The paths of heroes

The following is part of a blogburst, a simultaneous, cross-linked posting of many blogs on a single theme. This blogburst concerns Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff series, Angel. For a guide to other Buffy/Angel articles, go to The Buffy BlogBurst Index.
He sits across the small table, eyeing me with a cautious, hard stare over the wire rims of his glasses. He is the very model of the man who has seen too much to be troubled by the likes of me; but still, he also knows well enough not to underestimate by appearance.
In this case, though, the appearance is correct. I’m harmless.
“Why am I here?” he asks in a smooth British voice.
“Excellent question. Why are any of us here? A bit deep for this early in the morning though, don’t you think?” I settle for glibness, as I’m not sure I know the answer in sincerity.
He keeps staring. A waitress arrives and delivers me coffee; for him, tea.
Still staring. A patient man, indeed.
“To talk,” I admit finally. “That’s all.”
His posture remains wary, but I can see his eyes soften slightly.
“Indeed,” he says, looking around the cafe. “Why don’t we start with where we are, then.”
“Southern California,” I say with a slight smile. “Not far from Sunnydale, or at least, where it would be.”
The wariness returns to his expression, now tinged with genuine concern. “Would be?”
“Sorry,” I say quickly. “Different universe. No Sunnydale here.”
This is a man for whom that is a perfectly sensible explanation, and so he relaxes once more. “No Buffy, then? Who is the Slayer?”
“No Slayer,” I say. “No vampires.”
For the first time I think I have truly shocked him, and he blinks at his tea, taking this in. He makes work out of his tea ritual for a few moments, finally taking a sip and wincing slightly before looking me in the eye again.
“This must be a wonderful universe indeed. No vampires…” He looks thoughtful. “Demons?”
Curiosity is replacing wariness on his face as he understands. “No magic at all, then?”
“Not a drop.”
“Well,” he says, taking it in. “That must make matters… simpler.”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?”
He waits, patiently.
“I said there were no demons here, but I guess that’s not completely true,” I begin. “It’s just that here, they don’t simply wear a human face; they are human.”
“Not so different, then,” he replies. “Not every evil in my world is supernatural.”
“No,” I counter. “It is different. Certainly, there are men who do evil in your world. But your great struggles … the great evils that must be defeated, those that threaten the world itself; they don’t come from humanity.”
He considers this, looking at me solemnly. “And you believe you face such a great evil now? An evil that comes from within humanity?”
I nod, trying to find purchase in my thoughts; somewhere to start.
And so I tell him about September. About those who have sworn to destroy my country, and the hatred they have for everything I value about our civilization. About the pain they have already inflicted, and my deep, pervading fear that the worst is yet to come.
His expression is grim, now, as he considers what I have told him. I realize suddenly that while this man has faced the end of the world; the end of everything many times over, he has never truly faced a horror like the one in New York that I have described to him. He has lost battles, yes. But never one like this; never one with a price so high.
“You cannot change the minds of these people?” he asks, though I know he realizes the answer. He is thorough, to the last.
“Who can know?” I say in a moment of total honesty. “Perhaps some. But most; no. They are too far gone.”
He nods, and looks at me, his expression hard. “Then you must fight them, with every power this world has to offer you.”
I smile faintly, acknowledging this wisdom. “That, I know,” I say. “But here’s where we get to the other big difference between your world and mine.”
And I tell him of the debates. The discussions; the delays, the apologies well-meaning people provide for the murderers. The vast power my nation has to bring justice and freedom to the world; and the equally vast hesitation that we have at using it. The schism between those, like me, who believe that if we do not act, our very world may be threatened, and those who feel that for us to act at all would plunge the world into chaos; those that believe that somewhere along the line, we lost the moral clarity necessary for us to know right from wrong, and that in the end, that makes us no different from those who seek to destroy us. Those that believe, perhaps, that evil does not exist at all.
“In your world, the lines are clearer,” I conclude. “You disagree; you debate, you argue at times. But only for a few minutes. And then the path is clear; difficult, I know; horribly so at times. But you know what must be done, and nobody argues that the demon who just murdered half the town should be allowed to walk free because he grew up in a poor, oppressed dimension.”
He pauses. “Sometimes, they do,” he says softly, his eyes hard. And I remember Jenny, and curse myself.
“I’m sorry,” I say gently. “But that was different, and I know you know that. He was not the same man… not the same thing that killed her.”
I push onward. “But here, the murderers need not repent for their crimes to be excused and justified. Christians speak of original sin, but what I see is original innocence; the idea that some people may be excused any acts of barbarism no matter how horrific, simply because they were sinned against themsleves. It’s worse than the ends justifying the means; here, the root causes justify the means.”
He looks at me calmly, expression unreadable, and I wonder if he has not forgiven me my foolish slip. “Are you a soldier?” he asks abruptly.
I laugh once. “Hardly,” I admit. “I’m just… nobody. One man in a country of millions. A guy with what he thinks is a good sense of what is happening in the world, and grand ideas about what must be done of it.” I pause. “On good days, I think I’m a writer. Other days… not so much.”
“A writer,” he says thoughtfully, ignoring my qualification. “That is… appropriate.”
I observe him quizzically. “Why?”
“The war you fight,” he begins slowly, “It is not one of battles like those I have seen. Your nation can destroy any enemy once they are identified; once the will is found that frees you to act. Once the battle is engaged, there seems no question who will emerge the victor.”
“Your true struggle, it seems, is finding that will. Of building the consensus that lets you enter the battle at all. And that is where the real war is, and where your task lies.”
I smile. “I try,” I admit. “But one voice among so many…”
“Is the voice that may turn the tide,” he says forcefully, cutting me off.
He looks me up and down, and I feel my measure being taken. “I will tell you this,” he says. “I do not know which frightens me more. The enemy you face… or the terrible power that your nation holds in its hands to fight that threat.”
“If you are mistaken,” he warns, “If you misjudge… the consequences will be… severe . Choose wisely, and argue well.”
I nod, and we sit for a moment in silence.
“Why me?” he asks, breaking our reverie. “Why not Buffy?”
I do not hesitate; I knew the question would come.
“Because Buffy is a hero who is pure of heart,” I answer. “No matter how much I explained; how evil the acts of these men were, I don’t think she could ever give up on them. She has too much faith in humanity for that.”
I look him straight in the eye, and quote his own words. “She’s not like us,” I say, with a rueful smile. “And in this war, her compassion would be her undoing. And ours.”
“Whereas I…” he says, and it is barely a question.
“…know that sometimes, the world is not black and white. That difficult things must sometime be done. That sometimes our own innocence cannot be preserved, if we want to make the world safe for the true innocents,” I say, and allow my gaze to fall to his hands.
He nods, declining to argue my description, or the implicit charge of my eyes.
“You are a different kind of hero,” I continue. “The kind who makes the hard choices. Who sees that not acting, and ensuring that you do not risk your own moral purity, is sometimes not the truly moral path to take at all.”
“In other words, you are the kind of hero that I fear we will need in this war,” I conclude.
The silence draws out again, and I notice that his tea has gone; as has my coffee.
“Just out the door?” he asks, and I nod.
He rises, and I stand with him.
“Give our best to Buffy,” I say. “Our worlds need both kinds of heroes. Perhaps someday we will make a world here where those who think like you and I are truly obsolete. But for now… ”
“For now, you will fight,” he declares. “In the war of ideas; in the way you know best.”
I extend my hand, and he shakes it firmly. “Good luck in your war,” he says solemnly.
“And to you in yours,” I reply. “I fear things may be getting interesting for you again very soon.”
A flash of true humor crosses his face for the first time. “When has it ever not been?” he asks.
And with that, he is gone. And I am left with an empty coffee cup, and thoughts of heroes.