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The Academy, Charleston

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"Maybe that girl you've noticed at school who doesn't have many friends but she's always busy with social activities. Maybe that girl you see around who has a boring job, but you know she's always traveling somewhere interesting. Maybe the girl who is stunning, fit, and single, but she has no interest in meeting someone or ever going on a date.

"They could just be shy, sure. They could easily be just a little anti-social, or maybe their jobs really are extraordinary. But let's be honest that the chances are, that girl you are thinking of is probably a slayer." Xander Harris let that last word sink in, with a dramatic flair. He looked quickly around the room at their eyes, all captivated. He saw a few nod intently, affirming his instruction.

Xander glanced with his good eye toward the clock and saw that the hour was nearly over. He grinned back at the room full of young slayers. "So remember; ask questions, and volunteer bits of information. Nothing that will give you away. Use coded language, especially in private. Ask if they like to go to the cemetary. Challenge them to arm wrestle. Pretend to be clumsy and drop something, then see if they catch it, lightning fast." He wobbled and then snatched at an imaginary object in the air, pantomiming. A few of the girls giggled. "When you have enough evidence, invite them over for a movie night. We will vet them. Or bring us your notes. Remember! Always take notes!" With that comment, he pointed toward the clock. "I won't keep you any later tonight, slayers. Go get some sleep."

The young former-potentials filed out, the few politest thanking him as they passed him at the doorway, as they did after every one of his classes. When all 15 of them were gone, Xander rubbed his hands together, smiled, took a deep breath, and sunk into his chair. He pulled a notebook out of his desk drawer and flipped it open, tapping it absentmindedly as he began to review his lesson plans.

It went without saying that the young man had found his truest calling as a teacher to the slayers. He never thought he would enjoy it as much as he did; standing in front of people and speaking sure didn't seem like his jam. Yet these weren't intimidating kids, like the jerks he had been in high school with. These weren't skeptics who challenged and criticized him, the way that his peers on construction crews had when he was in charge of delivering safety briefings once a month. These were slayers who were ready and willing to learn. These were girls who had no idea what it meant to be struck with all the power the fates (and kinda, Willow) had given them. These were passionate students who thirsted for knowledge. He was one of the Scoobies, he meant something. He knew something. It wasn't idol worship, it was trust.

There was a tap at the door and the sound of someone clearing their throat that drew Xander's attention away from his notebook.

"Hey, Al."

"You wanna try that again with a new nickname?" He snapped with a half-serious tone.

The lithe second slayer grinned widely from the doorway. "Well it's part of your REAL name, isn't it?" Faith's eyes looked toward the ceiling in thought for a brief second. "How about... X-clamation point? Or maybe you'd prefer, Waiting to X-hale?"

He tried to hide his chuckle, knowing it would only encourage her. "Are you about done, Faith No More?"

"Oh, that's original." She spouted sarcastically. "As much as I'd love to hear more of your extremely lame brain names for me, I did come here for a reason. Do you think any of those baby girls is ready for some real slaying with the big and original badasses? Buffy says it's time for nominations."

"Already? Didn't we just do that yesterday?"

"Nah, you're getting old. It's definitely time."

Xander scrunched his nose as if he were smelling something foul. He flipped back the pages in his notebook until he found the date for one month prior, the last time he had made a nomination. He reviewed each page quickly, looking for his notes on each young slayer he instructed.

Faith grew impatient but said nothing. She stepped further into the room and slunk down into a student's chair, pulling out her phone and playing with it.

"Did you already get nominations from everyone else?" Xander asked curiously, not looking up from the pages.

"Nah," she clicked away on her phone keypad, "I figure I'll start with you and validate your noms and then just 'forget' about everyone else. The other scoobs never want to talk to me, anyway."

He didn't fully believe that, but thought it was perhaps one of Faith's odd ways of complimenting him. She was pretty backhanded with her affection. He read one of his notes from a few weeks prior, then rolled it around in his thoughts before speaking out loud. "What about... Maria Hernandez? She's been showing a lot of promise."

Faith chortled. "Let me guess, she's doing great academically? Girlfriend can't throw a punch to save her life. Or to literally save someone else's. She needs a lot of work in combat skills."

"Have you tried making the fight into a formula? She can memorize like nobody's business. If she knew what to do..."

"Fighting like that works for boring slayers, like B. My girls fight like rock stars. I'll only take one out when they can throw punches uninhibited."

There was a light sound of footsteps at the doorway. Both Xander and Faith looked up with a bit of alarm, as if they had been caught in betrayal of some kind.

"So, I'm boring, now?" There the subject of conversation stood in the flesh, arms crossed, full-fledged judgement face. Her dark blonde eyebrows were down dramatically toward green eyes, glaring intensely. Buffy's gaze directed on Faith, but with a level of rage that seemed extreme in proportion to the benign comment that she had just overheard. Truly this was the reason for why the phrase "if looks could kill" was invented.

The brunette slayer shifted to the other side of her chair but otherwise appeared to let the scrutiny bounce off her. "Only when you slay, girlfriend."

This comment only served to make the air even more tense, which Xander hadn't honestly thought possible. He looked between the two women and even with only one good eye, it was entirely obvious that things were exceptionally heated between the two of them. He hadn't seen them this glare-y since well before they had all left Sunnydale, on a bus, headed toward Cleveland. That was almost 2 years ago, and Faith had been living among the scooby gang and newly called slayers in (mostly) harmony. Hell, she was even an instructor in their makeshift academy. She had tagged along as they closed yet another hellmouth in Ohio, driven south to Georgia for what turned out to be a fluke, and finally settled here, in Charleston. Obviously, it wasn't all rainbows and sunshine; Faith wasn't a 'friend' to anyone. But she contributed. She was part of the team. She and Buffy weren't enemies anymore, were they?

Xander cleared his throat subconsciously, but neither girl looked toward him. "So..." he began, his voice cracking unintentionally, "we were just reviewing my nominations. I was thinking of Maria but, maybe not. So, maybe, someone else."

"That's great," the hostile blonde seemed to be responding to Xander but still didn't even so much as glance his direction, "I hope collecting nominations isn't proving too 'boring' for Faithy, here. It's nice that she can still pretend to be helpful when it's so awful for her to be part of our team."

"I never said it was awful." Faith muttered under her breath without her usual salty wit. "If you're going to accuse me of something, at least try to be honest about it."

Something about that seemed to derail Buffy's angry resolve, or perhaps she had nothing to say. She narrowed her eyes one last time at her sister slayer, then spun on her heel. "Get me those noms tonight." She called back over her shoulder, as she basically stormed down the hallway.

The silence between the two remaining in the room was awkward, to say the least. Faith put her chin in her hand and stared toward the wall. Xander looked back down at his notes but couldn't manage to focus on the words. He kept thinking about the weird juju he had just witnessed and how uncharacteristic it had been on behalf of both slayers. Buffy might not have been cheerful and giddy since the near-apocalypse, but she definitely didn't seem angry about much of anything. It took a lot to get her heated, while Faith was usually not so readily deflated. He kept glancing in her direction to see if she looked like she wanted to talk, but she seemed to be deeply concentrating on everything else in the room and the space around them.

"Did you think about... what do you think of Sarah S?" He practically whispered, and it still felt too loud.

"Yeah." Faith mumbled back. "She's ready. Thanks."

Without any discussion, the brunette rapidly got up and walked straight out the door. Typically there was a process to the nomination of ranking a slayer on five essential skills, but obviously they were not going to conduct business as usual in this instance. Xander watched the hallway through the doorframe to his classroom for a minute or two, wondering, hoping that either of the two originals would come walking back in and explain to him just what the fuck kind of bizarre shit he had just witnessed. Of course, it probably wasn't his business, but damn if he didn't still want to know.