Part of the vision was starting to come together, Giles could see it forming daily. They had a base, even if it was vast, draughty and furnished like Balmoral on a bad-taste day. They had a plan. Two plans, in fact. To identify, and then train all the Slayers they possibly could, at that base. That part was beginning to work. The other, frankly more important, plan was to resurrect the Council's international presence, with squads in key places forming a network across the world. There would be no going back to the Watcher's Council – the Slayers were their own network, with support from trained operatives, expert in history, demons, magicks and research.
Exactly how that was going to happen, when they'd barely found a single Watcher left alive and the Council's records and library had been destroyed, was a tiny bit less clear. When Giles seriously thought about that, he'd start to tremble, internally or literally. Generally, there was enough work to be done not to worry about it.
Buffy was starting to lose the meeting, he could tell so without actually tuning in. Willow was contemplating one of the more overt tartan curtain swags. Kennedy was kicking the desk mildly. Faith was reviewing training schedules for their ten advanced squads – which would have been fine, except she was supposed to be discussing the international position, as everyone strained to hear Xander's fuzzy satellite phone-call.
Things didn't improve as the meeting progressed. "So, we don't have anyone in China?" Buffy asked. "Is that right? Are we sure? Is it a big deal? Who did the Council have?"
Giles coughed, a little embarrassed. "The Communist regime isn't terribly Council-friendly. Our presence there has been a trifle... fragmented lately. We should, of course, start to rectify that position, but..."
"But basically, we got no one, we know nothing, and it hasn't been a problem for a while so let's hope it's all okay for now?" Ah. Faith had apparently been listening after all. Her assessment was hard to disagree with in their current position.
"Everyone okay with that?" Buffy gave them two seconds to disagree and then moved on hurriedly before anyone suggested that somewhere the size of China couldn't be ignored.
"So, Willow, wanna give us the numbers on Slayer locations?"
This was what being heroes involved now. Meetings and making do – because there was no one else to rely on in the world.
"...so I think that's pretty much it for North Am reports."
Giles twitched faintly. He respected Robin's work, but his insistence on abbreviating everything did tend to grate. Ops? Fine. SSQ for Slayer Squads – why? North Am...
Not that it was important. North Am, Centr'Am and even South Am were reporting situations under control, which was new and thrilling – the Slayer squads were functioning as they had all hoped, finally. Too much to say that they were winning out over the demons – there were always surprises, and failures. And of course there were always humans putting their spanners into the otherwise functional works, summoning and self-aggrandising and generally making their lives more difficult.
Giles tuned back in to the sit-reps. Prophecies now, usually the most fascinating section of all in his view – to have the resource to put into developing the predictive work so that they could be ahead of the game. It was working; saving lives. Sometimes admittedly going off at tangents thanks to the usual prophecy tricks, but overall, an innovation he had real pride in. Also the best example of how Slayers and Watchers – no, Slayer Support Operatives, sorry – worked together, with Vi and Erik leading the section to good effect.
"...not speaking for Erik here, but I'm comfortable with this risk level. Think we can go another week before action stations." There were of course still differences between the two groups; Slayers tended to the cavalier, Watchers (dammit, he was a fogey and allowed to use old terms occasionally) tended to the cautious, belt and braces. Which was odd, since it was the Slayers that tended to end up dead if things went wrong.
Only two deaths in the last twelve months though.
And here was Buffy, in her Chief Slayer guise. Managing the meeting like she was born to it. She'd come a hell of a long way since those early excruciating months when they'd tried casual and matey, or formal and stiff, when Giles had been everything from minute-taker to meeting Chair; when the complex tech allowing them all to discuss issues across the globe had constantly collapsed, or sections of the world squads had been in open revolt at having to report daily at, say 4am their time. It was 11pm GMT right now, but that was just the usual meeting rotation; next week it would be 2am.
"Cool, thanks everyone. Sounds like Operational is working about as well as we've ever done. And please note I'm actually thrilled; I just don't want to say something that's gonna jump up and bite us when the next Big Bad comes out of the woodwork." Buffy grinned round them all. "So, anyone who's gotta nest to roust or really needs that extra hour's sleep, go for it. Otherwise, let's hear from Faith how the new generation's shaping up."
It was standard practice, this, though Giles always bridled a little at the idea training didn't matter quite as much as the other reports. These were the Slayers of the future, after all – likely to fill any future gaps in squads. But he had to accept that now they had their structure rolling, it wasn't as life or death critical as it had been for the first year or so, when hundreds of superstrong girls had needed to be trained, taught to control their powers and formed into a new fighting machine that sat lightly on the world.
Let's face it, the whole thing was standard practice. Giles watched Faith start her routine run-through of performance, statistics and assessments. She was getting itchy feet, he knew it. Had argued her out of replacing an injured squad member for sub-Saharan Africa (she was too senior, would unbalance the group and so forth. He was inventive in his selfishness). But she'd be off soon, when she'd identified a viable assignment.
The last months had been incredible, having her around all the time. What would follow? It couldn't be as strong or as close. Was she tired of their... relationship as well?
The pause before he could think the word, in the privacy of his own brain, suggested something disquieting. If he wanted this to continue (which he did. A great deal), Giles would have to come to terms with it himself. And then, probably, make some sort of move to suggest a long-term partnership was in order.
Good grief. The things he had to do for that impossible woman. Giles found he was grinning as Faith explained some problematic weaponry drills, and hurriedly straightened his face.
Something active had to be done. Surely he'd think of the right thing to say. Given time.
Giles decided to give it some hard thought. And do nothing premature.
Dear Faith, Kennedy and Vi (aka the Bosses Of Me),
I couldn't go without a note to wish you luck. I hope you feel good about the new arrangements; I do. I know it's probably a little scary right now, but also exciting. Maybe you all want a fresh start, but I thought maybe a few thoughts from me might help.
It's tough at the top. But you're not alone. Maybe you're worried about how this new arrangement will work out, without a single leader. Your plan to alternate being duty Chief Slayer should help. It feels like another step forward – it's not one Slayer in all the world, and it shouldn't always be one woman bearing the burden all of the time. We're a Council now, Slayers and Watchers (hey, I'm old-fashioned) working together. Maybe someday there'll be a Watcher in charge again, if that seems like the best thing. For sure it'll soon be a woman who wasn't there at the Choice, and that'll feel strange to us old-timers. But let's not become a new Watchers' Council, stuck to the old ways. What works for now is what matters.
I'm so proud of us all; how we managed the change so far. We were part of something great; something that changed the world for the better. You know how much demon activity we've ended. We don't know how many lives we've saved, but let's say *a lot*. Especially if we're counting the Apocalypses that weren't. Way more than any one Slayer ever has before. Maybe someday we'll make ourselves redundant, but that doesn't seem like it will happen any time soon. What's certain is that we'll all keep on trying – finding new Slayers, training them up, helping them find their place in saving the world, looking for better ways to tackle the same old terrors.
I also want to say something difficult. Don't forget who you are. You're Slayers, but you're more than Slayers. Sometimes I felt like I was getting lost in Slaying, both before and after the Choice. I'm stepping down now to make sure that doesn't happen again. I want to have my life being with Spike and the girls, before I miss it all. (Sidebar: should we have term-limits, maybe? It's a choice you could make.) You have lives outside – Faith has Giles and Mike, Kennedy has Jen, Vi's got all those research projects and exciting things to pursue with the digital- yeah, I don't understand it at all, but I know you're excited by it. Don't undervalue all those things, and try not to let the Slaying come first. Except when it's Apocalypse season, maybe.
I know you're going to be a great new leadership for the Council. I promise I'll respect your leadership and obey your orders. (And if I disagree, it'll be in private and direct to you. Unless that's going against my line management chain. Oh crap, this is going to take some time. We'll work it out, okay?).
I wish you all the luck in the world for the next few years. Don't be strangers.
Squad leader – Western USA
North American Region