Watchers Council – Infirmary Waiting Room – Early Morning
Norman and Joelle sat in the small, cheery waiting room. Joelle slid her arm about the boy’s shoulder, and he leaned in against her.
“You tired, honey?” she asked him.
He shook his head no. He was wide awake.
Dr. Miller came out and took off his bloodstained hospital coat. “She’ll be all right,” he said. “There was a lot of blood, but fortunately most of it wasn’t hers.” Then, to Norman, he said, “She’s going to be fine, but she’s asleep right now and won’t wake up for a few hours. But I’ll tell her you were here, and I’ll make sure you’re the first ‘civilian’ visitor she has.”
“Thank you,” Joelle smiled at the doctor.
“Thanks,” Norman added.
Joelle squeezed Norman’s shoulders, and they both got up and left the waiting room. As they walked down the long corridor, Kennedy and Vi passed them. Kennedy stopped and motioned for Vi to go on ahead.
“Hey, Norm,” Kennedy called.
The boy and his mother stopped, and Kennedy walked over to them. “How’s Shannon?”
“Doctor says she’s sleeping,” Norman answered.
“He said she’ll be okay,” Joelle added.
“She was lucky,” Kennedy said, nodding.
“Lucky? She almost got killed!” Norman said, angrily.
“Yeah, and she was lucky that Faith was there to make sure she didn’t. Emily wasn’t so lucky,” Kennedy replied. Then, more softly, “She didn’t make it.”
“I’m sorry,” Joelle said gently, and she and Norman turned to go.
As they rounded the corner, they nearly bumped into Faith, bruised, bloody and walking with long strides to the infirmary. She sidestepped them easily and barely looked at them.
Joelle watched her pass and looked down at Norman. He stood, staring after Faith, until she disappeared around the bend. Then he looked up at Joelle. She smiled at him and led him on, her arm about his shoulder.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Later that Morning
Rowena, Willow, Dawn, Xander and Faith peered intensely at the map projected on the wall.
“By all accounts,” Rowena said, “we think we’ll find the lair or the nest here, in this area.” She pointed to a low-lying area of the city, just past a vacant housing unit.
“But why aren’t we looking closer to home?” Dawn asked. “There have been mutilations here on the grounds.”
“Yes, but the greater number have occurred in this general vicinity.”
“Are we dealing with two broods, then?” Willow wondered aloud.
“No. The attacks fan out this way in a semi-circular pattern. We’re here on the far leading edge of them,” Rowena explained, “but still within reasonable distance.”
“You call that reasonable?” Xander asked. “I’d say these things are ranging farther and faster.”
“Yes, and with more deadly results now, too.” Rowena looked at the somber faces around the conference table. “Well, any other questions? Right then. Vi, Kennedy, you’ll take your group and flank the back right and left of the area. Pick a leader to go head first into this nesting site.”
Faith began to look from side to side, confused.
“But make sure that you’re completely coordinated among all three –”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute!” Faith said. “What are you talking about, pick a leader? I’m leading the point team.”
“No,” Rowena said. “I’m sorry, but you’re not.”
“And why not?”
“Faith, in another week, you’ll be heading to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta for the bone marrow procedure. I’m not sending you out on a life-threatening mission when we have plenty of other slayers –”
“Who can get their guts chewed out by these little –”
“Faith! I am giving you a direct order –”
“You don’t order me, Blondie. I give my own orders. I’m head of the Slayers, not you. And last time I checked, we had to vote on issues, right?”
“Fine,” Rowena answered shortly. “And as Head Watcher, I’m responsible for making sure that all our slayers are safe and thinking clearly. I believe that Faith should be grounded for the time being. All in favor say aye.”
Rowena answered, as did Willow in a lower voice.
Faith smiled and shook her head.
“Gee, you sidin’ with your snuggle bunny, huh Red? Boy, is that a surprise. If you vote yes with her, does that mean you get to use the handcuffs tonight, or does she?”
“This isn’t personal, Faith,” Willow said, trying to control her temper.
“The hell it’s not. Look, I’m goin’ and –”
“The Council has voted,” a voice behind her said. She turned to see Giles standing with arms folded in the doorway. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I couldn’t help overhearing the ‘conversation’ in here.” Giles turned to the angry slayer. “Faith, Rowena and Willow are right. You’ll stay here and operate the command center with them.”
“Boss, listen –”
“There is nothing more to say, Faith. Rowena, please continue your meeting. You, uh, don’t mind if I sit in for a while…?”
“Of course not,” Rowena replied sheepishly. “Well,” she began anew, “the third squad will head straight into the lair, or nesting area, and the flanking teams will –”
Faith stood up abruptly and stalked out of the room.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Day
“Okay, tell me again, what did it feel like exactly?”
Shannon rolled her eyes at Norman and shifted uncomfortably in her hospital bed. Norman stared at her expectantly, a stack of drawings in his lap.
“I told you a hundred times,” she said. “It felt squishy…like it was full of Jell-O or something.”
“Like a sponge?”
“No…no more like…it sort of reminded me of a…bullfrog. You know, the underside of a bullfrog’s neck. The part that blows up?”
“What else?” Norman asked.
“Well, it kinda felt like it would burst if I kept squeezing it.” Shannon unconsciously touched the bandage on her neck.
“It musta,” Norman concluded, “because they said your hand and Faith’s were all covered with black membranes and…stuff they’re not sure about.”
“Who told you all that?” Shannon asked.
“I did,” Robin’s voice carried over to the two children.
“Hi,” Shannon smiled at him.
“Hi to you.” He began to make his way toward her bed. Norman noticed the canvas bag slung from his right shoulder and offered to take it. “I got it, big guy,” he told the boy. He set the bag down, and both children could see that it was filled with several textbooks, along with something that looked suspiciously like a calculator.
“What’re those for?” Shannon asked warily.
“School work,” Robin told her with a big grin.
“Great,” she groused at him.
“Oh, come on. I used to teach all the time,” Robin said. “Make an old man feel useful and pretend you want to learn something.”
Shannon smiled, and Norman began to gather his papers together. “Whatcha got there, big guy?”
“Just some sketches. Of the monsters. See?”
Robin looked at them. “Technical drawings,” he said.
“Yeah,” Norman replied, while Robin leafed through the pages. “That’s what the scientists call them.”
“See that?” Robin said to Shannon. “Norman obviously likes school.”
Shannon stuck her tongue out at the boy.
“Hey now, what’s this?”
“Oh,” Norman said. “I like to draw people, too.”
Robin grinned and nodded as he looked at pictures of Shannon with a bat in mid-swing, Kennedy in a fighting stance, Willow at her computer, Becca smiling and holding Elizabeth and a group of slayers in a workout session.
“Hey,” Robin said admiringly, “I can tell who every one of these slayers is. This is Nadia, and that one’s Sylvie, and that’s Melissa. You’re a regular Norman Rockwell.”
“I know who he was,” Norman said.
Robin turned to another page, and there was Giles posing and smiling stiffly. Robin half-laughed. “You’ve got Giles down perfectly.” He grinned. He turned to the next page and caught his breath.
“Oh,” Norman said. “That one’s for Dawn. Do you know who it is?”
“I sure do, but…when did you meet Buffy? Or did you see a picture of her?”
“Oh no,” Norman said. “I didn’t meet her or anything. It’s just that Dawn talks about her a lot and says she misses her when she’s away. So I asked Dawn and Xander and Willow what she looks like, and they told me. So I drew the best I could from that. Not so good, huh?”
“Not good, Norman, this is excellent.”
Norman’s face lit up. “It is?”
“Absolutely.” He showed the picture to Shannon, whose face registered the same surprise at the portrait as Robin’s did.
Shannon took the picture from Robin’s hand and was busy admiring it while Robin looked down to see what other surprise lay waiting in the pile.
This time, his breath was stolen from him as he looked at a drawing of himself, sitting and staring sadly out into space. His prosthetic leg stretched out in the foreground, the crutch leaning at an angle against it.
Shannon’s voice carried over into his ears, and he looked up at her.
“I said, I hope I don’t have to read any more History of Magic,” she told him.
“Huh? Oh. No. No History.” He handed the drawings back to Norman and said quietly, “But we do have to get started, Shannon. Norman, I’ll see you later. Okay?”
“Uh, sure…” Norman said uncertainly. He and Shannon exchanged concerned looks, but he put all his things in his book bag and slid off the side of the bed where he had been sitting. “Robin? Are you okay?”
“I said, I have to get busy now with Shannon.”
The boy looked stricken for a split second. Then he shook it off and shrugged, as though everything were fine and said off-handedly, “Whatever. Talk to you later, Shannie.”
“See ya, Norm.”
Robin picked up the canvas bag and fished out a book, which he handed to Shannon without ceremony. “Page thirty-five,” he said. “Read for me.”
Shannon began to read: “And in the epoch of Gidzrach, the Demon of the Ninth World, the watchers learned that the power of the Slayer could be hampered by…”
Robin stared down at his crutch and prosthetic, as Shannon’s voice droned on.
Watchers Council – Joelle and Norman’s Quarters – Moments Later
As Norman entered the apartment carrying his backpack, Joelle came from the kitchen.
“Norman, honey, I need to go work out some details about the transplant with Dr. Miller and Mr. Giles. Do you mind staying here with someone?”
“I don’t need a babysitter.”
“No, honey, of course you don’t. But you’ve had a couple of asthma attacks and – well, it’d save me a few gray hairs if someone could just be here in case, you know, you needed any help.”
Norman heaved a great sigh and let his book bag drop to the floor. “All right, fine. Hey, is it Andrew? ‘Cause if it’s Andrew, we can play Dungeons and –”
“No, honey,” Joelle said gently, “it isn’t Andrew. Andrew’s busy working.”
“Oh, Momma,” Norman said, reading the look in her eyes, “please don’t tell me you got some Sheena to watch me!”
“Not just some Sheena,” Faith entered from the kitchen. “The Sheena.”
Norman stood stock-still and stared slack-jawed at the two women. Then he put one foot back behind him.
“Norman, honey,” Joelle’s voice made him jump. She began to walk to the front door. “You be good for Faith, all right? Have a nice talk with her. Show her some of your drawings…I think she’d like them.” Joelle saw panic creep into the boy’s eyes and looked pleadingly at Faith.
“Don’t sweat it,” Faith told her, offhandedly. “We’ll be cool.” She smiled unconvincingly. “Go on, beat it.”
“I’ll be back, honey.”
Joelle opened the door. “See you two in a bit.”
But Joelle slipped through the door and shut it quickly.
Norman looked at it. Joelle hadn’t bolted it. He sensed Faith move behind him, and he turned quickly to see that she had taken a seat on the couch and had her feet up on the coffee table.
“You can run, if you want,” she said, pulling a pack of cigarettes from a pocket. “I won’t stop you. ‘Course, I could if I wanted to, before you even got two steps. But I don’t want to. I’m not runnin’ after you…Norman. Christ, where’d you get a name like that?”
“It’s my grandfather’s name,” the boy said defensively.
“Your grandfather’s name isn’t Nor– Oh. You mean your –”
“My-my adopted Dad’s father was named Norman.”
Faith nodded. “Yeah, well, guess that makes sense.”
Faith wiggled one foot, and Norman took it as a cue to sit down before the slayer got really impatient with him.
She looked at him sitting across from her in the big recliner. He seemed suddenly very small, almost swallowed by it.
“So…” she shrugged.
“Yeah,” he muttered, looking away. “So what.”
He waited a moment before looking back at her. She was staring off to the side, the unlit cigarette forgotten between her fingers.
“So…what’s my real grandfather’s name?” he asked tentatively.
She turned her head sharply towards him, but answered slowly. “It was Joh – uh…Richard…it was Richard.”
“Oh, that’s just great,” Norman sneered. “Then I’d-a been ‘Dick’ all my life.” He rolled his eyes and shook his head.
Faith just looked at him for a moment. Then, to the surprise of them both, she laughed.
After a few moments Norman nodded toward Faith’s hand. “You know, those cause cancer. You should quit,” he offered.
Faith sighed. “I did quit. For over a year, actually.”
“So, why’d ya start again?” Norman asked.
Faith shrugged before taking off her jacket. “Things have been tense the last few weeks. Seemed like the time.”
“So you smoke to feel better, even though it’ll make you feel worse?” Norman said, only half sarcastically. “That’s dumber than fighting demons,” he added quietly. “Maybe you should stop again.”
Faith carefully put the cigarette back in the pack. “Maybe I should,” she answered. An uncomfortable silence passed between them. “So, you like to draw pictures, I hear,” she said.
“Can’t do much else, ” he shrugged. “Least I don’t think about being sick so much when I draw.”
Faith nodded. “I used to draw, too.”
“No way,” Norman said, looking at her with new interest. “You’re making that up.”
“Nope. People thought I kinda had a knack for it.”
“You don’t do it no more?” he asked.
She shook her head no.
“Life kinda got in the way,” Faith answered.
“Do you still have your drawings? Can I see ’em?” he asked.
Faith grinned. “No, they’re long gone, kid.”
“See? You’re just making it up.”
“Oh yeah?” Faith challenged.
“Yeah,” Norman answered just as defiantly.
Faith rose and walked over, grabbing some pens and some paper. “Tell you what. You draw me, and I’ll draw you. What do you say?”
“You’re on,” he said. “And I better not be some stick figure either,” he added.
Faith laughed openly. “Deal,” she said, as she clicked the top of the pen.
The Brood’s Lair – Later that Night
“All right,” Kennedy told Vi and Marly, the third leader of the attack squads, “let’s get into position.”
The squads took their positions exactly as Rowena had laid out and began their pincer-attack on the lair of the brood of Shadow Demons.
“What hell-hole do you suppose these things crawled out of anyway?” Vi said into her walkie-talkie.
“Probably some leftovers we missed from Vor,” Kennedy’s voice crackled back.
“Stop the unnecessary chatter, please,” Rowena’s voice broke over their radios.
Watchers Council – War Room – Same Time
“Hey,” Faith said, “the feed works really great, doesn’t it?” she motioned at the bank of monitors showing the maneuver. “Andrew’s night-vision cams really make a difference.”
“See what you miss being out in the field?” Rowena asked.
Faith nodded and smiled slightly.
They watched for some minutes until the point team entered the abandoned building, led by Kennedy.
“What!” Rowena started when she saw Kennedy’s familiar form on the monitor. “Marly is supposed to lead the attack squad, not Kennedy!”
“I’m still the Lead Slayer,” Faith said. “And I made a command decision. Ken’s leading the frontal assault. Marly and Vi –”
An otherworldly screech cut off Faith’s remarks, and a myriad of voices broke over the radio: “Ken, what’s happening?” “Look out!” “No, it’s there!” “Oh God, oh God…”
There were cries and screams coming from within the shack. Vi called in quickly to Rowena and Faith. “I don’t think they can flush it out and –”
Two slayers loped out of the building.
“I don’t think it’s following them. I –”
A third slayer tumbled headfirst from the building and rolled onto her back. Her chest and one arm were severely slashed.
“Slayer down! Slayer down!” Vi cried.
Faith watched as the two flanking teams moved in to help with the assault. Rowena called in the emergency medical teams already on standby.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Same Time
“Norm, if that’s what you think, then you’ve gotta tell them!” Shannon said in alarm, as she sat up straight in her hospital bed.
“I don’t know…”
“Norman! They’re going after the nest! If there’s an adult in there… Norm, one of the small ones killed one of us already. An adult could take out…I don’t know how many of us! Norm, go. Maybe you are wrong. But if you’re right…”
Norman looked at Shannon, at a loss. “How do I get there? Where’s the control center?”
Shannon looked out the glass window to where the night nurse was busy sorting files. “Hand me those!” she said, indicating her jeans. He passed them to her. “Go keep the nurse busy. When you see me leave, tell her goodnight and meet me around the bend.”
Norman started to leave.
“Wait! Pull the curtain around me.”
Norman pulled the hospital curtain about the bed and left the room. Shannon got dressed in her jeans quickly and tucked the hem of the hospital gown into the waistband.
Quietly, she stole out of the room and waved to Norman, who was politely chatting with the nurse. She ran as quickly as her battered body would move around the bend.
Norman appeared a few moments later. He was pale and gaunt-looking, and fumbled for his inhaler.
“Too much excitement for ya, slugger?” Shannon asked as his breathing eased.
“Let’s…go…” he heaved out, “before she figures out what’s behind curtain number one.”
“You got the picture?”
“Right here.” He patted his book bag.
“Gimme,” she said, and slipped the pack off his shoulder. “Let’s go.”
The Brood’s Lair – Same Time
Kennedy was on the radio with Rowena. “It’s worse than the small ones. The scales are harder, like steel. My blade broke on ’em.”
A horrible screech obliterated the next thing Kennedy said. “– and I’ve lost five already,” they heard her finish.
“Ken, pull back and get another charge ready,” Faith ordered.
“You saw what happened!” Kennedy responded. “The first one did nothing but injure most of my squad!”
Watchers Council – War Room – Same Time
“Faith! Faith!” Shannon cried, as she ran into the control center toting Norman’s book bag.
“What the hell –? Shannon, get outta here!”
Faith turned back to her monitor. “Ken, I’m telling you to prep another charge.”
Shannon looked at Rowena, and the watcher walked over to her. “What is it, Shannon?” she asked.
Norman entered the room, out of breath and ghostly white.
“Ro, please,” Shannon said. “You gotta listen. I think Norman figured out a way to fight the monster.”
“Get out! Now! ” Faith shouted at the two children.
“What do you mean?” Rowena asked, ignoring Faith.
“Show her, Norman, c’mon!” Shannon said.
The boy hesitated for an instant, then opened his book bag still hanging from Shannon’s shoulder. He violently shuffled papers around. Pencils and a plastic eraser holder fell to the floor and clattered there.
“I said, get out! ” Faith yelled, over the sounds of battle cries coming in over the monitors and radio.
“Look,” Norman told Rowena. “Shannon told me about this sac just where the neck might be, if these things even have necks. Anyway, she described it to me, and I drew it. It’s soft, she says. And you don’t see it right away. You kinda have to feel for it, ’cause it’s not in the middle and it doesn’t puff out unless it’s choking or something. Anyway, if the little ones have it, then maybe the big one does, too. It might be –”
“Faith!” Rowena snatched the picture from Norman’s hand. “Look at this.”
Faith’s eyes took in the drawing, and she narrowed her gaze at Norman and Shannon. “You two! Get over here! Tell me about this!”
The Brood’s Lair – Same Time
A slayer was flung aside and hit the rickety wall of the abandoned building with a loud crack of breaking bones. She fell like a dead weight onto the floor, her leg shredded and torn.
Vi surged forward, trying to swing a sharp, curved blade up the middle of the adult creature. The blade caught in the scales, immovable.
“Vi!” Kennedy called out.
Vi feinted left, but the creature swiped at her and caught her across the neck. Vi grabbed at the slash-wound as she tumbled sideways. Three of the small creatures coursed over the floor and bit at her arms and ribs.
“Kennedy, do you read? Do you read, Ken?!!” Rowena’s voice called over the radio.
Kennedy was too busy struggling with the small demons tearing at Vi to answer.
“Ken…anyone…if you can hear me, I repeat, there is a soft spot about five inches below the jaw line and maybe two or three to the left. Hit that spot. Hit it with anything you have. Do it! Do you read? Does anyone hear?”
Kennedy heard. She grabbed one of the creatures that held Vi’s arm, and with all her might pulled it up far enough to expose the area Rowena had described. With a mad cry, she plunged her fingers into the soft tissue there. The creature shuddered, then went limp, releasing its hold on Vi’s arm.
Another slayer, seeing the move, grabbed at the creature at Vi’s ribs. She did the same thing. The second creature also released and fell dead.
Kennedy dispatched the last of the three creatures quickly. She looked around and grabbed a loose piece of planking on the floor. She tore it upward and a great jagged piece came off. Rushing forward, she let out a cry, and with full force rammed the pointed end of the plank into the neck of the adult creature.
A black, smelly substance shot from the creature’s neck, as it whipped around and knocked Kennedy hard across the floor. She hit her head and bounced off the wall. As she fell, she saw the creature flopping and tearing at its own throat, as the thick, slimy ooze continued to spurt from it. Dimness overcame her, and she closed her eyes.
Watchers Council – Day
A Few Days Later
“Welcome, Mr. Hansen,” Giles said, holding out his hand to the man walking from the taxi cab.
“Please, call me Mike. This is Janie, our daughter.”
“Hi!” Janie said, flashing a big smile and waving.
“Hello, Janie.” Giles smiled.
“Come here, punkin-pie, and say hello to momma,” Joelle said, as she approached the three of them.
“Momma! Hi Momma!” Janie ran to greet her. Joelle bent over and hugged the girl, who was excitedly starting a long narrative of everything that had happened while Joelle and Norman were away.
Joelle laughed easily, quieted the child, and went to her husband Michael. They hugged for some moments, and Giles engaged the little girl in conversation about her shoes to give them a minute.
Watchers Council – Slayer Gym – Same Time
Faith swung the quarterstaff around in a wide arc. Kennedy jumped up, and it passed below her feet swiftly.
Faith twirled it as Kennedy hit the ground and brought one end up between Kennedy’s legs. Faith stopped short of making contact. As though disgusted, Faith pulled the staff back and thumped the ground with it.
“Now I know you’re all right,” Faith said, “’cause you never see that one coming, but you’re getting up higher on the jump.”
Kennedy, the last sign of a bad but fading gash on her head, grinned. “Did it on purpose. Don’t want you to feel like you’re gettin’ too old to do this stuff.”
Faith looked over at Norman, sitting far off to one side. He was intent on a drawing.
“How’s it goin’ with him?” Kennedy asked quietly.
Faith smiled faintly and opened her mouth to reply.
The gym doors swung open and Giles’s voice filled the room. “Ah! Here he is.”
“Norman?” Michael Hansen called out.
“Norman! Norman!” Janie Hanson cried out. “Hi Norman!”
The boy’s face lit up, and he stood, waiting for his family to cross the room. Janie ran past the adults and hugged him hard, chattering non-stop before he could get a word out. Michael reached him, along with Joelle and Giles, and put his hand out to his son. Norman shook it, then hugged his father fiercely.
After a moment, Michael looked down and said, “Your momma’s been tellin’ me some pretty fantastic stories ’bout you here.”
Faith and Kennedy watched as Norman and his father spoke for a moment or two. Then Norman peered around his father and saw Faith still standing in the center of the room.”Catch you later,” Kennedy told Faith.
“No! No, um, stick around, okay?”
Kennedy looked at Faith for a second, then shrugged. “‘kay.”
“Dad, Dad! C’mere.” Norman pulled his father by the hand to where the two slayers stood. “Dad, this is Faith. This is…she’s…she’s the one who’s gonna give me the bone marrow. And this is her friend, Kennedy.”
Michael Hansen took a long hard look at the defiant stance and the toughened, hard stare of the dark-haired woman. He glanced at her compatriot. Kennedy pulled a quick, closed-mouth smile at him.
He looked down and smiled a bit himself, then reached out his hand. “Ma’am. I hear you’ll be helping my – our son.”
Kennedy watched Faith. At first, she had no reaction. Then, she came to life with a huff and a curl of her lips. “Hey, no big,” she threw back casually. “It’s what they pay me for.”
Norman’s face fell a little, and Michael nodded. The man and the slayer stared each other down, while Janie whispered something to Norman.
“Uh, Faith? Uh, this is Janie. My sister. Janie, this is Faith. She’s my – she’s…” Norman’s voice got softer, “…my other –”
Faith handed the quarterstaff to Kennedy, then bent over a little and offered her hand to Janie. “Hi Janie. I’m Faith.”
The child took her hand and shook it. “Hi Faith. Are you Norman’s real momma?”
Faith recoiled a little from the question, standing back up straight.
Norman looked as though he would cry, and Michael glared at Faith.
“Whatsamatter, Norman?” Janie said, taking her older brother’s hand.
“C’mon,” Norman said, pulling his hand away from his little sister’s. He set his face hard and looked back at Faith coldly. “Let’s go meet Shannon,” he said to his father, and began to lead Janie away.
Faith glanced at all the adults around her, panicked.
V.O., Mayor Wilkins: “Well, what are you worried about?…You’ll always have me, Faith…I’ll always be with you, Firecracker, in everything you do…”
“Yeah, birth mother,” Faith said.
The circle of adults stared at her in disbelief. Norman and Janie were still walking, Janie was still talking to Norman, who wasn’t paying her any mind.
Faith’s mouth worked again, but no sound came out.
“Go,” Kennedy said under her breath. “Go for it.”
“I said,” she called out to the two children, “yeah.” She tossed her head in a haughty manner and began to walk toward the children. “I’m Norman’s birth mother, but your real momma is Joelle.”
Norman turned, with Janie in hand, and stared at her as she approached with slayer bravado.
“I had him when I was very young,” Faith answered.
“And then you gave him to Momma, ’cause you had to go be a slayer,” Janie said, repeating the story her father had told her.
“You know what a slayer is?” Faith asked the little girl.
“A slayer kills the monsters,” Janie answered simply. “Daddy told me.”
Faith grinned and nodded her head. “Yeah, that’s right.” Then to Norman, staring open-mouthed up at her, she added, “Smart kid. Smarter than you, even. Took, what, two weeks to get you to figure out monsters are real?”
Norman looked back at his parents. His mother nodded at him encouragingly. “C’mon, let’s go find Shannon,” Faith said. The two children followed her out to the sound of Janie’s lively chattering.
“Way to go, Faith,” Kennedy said quietly.
Giles and the Hansens looked at her. “Yes.” Joelle smiled. “Yes.”
Fade to Black
Back to Present
The regularized pulse of electronic equipment: Beep. Beep. Beep…
Then…soft, slow breathing…
Then…a murmuring in the throat as if someone were stirring from sleep…
Hospital Room – Day
Faith, in surgical gown, mask, cap and gloves, looked at Norman lying in his hospital bed, hooked up to IVs and monitors.
“He’s a fighter,” the doctor said. “Doesn’t look like it, I know. He’s so small and, well, to be blunt, fragile. But he’s got a lot of piss and vinegar in him. If any child could make it…”
Norman opened his eyes, but seemed not to see anything.
“Welcome back,” the doctor said warmly.
Norman turned his head a little and saw Faith standing quietly at the foot of his bed, along with the perfect picture she drew of him, taped to the outside of his protective bubble.
“Mmm…Mom…? Mom…” The boy’s eyelids fluttered and then shut. He was asleep once more.
“Yeah,” Faith answered. “I’m…”
Council Car – Day
“…here.” Willow shook Faith by the shoulder. “Faith, Faith wake up, we’re here.” Willow shook Faith again, and the slayer woke with a start. Willow smiled cheerfully. “Home again, home again, jiggity ji –” She cut herself off at Faith’s look.
“You are so lame,” Faith grumbled.
Faith got out of the car and stretched as she looked around the Watchers Council grounds. Giles and Becca were sitting outside with baby Elizabeth.
“Well, look who’s back,” Giles said to the baby.
“Look Elizabeth,” Becca said, “Auntie Faith’s back. Let’s go say hi.”
“Hey Faith!” Shannon came running down the sloping rise, leaving a small group of slayers to finish their softball game without her.
Willow dialed Kennedy. “She’s back,” she said without preamble and then hung up the phone. As Faith received her welcome from the others, Kennedy came out to join them.
A dozen questions, asked and re-asked, hit her at once: “How was Atlanta?” “Did you miss us – we didn’t miss you, ha-ha!” “Is Norman at home now?” “Can I call him on the phone?”
There was some good-natured kidding too: “A lot hasn’t happened since you left.” “You should go away for six weeks more often.” “Are the Hansens gonna adopt you, too?” “Do they know what they’re getting?”
Faith answered and deflected all the questions and comments, but she kept looking around the grounds, as though she’d lost something.
Finally, Giles called an end to the noisy reunion, suggesting that Faith must be exhausted and should be allowed to get some rest. He told the curious group that they would all see her later at dinner.
Everyone went their separate ways, and Faith picked up her bag and began to walk toward the Council building.
“He’s been keeping to himself a lot,” Willow’s voice came from behind. Faith turned to her, and Willow walked over. “It’s been hard for him. Especially with you not here.”
“And he’s so anxious to see me that he didn’t show up?”
“He’s been watching little Elizabeth for Giles and Becca a lot,” Willow continued, ignoring the remark. “They think it’s great, a-a-and he really loves the baby. But I think it’s a mistake. It’s like, how does that feel: one minute an uber-Vampire Hunter, the next a one-legged baby-sitter.”
“Yeah, well, we all have our little hurdles to jump, don’t we?” Faith grumbled.
Willow looked down uncomfortably. “Well, just thought you should know.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Faith said.
“See you tonight,” Willow added, as Faith walked away.
Watchers Council – Staff Lounge – Later that Night
Laughter came from the lounge, where Giles, smiling in spite of himself, was lowering a pencil drawing of himself down to his lap and shaking his head at it slowly.
“And this one is for Dawn,” Faith said, handing her Norman’s drawing of Buffy.
“Oh my god,” Dawn said, “it’s really Buffy. How did he do that? I never showed him what she looked like. I didn’t even describe her much.”
“No,” Xander said, “but Will and I did eventually. He didn’t change much from the original, believe it or not.”
“It’s amazing,” Dawn continued. “He got Buffy even better than he got Giles!”
“Yes, remarkable,” Giles frowned with mock disdain at his own likeness.
Andrew set down another plate of chocolate chip cookies and rejoined the group. “So, he’s gonna be all right? I mean, after a while?”
“It’s a long recovery,” Faith shrugged. “But he said he wants to come back next year and start learning how to be a Vampire Hunter.”
“Yeah, like Robin was,” Shannon added. A hush fell on the room, and Shannon’s face grew red. “He told me…” she added lamely.
“So, we’ve seen everyone else’s gift,” Willow said, casting her eyes around the room as she tried to lift the mood again. All of them held Norman originals he had drawn while he was with them. “What did you get?” Willow asked Faith.
“Perfume,” Rowena quipped. “Isn’t that the default gift for moms?”
Kennedy snickered, and Faith reached across Andrew to punch Kennedy’s arm.
“I’ll show you,” Faith said, and she pulled one last drawing from her tote bag. It was encased in a simple wood and glass frame. Faith held it up. Everyone looked at it. It showed Faith in a fighting stance, her eyes sparkling and her dark hair flying about her.
“That is sooooo cool,” Andrew said. “You remind me of an anime character.”
Kennedy gave him a look, then turned her attention back to the picture. “Hey, who are those two?”
In the left and right corners of the picture were portraits of two people. They each looked down at Faith, as though watching over her. The woman on the left was beautiful and continental-looking. The man on the right had a twinkle in his eyes and a rather pleasant face.
“The woman here is – was – my first watcher, Rosa.”
A few heads nodded.
“Who’s the guy?” Kennedy pressed.
“Just…just someone I was close to.”
“Let’s see,” Xander said, holding out his hand. Faith paused for a moment, but then passed the picture over to him. He and Willow stared at it. They traded a look, then Xander handed the picture to Giles.
Giles regarded it for a moment and smiled gently. “This is quite beautiful, Faith. Something for you to always cherish.”
He looked back down at the picture of Faith, squared for battle under the watchful eyes of Rosa the watcher and Mayor Richard Wilkins.
Watchers Council – Faith and Robin’s Apartment – Evening
The slayer, the watcher and the Mayor looked out askew over the living room. Faith tilted her head the same way, walked back to it, leveled the frame once more, and stepped back again.
“Have a nice time?” Robin asked her.
“Yeah, you shoulda come down.”
“Too much work.”
Faith ignored him.
“Norman did it.”
“That your mother?”
“Oh. That’s not your dad…” Robin looked at the face hard. “Is that –? That’s him, isn’t it? That’s Wilkins.”
Faith licked her lips nervously. “Yeah.”
“Did he really look like that? All, friendly and…John Q. Public?”
“Yeah. I don’t think I ever heard him raise his voice, at least not with me anyway.” She turned and put her arms around Robin’s waist.
“Whoa, whoa! Easy.” He made as if she was throwing him off-balance, but she had already released him. She looked at him, hurt.
“So…” he said, hobbling away from her. “What’s the good word on Norman?”
“I’m supposed to call him tomorrow. They’ll maybe put a speaker phone in his room and let us talk for a few minutes.”
“Is he any better?”
“He will be. Right now, he’s just feelin’ real sick. But he isn’t rejectin’ the bone marrow at all. They said he’s even recovering faster than they’ve seen someone do before.”
“Must be that slayer marrow.”
“Yeah, maybe. Maybe I should give you some slayer marrow? Get you off your ass and –”
Robin immediately began to leave the room.
“What’s up with you?” Faith demanded, as she followed him into the kitchen. “I’m only teasin’, Robin.”
“Are you that blind or just simple-minded?”
“Excuse me?” Faith asked hotly.
“Oh, right,” Robin continued, ignoring her, “I forgot this is the woman who refused to acknowledge her own child when he first showed up, so I shouldn’t be surprised, should I?”
“Okay, Ace, what is it today? Angry, drunk or both?”
“Look at me, Faith! I’m crippled. Get it? Crippled.”
“I see. Angry. And yes, you’re crippled. But you’re still alive. So get on with your life. Norman has. So can you.”
“No. No, Faith, that’s where you’re wrong. See, Norman’s gonna get better. Not today, not for a while. But before anyone knows it, including Norman, he is gonna be normal.”
He shut his mouth tightly, and his nostrils flared as he exhaled. “I’m not, Faith,” he said with quiet intensity. “No matter what anyone does, this leg is gone. There is no leg transplant, Faith. Willow already said there is no spell like she did for Xander. There’s only plastic and metal and…and I’m… Never. Getting. Any. Better.” He turned from her and said with quiet resignation, “Never.”
Faith looked at him for a few seconds. “Fine,” she said, throwing her hands up. “If that’s how you wanna see it, fine. I just hope you realize it’s not your leg that I fell in love with. That’s not what makes you a man in my eyes.”
She turned and strode from the kitchen. Robin followed after her and saw her open the front door with a jacket in her hand. “Where are you going? Faith!”
She didn’t answer and left the room, slamming the door behind her.
Watchers Council – Moments Later
The front door of the Council building swung open sharply and hit the side of the building. Faith stomped angrily through the doorway and lit a cigarette. She took a few puffs, gradually getting her breathing under control. Then she began to walk over the Council grounds, enjoying the night air. Finally, she dropped the cigarette to the ground.
Faith’s boot crushed the cigarette into the dirt. For a brief moment, her feet shuffled in place, and then she stepped away. The sound of her footsteps softly faded into the distance.
A moment later, a wild rabbit appeared, hopping into the patch of grass where Faith had stood. It wiggled its nose and took another hop or two. Suddenly it sat up, alert to some danger. Its head moved in quick jerks, left and right. Then it leapt away.
A long shadow crossed the ground where the rabbit had been. The shadow followed the rabbit’s trail into a nearby bush. There was a single, shrill scream, then a spray of blood spurted out from behind the bush, soaking the ground and dropping on the leaves of the bush like rain.
End of Maternal Instinct
Next on Watchers…
Rowena learns rank has its disadvantages when a mission to Vancouver goes horribly wrong and she is forced to call Willow, Xander and Vi before a Council tribunal on charges of negligence.
Click here to read “Both Sides Now” now!