasn't as if we were ever going to trust any of them. It occurred to Wesley that we could use it to inconvenience a lot of bad guys, particularly since they had been paid in advance for five years of no-notice assignments. We contacted all of them and told them that if they would tip us off as to what assignments they were being contacted for by other employers, we'd pay them twenty-five percent more than what their employer would be paying them if we didn't want them to go, and their reputations wouldn't suffer, since it was known that we had right of first refusal. Of course, we also warned them that we'd be paying a visit to anyone who tried to scam us with a fake assignment to scare up cash. It's worked pretty well so far." Gunn reached into the weapons case, and called out, "You're a sword man, aren't you?"
"Top saber for two years at Oxford, actually." Giles replied absently. He examined a row of concussion grenades and was not watching Gunn as he pulled a sword out from the case and carried it over to Giles. Giles heard Gunn approach and spotted the sword in his hands. He carefully took it, drew the katana from its scabbard and hefted it. "Excellent weapon. Whoever obtained it knew his--good heavens. This isn't what I think it is, is it?"
"Angel and Wesley had the same reaction. The independent expert we brought in almost fainted when we showed it to him." Gunn looked admiringly at the Masamune that Giles was now holding very gingerly and commented, "I'd offer to help you test it out, but it has a nasty tendency of mangling other weapons it comes up against--I think someone might have slipped a spell or two on it, too. I was thinking of having Willow take a look at it."
"Good idea--Willow doesn't know swords, but she can spot an enhancement spell without difficulty." Giles carefully sheathed the blade and handed it back to Gunn as he commented, "If I'd seen that weapon four months ago, I would have jumped at the chance to obtain it for Buffy. Now, she has the Slayer Axe and--"
"And there's about fifty Slayers back at the Hyperion who would think it was the coolest thing on the planet," interrupted Gunn as he put the katana back in the weapons case and closed it. He shrugged and commented, "You could always use it yourself: Angel and I like axes better, and Wesley is hooked on longswords, though he did drool a bit when he saw the Masamune. Slayers are good with any weapon they pick up, but from what Buffy told me you're damn good with a sword compared to other weapons."
Giles smiled and shook his head. "She was overawed by the one time we ran into a cult of sword wielding vampires. They were good, but arrogant and unwilling to accept that a mere human could know what he was doing with a blade. I killed two of them before Buffy electrocuted their leader." He sighed, and added: "I'm slowing down, Gunn. What happened to Xander could have just as easily have happened to me if I had been there in his place. I can't effectively fight a vampire without weapons any more, and even with a good blade or a stake it's touch and go. I have to face facts and accept that I'm becoming a liability in fights, particularly when there are so many Slayers around. I don't want to be the designated hostage."
"Being a bit harsh on yourself, aren't you? You made it through the big fight over the Hellmouth in one piece--from what I hear those supervamps and cultists were no joke." Gunn frowned in concern and walked back over to Giles. "Just because you can't do what you did twenty years ago doesn't mean you're ready for the rocking chair."
"Robin was fighting alongside me, and I almost let him get killed--again." Giles replied bitterly, and Gunn decided not to inquire about the previous close call as Giles shook his head again and whispered, "I need to accept it and move on, Gunn."
"Is that why you left Buffy the year she came back, Giles?" Gunn spoke calmly, and held his ground when Giles straightened and narrowed his eyes at him. "You thought you'd get her killed in a fight, so you left?"
Giles glared for a moment, then seemed to slump as he walked out of the weapons room and walked over to a weight bench to sit down. Gunn locked the weapons room and followed Giles over, sitting on a bench across from him. He waited, and at length Giles looked over at him and began: "The summer she was gone, I felt myself slowing down more and more--and the contrast was even more pronounced with Spike and Willow there. Xander's fighting skills have advanced remarkably over the years, and even Tara and Anya were holding up their ends of the fight admirably." He looked down and added, "Their research skills had progressed quite well--I had no doubt that they would be able to do fine without me using the research materials in the Magic Box. I said my goodbyes and returned to England--Buffy had died, and that part of my life was over."
"Then Buffy came back." Gunn's voice was quiet and sad.
"Yes." Giles reached up and removed his glasses, and polished them mechanically as he continued, "Dawn's call shocked me as nothing has before or since, and I was back in Sunnydale almost before I realized I was making the plans to do so. Buffy looked so frail--she had been through so much, though none of us had any idea of just what we had done to her. I confronted Willow about her actions, and she rebuffed me with contempt and anger. I kept trying to help Buffy cope, but I sensed that I wasn't getting through to her, and a sequence of events drove home to me that I really couldn't help her. She was furious with me--she just couldn't understand why I was leaving again." He blinked and put his glasses back on as he whispered, "I had failed--I had let unspeakable things happen to her--I had failed to realize what was wrong. Buffy is the strongest person I've ever known, and I hoped that the shock of having to do without me would force her to do what was needed to bring her out of it." He shook his head in disgust and muttered, "God help me, it was the most damned fool thing I ever did."
"So why do it again, Giles? Why pull away just when you're needed the most?" Gunn's voice was gentle, but firm.
"I'm not leaving, Gunn--I'm just going to change my role." Giles seemed to have shaken off the dark mood, and he stood up and walked a few feet away before turning back to Gunn. "We've located the assets of the Council, and I've contacted the few remaining Watchers who were away from the headquarters and who weren't killed with their Potentials. I trust the ones who lived--they'll make a good core for the leadership. However, we have a situation which the Council has never faced before--needing hundreds of qualified Watchers to supervise active Slayers. We will need to find worthy candidates from all over the planet, screen them, and match them to Slayers. A daunting effort, to say the least."
"Any candidates in mind right now?" Gunn asked, curious.
"Willow is more than qualified to be a Watcher, and assigning her to Kennedy will be the path of least resistance, though the old Council would have had a collective stroke at the image." Giles grinned, and Gunn returned the grin as the Watcher continued, "Wesley was done a disservice when the Council sent him to Sunnydale four years ago, and I regret having had to be opposed to him then. He's more than qualified now, and I'll be grooming him for a leadership position on the Council down the road. Xander's methods are unorthodox, but he is a competent researcher and fiercely loyal to his companions--a bit more training and I wouldn't hesitate to assign a Slayer to him. Robin's got the family ties, and he can be gotten up to speed with minimal efforts, I would deem." Giles paused, then locked eyes with Gunn as he concluded, "I can think of at least one more candidate who I'm sure the new Council would agree with me was a worthy candidate for consideration."
Gunn saw the look that Giles was giving him and blinked. "Me? You've got to be kidding--I'm a street kid from L.A. who never even saw a Slayer until Faith blew into town a few months back. What makes you think I can do the job?"
Giles smirked, and replied, "Not many street kids can put together a small army and fight vampires without any outside help, Gunn. I am well aware of your record in all of its particulars, and I do not believe I am betraying any confidences when I tell you that Angel and Wesley have nothing but the highest regard for your capabilities and your dedication to the cause. You have conducted research here of the same kind that a Watcher must do in the course of his or her job, and any gaps in your education can be filled with ease given the resources here and in England." Giles smiled and added, "Gunn, I realize that our backgrounds are very different, but you and I are of a kind in a very important way--we see evil and feel compelled to oppose it. In this modern era, we are the centurions who stand against the forces who would destroy human civilization, leading others in beating back the darkness." He extended his hand and concluded quietly, "Think it over--you don't have to give me an answer right away."
Gunn hesitated, then reached out and clasped hands with Giles. "Thanks, I'll do that." He released Giles' hand and coughed self-consciously before turning and adding, "Let's head on to the next item on the tour--the main security office. One of the nice things about running this place now is being on the other side of the damned TV cameras. You wouldn't believe some of the places that those bastards put hookups."
Giles frowned. "I'm not sure I appreciate the ethics of still having those cameras in place." Gunn smiled and handed him a thick booklet, and Giles continued speaking as he began to leaf through it: "We must endeavor not to stoop to--The Dorothy Chandler Pavillion? Where exactly are the cameras placed?"
Gunn chuckled, and the closing elevator doors cut off his reply.
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