Curious Poses

Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel: the Series are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.

Part II

“No,” Xander admitted, “I didn’t much cotton to Ken in the beginning. Remember, though: the beginning was clear back in Sunnydale, where every day seemed to bring in another new girl or two that we had to find a way to shoehorn into Buffy’s house. With that many of ’em crammed in, and us the support staff, I had some problem or other with pretty much all of ’em.” He started ticking it off on his fingers. “Rona was sloppy. Vi was nervous and twitchy. Jean didn’t like the food. Corrie was always making goo-goo eyes at me. Caridad —”

“I take your point,” Dr. Skudea said, nodding. “Still, even after things had settled out to some extent, there are several reports that you didn’t approve of Ms. Kennedy’s relationship with Ms. Rosenberg.”

“I wouldn’t say ‘disapprove’,” Xander replied after a moment. “I did have reservations, though. Oh, yeah.”

“And what was the source of these reservations?”

Xander shrugged. “Some of it’s what I already said. Wil’s always been really sure of herself on anything about facts — science, computer ops, spellworks — and really NOT when it came to her personal life, and Ken was so … so Kennedy about everything, I might have been afraid my bestest old bud would get bulldozed just because she couldn’t figure out how to stand up for herself. And on the other side of that, the girls coming in were all so young, Ken really might have been jailbait, which would have been just a totally weird situation when Dawn had been halfway in love with me for years and I’d spent all that time very carefully not letting my mind go that way. And —”

He stopped. Dr. Skudea waited, and after not quite a minute she prompted, “Yes?”

Xander sighed, shook his head. “I’ve pushed this to the back of my head for so long, it’s a little hard to call it up again now, but maybe a lot of it was to do with Tara.”

“Ms. Rosenberg’s first female paramour, yes.” Dr. Skudea gave the impression of someone deliberately choosing not to lean forward in eagerness. “The Council have … very little information about her, or about the relationship. It has figured centrally in a number of active controversies, none of which have been resolved.”

“And I’m not about to be settling any old arguments,” Xander replied firmly. “Except maybe by accident, I don’t know. See, Willow started getting stronger with the magicks about the time she met Tara, and even though we were there to see it, I still don’t know if it was just the timing or if Tara had something to do with it: if the two of them being together brought something out of Willow that wouldn’t have been as strong without Tara, or at least not that strong that soon. What I do know is … Tara always supported Willow, but she was also a, a sort of safety brake. Willow was crazy powerful almost from the beginning, but Tara felt magic like it was just another part of her, and she’d be a voice of ‘careful, honey’ if Willow tried to push things too far too fast. … Which, back then, seemed to happen like every other week. Ken, now? she was so gung-ho, I couldn’t see her doing anything like that. More like, What’s that you say? Blow up the world to stop the First? Wait, you mean you can do that? That’s so cool!

“Also …” Xander sighed, shook his head. “Lot of things going on back then, and I’m not a hundred per cent sure what I’m remembering is what was going through my head at the time. This one, though, it also goes back to Tara. When she first got with Willow, that took some getting used to because it was so completely different, but things between Wil ’n’ me were still the same, you know? It added to Willow, but it didn’t take away anything had with Willow. Well, except for that last little naggy worry that Days Of Fluking might ever pop up again, and I wasn’t sad at all to let go of that one. With Ken, though —”

He stopped again, and this time Dr. Skudea let the pause go on, because Xander was clearly finding the words for something he could already see. Finally he said, “With Willow and Ken, it was different. Willow and Tara, Willow and Ken, different people, sure, but there was more to it than that. They were different to each other … and, let’s face it, Ken was more masculine than I was, even while she was still all nice curvy girl, and how could I be me with Willow when somebody else was doing it better than I could?” He looked to Dr. Skudea. “I don’t know if I’m telling it right, and I don’t know how much of it I’d really thought through at the time, but that’s part of how it all fit together. And some of it, let’s be honest, is we were having to juggle a lot of different things back then, and a new relationship was an extra piece I just plain wished we hadn’t had to handle on top of everything else.”

“And none of these issues were in place when she was assigned to you as a Slayer?” Dr. Skudea tilted her head. “Or was it that you were assigned as her Watcher?”

“You could call it either one,” Xander said with a shrug. “I heard, after she and Wil split, they were having trouble matching her up with anybody. I volunteered, figured even if it didn’t work I could still send up some feedback that’d help ’em do a better job next time, and I’d got enough of a rep recruiting some of the new girls out of Africa, the upstairs brass was willing to give it a shot. Ken was like, Really? Ah, what the hell, and we just focused on the job and got all the little snags sorted out after we’d been working together awhile.”

“I understand,” Dr. Skudea said, her pen making a quick note on the pad she held. “But the prior question regarded whether any of your earlier concerns about Ms. Kennedy were present in your own working partnership with her, even at the beginning.”

“Pretty much none of ’em,” Xander said. “Let’s face it, most of those had to do with Ken and Wil, and that wasn’t part of the picture anymore.” He grinned suddenly. “And as far as me not being able to compete with her? Nobody can out-power a Slayer at the things Slayers do. That part was better now, ’cause I had the world’s best excuse.” The grin smoothed back into his normal, faintly ironic expression. “Seriously, if that was a problem, you wouldn’t be looking at me ’n’ Ken, because I’d never have made it this far. Nobody can work with Slayers unless they’re okay being support staff while bodacious babes supply all the muscle.”

“Very well.” Dr. Skudea made another note on the pad. “All this is preliminary, of course, but I only have a few more questions before I will feel my initial survey to be complete. First, when and how did a working relationship become something else?”

“It didn’t,” Xander said, shaking his head. “Whatever I have with Ken, that’s not instead of the whole Slayer-Watcher deal, it’s on top of. We still take care of business — taking care of business is what our life’s about — there’s just more to it now. But as to when …”

He came to a stop, sat thinking for a minute, then another. At last he said, “It’s hard to name a moment. I like women, like them a lot. If I’m around a woman, especially the ones my life has been full of since I was, oh, sixteen years old, the attraction is always there for me, there’s always part of me that’d love to follow it out. And, starting with Buffy and Willow, I got plenty of practice at pushing that into the background while I focused on what needed to be done. Which is good, ’cause I got a lot of use out of that while I was mentoring girls out of Africa. It’s different with an experienced Slayer, but the new ones are like kids … dependent, in ways they can’t even see, on somebody who can tell ’em the score and show them the limits, and you just don’t mess up that kind of relationship with anything else.”

“Understood,” Dr. Skudea said to him. “Also understanding, of course, that Ms. Kennedy decidedly was an experienced Slayer by the time the two of you were partnered.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Xander waved it away. “Just making my point, which is that I know all about lines you don’t cross. On which subject, a woman who’s strictly into women? not even any temptation there, ’cause you already know there’s no chance.”

Dr. Skudea simply raised an eyebrow, and Xander sighed. “I know. But that’s how it’s supposed to work, right?”

With a slight shrug, Dr. Skudea said, “One would certainly think so. And yet, we’ve once again strayed from the subject.”

“Do I deconstruct your segues?” The grin was still there, but his gaze was level. (Excellent job with the prosthesis; Dr. Skudea knew one eye was false, but she honestly couldn’t tell which one.) “The subject was when things changed, and how. I’m building to that. So, yeah, Ken is totally boss in every sense of the word, so every time the Idiot Jed part of my mind went Ni-i-ice, the part of me that cares about little things like staying alive and ungelded, would step up and kick him to the curb. Nothing new there, right? Been doing pretty much exactly that since sophomore year, meaning close on ten years by that point.” He paused, and sighed again. “It was so familiar, basically second nature, that it took me a while to realize that this automatic reflex had got to where it was kicking in all the time.” He looked to Dr. Skudea. “I’m not sure you understand what that means. I was in love with Buffy from practically the first moment I saw her, and that took years to go away … but even while that was still going on, Idiot Jed generally knew to stay in his place, or else do his pratfalls somewhere else. Staying in control with Ken wasn’t any harder, but it was constant.”

Dr. Skudea nodded, pen ready for the next note. “And did this realization prompt you to change the nature of the relationship?”

“What? no. No, no, no.” Xander didn’t — quite — shudder. “That was just when I knew we might have a problem. No, things didn’t change till …” He stopped.

As before, Dr. Skudea waited, because once again it was obvious that Xander was trying to work out how to say something. This one went on for longer than before, till at last Xander started up again. “Imagine you’re thinking of taking a vacation,” he said. “You don’t know yet if it’ll even be possible, but it might, and if you decide to go for it, you’ve already got a spot picked out. So you start finding out what you can. Reviews, tourist brochures, weather reports, news items. You look up population statistics, coming events, things folks recommend and things other folks warn may not suit you. You’re not committing to anything, right? Just scouting the territory to give you a better idea if this is something you want to do if it ever turns out that you could.”

Dr. Skudea allowed herself a small smile. “I believe I can follow the analogy.”

“Well, somehow or other that’s what Ken ’n’ me wound up doing. I don’t really know when, because at first it was more of what we’d been doing already, both of us learning what we could about this person we were working with. And some of it was after-the-fight blowing off steam, relaxing and letting our hair down … and some of it absolutely was Hey, that girl over there, the one with the boots: wanna see which one of us can pick her up?” He checked for a moment, and said, “That one always came from Ken, by the way. And she has a good eye for picking out which gals really might be a fifty-fifty shot for either one of us, so she was playing fair.” He shook his head. “We never followed out on that, her or me. At least on my side, it was pure joking, because you don’t want to get into any kind of contest with a Slayer.”

Dr. Skudea smiled at that. “Yes, I’ve noted that they tend to be … competitive.”

Xander’s answer was a short laugh. “No, really? Take it from me: with these girls, ‘competitive’ is what you have before you add rocket fuel. You never compete with a Slayer, ’cause they always win … and if by some miracle you do accidentally beat one, she’ll just come back and beat you five times as bad the next time.”

Dr. Skudea nodded acknowledgment. “That wasn’t your only reason, though, was it? for not getting into ‘pick-up contests’ with Ms. Kennedy?”

“Nope,” Xander answered. “By then, we weren’t just learning things, we were sounding each other out, and both of us knew it. Something we weren’t even talking about, and we were still exploring every little corner of it that we could. There wasn’t any question what was going on, but we still never actually said it.”

“Until you did,” Dr. Skudea noted.

Xander sighed mournfully. “It coulda gone on forever. It got to where we were actually involved with each other, closer than I’ve ever been to anybody … but still not. We talked around it, we never touched each other except as part of the job … I wasn’t about to break that, I’ve face-planted in too many different ways to want to do anything like that again. Plus, let’s not forget this was my best friend’s ex. Talk about opening a can of worms —!”

“You’ve made this point at some length,” Dr. Skudea said with just the slightest edge of impatience. “Yet you’re currently insisting on the impossibility of something you have already acknowledged to exist.”

“It was impossible for me to do anything,” Xander clarified. “Or maybe not impossible, but it was definitely never gonna happen.” He chuckled. “But then, I wasn’t the only clown tooting a horn in this particular circus.”

Dr. Skudea registered that with a near-microscopic twitch of her mouth. “You are saying Ms. Kennedy was the one to initiate the relationship.”

“Swept me right off my feet,” Xander agreed, his grin reminiscent. “I was pretty much a gone puppy anyhow by then, but yeah, she was the one who decided. Which was probably the only way that would ever work.” He looked to the psychiatrist. “And I can see that would feed in to your theory of Ken basically sleeping her way to the top, but two things: first, we were both there by then, she was just the one to say it out loud; and second, how exactly is being with me supposed to get her ahead, anyhow?”

*               *               *

“There were tensions,” Kennedy said. “Most of my life, I’d been taught that I was special, raised and trained to be ready for this big destiny of mine. And I could tell it was true: I was quicker than other kids my age, better coordinated, stronger than I should have been, picked up any kind of physical skill like it was something I already knew and I was just going through a refresher course —” She stopped, smiled. “Plus, I was smoking hot. Can’t forget that one.”

“Indeed not,” Dr. Skudea said, nodding. “And?”

“And … well, I don’t know if I can explain it.” Kennedy shook her head. “Most Potentials are pretty independent, want to make their own decisions, but I’ve just always been a naturally take-charge person. I tend to want to run things. People react to that, they avoid you or they resist or they stand back and snipe at you … or else they fall in line and follow the leader, because some people are like that.

“Xander …” She gestured helplessly. “Xander didn’t do any of those things. He didn’t respond at all, it was like it didn’t even register. The house was full of girls, and I was one of them, and he just … dealt with me like I was part of the job. And I don’t mean he pigeonholed me as a generic Potential; he saw all of us as people, treated us as individuals, there were always half a dozen girls crushing on him or ready to if they ever thought there might be a chance —”

“But not you,” Dr. Skudea observed.

Kennedy brushed it away. “Different wiring. Anyhow, it didn’t change after I became a Slayer, I was still one of lots and he was still busy doing whatever needed to be done. Then, after Willow and I separated, nobody could figure out exactly what to do with me.” She glanced at the doctor. “Do you know how it is with Willow and the rest? how they see her?”

“I believe I do,” the other woman replied. “But explain it anyway. How you perceive it is naturally pertinent, and —” A flash of a smile. “— I might learn something.”

“Willow is a big deal,” Kennedy said. “Major. Maybe the most powerful person on the planet, definitely in the top ten. When she talks, people listen. Giles can overrule her, because she respects him, and the same with Buffy, but anybody else? they have to convince her they’re right, because she thinks she knows everything and usually she does. She and I ran the Slayer cell in Rio, together, so I was big, too, just by being with her.

“When … when we weren’t together anymore, I left Rio. Could have been either one of us, I guess, but I just felt like there were too many memories there. Now, I’d made a name for myself, I hadn’t spent those two years just riding Willow’s coattails, and they didn’t really have anything solid I could jump straight into, and I guess they figured anything too small would feel like a demotion to me. I’m pretty sure Giles could’ve come up with something, but he was all caught up in setting up an actual unofficial Slayer HQ in China … anyhow, I sat in a room at the Palma Royale in Majorca for a few weeks, trying to pickle myself in herbas dulces and waiting to see how things shook out. Not playing hard to get, just not in any hurry.

“Then I got a note from the Council, very cautiously worded, that Xander had offered to partner with me.

“Now, I’ll be honest: I didn’t really appreciate him back in Sunnydale. Couldn’t figure out why this goofball was one of the people giving us orders, and when he lost an eye saving my life … well, the plain fact is that a part of me actually resented him for putting me that much in his debt, even if I was ashamed of feeling that way. After we spread out, though, trying to find and organize all the new Slayers and cover the major mystical hot-spots around the world … well, I started hearing stories. Xander single-handedly locating and recruiting nearly two dozen baby Slayers across Africa. Xander filling in at Cleveland House, outsmarting a rogue mage and a visiting New York SVU team, and turning the place into a plum assignment for any Watcher wanting to get a distinguished tour on his record. Xander mixing it up with a biker gang across three states while he was returning a stolen egg to the Gul’t’ach matriarch in Colorado, and heading off a nasty little war in the process. Xander rescuing a Slayer in Reno and the two of them taking out a cult leader to save another Slayer, all with Robin Wood trying to sabotage him long-distance.

“I was still pissed off. I was ready to try something new. I wanted to see how much of the legend had any reality to it. And, yeah, I was curious to find out how the guy would deal with me when it was just the two of us … when I was the job he needed to do.”

Dr. Skudea was nodding. “From your description, one might say you were not actively looking for a quarrel, but still were rather hoping for one.”

Kennedy shrugged. “You better believe I was ready to unload on him if he tried to give me any attitude or act like the boss. I was doing my best to play fair, though. Even ready to slap him down a little bit just to show I wasn’t about to be put in my place, but then stand back and see how it ran from there.”

“Very self-controlled of you.” The psychiatrist’s tone was dry rather than barbed. “One matter would seem to be worth addressing, however. By all accounts, one of Mr. Harris’s distinguishing features is an … acute protectiveness of those he terms ‘his girls’. Which grouping would seem primarily centered around the Slayer Prime, her younger sister, and Ms. Rosenberg. You must have considered the possibility that, were there any negative residue from the dissolution of your relationship with one of his dearest friends, he would hold you responsible.”

“I had an eye out for that, yeah.” Kennedy sighed. “At the same time, I figured if he wanted to have it out with me over that, he’d just call or come see me, not offer a trial partnership.”

“Sound reasoning, I would say.” Dr. Skudea fixed her with a gaze of polite but piercing inquiry. “Given that circumstance, however, and the situation currently being assessed, I’m afraid I must now ask you the reason — or reasons — for your disaffiliation with Ms. Rosenberg.”

Kennedy went very still at that statement: not frozen immobility, but the motionlessness of one who wishes to choose carefully before acting or speaking. Quietly, almost gently, she said, “That’s not something I talk about.”

“I’m aware of this,” Dr. Skudea agreed. “And I respect the value and even necessity of privacy in such a personal matter. I believe you can see, however, that this has direct relevance to the decision I am called to make. I will guard your confidences, you have both my personal and my professional word for that … but I must know.”

The stillness was still there; only Kennedy’s lips had moved in the previous remark, along with a single deliberate blink. Now with the same tensionless softness she said, “What you’re asking … that’s not just my private life here, it’s also Willow’s. I didn’t make her any promises, but this isn’t mine to give away.”

“And I shall disregard any elements that do not bear on our present situation, and dismiss them from my thoughts as soon as possible. Surely you must see, this is precisely the circumstance for which doctor-patient confidentiality originated.”

“I’m not your client,” Kennedy pointed out. “The new Council is.”

“And on that basis, I will report to them the conclusions I draw from these interviews,” Dr. Skudea answered steadily. “The details, however, need not be revealed. The Council are my clients, yes, but you and Mr. Harris, here and now, are my patients. I hope you can appreciate the importance of the distinction.”

Deliberately or not, Kennedy had fallen into the total relaxation that, paradoxically, enables the quickest action: instant, total attack with no previous tensing to serve as warning. Now some of the slackness went out of her muscles, and she rubbed her face with the back of her hand. “You only get this one,” she said, her voice betraying the effort of not showing strain. “I can see it connects, I know there’s a lot riding on it, so I’ll go with it just this once. Don’t ask for more. That would be bad.”

Dr. Skudea nodded briskly. “Understood.”

Kennedy’s eyebrows drew together, her gaze focused inward and her lips pursed. “Xander didn’t turn me straight,” she told the psychiatrist. “And I didn’t turn myself so I could be with him. I’ve always liked women and men, just women about three times as much. Or maybe a better way of saying it is that I like certain things that I find in lots of women and damn few men.” She smiled suddenly, an expression of remembered pleasure almost vulpine in its delight. “Also, women’s bodies are yummy. A woman compares to a man like a violin compares to a bass drum: you can just do so much more with the instrument.” The smile faded. “But okay, I like men, too. Sometimes. Once in a while. Passing mood when I’m not already involved.” Her eyes caught Dr. Skudea’s. “Or if there’s something really special about him.”

Another nod: Go on.

“The point is, I didn’t change, or change myself. I still like women better, and I’d be with one now except Xander isn’t a woman. So I give up something I want, to get something I want more. My choice, and I know exactly what I’m doing and why.

“Willow … not the same. I’m technically bi, but at least three-quarters female pref, maybe even seven-eighths. Willow won’t ever admit it, but I figure she’s about two-thirds male pref. She was nineteen the first time she ever got turned on by a woman, and she went with it because it was somebody she really loved, and … and now she won’t let herself be anything else. She’s all Hello, gay now, till I started wanting to scream or punch her. I couldn’t stand it anymore, I couldn’t stand her anymore, I just had to get out.”

Dr. Skudea frowned slightly, twirling her pen in her fingers rather than making notes. “It was not a matter, then, of her orientation being less … intrinsically female-centric than your own … but of your belief that she wasn’t being entirely honest with herself.”

“Not just herself,” Kennedy answered, grim-faced. “Look, I’m a woman who likes women, only right now I’m in love with a man, so I push away part of myself — well, not push away, it’s still there even if I’m not using it — so I can follow what matters more to me. I’m making a deliberate choice, so I understand Willow doing basically the same thing the first time she realized she could love a woman. Hell, I had to travel farther from my baseline than she did to get to where I am now, so I’d be a hypocrite if I tried to hold her basic orientation against her.”

“Yes, I understand,” Dr. Skudea said. Then: “But.”

“But if I wasn’t with Xander, I’d be with a woman.” Kennedy’s face was flushed now, splotchy from the intensity of her emotion. “Wouldn’t have to be love, either, I’d grab onto one just to be able to enjoy it again.” She leaned forward. “That’s normal for me. This, with Xander, it’s not, but it’s worth it. Without him, though, I’d go back to normal.” She stopped, looked down at her fists, and carefully unclenched them. “But Willow never will.”

“Ah,” Dr. Skudea said.

“She isn’t ‘gay now’,” Kennedy went on bitterly, “because she was never gay. She was a mainly-straight gal with a solid part of herself that could respond to a woman if everything was lined up right … and it happened, and she fell in love, and then it ended, and ever after she’s this dedicated one-hundred-per-cent lesbian, and it’s bullshit. It’s not because she wants women and only women, it’s not even because she could go either way but she thought it over and decided gay was better. No, it’s because letting herself want a man — ever again, ever — would be a betrayal.” Her fists were clenched again. “Not of me. Not of her ‘true self’. No, it would betray a woman I never met, and that I wish was still alive because then I wouldn’t have to hate the bitch for being this perfect fucking dead lesbian saint!”

Dr. Skudea waited, expression perfectly composed, while Kennedy glared rage at (presumably) the dead woman still haunting both her and her former lover. Then, when the first fury had dissipated and the Slayer seemed to be regaining the reins of control, the psychiatrist said, deadpan, “I can’t help feeling you’re blocked off here. Let it out, tell me how you really feel.”

Kennedy stared at her, and then let out an involuntary whoop of laughter, quelled an instant later. “You know, you may work on projecting the uptight professional vibe,” she said, “but you can be one cast-iron bitch when you want to.”

“In therapy, as in all else, versatility can prove quite useful.” Dr. Skudea nodded to the younger woman. “As it happens, however, you have more than adequately answered the question I posed. Unless other issues arise, I have only two more.”

“Well, hooray.” Kennedy tried to glower, but seemed actually to have been relaxed by her cathartic outburst. “Okay, go ahead, hit me.”

“The trust between a Slayer and her Watcher is the single most important aspect of their partnership. More than the Slayer’s determination or combat skills, far more than the Watcher’s knowledge or tactical proficiency. Your performance with Mr. Harris, the things the two of you have accomplished together, strongly indicate that you have achieved this state. When, and how, did you first realize that it existed? that the two of you were in accord, as a working unit?”

Kennedy tilted her head up in thought, but only for a moment. “It was Baton Rouge. After that thing on the wharfs, I told you about that one. We’d got back to the motel room we were using as a temporary headquarters, and Xander headed for the Whataburger on the corner to grab us some chow while I pulled off my blouse to see if I could wash out the Connaught guts before they got set in the fabric. Now, this place is one that has the lavatory outside the bathroom, so I was running water over the blouse, rubbing the cloth together and then rinsing again, holding it up to the light to see if it was working, and I heard Xander open the door — no worries, I knew it was him — and when I looked away from the blouse, he was standing there with a fast-food bag in either hand, looking me over inch by inch.”

“And I gather from the context,” Dr. Skudea observed, “that you were entirely topless at that time?”

“Oh, absolutely,” Kennedy agreed. “I never wear a bra on patrol, except maybe a sports bra and not this time. So, yeah, the girls were out and proud, and I’d caught a lot of spray from the fire hose so my nips were up, too. And there was Xander, scoping the view and making sure not to miss a single detail … and I could tell, by his expression and the way his eyes were moving — okay, his eye, but he already had the prosthesis by then and it tracks the same way — just by the whole vibe he projected, that he was ignoring the goodies and checking me out for any wounds we might have missed.”

Dr. Skudea smiled. “I can see how that might be reassuring. Or perhaps disappointing.” A lift of an eyebrow. “Or both?”

Kennedy laughed. “No, you don’t see, not really. The guy is a legendary horndog. Not the kind who’s always on the make, but he’s maybe the world champion when it comes to appreciating female flesh. He’s him, and I’m me, of course he’d be turned on! So, if he wasn’t, it was because he’d somehow switched off the part of his mind that registered and reacted to things like that.”

She stopped, frowning, then looked to the doctor. “I knew it was important, knew it then, and I’ve never forgotten it, but I don’t think I really understood it till I told it to you just now.”

“Very well,” the psychiatrist said. “And the meaning that you have perceived?”

“I already felt it,” Kennedy said. “It’s just, I can see it better now. I’d trusted him with my life, and never been wrong, but this meant I could trust him with anything. I’d never have to be on my guard, because he was already doing that for the both of us.” She rested one hand over the other on the tabletop. “And, at the same time, if he had to go that far to keep himself cool when we were together, it meant I’d really got to him without trying or even knowing it. And that kind of caught my attention.”

“Excellent,” Dr. Skudea said. “Because that seems to lead into my second question. When, and how, did the relationship between the two of you become personal and then intimate?”

Kennedy’s mouth turned in a wry smile. “It leads right in, yes. I knew he was smart, tough, crazy inventive, totally reliable, and even fun to be around in that dorky way that he’s polished to a high gloss. I started wondering what made him like that, because there are a lot of Slayers — even if I’m one of the best — and a lot of Watchers, but there’s only one Xander. And I started trying to find out … and because fair is fair, I started letting him see me, too. The real me, or as close as I could get to it.”

Dr. Skudea nodded, made a note. “Was the process rapid, or steady but cautious, or sporadic with periodic halts and reversals?”

“Slow and careful,” Kennedy confirmed. “Neither one of us wanted to muck up something that was working, but both of us wanted to know more. And, no, it didn’t actually lead to anything, it just laid a foundation. I wasn’t looking to hook up with the guy, you know? But the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn.”

Dr. Skudea nodded again, and simply said, “And?”

“And after a while …” Kennedy shook her head. “After a while, it started to get unsatisfying. Like one of those TV shows where, no matter how well it’s written, you eventually realize they’re never going to get off the island, he’s never going to prove the aliens exist or catch the one-armed man. Things are happening, but nothing is changing.” She looked up. “When and how did the relationship get personal? Over those months. When and how did it get intimate? When I said to him, If this is as far as we’re going to go, we’ve gone as far as we can. We’ve checked the water; now we either jump into the pool, or we don’t. And he made a joke out of it, like he always does, he said, All this time you’ve been swimming for a different team, but even though he kept his voice all light and casual, he was looking at me with those eyes — with that eye, damn it, he’s so natural about it I keep forgetting — and I told him, I can be flexible, if it’s something I want. And I was expecting it to go on like that for a while, because we’d been walking around the edges for a long time! But he just nodded, still looking at me, and didn’t say anything at all. It was always going to be my decision, he’d never let it be anything else, so he was leaving it to me. So I put my arms around him, and he did the same for me. And then I kissed him, and he did the same for me. And from there … et cetera.” She drew a long, carefully steady breath. “And we were still going slow and cautious … but by that time, ‘slow’ meant it wasn’t till the next day that we finally wound up in bed.”

Dr. Skudea nodded understanding. “And has that aspect been … acceptable?”

“The sex part?” Kennedy shrugged. “It’s better with another woman, that’ll probably never change. But this … this is Xander, and that makes all the difference that matters. For as long as he wants to keep this going, I’m in.”

“I see.” Dr. Skudea made three separate notes, underlined one. “Well, despite the fact that you found the entire interview unwelcome, you have been irreproachably forthcoming. I commend you on your professionalism in this matter.”

“Good for me.” Kennedy sat up. “So does this mean you’re satisfied now?”

“Oh, no,” the other woman said, shaking her head. “Not at all.”

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