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Methos was happily ensconced in the quiet of the empty library. The information available at the various locations of the Watcher Council was probably the thing he had missed most over the last decades, but he had to stay away long enough for William Lucas Courtenay to have faded from memory.
Currently, he was going by the name of Carl Gladwyn, doctor of religious studies and part-time lecturer at the University of Edinburgh - an all-around unremarkable bloke who was reasonably well-liked by his students and colleagues. He had, however, published a few noteworthy articles about the widespread similarities in concepts and imaginations of evil across multiple cultures. He'd dared some speculations about the inspirations behind those concepts that had garnered him disapproving looks from most colleagues, but they had gotten him the attention of the right people. Afterwards, he just had to ensure he bumped into said right people at a few conferences to eventually being offered the chance to research in the Watchers' archives and library.
The London branch had existed for so long in the same building that they had never managed to separate the Immortals division from the one for the occult and demonic activities as pretty much every other branch of decent size had done. The more the two divisions grew apart in their foci and approach to their subjects and work, the more this entanglement in London rubbed people on both sides the wrong way. Being Brits, they would have prefered very much if they could just avoid one another, but that was an impossibility.
For Methos, it was the most convenient arrangement imaginable.
Having been invited by the Watchers dealing with demons and the Slayers ensured that he was purposefully overlooked by those observing the Immortals. At the same time, he had all the freedom during his strolls down the long aisles of the archive to look up what old friends and enemies were up to and if there was anyone new to worry about.
The research he was officially there for was interesting as well. Not that Methos hadn't had his share of run-ins with everything from your neighbourhood vampire to some truly nightmarish demons people at all times deluded themselves they could handle for their own gain. But being in the thick of things or in the general vicinity didn't always give one the most rounded view, so reading meticulous research into the who, what and how centuries later was fascinating and put some things into a better perspective.
Today’s quiet was suddenly interrupted by the doors opening and closing again.
"Now, Rupert. Here is an introduction into the foundations and general principles of the Watcher Council. It will be a most beneficial read to prepare you for the Academy in summer. I'll come and collect you once my meeting is over." The man's voice sounded somewhat pompous, and he didn't wait for any reply to his order before his steps retreated and the door opened and closed again.
Methos pulled the last few tomes on his current reference list before heading back towards the small group of desks to find out who Rupert was. What he found was surprisingly a boy of maybe twelve years sitting across from the desk Methos had commandeered, staring down on the pages of a book morosely. He seemed awfully young to enter either branch of the Watcher’s Academy.
“Good afternoon,” Methos greeted as he set down his books.
“Oh, good afternoon,” the boy looked up startled.
Methos went back to his work though he was aware that Rupert was splitting his own focus between his assigned reading and surreptitiously glancing at him.
“Excuse me, sir,” he eventually asked, clearly taking all his courage together.
Methos finished writing down his current note before looking up. “Yes?”
“Are you a Watcher?”
“No, just a researcher and lecturer from Edinburgh who was given access to the archives and now had to adjust his world view rather dramatically. Dr Carl Gladwyn, at your service.”
“Oh.” The single sound carried a lot of disappointment. “My name is Rupert Giles, it’s nice to meet you. I had hoped… but nevermind.” The boy went back to his book, clearly unsatisfied.
“What had you hoped?”
“It’s just… Father told me two years ago that I would become a Watcher, that it didn’t matter that I wanted to become a fighter pilot.”
“Well, I’m no expert, but from what I know, you might have difficulties being accepted by the RAF wearing glasses.” Methos tried to make light of the matter to keep the boy talking.
“Yeah, I’ve learned that since as well. At the time I also thought I might like to be a grocer, though my family would find that terribly undignified. But it wouldn’t matter if I decided to study law or medicine, Father wants me to become a Watcher, to follow the family tradition. He says it’s our destiny and we have a sacrifice to make in the fight against the evil in this world and from other dimensions. Because somebody has to protect the innocent people who can’t fight for themselves.”
“And how do you feel about that? Would you still rather be a grocer?”
“Yes, actually. Or something else ordinary. I don’t really feel like much of a fighter, I’d rather be one of those innocents who get protected and don’t even know what’s going on. But that’s quite selfish and cowardly of me, isn’t it.” The last was said very softly.
“It’s human. As noble as it is to fight in the protection of others, I don’t think anyone can be blamed if they don’t feel up to that, especially at your age.” Methos could commiserate with Rupert’s plight to have his choices taken away from him and be confronted by an overwhelming fate. “Your father must be very determined if he’s sending you to the Academy already, despite your reservations. I overheard him when you came in.”
“I kinda did a thing.”
“Now, this sounds like a story worth hearing.” Methos put down his pen to give Rupert all his attention.
"My great aunts have magic, but they mostly use it to stay young and beautiful and enjoy their life. It's kinda fun, I guess. If you have such a gift, why not use it to your own benefit as long as you're not hurting anyone. But Father says it's frivolous and undignified. But I like them, they're fun to be around. They came to our home for an artefact Grandma and Father were guarding. A light demon had killed their lovers, and they needed it to bring them back. The demon attacked them while they were at our place and I accidentally used it to turn the demon into a solid form and like that my aunts could kill him. But everyone got super weird because this took a lot of magic they didn't think I should have. I don't know, it didn't feel like something super special, and I don't even remember what exactly I did. I'm just glad nobody in my family got hurt."
Methos was impressed. He’d come across enough magic users to know that a young boy affecting a demon like that when two experienced witches had failed was quite a feat. He couldn’t show that though, he was pretending to have no previous knowledge of magic.
“Sounds like a very lucky accident to me.”
Rupert answered with an unspecific hum and fiddled with the book he was supposed to read. "Father says the Academy will teach me control and that such a thing should never happen again."
“You sound doubtful.”
“I don’t know how he means things anymore and reading this doesn’t help.” He poked at the pages. “He keeps saying that it’s our duty as Watchers to sacrifice for the greater good. But it looks to me that the thing the Watchers sacrifice the most are Slayers.”
That had Methos sit up. He had his own opinions about the priorities of the Watcher Council, both branches. But that a boy Rupert’s age would come to that conclusion so quickly was unexpected. “That is quite the statement,” he said as neutrally as he could.
"Well, these girls get called upon when they are barely older than I am now. And they get all this responsibility for the fate of the world dumped onto their shoulders and send out to fight vampires and demons and whatnot. Special powers or not, how can you be ready for that before you even finished school? They aren't legally old enough to drive or drink alcohol but this, they're ready for? I know, I wouldn't be. And just seeing the average at which new Slayers are being called, barely any of them make it to adulthood. That doesn't sound like the Watchers are doing so good a job at preparing and supporting them. They're essentially sending them out there to die and hopefully take enough evil with them to make it somehow worth it. Sounds like a sacrifice to me."
"The system clearly isn't perfect, but things that involve ancient fates rarely are." Methos didn't want to stoke the fire he could already see in young Rupert too much, so he picked his words carefully. The boy would already have a hard time dealing with his family's expectations and the intellectual rigidity of the Academy without a stranger pouring oil on it.
"So I'm just meant to accept this because it's been this way for ages and become a part of it as I'm told?" The stubborn streak bleeding through in that sentence was a mile wide, and it made Methos curious about how Rupert would turn out as an adult.
"No. But you sound like you have a good head on your shoulders and can form your own opinions. Right now, you're young and don't have many options to make independent decisions. In such a position it is best to pick your battles wisely. But nobody can stop you from questioning the things you learn, in your own mind, if nothing else. And there will come the day when you can act on your own and follow your own morals. And by then you'll have gained much more knowledge, and your decisions will be better informed than they might be right now." Methos was satisfied that Rupert seemed to give his words some consideration. He was still deep in thought when the door opened again.
“I thought I told you to read the introduction book, not stare holes in the air and dream,” Mr Giles said harshly. “Or have you been bothering this gentleman?”
“What? Oh, no. Dr Gladwyn was very helpful in discussing some of the things I read with me. He didn’t mind, at least I don’t think so.” Rupert’s voice lost a lot of its certainty towards the end.
“Not at all,” Methos was quick to assure as he stood up and held out his hand. “Carl Gladwyn, pleasure to meet you, Mr Giles. Your son has rather a sharp mind. I wish I had more students like him in my classes.”
“Well, thank you,” the man said brusquely as he shook the outstretched hand with a firm grip. “Remember your place, Rupert, you can continue your reading at home. We have the title in the family library. We’re expected home for tea.”
Rupert carefully closed the book and put it back in its place in one of the shelves closest to the door. “Thank you for your time, Dr Gladwyn. I’ll keep what you said in mind.”
“Have a good day. And good luck with your studies,” Methos told him but only answered the curt nod from his father in kind.
He kept looking at the door in thought for a few more moments before going back to his research, but on his next trip through the shelves, he slipped into an aisle he had no business being in. The personnel files were just as orderly as everything else in the archive, and he had no problems locating the one he was interested in. He had long since perfected the art of sneaking a glance at paperwork without leaving anyone any the wiser about it so, in less than a minute, everything was back in its place and looking completely undisturbed.
Methos settled back in with his new stack of books and continued his work, but at the back of his mind his thoughts were occupied with young Rupert Giles, his suspicion about the boy's descent now confirmed.