Part IX

Giles glared at his old adversary, then asked quietly, "Quentin, what in God's name do you think you are doing?" The menace in his tone made Willow and several of the others shiver, but Travers was unmoved. Giles inclined his head at the shotgun and commented, "There are only two rounds in that weapon. . .if you shoot Faith you'll be dead before the echoes die out. . .I promise you that."

Travers blinked, then replied, "Perhaps. . .but I will have done what needs to be done. . .and you will have the Council to answer to if I die, Rupert." His eyes narrowed and he snapped, "Miss Summers, if you move again I will pull the triggers. . .I have something to say, but if I need to act now, I will."

Buffy stopped moving and glared at Travers, snarling, "So what, is it time for the big bad guy speech? You can't still think you're a good guy. . .not after summoning that demon to cripple me."

Travers shrugged and replied, "You'll be all right in a few days. . .Sunnydale needs at least one Slayer, after all. . .but this one is tainted: dictating to the Council. . .trampling on traditions that predate the Norman invasion of England. . .she must die, so that a more suitable Slayer can take her place. . .I am acting in the best interests of the Council. . .and for the interests of the entire human race. . .Faith Stevenson must di-"

Travers had shifted his position in order to keep his eye on Buffy, Giles, and Danielle, who were the most obvious threats to try to stop him. Unfortunately for him, that caused him to take his eyes off of two of the other occupants of the alley, and the sudden burst of motion startled him. . .causing him to hesitate a crucial half second before pulling the trigger.

Walter Morris took two steps and leaped in front of the muzzle of the shotgun. He was about three feet away from it when the gun went off, and the blast from the right barrel caught him flush in the chest, propelling him backwards ten feet into a crumpled heap.

Simultaneously, Xander had launched himself at Faith, knocking her aside. Most of the blast from the left barrel splattered against the wall of the alley, but a couple of pellets of buckshot tore into Xander's shoulder, and one grazed Faith's arm.

Travers' eyes widened, and he turned to flee, but was interrupted by the sound of a throwing knife imbedding itself in the fleshy part of his right thigh. He dropped to the ground, crying out in pain. Buffy observed the effect of her throw, then grumbled, "Damn. . .I missed."

Travers painfully managed to turn back towards the alley, only to see a flash of a fist that blessedly sent him into unconsciousness. Giles straightened up, turned away from the traitor, then moved over to Xander and Faith. Xander was visibly in pain, but he immediately called out, "We just got nicked, Giles. . .you should check Mr. Morris."

Giles was still looking at Xander as he replied, "Xander. . .he just took a shotgun blast to the chest at point-blank range. . .he's not-" Giles was startled to see Xander smile and point, and turned to see his old friend moving. He stepped over to the stricken Watcher, and was startled to see that other than a rather nasty arm wound, there was no visible injury, though Morris' jacket was rather torn up. Giles' eyes narrowed, and he pulled the layers of fabric away to reveal a rather badly banged up bulletproof vest. Giles smiled, then glared at Morris as his eyes fluttered open. "Damn it, man!" he snapped, slapping his old friend on the shoulder, "You scared the devil out of us!"

The older Watcher winced at the contact and replied, "Easy, Rupert. . .I'm rather sure that several of my ribs are broken. . .is Faith all right?"

Faith walked over to the two Watchers, ignoring the lightly bleeding graze on her left arm as she crouched down next to her savior. "I'm fine, Mr. Morris. . .hey, nice hardware. . .isn't this kind of thing frowned upon by you Watcher types?" Her tone was light, but all could hear the undertones of relief and exhaustion in her voice.

Morris smiled, then winced before replying, "Ordinarily, yes. . .but I had a feeling that things might go wrong tonight, and that precautions might be in order." Faith, Giles, and the others all gave the older Watcher a hard look, and Morris hastened to elaborate, "I didn't know anything specific. . .but there was a lot of tension among the members of the Council. When I heard about the dream, I was sure that something would happen, but I had no way of knowing what specifically what would happen. . .so I decided to put on this rather uncomfortable vest and try to be ready for whatever happened. Unfortunately, I expected any treachery to be directed at Faith. . .which left me unprepared for the attack on Buffy." He turned to Buffy and concluded, "For that, I am sorry."

Buffy shrugged and replied, "We all knew something was going down. . .he just did something unexpected. It would have been nice if you'd shared your concerns with us. . .but I think charging a loaded shotgun is a pretty good way to say 'I'm sorry'."

Faith nodded in agreement and added, "B has it right, Mr. Morris. . .we've all been thinking about the long run here, and you were just trying to deal with it from your end. . .thanks." Faith saw Morris smile, then grimace and slump into unconsciousness. She frowned and called out, "Xander, toss me your keys. . .we're making a little trip to the hospital. . .and you're on the list of patients."

* * * * *

Faith paced restlessly in the waiting room. After dropping Buffy, Xander, and Morris off in the emergency room, Faith, Danielle, and Giles had gone home to change, leaving Willow to provide any needed evasions, assuming the doctors on call even bothered to ask how their patients wound up with a badly broken leg and shotgun wounds. Thirty minutes later, they were back, and another hour had slipped by without any further word. The hospital was busy that night: the activities of Travers' mercenary force of vampires had taken their toll, and created any number of injuries that would later be attributed to gang violence by the Sunnydale Police Department. Morris' assistant had taken custody of the wounded Travers, and angry phone calls from Giles and Danielle had already started a maelstrom back in England. As anxious as she was, Faith was taking no small amount of satisfaction in the fact that Travers' treachery had badly discredited the conservative faction of the Watchers' Council: she had accomplished her goal, or at least gotten a good start on it.

A doctor came into the room and walked over to Giles, calling out, "Mr. Giles? Your friends are all going to be fine." The doctor noted the relieved look on the older man's face, and on the faces of the other three people in the room who came over to listen. "Mr. Harris' injuries were mostly superficial: we replaced the blood loss and stitched up the wounds. The break in Miss Summers' femur was clean, and we had no problem straightening the bone and applying the cast. Mr. Morris will not be terribly comfortable for a while: he suffered five broken ribs, and he won't be able to use his right arm for some time until it can heal, but I anticipate he will make a full recovery. They were all very fortunate." He smiled and concluded, "You can see them now: Mr. Harris and Miss Summers can go in the morning, and Mr. Morris should be ready for release in a few days."

They followed the doctor to a private room, and entered it to find Buffy, Xander, and Morris all in beds. Morris gave the group a lopsided smile; apparently, the pain medication had been administered already. The doctor left, and Faith pulled up a chair next to Buffy's bed and asked, "So. . .can I sign your cast first?"

Buffy glowered at her, then replied, "Xander asked first. . .you could always arm wrestle him for it, I suppose." Both Slayers turned to Xander in time to see him wince, and Faith laughed as Buffy continued, "On the other hand, I think that Xander wouldn't really mind, considering that I won't have it on for more than a week anyway." Buffy reached out and clasped Faith's hand, then asked, "Are you all right?"

Faith shrugged and replied, "A bit dinged up, but Willow's spell got all of that crap out of my system, and Slayer healing is doing its usual job. . .I've got the patrolling covered until you heal up." She turned and gave Giles an appraising look as she concluded, "Still, with all of the vamps we dusted, I should have enough time for some R & R."

Giles blinked and swallowed nervously, while Buffy laughed, Danielle smiled softly, and Willow and Xander looked confused. Morris glanced over at his old friend, smiled broadly, and called out, "Oh, for heavens sake, Rupert, just kiss her already." As the others in the room blinked, Morris closed his eyes and dropped off into slumber.

Willow and Xander stared, then turned suspiciously to Buffy, who was looking at Giles with a smile and a hint of tears in her eyes. Faith squeezed Buffy's hand, then walked over to Giles. She locked eyes with him and asked quietly, "Well, why don't you?"

Giles blinked, then leaned down and gently pressed his lips to Faith's. After a moment, a new voice boomed through the room: "Well. . .it seems that I have missed the beginning of the celebration."

Everyone turned to the door, where a man of powerful build and advanced years stood, watching them with a faint smile. Danielle blinked, then offered her hand to the man, who shook it firmly as he walked to her side. She smiled nervously and called out, "Everyone. . .this is Daniel Masters, President of the Board of Directors of the Council of Watchers."

Danielle performed the introductions, and Giles swallowed nervously again-for an entirely different reason than the last time-as he watched the senior Watcher greet his friends. When he got to the side of Morris' bed, Masters shook his head and commented, "Walter always did have a reckless streak. . .his assistant gave me a full report of the events of the evening. Still, one can't argue with his results. . .he's earned the time to heal, and a substantial leave of absence afterwards." He turned to Buffy, and his expression turned apologetic as he addressed her: "Miss Summers. . .I have been briefed about the treachery of Quentin Travers: his crimes will be dealt with harshly. . .I promise you that. I am appalled that we were unable to prevent your injuries at his hands, and on behalf of the Council, I apologize."

Buffy looked at the elder Watcher for a long moment, and she nodded as she replied, "I'm still not thrilled with what you have put us through, but I don't blame you for what Travers did. . .I just hope that no Slayer ever has to go through this again."

Masters smiled and responded, "I think that is likely, if not certain. Faith's performance tonight is the crowning touch to the obvious truth that she and you have spent the last three years proving: we need to re-think the old ways, and the Cruciamentum should be one of the first obsolete ideas we discard." He turned to Faith, and concluded "I hope I can count on the assistance of both you and Miss Summers in helping us find our new way, Miss Stevenson."

Faith nodded and replied, "I'm up for it. We do good work here, and if you can help us do it better, cool." She extended her hand, and after a moment Masters took it and shook it firmly before he walked over to Xander.

The younger man blinked as he mentally writhed under the scrutiny of the elder Watcher. After a few seconds, he could take no more and asked, "Ah. . .Mr. President. . .I mean, ah, Mr. Masters. . .uh, I mean, sir. . .have I done something wrong?"

Masters looked at him for another moment, then laughed out loud in genuine delight before replying, "On occasion. . .but on the whole, you are quite a piece of work, Mr. Harris. . .are you aware of how few persons have saved the life of a Slayer once, much less several times? Not to mention some of your other activities. . .Mr. Harris, I don't know what plans you have for your future, but we at the Council will be glad as long as you choose to assist us in our struggle." He extended his left hand, and Xander shook it firmly.

Willow was smiling at the praise her best friend was receiving and was startled to see Masters looking at her. She blushed and was looking for a convenient route of escape as Masters walked up to her and commented, "You didn't think I would overlook you, did you Miss Rosenberg? Both Rupert and Danielle have spoken of you glowingly in their diaries. . .and your contribution tonight was remarkable. I fully approve of your decision to stay here in Sunnydale for your college education, but your gifts deserve greater teaching than can be had here: with your permission, I would like to engage private tutors to enhance your education here. With our connections, we can see that you receive a degree from Oxford at the same time you graduate from UC Sunnydale. . .that should definitely improve your employment prospects when you graduate, whether or not you decide to continue to contribute to our cause. . .are you interested?"

Willow's response was to step forward and give the elder Watcher an uninhibited hug: Masters froze momentarily, then patted Willow on the back briefly before stepping away and turning to Giles. Giles looked as if he would rather be facing Angelus, Spike, and Drusilla without so much as a toothpick as Masters gave him a stern look and intoned sternly, "Rupert. . .you do know that the laws passed down for millennia by our forefathers clearly say that it is forbidden for a Watcher to become involved with his Slayer. . .don't you?"

Faith's eyes flashed angrily, and she was preparing to burst out angrily before the elder Watcher turned to her and locked eyes with her; for once, Faith decided that silence was the best approach. Smiling at Faith's reaction, Masters turned back to Giles and continued, "How fortunate for you that she is no longer your Slayer. . .the laws don't seem to say a damned thing about a Slayer who isn't your responsibility." He stepped forward and whispered into Giles' ear: "You're a lucky bastard, Rupert. . .just don't hurt her or the weight of the entire Council will come down on your neck like the vengeance of Heaven." He stepped back, nodded at Danielle, and left without another word.

There was utter silence for several seconds, then laughter echoed through the room as Buffy, Xander, and Willow lost their composure. Faith ignored the laughter and stepped over to Giles again, and this time the kiss they shared was far from gentle. When they stepped away from each other with smiles on their faces, they both found that this time Xander and Willow were staring at them with rather irritated expressions. Silence once again reigned until Xander quietly asked, "Either one of you want to let us know when this happened?"

Giles and Faith looked at each other, then Faith cleared her throat self-consciously and began, "Well, B and me were talking one night. . ."

CLOSING COMMENT: At times I thought I would never finish this story, but as I conclude it I find I am sorry it is ending. I don't have any specific plans to continue this story line, but if enough readers are interested I will certainly consider it.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired