Buffy was going to fail the Council's test, Giles knew that. Just as Travers had made up his mind that he would shut down the Magic Box before he ever set foot in it, he had decided that nothing Buffy did would be good enough to impress him. The question wasn't how to pass the test, but how to get what they needed out of the Council regardless. Giles turned this thought over in his head again and again on his way home.
He got to his apartment and poured himself a drink. He shot it back. He could feel his brain slowing down and his nerves ease a little. He poured another glass and kept it besides him as he prepared a quick dinner.
The solution was to figure out what Travers really wanted and just give it to him, get the ordeal over with. But what was that? The only thing Giles could think of was that he wanted to punish Buffy for quitting the Council, for denying their bloated self-importance. What he wanted was her obedience.
And that was something Travers would certainly never get.
Giles' stomach was knotting up again, with nerves and anger. He stood at the breakfast bar to eat his dinner but was only able to swallow a few bites. They were trying to save the world, and wasn't that what the Watcher's Council was for? Yet here they were playing office politics. Giving up on his food he tossed it into the fridge, not bothering to cover it, and left for the Magic Box. If the only hope they had was getting on Travers' good side then he may as well be early.
Giles was annoyed to find he wasn't the first one there. One of the Watchers was leaning on the counter, idly flipping through one of Giles' books. He looked up at the sound of the bell.
"Mr. Giles. You're early." He packed a lot of condescension into an otherwise neutral statement.
"Nigel, is it?" Giles replied, struggling to remain polite. The other Watcher gave a slight nod to indicate he had gotten his name right. "You're even earlier."
"I wanted to look around. Fascinating store."
Nigel didn't bother trying to sound sincere. Giles suspected he was there under orders, probably to keep Giles from being the first to show up, another petty power play. Giles wondered if he could turn this scenario to his advantage. Nigel didn't seem as green as Wesley had been, but he must have been fairly new because Giles didn't recognize him from before he moved to California.
"Make yourself at home," he said, heading to the research area. "Would you like some tea?"
"No. Thank you," Nigel replied brusquely, and added before Giles could say anything else, "I'd like to ask you something, actually."
It was a statement, not a request, so Giles didn't bother answering. He just turned to Nigel and tried not to look affronted.
"What are you doing here?" Nigel asked.
"Here, with the Slayer, why?"
Giles was very confused at what Nigel was getting at. "I'm her Watcher."
Nigel seemed bemused by Giles' reply. "There is no Watcher without the Council."
"I beg to differ," Giles said incredulously.
"But you must have realized this yourself, that's why you came to us for help. The Council is the accumulated knowledge and resources of centuries, the Council is the bulwark against evil, we individuals just play our little role in it. It's the organization that matters, not you."
"The Council is a heartless bureaucracy, and the Slayer needs a human being to help her not a blind automaton."
For a moment Nigel looked stung. Giles reminded himself he did actually need the Council right now; he needed to control his temper.
"A good automaton is better than a poor Watcher," Nigel said with new venom. "One Slayer alive and sane out of three isn't exactly a smashing record."
Giles was taken aback, that this Watcher he had never met before yesterday was blaming him for Kendra and Faith.
Nigel continued, "Kendra was a good Slayer," he stressed good to imply Giles' other Slayers weren't, "and we lost her on your watch. And Wyndam-Pryce let you interfere far too much from what I hear."
"I don't believe safe behind a nice desk in London is any kind of position from which judge how I do my job." Giles' voice was cold, and brimming with suppressed anger.
Nigel had an infuriating, self-satisfied look to him now. He knew he had the upper hand. "But it is an excellent position from which to overhear that you've never been good at your job, Mr. Giles. As I understand it, that's why you got stuck with this assignment. The Council had already lost one good Watcher on this Slayer, why waste another. Better to send someone like you and just move on."
Giles could only blink, dumbstruck. He didn't believe Nigel, he couldn't believe him...
"I suppose you should be commended on lasting longer than expected," Nigel added with a hint of a smile.
"How gracious of you to say so." Giles' voice cracked with emotion despite himself. It was taking everything he had not to punch Nigel in the face.
The doorbell of the Magic Box jingled. It was a moment before the sound registered for Giles and he noticed Quentin Travers was there with the rest of his entourage of Watchers.
"Good evening Giles. I thought you might be early. I hope you and Nigel had a nice chat."
Giles took a second to collect himself before replying. "Quite. I do like to hear what old colleagues think of me."
Giles hadn't managed to keep the anger out of his voice, or a threatening flicker from his eyes, but if Travers noticed he didn't let it bother him. "Ah well," he chuckled, "I won't pretend gossip doesn't get around. For all your faults though, I didn't think you'd be so sensitive, Giles. But then you do tend to surprise me — I also hadn't expected you to turn your back on the mission."
"I turned my back on the Council, the Council is not the mission. We've saved the world a fair few times without your help."
"But now you need us. You need the Council. And the Council will always be here; it endures because we will do whatever it takes for the mission; whatever sacrifice, however unseemly. Sadly you've proven yourself unwilling to do the same."
Giles bristled at the implication that the Cruciamentum had somehow been for the greater good, and not simply cruel and stupid. "Buffy is the mission. She saves the world, not you." Giles said, murderously cold. He realized that Travers wanted his contrition, but it was impossible to be contrite, and he had nothing else to bargain with. There was no getting what they needed from the Council, Giles decided, not through ordinary, diplomatic means. "If you don't give her the information she needs, then you'll see what I'm willing to do. For the mission."
Travers' eyes narrowed ever so slightly, but he remained unbothered. "Is that a threat, Giles?"
"If she passes this test you won't have to find out."
"You can't win against us. You know that."
Giles' mind was racing, trying to think of a way he could make good on his threat, a way to help Buffy, a way to hurt the Council... if only he didn't need them...
The doorbell jingled again and Buffy's friends filed in, uncharacteristically subdued. Buffy would be there any minute.