Dawn bounced down the stairs and into the dining room, now fully dressed and ready for school. "Hey guys," she said, throwing herself heavily into one of the chairs and grabbing an empty glass and carton of orange juice that sat in the center.
"'Bout time you joined the waking world," Willow said, looking up from her laptop to smile at the teen. "This wake-by-shouting is starting to be a habit, though. We need to getcha an alarm clock."
"Oh, I have an alarm clock," Dawn replied, draining her glass and snatching the toast that was sitting on Willow's plate. "I just, you know ... ignore it."
Her eyes focused on the glowing screen of the laptop, Willow reached blindly towards her plate, her hand grasping at the air where the toast had been just moments before. She felt around the general area with confusion, then glanced up to see the last of her buttery repast disappear into Dawn's mouth. The withering glare was completely lost on Dawn.
"Ahh, selective hearing. I know it well." Xander entered the room with a decent-sized stack of waffles and a bottle of syrup. He placed the plate in front of an empty chair and dusted his hands off on the frilly pink apron he wore tied around his waist. "Mornin' Dawnster," he beamed. "Want some toast? I think I've finally mastered the little knob with the numbers on it and I'm anxious to demonstrate my new culinary skills."
"No thanks, I've already eaten," Dawn replied, ignoring Willow's loud grumbles. "I have to leave to catch the bus in a minute anyway." Dawn got a wistful, far-away glint in her eye. "Catching the bus to school. The dream of every junior girl. Certainly not getting her license and maybe a sweet little convertible paid for by Council funds that have been conveniently redirected to easily accessible accounts by an incredibly loving and generous and wonderful redhead hacker-witch." Her speech complete, she grinned hopefully and turned her huge doe-eyes on Willow.
Willow stared back with an expression that clearly said this ploy wasn't working. At all. "Sorry, I couldn't hear you. I was too busy not eating my toast."
Xander snickered and shoveled a huge forkful of syrupy waffle into his mouth.
"Wil-low, c'mon. It's a measly drop in an extremely vast and deep bucket," pleaded Dawn.
"And it's also not what the money is for! We're using it to rebuild the Council from the ground-up, to- to make it actually work for the Slayers instead of just sitting back there all imperious and order-y. It's not for buying personal stuff, Dawn, you know that."
"Like, say, a state of the art, fully-loaded laptop?"
Willow unconsciously curled her arms protectively around the computer in front of her. "That's different. I use it for Council work."
"Plus she lets me log on and play Everquest sometimes," added Xander with a grin that faltered as soon as he caught Willow's look. "I mean ... No convertibles. Convertibles bad."
Dawn sighed the long-suffering sigh of teenagers everywhere. "Fine," she pouted. "Can I at least get my license?"
"Learning to drive first might be a good idea," Xander said around another mouthful of waffle.
Willow nodded. "An' you kinda ... you know ... "
"You drive like Buffy."
Jaw agape, Dawn turned on Xander. "I so do not."
"Yeah, kinda." The only response was a series of inarticulate yet clearly insulted noises. "How many times have I had to fix the mailbox?" asked Xander. Dawn closed her mouth and huffed. "I rest my case."
"Well how can I ever get better without practice?"
Xander and Willow shared a look for a moment, and then Willow turned to Dawn. "You're right. We'll ... We'll start letting you drive with us. Again. After we stock up on valium."
"God help us all," Xander added softly.
Dawn squealed in delight and leapt to her feet. "You guys are the best! This very nearly makes up for the horrific scars of adolescence that I'll be carrying for the rest of my life by riding the school bus today."
"Just remember that when you write that nasty tell-all book," smirked Willow, kissing Dawn's cheek as the teenager bent down to give her a hug. Dawn moved to Xander, who mirrored Willow's actions.
"And make sure not to leave out the parts where we locked you in a closet for three days and nights with only a crust of bread and a ladle of water after making you scrub the bathroom floors with a toothbrush."
Dawn rolled her eyes but the huge grin on her face sapped away any clinging elements of sarcasm. She gathered her books and headed towards the door. "I'll see you guys later," she said.
"Have a good day at school!" called Willow.
"Learn a lot!" Xander said.
"Good luck on your math test!"
"Don't talk to strangers!"
"Look both ways before crossing the street!"
"God, I'm living with June and Ward Cleaver," Dawn chuckled, closing the door behind her.
Xander considered Dawn's parting words carefully before standing up and gathering the dirty dishes from the table. "So which one of us is which?"
With an appraising eye, Willow looked at Xander from head to toe. "Let's just say I don't think Ward would be caught dead in that apron."
With something akin to repulsion, Xander looked down at the lacy pink garment still tied around his waist. "Oh god," he said with horror, quickly heading into the kitchen with the dishes while Willow laughed and shook her head.
"Anything new and fascinating on the World Wide Whatever-it-is?" Xander called from the kitchen over the sound of running water.
"Not a lot," Willow replied. "My e-mail to Oz keeps bouncing. Oo, that's so typical of him! Here I am, all talky, and he's just sittin' back wherever being Mr. Stony Face. Except, of course, they're bouncing ... which I guess means he's not actually seeing them, but I feel my point is still valid. Anyway, last time I heard from him, we were still planning on setting up shop in Cleveland, so I hope he doesn't try to pull another spontaneous doorstep arrival or he'll be bitterly disappointed."
"How about Buffy, heard from her lately?"
Willow frowned and shook her head, despite Xander not being able to see the motion. "Not a thing, not since she left London." She looked up at Xander as he re-entered the room, now sans apron, and took the seat next to her. "I-I'm kinda worried about her. But she's Buffy, so I probably shouldn't worry. I'm sure she's off livin' the life of Riley." Willow paused and frowned again. "Though probably not with Riley since he's all super secret undercover monster-fighting jungle agent guy. And, you know, married. Plus I don't think there are many jungles in London. ...Do you think she's with Riley, do you think maybe that's why she hasn't called?"
"I doubt she's with Riley," said Xander, "but I'm sure she's okay. She's most likely hanging out in some cozy little British pub, drinking lukewarm beer and desperately trying to figure out the 'bangers' in bangers and mash."
The redhead nodded, but her expression became sad as she trailed her finger aimlessly over the touchpad on her laptop. "D'you ... Do you think she misses us?"
Xander reached over and gently squeezed Willow's shoulder. "I know she does. She misses us just as much as we miss her."
"Then why won't she come home?" Willow asked, a hint of anger touching her voice. "She's been gone for nearly two months now, and she doesn't even call to check up on us anymore! I-It's like, now there's a couple hundred Slayers in the world, she's just washed her hands of the whole thing. Like- Like she only ever hung around because there was always some new evil to fight."
"Will." At the gentle tone in Xander's voice, Willow looked up, her eyes beginning to shine with unshed tears of hurt and anger. "Buffy was not just our friend because we helped her take out vampires, banish a Hellgod and beat the crap out of some cybernetic demon Frankenstein who looked like he stepped out of a Picasso painting. Buffy loves us. For us. She just needs this. She's spent the last seven years fighting evil on the Hellmouth and she needs a break. That's all."
This did little to placate Willow, and she waved her hand in frustration at Xander's words. "Us too, Xander. You, me, Giles, we all fought on the Hellmouth for the last seven years. We've all felt the pain and we've all made sacrifices. But we're still here. We didn't just decide to up and run to Europe the second we got settled down again."
"I know, but that was our choice. We were volunteers in Buffy's army, and we could've quit any time we wanted to. We still could. Buffy never had that. Now she does, and this is her choice. We've gotta respect that."
Willow sighed heavily and ran a hand through her hair. "Yeah, I know. It's just ... I miss her, Xander. I want Buffy to come home."
"Me too, Will. Me too."
At the sound of the door opening, Giles looked up from the stack of papers on the desk in front of him and smiled broadly. He rose to his feet and quickly strode across the room to greet the young girl who tentatively entered his office. She seemed tall for her age and moved with a gangly awkwardness as she walked forward, tucking a lock of short, jet-black hair behind her ear.
"Mr. Giles, this is Judith. Judith, this is Mr. Giles." Andrew leaned towards the girl and lowered his voice to what he thought was a conspiratorial whisper. "He seems really intimidating and stuff, but it's really just the accent."
Giles shot Andrew a look that managed to be intimidating without a word being spoken, and the young man immediately went rigid and stepped away from Judith's side. "Uhm, tea! I bet you'd like some tea, right Mr. Giles? Would you like some tea, Judith? I just picked up an exciting variety pack of Twinings for a very reasonable price. I believe a cup of English breakfast tea would help you relax after your flight. Although it's not really breakfast time anymore, is it? Can you have English breakfast tea for lunch, Mr. Giles?"
Andrew looked expectantly at Giles, his tangent having dispelled any lingering tension. Giles for his part had removed his glasses and was massaging the bridge of his nose as Andrew's tension found its new home. "That sounds lovely, Andrew, two cups please," he sighed, ignoring the question.
"Okey-dokey," said Andrew cheerily, and he left the office, closing the door behind him.
Giles readjusted his glasses and smiled warmly at the girl standing in front of him. "I do apologize for Andrew. His ... enthusiasm is often less than infectious, but he means well." He gestured to one of the plush, comfortable-looking chairs arranged in front of his desk and moved around to his own. Judith took the offered seat and visibly tried to relax.
"Yeah, I kinda gathered that." She looked around the room, her eyes taking in the piles of boxes and assorted books that littered every available square inch of surface, including most of the floor.
"Please excuse the mess. I'm afraid we're still in the moving-in process." Judith nodded shyly and continued to examine the volumes with their strange and ornate covers, before moving to the tapestries and photographs lining the walls. Her eyes finally came to rest on the scythe mounted on the wall behind Giles' desk.
Judith tried not to openly gape, but she couldn't completely help herself. "Is that..?" she started to ask. Giles followed her gaze and smiled at her reaction.
"I see Faith actually went through the part about the Slayer history this time," he said, obviously pleased.
Judith smirked at that and looked at Giles. "Well, she said something like, 'Red worked the mojo on this big-ass Slayer axe that unlocked all the newbie potentials. That's why you can punch a hole through a brick wall and have the stamina of a racehorse.' Then she told me I should 'get my butt to Pennsylvania' and gave me your business card."
Giles removed his glasses and began polishing them on the handkerchief that he'd whipped out of his pants pocket. "Yes, well, not quite the speech we'd written for her, but I suppose it gets the message across."
"Mr. Giles, this is all so ... " Judith took a deep breath and tried to focus her thoughts. "Strange. I mean, one second I'm lying on my bed feeling exhausted from a long day at school, and the next I feel like I could run ten miles and still have energy left over. I know puberty brings some changes, but this seems kinda much."
He chuckled and leaned forward, clasping his hands together and resting them on the desktop. "I can only imagine." Giles' face became earnest as he locked eyes with the girl in front of him. "But that's why we're here, Judith. That's why you're here. There are great evils in the world, dark forces that would conspire to destroy all that we hold dear. For millennia, there was only one girl who stood alone against those forces, a lone girl who would fight, and die, for the safety of the world. Now there are many, each gifted with supernatural speed, strength, senses and ability. My compatriots and I are working to bring these girls together, to train them, teach them how to use their abilities. I won't lie to you, Judith. The life of a Slayer is violent and dangerous. You will be out there, directly battling those forces. I cannot guarantee you safety, nor can I guarantee you a life free from pain. I can, however, guarantee you the absolute best training in the control and use of your powers, and the fact that unlike the Slayers before you, you will never have to face evil alone."
Giles leaned back in his chair, judging from the look on Judith's face that she had heard, and fully understood what he was telling her. "I can also guarantee you something that no Slayer before you has ever had – a choice. You can walk out of here right now and not look back, and you will never hear from us again. Or, you can decide to embrace the powers that have been given to you, stay here with the Council and help us protect the world. The choice is yours, Judith."
The door opened, and Judith jumped as she turned. Andrew entered, carrying an old-time silver tea tray with a teapot, two cups and a plate of cookies much like the one that was half dangling out of Andrew's mouth. He placed the tray on the clear spot Giles had made and smiled at the girl as he chewed a bite of the cookie. "Jaffa cakes," he explained. "Mr. Giles gets them on order from England. They're scrumdidlyumptious."
"What a delightful word. I'm going to assume it's a compliment," said Giles dryly, pouring tea first for Judith and then himself.
Andrew "mmm"'d in agreement and regarded Judith, who was blowing tentatively on her cup of tea. "So, what's the verdict? You planning on living up to your womanly potential and embracing your destiny as a Slayer of Vampyres?"
The girl considered this question carefully, looking first at Andrew and then at Giles. Whereas Andrew was only barely able to contain his desire to root for the home team, Giles met Judith's gaze calmly and without a hint of pressure as he sipped his tea. "I think..." said Judith, glancing up at the scythe and then back to Giles. "I think I'd like to learn to be a Slayer."
"Yes!" Andrew exclaimed enthusiastically. "Oh, you'll love it here, Judith. Slayer Central has the most awesome rec room. Xander – I can't wait 'til you meet Xander, he's just the coolest guy in the entire world – built us a custom entertainment center with a wide-screen hi-definition TV, progressive scan DVD player, and a space for my Xbox. I'm currently on my fifth game of 'Knights of the Old Republic'. Do you like Star Wars? I can't wait for Episode Three ..."
As Andrew babbled to a slightly overwhelmed Judith, Giles continued to sip his tea and smile happily.
The roar of the motorcycle shattered the idyllic peace of the quiet neighborhood as it rounded a corner at a speed considerably above that of the posted 20 MPH limit. An elderly lady looked up from her gardening to glare at the rider as the bike tore down the street, but the vehicle neither sped up nor slowed down. With pursed lips, the woman turned back to her pogonias, muttering under her breath about the lack of respect in the youth of today.
At a four-way intersection, the rider brought the motorcycle to a stop. Faith inspected the street sign and flicked her eyes to one side, trying to remember which direction she was supposed to go next. The street names not ringing any bells, she took stock of her surroundings as though searching for some clue that would point her the right way. Instead she found herself examining the rows of bright, clean, cookie-cutter houses that lined both sides of the street; each with a perfectly manicured lawn, two car garage, and absolutely no character whatsoever.
"Check out the American dream," she said to herself with no small amount of disdain. Faith stuck her hand into the pocket of her tight leather jacket and pulled out a folded and slightly crumpled piece of paper. She smoothed the page, tracing her finger down the list of directions until finally coming to a stop at the bottom. Double-checking the street signs, Faith seemed satisfied that she knew where to go and quickly folded the paper, shoving it back into her pocket. Settling down in the seat once more, she revved the engine and turned right, startling a squirrel who ran up one of the many trees that lined the street. The thunder of the engine echoed long after the bike had disappeared from view.
"Forty-seven! Forty-eight! Forty-nine! Fifty!" Kennedy's voice rang out and reverberated around the gymnasium. She watched the group of fifteen girls complete their jumping jacks, her arms crossed over her chest as she marched back and forth in front of them. Her hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail that swished around her face whenever she spun on her heel and her mouth was set in a hard line. Kennedy was all business.
"Alright, pair off! We're practicing the Korfec maneuver. Alternate roles between attacker and attackee. You're not leaving here today until you complete it successfully on me. Lynn, up front; we'll start with you."
A girl about six inches taller than Kennedy stepped forward from the group. Her hair was a light brown and her eyes a pale blue, which only served to further the contrast between the two. Kennedy smirked and looked up at Lynn, clearly feeling no intimidation whatsoever at the height difference. As for Lynn, her face was a mask of intense concentration as she narrowed her eyes and tensed her muscles, sinking further into the mats that covered the gymnasium floor. The tension between the pair of combatants grew, but they simply continued to stare at each other.
The only forewarning Kennedy had for Lynn's attack was a slight shift in her weight, but it was enough. The younger girl's fist never had a chance to connect with its intended target as Kennedy's arm swung around and deflected the blow rushing towards the side of her head. Lynn had focused all of her strength behind the punch, so she was severely thrown off balance when it missed and she stumbled. Kennedy didn't, and immediately dropped to the ground. Executing a perfect leg sweep, she knocked Lynn into the air. Continuing the momentum from her move, Kennedy leapt to her feet and shot her hand out to wrap it around Lynn's neck. Forcefully, but not severe enough to cause any damage outside of some external bruising, Kennedy drove the girl flat on her back into the mat. Lynn grunted as the air was forced from her body and she blinked rapidly, her eyes struggling to focus. The first thing they saw was Kennedy leaning over, her hand still wrapped firmly around the girl's throat and the smirk that hadn't once wavered continuing to curl her lips.
Kennedy released her grip and stood up, offering her hand. The girl accepted and was pulled to her feet, rubbing unconsciously at her neck. "Sloppy," Kennedy appraised. "Don't put everything you've got behind a move that'll leave you so exposed, especially when you telegraph it from a mile away. My gran'ma would've seen that coming, and she's been blind since '96." Lynn nodded, still massaging her throat and trying hard to regain some of the dignity she'd left behind on the mat.
She opened her mouth to say something else, but Kennedy's attention was drawn to a well-groomed man in a three-piece suit standing off to the side observing the training class with rapt attention. He saw Kennedy notice him and smiled, nodding his head with approval and encouraging her to continue. Instead she frowned and looked back at Lynn. "Go join Xue and Martha," she said, "I'll be back in a few."
Trusting that her commands were being followed, Kennedy devoted her entire attention to the man in front of her as she strode purposely towards him.
"Kennedy," he greeted warmly, the faintest touch of a British accent coming through in his speech. "Most impressive maneuver out there. The class is coming along well?"
"What're you doing here?" she replied, crossing her arms again and glaring.
"Guess I walked into that one. What else would a Watcher do?" asked Kennedy mostly to herself.
The Watcher's face split in a genuine, if somewhat goofy-looking grin and he barked out a laugh. "Yes, I suppose that was to be expected."
Kennedy rolled her eyes, not bothering to hide her disdain for the conversation, and walked briskly past the man towards a stack of mats against the wall. She grabbed a towel that was tossed on top of the stack, wiping her face and draping it around her neck as she fished out a bottle of water from the nearby ice chest. She turned around again to find the Watcher standing directly behind her.
"Personal space, Nate. It's a bold new concept. Look into it."
"Nathaniel, please," he corrected, watching Kennedy move a few feet away and lean against the wall. "And I'm sorry that you feel my presence here is an intrusion, but—"
"I feel like it's an intrusion because it is an intrusion," Kennedy interrupted. "Look, I know you're just doing your job..." She looked the man up and down with a critically appraising eye. "...Whatever the hell that may be. But the bottom line is, I know what I'm doing. I don't need a babysitter standing over my shoulder telling me which end of a sword is the pointy one."
Nathaniel visibly bristled at Kennedy's words, but when he spoke, it was with a calm and even voice. "You're quite talented, true. Nobody is saying otherwise. But you are a new Slayer, Kennedy. You have had your powers for the exact same length of time as the rest of these girls." He held his hand up to cut off the Slayer's protests before they could be given voice. "I know you've had training. I know you've had a Watcher. But the very fact that you feel you have learned all you need to know only further proves that you have not."
Kennedy stopped drinking and paused, the bottle still tilted to her lips. After a moment she lowered it and looked at Nathaniel, her eyes narrowing. "And you think you're the one to teach me."
If he felt intimidated by the look, he never let it show. "I believe that we have a lot to teach each other, if you will only give us a chance."
The two held a locked gaze for several heartbeats, neither willing to be the first to look away. Then Kennedy's face shifted and her entire stance changed. She shrugged nonchalantly and took a final quick sip from the water bottle before capping it and tossing it on top of the mats. "Ah what the hell," she resigned, "it could be good for a few laughs."
Nathaniel blinked in surprise, clearly thrown off by the drastic turn-around but recovering quickly. "Splendid! This should be a highly enriching experience for us both."
"We're just training, Nate, don't get all excited. Besides, I'm taken..." Kennedy marched back towards the group of Slayers who were still attacking each other with gusto. Nathaniel quickly followed and she cast a look over her shoulder at him as she walked across the gym. "...And you're really not my type."
Any possible reply was cut off by Kennedy's return to the group. "Alright, listen up maggots!" she shouted, demanding everyone's full attention. "Switch partners and get ready to come up here and show me what you've got."
As the Slayers rearranged themselves, Kennedy turned to Nathaniel. "So, what's up first for you and me?"
"I was thinking we might address your, uhm ... People skills," the Watcher replied. "'Maggot'?" he repeated, incredulously.
"Oh yeah, this Watcher thing's gonna be real enriching."
The sound of the lunch bell continued to ring in the distance, drowned out by the loud laughter and chatter of Trillium High School's student body. Dawn and two other girls broke away from the crowd and made their way to one of the park benches dotting the front lawn, unslinging their backpacks and dropping their books on the tabletop.
"So I was, like, 'Pharmaceuticals? Like I want to be a glorified drug pusher for the rest of my life'," Jackie complained, a sneer twisting her features. She shook her head, tossing red hair that was obviously from a bottle out of her eyes as she searched for something in her backpack. "I mean, seriously, can you see me stuck in a lab coat selling Xanex and Viagra every day? Nooo thank you."
Brenda finished unwrapping a sandwich and looked up. "My parents haven't really started yet," she said in her usual quiet voice, "but my mother's bringing home those postcards for college catalogues and stuff, so I figure I'm due for the talk any day now."
Popping the top of her Coke, Dawn nodded in understanding. "I'm not sure what I want to do either. I mean, the obvious answer is research, but—" She broke off when she noticed the other two staring at her, disbelief etched on their faces.
"It sounds really boring, I know, but you'd be surprised," Dawn clarified. "Some of the texts I've seen would make you ... Well, let's just say that Stephen King could write fifty books this year on just one of the volumes Giles has," she added with a hint of amusement.
Her friends didn't share in the humor. "Research? Eww," shuddered Jackie. "I thought the point of getting a degree was to get away from school, not consign yourself to a hell of perpetual homework."
"Honestly, it's not that bad," countered Dawn, trying to persuade her friends without obviously trying to persuade them. A separate thought occurred to her and she rolled her eyes slightly with no small amount of contempt. "Besides, it's better than my slacker older sister. She dropped out to go wander around Europe for god knows how long."
"Europe? That is so cool!" Brenda exclaimed with great enthusiasm as Dawn blinked at her with surprise.
Jackie echoed that statement with gusto. "Totally! Christina's brother did the same thing. He was gone for like half a year or something and when he came back he was all rugged and had tons of stories and all these interesting friends from all over the world. It's real-life stuff, you know? That's what I'm talking about." She poked a Cheeto towards her friends for emphasis. "Life isn't all about school and surrounding yourself with a bunch of boring facts and dusty old books that nobody gives a crap about anymore. It's about living." She took a swig of Dawn's Coke, feeling very proud of herself for having made such an important declaration.
"Maybe we should do that after graduation," Brenda suggested.
"Yeah, maybe!" Jackie looked up, her eyes sparkling with excitement, but she calmed again quickly as a thought occurred to her. "Can you see me telling my dad that, though? I think his head would explode. Then he'd prescribe me some Paxil or something." She rolled her eyes at the ceaseless lack of understanding inherent in all parents.
Her friends agreed with much sympathy. Brenda took another bite of sandwich and glanced next to her at the mountain of stuff Dawn had pulled out of her backpack during her quest for lunch. Her eyes were pulled to a small black velvet pouch, drawn closed tightly with a red string. "Hey Dawn, what's this?" she asked, gesturing at the pouch.
Dawn glanced over, leaning to one side to peer around a pile of books blocking her view. "Oh, that's just something my..." She trailed off, looking for a word to properly describe her relationship with the witch. She gave up with a small shrug when nothing came to mind. "Something Willow gave me. It's for protection and stuff."
"Protection?" queried Jackie, raising her eyebrows in interest.
"Yeah. Some herbs, a bit of—" Dawn wiggled her fingers. "Nothing major, just a little ward," she added with an almost bored tone.
Brenda's eyes widened and she scooted closer to Dawn, dropping her voice to a whisper. "Magic?"
Dawn shrugged again. "Something like that. It's really more herbally earthy goodness, though." She turned back to her lunch, dismissing the pouch without much of a second thought, not finding anything particularly compelling about it.
Her friends clearly didn't share her nonchalance. "Wow," sighed Brenda, full of awe as she sat back.
Jackie took it much more in stride, but was also clearly impressed. "Magic. I swear, Dawn, you have the coolest family ever." She glanced at Dawn seriously. "How did you wind up wanting to do boring stuff like research when you have all these awesome people around you?"
The girl shook her head, expressing her utter incomprehension of Dawn's choices as she stole another drink of Coke. Dawn looked at Jackie for a moment before dropping her gaze, suddenly finding her peanut butter sandwich fascinating.
"I'll have the grilled salmon with baked potato," Robin Wood said, folding his menu and handing it to the waitress.
Giles followed suit with his menu. "Fish and chips, please." He glanced over at Wood's amused look and added, "I feel it's my duty to live up to the stereotype."
"So long as you can do it without eating some internal organ that was never meant to be eaten, I support you," responded Wood with a grin.
As the waitress left to place the order, the two sat in companionable silence, unwrapping their silverware and straightening out the napkin. Giles took a sip of water, wetting his throat.
"How was the flight?" he finally asked.
"Cramped, bumpy and devoid of peanuts. I won't mind sleeping for a few days in my actual bed, let me tell you." Giles nodded in understanding. "But the trip was good," Wood continued. "I think she'll join us."
"Most excellent." Both men looked up and thanked the waitress as she delivered a basket of breadsticks to the table. Giles reached for one and placed it on his plate, but abandoned it there as he returned to the conversation. "Our Watcher to Slayer ratio is in desperate need of balancing. We've already had to double up most Watchers. Some even have three Slayers, which is far from ideal." He removed his glasses and polished them on the handkerchief he had produced from his jacket pocket. "I-I'm not sure what we'll do if we don't get more Watchers soon."
Wood tore the end off of his own breadstick and looked at Giles. "Sorta makes you wish Willow could've unlocked some Watcher potentials while she was busy changing the world, huh? You know, awakened that deep, spiritual need to train, organize and drink tea that exists somewhere deep in the hearts of the chosen few." He smirked as he popped the piece of bread into his mouth.
"Ahh yes, my life's role reduced to a few choice verbs," remarked Giles. He checked his glasses one final time before putting them back on. "I sincerely hope you used a less concentrated version when talking to Ms. Newbury."
The nod he received was enthusiastic. "Don't worry. I stressed the death and danger aspects too."
"I'm sure they'll be flocking to our doors," Giles said with no small amount of sarcasm.
"Well you do offer a nice dental plan."
Reaching for the glass of water in front of him, the Watcher traced a finger around the rim. "How were things otherwise?" he finally asked. "Anything else of interest?"
"Not especially. It was a pretty average town," replied Wood easily. He then gave Giles' question more thought, and frowned slightly. "Were you expecting something else?"
Giles shook his head, but his face was worried. "No, no, not as such. Just that..." There was a pause as Giles sorted out his thoughts. "The magicks Willow harnessed to unlock the power of the scythe were far greater than any seen in this world for centuries. That kind of power simply does not pass without notice. And with Slayers awakening around the world... There are just so many of them now, relatively speaking." His face became gravely serious. "A veritable army of Slayers. Few could stand against them."
Wood pushed back slightly from Giles, having leaned closer as the conversation sobered. "Which is good, right? I mean I know that I feel safer battling evil with a platoon of Slayers at my back," he added hopefully.
"Provided that we were able to convince every Slayer in the world to join our cause, I would agree with you wholeheartedly. However experience has shown us that not every Slayer is called with a sense of altruism." Giles ran a hand through his hair and his eyes took on a far-away look. "I wonder ... how long can it be before someone else realizes that?"