Part III

Faith cursed inwardly at the odds against her: five on one was a little steep if these guys were any good at all, particularly since the dress and those damned shoes would slow her down somewhat. However, her feelings were not of fear but of utter fury: how dare these dirtbags screw up her date? She smiled coldly and replied, "Do you boys really want to mess with me? You know my reputation. . .I won't just stake you. I'll make it hurt for a good long time. . .besides, my boyfriend's on the way, and he doesn't like vampires very much, either."

Finch laughed, and the other vamps laughed with him. Noticing her startled expression, Finch looked at her contemptuously and commented, "Did you think we didn't know about you, Slayer? Picking up men in bars or on the street, having your way with them and tossing them out on their ear? Some of them have been turned, you know, and you wouldn't believe what they had to say. . .it makes me shudder a little." He met her gaze, and in spite of herself Faith began to feel completely embarrassed by her prior behavior as he commented, "You would never let any man close enough to you to be considered a boyfriend. . .so tell me, Slayer, where is this mythical boyfriend?"

Abruptly, one of the vampires gasped and burst into dust, revealing Xander, jacketless and carrying a stake and a vial of holy water. He met the eyes of the startled Finch and called out, "That would be me, dickhead." The vampire nearest to him quickly moved over, only to get holy water in his eyes and a stake in his heart. Xander looked dismissively at the dust that the two vampires had left, and called out, "Anyone else?"

Finch sighed in annoyance and called out to the remaining two vampires, "You two take out the Slayer: she'll be slowed down by her fashion ensemble. I'll handle the boy here." He moved slowly and menacingly towards Xander, while the other two vamps cautiously approached Faith. Abruptly, Faith leaped six feet straight up, doing a somersault in the air and pulling off her shoes. Startled, the vampires paused as Faith landed on her feet, tossed the shoes away, and knocked one of them on his ass with a right cross. With lightning speed, she drew a stake from where it was concealed under her right sleeve and assumed a cold, cold smile as she called out, "Cinderella's home from the ball, guys, and she's seriously pissed off." With that, she moved into the fight with that smile still on her face.

Xander could see that Faith was doing all right, but he had no spare attention to give to her status. Finch might have been a wimp when he was alive, he mused, but he packed a nasty punch as one of the undead. He concentrated on fighting defensively, hoping that Faith could finish off her two opponents and come to lend him a hand. Sensing this, Finch started taunting Xander. "Was some slut of a Slayer the best you could do, Harris? We were watching you, too. Cordelia Chase, Willow Rosenburg. . .some of the best this town has to offer, and you're with Faith now? How pathetic is that?"

Xander knew what the vampire was doing, and why, but suddenly, it just didn't matter any more. Dropping his defensive stance, he began throwing roundhouse punches that struck home, staggering the vampire. Xander pressed his advantage, only to have Finch slip through his guard and seize him by the throat. "So predictable. . .so, you do care about her. Oh well, I guess it doesn't really matter now, does it?" The vampire began to squeeze, and Xander's world began to grey out. From what sounded like a distance, he could hear footsteps coming up quickly from behind him, but he knew that whoever it was wouldn't get there in time to. . .

Abruptly, the pressure ceased as Finch burst into dust with a loud scream. Faith stood in front of him, with a look of concern on her face. Xander sighed in relied and commented, "So I wasn't imagining it when I heard someone running up behind me. Thanks, Faith."

The Slayer replied, "Not a problem, but it wasn't me you heard." She pointed behind him, and Xander turned to see Cordelia standing ten feet behind him, a stake in her hand. She looked as if she wanted to find a hiding place from the shocked look that Xander was giving her. He turned back to Faith, who sighed patiently and suggested, "You might want to have a word with her, Xander. I'll be busy finding my shoes." She walked away, and Xander walked up to the visibly mortified Cordelia and commented, "Cordelia, you can put the stake away now." As she did so, Xander shook his head and asked, "Cordy, what were you thinking? Running at a bunch of crazed vampires with a stake? That's a pretty good way to get killed."

Cordelia snorted and replied, "You're one to talk, Spaz boy. I followed you out of the restaurant because I wanted to yell at you and your. . .date for messing up my evening, and I saw you sneaking over with that stake and holy water. Now, there was no way I was going to mess up my hair and dress just to help you two losers. . .but then that vamp had you by the throat, and well. . .there was no way I was going to let you die without letting me tell you just how pissed off I am at you!"

Xander sighed: vintage Cordelia. He folded his arms and replied, "All right then, Cordelia. You've certainly earned it. Tell me what a cheating bastard I am, and how I was never good enough for you. Tell me whatever else is on your mind. The floor is yours, Miss Chase."

Cordelia glared at him for a long moment, then grated out, "Damn you, Xander. You know I can't stay mad at you when you're like this. . .you're in your damn White Knight mode, coming to the rescue even for a damned Slayer, for God's sake. I always thought I'd lose you to Buffy. . .then Willow came into the picture and I never saw it coming until it was too late. . .I wish I had never seen you two together. . .it's just such a hassle breaking in a new boyfriend." She sighed, and concluded, "But there it is. . .and I'm getting the impression even if I were to lose my mind again and take you back, you've already moved on." She glanced over to where the Slayer was cursing at the difficulty she was having finding her right shoe, and turned back and asked him, "Was that vampire right? Do you have feelings for her?"

Xander looked down for a moment and replied, "Yeah, Cordelia, I do." He looked at her and asked quietly, "I am sorry about how things turned out between us. . .can we call a truce? I miss seeing you around, and the library just hasn't been the same without you there."

Cordelia snorted, but Xander could see the softening look in her eyes as she replied, "As if I wanted to go back to spending my free time hanging out in a dusty library with the school outcasts. . .but I might stop in now and again. . .since it's good to know if the world is about to come to an end so I can accessorize properly." Xander saw the smile in her eyes as she nodded at him, then walked back to the restaurant.

Xander heard Faith coming up behind him, and turned to face her, an amused smile on his face as he asked, "So, I'm your boyfriend now, am I?"

Faith gave him a look that combined annoyance and embarrassment, then replied, "I was just trying to throw them off of their game. . .but as I said it, it felt right somehow." She moved up to him and put her arms around his neck as she asked, "How does it sound to you?"

Xander thought for a moment, then replied, "It feels right to me too. . .after all, we seem to make a good team. . .and I'm used to being teased about my crappy love life, so I guess that the reason I got pissed off was that he was taking shots at you. . .go figure, huh?"

Faith smiled, mischief dancing in her eyes, and leaned in to kiss him. Xander prepared himself for a ferocious kiss of the kind she had given him under mind control, but instead it was a soft, tender kiss, full of affection with only a tantalizing hint of lust. Xander tingled from head to toe, and when he looked at Faith he could tell that she had a similar reaction. She looked at him and replied, "Yeah, go figure." She glanced down and swore when she noted a long tear along the right sleeve of her dress.

Xander felt a moment of sadness when he remembered the significance of the dress to Faith, and quickly reassured her, "Faith, don't worry. Mrs. Summers has been a Slayer's mother for three years now: the one thing she can definitely do is repair battle-damaged fashion wear."

Faith chuckled and replied, "Yeah, you're right. . .It's just that I've waited so long to wear this, and now after one night out on the town in Sunnydale it's messed up. . .doesn't seem right somehow." She turned to him and commented, "We'd better get back, Xander. It's almost midnight. . .and I did promise Buffy's mom not to be too late."

Xander nodded, and they drove back to the Summers' house in relative silence, though occasionally a sidelong glance would produce a slight smile from the other, and Faith would occasionally playfully run a finger down Xander's right side, causing him to tingle and feel profoundly grateful for the lack of heavy traffic as they drove through the quiet night.

*****

Giles, Willow and Buffy were still sitting and talking when they heard the key in the door and saw Faith and Xander walk in quietly. Not noticing the occupants of the living room, Xander reached over to Faith, and they started a long, lingering kiss as their friends squirmed, caught between the desire not to interrupt and the embarrassment of being inadvertently made voyeurs. At length, they broke apart, and Giles seized the opportunity to clear his throat. They turned slowly and noticed their three friends, and both colored slightly before moving into the living room. Buffy smiled and commented, "The date went well, I gather."

Xander smiled and replied, "Definitely. . .though there were a few complications." He indicated Faith's torn sleeve and a bruise or two that he had picked up, and raised his hands to forestall a flood of questions as he explained, "That Finch guy who worked for the Mayor had started a new gig as a vampire, and him and four of his buddies decided to put the hurt on Faith. . .big mistake. Scratch five vamps."

Giles smiled, pleased that Faith and Xander had not let a nasty incident ruin their evening, not to mention that five vampires was a good night's work even for Faith. He nodded and commented, "Well done, both of you. Xander, we have to discuss some business with Faith. . .and you must be exhausted. Could you come by tomorrow for a more thorough discussion of what happened?"

Xander's face fell a little, and he was turning to leave when Faith slipped her right arm into the crook of his left arm, stopping his departure. She gave Giles a nasty look and replied, "Xander took out two of those vamps all by his lonesome, and held off a third until I finished the other two off. . .you might want to be a little less dismissive of his ability to kick some ass from now on. And anything you want to say to me, you can say in front of him. . .particularly since Buffy and Willow seem to know what's going on here, too."

Giles could see the anger in Faith's eyes, and he made a mental note to see just how far Xander's combat abilities had progressed as he replied, "You're right, Faith, I'm sorry. Why don't you two sit down, and I'll explain why I'm here." Faith sat down, the anger on her face changing to curiosity, and Xander sat beside her, clasping her right hand as Giles explained the letter he had received from the Boston law firm.

Faith listened as Giles explained what a living trust was, then commented, "I never even thought about whether she might have left me anything. . .she lived in a nice house, but she didn't throw money around, and I thought the house might have been something the Council had set her up in. . .wow, that was really great of her. . .so what are we talking about here, a few thousand bucks? That might be enough to perk up my wardrobe a bit. . .or maybe to get me my own set of wheels."

Giles handed her the letter, and pointed to the part that described Faith's interest in the trust. Her eyes bugged out for a moment, and her lips moved silently for a moment before she looked up at Giles and asked, "What is this, some kind of sick joke? Those jokers at the law firm must have added a few zeroes."

Giles shook his head and replied, "No, Faith. Apparently Amanda Davis was the sole heir of a major mining company executive who had left her everything he owned some years after she became a Watcher. She has no living relatives." He took the letter from her limp hand and explained, "There are two parts to this. The $10,000,000 mentioned here is left to you outright: if you die it would go to whoever the law would consider to be your heirs-probably whatever relatives you have left in Boston-unless you make a will and designate other beneficiaries. The other $100,000,000 is to be invested by the trustees, and you will receive the income for the rest of your life, after which the principal goes to the Council of Watchers. . .I knew Amanda reasonably well, and she believed very strongly in the cause: that money would clearly help the Council do its work. However, it is very clear that she also believed in you, Faith, and wanted you to live well when she was gone."

Xander felt Faith tense, and turned to her with concern. She looked shocked, but abruptly her face turned blank, then a sly expression appeared on her face. She looked at Giles and asked, "So those clods on the Council would really like to get their hands on that cash, right?" Giles nodded and Faith continued, "And they can't touch it until I buy the farm. . .or if I give the say-so, right?" Giles nodded again and was surprised that Faith had reasoned correctly: the life beneficiary could agree to forgo their interest, leaving the principal immediately available to the later designated beneficiary. Faith smiled wickedly and commented, "Good. Giles, give the Council a ring and tell them that I have a business proposition for them."

Giles looked at the younger Slayer strangely, but hastened to dial the number. Buffy looked at Faith's expression and commented, "You've got something nasty in mind, don't you? You going to let us in on it, or what?"

Faith grinned, and gently squeezed Xander's hand as she replied, "I'm going to make those stuffy bastards an offer that they could refuse. . .but they won't like what happens if they do." She reached out for the receiver, and as she began to speak to the drowsy Watcher at the other end of the line, the others in the room realized that she was in complete control, and that it was a truly scary sight.

*****

Two hours later, it was all settled, and Giles was visibly dazed. Giles would be reinstated as Field Watcher, effective immediately. The Council would launch a full-scale investigation of the events surrounding Buffy's Cruciamentum, taking the time to question all potential witnesses. Finally, the Council agreed to assign two full time personnel to Sunnydale to handle communications with the Council and assist with research: Faith had agreed to accept Wesley in that capacity, as the little weasel seemed to know his books. In exchange, Faith agreed to dissolve the trust immediately: she would keep one-fourth of the money, while the Council would receive the other $75,000,000.

The Council had not caved immediately, of course. Given the life expectancy of Slayers, the Council could expect to get the whole $100,000,000 in short order in any event. However, when Faith hinted that with her own share of the money she could retire to Tahiti in style, greatly extending her life expectancy, the Council got down to haggling, and conceded to most of Faith's demands gracefully. Giles was the major sticking point, but as he was acting de facto as the Field Watcher anyway, they decided that there was little reason not to put him back into that position formally while they launched a wider investigation. There would be time to put the now rather wealthy Slayer in her place. . .later.

Giles left after a few more moments, congratulating Faith and shaking his head in bewilderment at the events of that night. Willow went with him, stopping to give Faith a warm hug and also congratulating her on her good fortune. Buffy, yawning, grinned at Faith and told her to prepare for a very long talk in the morning, then told Xander good night and went upstairs to bed. Finding himself alone with Faith, he turned to her with not a little trepidation in his heart and asked, "So, do I still measure up as boyfriend material now that you are a woman of leisure?"

Faith looked at him appraisingly, silently examining him as Xander felt a drop of cold sweat drip down his cheek. She drawled, "Well, I don't know. . .let's check and see." She leaned in, and this time, the kiss they shared was hungry and very passionate. After a moment, she pulled back, and Xander could see the laughter in her eyes as she whispered, "Definitely."


*****

Epilogue

Eight months later

Spike, with great effort, ignored Harmony's whining as he looked over the report that his assistant had handed him. The Gem had to be here, somewhere close. . .and when he had it. . .the Slayer and her friends would be history. He had heard that the second Slayer had set up camp here too, but the Gem would make that rather dangerous situation not much of a problem at all. He was frowning at the report when he heard a loud commotion in the larger cave just outside the small one he was in. He moved to the opening and looked out. . .and was shocked at what he saw.

There were about twenty-five vampires helping Spike in his expedition-the thought of an invulnerable boss appeals to an amazing number of vamps, considering how often minions get staked by annoyed master vampires-and all of them were currently in the large cave. . .and they were getting utterly trashed by the dozen intruders who had come in through the main entrance.

They were dressed in dark camouflage outfits, and from the way claws and teeth seemed to be skimming off of them, they were probably made of Kevlar, mused Spike as he watched the carnage. Seven of the raiding party were carrying guns, and while Spike watched, flame shot from one of them, reducing a vampire to a torch, and then to dust. A vampire got into close quarters with one of the gun-toting intruders, only to have the would-be victim flip a switch on the gun and douse the unfortunate vamp with holy water, leaving him easy prey for the stake that soon followed. Spike looked over all of the intruders. . .most were men, but two of them. . .one was a dark-eyed brunette who was gleefully staking any vamp who came near her, and the other. . .those eyes that had taunted him in his dreams for years now. . .Buffy.

He saw the two Slayers look up at him, and as the look of surprise on Buffy's face quickly turned predatory, Spike felt a sudden chill. He grabbed the uncomprehending Harmony and muttered, "Time to take off, Harm," as he quickly led her out of the back entrance and dashed for the hidden place where his car was parked. * Damn, I knew that bitch would be trouble if she ever got some funding * As he drove the still complaining Harmony out of Sunnydale, he decided that vendetta or not, he was damned. . .again. . .if he was ever coming back to this stinking town again.

Back in the cave, the last of the vamps was reduced to dust, and Buffy called out, "Everyone all right?" Xander pulled off his mask and replied, "All present and accounted for, ma'am." Riley looked over at Forrest and the others, who all nodded, and replied, "We're all OK, Buffy. Those new weapons worked like a charm. . .but I think Professor Walsh would have wanted a prisoner."

Buffy sighed and commented, "Look, vamps aren't great conversationalists, and we already know how to kill them. . .you guys don't need to reinvent the wheel. Besides, part of the deal is that we call the shots on how to deal with the vamps and other demon types we help you kill. . .right, Faith?"

Faith, who had been contemplating the paper she needed to finish for the English class she was taking at Sunnydale Junior College, replied, "Damn straight, Buffy. They provide the extra firepower, we provide know-how. . .and I chip in some extra dough to makeup for what government cutbacks have done to your funding. . .sounds like a pretty fair deal to me. Don't you agree, Riley?"

Riley held his hands up in a motion of surrender and replied, "All right, I give, I give." He turned to Xander and grinned, asking, "How do you manage to keep up with her, Xander? I'm kind of new with the whole dating-a-Slayer thing." He turned and smiled at Buffy, who had the good grace to blush slightly and turn away.

Xander turned and looked at Faith as he contemplated the contents of a small velvet box in his front pocket, then replied, "Actually, I don't. . .but the effort is sure worth while." As he moved over to Faith and kissed her, thinking of the dinner he had planned for the next evening and wondering at his good fortune, he realized that he didn't have a clue about what the future would bring for him, for Faith, or for any of his friends, but that for the first time that he could remember, he was positive that everything would turn out for the best. Comforted by the thought, he departed the cave with the others without so much as a look back.


As always, comments are welcomed and desired