Buffy walked into her Watcher's apartment with an absent-minded frown, fiddling with the card the guy poking around in the wreckage of the old High School had handed to her.
His accent and the silver threaded through his hair had pretty much said Watcher to her, but the still-fit muscles, the lack of tweed, the striking features, and the fact that he hadn't even tried to talk supernatural to her had said something else altogether. He seemed like he was out of the age bracket for the commando guys running around tazing vampires, but surely there weren't multiple groups out there trying to put a leash on the Hellmouth at the same time?
"Giles, have you ever heard of Monarch before?" she asked, curiously. If they were big-time secret-agenty stuff, surely the Council would have known about them?
Giles blinked absently as he looked up from whatever dusty tome he was nose-deep in this week, hopefully not another book of prophecies. "Assuming you aren't referring to Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, or any of the other crowned heads of Europe," he replied dryly, "I'm afraid not. Why?"
"There was a British guy poking around the Hellmouth today; he asked me all kinds of weird questions when I showed up to investigate what was the what," Buffy shrugged, passing over the card.
Giles spent a moment wrinkling his brow at the reflected-M logo and the name printed underneath it, then glanced up, expression concerned. "Conrad; the name does seem familiar, but not as one of the Watcher families or the other long-term contacts with whom I have done business in the past. What sorts of questions was he asking?"
"Whether there was a lot of seismic activity, if anyone had noticed any weird tunnels opening up under the town, how many students died from legit 'barbeque fork accidents' and how many actually just went missing and got covered up in the obits," she shrugged. "He was trying really hard not to just say 'giant snake,' but it sounded like he'd seen somebody's bootleg footage from graduation. But he never said demon, and totally bought it when I went all, like, whatever. Totally not with the clueful. It was weird."
"Giant snake, giant snake...." Giles repeated to himself, expression going distant as he removed his glasses and began to absent-mindedly polish the lenses. Then he stiffened, sliding them back on and giving her a narrow-eyed look. "Was this Conrad perhaps a middle-aged gentleman with a soldier's bearing?"
"Yeah, how'd you guess?" She tilted her head at him. "Watcher guy after all, trying to be sneaky?"
"No; actually, a member of a secret organization that believes in, of all the ridiculous things, the Hollow Earth Theory. There was some rumor perhaps twenty or thirty years ago that an island had been found in the Pacific hosting animal life ten or more times the size of ordinary terrestrial organisms; an entire group of elite soldiers and scientists disappeared into a storm there with only a handful of survivors, all of whom quickly vanished from public view. One, I believe, was former SAS-- that would be your British ex-soldier. There were also stories that some even larger beast had been responsible for attacks on a naval ship in the Second World War, mutated to unearthly size by nuclear fallout. Clearly, Monarch's founders were survivors of some sort of Hellmouth eruption or other demonic infestation, rationalizing what they had seen as best they could, and seeking to find some manner of explanation. The Council has actually used their pseudo-scientific research as cover for our own operations on occasion, but I have never encountered any of their members in the wild, as it were."
Buffy made a face. "I guess if anything around here was going to get their attention, Snaky Mayor-Demon would. Weird to think about, though. I guess there is a lot of the world out there the Slayer can't cover, and even with only the one Hellmouth, that's a lot of real estate for demons to explore."
"Indeed," Giles replied, gravely. "However, as it seems highly unlikely that this gentleman will actually stumble across anything of significance, I suggest you give him and his organization no further thought. Were there any further events of significance on your patrol?"
Too bad; for a guy older even than Giles, he'd been kind of a hottie. But her Watcher was right; no sense getting distracted by a confused organization that misidentified demons as "Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms" and probably wouldn't know what to do with a vampire if they saw one. Buffy shook him regretfully out of her thoughts, and continued her report.
Eleven years, one defunct Hellmouth, and a whole army of Potentials turned Slayers later, Buffy watched the footage coming out of Hawaii and San Francisco with a sense of disbelief. Willow had reported an all-clear on the magical front; whatever the hell was going on, it was 100% terrestrial. Just old; so old that if it was demonic at all, it'd have to be a holdover from the era of the Great Old Ones. Illyria, when consulted, had said something cryptic about walking nightmares; a pretty fitting description, in Buffy's opinion. And it had got her thinking.
And not just about bright eyes, amazing cheekbones, and the accent that... okay, had maybe laid a little more framework for her attraction to Spike than she'd originally recalled.
The thing was, she'd been pretty much over the Slayer-General role ever since walking away from the Sunnydale crater, but she'd never quite lost the itch. And a certain Watcher-y little sister with ridiculous language skills and a mad-on for the previously inexplicable concept of the Deeper Well happened to be between Slayers at the moment, herself.
"Giant monsters, huh?" Dawn picked up the phone, tone wry with knowing.
"Non-demony ones, even," Buffy agreed. "You know what I'm gonna ask."
"Twist my arm a little harder, would you," Dawn replied, amused.
Sisters Summers, Monarch Agents: here they came.