Now, what have we learned, kids?
A/N (read: rant) Scuse me a minute, folks... *gets out soap box, stands on it* Look, I'm sure plenty of people reading this also read other authors' works on this site, and some of you probably even post yourselves. I read a lot of other authors, and there's one thing I've noticed that would make so many stories better: PROOF-READ, PEOPLE! Look over your own work: make sure subjects and verbs agree; make sure you finish sentences and attribute the right words and actions to the right people; pay attention to your spell-checker when it underlines words. Reading it aloud, hearing the flow, can really help, and make the whole thing more natural. (Also, I'd really appreciate folks learning which homonym is which- I may do a whole post of that at some point, especially if people ask for it.) It truly pains me the number of times I have been reading a story, and said something like “The ideas in this story are great, it's a pity it's so hard to read the damn thing,” especially when it's clear that the author just needed to read it over and tweak the technical details. CHECK YOUR WORK! Thank you for your time. /rant (Please, feel free to add this as an author's note at the beginning of your works, or use it to comment on others' stuff. Just make it clear that this is not an attack, but a plea for mindfulness.)
Also, one more bit. (ye gads, this could go on for pages. Must be brief...) And this is an important one. Each character's dialogue gets one paragraph
That means when one character talks, a new paragraph starts, and the paragraph doesn't end until the character is done with all their dialogue and actions
. Then a new character starts to speak/act, and it's a new paragraph. It's ok for a single paragraph to be three, four, even five or more sentences, if that's how much one character is saying/doing before someone else steps in. You can even have other characters' reactions in the middle, as long as the dialogue is all one person. Clustering it properly like this makes the whole thing flow much more cleanly, and therefore be easier to read overall. Ok, done now, really I am.
Chapter 12 – Now, what have we learned, kids?
That evening I called Pops, both looking forward to and dreading talking to him. He answered on the third ring. “Hey, kiddo. How's it going?” I could hear the smile in his voice, and it brought an answering smile to my face.
I hopped up on the kitchen counter and popped the cap off a beer. “Pretty good. Been a weird week, but I think we've sorted it out.” I took a gulp. “How about you? What did you do to make Sam mad?”
He groaned a little. “I had to lie to her, to everyone, for the sake of National Security. God, I hated every minute of it, but it had to be done.” He sighed. “At least I made the world safe for a while longer.”
I chuckled wryly. “The things we do, right? It's ok, I talked to her, she seems to be mostly over it.”
He groaned again. “You talked to Carter? When was this?”
I took another gulp of my beer, wishing I could get drunk on the stuff. “Yesterday. I had to ask her...” I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself. “I had to ask her what you thought about... y'know, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, that whole thing.”
I could practically hear him frowning. “I've never agreed with that policy. I have no problem with...” He trailed off, then came back with forced cheerfulness. “So, I guess this means I won't be getting any grandkids out of you?”
I had to laugh at that. “That probably wasn't going to happen anyway. I suck with kids. Plus, Slayer, lots of danger. Not good for babies.” I thought about it wistfully for a second, then refocused. “So, wait, that's it? That's your whole reaction? I've been wigging out over this for two weeks and you're just cool with it?” I groaned. “Way to mess with my head!”
He chuckled. “I'm good like that.” There was a pause, and he came back softer, more serious. “Faith, I don't care. You're my kid, that's all that matters. I wouldn't hold it against you if you told me you were a prostitute- Oh, god, you're not a prostitute, are you?”
I gasped in mock outrage. “How could you even ask such a question? Of your own daughter? You-” I gave an exaggerated sniffle. “You don't actually love me at all, do you?” I heard him fumbling for words, and laughed. “So very not a hooker. My nights are busy, remember?” He chuckled, and I relaxed and took a swig of beer. “Well, now that that's out of the way, what are your plans to get Sam happy with you again?” He started throwing out wild ideas, and I settled in for a good gab session.
I could feel B getting closer, for the first time in the three days since Jon-o's spell had worn off, and I paused my game and waited, breathing shallowly, for her knock. The feeling of her suddenly started to recede, and I gave a bitter laugh, mentally kicking myself for thinking she was actually coming to talk to me. Then it was getting closer again, and I really laughed, realizing that she must be talking herself into and out of coming here. She moved away, then back again, and this time, it ended with a knock on my door. I hopped up and went to answer it.
She gave me a sick-looking smile. “Hi, Faith.”
I held the door open. “B.” She stepped through, and I shut the door and went over to the fridge. “You want a drink? I got water, beer, Coke... oh, and I got you some Tab. I dunno how you drink that stuff.”
She smiled a little more. “You got Tab? Just for me? Aww...” I tossed her one and grabbed myself a Coke. I hopped up to sit on the counter, popped the can, and took a swig. She stood nervously, awkwardly, in the middle of the kitchen, flicking her eyes at me and away. “We need to talk.” I nodded and waited.
And waited. Damn, guess it was up to me. “So, that was some party the other night. If you get invited to any more parties like that, you let me know, k?”
It surprised a laugh out of her. “Yeah. Some party.” She bit her lip. “Do you, um, really want to party like that again? Maybe a little more privately?” She popped her soda can and took a nervous gulp.
I set my can down and pushed off the counter, then walked over to her and stopped an inch or two shy of touching her. Just being this close to her, smelling her skin, dropped my voice an octave. “Just you and me? I could party like that every day for a year.” She gulped and shifted ever so slightly closer, and I forced myself to take a couple steps back and shrug casually. “You, me and Mr Military? Could be fun once in a while.” I went back to my seat on the counter and gulped some soda. “You do what you're gonna do, though.”
She blinked and shook her head a little. “You really... You do want to... Wait.” She actually focused on me. “You don't care if I keep sleeping with Riley? You wanna be with me- You do want to be with me, right?”
I rolled my shoulders. “Look, B, you got plenty of people telling you what to do, I don't wanna be one of them. I-” I broke off, and stared down into my soda can, unable to meet her eyes. “I wanna be your girlfriend, if you want to be mine.” I glanced up at her, then away. “I don't mind if you keep your boyfriend, though. It's your relationship, I'll stay out of it unless he turns into an asshole.”
She smiled and stepped closer to me. “You are something else, you know that?” She came a little closer and smiled a little wider. “Well, that was easier than I expected. I can't believe I didn't think of it. Now for the really hard part... I have to go and tell Riley that I'm with you now, but that doesn't mean I'm not still with him unless he wants it that way.” She came close enough that if she reached out she'd touch my knee. “You know, I'm pretty sure that being with you is going to be good enough to risk losing him.”
I grinned and stretched my leg out, hooking my ankle around her waist and drawing her close. “Baby, you know I'm amazing.” I leaned down and pressed my lips to hers. She moaned and pressed her body against mine, then let her mouth open and her tongue slip out and over my lips.
We lay together on my bed in a tangle of sweaty limbs and a haze of post-sex bliss, our breath in perfect rhythm. When I could move again, I shifted a little, just enough to nuzzle her shoulder and lick a little sweat from her collarbone. “I want to do that every day for the rest of my life.”
She let out a contented groan, then a giggle. “That's a good plan. Except, then we wouldn't ever do anything else, and I think Giles would get mad at us if we stopped patrolling.”
I pouted. “Ruin all my fun. Hey, are you hungry?” I started shifting, untangling us.
She tightened her arm around me. “Aw, don't go yet...” She smirked at me. “Besides, haven't we been eating for the last half an hour?”
I burst out laughing. “Damn, B, you are getting positively naughty! You might need to be punished!” I squirmed around, bringing her with me, so she was laying on top of me with her ass in the air. I grinned and gave her ass a swat.
She gasped and started to squirm away. “Faith! What do you think you're doing?” I wrapped one arm around her and swatted her other ass-cheek with my other hand. She shrieked, giggled, and wriggled harder. “Faith! Stop it! Nooo!” She slipped half out of my grasp, and the whole thing turned into a wrestling match, which suited me just fine.
Half an hour after that, we actually got some food.
I spent all day Monday hanging out at Giles', playing with all the different weapons he had around, and generally bothering him. When I arrived Tuesday morning, he rolled his eyes and handed me a booklet. I raised an eyebrow at him. “What's this?”
He sighed. “Partially, a way to keep you from pestering me so thoroughly.” He smiled. “As I recall, you, your father, and I spoke of you taking the GED. I thought you might want to do that sooner rather than later, certainly before the others finish their classes for the summer. This is a book of practice tests, tips for studying, that sort of thing. If you'd like, you could take one of the tests now, and we can go over it and see what areas you need to study up on. How does that sound?”
I eyed the booklet uncertainly. “Uh, yeah, I guess. I mean, don't expect me to do too good on this first one or anything. Didn't pay so much attention in school.”
He shrugged. “I have no expectations here, Faith, though I do think you'll do a good bit better than you fear. Let's just see, shall we?” He gestured me over to the desk, and handed me a pen and a notepad. I gulped, took a deep breath, and opened the booklet to the first test.
It actually wasn't quite as hard as I was expecting. I found that I had at least a vague memory of most of the topics they were asking about, and I could usually cross off at least one or two of the answers for each question. I finished, feeling smarter than I'd expected to, and handed the notebook over to Giles.
He worked through my answers both quick enough make me nervous and slow enough to make me tense, but when he finally looked up, he was smiling. “You have not done terribly, my dear. Your literature is woefully poor, but both history and mathematics are rather decent. If you're willing to put in some hard work, I think we can have you up to snuff in a few weeks.”
I nodded eagerly. “If you think I can do it, I'm in.” I laughed. “Plus, you teachin' me has got to be more interesting than some of the zombie wage slaves at South Boston Public.” I smirked at him, and he rolled his eyes as he pulled out a couple of books for me to work from.
I asked a lot of questions at first, but after lunch I was determined to do as much as I could on my own. I dove into the books, and ended up concentrating so hard that the knock on the door startled me, and I grabbed for a knife. I dropped it just as quick when the door opened to show Red, Sabrina, and Jon-o, and when I looked around, I realized that a couple of hours had gone by.
Red waved at us. “Hey, Giles. Hey, Faith. Whatcha doin' here?”
I waved the test booklet. “GED. You guys?”
She shrugged. “Wicca study. Apparently I'm getting too big for my britches.” She made a teasing face at Giles.
Giles cleared his throat. “Yes, well, I did think it would benefit you if your study was more... directed. And I thought the three of you might appreciate learning to work as a team. You will certainly be more effective working in concert.”
Sabrina smiled. “I-it's a g-good idea. I've n-never really w-worked with other w-witches before.” She flicked an uncertain glance at Red. “I m-mean, W-Willow and I have d-done a few th-things, but o-on the fly, n-not really p-preparing before. I... I'd like...”
Jon-o nodded. “I've always wanted to be part of a team. Apparently the magic is much more intense if you have a group.”
Giles gave them all a stern look. “More intense, yes, that's true. Often more purely powerful, too. However, I expect you all to keep an eye on each other, ensure that none of you starts to get drunk on the power. The consequences for such an... indulgence can be... dire. I would not want to see any of you a mindless husk. Or worse.” They all sobered a bit at that, and he nodded in satisfaction as he started taking them through some basics, something called 'grounding and centering'. I dove back into my textbook, and only surfaced when my body demanded dinner.
Fortunately, when I mentioned it, it turned out that everyone else was equally hungry, so Giles set us free. The other three headed out, already talking about what they'd be working on come Thursday, but Giles held me back a minute. “You've made excellent progress today, Faith. The next sitting of the GED test is in a month, and if you'd like to sign up for it, I think we can have you ready by then.” I opened my mouth, and he shook his head. “Don't answer now, just let me know tomorrow. Again, good work, my dear.” I grinned and ran off to catch up with the others.
On Saturday night, we all met at the Bronze. Riley kept giving me uncertain looks, but he was cool, so I let it go. He also wasn't much interested in dancing, which I sure as hell didn't mind, since it gave me more time with B. The other two pairs split their time between dancing with us and sitting with Riley and Jon-o, and I couldn't believe how much fun I was having.
When we were finally tired, we headed over to the table the rest of them were around. B straddled Riley's lap and started sucking face, and I flopped down next to Jon-o on the couch he was sharing with Sabrina and Red. I snagged the closest water and gulped it down as I listened to the three of them chatter excitedly about their new magic class. I felt a warm glow at the thought that something I did had made three other people so happy.
Suddenly Anya, who had been talking quietly with Xan, stood decisively. “Well, I want more drinks. Xander?” She held out her hand, and Xan pulled out his wallet and handed over a couple of bills.
I dug in my pocket and shoved some money at her. “Get me a milkshake and one of those big cookies? Thanks!” She rolled her eyes but took my money. I smirked at her back, then turned to Xan. “So, I've been meaning to ask. Where do you get the money that goes to buy her drinks?”
He started tense, but relaxed as I asked. “Wow, I thought you were going to ask how I can put up with her demands. Everyone else wonders.” He leaned in close and lowered his voice. “She's really good in bed. That makes the rest of it much easier to deal with.” We grinned at each other, then he looked at me oddly. “I work for a construction firm here in town. Why?”
I shifted a little, suddenly nervous about asking, even though construction was better than I'd hoped. “Cause, um... Well, see, Pops offered to pay for college or whatever, but I'm not really college material, I figured a job... And you know I could do the work, and I get the way those guys think, and I know it might be weird, but...” I was trying, but I found I couldn't say it.
Xander took pity on me with a smile. “We have people go missing all the time, I'm sure there are job openings. I'll talk to my foreman on Monday, see what he says.”
I smiled back gratefully. “Thanks, Xan. I mean, I know things were kinda rocky with us for a while there.”
He shrugged. “You've been better lately, I'm willing to let the past be the past.” He smirked. “Besides, I watched you and Buffy dancing earlier. Even if the whole thing didn't give me extremely inappropriate thoughts to be having about my friends who have super powers-” He cleared his throat and shifted a little, then smiled fondly. “-the smile on Buffy's face would make me instant best friends with you.”
On Tuesday morning, Xan showed up bright and early. He'd called to let me know I had a trial day, so when he arrived I was awake, showered, and dressed in dark jeans and a sturdy t-shirt. I gulped down the last of my breakfast and he led the way to his car. “Right, so, like I told you last night, he's a decent guy, just be honest with him- well, ok, mostly honest, you probably don't want to mention the Slayer part- but other than that, you treat him right, he should treat you right. These guys probably aren't going to make any dumbass comments, they're mostly better than that, but if they do, promise me you won't kick their asses too badly? And don't be afraid to ask if you don't know how to do something. They're all really nice about teaching. And-”
I chuckled. “Geeze, Xan, babble much? What, did you just drink a whole pot of coffee?”
He grinned sheepishly. “I'm just a little nervous, you know? I mean, I know you're cool, and I know they're cool, but what if you don't like each other or something?”
I patted his arm. “I'm sure it'll be fine.” I grimaced. “Also, if you're nervous, then I'm going to be more nervous, and then I might say something stupid, so can we please just be calm? Calm blue ocean...” I took a big, deep breath, then another. On the third one, Xan took an exaggerated breath, and whooshed it out, and we both broke up giggling, and then we were much more relaxed.
The foreman wasn't too much older than us, but he held himself like he knew he was in charge. “Hey, Harris. This the chick you were telling me about?”
Xan nodded. “This is Faith. Faith, this is Steve. He's not as mean as he looks.”
Steve rolled his eyes at Xan, and held out his hand to me. “Hi, there, Faith. Ever worked construction before?”
I shook carefully, trying to make my grip just firm enough to assure him I was strong, without freaking him out about how strong I was. “No, but I've spent time on sites, I know the safety stuff and all that.” I released his hand and smiled a little nervously. “Plus, I'm strong, I learn fast...” I bit my lip, trying to think of something else. “Oh, and I don't care about my fingernails. They're mostly short or broken already.”
He burst out laughing at that. “Well, that's certainly good to know. Alright, hmm... You graduate high school?”
I licked my lips. “Um, no, sir. But I'm testing for my GED in a couple of weeks, and my tutor says I should pass-” I imitated Giles' accent “-with flying colours.”
He smiled. “Good enough. I'm hiring you for the rest of the week, we'll talk on Friday about what comes next. For today, you're Xander's assistant. Follow him around, ask him an annoying amount of questions, lend a hand where he needs it.” He nodded and strode off to deal with something else, and Xan took me to get a hard hat.
The rest of the week was both a blur, with all the new things (and faces) I was learning, and a crawl, as I worried that I wasn't fitting in, or that I would accidentally show too much strength and be run out as a freak. I could hardly concentrate on studying with Giles; nothing seemed to stick in my head. The tension even spilled over into my Slaying, to the point where I nearly got mauled by a fledgling.
Finally Friday afternoon rolled around. Everyone else got their checks and headed home, while I just stood outside Steve's office, twisting my check in my hands. After a couple of minutes, though, I took my courage in both hands and knocked on the door. He opened it with a grin. “Faith. Hey, c'mon in, take a seat.”
I perched at the edge of the seat and tried my hardest not to fidget. “So, boss, how'd I do?” I gave him a shaky smile.
He sat behind his desk and gave me a long look, then smiled again. “Relax, girl. Geeze, you look like I'm about to chase you out of here with a crowbar.” I untensed a little and he nodded. “There you go. Now, if you're going to be working here full time, I'm going to need some information from you. Like, what's your home address, and do you have a Social Security number?” All the tension left my body in a sigh, and he smiled sympathetically as he started pulling out the paperwork I'd have to fill out. “You're a good worker, and like you said, you learn fast. I think we'll all benefit from having you around.”
I wrote as fast as I could, then hurried out, full of happy energy. As soon as I was out of sight of the site, I headed for the nearest roof, and ran and jumped from rooftop to rooftop all the way home. I bounced in the door and right over to the phone. Pops picked up on the second ring. “Hey, Faith! How's it going?”
Embarrassingly, I practically squealed as I told him. “I've got a job! I'm working construction with Xander.”
He let out a pleased laugh. “Hey, that's great! I'm proud of you, kidling. I had no idea- when did this happen?”
I snagged a soda from the fridge and popped it open. “I was doing the whole trial basis thing all week, they just made me official today.” I chugged half the soda and burped. “I've been wanting to call you all week, but I didn't want to jump the gun, y'know?”
He scoffed. “As if they'd turn you down.” I could hear him grinning into the phone, until he yelped. “Hold on, kiddo, I'm passing you to Carter so I can rescue these steaks.” There was a fumbling, and I heard his voice receding. “Damnit, Danny, you have to flip them!”
Sam chuckled. “Hey, Faith. How's it going?”
I bounced up and down on my toes. “I have a job! I'm actually contributing to society!”
She laughed. “Faith, that's fantastic! Good for you.” She cleared her throat meaningfully. “But don't think what you've been doing doesn't contribute. You keep people safe.”
I grinned at the phone. “Thanks, Sam. It's always good to hear. Anyway, how's things at your end? I'm guessing y'all have forgiven him.”
She sighed in fake suffering. “It's been tough, trying to regain trust.” She chuckled. “Can't stay mad at an O'Neill for long. Though this barbecue is going a long way toward making us like him again.” She said it teasingly, and a little louder, and I wasn't surprised to hear him grumbling in response in the background.
I snickered. “I'll have to remember that. Might come in handy around here.”
Sam snickered back. “Anyway, your dad wants the phone back, but before you go, I wanted to mention; something odd occurred to me. That encounter with Adam, when we got Oz. Adam seemed to know who Jack and I were. I'm thinking maybe he's plugged into someone's surveillance equipment, either the city's, the college's, or the Initiative's. Willow can probably find it. I know you're having trouble finding him, but backtracing this might help. And give her my e-mail, too, I know there were some things she wanted to ask me.”
I grinned. “I love how you're always thinking, Sam. Will do.”
There was some fumbling, and background voices, and he was back. “Hello again! Danny and T say congratulations too, by the way. So, tell me more about this job of yours...”
The next week was almost routine. I got comfortable enough at work to start joking around with the guys, which made them relax around me, and I actually started to look forward to going in. B and I were so bored on patrol that we spent more time making out than fighting anything (not that we objected), and the evening study sessions at Giles' were proceeding nicely. It was almost enough to make me wish for a little excitement. Almost.
Late Saturday morning I left my apartment and headed for the campus. We were all going to meet up for lunch, and maybe go to a movie afterward. I was loving this feeling, of actually being part of a group that wanted me around, and I took a moment to turn my face to the sun and thank whoever was listening that I'd finally come to this point.
“What have we got here, boys?” The voice came out of nowhere, and I snapped my head down to find myself surrounded by a trio of some sort of lumpy demon, none of them wearing so much as a trenchcoat to hide their identities. The ugliest one, directly in front of me, grinned, showing filthy, ragged teeth. “The Slayer's little dance buddy, all alone. This is going to be even easier than Adam said.” I dropped down, swinging one leg out to take down one of the goons behind me, but they were quicker than they looked, because he just jumped over my leg, and there was already a shadow looming up on my other side. The last thing I knew was sheer pain to the back of my head as the world went black.
A/N 2: Ain't I a stinker? Just two more chapters to this lovely little story, and oh how I'm looking forward to your reactions to the last one. I have some thoughts for a sequel, but I think I might want to finish some of my other stories before starting new ones.... or I might just indulge my Dr Who addiction and put up some Scoobies-as-Companions stories.