Iron Will

Author: Merlin the Enchanter <merlin.enchanter[at]>

Rating: PG, - for Now

AN: This story is set in season three, however I have shuffled the dates around to fit my own needs. If something doesn't fit the way the show went, it's because of me. This occurs sometime after The Zeppo, and Xander helped Faith rather than sleep with her, she has sought out help from Joyce and did not start to turn bad.

Disclaimer: The characters do not belong to me; they belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy and Co. And Marvel Comics owns Ironman and the other Marvel characters. Only the story is mine.

Special Thanks: To My Betas, Greywizard, Jayesh, and Brer Abbott, Thanks guys, your support has meant a lot!

Category: F/X, B/X, AU, X-Over W/O Angst.

Summary: Xander saves Buffy and Faith, but suffers a serious crippling injury.

Latest addition


It only took a second for the tide of the battle to turn. Buffy, Faith, Xander, Willow, Oz and Giles were literally hammering the group of vampires to dust. Then out of nowhere, a Relâmpago demon appeared and sending a magical blast with its staff scattered the group.

The six started to struggle to their feet when the demon pointed his staff at Buffy and Faith who were helping each other up.

"Goodbye, Slayers." The demon growled.

The flash of magical lightning left the staff and flew toward the two young women, only to impact on the chest of Xander, who had leapt in front of the slayers, blocking the lightning.

He flew back almost to them and bounced twice. Then he curled up in a fetal position and wrapped his arms around his chest, gasping for breath.

The slayers split up, watching the demon carefully and started to advance on him. He tried to aim the staff at them but they were moving too fast. The demon started to utter the beginnings of a transportation spell when a foot of steel sword erupted from his chest and he died rather quietly, his body dissolving into goo.

"That'll be all for you, wanker," said the cockney voice of the Ripper.

Faith and Buffy ran to Xander as soon as they were sure that the demon was done for. Willow had been the first to reach him and was holding him as he gasped, tears rolling down his face. He seemed unable to catch his breath and was clutching at his chest as if he was having a heart attack.

"Oh god, it hurts!" Xander groaned, his jaw clenched.

Without even thinking, Faith grabbed him up and headed for the cemetery parking lot.

"We've got to get him to a hospital, guys. Come on!" Faith yelled.

The gang rushed to the parking lot and drove to the hospital in two cars. Faith carried Xander in and was then sent to the waiting room with the rest.


The gang had been waiting now for about an hour, Joyce having joined them after getting Buffy's call. Giles had just returned from trying to call Xander's parents and sat down angrily, cursing under his breath.

"I cannot believe them, their son could die, and they said they might stop by in the morning," Giles said, anger clear in his voice.

"Calm down, Rupert, not everyone cares about their children as we do," Joyce said kindly.


Another hour had passed before the doctor finally came out to talk to them.

"Are you the ones waiting on news of Alexander Harris?" he asked.

When they nodded, he started to speak.

"Alexander has suffered some sort of severe damage to his heart; it has swollen up almost double normal size. We have him somewhat stabilized for now, and we have ordered a life flight helicopter to take him to UCLA Medical Center. We just don't have the means to care for him here," the doctor explained sadly.

"Will he be okay?" asked Willow, looking like she was going to fall apart any minute.

The doctor paused thinking, then turned to the assembled group.

"To be honest, he should already be dead. There is significant damage to his heart, but if he does survive this, he will be severely limited in what he will be able to do. I just really can't be sure, we don't have enough equipment here to be able to run all the tests required," he told them fatigue and weariness filling his voice. This was the part of the job he hated the most.

"Can we see him?" Buffy asked.

"Only for a few minutes, we are readying him for the flight now. Follow me, and I'll take you to his room," replied the doctor.

Buffy, Willow and Giles headed back with the doctor and Joyce stayed back, noticing the look on Faith's face. She seemed ready to fall apart.

"Faith? What is it honey?" Joyce asked.

There was no reply, so Joyce steered her to a couch and sat her down, sitting next to her.

"Come on, Faith, talk to me," Joyce urged the unnaturally quiet Slayer.

Faith turned her head toward the woman she almost considered a mother and tried to speak, but all that happened was her lower lip quivered and tears ran down her cheeks.

Joyce turned to the young woman she had taken in and hugged her to herself. Faith had arrived in Sunnydale with both attitude and issues. There had been a time when Faith been walking the line between good and evil, and had dragged Xander home with her one night to 'Work off some adrenaline" after slaying.

Xander had refused and had spent the night with her, holding her while she cried and slept. The next day he had brought her to Joyce, and together they had started working out her problems. Faith had gradually fallen in love with him after that, but had shared that fact with Joyce alone. Xander had become her hero as well, the first man who had ever cared about her as a person, and not just considered her a piece of ass.

"I can't lose him Joyce," Faith said softly. "Even if I can't have him."

"What do you mean, honey, even if you can't have him?" Joyce asked confused.

"Xander prefers blondes," Faith whispered.

"Ohh," was all Joyce could say, and she hugged the young woman to her tightly as she patted her back reassuringly.


A Week Later

Dr. Carl Stevens was pondering the condition of a patient when he suddenly jumped up and rushed down the hall, having seen someone familiar exit the elevator. It was Doctor Su Yin, a well know neurologist who was currently doing research here at the medical center.

"Doctor," he called.

Doctor Su Yin turned and looked at him.

"Yes?" she replied coolly.

"I was wondering if you could look over a case for me?" he asked holding up a file.

Doctor Su Yin had eventually grown used to requests like this, and she tried to help whenever possible. She took the folder out of his hand and looked at it as she walked. Stopping suddenly, she began to flip through the file even faster.

"What happened to this boy?" she asked.

"No one knows, and he won't say. The cops think it was a prank gone wrong," replied Dr. Stevens.

"It would take much more than a prank to cause this kind of damage. May I see him?" Dr. Su Yin asked.

"Most certainly. He's right down this way," Dr. Stevens directed her.


Dr. Su Yin studied the latest test results with a frown. Medically speaking, there was nothing that could have totally destroyed the nerves controlling the heart beat of the young man under evaluation without doing other permanent damage to the surrounding tissue. Yes, his heart had been swollen to twice normal size when he was brought in, but that quickly returned to normal.

It was almost as if the nerves just vanished, and never existed. They could implant a pacemaker, but that would never give the boy a normal life; he would end up a bedridden recluse if that happened.

She could only think of one thing that might help, but first she needed to speak with him. Su Yin checked her watch and then sighed; it would have to wait till later, she was due in surgery right now.

Later, after she had completed the surgery, she checked her messages and grabbed a cup of coffee before going to visit the young man.

She entered the room to find him talking to a young pretty brunette. When the door opened, they both turned to look at her.

"Hello, Xander," she greeted him. "I would like to talk to you, if I may?" she said.

"Sure, doc. By the way, this is Faith, a very good friend from Sunnydale," Xander introduced the two women.

"I believe that I need to speak to you alone, Xander. This could be very important," Dr. Su Yin told him.

"Faith can hear whatever it is, I'd tell her anyway," Xander answered.

"Okay, then, it's your decision. Xander, I have been studying all the tests that we've done and have determined that about seventy five percent of the nerves controlling your heart muscles have been destroyed." She saw the stunned look on both of their faces. "Other than a pacemaker and a portable defibrillator, which will leave you pretty much bed ridden, there is only one other possibility That has any chance of letting you resume anything approaching a normal life," she started to explain.

"And what is that?" Faith asked.

"There is a kind of advanced pacemaker that would suit your condition, but it is very costly," the doctor explained. "But before we could even consider looking into that, you will have to clear up a few things for us."

"Like what?" Xander asked the doctor.

"Like telling us exactly what you were doing when your injury occurred," the doctor said.

"I was patrolling with two Slayers and the rest of our group when a Relâmpago demon, which is basically an assassin for hire, tried to ambush us. He tried to use a magical staff to kill both Slayers and I got in its way," Xander said with a straight face.

"I was told that you would provide a ridiculous answer," the doctor sighed. "Well, if you change your mind, we still have some time before we need to operate. Just be prepared to tell me the truth the next time," the doctor told him.

"Doctor, I just told you the truth, you just choose not to believe it. Are you going home right now?" Xander asked.

"Yes, I've been here long enough today," she answered.

"Faith, walk out with her will you? It's after dark," said Xander.

"Sure, Xan, I got her covered," Faith reassured him.

"That will not be necessary, the security here is excellent," Dr. Su Yin protested.

"It'll make me feel better doctor. Please?" Xander begged.

"Very well. Come on, Faith," Dr. Su Yin said as she left the room.

Faith followed the doctor as she went to the desk to sign out and waited as the doctor got her things from the locker room. Next, they went to the security desk where a guard joined them, escorting them to the parking lot.

Dr. Su Yin was unlocking her BMW when something grabbed the security guard and tossed him over her car. She quickly turned to see a large man reaching for her, and screamed in terror when his face suddenly morphed into a demonic visage. Just as it seemed the monster was about to grab her, a boot flashed into her range of vision and connected with the demonic face, sending it flying backwards.

"Owww, another pretty snack. Must be my lucky night," the vampire grinned, as he got back to his feet.

Dr. Su Yin was stunned, observing the creature as it stalked Faith. Sharp pointed teeth, that would appear to be typical vampire fangs, and a rough ridged forehead. It rushed again at Faith and was once more driven back by her incessant kicks and punches, before it finally got in a lucky punch and slammed Faith back against the car.

Shaking her head, she stood back up and snarled at the monster.

"You think you guys would learn not to piss off a Slayer!" she growled.

"Slayer?" said the vampire, fear suddenly showing in its eyes.

Faith did two back spinning kicks that connected solidly, driving the vampire back.

"Yea, slayer," she said as she hammered in a snap kick to the groin, doubling her foe over. While he was occupied clutching at himself, Faith drove the sharpened stake through his back.

Dr. Su Yin watched in disbelief as Faith drove the 'thing' back, then planted a solid kick in his family jewels. When Faith suddenly produced a stake, she started to yell, then stopped as the stake was rammed home, and the whatever-it-was turned to dust with a soft poof.

Faith stood and brushed the dust off of her clothes and walked back to the doctor.

"You okay?" Faith asked.

"Yes, I, I think so," stuttered the doctor. Hearing a groan, she rushed over to the security guard.

The doctor helped the guard up, then started to help him back into the hospital.

"I have question," said Dr. Su Yin, as they helped the guard.

"I thought you would," replied Faith with a smirk.

After delivering the injured security guard to the emergency room and giving a report to hospital security about a 'mugging attack,' the two women returned to Xander's room.

"What happened, Faith?" Xander asked when he saw both women returning.

"Got jumped by a vamp in the parking lot, security guard got a little busted up, but he'll be okay," Faith casually reported. .

"And the Vamp?" he asked.

"Dusted," tossed out Faith with a grin.

"What the hell are you two talking about?" asked Dr. Yin, confused and a little angry.

Xander launched into his version of Giles' 'The World is older than you know...' speech and the doctor almost couldn't believe her ears. However, she did have a highly analytical mind, and had actually seen the evidence of the vampire turning to dust. The doctor also got to see Faith bend part of Xander's bed to demonstrate her strength.

When he was finally done telling his tale, the doctor had many more questions, and got the full story of Xander's injury from a teary eyed Slayer, who tried not to let Xander see her tears while she told the story.

Listening to the story told by the two teenagers, the doctor had to wonder why they did it, why they placed themselves in danger to fight these demons and other monsters. She must have spoken the last sentence out loud without realizing it.

"If we don't, who will?" Xander asked. "I have lost too many friends and acquaintances to the vampires and demons in Sunnydale. The police continue to somehow think that it's a result of gang members on PCP. Most other people try to pretend that the dark things don't really exist. Do you have any idea of what the panic would be if the public found out about it?"

"Mass chaos..." whispered Dr. Su Yin as she thought about it.

Looking at the young man carefully, Dr. Yin could see that he was getting both tired and excited, and she decided to leave.

"Well, Xander, I will be back to learn more tomorrow. You are tired, and in your condition right now, you can't afford that." She could see the sorrow those words caused on both teens.

"Faith, can I give you a lift somewhere?" she asked the Slayer.

"Naw, I'm 5 by 5, just going to crash with some friends," Faith answered.

Dr. Su Yin looked at the girl, sensing that she was lying, but said nothing in front of Xander.

Both said goodbye, and Faith picked up her backpack and followed the doctor out, promising her safe delivery to her car. Once in the parking lot, the doctor turned to the young woman.

"Faith, I think you are lying about having a place to stay," she said. You saved me tonight, and I am offering you a room at my apartment. You can get a shower and rest up, then return to see Xander with me, tomorrow," she offered.

"Naw, that's..." started Faith.

"Faith, I insist. You need to get some decent rest if you are going to be strong for him. He is going through something that he should never have to deal with at his age, and he may never recover. And I can tell you want to be there for him," the doctor told her with a warm smile.

Faith looked at the lady doctor that she just met and felt the sincerity of what she said.

"Okay doc, if you insist," she agreed, after a moment's consideration.

They got into her BMW and headed to the doctor's apartment.

The doctor pulled out her cell phone and asked Faith, "Chinese okay?"

Faith raised her eyebrow but replied yes.


The two women ate dinner while Faith told Su Yin about some of the adventures they had had since she had joined the group. When they were done, Faith helped clean up and went to take a shower before turning in.

When Su Yin heard the water start running, she sat in a comfortable chair and dialed a number from memory.

< This better be important Su, do you know what time it is here? >

"Don't worry, Tony, I know, and this is important,." she agreed.

Speaking quickly but quietly, she related the story of Xander's injuries to her former love along with the story of the Slayers, as well. Tony listened quietly then asked a question.

< He did this to save the two Slayers, right? >

"Yes, Tony, that is what they told me," she confirmed softly.

< And you think a chestplate like mine would help him? >

"Yes, the damage is very similar to what the shrapnel did to you. The chest plate would provide the same functions for him," she answered.

< Okay, I'll leave in the morning with one of my new replacements. >

"Thanks, Tony. I knew you would help once you found out how it happened to him," Su replied. "See you tomorrow."

"Who was that?" asked Faith as she re-entered the room, hair wet and right out of the shower.

"A former patient, and a good friend. Tony Stark has a similar condition, and has a method for controlling it," answered the doc.

"Tony Stark? The billionaire Tony Stark?" Faith asked, a shocked expression on her face.

"Yes, the very same," agreed Dr. Yin. "Time for me to turn in as well, Faith. Turn the light out when you head to bed, please."

Faith watched the doctor walk to her room, and shook her head in wonder.

"What the hell's going on here, Xan-man?" she muttered to herself. "What's going on?"

Chapter 1

The Next Morning

Faith and Dr. Yin arrived at the hospital the next morning promptly at nine. Faith felt rested for the first time in a week, and she continued on up to Xander's room while the doctor checked in with her answering service for any messages.

Exiting the elevator, Faith was thrust into a madhouse, doctors and nurses rushing around frantically, with Xander's room the center of all the activity. Worried, she pushed her way through the crowd and peered in the room.

Xander was lying on his bed, gasping for breath as the doctors worked to keep his heart going.

"He's not going to make it," she heard one of the doctors say. "His lungs aren't working, and his heart keeps stopping."

"Get a respirator up here. Now!" another ordered.

She stepped back from the door and moved off to one side, her eyes fixed on Xander. There was still plenty of action to watch, as equipment was wheeled in and out. Standing on the edge of the hallway, Faith continued to watch in horrified silence. When she heard the sound of the heart monitor start squealing, she did what she always did when she couldn't face something. She turned and ran.

As Dr. Yin exited the elevator, much as Faith had, she was greeted with the long flat tone of a heart monitor flat lining.

Rushing into the room, she shoved the doctors and nurses aside.

"Keep going, don't stop a thing," she ordered.

The staff looked at her questioningly but obeyed and kept working until the respirator and portable defibrillator could be set up to keep his heart and lungs going. After all the equipment was operating satisfactorily and Xander had stabilized, Dr. Yin was pulled out of the room by a very upset Walter Iverson, the hospital administrator.

"Dr, Yin," he began, "you have no authority over this case. Alexander Harris' parents had specifically stated that they wanted no heroic measures taken if their son had any major complications. He was legally dead, and now you have thrown us into the middle of a legal quandary. His parents may not be legally responsible for his care any longer. Are you ready to assume responsibility for his care?" Iverson demanded

"If I have to, yes," Yin answered, staring back up into Iverson's eyes. "A friend of mine is on his way here to look over the case, for an experimental procedure that his company is working on. If he agrees, and he most likely will, his company will assume the burden of care, and cover all medical costs, until he is transferred to his facility."

"Well then, let's hope he is not late," Iverson said, as he stalked away.

"You pompous, overbearing, incompetent ass," Yin muttered under her breath as she watched him leave.

Dr. Yin returned to Xander's room and tried to comfort the boy, his fear evident in his eyes.

She tried to make him as comfortable as possible, explaining what was happening, and reassuring him in a calm soothing voice.

She was sitting there, reading the charts when a thought came to her.

< Where's the girl? Where did Faith go? >

After reassuring Xander that she would return soon, she went out into the corridor, and checked the two waiting rooms, then went to the nurse's desk.

"Excuse me, but when the emergency in the Harris room was going on, did anyone happen to see a young brunette girl around here?" she asked the staff gathered around the desk.

Several of them answered in the negative, but Nurse Munsey, a veteran who had been here for years remembered her.

"Was she wearing black jeans and a red tank top?" she asked.

"Yes, I believe she was," Yin answered.

"The poor girl looked like she was crushed when he flat-lined, and took off down the hall towards the surgical wing just before you arrived. She looked devastated. Was she his girlfriend?" Munsey asked.

"I don't know. I really don't know," Yin replied.

Dr. Su Yin, neurologist, onetime girlfriend of Tony Stark, and now possibly lead medical doctor of the Stark medical research team, went out in search of the troubled young girl. She searched several places before calling Security and asking that they put a watch out for the brunette. She was heading back to Xander's room when she received a page from one of the security men. They had located Faith in a stairwell, and she seemed to be just sitting there, crying.

Dr. Yin hurried to the location she had been given and walked down the half a flight to sit next to the scared young girl.

"He's doing better for the time being, Faith. I have him on a external pacemaker, and he is breathing with the help of a ventilator. Barring any more problems developing, he should be fine for a few days until we get the device set up for him," she explained, as she tried to reassure the young girl.

Faith sat up straighter and wiped her eyes, trying to regain her normal cocky attitude and manner, but failed.

"You love him, don't you?" Yin asked her quietly.

"Yeah, I guess I do. But that don't matter. Xander don't care about me that way. He has a thing for a blonde Slayer. I think he has always loved her," Faith said softly.

"So when did you fall for him?" Yin asked, trying to get Faith to talk a little.

"Complicated story. We were out one night on Armageddon alert, trying to keep the Sisters of Jhe from opening the Hellmouth when I stumbled on one at the cemetery. I was gettin' my ass kicked when Xander shows up in his uncle's car and slams her into the wall of the crypt. I used my trusty demon killer knife on her and then we headed back to my place. I was gettin kind of twitchy, 'cause slaying makes me hungry and horny, and I figured the two of us could work off a little of that adrenaline together," Faith paused for a moment, looking at her feet.

"Well, anyway, he refused, and when I freaked out, he calmed me down and slept with me, holding me all night, even though we never took our clothes off. I felt so protected and loved that night. Anyway, the next morning, he hauled my butt over to Buffy's house and had me talk to Joyce, Buffy's mom. Well, we ended up talking for hours, and she convinced me to move in with them, and I actually felt like I belonged somewhere, for the first time in my life," Faith said as she stood, leaning back against the wall.

"Xander and Joyce have been there for me again and again this past year. I owe him everything, so what does he do? He saves my life and Buffy's. Again. And do you know why? He said we were more valuable to the world than he would ever be." Faith's indifferent façade broke down as she spoke, and her tears began running down her face once more.

Dr. Yin stood up and gently hugged the young slayer, holding her close while she cried, her own eyes threatening to spill over.

After a few minutes, she began leading the young Slayer back up to Xander's room.

"Come on, Faith. Xander's alone right now, and he's scared at what's happening to him. He needs you," Yin whispered.

Later that afternoon.

Xander had just been returned to his room after having yet even more tests run. Faith was there waiting and grabbed his hand as soon as he was back in his bed.

< God, Faith, you don't know how much this means to me, > Xander tried to say with his eyes.

Faith just squeezed his hand, and gave him a weak smile back.

She heard a noise and looked up to the doorway.

A tall dark haired man with a neatly trimmed goatee was standing there. A small youngish looking redhead and a large muscular black man stood with him. Behind them, Faith heard Dr. Yin urging everyone into the room. After she entered, she made the introductions.

"Xander, Faith, this is Tony Stark, Jim Rhodes, and Deidre McTaggart. Tony, Jim, Deidre, this is Xander Harris and Faith Williams. Tony, Faith is the one I was telling you about, the Slayer." Yin elaborated, to Faith's shock.

"Dr. Yin, what the hell's the idea? That was not supposed to be spread around. It's supposed to be a kinda secret identity thing," the brunette hissed.

Jim Rhodes, or Rhodey as he was known, snorted.

"What's your deal, muscle brain?" Faith asked, a snarl on her face as she looked at him.

"Don't know where you get called a "Slayer" ,doll face. You look more like a shopper. You don't look big enough to be a threat to anyone," the big bodyguard grinned down at her.

Faith had started to take a step toward the big bodyguard, but stopped when Xander held onto her hand.

Turning to look at him, she saw the look in his eyes, and the shake of the head that meant 'no.'

"Rhodey, back off. A lot of people don't look at all like they really are," Tony Stark said, stepping in to diffuse the tension. "Now shake hands and make nice."

The big man stuck his hand out to the small woman, then was shocked when he found himself on his knees, unable to move because of the pressure point on his hand that she had found.

"Uncle,." he whispered.

Faith relaxed her grip and helped the man up. His eyes opened wide when Faith easily pulled him to his feet.

"Slayer strength. I never go anywhere without it," She said, a sly grin on her face.

Tony Stark stepped up closer to the bed and started to talk to Xander.

"Dr. Yin tells me that you are aware of what is happening to the nerves in your chest. Is that correct?" he asked.

Xander, unable to speak with the respirator in his throat, nodded in agreement.

"We have developed a way to bypass the damaged nerves, and a device which can control your heart and lungs, but it is a complicated and lengthy process. My company is willing to test it on you, so that we can research the results. I just want to make sure you know that it will be a long and painful process, but it should eventually let you have a normal life, more or less," Tony explained.

Xander could only nod and give a 'thumbs up' to the proposal.

Faith stayed in physical contact with Xander as much as possible for the rest of the day, as he was transferred to the research wing that had been provided to the hospital by Stark International. Xander's room was much larger and a lot more private than the previous one.

Near the end of the day, both Tony and Dr. Yin returned to see how Xander was doing. Unable to speak, he used a small whiteboard that had been provided for him to indicate that he was doing fairly well.

"I'm heading up to Sunnydale tomorrow to talk to Rupert Giles, and your parents. I want to make sure they know what is going on. I want to talk to Mr. Giles in particular, about vampires and demons. Is there anything you'd like me to pass on? If you want to write some letters, I will deliver them for you," Stark offered.

Xander nodded, then started writing. He also asked if Faith could ride back with him, insisting that she was missing too much school being here with him. When Faith tried to protest, Xander turned on the puppy dog eyes and she caved in, almost without a fight.

Stark then arranged to return the next morning and pick up Faith, and Xander's letters. Dr. Yin was going to remain at the hospital for awhile, and would return to take Faith home with her just for the night..

After the two adults left, the two young people sat there, holding hands and looking at each other. Xander moved first, taking his white board and reassuring the Dark Slayer that he would be okay. Faith nodded to him with tears in her eyes, unable to speak.

After a bit, Xander asked her to help him find some paper and a pen, so he could write his letters. Faith found them, setting them on his table for him to use whenever he was ready.

After he had finished his letters, the pair sat quietly and waited until Dr. Yin returned to get Faith.

The ride that night was quiet, Faith lost in her own thoughts, and Dr. Yin was thinking about seeing Tony again. They stopped and got a Pizza, then finished the trip to the doctor's home.

Two Weeks Later.

Xander was sitting up, out of bed for the first time since his injury, awaiting his visitors.

True, he was tethered to a bank of computers that were monitoring the chest plate assembly that was controlling his heart and lungs, but he now had some limited mobility. It was also true that the chest plate was very similar to the armor that a Conquistador would have worn, but lacked the flaring out at the bottom. But at least he felt normal for the first time in quite a while.

The whole assembly was constructed of a multi layered, knitted metallic material (only Stark knew the real composition) which formed a skin tight hard shell when it was powered up. It controlled both the pacemaker and the device which regulated his lungs which had been implanted in Xander's chest, while bio-metallic fibers replaced the destroyed or damaged nerves. The testing of his chest plate assembly was just beginning.

When Buffy, Faith, Willow and the rest of the gang arrived, Xander was on the treadmill, the computer analyzing his breathing and heartbeat requirements, comparing them to a normal human in Xander's condition. All things considered, he was doing surprisingly well.

The Gang waited and watched quietly while he finished his time on the device, amazed that he was doing so well. When Dr. Yin shut down the treadmill, Xander stepped off and stood quietly, at least until the clapping started.

"Good job, Xan!" Buffy laughed.

"Yes, a very good job, Xander," Dr. Yin agreed. "Now, please lift your arms so I can make some adjustments to the chest plate computer. The other one seems to be fine, but I want to make sure that they are synched up as closely as possible."

Xander stood, holding out his arms, while Dr. Yin and Deidre McTaggart, the designer, powered down the device and pulled it off the young man.

Dr. Yin examined the implants while Deidre plugged in the now flexible chest piece into her computer. The steroids and other medication that were being used accelerated the healing process quite a bit, and the scars that were visible were very faint and nearly completely healed. The micro-computers and electronic pacemaker that were implanted under the Pectoralis minor muscles ran off a special Stark Industries battery pack that was still very secret. The electronics that controlled his lung functions were implanted under the muscles on both sides of Xander's chest.

A secondary effect of the steroids was the bulking up of Xander's muscle tissue, a side effect that had also been planned for, as a way to provide further padding for the electronics.

The chest plate was responsible for providing the main power supply to the electronics, as well as protecting them from everyday activities. The knitted metallic fiber formed a hard shell when polarized by the proper electrical field, allowing flexibility on the inside , but forming a strong, impervious shell on the outside.

Both Buffy, and Faith hugged the shirtless Xander gently, not wanting to hurt him.

"Damn, but you've bulked up some, X-man. Looking good!" Faith commented.

"A side effect of the steroids we're using to help repair as much of the damage as we can, but the workout routine we have him on will help that out. He'll stay in pretty good shape as long as he keeps up with the routine," Yin commented. "Xander, we're finished for the moment, until we can get set up for the remaining test. Why don't you rest up a bit, and spend some time with your friends?"

He took the hint, and gratefully sat down on the couch, but still within reach of his tethers.

The group just sat around and talked for awhile, trying to catch up on what was going on back home. After a discreet bit of maneuvering, Joyce finally managed to get a few minutes alone with him.

"I just wanted to thank you for saving Buffy's life again, Xander," she started.

"No need for that, Mrs. Summers, you know I would do anything..." Xander tried to explain.

Joyce interrupted him before he could continue.

"Yes, Xander, that is exactly what I mean. Out of all of Buffy's friends, you are the one I know that would do anything to protect her, or for that matter, Faith, Willow and Dawn. For that alone, I can't thank you enough. I want you to know Xander, that if you ever need anything, and I mean anything at all, you come to me. If it's in my power to help you, I will do it."

She hugged Xander in a very motherly fashion, kissed him on the cheek and then walked away, leaving a stunned young man behind her.

Dr Yin had overheard the last part of the conversation and said to Xander, "You are a very lucky person to have someone like that care for you."

"Yeah, I know," Xander replied softly.

The friends' afternoon visit was over before they realized it, and they all gathered together to say goodbye. Dawn, Buffy, Willow, Faith and Joyce all hugged him when saying their goodbyes. Giles shook hands with him, leaned closer to him and whispered, "Thank you for everything." Then he turned and left. The rest of the Gang promised to return the next weekend.

After they left, Xander returned to the treadmill and went through several more tests that the doctor had set up. He was finishing the final one when Tony Stark came in. He was accompanied by a rather beat up Rhodey.

"Hello, everyone,." Called out Tony as they entered.

"Hi Tony, hi Jim, what the hell happened to you?" Dr. Yin asked, concerned about his injuries.

Tony chuckled.

"We went on patrol with Buffy and Faith two nights ago; we wanted to see for ourselves what was going on. We ran into a pack of vampires. Buffy and Faith fought an amazing battle, keeping the vampires away from us." Tony explained. "However, one got by, and Rhodey got the idea into his head that they weren't that tough, so he jumped on him. It tossed Rhodey off like he was some kind of pillow. You should have seen the look on his face. Giles killed it with a crossbow."

"So he's a believer now, huh?" Asked Xander.

"Oh yeah, big time," Tony smirked.

Rhodey rolled his eyes, but he now knew what Xander had been going through, a bond began to be formed between them.

"I did spend a lot of time talking to Rupert though, and he told me a lot about you," Tony stated.

"Really?" Xander questioned, not sure what kind of answer to expect.

"Yes, he told me that you have some sort of 'White Knight' complex. He guaranteed me that if you were able to, you would go through the exact same thing as you have just been through, if it meant you would get to save Buffy or Faith again."

Tony fixed Xander with a direct stare. "Is that true Xander?"

Xander squirmed as he stepped off the treadmill.

"Yeah, I would. Even if it killed me," Xander admitted, his throat tight with tension.

"Giles said you would answer that way, and I thought you would as well", Tony said. "Do you know where this technology came from, Xander?"

"No, I haven't the slightest idea. I guess I just figured that there was a market for it somewhere?"

"Well, there is a long story behind it, but let's just say that, a long time ago, I was very headstrong, and when a rival company wanted to take SI over, I fought it with all my heart and intellect ," Tony started his explanation. "When it looked like I was going to win, the rival company tried to destroy me, first using threats and then industrial sabotage."

Tony paused to get a cup of water from the cooler, and then sat down on one of the couches. Xander sat in the chair as Dr. Yin unplugged the tethers.

"I found out about a bomb threat and I went in to find the bomb, but I wasn't quick enough and the bomb went off. A piece of shrapnel hit me in the chest and damaged the nerves controlling my heart, much like what you are suffering from." Tony paused again. "Having heard that I would be bedridden, possibly for the rest of my life, I started designing a way to control and protect my heart. I succeeded, and you are seeing a more updated version of what I created. I talked at great length with Giles about you because I was concerned about spending a lot of money on someone who would not think before doing anything.

Talking to Giles assured me that you would think, but then risk yourself for your friends as well."

There was a period of absolute silence. "So what are you saying, Tony? That you don't want to help me because I would risk everything for the people I love? If that is what you want, pull this crap out of me and send me back upstairs to die in peace," Xander said very quietly and coldly.

Tony Stark sat silently, watching as the young man stood up and told him what he could do with what Xander assumed were his conditions for treatment and assistance.

"Xander, please sit down! I was implying no such thing. If you want my assistance, you are going to have to learn to listen more closely and think things through before you react." Tony said, taking a second to take a drink of water. "What I was trying to make you understand is that I know how it feels to be helpless, and that I want to help you and your group of friends."

Tony stood up and walked over to the wall and opened a panel, exposing a complete entertainment unit. He slipped in a tape, grabbed the remote control and sat back down.

"After my injury healed enough to return to work, I found myself unable to trust most of my key people. I needed a way to move around them and protect my business at the same time. That is when this guy came into play." He clicked the remote.

On the screen, an armored form came into view; it was all gleaming, metallic yellow-gold and moved with almost the same ease and grace of a human.

Xander watched in stunned silence as it flew for short distances, fired some kind of light beams from its hands that pushed things back, and easily lifted a car with one hand.

"That," Said Tony as he clicked the TV off, "was Iron Man."

Xander looked at him, unable to think of anything to say.

"That was also *me* in that suit. A suit designed and created by me, to allow me to move around unrecognized, and protected; it powered my pacemaker, and kept me alive. At the time, many people thought he was some kind of super hero, but we kept the suit under wraps as much as possible, trying to keep the design from the military. I didn't want to be responsible for creating some sort of super soldier."

Tony returned to his seat after closing the panels.

"That is why Deidre is here. She has modified the suit's design considerably, made it lighter, stronger, and easier to conceal." Tony again got to his feet and walked over to Xander, putting his hand on the boy's shoulder.

"Would you consider using a modified version of the Iron Man armor, Xander? I know I can't stop you from fighting, but I think I can give you the edge against what you fight. Rupert convinced me to keep quiet about Vampires and Demons for now, but I don't know how long I will able to keep your secret. For now, I can; and I will assist you in your fight."

Tony returned to his seat after getting some more water as he waited for Xander's answer.

Xander's answer was in a soft and determined voice. "I will accept your assistance, but as always, my first priority will be to protect my friends."

Tony nodded in agreement.

"Since you just turned eighteen, your parents have decided that you are now on your own. I took the liberty of having your things moved to your new place. You are now living with Deidre and her brother Sean, in a house in Sunnydale. You will be living in the basement apartment. The place is a pretty good size and has an attached workshop area for adjustments and repairs to your armor. You should be able to return to school in about three more weeks, but until then, Rhodey has personally picked your physical therapist to help you with your workouts."

Tony picked up a gym bag and walked over to Xander and handed it to him.

"Here try it on," he said.

Xander opened the bag and pulled out a pair of flat black boots with a thick band around the top, a pair of shorts with thick bands around the legs and waistband,, a pair of gloves with thick cuffs and a strange looking helmet folded open. He looked at them, unsure of what to do, until Deidre explained.

"Here, put this chestplate on first," she instructed, handing him a black duplicate of his normal plate.

He stood and pulled on the chestplate.

"Now, strip down to your boxers," she commanded.

And Xander, without thinking, pulled off his sweat pants.

She had him pull the shorts on, donning them just like he would any ordinary shorts then showed him how to hook the waistband up to the chest plate. When he had done that, she had him put the boots on.

After he was finished with that, Deidre showed him how to pull out the knitted metal leg pieces and pull them up, connecting them to the leg openings.

Next came the gloves, and while he was dong that, Tony asked another question.

"Which Slayer are you going to have help you?"

"Excuse me? Which one help me do what?" said Xander, confused by the question.

"Yes, which one is going to help you while you try out the armor? Xander, this is new technology, and if there was a failure while trying it out, you would be helpless. I want you to have one of the Slayers with you at all times when you're wearing the armor, while we are testing it. So, who is it going to be?"

Xander thought a minute as he connected the sleeves that pulled out of the gloves.

"Faith. Buffy still thinks of me as a doofus, but Faith was always willing to give me a chance," he replied.

"Okay, then, now for the helmet," said Deidre, as she showed him how it went on. "Now, be careful. When the helmet is connected, all systems will come on line. You will feel a slight buzz over your entire body as the knit metal fabric is polarized. That is what gives it it's strength. You will be able to move, but be careful, the micro-motor amplifiers will give you much greater strength than you had before."

Tony walked around the young man, looking over the suit. The flat black would not be very visible at all during the night, and it looked fairly comfortable.

"Whoa!" exclaimed Xander, as the helmet snapped into place and the hum of the armor polarizing was heard by all and felt by Xander.

"This is so cool," cried Xander. "It feels so, so..."

"Powerful?" offered Stark.

"Nope, just cool, that is the only way I can describe it," Xander told him.

They then had him remove the outfit and Su Yin suggested he get to bed and rest, since tomorrow was going to be another long day, and he had work to do.

Xander bid everyone good night, and returned to his room.

Su Yin walked up to Tony and spoke.

"He's a strong young man, Tony. He'll be all right."

"I never doubted it; that boy is stubborn, courageous, and has a very strong will to survive," Tony stated.

"Aye, Mr. Stark. An Iron Will," said Deidre.

"Yes, an Iron Will for an Iron Man. Fitting," declared Tony as he left to return to his west coast apartment.

Chapter 2

The Rosenberg Residence
Wednesday Evening.

Willow was just about to exit her email program when a message popped in, curious she decided to check it out before logging off the net. It was from xharris[at]s...

'Xander.' She smiled and read it before going to bed.

The next morning she headed to school, looking forward to sharing her information.

"Buffy, Faith," she called out when she saw them ahead of her.

"What's up, Red?" Faith asked with a slightly amused look on her face. Buffy just raised an eyebrow and tilted her head.

"I got an email from Xander last night, he'll be coming home on Saturday, and he'll be back in school on Monday," Willow beamed.

"That's great Willow," Buffy joined in, and the two girls walked off together.

"Yea, just great," Faith said quietly as she headed for her first class.

1145 Oak St.
Saturday Afternoon.

Buffy, Willow, and Faith were sitting on the lawn in front of the house when the long white limo pulled into the driveway. They stood up when the back doors popped open and Dr. Yin, Tony Stark and Xander climbed out. The girls rushed Xander and mobbed him.

Buffy and Willow were both hugging him as the Dark Slayer stood back a bit.

Xander saw this and pulled her into the group hug, not letting her be left out.

While Willow babbled with Xander, the two Slayers carried his bags into the house; taking them to Xander's room downstairs.

Xander stopped at the foot of the stairs and gaped. Buffy crowded past him and did pretty much the same.

"Whoa," escaped Xander's lips.

"Damn, Xan-man, nice digs," Faith commented as she dropped the bags and threw herself on the king sized bed.

Buffy stared at the large screen TV up against one wall. Willow looked with more than a little jealousy at the state of the art computer on his desk.

Xander just stared in shock at everything. This was the first time he had seen where he was going to be living.

"After seeing your former residence, this might seem a bit much, Alex, but I expect that you will be earning all of this," Tony Stark told him as he entered the room. "Here is your ID Badge for Stark International, and a cell phone. You are part of a team performing a vital experimental medical procedure for us, and you will be paid accordingly. I do, however, expect you to keep up your grades better than you have before, and this summer we will talk about college.

"Deidre is in charge here, and what she says goes. Su will be showing up every Sunday afternoon, and will be checking you over for problems. Just remember to wear the vest when you are out anywhere; it will protect the pacemakers you have implanted."

He paused long enough to meet Xander's gaze.

"For now, Xander, that means no patrolling. Later we will see how things work out. I'll be in touch by email, and will call once in a while to see how things are going. Just remember our deal."

"Yes, sir. I won't let you down." Xander replied, looking Tony right in the eye.

"I never thought you would, Alex." Tony answered as he left the room.

Xander started to remove the jacket he was wearing and caught Buffy staring at him.

"What? Do I have something in my teeth?" he asked.

"No," Buffy said, too quickly. "It's just, that you are dressed very nicely, and it looks good on you."

"Oh, well, Tony got me some better clothes for when we have to meet with other Doctors and members of the board of directors and stuff," he explained as he opened the closet doors.

Once more the gang was struck dumb as they looked in the closet.

"Xander, ye have some more guests," Deidre called out, as she escorted Buffy's mom, Giles, and Dawn down the stairs.

Dawn nearly tackled the young man she had a crush on, and then stopped when she saw the closet.

"Wow!" was Joyce's sole comment.

"Oh my, Deidre" Was Giles' response.

Deidre walked past the gaping crowd and addressed Xander, her Scottish brogue pronounced.

"I took the liberty of doing some shopping for ye, Xander. I tried to pick out a well rounded wardrobe for you, and got everything I thought you would need. Rhodey made a few suggestions, as did Mr. Stark. The tailor will be by this week to make the necessary adjustments to the Suits and the Tux," she said as she straightened a few items on their hangers and took the jacket from him and hung it up.

Stepping out of the closet, she faced him. "Laundry day is on Tuesday and Friday, dry clean items go in here," she said, pointing to a bag in a cabinet. She then pointed to another bag. "This is where the dirty clothes go. Mrs. Bennett the cleaning woman will be here on those days to do laundry and cleanup. Please don't leave too terrible a mess for her."

Stepping out into the middle of the room, she again pinned Xander with her eyes.

"Dinner time will be promptly at six, unless you have made previous arraignments. You are scheduled for physical therapy on Mondays and Thursdays, and I will need you available for at least fifteen minutes each evening for me to check the pacemaker settings and download the EKG reports." After saying that, she walked up to him and straightened his collar, then started up the steps.

"Dinner for everyone will be ready on the patio in about an hour. In the mean time, there are sodas for the children and beer for the adults out on the patio," Deidre informed everyone as she walked out of sight.

Everyone looked at each other, then Giles spoke. "Well, we might as well adjourn to the patio while Xander changes."

The gang headed up the stairs, led by Giles. Buffy took a look back to see a glance exchanged between Xander and Faith, and for some reason she felt a little jealous.

Xander's Place
1145 Oak St.
Saturday Evening

Xander's welcome home party had been fun, but like all things, had to end. Joyce and Dawn were the first to leave, then Giles and Faith left to go get their weapons for patrol. Buffy and Willow were the last to leave. Buffy had arranged to meet Giles and Faith later, so she could walk Willow home, first.

As the two women walked home in the gathering dusk, Willow spoke.

"Xander sure looks good, doesn't he?"

"Yeah, really different...More grown up, too," said Buffy softly.

"Yeah, and that is such a nice place," Willow added.

"Sure is. Heck, his closet would rival Cordelia's now," Buffy said.

"He seemed pretty chummy with Faith too..." the redhead mentioned.

"Yeah, he did," Buffy agreed.

"So, have you and Angel made plans to go to the prom yet?" Willow asked.

And the two girls' conversation drifted off to more normal pursuits, even as something nagged in the back of Buffy's mind.

Sunnydale High School
Monday Morning.

Buffy hopped out of the dark green Jeep Cherokee behind Willow and waved as her mom drove off to deliver Dawn to her school. The two girls had just reached the sidewalk when a horn beeped behind them.

Buffy and Willow both turned and looked.

Xander wheeled the three year old black Mercedes SL 500 into the parking place and shut off the car, waving at his two best friends. Faith and he both hopped out and joined the other two.

"Where did that come from?" Buffy demanded, an incredulous look in her eyes.

"Stark International Company Car. Tony left it for Deidre's and my use, but she doesn't drive, and told me to take it," Xander grinned. "Who am I to argue with her?"

Near the Student Union.

Cordelia Chase stood stunned as she watched her former boyfriend park and get out of a very, very nice car. He was also dressed with extremely good taste, khaki slacks, a dark blue dress shirt and he was actually wearing penny loafers and black socks.

"Yummy," said her friend Aura, who had joined her. "He sure cleaned up nice, Chase. Guess contact with you did do something for him."

Then Cordy noticed that he put his arms around Buffy, Willow, and the new girl Faith; and frowned with disapproval. She spun around on her heel and walked away.

Sunnydale High School
Monday Afternoon.

Xander dropped Willow, Buffy and Faith off at home, then headed home himself. Before he left them, he slipped a small piece of paper into Faith's hand.

After entering the house and going into her room, she unfolded it.

My Place, tonight at 7:00
PS. Destroy this when you are done.

Faith giggled at the obvious joke and flushed the slip of paper. She grabbed her homework then headed down to the kitchen to have a snack and actually do the work.

Joyce had worked diligently on helping Faith establish a routine to help her get back on track, and it seems to have worked. Her grades were improving steadily and she was no longer getting into trouble, at school or elsewhere. In exchange, she now had a mother figure, and at least one surrogate sister who cared about her.

She pulled one of the baggies of cookies out of the cupboard and a container of chocolate milk from the fridge, and started to read her assignment.

In what seemed like no time, Dawn was home and grabbed her snack and joined Faith.

The two girls exchanged gossip for a while, then returned to their homework. It was times like this that made Faith think about the debt that she owed Xander for saving her soul.

Xander's Place
1145 Oak St.
Monday Evening.

Faith knocked on the door to the house where Xander was living and was greeted by Deidre's younger brother, Sean, who instructed her to go on back to the shop.

When Faith opened the door to the shop, she was greeted by a sight that she would think back on many times in the future.

A black armored man was sparring with Rhodey using pugil sticks, both moving fluidly and smoothly.

Faith started to jump into the fray, but was held back by Deidre.

"Give the lads a minute, dear," she said quietly. "They just got started."

Faith moved over to the side and allowed the door to close behind her as she entered the work area.

The huge black man definitely had the advantage of skill and style, but the armored figure had great strength and stamina.

They traded blows for a few more minutes before Rhodey stepped back and held up his hand in surrender.

Faith was even more stunned when the armored figure stepped back and pressed something on the side of the mask. It swung opened and Xander pulled it off. His hair was plastered to his head with sweat, but the look on his face was pure Xander.

"So, Boytoy, are you going to explain to me what is going on here?" she asked.

Xander grinned at her and started to explain what was going on. Deidre brought bottles of water to her

'boys' and then explained her part in it all.

"So let me get this straight, Xan. Because of us fighting vamps and demons, Stark is going to set you up with this power suit to help out. Mostly because the main part of the suit is what keeps your ticker working. And he is doing all of this because he is a good guy?" Faith asked.

"Pretty much yeah," Xander agreed.

Faith looked to Rhodey and Deidre, who both nodded in agreement.

"And you want me here because Mr. Stark wants a Slayer to cover your back till he's sure how well the suit works right?" She asked, not sure of what she was hearing.

"That's pretty much correct, Lass," said Deidre. "Xander chose you, because he felt you would give him a chance to see what he could do, where as he felt Buffy would still try to keep him out of things." Left with no choice but to believe what was happening, Faith nodded her understanding.

"So, what can this thing do?" Faith asked.

Xander looked like he was going to start to explain, when Deidre stood up and went into instructor mode.

"The suit itself is a micromesh metal of classified composition. It derives its strength from polarizing the metal so that it stiffens only on one side. When the wearer's muscles push against it from the inside' it gives, but when an object strikes the outside and applies force inward, it stiffens and repels the force." Deidre paused to sip some water.

"Specialized micro motors placed strategically throughout the suit provide motive assistance, increasing the wearer's strength considerably. While wearing the suit, Xander should be able to lift somewhere around eight to ten tons."

Faith gaped at the Scottish Engineer, her jaw hanging slackly as she considered what she had just heard.

"There are low level lasers in the palms of both hands that emit a 'hard' light beam that we call repulsors. They have the ability to push against whatever they are aimed at with the same force that the suit could. There is also a large repulsor/high intensity light in the chest that can either repel or provide illumination."

She paused again to sip from her water bottle.

"There are solid fuel jets in the boots that can provide limited flight capability for the wearer, or act as an intense flame source if needed. The suit can be sealed off hermitically to provide protection from smoke, chemical, or biological attack. It carries a limited supply of emergency oxygen, that would provide the wearer with thirty minutes of air. It provides protection against fire and electrical attack, having been tested against multiple tasers and other power sources. All in all, it is an effective combat suit," she finished.

"Why is it all black?" Faith asked.

"It's covered with the same compound finish as the stealth fighters and bombers. We thought that, since you're working at night, it would allow the wearer additional stealth capability, as well as taking a page from Batman," Rhodey answered.

"Yea, the whole 'dark creature of the night' thing," Xander added with a grin.

"Additionally, we are enhancing the helmet with infrared optics and a light amplification system. Our man here should be good to go in about a week," finished Rhodey.

Faith sat down on a nearby stool and looked around.

She was touched that Xander trusted her enough to be the one to cover his back, but wondered why he wanted her to be the one. She was also wondering why she was here tonight.

"So, why am I here tonight, Xander? I mean, you are going to try this thing out next week, right? So why did you need me here now?" She asked.

"Final test of the suit, under relatively controlled conditions. We want to try it against you, all out, no holding back," Xander said, a gleam in his eye.

Faith tossed him back a wicked look and smiled. "When and where, boytoy?"

"Outside of town at, the old gravel pit. We'll need room for both of us to move, and we need to be able to go all out. Well, you do, anyway. I'll have to hold back so I don't hurt you, but I need you to go all out," Xander grinned back.

Faith's face underwent a rapid change. Her eyes started to darken, and even those who didn't know her could see she was pissed.

Xander noticed it as well.

"Whoa, Faith! Don't get pissed at me. I'm not patronizing you, but while wearing this suit, I can bench press a Buick, and then tear it in half. We just want to see if you can hurt me while I am in the suit."

She flushed red as she realized that she had started to fly off the handle, then sat back and looked at Xander.

"Okay, Xan, whatever you need, but I might have to really whomp your ass," she added.

Xander pulled on a trench coat, then joined Rhodey, Faith, Deidre, and Sean in Rhodey's rented SUV. It was only a short drive out of town to the old Gravel pit, and the group piled out and looked around at the abandoned equipment.

"Looks good," stated Rhodey.

Faith was standing next to Xander, her hand on his arm as he pulled off the overcoat. She touched the gloves and felt the metal fabric of the sleeves. And she still had her hand on it when Xander snapped the helmet shut.

She felt a tingle. Then the sleeve under her hand suddenly felt smooth and slick. Faith looked up into Xander's brown eyes and saw them twinkling with amusement.

"Let's do it," she heard the strange metallic voice say.

The two separated and walked into the center of the gravel pit.

Faith struck fast and mercilessly, grabbing up a four by four and swinging it like a baseball bat. The solid wood smacked Xander across the back and shattered, barely causing him to stumble.

Faith looked surprised, but didn't let up. Grabbing up a concrete block, she hurled it at him. Testing the hand repulsor, Xander triggered his right hand and knocked it back toward her.

Abandoned Hotel

Chico Mendoza stepped out onto the balcony to enjoy the late spring weather. The body of the young woman that he had just drained was lying forgotten on the floor behind him. He stood there for a few minutes looking at the stars until the sounds of a battle reached his ears. It sounded as though it was coming from the old gravel pit.

Curious, he rounded up all of his 'gang' and headed towards the sounds.

They approached slowly and peered over the edge of the pit. In the dim light, they could see a young girl standing down in the center of the pit, trying to beat up a dark shape. The 'thing' wasn't even trying to defend itself.

Finally, they saw it knocked into an old shed which collapsed on it, and the girl partially bent, hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath.

"That's the other Slayer," noted a fairly new vamp.

Chico squatted, looking down on the Slayer and three other humans, thinking over the possibilities. If that was indeed the Slayer, and she was tired, (and she looked it), she would be easy to take out.

"Vamos ir.{Let's go}" Chico ordered quietly.

Center of the Gravel Pit

The girl known as the Dark Slayer continued to rain blows down on her armored friend, seldom doing much more than staggering him until she finally connected with a railroad tie to his back. The impact knocked Xander into an empty shed which collapsed on him.

"Crap," was all Deidre and Rhodey heard on the radio.

Faith was bent over trying to catch her breath when her vampire sense started to go crazy.

She immediately straightened up and looked around. There were about a dozen and a half vamps coming toward her, with another couple each going after Rhodey, Deidre and Sean.

"Shit," she said softly to herself, as she pulled a stake out and readied herself.

"Ásgala, ella es el míos. {Grab her, She's mine}" Chico commanded.

"Alex, a number of vampires just arrived, we could use your help here," Deidre calmly spoke into her transceiver as she pulled out a stake and a cross.

Inside the shed, Xander snapped the helmet closed again and stood as the suit powered up. He pointed both palms at the front of the shed and triggered off a dual blast.

As the vamps approached their apparent victims, the front of the shed erupted with a loud crash and flying debris. Out of the dust, the tall black creature strode into the open.

At this range, Chico could see that this was not a demon of any kind, but a man in an armored suit.

"Consígalo! {Get him}" He commanded as he reached for the exhausted Slayer that one of his minions had just knocked down.

The first vamp to get within range of Xander's arm found himself cartwheeling away, screaming loudly. The next up was met with a straight on punch that ruined his face and sent him flying back into three others.

Without a stake, Xander was trying to figure out a way to protect everyone when he looked around and saw the leader of the vamp gang bite down onto Faith's neck.

"Arrrghhhhh!" Xander screamed aloud in mingled rage and fear for his companion. He knew better, he should have been prepared for this.

He instantly rushed at the vamp leader swatting all others out of his way.

Chico looked up from draining the Slayer to see the black, armored figure charging at him. Whoever that guy was, he was swatting all of Chico's vamps out of his way as if they were bugs. The vampire leader's eyes widened in fear as he saw the edge of the metal man's hand hit a vamp on the side of the neck effortlessly tearing the head off.

Rhodey watched as Xander ran to help Faith and tore through the vampires, knocking them out of his way as though they were nothing but cardboard figures. He staked a vamp and pushed Deidre out of the way of another, while swinging Sean behind himself.

Faith's strength was fading quickly, but she felt the vamp that was draining her weaken and she pushed him away with one last effort.

Xander watched Faith push the vamp leader away, then fall to the ground and he was at her side in a second. He grabbed the leader with an armored micro-motor grip and held him in front of him. The other vamps all stopped their attacks, or struggled to their feet and watched as the scene seemed to play out in slow motion.

The vamped out gang leader could feel his shoulders being crushed and tried to head butt the metal man holding him. He barely managed to lift his ruined head back up after that stupid gesture, having done nothing but give himself an intense headache. Blood ran down his face as he looked into the dark, almost black eyes behind the mask and saw his own death.

"Who are you?" Chico asked.

The metallic head tilted a little bit to the side, and the electronic voice came out clear and strong.

"They call me Iron Man!"

Rhodey winced in sympathetic pain when the vamp leader screamed as Xander crushed his shoulder and then effortlessly pulled his head off.

Xander turned to Faith as he noticed the rest of the vampires running away.

He knelt at her side and looked into her eyes.

"You'll be okay, Faith. We'll get you to the hospital in no time," he said to her.

Rhodey ran up to join him and looked Faith over quickly. Finding that she had no obvious injuries, aside from the loss of the blood the vamp leader had drained from her, he suggested getting to the hospital.

Xander picked up the seemingly small brunette and carried her over to the SUV.

Sunnydale General Hospital
Late Monday Night.

Rupert Giles and Joyce Summers rushed into the ER waiting room to find Jim Rhodes and Deidre sitting there waiting for news.

"How is she?" Asked Joyce, a mother's concern plainly visible on her face.

"She should be fine, she got jumped by a vampire and he started to drain her, but Xander pulled him off and then called me. They were just walking to the store, and the vamp was able to surprise Faith somehow," Rhodey lied.

"Where's Xander?" Asked Giles.

"We sent him home to rest, he got over excited and we were worried about him," Deidre also lied.

The two new arrivals accepted the lies and sat down to wait.

Fortunately, it was only a short time later when the doctor came out to talk to them.

"How is she?" Joyce immediately asked.

"She'll be fine in a very short time. We just gave her a couple units of blood to replace what she lost from the 'animal attack', and are giving her other fluids. She has recovered remarkably quickly, and we are processing her release now. She can go home shortly, but keep her home from school tomorrow and away from any strenuous activities for a day or two."

The relieved group smiled in relief and waited for Faith to be released. The first thing the Dark Slayer wanted to do was see Xander, but she was firmly told she would have to wait till the next day. Joyce gathered up Faith, bundled her into the car and headed home.

Giles looked at Rhodey and asked him a question.

"There's more to it than you are telling me, isn't there?"

Rhodey sighed and looked at the Watcher.

"Yeah, but Xander will have to be the one to tell you," he admitted.

"Let him know that I will be waiting to hear from him, will you?" Giles asked.

"Will do Giles, will do," Rhodey said as they got into the SUV.

Xander's Place
1145 Oak St.
Tuesday Afternoon.

Deidre awoke later than usual the next morning, and after checking on Sean and her email headed to the shop to look over the armor.

Unlocking the door, she entered to find no trace of the suit. Quickly, she returned to the house and headed down to Xander's apartment. There, she found the armor lying on the floor.

She started to gather it up while thinking of how she was going to give him a piece of her mind. It was then she saw the envelopes on the desk. There was several of them, all addressed to his friends.

She heard someone ring the doorbell upstairs and Sean answered it. She quickly put the armor in the briefcase and closed it when she heard some people coming down the stairs.

Faith led the way, followed by Buffy, Willow and Giles. Rhodey followed a minute later.

"Where is he?" Demanded Faith.

"I don't know. I was late getting up today, and I just came to check on him. He isn't here, but he left these for ye," she said handing out the envelopes. The one addressed to Tony she kept.

Faith tore hers open and read it quickly.

Dear Faith
I'm sorry for what happened last night. I really thought I could make a difference, but I guess I am the Zeppo, after all.
Thanks for all you have done for me, and for being my friend.
Please forgive me.


Faith looked up, tears in her eyes and didn't know what to do. Seeing her standing there, a desolate look on her face, Giles went over to the Dark Slayer and pulled her into his arms,. She started to cry.

Deidre looked around the room, in the closet and turned to the stunned Scoobies.

"All of his old clothes are gone," she said flatly.

Jim Rhodes immediately pulled out his cell phone and hit the speed dial. When it was answered, he spoke into it.

"Tony, we have a problem," he said flatly.

Chapter 3

Xander's Place
Tuesday Afternoon.

[ "What is it Rhodey?" Asked Stark with a sigh. ]

"The kid's gone," he stated quietly as he headed up the stairs. "We were testing the armor like I told you we planned to do last night, but we got jumped by something like twenty vamps at the gravel pit where we were. Faith got hurt, not seriously, but it affected the kid pretty bad. We took her to the hospital and dropped him off here at the house so no one would see the armor." Jim paused. "I feel that it is partly my fault -- no one checked on him last night, and when we got here this afternoon, he was gone."

[ "Damn! I was afraid of this. He has such a confidence problem, that he's probably blaming everything on himself, and ran off. I wanted to get him some counseling, but he seemed to be okay and talked me out of it," Tony said thoughtfully. ]

"James!" called out Deidre in her thick Scottish brogue.

Rhodey dashed down the stairs to see everyone staring at Deidre as if in shock. And what he saw made his blood run cold as well!

She stood there with tears in her eyes, holding both chest plates.

Xander had already been gone for at least fourteen hours.

"Tony, things just got worse. The kid left both chest plates here when he took off. He's been out maybe fourteen hours on the internal batteries," he explained in a worried tone.

[ "Shit! That means you need to find him in the next eight hours to be safe, Rhodey. I'll get a lift up to Sunnydale and contact you when I get there. ] Tony Stark paused for a moment, thinking. [ "Good luck, Jim." ]

Jim looked at the phone before he clicked it off.

"Mr. Rhodes, what does this mean?" Asked Giles, not really comfortable with not knowing what was going on.

Rhodey turned to the group and looked directly at them.

"Xander left here without any means to recharge the internal batteries that power the device controlling his heartbeat. He has been missing for possibly fourteen hours so far. To be safe, he has to be found in eight hours or less, or it's likely his heart will just stop," Jim said softly, his voice thick with emotion.

Willow gasped, putting her hands to her face in shock. Buffy stood still, shocked beyond reaction. And Faith buried her face deeper in Giles' chest, not caring that the others were seeing her showing emotion.

"Well then, we need to start looking for him, right?" asked Giles. "Willow, you know him best. Where would he go?"

Unknown Location
Tuesday Evening

Xander sat huddled in the window seat of the room, hiccupping. He had been crying for most of the day, alternating between racking sobs and quiet sniffling. His guilt over Faith's getting hurt had only been the starting point of his breakdown, his anger at himself for being weak was the last straw.

\\ Soon, I won't have to worry about anything ever again. //

Stark International Helicopter Landing at Sunnydale Airport
Tuesday Evening

"I'm just as guilty as you are on this, Tony. I knew that the hormone and steroid therapy to bulk up his muscle mass could cause mood swings. And I knew what he had been through the last couple of years. I AM a doctor, and I'm supposed to think of these things," Su Yin said as Tony helped her out of the helicopter.

Tony turned and told the pilot to service it, and be ready at a moment's notice for anything. Grabbing his former lover's hand, he led her over to the waiting limo.

He gave directions to the driver, then turned back to Su.

"Maybe you're right, Su Yin, but I'm equally guilty. I knew that he was suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and survivor guilt. I've seen it before enough, and I should have pushed harder about getting him to see a psychiatrist," Tony sighed as he sat back on the plush seat.

Xander's Place
Tuesday Evening
Two Hours to go

Willow was the last to check in, only to report that there was still no sign of Xander. The gang had been everywhere in town looking for him, and had found no trace.

"Are you sure that there is nowhere else we could look, Willow?" Giles asked her, worry lines etching his forehead.

"No, we've checked everywhere that I can....DAMMIT!" Willow cried out, as a long forgotten memory surfaced.

"What is it?" Tony asked.

"The old Nun's house, on Richards Road. I forgot completely about it! It used to be the one place Xander used as a haven when we were little. Vamps stay away because it's supposed to be consecrated ground," Willow gushed.

"Let's go!" Said Tony.

The group piled into several cars and made their way to the house.

Sister Mary Margaret's Home

The procession pulled up in front of the house and everyone piled out at once. Buffy rushed to the gate only to have Rhodey pull her back.

"Whoa there, Tiger! Hold up for a minute! I think we ought to be careful about this, don't you?" he suggested.

"Yes, that is exactly right. If we crowd him, it could be worse than if we never found him. We must allow him some dignity or we will have made a serious mistake," added Giles.

"I agree. Tony, you take Giles and Joyce with you, the rest of us will stay out here," Deidre ordered.

The rest didn't like it, but they reluctantly agreed, knowing it was probably for the best.

"He's probably in the Den; he always liked the view of the ocean from there. Second floor in the back," Willow suggested.

Tony picked up the chest plate and led the way.

They entered the house quietly and made their way to the second floor, peering in rooms until Joyce signaled that she had found him.

Tony went in first, having somewhat of an understanding of what Xander was going through.

Xander was sitting in the window seat, looking out at the setting sun. He caught the glimpse of Tony in the window and spoke.

"You found me," was all he said.

"Yeah, we did. Had the entire gang going crazy looking for you," Tony said gently. "Why, Xander?"

The young man turned to the Billionaire and answered him purely from raw, angry, emotion.

"Tony, have you ever wished that you had never been born?" He asked.

"No. Even though there have been some rough times, I have never wished that," Tony replied honestly.

"I don't think anyone knows, but my mother died in childbirth. My father remarried to a lush and has been drunk since I was three. I learned to cook when I was six, so I could feed myself." Xander paused to let a large sob out. "I have been beaten, thrown out like last week's trash, and been told how worthless I am so many times that I cannot remember anyone ever telling me I did anything good. I just can't take it anymore."

"I have heard that you saved Buffy a couple of times. That has to mean something, doesn't it?" Tony asked.

"Yeah, the only bright spot in an otherwise dismal life. I couldn't save my best friend though, and things have never been the same since then."

"I don't think it is that bad, Xander," Tony started, but was cut off immediately.

"What do you know,? You, with your billion dollar business. Sure, you almost got taken over once, but what do you know? Have you ever had to sleep in a garden shed on Christmas Eve because your parents threw you out? Have you ever hung around friends' houses till you wore out your welcome because you hadn't eaten in several days? Have you ever failed at everything you tried to do?" Xander sobbed out angrily.

"And then, you get the chance of a lifetime to be someone, someone who could actually make a difference, and you mess it up so bad that the only girl who cares about you almost gets killed? Tell me, Tony! what do you know about that?" Xander demanded angrily.

Tony Stark, Billionaire. The man who had everything looked at the young man in front of him and had nothing to say.

From the hallway, Joyce and Giles stepped into the room and stood alongside the billionaire.

"Xander, I don't know if it means anything to you, but I owe you more than I can ever imagine. You've saved my daughter's life more than once, and that is a debt that I doubt that I can ever repay. If there is anything at all that you want, tell me, and I will do what ever I can to make it happen," Joyce told him earnestly.

Xander stood up and moved to the woman who had treated him like he was member of the family and hugged her.

"For you, Ms. Summers, anything. I would do anything possible for any of the Summers women, but you should keep me away from them. People die around me," he said, walking back over to the window.

"Xander, I must disagree with you, most vehemently," Giles stated, looking over at the young man. "The average lifespan of a Slayer is about 11 months. Buffy is in her third year. You have made a difference. When she faced The Master, and numerous other master vampires and demons; you were there. It is because of you she is still alive."

Giles paused to clean his glasses.

"Xander, much of what has happened is my fault. It is my responsibility to train and help the Slayer, and I almost wrote her off because of a prophecy. You refused to do so, and thereby, saved her. I have never given you any credit for much of what we have accomplished, and I realize now that I should have.

Many of the ideas that have defeated our foes, have been yours. And I, with my attention solely on Buffy, have ignored both you and Willow badly and I must apologize. Xander, you are a good person, truly a 'White Knight'."

Xander looked at Giles and nodded, and then he grabbed his chest as pain shot through it. The batteries were just about drained.

"Xander, there is something else you need to think about," said Joyce. "If you die, Faith will blame herself. You saved her from something worse than a vampire or demon. You saved her from herself. If you die, I don't think she will last long. She loves you, Xander, and she is trying very hard to be the kind of girl you can like. You were the first person in a long time, to treat her decently. If she loses you, I don't know what will happen."

"It's true Xander," Tony agreed. "Su told me she totally lost it at the hospital when she thought you had died. If you really did die, I don't think she would last a week. She would take it upon herself to take on every vampire in town, and she would do it alone. That is her way, or was, until she met you."

Xander stood looking out the window at the gathering darkness for a few moments and then started to pull his shirt off.

Tony took that for the sign it was, and helped him put the chest plate on.

They took Xander back to the house, where Su did a full exam on him, finding out that there was nothing seriously wrong and he was really okay.

The others looked at him a little uncomfortably, all except Faith. She knew what it was like, being in a dark place, and being very afraid you're not going to find your way out of it.

Xander's Place
Two Weeks Later.

Giles and Deidre sat sipping tea while she attempted to explain the armor's capabilities to him. She soon realized, however, that the man was thinking of other things and finally gave up. Giles was in a quandary. The little group that had formed around Buffy was starting to fall apart.

For some unfathomable reason, Buffy and Willow now wanted Xander out of Slaying, even though he was not actively participating, and had been working at pushing him out of the group even before he got hurt. The whole situation had gotten worse since Xander's injury. The girls didn't even want him to help with research anymore.

Ever since Faith had joined them, she was constantly compared to the older Slayer, something Giles was guilty of as well. This did nothing but foster jealousy, and even animosity between people who were supposedly fighting on the same side. Unless there was something big expected, Buffy would not even patrol with Faith, pushing her off on her own.

Buffy's relationship with Angel was falling apart too, and that was eating at the senior Slayer as well. He had tried to talk about it with her, but she changed the subject as soon as it came up. Buffy tended to avoid her problems rather than deal with them.

At the moment, they were waiting for Xander to get home from his counseling session. He had made a kind of peace with the gang, though they still watched him carefully.

All except Faith, that is - she treated him like nothing happened. This likely helped smooth things between them.

Giles was going to try to get Faith into counseling as well, after Joyce had suggested that it would help her out in the long run. None of the Council training provided for any long term care of slayers, after all, most died during their first year.

Personally, he felt he was not really ready to take on the responsibility of an additional slayer right now, but the Council had not yet given Buffy her Cruciamentum. Normally, it happened on the Slayers eighteenth birthday, but the test had been delayed due to some prophecy that the Council wouldn't talk about with him.

So now, he was trying to help two slayers, both with issues. One in love with a vampire with a soul; the other slayer was trying to find out who she was.

He was only half listening to Deidre, and was therefore surprised when she got up and left him sitting at the table and went to her workshop.

Giles followed a moment later when he realized what happened.

"I must apologize for my behavior back there, Ms. McTaggart. There was no reason for me to behave so rudely. I am just afraid that I am getting involved in more than I am capable of handling," Giles told her quietly.

Deidre looked at Giles fondly.

"Rupert, you're a good man, one who listens to his heart and does not feel honor bound to follow tradition blindly. You care for your charges, and you recognize that they want and need your full support. You have realized what many of the others have not, that the times are changing, and tradition is no longer as important as the end results." She looked at him carefully. "You will do what is right Rupert, I have faith in you."

Giles was now paying attention to Deidre and was amazed at the technology involved in the armor. He found himself thinking what a Slayer wearing this armor could accomplish.

While he was musing on this, Faith came in.

"Hey, G-man, D, what's the what?" She asked.

"I wish you..oh never mind," Giles answered, giving up for once.

Deidre snickered at his comments and turned to the young Slayer.

"Xander will be home any minute Faith. Make yourself at home," she said.

"Thanks, D," Faith replied, as she moved into the training room which occupied the rest of the workshop.

Giles observed the young woman as she started stretching in preparation for a workout. She had changed so much in the last couple of months that she was almost a completely different person than when she had first shown up.

There had been some sort of confrontation with Xander, that much he knew. But then Xander involved Joyce, and she started talking to Faith; and getting Faith to communicate with her. Faith had returned to school, started to dress less like a trollop, and started to be more responsible.

It took some effort on his part, but he was able to stop comparing her to Buffy, and get the others to do the same. It was a gradual change, but a positive one.

They heard Xander drive in, and he leaned in and tossed a "Be right there, Faith," comment as he ran by.

Giles knew that Faith had taken Xander's injury very hard. He suspected that she had feelings for the young man, and he was glad that things were working out.

He disliked keeping the armor a secret from Buffy, Willow and the rest, but it was Xander's and Mr. Stark's secret. Buffy and Willow did seem glad that Xander wasn't patrolling anymore, and he was willing to keep that secret. Angel was helping quite a bit, but his relationship with the blonde slayer had been strained lately.

Her keeping his return from Hell a secret had caused all sorts of problems, and things had not gotten any better now that they had realized that they can never really be 'together'.

Xander entered the room and greeted both Giles and Deidre warmly, then joined Faith out on the mat.

He went through some stretches with her, and she started leading him through a simple martial arts exercise routine.

Suddenly Giles was struck by another thought that made him feel bad.

\\ Why didn't I think to have Buffy give both Xander and Willow some basic self defense lessons? It would have helped them protect themselves, and eased our worries some. //

"You know Faith, since you started me on this routine, more of the soldier memories from that Halloween have been coming back, and I'm remembering his moves. They aren't as smooth and flowing as what you've been teaching me, but they are effective. If you want, I'll show them to you," Xander offered as he was taking a breather.

"You can show me anything, anytime, boytoy," Faith flirted back, bringing a red flush to Xander's face.

Giles shook his head watching the two teens flirting and turned to Deidre.

"Well, I am running a little bit late for an engagement, Deidre, so I need to be off. I will be seeing you soon, I am sure," he said. Then he turned and started to walk away.

"Goodbye Rupert, say 'hi' to Joyce for me."

"I will." He replied without thinking, and then turned back to her, a surprised look on his face.

"Just go, Rupert, your secret is safe with me..For now," Deidre teased.

\\ "She is good for him. Now if she can get rid of some of the stuffiness," // Deidre thought to herself.

"So, what's the plan for tonight Xan?" Asked Faith.

"Thought we would patrol like we usually do, wherever Buffy tells you to go," he grinned back.

"Yeah, works for me. But I am getting tired of her always telling me where to go, and what to do," Faith started.

"Well, it does work to our advantage right now," Xander pointed out. "We are fairly sure she won't be near us, and we can keep this secret a bit longer.

"I know, but for some reason, I feel badly keeping things from her."

"I agree with you Faith; but for now, it's for the best. Tony wants to make sure the armor is working properly before I use it openly.

Besides, it still has a lot of testing circuitry and diagnostic tools running. When he is sure, Tony will let us tell the others," Xander explained.

"Whatever," Faith said. "Well, I better get going home, to do my homework, see you about nine. Then we'll head out to wherever Princess Buffy sends us."

"Sounds good to me Faith," he told the your brunette as he kissed her on the cheek and headed to the house.

Deidre watched Faith as she gathered up her bag, and kept touching her cheek where Xander had kissed her. She smiled to herself as she watched the tough young slayer walk out of the workshop like she was floating on a cloud.

Later that Night
Collinswood Cemetery

Faith walked alongside the black-armored Xander, flipping her stake up in the air and catching it as it fell.

"This is just so dead tonight Xan, pardon the pun," she laughed.

"That was a bad one Faith, you been hanging around me to much," he returned.

Something caught his eye off in the distance and he zoomed the opticals in to get a closer look. Faith saw him freeze and tried to see what he saw, but her Slayer vision only managed to catch a dark shape running at full speed. From one of Giles' books, Xander remembered it as a Lucertola Demon, a huge man-shaped lizard demon that was extremely vicious. And it looked like it was after something, or someone.

Xander turned back to Faith and called to her.

"Faith, it's a demon. Looks like a Lucertola from what I remember. Real nasty ones. I'm on it. Keep up if you can," he said.

Faith could hear the smirk in his voice. He started running, and she used her Slayer speed to pass him. Then she fell back, stunned, as he kicked in his boot jets and zoomed up into the air past her.

"No fair!' She called to his vanishing form.

The fifteen seconds that his jets lasted gave him a huge head start over the fast moving Slayer, and he hit the ground running. He had almost caught up with the demon when he heard fighting.

Slowing down and approaching carefully, he found Buffy, Angel, Willow and Oz fighting a dozen or more vampires. He also saw that the demon had grabbed Angel by the neck.

As Xander closed in on the fight, Oz went down as a vampire slugged him while he was reloading his crossbow. Willow flamed the vamp, but was nearing exhaustion. Buffy had been knocked back by the demon who was now concentrating on Angel, and she was dazed and unable to stand.

Xander made his decision to intervene. Even knowing Tony wanted the armor kept secret, his friends' lives were more important.

He had a partial recharge in his boot jets so he fired them off long enough to jet above the demon and drop onto its back.

"Wonder why he wants to pull Deadboy's head off?" Xander said under his breath. \\Although that's not such a bad idea, except for the hurt it would put on Buffy//, he added mentally.

The demon collapsed to his knees with a hiss and let Angel go. Even though the vampire didn't need to breathe, having his head almost pulled off was not something you recover from instantly. The demon jumped up and whirled around, looking at the armored form with anger in its eyes.

"You have cost me precious time, human. I was almost done earning my fee when you interrupted. Now I have to spend further time, punishing you for your impertinence," it roared with anger.

"Take your best shot, snake breath," Xander smirked in return.

The demon rushed the black figure and grappled with it, sending it sliding backwards. Xander's booted feet plowed up the grass of the cemetery until the demon's rush was stopped by the cold stone walls of a crypt. Xander pushed the demon back to arm's length and then triggered his palm repulsors.

The twin beams of force shoved the demon back into a tree. It bounced off the trunk and stumbled to the ground where it looked up at the armored black shape with something akin to fear.

"Who are you that dares to interfere with Akronnet the Assassin, mortal?" the huge man-shaped lizard asked.

"They call me Ironman," Xander replied in a soft voice, intended for only the demon to hear.

The demon leapt up, pulling a wicked looking mace out of a case hung on its hip and swung it at the armored man.

Xander ducked under the swing, forced the demon's arm up, and then backhanded it, knocking it into a headstone, which snapped under the impact. He looked around for something to use as a weapon against the monster and spotted Angel's sword lying not too far away. Xander dodged another attack and made a dive for the sword. He came up with it in his hand, but was too late to avoid the demon's next swing.

The mace impacted on his left shoulder blade and sent him cartwheeling away. Xander was not really affected by the impact, but landed in an awkward position. As it was, he managed to jump up as Akronnet swung at him again.

This time he caught the head of the mace in his left hand, and he could hear the exoskeleton's micro motors whine as he stopped and held the mace.

"No. Not possible," Akronnet whispered, fear evident in his voice.

Ironman locked eyes with the demon and silently swung the blade. There was a meaty 'chunk!' sound as the blade cleanly severed Akronnet's head and sent it tumbling to the grass. The rest of the body crumpled a couple of seconds later.

Xander looked over to the rest of the group and saw that they were beginning to recover. Faith arrived about the same time, so he nodded to her slightly. Understanding what he meant, Faith nodded back and went to helping Buffy.

Xander tossed the sword back toward Angel, leaving it stuck quivering right in front of the souled vamp.

He turned once more to take a quick look around and jogged off, the color of the armor quickly blending in with the darkness.

Faith was helping Buffy who was still dizzy, stand up.

"Whoa, hold on Faith, one of you needs to slow up a bit," Buffy groaned.

"Which one?" She joked back.

"Ummm. The one in the middle?" Buffy sighed.

"How many of me do you see?" Faith asked.

"Just three now, but when you first got here, there were four. How is everyone else?" Buffy asked, concerned as to the welfare of her friends.

"Oz looks like he has a lump on his head. Willow needs a nap, she looks exhausted. Fang looks like he has recovered and you seem to be doing better."

"Yeah, thank God for Slayer healing. What are you doing here?" She asked.

"Was patrolling where you told me, then heard a battle going on over here and came to check it out," Faith replied.

"Oh, where did that black colored guy go?" Buffy asked.

"What black colored guy?" Faith asked, knowing full well what Buffy was asking about.

"The one that came and pulled the demon off Angel, then fought and killed it."

"Don't know, B, guess it left before I got here," Faith reflexively lied to protect her best friend's secret.

Angel was standing, looking at the demon's body in silence, his mind spinning in turmoil.

\\ That was Xander, I know it was. I recognized the voice as well as his scent. What the hell is he doing? //

"The demon asked him who he was, and I think he said he was 'Ant Man'. He might be with that black outfit," Buffy mused.

"Don't know, B, but you definitely need to get that head looked at. Better let me help you get to G's place," Faith said, smirking to herself. "Just let me call Xander and let him know I won't stop by on my way home."

She pulled out a cell phone and hit the speed dial for his cell. She explained about Buffy and the others getting attacked by a demon and rescued by an 'Ant Man', and that she was helping them get to Giles' place.

Angel had tuned his hearing to Xander, and heard the laughing. \\ What is going on here? // wondered the souled vampire.

Xander jogged home feeling pretty good; the armor was performing better than expected for the early model it was. There were already some new modifications being made in the updated version that Tony was bringing with him when it was finished.

He slipped into his room quietly and stripped off the armor, grabbed a quick shower, then headed up stairs with the armor's 'black box'. He turned it over to Deidre and gave her a brief overview of the night's fight and how the armor performed.

Deidre grabbed the box and headed out to her shop, pausing long enough to tell Xander, "This has been invaluable, Xander. Wait till you see the new armor, the modifications will be something else."

"When will it be ready?" Asked the anxious young man.

"Tony will be bringing it out in about two weeks.



Two Weeks Later
Sunnydale High school Library

When Xander entered the library at the end of the day, he found both Willow and Faith looking around.

"What's up guys?" he inquired.

"Don't know X-Man, found the place still locked up, and there is no sign that Giles has even been here today," Faith answered.

"And Buffy got called out of third period for some sort of family emergency," Willow added.

"Let's go check out Giles' place. See if he was just sick or something," Xander suggested.

The three teens piled into Xander's car and drove in silent speculation to the Watchers home. As the group approached the door, they noticed that it was slightly ajar, something they knew that Giles would never do unless it was a dire emergency.

Xander started to push the door open, but was held back by Faith, who stepped in front of him and listened at the door.

"I hear someone faintly groaning, but nothing else, let me go in first, I have the best reflexes," she said.

Pushing the door open, she crept silently into the house. Faith scanned the living room and the kitchen, then quietly went down the hall. The sounds were coming from Giles' bedroom, but Faith checked all the other rooms before peering inside.

What she saw really shocked her, Giles was lying on his stomach, hands bound behind his back, he was groaning slightly.

"In here," she called to the others.

She pulled the plastic hand cuffs off of him and rolled him over to his side. He opened his eyes and tried to focus them.

"Buuufffyyyyy, helllppp her," He slurred.

"What's wrong with Buffy?" Xander asked softly.

"Council have her, want her to take cruc, cruce, Cruciamentum," he said.

"The council's got their hands on Buffy, and they want her to take a Cruciamentum? What is that Giles?" Willow asked.

"Test, rob Slayer of her powers, have her go after very bad vampire and slay him."

"They want her to try to slay without her powers? Are they insane?" Xander grunted.

Giles was rapidly recovering as he sipped on a glass of water supplied by Faith.

"The Cruciamentum is a test administered by the Council on a Slayer's eighteenth birthday. Buffy's test was delayed this year for some reason. They say it is to test the skill of a Slayer, but I think it's really a way to have a new, younger, more controllable Slayer called. Four out of five slayers do not survive the test," Giles explained.

"They were here this morning before I could leave for school, and told me the test was happening today. I refused, and they knocked me out and gave me something to make me sleep. Before I went completely out, I heard them call the school."

"Yes, Buffy was called out of third period today," Willow explained.

"Then they have her," Giles said slumping.


Across Town

Buffy found herself waking up groggy from the injection that Quentin Travers had given her. She remembered refusing to do the test, and then the prick of a needle.

The last thing she remembered hearing before all went black was someone speaking.

\\ "Now maybe we can get a real Slayer to work with." //

As she sat up holding her head, she could feel that she was being watched. On the table in front of her was a plain stake. And on the other side of the table, a huge vampire watched her every move.

Chapter 4

Giles Place
That Afternoon.

"So they decided to test her anyway?" Xander asked.

"Yes, I am afraid so," Giles replied sadly.

"Where would they be likely to do it?" Xander again asked.

"Probably a warehouse somewhere in the older part of town, they need to have a darkened space for the vampire," Giles answered. "They use Hunter teams to capture one, then they torture it, starve it, then finally offer it freedom if it can kill the Slayer."

"That is barbaric," Whispered Willow.

"Too right," Giles agreed, sadly expecting that his Slayer was already dead.

"Let's go, people. We have to find her and stop that test!" Faith practically screamed.

"Right! Giles, Wills, let's go," Xander snapped out.

The four rushed out of Giles' house and piled into the car. Burning rubber, Xander headed for home. He whipped into the driveway, and almost rear ended Rhodey's big SUV.

They jumped out of the car, and followed Xander into the shop, but got very worried when they heard Xander's cry of dismay.

"Noooooooo!" came the anguished voice.

When the others rushed into the shop, they found Xander holding up a dismantled gauntlet, an expression of dismay on his face.

"What's going on, Xander?" Deidre asked in her distinctive accent.

"The Council have Buffy, they've neutralized her Slayer powers, and they're testing her abilities by putting her in with a vicious, starved vampire. We have to save her," he answered, almost in tears.

"Xander. Calm down. I brought the new model suit, you can use it," Tony said as he entered Deidre's shop.

Rhodey came in behind Tony and laid the case on the bench.

Deidre opened the aluminum briefcase and started checking the parts out. As she finished inspecting the left boot, she handed it to Xander.

Xander set it on the bench and started to take his clothes off.

Willow looked over at him and yelped. "Xander!" she cried, mortified.

"Calm down Red. He ain't naked, he still has the chest piece on," Faith smirked at the blushing redhead.

"What exactly is going on here?" Giles asked.

"Tony, could you fill Giles in on the situation?" Xander asked, not wanting to be distracted as he dressed.

Stark pulled Giles outside and explained about Xander's injuries, the chestplate, and the suit.

Willow, in the meantime, stood stunned, watching as Xander put the boots on and then pulled up the leg covers.

"Xander?" Willow asked, fear evident in her voice.

"Later, Will. Buffy's in big trouble, and I gotta help her," her oldest friend replied.

Deidre handed Xander a gauntlet, which he donned. He pulled the arm cover up to snap to the chest plate, but he couldn't get it to line up properly. Faith stepped in and helped connect it. He pulled the other gauntlet on as Giles and Tony stepped in.

Deidre was checking out the helmet, and trying to talk to Xander.

"Everybody, quiet down! Xander, listen to me!" she snapped, and everyone shut up. "There have been some modifications to your equipment that you have to know about. There is a lot more flight time in the boots now, over twice as long as you had previously. There is now a low level laser built into the left gauntlet. It's that pencil sized opening on the back of the gauntlet. It is triggered by the firing stud to the right of the one that triggers your repulsor."

As she paused to hit a few keys on the keyboard and check the helmet readings, Giles and Willow looked at each other.

"You're that 'Ant Man' that Buffy was talking about, aren't you?" Willow said suddenly.

"Got it in one, Red," Faith grinned.

"So, you've known about this all along?" Willow accused.

"Yea, but it wasn't my secret to tell, Red. I was just helping out Xan," Faith calmly replied.

"On the right Gauntlet," Deidre continued instructing Xander, ignoring the others' minor squabbling. "You will find a trigger stud to the right of the right hand repulsor. Hold your hand out away from anything, make a fist and press it."

Xander did as he was asked, and with a kind of "schwing! " sound, a metal blade about a foot long popped out of the back of the gauntlet. Everyone jumped back in surprise when it happened, and Xander looked at it carefully.

"It's partly wood," he observed.

"Correct, the blade itself is an Admantium alloy, and the center pieces are notched and dovetailed teak. That blade will punch through a car door, and the wood center will allow you to destroy a vampire, I am sure.

"So what is the low level laser for?" he asked as Deidre handed him the helmet.

"From talking with you, Faith, and Rupert I've learned that vampires are somewhat flammable, so that laser should be able to ignite them, without offering too much danger to the surrounding area."

"Cool!" he replied with a wide grin.

"Wicked cool." Faith added.

"WHAT is going on here?" came a voice from the door to the shop.

Xander looked up and saw a somewhat distraught Joyce, obviously looking for Buffy.

No one knew what to say, but Joyce didn't stop either.

"I came home to pick up a painting for a customer, and I find the front door open, and the living room looks like a major battle occurred there. I can't find Buffy, and.." she paused. "I don't know what else to do, so I came here to ask for your help finding her."

Dawn appeared behind Joyce, looking both scared and curious. "She left Mr. Pointy," the small brunette said, holding tightly onto the stake.

Everyone there knew Buffy would not go anywhere without her favorite stake.

"That does it! You're all set, Xander!" said Deidre as she unplugged the leads for the helmet and handed it to Xander.

The former Zeppo started to put it on, then paused and looked at Giles.

"So you think the old warehouse district, huh? You going to follow?" he asked.

"That is the only place they could hold it, other than the old power plant, but they know we are aware of the power plant. It would have to be somewhere dark, and where else is there?" Giles asked, as he slowly slipped into 'Ripper' mode.

"You going to follow me?" Xander smiled, the idea of Ripper meeting the Council representatives appealing greatly to him.

"Too right!" Giles glared.

"I say again, WHAT is going on here?!" Joyce cried, almost in full panic.

"Giles will explain in the car, Joyce. Don't worry, everything'll be okay," Xander said as he snapped the helmet shut and the armor powered up.

He peered out the door to see if anyone was looking, then stepped out into the yard. Seeing no one, he triggered the boot jets and started flying toward the "wrong side of town"

Deidre grabbed a bag off the bench and started handing headsets out to everyone, including Dawn, a fact which made the young girl smile.

Rhodey jumped into his SUV and Giles steered Joyce into her Jeep Cherokee passenger's seat, snagging her keys. Faith and Dawn quickly climbed into the back, not wanting to be left behind..

Giles hurriedly put the headset on and started the vehicle.

\\ "Xander, where are you?" // he asked, pulling out into the street.

\\ "Crossing James Street and heading towards the old warehouses. Jets are shutting down now, so I have to let them charge, so I'll be running." //

\\ "Do we know what kind of vehicle the Council is using?" // Rhodey asked as he pulled up behind Giles.

\\ "Something that would seat 4-6 people, as that would be what they would normally use in this situation. I was unconscious when they left and I didn't see how they arrived," // Giles responded.

He was trying to explain to Joyce what was going on, and drive at the same time. Faith was helping, by commenting on what she knew, but to Buffy's mother, it was not enough. She broke down and started sobbing, fearful for her elder daughter's life.

\\ "I'm airborne again, and heading for the roof of the old Valley Produce building, guys. I want to be able to look around, // Xander informed them.

\\ "Roger that, we will hold at the edge of the warehouses till you give the word." //

Inside a Dark Warehouse

The blonde Slayer just sat watching the huge vamp as her head cleared. She didn't feel right, at all; she was weak, almost nauseous.

Slowly, she looked around for a weapon.

"Glad you are awake, Miss Summers," came a voice from her left. She looked over and saw a man in a tweed suit walking out of the shadows.

"Why am I here?" Buffy demanded, though it didn't come out very threatening.

"This is your Cruciamentum, the traditional ritual for a Slayer who has come of age. Normally it's held on your eighteenth birthday, but your Watcher kept stalling, so I came to administer it myself. Quentin Travers, representing the Watchers Council, at your service," he said.

"What is it? What do I have to do?" Buffy asked, confused.

"It's really very simple Miss Summers; you just have to survive," replied Travers.

"Huh?" She asked, still not understanding.

"Using a combination of drugs and magic, we have stripped your powers. Now, all you have to do is defeat Ivan here to pass the test. If you can't pass it, well, another Slayer will be called, perhaps one better suited to slaying than you," said the Watcher with disdain.

Buffy was thinking as fast as she could, trying to decide to decide how to get out of this mess.

Travers turned and walked into the shadows once more. When he was gone, there came a terse sentence.

"Good luck, Miss Summers, and have fun, Ivan."

The vampire jumped at Buffy right away, leaping the table with inhuman speed.

The chair Buffy started to swing at the vampire wasn't even close.

He hit her with a powerful backhand, sending her flying across the room into the far wall, then followed her like a lion stalking his prey. The young blonde started to sit up and noticed a small opening in the wall, most likely used for pipes or wires. She was sure she would fit, but knew the vampire would be too large to make it through.

In a flash, she skittered down the wall and slipped through the opening. The vampire wasted several precious minutes trying to make himself fit through the hole, before looking for another way into the room.

Outside in a florist's van, several of the Watchers team viewed the proceedings this through remote cameras.

"Don't worry, she doesn't have a chance. Even if Ivan fails, we still have another dozen in the basement to let loose on her," Travers said, lighting up a cigar.

One of the council members didn't like what he heard, but Travers was in charge. He dared not disagree with the Senior Council Representative.

Several Blocks Away

Xander was walking slowly around the edge of the roof of the abandoned warehouse, the audio pickups of his helmet turned up as high as they would go. He had turned off the radio, so no one would call him and deafen him.

He was just about to give up when he heard a crash and a grunt come from the old Hormel Meat plant, four blocks over.

He lifted off with the recharged boot jets and flew cautiously closer.

Landing on the roof of the building in question, he listened. He heard more crashes, a muffled scream, and then laughing.

Xander ran over to the edge of the roof and looked down. There were a couple of tweed wearing guys watching something inside of a florist's van and they were laughing.

"Ohhhh, that had to leave a mark," said the oldest one.

Xander was so mad he almost jumped on them, but then he heard a crash from inside and he flipped the radio back on as he ran to the skylights.

\\ "Found 'em. The old Hormel Meat Plant. The Watchers are in a florist van parked in front on Main Street. I'm going in, sounds like Buffy is getting hurt." //

\\ "Be careful, Xander. You never know what Travers might try to do," // Giles warned.

\\ "Got it, G-Man." // Xander said, then he jumped.

As he leapt, he sealed the suit, making sure no glass, wood or dust would endanger his eyes. He dropped like a stone toward the floor, triggering his boot jets and drifting down slowly, arms crossed across his chest.

By now, the vampire had found and caught up with Buffy. In the middle of the room, a huge vampire was holding Buffy off of the ground by her neck, the blonde too weak to fight him off. There were fang marks on her neck, and the vamp had blood on his lips.

"I will beat you into the ground, robot!" the vampire snarled, his Russian accent thick.

The huge bloodsucker tossed the Slayer away as if she were a discarded beer can and walked toward the 'Robot'.

Xander was trying to decide whether to use his laser, or try out the new stake. Then the vampire grinned and a bit of Buffy's blood ran down his chin.

\\ Okay, that makes it very simple. I'll pound him a bit first, // he decided.

As the vampire closed the distance, Xander fixated on the blood on the vamp's chin. When the undead demon was only ten feet away, he pounced on the vampire, swinging a hard right to the thing's unprotected chest in a classic heart punch.

His anger must have been greater than he thought, because to both Xander's and the vamp's surprise, he punched the creature's heart right out through his back. The vamp dissolved to dust around his arm.

Xander backed off in surprise as the dust drifted to the floor of the old warehouse.

He paused for only a second, then quickly darted over to Buffy's side. He used his scanners to check her out; her breathing was shallow, pulse weak, but she was partially conscious.

"Take it easy, Buff. I'll get you out of here," he said soothingly.

She looked into his eyes, all she could see through the mask and spoke. "Xander?" she said softly.

"Yeah, Buff. It's me. Just thought I'd give you a hand," he replied softly, brushing her hair back out of her face.


"What the hell was that?" asked a very irate Quentin Travers. "Where did it come from?"

"I don't know, sir, it just dropped in through the skylight," replied the other tweed dressed man.

Travers grabbed the remote control out of the camera operator's hand and pressed the button.

"The rest of them should be able to kill both of them," he smirked.

"If my Slayer dies, you Bloody daft wanker , I will kill you myself," Giles promised as he stepped up to the open doors of the van; his face a mask of rage.

"Oh, for crying out loud. Do you think 'The Ripper' scares me?" Travers replied.

"It bloody well should, you wanker," Giles stated flatly as he drew a gun and pointed it at Travers' head. "If Buffy Summers dies, I will put you down like the dog you are!"

One of the men at the back of the van began to pull out a HK MP5. He didn't quite make it as Faith quietly moved up behind him, slammed his head against the door frame and took the sub-gun from his now-limp hand. She handed it to Tony Stark.

Rhodey came up on the other side of the van and enthusiastically tapped the driver on the side of the head with his modified HK USP.

Faith disarmed the remaining conscious thugs and tossed the guns out in the street.

"Where are they, G-Man?" asked the dark slayer.

The other tweed wearing man, Leonard McMasters, turned to Giles. "They just released a dozen more vampires in the building."

"Shit!" Faith swore, as she turned and sprinted into the building.

Rhodey started to follow her, but Tony called him back. "Jim, they know what they're doing. Don't try to help, you'll just end up distracting them."

Rhodey turned and walked back to the van full of Watchers. One of the Watcher team looked at him and smirked, so, with a wide smile, Rhodey laid him out with a hard right, then looked at the rest, daring them to make a move.


Faith ran through the junk of the abandoned warehouse as fast as she could, trying to get to Xander to help. When she finally found him, he was standing in a corner, Buffy leaning up against the wall behind him, as he 'toyed' with the remaining nine vampires.

As she watched, Xander let loose with his right repulsor, sending a vamp flying across the room. Without even a second's respite, he lit a second vamp up with the laser sight and triggered the new low level laser, igniting the surprised bloodsucker that was his target. A puff, a flame, and then a moment later, there was a soft poof! as he dusted.

Faith walked over to the one he sent flying and staked him as he tried to get up. She stood there, watching the one sided battle, then was forced to jump out of the way as Xander launched another one toward her.

"Hey, watch where you're tossing out the garbage, Ironman!" she called out.

"Sorry!" he replied as another one lit up, and dusted.

Faith staked the one nearest her, then moved closer to the remaining vamps.

Three lunged at the armored man at once, and Xander was glad for the practice that Faith had given him. He had learned enough to be really helpful in hand to hand fighting.

Xander pounded a straight right into the chest of the vamp on his right, and the wood centered Admantium blade dusted the vamp.

He then grabbed the one on his left by the throat and squeezed, snapping its neck. He tossed the vamp toward Faith, who staked the creature in mid air.

The last one grabbed him and tried to slam a head butt into the forehead of the Iron Man, but when he was met by the fast rising metal helmet, he only managed to cave his own head in. His brain, stunned from both the force and the damage, shut down. He fell backwards, flat on his back, where Faith drove her stake into his chest. He never knew he was dusted.

"Faith?" Xander asked, cocking his head to the side indicating he was asking her a question.

"Nothing, I-Man," she answered, letting him know there were no more vampires near them.

They had been working together long enough now, to be a very good team.

Xander turned and gently picked the blonde Slayer up and started to carry her out of the old warehouse.

\\ "Got her, Giles. She's lost some blood, and is pretty beat up. Can you get Joyce here with a car?" //

\\ "I'm already here, Xander." // he heard Joyce answer.

Faith pushed through the old doors and held them open as Iron Man exited with his precious cargo. Joyce flew out of her car and to her daughter, even as the man in the black metal armor gently carried her to the jeep.

Dawn looked on in fear as she saw her normally strong and forceful sister carried like deadweight. She looked into Xander's eyes, saw the smoldering fire there and knew that whatever happened, the Watchers would no longer be the same.

They put the injured Slayer in the back seat, Xander sending Faith to hold her along with Willow, and had Joyce drive to the hospital a few blocks away. He promised that he and Giles would be there soon, once they straightened a few things out.

Xander strode over to where Giles held a gun on his superior.

"Well, Quent, you really screwed the pooch this time," Xander said, his voice masked by the helmet electronics.

Gently taking the gun from the angry Watcher's hand, he spoke to the Watcher. "Giles, she'll be okay. She's strong, and I got here soon enough."

"I don't think you realize the trouble you are in right now!" Travers sputtered, not knowing what to call the armored man. "When the Watchers Council finds out that you have interfered with one of the time honored trials of a Slayer, there is no telling what will happen."

"You can call me Iron Man," Xander said, holding up the gun he had taken from Giles. He slowly started to squeeze, the sound of protesting, rending metal coming from his fist as he gradually crushed the weapon the same way a normal person would crush a soda can.

When the gun was nothing but a piece of deformed metal, he tossed it to one of the Watcher's muscle men, who dropped it as fast as he could, the heat of the metal being crushed too much for his bare hands.

Travers looked at the 'Iron Man' and leaned against the van.

"Young man, the Watchers Council has existed for centuries, and during that time, we have dealt with many people who have interfered with our policies. You are no different," he said arrogantly.

Xander stepped up to the man and held his fist in the Watcher's face. With a soft 'schnick', the Admantium blade popped out. He laid the blade on the Englishman's cheek gently.

"Have you ever heard how Dr. Walter Freeman, who used to do lobotomies in the late 40's and 50's? Well, he used to shove an ice pick-like object up someone's nostril, punching through the skull, in the same manner that the ancient Egyptians did to remove the brain from someone being prepared to be a mummy. Well, once Dr. Freeman did this, to a live patient, he would swirl the point around in the brain a little. This was known as a frontal lobotomy." Xander's watching the History channel actually paying off.

He stepped back a bit.

"Now, I'm not threatening you at all, in any way. I am *Promising* you. If anyone from the Council ever tried to cause any problems for Buffy or Faith, I will perform one on you. And *I* will really swirl this," Xander stated with complete sincerity, the anger visibly coming off him in waves, that was felt by the others right through the armor.

Travers just looked at him with disdain and turned away in dismissal. He stopped and turned back to Giles.

"By the way, Rupert, consider yourself discharged. I'll send your replacement immediately," Travers said.

He stepped into the van and pulled the door shut, and just as quickly found the door missing. Xander had yanked it off the side of the van and tossed it back down the street with a clatter.

He started to reach inside for the Watcher, but Giles stopped him.

"Let it go, Iron Man, he is not worth the effort," Giles said sadly. "Men like him have always hidden behind a superior attitude and tradition. Nothing you could do would make a difference."

Xander stopped his rush, but stood there angrily.

"Perhaps there is something I can do, Rupert," Tony interrupted.

The head of Stark International stepped up to the stuffy Brit and looked him in the eye.

"My name is Tony Stark. I'm the head of Stark International." Travers' eyebrows lifted at that.

"I have come to know Giles, Buffy, Faith and some of the others quite well recently, and have learned the story of the Slayers and Watchers. I must say that I am disgusted with you, sending teenage girls to fight vampires alone, or with only their Watcher to help. I think it is time for some traditions to be retired."

"Now listen here.!" Travers started.

"No! You listen. I am going to take the tapes from this trial and give them to a good friend of mine, Nick Fury. I am sure you know about S.H.I.E.L.D, and probably know about Nick, as well. I am also going to talk about you to a few of my contacts in MI6, about your treatment of these young girls."

"But you can't, the Slayers have always been the property of the Watchers Council," sputtered Travers.

"The Slayers are no one's property, glared Stark.

"I am going to put the full backing of Stark International behind these two girls here, and support then in any way I can. I guarantee that we will provide them with better weapons than sticks, crossbows and swords."

Tony took a deep breath and released it slowly.

"Now, get out of here before I lose my temper completely and decide to ruin you personally," Stark told the shaken Watcher.

Iron Man just turned away and lifted up on his boot jets, swiftly zooming away from the others.


Sunnydale General Hospital

The rest of the crew quickly returned to Deidre and Xander's place, where they picked him and her younger brother Sean, up and headed for the hospital.

The six people rushed through the emergency entrance and scattered, looking for Joyce. Sean found Dawn first and rounded up the others.

Joyce was walking out of the examination cubicles, talking to a doctor. She noticed the rest of them there and pointed Xander out to the doctor

"He was the one who got my daughter away from the animals that did that to her," she said.

The doctor shook his hand and congratulated him on a great job in getting her away before any permanent damage could be done.

Xander, as usual, muttered something about it being nothing, and tried to divert attention away from himself.

The doctor left to get Buffy's discharge papers ready, leaving the gang to themselves.

Dawn rushed up to Xander and hugged him tightly.

"Thanks for saving my sister's life again, Xander!" she whispered.

Joyce had hugged the younger Slayer at nearly the same time.

"Thank you for everything you did, Faith," said Joyce.

"But I didn't.." Faith started.

"Yes, you did. You disarmed those watchers, then you rushed into that warehouse without any thought to yourself. You did your part to help both Xander and Buffy," Joyce told Faith.

Joyce turned to Giles, Tony Stark and Rhodey. Each man in turn received a hug and a kiss on the cheek, along with her thanks for their part in saving her daughter.

Willow stood watching her friends and felling slightly left out when both Xander and Faith put their arms around her shoulders. Both kissed her on the cheek, sending the redhead into a blush that nearly matched her hair.

"What was that for?" she sputtered.

"Just for being our friend, Will, just for being there," Xander said. Faith nodded her agreement as she saw Buffy being wheeled out of her room.

The brunette stepped up to the other Slayer and knelt by the wheelchair. Taking her hand, she spoke to the young blonde.

"Are you okay, B? Really okay?" she asked.

Buffy nodded her head. "Yes, Faith, whatever it was wore off on the way here and my Slayer healing started kicking in." She held up her right arm, encased in a bright blue cast.

"I should be pretty much healed up by morning, 'cept for this, but it should only take like a week or so to heal completely," she said.

The gang followed her out of the hospital and saw her safely loaded in Joyce's jeep.

Before they could shut the door, Buffy gestured for Xander to come over to her.

She hugged him for a moment, then looked deeply into his eyes as she spoke.

"We *WILL* be talking about this Xander," she said as she pulled the door shut.


Chapter 5

Xander's Place
Two Weeks Later.

Xander turned the Mercedes into the driveway, and stopped in the carport. He grabbed his books and headed into the house. As he turned the corner to the backyard, he noticed Giles in the garden, looking at Deidre's handiwork.

Turning, he headed to the shop, where he opened the door and stepped in.

Too late, Giles saw him and yelled for him to hold it.

Xander got one foot in the door and froze. Not more than ten feet from him, Faith was standing in the middle of the shop, wearing only a pair of fire engine red panties. Very skimpy panties, he might add. Her back was to him, and as he gulped, the door slammed into him, knocking him back outside.

Xander found himself sitting on the hard ground outside the shop, too stunned to even think, the image of Faith's shapely behind etched in his mind.

Giles rushed over to help the young man to his feet and heard him mutter something about 'naked Slayer' as he stood.

Buffy stuck her head out of the door and immediately started in on Giles.

"Giles! We told you to guard the door to keep everyone out of here," she said.

"Sorry, Buffy. I was just admiring the garden, and didn't hear him come in."

"Well, keep everyone out," she reminded him, as she started to close the door.

"Gees, Faith, I think you broke Xander," they heard her laugh as the door closed.

Xander had recovered somewhat by now and was looking at the Watcher.

"What's going on, Giles?" he asked.

"I really don't know, Xander," the older man admitted, as he helped the brunet to his feet. "All I know is that Deidre was working on something for Faith, and she asked me to bring Buffy here after school, as well. Something to do with Slaying, apparently, but I don't know exactly what."

"Well, I guess I'll go and change, then, and see what's up when it's okay to enter," Xander responded, wandering off toward the house.

After changing and having a quick snack, Xander returned to the patio to wait with Giles. They were sitting there, awaiting permission to enter Deidre's domain.

"So, how is school going?" Giles asked.

"Not too bad. Willow's been helping me with math and chemistry. Cordy's been helping with English and Current Events, and, strangely enough, she's doing a very good job."

"So, when are you planning on taking your SAT's?" The watcher asked.

"I'm guessing in about two weeks. Have to have them in before the end of the month, if I want to start this fall."

"Mr. Stark is serious about this, isn't he?"

"Yeah, Tony said that if I wanted to keep on working for him on this, I had to have a better understanding of how and why the way things work. I want to be able to work with him without appearing to be an imbecile."

"From what Willow tells me, you are doing a wonderful job. You've managed to pull your grades up to over a C average in just the last month, and are still doing better," Giles commented.

"Yea, well, actually thinking you have a chance now, makes a big difference in the way I look at things nowadays."

"Xander, you always had a chance, you just never saw it. And to my shame, I never thought to point it out to you how smart you were," he apologized. "Intelligence can take many forms. You have seen things, helped us plan things that Willow and I never noticed. You look at things differently. Not in a bad way, only a different one, which we never truly recognized was just as valid as ours, and so we ignored you, and let you think you were useless."

"Thanks Giles," Xander said, in a voice thick with emotion. "That means a lot, coming from you."

The door opened and Buffy stuck her head out. "Come on in, guys, she's decent now."

Ever since the Cruciamentum, Buffy, Willow and Oz were treating both Faith and Xander with new respect. And Buffy found that once she got to know the real Faith, not the one hiding behind a tough attitude, that the younger girl and she had a lot in common.

Xander and Giles entered the shop, curious, and became even more so when they saw the young Slayer.

Faith was standing next to Deidre wearing some kind of armored vest.

What they could see above the waist of her hip hugging jeans looked almost like Xander's chest piece. There were no sleeves, or helmet, but there was a armored collar that went up to just below the chin, and a piece that went up the back of her neck and head. It didn't cover the ears, but there were ear pieces, and a narrow band that encircled her forehead, somewhat like a metal sweatband.

Deidre looked at the two staring men and smirked. The outfit hugged the Slayer's body like a very tight metal tee shirt.

"Welcome, gentlemen," Deidre greeted them in her Scottish brogue. "This is the prototype of the Mark III, Slayer Armored Combat Vest."

"Wow," was all Xander could say as he looked it over.

Faith caught his eye and gave him a sly grin, which caused him to blush furiously.

"What exactly does this vest do?" asked Giles.

Deidre smiled, she was getting into her area now, and she was getting ready to lecture.

"After everything that has gone on here lately, I wondered if there was a way to better protect the girls, without costing them their mobility. So, working with Faith, I managed to adapt a simpler version of Xander's chest plate. It doesn't have the multi-purpose light or repulsor beam in it, but it still provides the armor's protection. The piece going up the back of the neck was the most difficult to put together, trying to add the protection without limiting the flexibility that a Slayer needs, but I worked it out over time. The headpiece protects the back of the skull, as well as holds the transceiver electronics," she explained.

"Yea, D here was having me bend every way possible to check this thing out, but she finally put this one together. I'm supposed to patrol in it tonight to check it out," Faith added.

"Once we are sure that this one is configured correctly, I will put one together for Buffy, and then work on adding some teeth to it. But, as it is right now, a Slayer wearing this is protected over the most vital areas."

Giles was stunned, enough so that he staggered back and dropped into a chair along the wall.

He was one of the most unconventional Watchers in their recent history, but the idea that a group of people who just recently became aware of Slayers and try to ensure their survival more than surprised him. That they would spend so much time, money, and effort to aid them just staggered him.

He just sat there, watching Faith go through a complicated routine to test the limits of her movement and wondered. Wondered why the Council of Watchers never considered putting any of their considerable resources into providing any protective clothing or better weapons for the Slayers.

Suddenly, both Buffy and Faith became aware that their Watcher was sitting quietly in the corner, a single tear tracking down his cheek.

Both girls went to him, kneeling down next to him.

"Giles. Is everything okay?" Buffy asked, concern in her voice.

"Why?" he said softly. "Why is it that it has to be someone outside of the Council that would show concern for the safety of the slayers? All the resources available to them, and they never once tried to do anything to improve the chances of all those poor girls."

"I don't know Giles. Maybe because most of the ones who make the decisions were never field Watchers. They don't see things the same way. To them we're just tools, something to use until it is no longer useful. I really don't know," Faith speculated.

Xander stood watching the two Slayers comforting their watcher. It was times like these when he truly realized how Giles really felt. Born into tradition, and following those traditions simply because he did not know anything else. Then along comes something like this. A complete stranger starts helping, and comes up with a way to protect 'his' Slayers.

Giles was a good man, and he wanted both Buffy and Faith to be as safe as possible.

You couldn't really fault a man just because he did not know a better way to do something. He was adapting now, and Xander had no doubt that Giles would quickly accept what was happening, and do his part to help things along.

There was the sound of a throat being cleared, and everyone turned to look at Deidre.

"Come on, Faith, we still need to get finished here," said the Scottish engineer.

Faith resumed her place by the computer console, and she stood quietly while she was hooked up to some testing equipment.

"There are still several tests to be completed on this, but everything is going very smoothly, since the existing technology from the power suit that Xander uses is only being slightly modified. Eventually, we will be adding coverings for both the arms and legs as soon as I work out some mobility and flexibility issues. After that, I can add some better weapons. Right now, the main thing is to make sure that you guys are protected from injury," Deidre explained. "Now that I have Buffy's measurements, I can get a vest made for her."

Buffy started to feel out of place as she watched Xander move next to Faith and begin to caress the brunette's back. She was feeling extremely confused as she started to feel slightly jealous of the younger Slayer. She shook her head slightly and sighed. \\ I have Angel, // she told herself.

As Deidre was running a check on Faith's combat vest, Tony Stark came in with a tall dark haired man with an eye patch.

"Everyone, I would like to introduce you to Nick Fury, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D, the Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage, and Logistics Directorate. He's the one I told the Watchers about. He doesn't believe in Vampires or Demons, and wanted to see for himself if I was drinking again."

Xander coolly appraised the man; he was muscular, and had a very hard manner about him. Everything about him suggested that he was *extremely* dangerous.

For his part, Nick Fury looked over the group. Two young girls, and one young boy, no, make that a young man, all with eyes that had seen more than anyone that young should ever see.

Introductions were made all around the group by Tony. He was explaining about the Slayers and invited Giles to join in the conversation. Xander could see the doubt in Fury's stance and demeanor, but the man seemed to be listening.

"So, you are telling me that these young girls have been waging a war against demons and vampires for centuries? And they have only done so with a group of Brits to help them and provide intel?" Fury demanded.

"Well, yes, that is basically correct," stammered Giles.

"Damn! And none of them ever asked for help?" he demanded.

"Some have tried to go outside of the Council for assistance, but usually if that happened, the Watcher was removed, and another assigned to the Slayer."

Fury arched an eyebrow, and looked at Giles.

"Removed?" he asked.

"Yes, usually a wet work team would kill the Watcher, and then remove the Slayer from the location and reassign her to a new Watcher, or, if they felt that she was too far gone, she would be killed, and they would start over with the next Slayer."

Fury just growled and shook his head.

Xander surreptitiously watched the newcomer. He was a powerful looking man whose very presence screamed "DANGER". He knew he had a hard time trusting people, and he only fully trusted Faith, Giles, Tony, and Deidre. He still trusted Willow, but only on certain things, knowing that whatever he would tell her would go straight to Buffy. Even though he loved her like a sister, he was still cautious around her after the whole Angel return thing.

He would put enough trust in the SHEILD agent to allow him to patrol with them, but would still keep an eye on him and make sure 'his' girls were protected.

"THEY DID WHAT?" Fury yelled.

"They fired Giles after they forced Buffy to submit to the Cruciamentum, a ritual test of a slayer. They removed her powers with drugs and magic, and then forced her to fight a particularly vicious vampire. She survived only because Xander interfered with the test," Stark explained.

"Look, Tony, I don't know how much of this vampire/demon mumbo-jumbo that I believe. But you have never lied to me, so I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt. I'll patrol with them tonight and see for myself, and if it is true, then the proverbial shit is going to hit the fan," Fury growled.

Restful Pines Cemetery

The Scooby Gang, with the addition of Rhodey and Fury, entered the cemetery and started their normal patrol.

Buffy was a little bit agitated that Deidre had made her promise to wear the bulletproof vest that she was given, but finally gave in, figuring it was easier to wear it than argue with the stubborn Scotswoman.

Fury wore the standard dark SHIELD battledress/armored uniform, and carried a battle axe, still a bit miffed that he had been talked into leaving his Mossberg combat shotgun behind. Giles' admonishment of "We do NOT want to attract too much attention to ourselves" grated on his nerves.

Willow and Oz made up the rearguard, both carrying the new Commando crossbows that Tony had brought with him. They were both lighter and easier to load than the ones Giles had. As an added bonus, the laser sights made targeting much easier.

Rhodey carried his silenced H&K USP 45, as well as a sword; figuring he could kneecap the vamps, and then decapitate them with the sword.

Buffy and Faith took the lead, a little ahead of the others, reaching out with their Slayer senses.

It was near the end of the usual route before they came across anything. But when they did, it was far more than they had expected.

Up ahead were more than a dozen vampires, accompanied by a Faf'Nal Demon. This is a demon whose diet consists of recently dead 'human' bodies.

The vampires were busy involved in digging up a trio of recently filled graves.

The two Slayers had dusted a pair of them before they were noticed, but then the battle was on. Willow and Oz took up watch behind them, making sure that nothing surprised them by attacking from their rear.

Xander waded in to the fight, using the hand blade with the wooden inserts to good advantage.

Rhodey took a vamp's knees out, and then swung the sword, quickly beheading it and moving on to another. Fury just stared as the deadly team tore through the creatures. He now fully understood that vampires are a reality, especially after seeing more than a couple of them dusted. Rather than running into the middle of the fight, he stayed back, realizing he would only be in the way. He could also guard the two teens watching their backs.

Xander pinned a vampire to the wall of a crypt with his left hand repulsor, while he used the blade in the other to dust yet another one.

Buffy took a hit in the back that knocked her down, but she bounced back up on her feet and dusted her attacker.

The vampires had been drastically reduced in number, but were still furiously fighting back. Faith had dusted one, but then lost her stake when it stuck between her target's ribs, and dusted with its target. She quickly spin-kicked one vamp to the ground, and was reaching for another stake when the demon hit her across the back with a massive club. She flew into a fairly tall headstone, snapping it off. Afterwards, she struggled to get to her feet, partially stunned.

The demon rushed at her, wielding his club and aiming to take her head off.

Xander saw this and started to sprint to her aid, but knew in his heart he would be too late to prevent her from being badly hurt.

Nick Fury saw the demon rush at the dark haired girl, and without thinking, drew the pistol at his hip and fired at the attacking demon. The foot long flash of light that left the strange handgun hit the charging creature full in the chest. It burned a massive hole in the chest of the monstrous Faf'Nal Demon, dropping it instantly.

Buffy staked the last vampire, and joined the others staring at the huge, smoking hole in the now dead demon's chest.

"Wow," was all Faith could say when she saw it.

"Understatement much?" Buffy replied quietly.

As the demon started to melt into a puddle of nasty sludge, the Scoobies looked up at Fury. He holstered his sidearm and looked back at them.

"Charged Particle pistol. Never leave home without it," he grinned.

Xander mentally filed that bit of information away, making note to ask Tony about it as soon as possible.

The five Slayerettes all stood watching Fury, waiting for him to explain. Jim Rhodes just stood back and smirked at Fury's predicament.

Fury sighed, slightly agitated. Whoever left these teenagers in charge of protecting the world was either deranged, or stupid.

"Fine." he finally growled an explanation. "Charged particle weapons are a new technology that the SHIELD has been working on for a while. They are superheated particles encased in a magnetic field. When they hit, the magnetic field dissipates, allowing the particles to burn through the target. The particles are drawn from the surrounding air, making the need for ammunition non existent. A handgun like this can fire about a hundred shots before running out of power, making a police officer or soldier much more effective, as well as more deadly. The particles would disable a car's electronics if it were to hit it, and will burn through almost any body armor known."

This last fact, about burning through body armor, flashed through both Xander's and Faiths minds at exactly the same time. This caused them to regard each others battle clothes with concern. None of the exchange of glances seemed to be caught by anyone else, although Xander made a mental note to ask Tony about this piece of information.

Fury paused to light a cigar, inhaled a large cloud of smoke and then glared at all five of the teens.

"Now, this whole project is classified as 'Top Secret', and if any of you breathe any of this to anyone, I will have you arrested and jailed for espionage. Clear?" he demanded in a quiet steely tone.

All five of them gulped, and agreed with him, sure that he meant every word of what he said.


They finished the sweep through the cemeteries, and later headed for a quick pass by the Bronze before heading home for the night. They were just passing an alley when Buffy and Faith held up their hands signaling a stop.

"Vamps, five or six of them, and they have a couple of hostages," Buffy turned and said quietly.

Quickly they made plans. Buffy, and Faith would stalk through the alley, while the others would back them up. Ironman would signal them from the rooftop when to strike.

And with that, Xander lifted up on his boot jets and flew up to the roof of the nightclub.

Softly, Xander crept over to the edge of the roof to peer into the alley. He sealed off his helmet so that when he spoke, no one without a radio would hear it.

"Buff, Faith, there are two female vamps leading two guys toward you. There are another four hidden, two behind the dumpster, and two in the entryway to Guido's Pizzeria, " Xander radioed. "If you stick to the sides of the alley in the shadows, you should be able to get close enough to jump them. Rhodey, you, Fury, Willow and Oz, can keep anyone from getting out of the alley."

"Gotcha, boytoy," Faith responded.

"Right, Xander," Buffy acknowledged.

"Got it," replied Rhodey as he passed instructions on to the others.

Xander knelt on the edge of the roof, watching as the two Slayers moved soundlessly into the alleyway. He knew that they would be able to move silently in a way that he only wished he could.

He watched as the two Slayers silently slinked into the alley, each on a different side. Faith managed to creep right up behind the two at the dumpster when one of the female vamps roughly pushed her 'date' up against the back of the Bronze and went gameface.

"Now!" Xander signaled through the radio.

Faith struck first, ramming her stake through the back of one of the unsuspecting vamps. Buffy was almost as fast, darting around the corner to stake one of the bloodsuckers hiding in the doorway. The two females spun away from their unsuspecting victims to look around for more attackers. Finding none, they advanced on the two Slayers as well.

Buffy furiously pounded her remaining vampire, hitting him with a flurry of punches and kicks, leaving him reeling and sliding down the locked door until she shoved a stake in his cold, dead heart.

Faith was not doing quite as well. Her surviving opponent, showing some skill, tossed her out into the open alleyway, right into the middle of the two females.

She doubled her efforts, kicking and throwing punches feverishly. One of the females was dusted, and she had the remaining male down, stunned. Battling the last female, it looked like she was home free, when a man sprinted down the alley toward her.

Xander scanned the man as he ran toward the dark haired slayer, and was surprised to see that he had body heat.

\\ Human, but what the hell is he doing? // Xander wondered as he moved into action.

He stepped off of the roof as the running man neared Faith, triggering his boot jets at the last minute to allow him to land softly.

As it was, Xander had to really get a move on to intercept the stake headed for the man's chest.

Luckily, he was able to get his hand out in front of the guy, just in time for Faith's stake to splinter on his armored hand.

Buffy staked the downed male vampire, and Oz drilled the running female with a crossbow bolt as she neared the alley entrance, having decided to make a break for it during the distraction caused by the human who interfered.

Faith stood stock still, her hand aching from the impact against Xander's armor, and bleeding from a deep cut caused by a splinter.

\\ I almost killed a man, // went through her head over and over again. \\You're nothing but poor white trash girl, never amounted to anything at all, // ran through her mind as well, as she remembered what her mother used to say.

Buffy, in an uncharacteristic gesture, hugged the younger Slayer as the rest of the group joined them.

Fury stood looking at the man who almost got himself killed.

"Man, talk about stupid. What kind of moron runs up to someone in the middle of a fight? That is the easiest way to get killed!" he practically screamed at the newcomer.

"What do you mean?" Buffy asked, still holding onto her upset sister Slayer, as Willow bandaged her hand.

"Where do you think the term 'friendly fire' comes from? In any combat situation, the adrenaline is pumping, people are keyed up, nerves are strung as tight as piano wire, and when some fool rushes into the middle of things, they end up dead." Fury paused to light up his cigar again.

"Faith, what happened here was nothing more than an accident; one that Ironman prevented, but it was still an accident. You were in the middle of fighting three vampires, and even a moment's lapse in attention would surely end up with your early death. Your reaction was normal, and expected. If it had been me, likely the same thing would have happened."

Faith looked up at everyone, hope in her eyes. And all around her, they nodded their agreement, Fury's explanation making it easier to understand, and accept.

Xander nodded his head in agreement, then turned to the man whose life he had just saved.

"And what is your story?"

"I'm," he gulped, "I'm Allan Finch, the Deputy Mayor, and I need to talk to Rupert Giles. I knew that these girls were Slayers, and wanted them to take me to him," replied the frightened man.

"What about?" Buffy asked.

"I will only talk to Rupert Giles, and only if you protect me," the frightened man said.

Xander looked at both Fury and Rhodey, then shrugged.

"Okay, let's go," he said.

The group headed off to the parking lot where they had left the cars. Faith in front, and Buffy following, both making sure that they would not be surprised. The rest grouped around the frightened Deputy Mayor.

Back at Xander's Place

Allan Finch had just told the gang everything that he knew, and was begging them to protect him from the Mayor.

Giles was discussing the ramifications of a full ascendance with Stark and Fury.

"Gentlemen, we are not talking about a normal demon here. Depending on the form of demon that the Mayor assumes, he could be upwards of fifty to sixty feet tall or in length. He would also be immune to most weapons that we could bring against him," Giles informed them.

"So, why don't I just go whack him now, before this ascendance thing?" asked Fury.

"Because, if our information is correct, he has been preparing for this for the last one hundred years, and the last hundred days prior to his ascension he cannot be hurt, as he is completely invulnerable to damage, both physical and magical. From what I can gather from my various texts, he will be at his most vulnerable point immediately after he changes, or within a few minutes after the metamorphosis."

Both Fury and Stark swore.

"What will it take to kill him then, Giles?" Xander asked.

"It will depend on which demonic form that he has chose to ascend to, but likely an extremely hot form of fire, or a large explosive force."

Xander looked over at Tony Stark and Fury, his eyebrow raised.

"Don't worry," Fury growled around his cigar. "SHIELD will provide whatever assistance you need to stop this thing. And I will make sure that Finch here," jerking his thumb at the informer, "is moved out of town, and put in protective custody."

The group discussed the need for secrecy and possible solutions to the Ascension for the next hour or so, and then started to leave for the night.

Finally, only Giles, Deidre, Xander, Faith, and Buffy were still in the shop.

"Guess it was a good thing I had you wear that vest, Buffy," Deidre said in her thick Scottish brogue.

"Huh?" was all Buffy had to say, as she wondered what the woman was talking about.

"Take off your jacket," Deidre asked.

And, as Buffy removed her jacket, the rest moved behind her to see what the engineer was talking about.

Deidre had her pull off her vest, and held it up for all to see.

Across the area where her lower back would have been, the vest had a deep cut in it, and the version of Zylon that Stark International had modified, was mashed and damaged. But the inner layer of material was in excellent condition.

Buffy looked at it and paled.

"That would have cut me in half," she whispered, throwing her arms around the woman and hugging her.

Giles, Xander and Faith all looked at each other. Knowing how close a friend had been to death was a very sobering experience.

Deidre informed them that she would have several vests delivered, and that no one was to go out without a vest or body armor.

1630 Revello Drive

Xander pulled in the driveway of Buffy's home and shut the car off. He got out, as well as the two Slayers. Buffy said her good night, and headed to the front door.

"Faith, could I talk to you for a minute?" Xander asked.

Faith turned to Buffy and said, "Be there in a minute, B."

Buffy continued up to the door, and was surprised when it opened for her. Her mother stood behind the door as her eldest daughter entered the home.

She stood there holding the door, but finally closed it when Buffy told her that Faith would be in, in a minute or so.

Buffy went into the dining room and peeked out through the curtain. Joyce joined her.

They watched the young couple talking for a minute, and then Faith threw herself on the young man in front of her, and from what they could see was laying one heck of a kiss on Xander. After a couple of minutes, she separated from him, and walked toward the front door. What was unusual was the fact that she kept looking back at Xander as he got in the car and drove away.

Both Buffy and Joyce dashed for the kitchen, and were trying to look natural when Faith entered the kitchen.

What was most noticeable was the huge smile on her face, and the fact that she seemed to be walking on air.

"So, what's up, Faith?" Buffy asked innocently.

"Xander asked me to the prom," was all the brunette said as she floated up to her room.