“It’s long division.”
“I’m definitely not disputing that.” Jenny slid the pen across to Xander. “And I’m not listening to Mr. Hughes complain about you and your math tests in the staff room anymore, so at least try, okay?”
“I could be dead tomorrow,” Xander pointed out. “Dead in a ditch somewhere because a vampire drained me dry—”
“Do not talk like that, Xander.”
“And you’re making me do long division? No offense, Ms. Calendar, but I feel like your priorities here are way out of whack.” Xander pushed the pen back at Jenny. “Why can’t I just study with Willow on my own time?”
“Because as much as I love her, Willow is something of a pushover when it comes to letting you blow off studying, and also not a certified educator,” Jenny countered.
“I could be Bronzing it up right now!” Xander objected.
“Yes,” said Jenny, “tomorrow. This study session is once every week, and you said you would show up today.”
“It’s been five minutes,” said Rupert, coming in with a small tea platter and setting it down in the middle of the table. “Are you two still arguing?”
“Giles, long division is awful and pointless for a Scooby to do, right?” said Xander hopefully. “Especially since I could be dead tomorrow.”
“Xander,” said Jenny, “if you put half the effort you’re putting into trying to avoid long division into, say, long division, you’d be able to pass this class. I just want to get you up to a C at least.”
“Ms. Calendar, it’s not like I’m planning on going off and becoming an educated individual or whatever,” said Xander with a noncommittal shrug. “I don’t really feel like the college thing is for me anyway.”
“Regardless, you still need to work toward the option,” Jenny persisted. “And you said you’d come over.”
“Yeah, because I thought this would be short and not require me to put in ten times the effort I usually do,” Xander retorted irritably.
“Do you just…not do the problems?” said Jenny disbelievingly. “Rupert, have you just been letting him not do the problems?”
“I’m going to go make some tea,” said Rupert nervously, hurrying out of the kitchen.
“Where, in the bedroom?” Jenny called after him exasperatedly. Turning to Xander, “Xander, it should not be this difficult for me to get you to try in school.”
“What’s the point?” Xander asked stubbornly. “If you can give me a reason why I should be working hard in class, I’ll do this stupid worksheet.”
Jenny considered this, then said quietly, “Does it count at all that I think you’re a smart kid when you put your mind to long division?”
Xander’s annoyed expression dissolved slightly and he looked down at the long division paper. “I’m not,” he said. “I don’t get this. I don’t get why you think I can get this.”
“I’m just asking you to try and do the problem for me, and then I can show you—”
“What I’m doing wrong,” Xander finished. “Ms. Calendar, I don’t—want you to see how much I get wrong.”
Jenny smiled slightly. “Okay,” she said, picking up the pen and tugging the worksheet across the table. “How about I just show you how I would do this problem, and then you try and apply it to another one?”
“I guess,” said Xander hesitantly, taking a cookie from the tea platter. The phone rang. “Is Giles gonna get that?”
“No, I think he’s busy with his nonexistent tea,” said Jenny with a light laugh. “Hold up.” She headed over to the phone, picking it up. “Hello?”
“We were trying to call Giles, but he didn’t pick up, so I’m guessing he’s with you?” Buffy asked.
“He is! Hold on—” Jenny covered the receiver. “England, Buffy’s on the phone,” she called.
Rupert, who had been probably lurking apprehensively outside the kitchen anyway, hurried into the room, taking the phone from Jenny, who sat back down next to Xander at the kitchen table. “Hello?” he said. “Wh—goodness, really? Yes—of course, tomorrow morning. Briefing. Yes. Thank you. Goodbye.” He hung up, then turned to Jenny and Xander with a strange expression.
“Everyone okay?” Jenny asked apprehensively.
“What?” Rupert blinked. “Oh, yes, of course. It’s just—there’s a new Slayer in town.”
Faith threw her stuff down on the motel bed, though there wasn’t a lot of stuff to throw. Really, it was just a duffel bag with the clothes she’d managed to grab before leaving Boston. She was actually thinking of stealing a few tops from the mall when she had time; expand her wardrobe and all that. Kinda sucked when a lot of your shirts had blood on them and you didn’t have enough dough for dry cleaning.
As she was walking to her bed, she paused by the mirror. When she was younger (much, much younger), she’d used to like mirrors, because you could pretend you were looking at yourself when really you were looking behind you. Adults always thought kids were lost in their own worlds, and some of them had tried to get the jump on her before while she was near a mirror, thinking that she was too busy looking at herself to notice them. Faith hated that she had been stupid enough to trust reflections back then. They didn’t show everything, and she’d learned pretty recently that some things didn’t even show at all in a mirror.
She breathed out, studying the mirror. Reminded herself that a lot of things were missing and gone, but at least her reflection was still there. The only thing in her world that completely belonged to her, and she’d die before she let anyone, dead or living, take it from her.
“Screw you, Kakistos,” said Faith, practicing the words. Even though she did sound angry and badass (she always did, in her humble opinion), her tone still had a barely-there quaver, and she felt glad that she was alone. Even though she did technically know a few people in this town now that she’d met Buffy Summers and her posse, she didn’t at all like the idea of them, or anyone, seeing her vulnerable.
Not vulnerable. Vulnerable was a word you used to describe weak people, and weak people were people who had something to lose. Faith didn’t have anything or anyone to lose anymore, and it was freeing. It made her brave. It made her a better Slayer than the ones who had a life to protect, like Buffy Summers with her sun-kissed hair and her halfway smile. Buffy Summers, who looked a hell of a lot like the kind of girl who thought she knew what real pain and fear was just because some guy had left her in the lurch. A girl who made misery and poetry out of the stupid things Faith couldn’t have and didn’t want.
Faith wasn’t sure how she felt about Buffy, who held herself with a tenseness and a look in her eyes that suggested she wasn’t used to having slaying company. Buffy seemed coolly cordial, not as easily accessible as her friends. All holier-than-thou just because Faith had a few stories that weren’t exactly PG. She bet Buffy had shrieked and frozen up the first time she saw a vampire, like teeth and fangs had been the worst she’d ever faced. She bet Buffy was on the cheer squad before she became a Slayer.
It made Faith feel better to be vindictive. It distracted her from the fact that motel rooms didn’t count as home, and that if a vampire got hungry, she’d make a prime snack. Faith wasn’t planning on going to sleep that night, especially not when she knew Kakistos was still out there, and especially in a motel room that anyone could easily get into. She flipped on the TV and got static. So far, Sunnydale was a total buzzkill, and she still had to figure out a way to pay for her lame-ass motel room.
Faith threw the remote back down and contemplated her options before deciding to sneak out for some late-night slaying. There were always some vamps that thought they were smart, waiting until they thought the Slayer had gone off to bed or whatever. Too bad for them that Faith wasn’t planning on sleeping tonight.