Slats: Moments in Time
Snapshots from the Bridges universe
See Chapter 1 for story notes.
Thanks again to Kei for the beta.
For those curious, Ace is named after the Ace Danning from Wormhole X-treme (first name mine), and is a black and gray border collie.
The first day was the hardest. It was Jack and eight little girls set up in the sitting room paying attention as Jack talked about how many people died every year from accidental gunshot wounds.
It had been a hell of a phone call. Jack had picked up, glad to hear Xander on the other end, catching up about life and slayer camp and then bam, “Hey I have a topic that I need your help with.”
“Sure, what is it?”
Xander paused long enough for a truck to drive through the hole in the conversation. “So Mae’s dad thought she should learn how to shoot a gun, to protect herself now that she has super strength. Just in case. Anyway, I was thinking that it might not be a bad idea for everyone to at least know what to do if they find a gun.” He had trailed off and Jack had stayed quiet. He could hear the blood rushing in his ears as he struggled to find something to say.
Jack’s knee-jerk reaction had been, “Are you nuts?”
“Look, I know you lost Charlie. I know what it’s like to lose someone to a stray bullet by some dumbass,” said Xander grimly. “I’m just worried that some vampire will be smart enough to take a shot or something, or one of the girls goes after a mugger thinking she’s invincible and suddenly there’s a gun on the ground and too many people grabbing for it.”
The silence had been long and heavy but Jack had said, “Okay.” God help him, he understood that terrible what if of a kid not knowing what to do with a gun.
Cleveland was chaos. When he saw the weekly schedule, it reminded Jack of boot camp: conditioning, training, classes on hand to hand fighting and weapons, tactics, field medicine. The weapons just happened to be medieval, the tactics for taking on different monsters, and the field medicine skewed toward girls with abnormal healing ability. And there were arts and crafts and tv time and cookie making duty and team names that resembled bands.
“Are you sure I can’t send you some of my Marines?” he’d asked after watching Xander break up a fight that started because “She looked
at me!” and which led to tears and two patrol teams with their backs up that clearly were in the running of some competition that no one else knew about.
“Eighth graders!” Dawn had rolled her eyes expressively to Jack when she passed, corralling the rest of the girls into their nightly duties of KP, monster research, or patrol while Xander handled World War Three. Jack sat back and played with Ace and thought about how he was going to peel back another layer of innocence from these kids in the coming week.
That’s what made the first day the hardest, knowing that he was taking the fantastic world of slayers and magic and firmly entrenching it in the gritty, human side of life and death.
“This week’s safety class is to make sure that if you encounter a gun you know how to handle it safely and that you don’t accidentally shoot someone.” Jack paused to look each girl in the eye. They each looked back, just as seriously. It was a striking contrast to the usual giggles and laughter, reinforced by the smattering of half faded bruises from the morning’s martial arts. Jack didn’t insult them by reminding them that guns were not toys, though he dearly wanted to.
“Any of you held a gun before?” he asked instead. Two of the girls raised their hands.
“Just a rifle,” said Maggie, her accent putting her from somewhere with lots of corn. “My dad and my brother hunt and I almost killed a rabbit once.”
“My friend’s brother has one,” said Abi when Jack turned to her next. “Don’t look at me like that,” she said defensively. “I’m from New York. My school has metal detectors.”
Jack nodded once and let it go. There was more than one way to lose innocence after all, and for all its smallness, it was still a big world out there.
He started the lesson in earnest after that, starting with a brief discussion of the guns they might encounter and their capabilities. He didn’t have a full blown PowerPoint presentation, but he did show them pictures of both the guns and the damage they did to a dummy. Jack didn’t falter when he talked about the 9mm handgun, but he thought about Charlie and wondered why his boy had thought it would be okay to look at it that day. He’d known better. Jack had talked to him like he was talking to these girls now. He’d known better.
Christ, what was he doing here?
He was here because Xander asked him to come and help keep his girls safe. And as much as he hated it, knowing was better than being unprepared.
Jack had four more sessions today, and tomorrow he’d bring out the weapons he’d brought and teach the girls how to dismantle and clean them. By the end of the week they’d learn how to shoot.
When the hour was over and the girls had filed out, Jack stayed behind for just a moment. The door to the sitting room creaked open a few minutes later, and Jack didn’t need to look up to know it was Xander settling in beside him.
“Thanks for this,” his son said quietly.
Jack sighed and lifted his head from his hands. “I just hope they’re wise enough to handle it,” he said.
“They are.” The assurance was confident and unhesitant. That had to be enough for Jack. “They know it’s not a game.”
Jack nodded again and scrubbed a hand over his head briefly. He wasn’t letting it go, he couldn’t, but he had made a choice and he was going to see through.
“Hey,” Xander backhanded his shoulder. “What do you say we skip dinner here and go out to eat? I could use a break from all this madness.”
Jack wondered who Xander thought he was fooling and almost laughed when he turned up an innocent smile. “Yeah,” Jack said. Fooled or not, a quiet place where they could chat in peace would be nice. “Let’s do that.”