Disclaimer: I own nothing. To avoid spoilers, further disclaimers are at the end of this story.
In the foyer, Xander Harris waited for the rumble of thunder to end before he inquired, “Good training?”
A dripping-wet Faith, standing in the front doorway of the Cleveland Slayers House, just before midnight in the middle of an awesome thunderstorm with tons of lightning and pouring rain, beamed at the Head of the House, and exuberantly whooped, “GREAT training!” As she stepped through the doorway, Faith accepted the small towel Xander handed to her, and she energetically started drying her hair, chuckling all the while.
The trio of drowned rats sloshing into the house didn’t share Faith’s happy mood, as shown by the soggy glares the three baby Slayers were giving their instructor as they also escaped from the storm that had thoroughly soaked them to the skin during their patrol. Xander managed to keep a mostly deadpan expression as he handed out more towels to the wet teenagers from the stack the man held in one hand, though it became difficult not to grin as the girls scrubbed their faces dry, and when they did this, all of them muttered muffled curses into their towels about crazy older Slayers who didn’t know enough to get out of the rain.
Faith only smirked as she finished her hair, and tossed the towel back to Xander, who caught it easily. The man then cleared his throat, and he ordered, “Aline, Melinda, Christina, go to the downstairs front bathroom. Strip, and put all your clothes in the laundry baskets I put there. Boots, too. Then towel off, and put on the sweats and slippers ready for you. Faith, you can use my office. I did the same thing there. When you’re done, come to the fireplace room. We’re all there, and we’ve got hot chocolate.”
The now-dry faces of the young women brightened at this, and all of the girls simultaneously tossed their towels at Xander, and they rushed away, racing each other to be the first to get to the bathroom. As Xander managed to field the tossed towels, he despairingly called after the baby Slayers, “No running in the….oh, the hell with it!” Shaking his head at the slamming of the bathroom door by the happy winner of the race and the irate groans of the losers, Xander wryly grinned at Faith and he went off further into the house, his arms full of damp towels.
Faith stepped into Xander’s office and quickly undressed, dried herself, and then changed to her new outfit of sweatpants and a blue long-sleeved sweatshirt with “Slayer U” shown in white letters across the front. Eagerly putting on her ladies’ moccasins, Faith left the office and headed down the main house corridor. She saw walking in front of her the now-changed three baby Slayers who’d been dragooned into tonight’s patrol, when Faith had reminded them that the forces of evil didn’t take a vacation when the weather was bad. So, they’d all gone out into the storm and spent hours running around the city, with the other girls becoming more and more miserable during every drenching minute.
Faith, on the other hand, had a most enjoyable time. She liked thunderstorms, just like the Boston-born woman liked fireworks, movie explosions, and other things that went bang. It all put a fizz in her blood, made her spirits rise, and tonight her cheerfulness had thoroughly irked her charges, who in the last hour or so had begun to wonder if they were actually going to melt away in the downpour, just like the Wicked Witch of the West from the classic Judy Garland movie. Which had kind of been the whole point of it all.
The baby Slayers needed to be braced up, to learn that life wasn’t always going to be comfortable and that things had to be done no matter how dismal or grim it got. It was entirely possible that in the future that a simple rainstorm was going to be the least of their worries. However, her charges had gotten through it fairly well tonight, and hopefully, the girls now knew they could endure and survive anything the equal of or surpassing tonight’s travails.
It still didn’t make the young women happier about what they’d had to do tonight, which explained their reactions when they entered the large room on the left side of the house, and all the other baby Slayers there mockingly chorused at the top of their lungs, “GOOD TRAINING!”
Snarling, the trio of ridiculed Slayers promptly dove onto the nearest three girls seated on the floor in their own sweatsuits, nightgowns, pajamas, and other bedwear, and the half-dozen warrior women became interlocked in an only partially fake battle with their sisters, with them rolling across the floor as pulled punches, slaps, pokes, pinches and hair-yankings were enthusiastically traded among the combatants. The other baby Slayers not actually involved in the faux brawl raised a cheer and grabbed their pillows and cushions they’d been using to sit or lie upon the floor, happily pummeling away at any struggling opponent without regard to whose side they were on.
Faith casually leaned against the side of the doorway of the fireplace room, crossed her arms, and watched it all in amusement. It was just another day in the life of the house inside the main room that every Slayer loved to hang around in, either by themselves or with their friends and sister Slayers. Numerous cozy armchairs and sofas surrounded a massive stone fireplace now blazing merrily away, a reminder of the time when over a century ago the building had once been a small hotel on the outskirts of Cleveland. Now, it was the home of a pack of females who defended their world and loved ones from the forces of the dark.
The oldest woman there, the most experienced of them all and their leader against the monsters of the night, now frowned and tilted her head, as she heard feminine voices becoming shriller and harsher, with their moods became heated as things started becoming more serious among the skirmishing participants. Faith opened her mouth to shout at them to knock it off, or else. However, this promptly became unnecessary.
The lightning flash and the immense crack of thunder came so close together that it was clear the strike of the electrical bolt must have been extremely close, maybe even in the same block where the house was located.
Shrieks and screams came from the entire group of baby Slayers at this, with the fighters suddenly stopping their struggles, instead now clutching each other in panic, as the non-combatants abruptly huddled together for comfort, dropping their pillows onto the floor. Faith herself had cringed at the overpowering detonation, and as she recovered, her face shifted from anxiety to sardonic humor at seeing how a bunch of the deadliest fighters in the entire world had turned into a group of frightened girls.
*Geez, every week they go up ‘gainst vampires and demons and other things that’d make every movie hero, from John Wayne to that ‘I’ll be back’ guy, try to keep from wettin’ their pants, and right now alla those babies just want their mommies. I don’t know whether to laugh myself sick or kick all their asses--*
“YEEEP!” Faith let loose a loud yelp and flinched away from the voice from behind that had just spoken into her right ear. Whirling around, she saw an extremely amused Xander standing there and holding a tray with numerous mugs full of steaming brown liquid with lots of little white objects floating in these cups.
“Dammit! How come ya can always sneak up on me?!” Faith barked this at the man, her irritation only increasing at the sudden giggles from the baby Slayers, whose own frights had lessened at seeing how Faith had jumpily reacted to Xander. She continued glowering at the man with an eyepatch, who gave her a casual shrug and held out his tray for Faith to pick which cup of hot chocolate she wanted. The dark Slayer grumpily did this, and as Xander brushed past her into the room with his tray, the man cheerfully called over his shoulder at Faith.
“Hey, what can I say? It’s a gift.”
As the other girls in the room eagerly grabbed their own mugs of hot chocolate from Xander, Faith only snorted into her raised cup, the woman’s breath blowing away the steam and causing the little marshmallows to bob up and down, before she began drinking the divine liquid. Her dismissive response to the man’s statement was partly in reaction to the sudden unsettling thought in her mind: *He can do it ’cause ya trust him.*
Over the next few minutes, Faith’s actions were an attempt to rebuff what she’d just thought. Sitting in an armchair at the back of the room, the woman moodily sipped her hot chocolate, and paid little attention to Xander continuing the story he’d been telling when Faith and her charges had come back to the house. As the baby Slayers listened in fascination of how Anansi the African spider god had brought rain for the first time to the savannah, Faith brooded throughout it all, about her feelings concerning the man leaping and gesticulating in front of the crackling fireplace, his limbs crooking, to show how a spider taller than the tallest bilbao tree had pulled down clouds from the heavens and squeezed them to bestow life-giving liquid to the land.
Finally, the last traditional words of the story were spoken. “This is my story which I have related. If it be sweet, or if it be not sweet, take some elsewhere, and let some come back to me,” finished Xander, his pleased face looking around the room at the entire room of young women hanging onto every word. A sigh of contentment was uttered by the girls. Smiling, Xander glanced at his watch, and opened his mouth to suggest that it was now time to go to bed.
“I wanna ‘nother story.”
Every head in the room turned to where a lump wrapped in an Afghan blanket stirred from where it had been lying down on a sofa. A sleepy blonde head poked out from the knitted woolen wrap of colorful geometric shapes, directing the most effective puppy-dog eyes in the entire house at Xander.
Emmeline d’Aulaire was two months past her thirteenth birthday, which made her the youngest Slayer in the house, and one of the youngest Slayers in the whole world. Further, she was small for her age and looked a couple of years younger, with an appearance of the most fragile blond china-doll ever created, all of which the young girl dealt with the usual just-became-a-teenager fashion.
That is, half the time Emmeline thoroughly resented being treated like a….a….baby! The girl had a tendency to overcompensate in her life for this. For a normal adolescent, this meant things like wearing too much makeup. Slayers had entirely different take on trying too hard to make up for a seeming disadvantage or shortcoming.
Nobody in the Cleveland House would ever forget the time a few months ago when they were fighting a ten-foot tall demon with serious muscles and armored skin, who had tossed Slayers around like they were popcorn and laughed at their swords and other weapons just bouncing off his body. In the middle of it all, the little Slayer had done something that had promptly finished the fight, and caused Xander to drop to the ground in a dead faint. Even Faith had felt a bit queasy at what she’d seen back then.
Emmeline had simply run between the demon’s legs, where there had been no need for her to duck her head, and on the way, she had viciously stabbed upwards with her knife.
That whole event had made the entire House treat the young girl a bit more respectfully. Unfortunately, it made Emmeline act more in the other way concerning her youth and appearance, actually glorying in being treated like a baby. She now tended to expect that attention would be lavished on her, she’d be allowed to get away with things the other Slayers didn’t, and to be treated less severely if she broke the rules. The girl sometimes acted too much like a spoiled brat when the House overindulged her, and right now, tonight, Emmeline was in the mood for her demands to be gratified. Even from someone that the girl usually behaved around, sensing she wouldn't be cut any slack from an older brunette. Not this stormy night, though.
Turning her head to look directly at the dark Slayer, Emmeline imperiously commanded, “I want a story from Faith! And….and….it has to be a ghost story!”
Forgotten in the hushed silence now present in the entire fireplace area, Xander carefully backed up to a neutral corner and sat down in an armchair, nervously glancing across the room at Faith’s face.
The woman from Boston was carefully examining the small girl who’d challenged her, with a disbelieving look on the older Slayer’s features exactly like that of the matriarch of a lion pride abruptly awoken from a refreshing nap by the youngest female cub of the clan wobbling on its small legs to step right into the lioness’ face to growl at her, showing its tiny fangs against the leader of their pack.