TITLE: ...And How Do You Feel About That?
AUTHOR: Greg Downing
DISCLAIMER: Some characters belong to Mutant Enemy. Some characters belong to Jet Wolf.
SETTING: Mostly set some time after "Where the Heart is", but before "Loves, Labor, Lost". Contains spoilers for "Exchanges".
SUMMARY: Sometimes we all need someone to talk to.
...And How Do You Feel About That?
by Greg Downing
Hazel folded her arms in seeming annoyance as she flopped in the offered chair. "I don't know why we have to do this. We had this whole huge conversation weeks ago. And by all accounts, my background check came
back spot free." she growled. "What, am I under suspicion for 9/11 now?"
"Actually, this is something different, Hazel. After our first wave of debriefings following Judith's betrayal, It was suggested that regular bi-monthly sessions with the Junior Slayers might be useful, as well as filling a need not yet addressed in the current training program."
Hazel's rolled her eyes, absently tugging at her black t-shirt: she'd gotten it recently from a specialty store at the local mall. In big red letters it read 'That which does not kill me better do enough damage to keep me from kicking its ass!" Hazel smiled to herself as she remembered Faith's approval on showing her the shirt. "What need would that be...the need for Slayers to rat on each other whenever one says or does something suspicious?" she continued, shaking the thought off.
"Not at all. It's more along the lines of seeing a councilor. Someone to talk to about any issues cropping up with being a Slayer, social conflicts, and other personal issues, as well as someone to whom you can bring any out of the ordinary concerns."
Hazel arched a brow, looking curious. "Out of the ordinary concerns?" she queried.
"In the words of one who would know, being a Slayer is rather like being a weirdness magnet...although it might have less to do with being a Slayer, and more about living on a Hellmouth. Either way, it encourages you to develop a keener sense for when something is off. Things that some might dismiss as just strange or coincidence is something that might bite you in the ass later on. These meetings would - I hope - encourage all of the Slayers in Training to hone that heightened awareness. And perhaps, in so doing, allow us to deal with any threats that are forecoming with greater alacrity.
Hazel barked a laugh then. "I can't believe it."
"I assure you, what seems like the smallest thing can be a hint of something far more dangerous at work."
Hazel shook her head. "No, I mean, I can't believe you used 'alacrity' in a sentence." she smirked. She folded her hands in her lap, seeming to consider the situation.
"You can use this time however you wish, Hazel. But you and every other Junior member will be attending these meetings, so it would make sense to make the most of your time."
Hazel slowly nodded. "Okay..."
"...I'm rather curious. Was this whole councilor thing Xander's idea?" Sonja queried. She sat primly in her chair, posture perfect, dressed in a purple blouse and black skirt, and low heeled black shoes; of all the Slayers recently arrived, she seemed to dress a scosh more formally than any of the others.
"Actually, it was Buffy's. As I understand it, she spent some time as a councilor at Sunnydale High. Why do you ask?"
Sonja shrugged. "It was just something he said recently..." A hint of a smile came to her lips. "It was something like, Rule #11: No more not talking. When we don't talk, bad things happen."
"What was rule number one?"
The lovely Swede grimaced, brushing a lock of her blonde hair that had escaped the clip she used to keep her hair back. "I don't remember exactly. I think it was something like: 'No matter how we might wish otherwise, the dead should stay dead'. He didn't explain what that meant, although I got the impression it might have had more than one meaning. He's normally so...amusing, but most of those rules seemed to be pretty serious."
"Being a Slayer come with a great deal of seriousness, yes. Speaking of which, how are you adapting?"
Sonja's face lit up. "Oh, it's been wonderful...everyone's been so nice here."
"Really? Is that a tactful answer, or have you actually not had any training sessions with Kennedy or Faith yet?"
Sonja giggled, and waved a hand dismissively. "Oh well, I admit both of them can be somewhat...intimidating. But you get used to it, eventually. You learn quickly that they're there to teach you how to survive, and the worst they will ever do is bruise you black and blue doing it."
"As opposed to?"
Sonja's brow furrowed. "As opposed to what?"
"Well, you put in a qualifier. The worst 'they' - meaning Kennedy and Faith, I presume - will ever do. Is there someone that you find more intimidating than those two?"
"oh." Sonja paused, and then murmured. "Yeah, actually..."
"Buffy. She scares me." Shelly replied in a small voice.
"Why is that?"
Shelly squirmed in her chair, looking altogether uncomfortable. One might almost think she was trying to shrink into the chair and disappear the way her shoulders hunched. "It's just...she's Buffy."
"Yes, I think we've established this fact. And you're wringing your hands again. Please, try and relax. This is not an interrogation."
The young Slayer, realizing that she'd fallen victim to her nervous habit again, deliberately removed her hands from their bruising grip. She sat up a little more as a result, giving a better view of her pink t-shirt, prominently displaying a bunch of different flowers. Not knowing what to do with her hands, she stuck them in her jeans pockets. "I..." Shelly hesitated, and then began again. "It's just...the way she is. Teaching class, she's so...intense. I mean...I've heard some of the other girls say she's just condescending, but that's not it. When she looks at me, I feel like she's, like...she thinks I'm just a scared kid. That I'm weak. My god, that first day, when she called me up in front of the class, grilled me, and suddenly seemed like she was going to belt me,
I was just grateful I didn't pee my pants..."
"Buffy's not here to judge you. No one is."
"M-maybe not, but...it's just..." Shelly trailed off.
The fifteen year old hesitated, and then the words came out in a rush. "When that man, Mr. Wood, came to me, and told me I was now this way important Slayer ...I just couldn't believe it. Why me? I'm no one special. Before then, I was just this girl flunking Freshman English."
"And yet, you said yes."
"Well, duh! I mean, part of it was like: cool, I can kick more butt than Jet Li! But I was in, like, shock at the time. Now I'm in the thick of it, and real life is like, sinking in...and I'm so afraid I'm going to muck this up. The stakes are so much higher. I mean, if I muck up school, that sucks, but it only affects me. But if I muck up being a Slayer..." Shelly murmured morosely.
"That is the purpose of the classes, Shelly. To teach you. No Slayer, even when there was only one - or two - knew instinctively how to be a Slayer. It took experience, and training. It sometimes takes lessons learned the hard way. But you have what no Slayers have had before now: other Slayers to learn with, to learn from, and to fight alongside."
"But what if I'm no good at it?" Shelly persisted. "I'm not sure I could stand having Buffy looking at me with those eyes...telling me I'm totally washed out of Slayerdom.."
"I sincerely doubt that will happen. For one thing, no one can take away your Slayer status. You are a Slayer, and will be to the end of your days. This isn't a job you can be fired from. You, like all the others here, were Chosen. And that is no small thing. Whatever powers that be chose you, they saw you would have the strength to do what would be necessary. And we are all here to help you live up to your potential."
"The potential was there, okay? I mean, she still annoyed the hell out of me, but we were starting to click there, at the end, and I was seeing the possibility of us actually being friends. And then the whole mess happens...and I find out that was all a lie," Hazel sighed. "Judith was doing nothing more than trying to ingratiate herself with me in order to solidify her position. I was letting down my guard, and someone almost died."
"Hazel, there were a lot of people far closer to Willow than you also blaming themselves for what happened. But none could have known, least of all you. "
"But everyone else was accepting her at face value! I was the only one that didn't like her! I should have taken that as a sign, like I had some kind of 'impostor detecting' senses." Hazel growled.
"No one, not even Buffy or Faith, have those kinds of senses, I assure you."
Hazel sat back in her chair, sighing. "you'd think whoever made the Slayers would have thought to include that. I mean yeah, strength, speed, natural healing ability...that's all nifty. But even Superman has X-ray vision and super-hearing and stuff. It would be nice to have some powers that helped us figure out who the baddies are, instead of just beating them up."
"I would point out that your concerns are the very reason why the Watcher's Council exists. We each play a different role here...you're just one of the ones that happens to be gifted with the, ehm...'beating them up' powers."
Hazel nodded slightly. "I suppose." She quiets for a bit.
"How are you doing in your room?"
Hazel pursed her lips. "It's...uncomfortable."
"I don't know...it's just...every day since Judith went up in a puff of smoke and all her stuff was moved out, I've been thinking about rearranging my things, take advantage of the space. And every day I don't do it. Just...stare at the place where she used to live, and infuriate me." Hazel shakes her head. "It's mind boggling. I wanted her out, and she's out, and she's a traitor bitch that deserved to die...and yet I leave that empty space untouched. I mean, if I cared about her, that might make sense. I should just move on and put her behind me, huh?"
"I suspect you eventually will, Hazel. It just may take a little time."
Hazel seemed unconvinced. "It's like a scar, kind of. I mean, I could remove the taint of her just by moving into that space. Washing away the memory. Except that part of me doesn't want to. That it's a reminder."
"A reminder of what?"
"To be prepared for anything."
"...I just want to be prepared for anything. And there's so much knowledge in the library..." Sonja looks a little dreamy just thinking about it. "And I get it almost all to myself, because hardly any of the other girls seem interested in that sort of thing. Even though some of the stories about past Slayers can be so...fascinating."
"You've been reading the Watcher's Chronicles, then?"
Sonja nodded enthusiastically. "Mr. Giles has even made some of the journals from his early years with Buffy and Faith available." The teenager's brow knit. "It's rather strange, though."
"Well, I mean, the old Watcher's Chronicles are pretty straightforward: killed vampire, killed O'Coccras demon, killed vampire, killed vampire, killed nest of vampires...like that. Then we get to Mr. Giles's journals, and it becomes: killed vampire, killed scary mantis teacher, killed vampire, fought a robot that tried to seduce Slayer's mother, killed vampire, fell in love with a vampire..." Sonja looked quizzically at her councilor. "And did Buffy really kill this evil apocalypsy demon with a rocket launcher?"
"So the story goes. Rupert had no reason to make it up. I take it you find some of the stories hard to fathom?"
Sonja smirked wryly. "Well, it's rather like reading the equivalent of Captain Kirk's adventure logs, sometimes. You said a moment ago about Slayers being weirdness magnets; I guess you meant literally?"
"There does seem to have been that tendency, yes. In the old days, things were either simpler, or the Watchers were unwilling to write about any incidents that fell out of the normal human scope of believability."
"Uh-uh. Gives you some perspective, if vampires are within the 'scope of believability'." Sonja commented.
"How are you getting along with your roommate, by the way?"
Sonja rolled her eyes. "Well..."
"I sense some trepidation."
"It's...well, it's not as if we didn't have goths where I lived. But Raven just seems so...serious about it. And I mean, she's a Slayer and a goth. Hello? Can we say redundant?"
"Some might say that they go together in some ways."
Sonja snorted. "And some don't look like they fell downstairs carrying a tackle-box."
"...it's not like people haven't been nice. Some of them, anyway. Some of the older girls can be real bitches." Shelly murmured shyly. "Girls my age, sure. We sorta feel in the same boat together. It's, like, just started high school, dealing with puberty and boys and homework...and then wham! Here, let's dump super-strength and vampires on you as well!"
"I'm sorry if you're having difficulty coping with this. Do you think there should be special group sessions for the other Slayers your age?"
Shelly squirmed. "I don't know that I'm comfortable speaking for all the other girls my age..."
"You're the first one to have spoken up about this that I'm aware, Shelley. If you don't speak for them, who will? None of you should have to suffer in silence. We're here to help."
Shelley seemed to give that serious consideration. Then she squared her shoulders, her mouth taking on an unfamiliar set. "I'm not sure exactly what is required, sir...but I do think the matter should be given some attention. Maybe some sort of meeting would be a good idea...a forum where we could talk about issues." She paused, and then added, tentatively, "Maybe we shouldn't leave the older girls out of that, though? I mean...just because there's a few years age difference, doesn't mean they're not having problems?"
"That's sound thinking, Shelley. I'll make a special point of bringing it up at the next staff meeting."
Shelley glowed, seeming proud of her contribution. "Well...good. I'm glad to help!" she chirped.
"Coming back to you, however, are there issues of that regard you wish to address yourself?"
Shelley looked blank. "Huh?"
"You made mention of puberty, boys..."
Shelley turned scarlet. "Oh, well...no not really..."
"That's not very convincing. Would you rather speak about it with one of the female Watchers? I'm sure I can arrange that... you should avoid talking about something just because you might feel uncomfortable bringing it up with me..."
Shelley continued to blush. "No, it's okay, it's just... there's really not all that much to tell...I mean, there's hardly any boys around that are close to my age...well, except for Andrew and..."
Sonja blinked. "I'm sorry?"
"I was asking if you were thinking about Xander. You had this far away look on your face."
Sonja shifted in her seat, crossing her legs. "Why would you think I was thinking about Xander?"
"You've mentioned him twenty times during the better part of this hour. One draws the conclusion that you might be attached to him."
Sonja sighed. "Yes, I can see where one would draw that conclusion." she admitted ruefully.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Sonja hesitates. "No?" she replies tentatively.
"Well, all right, if you'd rather not..."
Sonja leans forward. "The thing is...he's just so hot."
"You're making fun of me." Sonja replied pugnaciously.
"Not at all. Merely curious to what else you might say on the matter. Why is he 'hot'?"
Sonja lips quirked up a little, looking at nothing in particular. "It's just...he's funny. And warm. I feel like he's really listening to me when I talk, even if I'm being all brainy or geeky or...whatever. And when I look at him, sometimes, it's as if I can see what he looked like before. You, know, as if the eyepatch wasn't there." Her face hardens slightly. "And then reality reasserts itself, and I stare at the patch and get all mad. If someone else hadn't already done it, I'd have gutted the man that did that to him."
"Clearly you feel passionate on the subject."
Sonja sighed. "Well, it's just...he shouldn't have to have scars anywhere. But he doesn't stop, in spite of it. He's been fighting the good fight for seven years, no matter how much he's been hurt, no matter that he has no powers. Wouldn't anyone admire him for that?"
"You seem to feel more than admiration."
"Well, yes. And I'm surprised that some girl hasn't snapped him up! I mean, Faith, Buffy, Willow..." Sonja coughed. "Well, okay, maybe not Willow. But all these girls knew him from before, and he's still single? They must be nuts!"
"Do you plan to ask him out, then? Claim him for yourself?"
Sonja drew little circles on her bare knee with a forefinger. "I don't know. Yes. Maybe. I'm trying to...work myself up to it."
"You might consider not waiting too long. As you, say, someone else might sweep him off his feet before you do."
Sonja blew an errant lock from her face. "I will." She asserted. She looked at her watch, then. "Time's almost up, isn't it?"
"Are you in a hurry to leave?"
Sonja shook her head. "No, this has been...good. I'm just not sure what else to say."
"Fiver's not always so great with the words, but she always seems to know just what to do. And that's what's important, isn't it?"
Hazel groaned. "I'm sorry...Faith. Fiver's my sort of nickname for her."
Hazel blinked. "What, that I could come up with a nickname for her?"
"No, that she lets you call her that."
Hazel 'oh'ed and shrugged. "Actually, she was going to punch me the first time I called her that, I remember. When I explained it was a reference to Watership Down, she understood that I wasn't making fun of her."
"You admire her a great deal, don't you?"
"She's a hero. Maybe she's not so comfortable with certain aspects of it, but...she's inspiring. I want to be just like her." Hazel asserted.
"You don't feel the same about Buffy?"
"Well, B's okay..." Hazel giggled. "Listen to me...I'm even starting to talk like Faith. Anyway...I like Buffy well enough, but she's rather...reserved. When she's not teaching, she's mostly with her friends, not hobnobbing with the Juniors. Faith makes time for me, though...she's interested in me, even likes me, I think. And she even saved my life...so you could say she's kinda...imprinted on me? Like baby chicks?"
"I can see how that would make an impact, yes."
Hazel smiled. "I want to make her proud, you know? I want to show her I have what it takes. And maybe, just maybe, I can get her to open up a little..."
"I'm sorry, we have to stop..."
"... at first, I was soooo scared. I was worried about peeing my pants." Shelly confided sagely as Dawn doodled on her cast. The cast itself already bore surprisingly many words of well wishing: mostly from other grateful Junior Slayers. In the aftermath of the assault on the stronghold of the Assemblage of Merodach, Shelly found herself with surprisingly more potential friends than she'd had prior.
Dawn, however, was a friend that had predated the siege: Buffy's sister had taken an interest in her one evening, where the two had struck up a conversation on the subject of older sisters. Shelly had been hesitant at first, but slowly warmed to the chatty seventeen-year old, marveling at how anyone could speak disdainfully of Buffy. In this case, Buffy was not the topic.
"I know all about how fights can be scary." Dawn confirmed as she concentrated on drawing a rose on the cast. "Hanging around with the Scoobies, I saw more than my fair share of trouble...after a while, you get used to it."
"Well, I mean, I'd been in fights before, right? I'd gone out on patrol, and stuff...but I wasn't there when the first Super Slayer attacked. So facing up against them then, was like...oh, shit."
Dawn looked up after a second, when Shelly trailed off. "And after 'oh, shit'?" she queried. And then realized that Shelly was looking over her shoulder. Before she could react, Dawn felt the familiar touch of fingers in her hair. "Hey, Big Sis." she chirped.
"Hey," Buffy replied fondly, before looking right at Dawn's companion. "Shelly...isn't it?" the veteran Slayer queried. Shelly, cleared her throat, nodding, sitting upright. "I've been meaning to talk to you...I noticed you during the Super Slayer battle."
"Really?" Shelly winced as her voice came out slightly squeaky, but Buffy didn't seem to notice. "You handled yourself very well...better than some of the girls older than you." She went on to say.
Shelly found herself blushing. "I...I didn't actually do that much...other girls did more damage than me..."
Buffy shook her head. "Being a Slayer's not just about the kicking ass." She said softly. "You may have saved girls' lives by helping to get the wounded out of the line of fire...and attacking the bad guys enough to distract them from doing crippling damage to others. You should be proud of what you did."
"Really?" Shelly winced again: her voice didn't squeak, but her response was not exactly original. "I mean...well, I was just doing what I could." She added, a little more starch in her words as she tried to give an adult response.
Buffy smiled. "In the end, that's all any of us can do..." Her watch beeped, and Buffy gave it a cursory glance. "I have a class shortly...but if you don't mind, I'd like to talk to you more later..."
Shelly bobbed her head so hard it looked like it might break off. And as Buffy departed, Dawn snorted. "Figures. She gives more encouragement to you than she ever did to me at your age..."
Alone in the library, a mound of books to either side of her, Sonja stared at the journal incredulously. After a moment, she rubbed her eyes and then looked at the book again, just to see if maybe her eyes were dirty, causing her to read it wrong. Rubbing her eyes did not seem to improve the journal. "That can't be right..."
"Well, if you're not completely satisfied, you can mail it back to us for a complete refund..." came a cheerful voice. Sonja glanced up and smiled at the buoyant Xander, who grinned back at her, looking at the binding of the book she was reading. While he had gently shot her down when she asked him out on a date some months ago, she had seen more of him since her invitation, as if she'd gotten his attention. "Or maybe not. I don't think the G-man will give money back on his Watcher's Diaries. What's the what?"
Sonja points at a specific line. "It says here that you conjured up a demon that turned all of Sunnydale into a musical?"
Xander's smile turned to an expression of wry chagrin. "Yeah...okay, not my best moment. On the one hand, some really funny musical numbers...on the other, dancing people self-combusting. Not to mention other... uncomfortable moments."
"So you did do it?" Sonja murmured, a look of regret coloring her features. "And here I thought you were perfect."
Xander's lips curled upwards into an almost-smile. "I'm so not perfect that I'm sure there are a dozen or so lists floating around enumerating just how imperfect I am. But I have a lot of good qualities! You shouldn't judge a book by...well, another book's contents."
Sonja hesitated, and then ventured, "Well, you could always tell your side of it. If you want. After all, someone else's account is sure to be biased." She squirmed in her chair. "We could even have lunch while we talk..."
Xander looked thoughtful. "You know, I was actually just thinking about feeding my face...so sure." he replied with that grin that made her heart twinge.
Sonja smiled back sunnily.
Faith stared numbly down. The sun was shining, and the birds chirped, and she listened to none of it. It could have been dark and raining for all she cared.
They had picked out a nice spot for it. Green grass, under the shade of an oak. The headstone was made of marble, and read simply:
SHE WAS A HERO
As the wind blew through her hair, Faith was vaguely aware there was someone approaching behind her. Giving a cursory glance, just to assure there was no threat, she continued to look down at the grave. Finally, the silence was disturbed by a gentle voice behind her.
"Do you want to talk about it?"