I'm doing a post and run this a.m.
Apologies for taking so long, but there was a huuuuuuge kerfluffle over on the test list with this (actually, one person who hated it and then started attacking people who liked it) so I had to deal with that, then RL kicked up a notch at work.
Have I mentioned I've got waaaaay too much email to deal with right now? I've been a little scarce online. Anyway, I'm going to try to get Part 63 up here sometime this week, but I'm having trouble with a transition scene and I'm heading to Baltimore next weekened to visit friends (wo0t!), so my time is gonna be pretty crunched.
Anyway, here's Part 62. It's been waiting to be posted for 13 months. It was actually the second scene I wrote (the end is the first scene I wrote, believe it or not).
Oh, an interesting note, hyperion_lobby will be going to self-pimping on Monday. So join, and when you've got a story or an update, post it there (limited to one post per day). The rules are in the user info.
The drill: Up to part 60 can be found here.
Part 61 (the previous part) can be found here.
Only two things had gone right the entire night: getting to Erie Cemetery and leaving Erie Cemetery. Maybe that’s what really counted at the end of the day.
Buffy grabbed shotgun in the SUV and spent the entire trip home jabbering and talking in a way that Faith hadn’t seen since she’d first met the blonde menace back in the day. She and the other Slayers talked about the fight with the mud people and Buffy filled in the blanks on how she killed snake-breath. Xander, by contrast, said not a word the entire time.
Faith noticed that every once in awhile Buffy’d toss the guy a worried look. She braced herself, ready to hear the inevitable question: What’s wrong with you?
Thank Christ the question never came. While she doubted Xander’d spill the nasty secret, she had no idea how he’d react to that question right now.
Hell, she wasn’t fucking sure how she’d react if Buffy asked.
They landed at the Motherhouse with everyone tumbling out the SUV. Xander weakly protested when Faith grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and without a word frog-marched him to one of the three full baths in the house.
“Shut the fuck up,” Faith hissed at him when weak protest turned into a louder one. “You are on a schedule. You pass out like you are in your bed, you’re cleaning up the mess.” Not exactly diplomatic, but it won her that argument.
The hour after that was a blur of messy Slayers—blood-soaked ones first—lining up for the showers. Then there was the inspection of cuts and scrapes to check the healing while the girl in question babbled about how fucking awesome wicked cool kick-in-the-head great Slayer healing was.
A few things stood out: Charlie and J’Nal ascending the stairs to Willow’s room talking in low voices that didn’t sound at all good. A couple of Slayers carrying the still unconscious Willow upstairs. Catherine racing through the house curled around that goddamned Grail while everyone scattered out of the way. Giles following shortly after, pale and still shaking, muttering apologies for needing to pull over once on the way home because it got to be too much.
Considering what she heard from Dawn and Andrew, and taking into account the feeling of suffocation she felt as Catherine passed her, Faith concluded that Giles had balls of steel if he only needed to pull over the once. She definitely didn’t begrudge him when he said that he needed to get to bed because he was exhausted from the strain of keeping his shit together all the way home.
At some point she even got the chance to hit the shower, get in clean clothes, and chuck her ruined clothes in the garbage can outside.
When the craziness was starting to subside, Kennedy, fresh from her own shower, silently went up the stairs.
“Don’t go interrupting Charlie and J’Nal,” Faith snapped at her back.
Kennedy looked over her shoulder, showing Faith a catalogue of worry lines etched around her eyes and mouth. “I won’t. I just want to wait…I mean…I…I need to…”
Faith interrupted the other Slayer with a silent nod and watched Kennedy finish her ascent.
A few Slayers were drifting to bed. A few others stayed up and talked in hushed, excited voices about whatever fight they were involved in. Faith found herself studying each and every girl. Is that one getting a little too tired? Is that one maybe not as steady as she should be on her feet? Is that one a little too clumsy?
Much as she didn’t want to answer the question—Is someone here going to get this shimmy-shakes?—she couldn’t help it. Her eyes ached with the effort of trying to find some clue. She could feel the threat of a headache just waiting to pounce and the overwhelming urge to punch her fist through the wall in frustration.
Just when she was about to throw that punch, Vi’s voice stopped her.
“Hey, anyone know where Xander is?”
Faith looked around and realized that Cyclops was among the missing. She’d seen him earlier, helping to get the girls organized and checking injuries, but now that she thought about it, she hadn’t seen him in awhile. One of two options: He’s either hanging with Kennedy or he actually did something smart and went to bed before he passed out, Faith thought.
Buffy materialized at Faith’s left shoulder and hesitantly said, “He, uhm, he kinda needed a little alone time.”
Back when Faith made her not-so-welcome return to the SunnyD, all the girls made fun of B’s speeches and habit of hogging all the attention for herself. Okay, they did it behind B’s back, but still they did it. Every time B opened her trap you could see all the girls and, hell, even the little Scoobs bracing themselves for the shit. About the only time she had their undivided serious attention was when she proposed that goddamned spell to make them all Slayers.
Well, well, well. I’ve gone from wanting to punch the wall to wanting to punch B. Some mean little part of her hoped that Buffy would get bit by that fucking disease Charlie talked about. Then again B was always the lucky one, so it probably wouldn’t happen.
Hell, Charlie told her she was in the lucky boat and she definitely deserved to get it as much as B. Shit. She knew the real deal about being a Slayer even without the 411 from the future and she fucking went right along for the ride like it was no big deal.
As if sensing Faith’s unspoken hostility, Buffy looked down at the carpet and uncomfortably shuffled, her damp hair hanging in her eyes. For a moment, Buffy looked so lost and young that Faith wondered if Xander had spilled the beans.
The other girls fell silent, watching and paying attention to Buffy in a way they hadn’t since Sunnydale fell into the center of the earth.
“You see…um…” Faith tensed while Buffy tripped over her own tongue, “Four months ago to the day Spike and Anya died.”
Faith snapped her head around to look at the other girls and saw that they seemed as shocked as she felt. They’d all forgotten. Only four months ago they were fighting for their lives, convinced they were going to be crushed like ants, and they still forgot. They forgot about Anya. They forgot about Spike. Hell, they forgot about their friends that didn’t make it out.
She had a feeling that she wasn’t the only one who was going to have trouble sleeping tonight.
“Oh god. Poor Xander,” Lisa said. “And with Willow…”
“Yeah,” Buffy agreed quietly. “I’m…um…sorry to bring it up, but you kinda asked and…”
“Why didn’t no one mention anything?” Faith asked.
Buffy looked at her and hesitated a beat before giving Faith a tight smile. “We didn’t want to say anything because we had this big thing and,” she waved her hands uselessly, “we didn’t want to jinx it.”
Faith wasn’t entirely sure she bought it, even if the explanation sounded about right.
“Should we do something?” Vi was sitting straight and looking guilty.
“Like what?” Barbara asked.
“I dunno. Just something,” Vi said.
“Not tonight,” Buffy said in a tired voice. “With everything…maybe tomorrow we’ll do something. Chip in on flowers or…or…” she brightened “…breakfast in bed?”
“What about you?” Faith asked. “You need something?”
Buffy looked at Faith with surprise and then was startled by a chorus of soft ‘yeah’s of agreement from the other girls. She looked down again, blushing around her sad smile. “I’m okay, believe it or not. I mean, I’m not okay, okay, but I will be. Okay I mean.” She looked up again, smile turning up an extra wattage point. “Thanks for asking, though.” She yawned. “I’m going to sit with Kennedy a little and then I’m turning in.”
As Buffy turned to leave, Faith reached out and halted her with a touch. “I’m sorry, B,” Faith said quietly. “I wasn’t exactly a fan, but Spike did right by you and everyone else in the end and no one can say he didn’t.”
“Thanks,” Buffy said quietly. Then she left.
Faith drew a deep breath and looked back at the girls. They were sitting there, all lost in their own thoughts. It was right about then that Faith figured there was one thing she could do—no, scratch that—should do before the night was over.
She quietly crept away with her mission firmly in mind. The first thing she did was check Xander’s room. Andrew was already in bed and out cold, but Xander was nowhere to be seen. Then she started a systematic search, sneaking through the halls like a thief, stealing peaks into various rooms, and checking with Kennedy and the yawning Buffy to make sure they didn't see him.
She was going to find him hell or high water and according to the clocks in the house she still had two hours to do it. The brownstone had plenty of hidey-holes if he was serious about disappearing, but this conversation couldn’t wait. She had to do it now or she’d never do it at all.
Sooner or later you will have to come to grips with it. My advice to you is that you best do it before circumstances forces you to do so or removes the possibility altogether.
Tonight came close enough to too late. Next time—and she knew there’d be a next time—too close might become too late.
No shit she’d be intruding, but on some level she knew this was her last shot.
Ironically enough she found him on the front stoop of all places, sitting stiffly, with his back to the door. She could dig it: he didn’t want to be alone, but he didn’t want to have to deal with other people. Been there. Done that. Have the goofy-ass t-shirt, she thought.
“Hey,” she quietly called.
Xander’s shoulders squared, the only sign he heard her.
“Coming down,” she announced, keeping to his right as she walked down the stairs, stopping when she hit the sidewalk. She turned and leaned against the wrought iron handrail so she could look at him.
There was a pause before Xander spoke in an exhausted voice. “No smoke?”
Her fingers reflexively twitched. “Nah. Lost ’em. Trying to see how long before I give in and cough up the cash to buy a new pack.”
There was another deadly silence before Xander spoke in that monotone. “Oh. Alone time. I’ll go back inside so you can…”
Xander checked himself, although this time he did look at her, cocking his head to the side in that odd way he’d picked up so she was firmly in his line of sight. He was getting good at manipulating the fake left eye so it looked like it was tracking to where his right eye was looking, but when he was tired like this she noticed it tended to wander blindly. People who didn’t know the real deal would probably find this illusion of him peeking under his bangs charming, like he was some shy puppy that desperately wanted you to like him but was afraid you’d kick him instead.
Now when the hell did I notice all that about him? she wondered as her mind scrambled to find the words. To be honest, she just had a plan to find him; she didn’t actually have a prepared speech.
“I, unh…heard. From Buffy. About…ummm…are you copasetic?” Smooth. That’s right. Prove you’re anything resembling sincere by stuttering. Oh, and by not talking about what you want to talk about.
He closed his eyes and turned away. Faith just wanted to kick herself.
After an eternity, he dredged up a response. “I’ll go back in. Give me a few…”
“S’okay. People pretty much understand.” Faith kicked at the pavement. Just say it already! “See, they figure if you want to talk, you’ll, like, talk to someone. But you ain’t built like that so I figured one of the mountains should get off their ass and check it out.”
“Mountains?” There was a flash of amusement there.
“You know, that shit about Mohammed and mountains.”
“I’ve heard the expression.” More amusement. “I’m just wondering…”
“One of my cellmates found God,” Faith said. “Well, more like Allah, if you get my drift. You ever notice that? Some people start wanting to hang with God, Allah, Jesus, or what have you after they’ve fucked up their lives? I mean, what the fuck is up with that?”
Xander’s eyebrows comically drew together and she could see him fighting a smile. “Ooooh-kay. It’s official. You’re beginning to talk like a Scooby.”
“Am not,” she reflexively disagreed.
“Faith? You’re dancing so fast around whatever it is you’re dancing around that you’re making my head hurt,” the smile disappeared, “so whatever it is, get it the hell over with because I’m not in the mood.”
Right. “You scare the piss out of me, you know that?”
That was enough to get Xander to look at her full-on, surprise stamped on his features.
“You—the fucking idea of you—scares the shit right out of me. You, Alexander Harris, are the scariest motherfucker I’ve ever met, and since I went toe-to-toe with Angelus, had Buffy after my scalp, and screwed with some pretty dicey people, that’s gotta tell you something, right?” Funny how that now that she said it, she knew it was true.
He remained silent, but his face fell into no expression at all. He had no idea where she was going, so he was playing it the only way he knew how: don’t feed the fire, keep his mouth shut, and wait to see if she threw a punch at him.
Yeah, she knew what that was like, especially since she wasn’t sure where she was going either. Time to go with the gut.
“See, I could get where everyone was coming from. But you?” She waved a hand at him. “I don’t get you. Not at all. See, if you were like, I dunno, wanting something from me? Or wanting a piece of me? I could get that. Hell, I’d even deserve it. I got shit from B when I showed up in Sunnydale, little sis gave me her share, Giles couldn’t see me past Buffy, Spike spent time staring at my tits before smacking me around, the Potentials wanted me only because I wasn’t Buffy, and I walked out of Sunnydale with Robin’s dick in my hand. But you? Nothing. I just got nothing. I got no shit, but I didn’t get anything else out of you either.”
A bubble of irritation gave itself away in his voice. “I really don’t see…”
“Look, all I’m trying to say is…Christ…that’s why I haven’t…that’s why I’ve been such a…” Faith gritted her teeth and tried again. “What I’m trying to say is that it was easy to say sorry to everyone but you because with them that shit wasn’t personal. Playing with Angel back in the Dale was all about Buffy. Screwing over Buffy wasn’t so much about her as it was about me wanting what she had—like the cool mom, and the friends, and the still-breathing Watcher. Torturing Wes was all about him ratting me out to the Council back in the day.”
“This is supposed to make me feel better. Just business with everyone else but, hey, I’m special because…” Xander cut off his voice, clenched his jaw, and looked away. “So, you’re saying it’s all my fault so you don’t think I deserve an…”
“No…I mean…yeah, what I did with you? That was personal. I was trying to kill you when I, you know,” she took a breath and weakly added, “tried to kill you.”
His head wobbled in disbelief. “Thanks. I feel sooo much better listening to that dashboard confession.”
“But don’t you see?” she dropped onto the step at his feet. “It’s because you scare the piss out of me. I’m not saying it was your fault. It’s wasn’t. And I’m not tryin’ to say it was. It’s just that saying ‘Yo! About the bruises! Sorry. At least they healed, right? So, we’re good?’ is just weak shit to say, especially because the whole fucking thing was personal for both me and for you.”
Xander looked away, staring vacantly down the sidewalk, not saying anything. On the good side, he wasn’t telling her to shut the fuck up and storming away. On the bad side, he wasn’t about to help her through this. She was well and truly on her fucking own.
Fair enough. No point in being a pussy about it. She was never one for croc tears anyway.
“See the thing is, of all the people I’ve hurt, I think I hurt you the most. I didn’t just use you as a fucking dildo. I kicked you in the nuts and then made you feel like shit I scraped from the bottom of my shoe just because I could.”
He looked back at her, once more off balance because she stated her list of crimes in such a cold light. “This is all about power, isn’t it?” he asked, just a trace of sarcasm.
She kicked back and leaned against the wrought iron, staring at the tip of his steel-toed workboots. “Power is funny shit. You got it, or you don’t. The screwy thing is you got the power, always did even if no one saw it because it wasn’t knock-you-on-your-ass power. Now me? I could break you in half, but all I’d be doing is breaking you in half, right?”
“Would still be just as dead,” Xander grunted.
“Yeah, but think about the shit I pulled on you. In your fucking shoes, I’d be steering clear of me, leaving town, calling in a hit, anything to make sure I was gone. But you’re not. You’re sitting there actually talking to me. Hell, past few days you’ve been telling me where to get off. You might be nervous as hell, but then again you might not. I don’t know because you don’t treat me any different from anyone else.” She looked up into his confused expression. “You want to know power? That my one-eyed friend is power and that’s power you can’t kill no matter how hard you try.”
“I don’t understand.”
It hit her just then. The only reason why Xander was still sitting there instead of telling her to go to hell was because she bought a moment of grace by carrying Willow out of the maze. So she took a deep breath and ordered herself, Don’t blow this.
“What I’m trying to say is if you were just like everyone else? I could deal. If you were a little less on the up-and-up in dealing with people around here? If you were looking at the newbies like they were a hole and a heartbeat? I could rest easy knowing you weren’t any different from any other guy with a dick. Then I could hand you that weak-ass apology and walk away clean feeling all fuzzy about myself.”
“So again, my fault because I’m not a complete asshole?” There was a trace of amusement in the question. “If I slapped your ass when you walked by would that help?”
Faith barked a laugh because it was so unexpected. Xander was throwing her a rope. A slim rope true, but he did it even though he didn’t have to.
“Thing is back in the day, you know, when I threw you down on the bed, did the tease, and then strangled you,” it seemed easier admitting it now that someone had finally mentioned the elephant in the corner, “I really did figure you were looking for an easy score off desperate, damsel-in-distress me. I honestly did. I still believed it when Willow came to pick me up from LA, following?”
Xander’s face was back to serious and he nodded.
“’Cept I show up in the Dale and I get nothing from you, like I said. Plus, shit just started piling up the second I pulled up to B’s door, so I really didn’t get a chance to catch you. Anyway, you get hurt, things blow up with B, then I get blown up, then we got right to the big battle, then we’re running our asses to Cleveland. Next thing you know, one day in the Dale turns into four months later in Cleveland. All that time I see you keeping your shit together, helping other people keep their shit together, and not asking for a fucking thing in return.”
“Which you’ve said, so I don’t get where you’re going.”
Damn. He really is listening, isn’t he? Faith took a breath. “So it hits me, because I’m slow on the uptake, that maybe, just maybe, you were being something like sincere when you showed up in my room that night with an offer to help or be my friend. That you weren’t looking for another taste and that it was exactly how you said. Which means I’m 100-fucking-percent at fault. I fucked up. Not you. I fucked up because for a minute back in the Dale I believed you and that scared the piss out of me so I dealt by trying to obliterate you. It still scares the piss out of me that despite all that, you’d fucking throw your life away to save anyone in this goddamn house, including me. It scares the piss out of me that you’re actually the real deal and I was the one that almost made you a memory before I had a chance to see it.”
“One of many, actually,” Xander said thoughtfully, hand subconsciously touching his left cheek. “I’ve got a dangerous job, remember?”
“Yeah, but I don’t want to be just Faith-the-chick-who-tried-to-off-me to you. I want to be Faith-we’ve-had-our-problems-but-she’s-o
“Yeah,” he quietly said.
“Good. Because I’ve got no fucking clue why that’s important to me, but there you go.” She took a breath and once more looked up into his face. He had an expression, but she could be damned if she could figure out what it meant. “So here goes: I’m sorry. I fucked up when I fucked you over. I know you’ll never trust me, and I don’t blame you for that. I just want you to know that I know that I blew any connection I could’ve had with you and blew it but good.”
Something relaxed around his mouth and he studied her. He was quiet long enough for Faith to start squirming, so she jumped a little when he finally spoke.
“You know how they say there’s some things you can’t ever apologize for?” He gave her a small smile. “They’d be wrong. Thanks.”
She dropped her eyes and was back to playing with his bootlaces. While not a rousing vote of confidence in her sincerity, it was at least a start. More than she expected to get from him if she were being brutally honest, so she’ll take it.
“This isn’t because of Catherine, is it?” he asked.
Her head shot up at that and she recognized the sly, sarcastic amusement on his face.
“Nope. When I came out the other day on this here stoop I was trying to, you know, make it right somehow between us and…”
“I told you where to get off.” His body language relaxed. “Look, don’t take this wrong way, but I’m relieved to hear it because, no offense, me and you? Sitting where I am right now I just don’t see it.”
Faith gave him a dimpled grin. “Can’t argue with that.” She stood, brushing off her ass as she did so. “I’m going in.”
“I’ll come with,” he said as he stood. “I’m getting cold and I can wait for news about Robin and Willow inside as well as outside.”
They entered the house without another word, just in time to see Catherine stealing out the backdoor looking several shades of troubled.
“You don’t think Willow…” Faith began.
“No,” Xander cut her off. “If they were losing Willow, there’d be more noise and it’s still pretty quiet. It’s something else.”
Faith stopped and rubbed her neck. “Want me to get this one?” she asked.
“Nah. I’ve got it. I think I know what’s bothering her.” Xander moved past Faith and followed Catherine.
Faith hesitated a moment and without knowing why stole after him. She hit the kitchen and peered out into the backyard. There was Catherine sitting dejectedly on the bench, and there was Xander, hands in pockets, approaching all casual-like.
She watched as he sat down and began talking to her. Somewhere in there, Catherine’s spirits seemed to perk and at one point she started giggling. Faith felt the corners of her mouth tug upward in sympathetic relief that the storm passed with no drama.
The whole scene was enough to make her stop and think. Back in the Dale on that night she was dealing with Xander-then, before he knew exactly how to get to someone. If Xander-now went back and dealt with Faith-then? There was no doubt in her mind that the outcome would be a very different thing, complete with her taking him up on that wasted opportunity to call someone a friend and mean it.
Yeah, she’s willing to cop to it, he still scares the piss out of her.
Catherine’s head twitched, but she didn’t say anything.
Xander responded by shoving his hands in his pockets. “So, where’s the grail?”
“Tucked up in the rafters, “ Catherine waved at the roof of the house, “Ruda and Ms. Tikri are standing guard over it, just in case.”
Xander looked up at the house. “Sure it’s far enough away to prevent people from going fetal?”
“We checked with some of the Slayers before they went to bed. They get a little nervous when they go near,” Catherine frowned as she reached for the right word, “you know that hole in the ceiling with the ladder?”
“When it’s open and the ladder is down they get nervous. Otherwise, they all said they felt fine.” She hunched her shoulders. “Sorry about that. We got a little carried away.”
Xander took a deep breath and plopped down on the bench next to her. “I saw Willow, remember? Believe me I understand.” He paused, teeth worrying his bottom lip. “I guess I’m just surprised that you’re not up there with them. I mean, what’s with the disappearing act? Hiding in the backyard? I may not know you that well, but this doesn’t strike me as you.”
“I left you.”
He shrugged. “Didn’t have a choice.”
“I had a choice,” she turned around to face him. “I could’ve…”
“Stayed with me, let the big ugly eat you, me, and Buffy and leave your Slayer all alone?” Xander asked in all innocence.
“One, you and Sumers-r…I mean Buffy are just fine. Two, Ruda’s not alone. That’s what the team is about.”
“But she relies on you,” Xander interrupted. “I don’t know if you noticed, but you’re on an alien world, so it probably would’ve been a pretty dumb move to trade yourself for me. Dumb’s my territory not yours.”
“I hate that.”
“I hate it when you put yourself down.” She looked away and added in a softer voice. “It’s not right.”
“Because it’s kinda like putting you and your whole family down?”
“No, because it’s you.”
Xander sighed. “Not much of a -rah or a -sen in me, hunh?”
“But that’s the point, there, well, kinda is. Sorta.”
“Way to boost my ego.”
“Okay, look, the whole -sen thing is as uncomfortable for me as it is for you,” the Watcher Honoria admitted. “That’s a Slayer thing, which I’m definitely not, so…”
“But you could have been,” Xander stated as he studied her profile. “Why turn it down?”
“I told you…”
“The real story.”
Catherine’s mouth twitched. “I wasn’t chosen.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Look, I know any Slayer from my time would tell you that they chose, and they did to a certain extent. But it goes two ways. Just because you have the Potential, doesn’t mean you should do it.”
“Sounds like hiding your light under a bushel.”
Catherine turned to face him, as if she were pleading for him to understand. “Or maybe because I knew I’d make a lousy Slayer. I mean, look at Ruda. She loves being a Slayer and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just a part of her personality. Me? I tasted the power and just knew it’d be a constant fight to strike some balance between the Slayer and the girl and I just didn’t want it.”
“What are you talking about? You’re smart, you’ve got leadership skills, you know how to…”
“But I’d always be wondering where Catherine ended and the Slayer began,” Catherine interrupted. “At least this way I know it’s all me, all the way. If I screw up, it’s because I screwed up. If I do good, it’s because I did good. I didn’t even want to be a Potential.”
“You always wanted to be a Watcher, sorry, Watcher Honoria?” Xander asked.
“Didn’t even want that,” Catherine chuckled. “My family, see, has always been involved as either Watchers Honoria or Slayers or researchers or weapons-makers or Prima, or something. There isn’t one of us that didn’t go into the family business. I just wanted to try something different. Be someone different.”
“You probably pulled a Giles right after the vision quest, right? Went a little wild, made with the bad magic, came back older and wiser with a serious tweed addiction?”
“Forget it,” Xander chuckled.
Catherine sat in silence for a few moments. “Thing is, I got sent out on the Vision Quest, saw the First Slayer, got asked the question, and when I looked in her eyes, I knew.”
“Bet she wasn’t happy when you said no.”
“I knew I wanted to be a Watcher Honoria. I knew just like that,” Catherine snapped her fingers. “Don’t get me wrong, I love power funnies and sometimes I think it would be nice to leap tall structures in one jump, but I like being Catherine even more. So I told her: I wanted to be a Watcher Honoria and she couldn’t make me be a Slayer, even if she killed me.”
“So what happened?” Xander was hanging on every word.
“You know? It’s the strangest thing because she gave me a personal message even though I said no. She smiled, kissed me on the forehead, said ‘You do your family great honor,’ and then she was gone.”
“Wow,” she agreed.
“Kinda sad, though,” Xander said.
“Still got stuck in the family business instead of doing your own thing. I’m sorry about that.”
Catherine smiled what was fast becoming a too-familiar grin. “I’m not. I like my job and I like my people. Besides, I got to do it my way, which in the end is what counts.” She giggled. “You should’ve seen how everyone in the family reacted.”
“Why do I get they were thrilled, except not.”
“Horrified. My family has been populated with Slayers since you and Faith…” she cleared her throat. “Well, there’ve been a lot and not one has ever turned it down, well, at least since Potentials got the ability to turn it down. Along comes me, the first girl in the family to say no thanks.”
“Let me guess: there was much yelling and breaking of glass?”
“Oooooh, yeah,” Catherine giggled again. “They’re over it now. Hada, even my mom agrees I probably made the right decision. Hard as it may be for you to believe, I am good at my job.”
“I know you are.” When Catherine looked at him in surprise, he added with a shrug, “I can tell by the way your team reacts to you. They like you, but they respect you, too. It’s kinda like us and Giles, or at least that’s the way it was in the early days. The last two years have been, well I probably don’t have to tell you, bad. Really bad. But I’d like to, I dunno, I kinda miss the G-man.” Xander looked around and conspiratorially added, “But don’t tell him that. I think he likes being under appreciated.”
“Secret’s safe with me,” Catherine grinned.