** ** **
Previously on "A Bolt from the Blue":
"Xander?" she said in a questioning, suddenly serious tone.
"I've got a confession to make."
"This doesn't have anything to do with that song-and-dance demon, does it? Cause I kinda thought I was covering for Dawn on that."
"I kn-know your friends -- the ones who are coming over -- they're the Teen Titans."
Oh shit. I need to breathe. Breathing is good. Breathing is my friend. In, out. In, out. In, out. Oh God, what do I do now? Deny it? Laugh it off and pretend I don't know what she's talking about. Or maybe, just maybe.... Pop quiz, Alexander Lavelle Harris. The woman who's snuck in under your radar and become your best friend in the whole world just told you she knows about the part of your life you thought you've been hiding. What do you do? What DO you do?
"How did you know?" I asked, making my choice.
"It's your ring," she said, lifting up my right hand and running her finger lightly across the ring I wear there. The ring I've worn for so long that it's become a part of me. The ring I've worn for so long that I never even thought of it as a clue. Eighteen-karat gold, a yellow lightning bolt against a circular field of red on top. Our insignia, Barry's and mine. Practically a coat of arms for us. "It's very unique," I heard her say as I realized just how I'd blown it. "Only two people in the whole world have a ring like this. The Flash is one, and you're much too young to be him." Considering that Barry's been doing this since I was only ten years old, that's kind of a gimme. Her eyes caught mine and I could tell she was looking for some sign of what I'm thinking. A sign of whether or not I was angry at her. My initial panic and fear had already vanished and I found, to even my own surprise, that there was no anger there at all. So I just smiled at her, made a leap of faith and trust and pronounced her conclusion for her. My emotions had been all over the map in just the past couple minutes. Now only calmness remained.
"You're right. The Flash has one of these rings...and Kid Flash has the other."
** ** **
"Soda?" I asked. "This'll be easier to talk about if I've something to sip at and drink while I'm talking and I'm guessing you have a lot of questions and I'm gonna be doing a lot of talking and my throat will be visiting Dryville. Population: Me."
"Not a lot of questions. A-actually, you don't have to tell me anything if you don't want to. But if you do, well, doesn't need to be said, remember?"
I smiled. When we'd first started really becoming friends -- sadly, not 'til AFTER she and Willow split up -- I told her that if she ever neeeded someone to talk to, I'd be there. She just looked at me with this wistful half-smile thing of hers and told me that she knew and it didn't even need to be said and thanks for saying it anyway. It was part of our personal shorthand now, that "doesn't need to be said." I think it was then that I knew that if I could only pick my own family, I'd choose her to be my sister over Buffy and Willow any day.
"It's okay. I don't -- Would you believe you're the only person outside of the Titans and the JLA, well, SOME members of the JLA, that knows anything about this? As much of a friend as Anya's been, I haven't even told her. And Giles, the closest thing I've ever had to a REAL father? Even if they knew or found out somehow, I don't think I could talk to them."
Tara's forehead smoothed out and her eyebrows scrunched together as she digested this. "Why haven't you ever told us yourself? At least Buffy or Willow."
"Did Willow ever tell you about our high school graduation?"
"Where the mayor turned into a big snake you had to blow up the school to kill him? She told me a little, but she always went off on a tangent about how evil this Faith was and all the bad things she did."
I sighed. "Willow.... For a long time, Will was Buffy's only real female friend. Her confidant. Then Faith showed up and Willow's jealousy meter went off the charts. Faith and Buffy, they had this instant Slayer's connection between them. Will's insecurity just gorged itself on that. Could be wrong, but I think Faith could tell that Willow hated her and really enjoyed pushing her buttons."
"And then you and Faith...."
"I blew that one big time. I shouldn't have slept with Faith. Slept with. Yeah, right. Like she let me stay in the room long enough to fall asleep. I should've said no. She felt like she was being deliberately left out of our whole Scooby Gang 'family' thing. So was I, which is a whole other story. If I stopped things when they started getting sexual, been the friend she needed instead.... She didn't do the Anakin-to-Vader deal out of hate, whatever Will thinks. She was desperate, scared and feeling alone. She fell into the darkness and I, we, couldn't reach her. There are only two things I regret more than that.
"The mayor had this little army put together. Vamps and other nasties. There was an eclipse set for graduation day and they'd be free to run wild with the sun covered up. Well, we knew we couldn't take them out and still take out the mayor, so we recruited the rest of the seniors. Some quick training and weapons and they were our army. My army. They followed my training, my orders and let me lead them." My voice cracked and I had to force myself to breathe, but my breathing was rough and ragged. I tasted a salty liquid on my lips and realized I was crying. Bitterness flared in my heart and voice as I spoke again. "I led them, all right. Led them to their deaths. We stopped the Ascension, but we lost so many. Too many, Tara. So much blood on my hands that I'll NEVER forgive myself for. They trusted me and I got them killed."
I stood up, turned and walked into the hallway. If I stayed on the sofa, Tara would reach out to comfort me and I would let her. And I couldn't accept that comfort. I didn't deserve it. "Willow told you about the Halloween costume soldier possession. One of the many things I never forgot from that is what they call 'The General's Privilege.' The commanding general is ALWAYS ultimately responsible for everything that happens on the battlefield. Every victory, every loss, every casualty. Buffy may have been the one fighting the Mayor, but I was commanding general of the senior class. There's no passing the buck any further. Each death was entirely my fault. General's privilege.
"I couldn't stay after that. I kept thinking about the parents who'd lost their children because of me. The kids who wouldn't get to see their brothers or sisters ever again. Sooner or later I'd run into them somewhere. How could I face them? My road trip was only supposed to be two weeks. That night I decided not to come back. If I hadn't run into Dead Boy and if he hadn't asked me to come back and look after Buffy, well, I'd probably be living in Titans Tower right now, trying desperately to forget the name Sunnydale."
With a deep breath, I closed my eyes, rolled my shoulders and pulled myself together. I could feel her standing behind me and the emotional warmth she gave off washed over me. Living on the Hellmouth, I learned there ain't much you can count on. Having her there when I'd tried, however pathetically, to cut myself off from her comfort proved one of those things all over again. Whatever the situation, Tara would always have my back.
"We'll talk about that later. Promise. I made my way across the country AFTER I got done stripping in Oxnard. And details of that are COMPLETELY out of the question. Unless you want to trade hot stories sometime. Wound up in a little place in the Midwest."
"Yep. Home of The Flash. First night there, I'm out looking for a McDonald's when I see these vamps stalking two couples in a parking lot. So I jumped them. The vamps, not the couples. Well, let's just say these guys were even dumber than the usual Sunnydale variety. Didn't have to be a Slayer to dust them. When the couples shook off the shock, I explained about the undead and one of them offered to put me up while I was in town. So I got my stuff out of the motel and crashed in Barry and Tina's guest room. I mentioned wanting to make a little money so I could rent a place of my own when I got back to Sunnydale. Barry and Julio -- the guy part of the other couple -- got me a daytime janitor's job at the police station they worked in. Which is how I happened to be in front of their chemical rack when the lightning bolt came through the window."
"You were hit by lightning?"
"Not directly. The lightning hit the chemicals. The chemicals got a big charge out of this and decided to spread the joy by splattering themselves all over me. The shockwave from the lightning and thunder sent me flying backwards, which is how my head connected with the solid, heavy wood base of the lab table. Not an experience I recommend, by the way. More of a 'Whump! Thud, Instant Unconsciousness' thing than an a 'screaming-in-unbearable-agony' thing. But still not fun. When I woke up, I was in the hospital. Barry and Tina were there when I opened my eyes. After a little accident where I knocked my coffee cup of the table and managed to catch the cup before it hit the ground and catch the spilled coffee in midair WITH the cup, I knew something weird had happened to me. Barry left the room to make a phone call and a couple minutes later The Flash was there. He explained what happened and offered to teach me how to control my new speed. And the rest is, well, the rest."
"Except that still doesn't say why you never told us."
"Things were...not as bad as now, that's for sure. But they were still bad. Somewhere along the way, they decided I was useless. Until what happened after I left Faith that night, I believed them. It's never been like that with the Titans. We've been a family since the day we met. When I got back here that fall, I didn't feel close enough to either Buffy or Willow to tell them. And things got worse before they got better." I shrugged. "By then, it was just natural to keep things seperate."
I coughed. My throat was dry from talking and swollen from my earlier crying. "I'm gonna get those sodas now. Back in a minute."
"That long?" she asked, smiling wickedly.
"Hey, even I can't make gravity pull the soda into the glass any faster."
I dashed into the kitchen, got the glasses out of the cabinet and the soda out of the fridge. I tipped the two-liter bottle into the glass and stared in confusion when the soda didn't pour. Smacking myself in the forehead, I shook my head and chuckled. 'Okay, let's try this again,' I thought. 'This time, the cap comes off the bottle first.' The doorbell rang just as I filled Tara's cup.