Summary: Wesley’s life is an inevitability. Someone thinks that’s a shame.
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Angel the Series
Title, Author and URL of original story: A Valuable Skill (drabble), sunnyd_lite, http://community.livejournal.com/open_on_sunday/1962494.html
Wesley Windham-Pryce was born to be a Watcher, of course. Born to alliterate too. Born to stammer, it turned out. Wwwhich wwwas unfortunate.
(Cruel, I know. But it passes the time. I have a great deal of it to pass.)
He cured himself of stammering by the age of fourteen, thanks to ceaseless study and practice late at night. A dedicated lad. Not before merciless mockery made him melancholy, mind.
Enough with the alliteration. Let’s talk about Wesley. I watched Wesley while - (Damn. I’m stuck on W. Nemesis for my nastiness, no doubt. She’s a speedy bird, is our goddess of retribution).
Let’s say instead, I became interested in Wesley’s progress from an early date. If you’re an almost-infinitely old woman with an almost-infinitely long life which exists to do nothing but keep tabs on the Council and its Slayers, you need to have a few interests. Slayers are easy to love. Watchers... well. Less loveable, en masse, that’s certain. I’ve had my favourites over the years though; those who have a spark, or the mark of destiny on them. And the pretty ones – I’m never tired of watching those.
Wesley struck me from the start. That vulnerability, that rigid self-control concealing it, yet that flexible mind behind both. Half-Watcher, half-man, and none the worse for being complex. Or so I thought. But I was in a minority. A silent minority, at that – the most futile position to support the oppressed.
His parents... well, let’s just say they were pure-spirited descendants of the Shadow Men, with all the negatives that implies. (Positives too, of course – but I’m having trouble remembering those.) They wanted him to fit the mould. When parts of him didn’t fit, his parents aimed to cut them off. Spiritually, I mean. But no less wounding for that.
Wesley went to the Watchers Academy, of course. I wonder what they’d have done if he’d had a talent for medicine, or astrophysics? The same, I should think.
It was their unjustified luck, though fortunate for Wesley, that he had a logical, deductive mind and a talent for languages. All the makings of a fine research Watcher, in fact. Head Boy material from the outset. So of course he was hellishly miserable. Nothing like schoolchildren for spotting weaknesses in those marked out for success.
Wesley listened to his parents and ignored the pain. He studied diligently. Avoided frivolities. Was bespectacled and apathetic at games, which is always a route to the bottom of the popularity charts. I don’t know why that should have been. He had potential in physical terms, which he is now discovering. Perhaps he simply didn’t see the point in trying, given that his Pryce name gained him automatic inclusion into the house teams. Perhaps he feared inadequacy would hurt more if he showed he cared. He certainly learnt to feign indifference at an early age. So well that sometimes even I don’t know for sure when he’s faking.
They sent him to Oxford, of course. Because that’s just what a repressed member of a privileged minority needs – three years in the cradle of entrenched superiority. Credit to Wesley that he didn’t take it so; that he seized new opportunities for the first time in his life; joined societies, debated, performed, made and drank with friends from Outside The Fold. Or, as his parents saw it, Beyond The Pale. Did him the world of good. I was ready to wave him farewell, into the real world of free choices. It was a taste of liberty, and he was dizzy on it.
But at the end of it all, he got a Second. If there was one lesson Wesley learnt from his father, it was that Windham-Pryces don’t come second. They don’t socialize with inferiors; they study; take their inevitable first in Greats and occupy one of the senior offices of the Council from a time when they barely need to shave until they leave Headquarters in their distinguished coffins. They are narrow, driven, often hopelessly unrealistic. But they are First, and that is the only important fact for a Windham-Pryce.
It shook Wesley, behind his neutral mask. No matter that most of his friends also had Seconds and were pleased. No matter that it was a good degree from a great university and that the world would open for him in pretty much any field he wanted. He had tried to be different, and the resulting failure was patent. To him, at least. It was time to conform. Poker-faced, he went back to what he knew. And suffered for it.
“Did you hear? Roger’s boy got a Second.” No further comment required.
When Wesley took up a post at the Council, he was a mere Watcher-in-Waiting. No senior office for him, not with such a blot on his record. Drudge work; some minor research – very little else came his way. He had run back to safety; but it wasn’t the life he expected. He grew bitter, cold, introverted behind that facade – which itself grew more inhuman, less penetrable. In fact, he became a Windham-Pryce.
He was an utter failure as a Watcher, of course
No matter that the world faced the unprecedented situation of two Slayers, both untrained before their calling, both inclined to rebellion. No, a single po-faced novice Watcher would suffice. Because the Council said so. (Read: Because it was California, and far from Boodles and the London Library, so no one with experience fancied the trip.)
Those marvellous girls – real young women, with opinions and needs. And with freedom; the freedom that comes from strength and independence. Though, of course, they lacked freedom of choice. Wesley might have bonded with them over that, if nothing else. Like the wiser Rupert Giles, he knew a great deal about inherited inevitability and the struggle to escape into your own self. But Wesley now fitted his unsuitable mould, strain though he might against every seam. And because he suffered confinement, they must too.
Or, as it turned out, not.
Renewed failure. Public scorn. The Council cut him off, penniless, wounded and in a foreign land. A single telephone call to his hospital bed did it. Not even his father making the call – the Council’s Assistant Secretary did the honours, briskly severing Wesley from his destiny and livelihood.
One doesn’t break one’s Guardian’s vows, but I was tempted, that evening. It hurts to be a spectator to desolation, even for an old cynic like me.
He soon donned the mask again. I would have expected nothing else by this time.
He is unlucky in love, of course.
I had hopes for Wesley in recent years. His new life, perforce without the dragging heaviness of centuries of Windham-Pryce custom and practice – it seemed that change was coming. He has learnt responsibility, teamwork, friendship; he is a visible success and a man of character. But still he hesitates on the most personal level. Doesn’t want to risk himself by openness. And so he loses – not by hesitation itself, but by never putting himself forward for consideration.
He adores young Fred – not surprising, she’s a lovely girl with a sweet heart and a lethal brain. His good friend too, a freeing influence on an uptight soul. As was Charles Gunn, a brave and generous man, who has no idea that by his hopeful kiss with the girl of his dreams, he’s just slid a stiletto through the heart of free Wesley. More, they have nailed the walking Wesley-corpse once more to the stifling silence, the mask of indifferent politesse, to his solitude and his inevitable heritage of repression.
I could have screamed with frustration. But would it have helped if they knew what they’d done to Wesley? Perhaps sometimes that unchanging exterior has its uses. His hurt is his alone to bear. He consoles himself with privacy preserved, though it’s the coldest of cold comfort.
Someday soon though, I do hope he can break the mould and drop the mask and all those marvellously symbolic phrases that mean only that he will learn to be true to himself and not to that damned predestination which has nothing to do with his intrinsic Wesleyness.
Please, Wesley. Be unpredictable. Rebel against the inevitable future. Shape your destiny with deeds, not words. It can only be good for you.
Here end the Guardian’s words of wisdom. But what do I know of the world?
(Damn. Stuck on W again.)
A/N Fandom seems to have no agreed spelling for Wesley’s surname – I’ve seen at least three, all plausible. I’m sticking to my usual version, which differs from my remixee’s fic. This isn’t intended as ‘fixing’ anything.