Author: Tim Knight

Title: Standing Proud

Copyright: March 2003
Rating: PG-13 (fight scenes, language)

Spoilers: 
Buffy: Season 2 until Phases. Specific episode: Faith, Hope, and Trick.
Highlander: Season 5 until Season finale. Richie Ryan lives.

Keywords: Buffy/ Highlander/ Xena: Warrior Princess/ Red Sonja.

Summary: Despite having been vindicated after facing their past, a Slayerette isn’t completely out of the woods after her ordeal, as some unexpected fallout impacts her life.

Legalese: All characters except those noted below with their respective rights, properties, and copyrights are the property of the respective creators, authors, owners, producers and agencies. These characters are used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended or meant, and no money will be made from this story. This story may be copied in its entirety, and may be distributed as long as all copyright information remains.

The character Shaw Hunter is mine. Anyone wishing to use her may contact me at doobytim@aol.com.
The characters Steven St. Wolf, Frank Iverson, Sidney Meyers, Felicia Standing, David Standing, Melinda Standing, Diana Standing, Tawnie Standing, Page Standing, and Melissa Standing, as well as numerous other characters and the universe in which this story takes place, are property of Steve Pantovich. Steve can be reached at steve711@concentric.net.

Author's Notes: This story takes place during November 1999, after Hunter’s Moon by myself and Trick and Trial by Mike Weyer, the Official Ken Burns of the Wandererverse.

For the outfits mentioned in the meeting, check out these links:
Cordelia: Victoria Ssecret
Faith: Victoria Ssecret
Shaw: Victoria Ssecret

Dedications: 
To Steve, Master of Ceremonies, for giving permission for this story.
To Jack, Editorius Excellentus (sorry, watched too many Road Runner cartoons when I was a kid), who shall joust with my chicken typing (as opposed to chicken scratch) and edit yonder yarn.

Here are the changes from your regular shows, which might play a part in this story:
Buffy:
1. Because of her drowning death in Prophecy Girl, Buffy is an Immortal in the Highlander sense. Also, Joyce found out about Buffy’s Slaying months earlier than in the series, in Dating Blues.
2. Willow and Oz are still together, having never broken up. Willow is a witch, but with more control over her powers than Season 3 or 4 Willow. Oz can control his lycanthropic changes except during the full moon.
3. Xander and Cordelia are together and living in an apartment in Giles’ complex. Xander fully remembers the things he learned from his little Rambo episode in Halloween, and Cordelia is an Amazon warrior thanks to her accidental summoning of the Goddess Artemis in How Cordelia Got Her Amazon Groove.
4. Because of the arrival of Steve on February 2, 1998, Amy never cast her love potion spell for Xander. Xander convinced her to join the team shortly after, and since then, she has never tried hexing her friends or running on a big wheel inside a cage. Also, she’s still blonde.
5. Jenny is alive and well, and engaged to Giles. She was cast out by her Romany clan (for killing an Immortal Kalderash who’d come to kill Buffy), except for her immediate family. Also, she is a High Priestess of Artemis. She continues to teach Computer Science at Sunnydale High School.
6. Kendra was temporarily killed in Calling Out The Clan, but was brought back by the ER team performing life saving surgery on her. After three months of healing and physical therapy, she resumed her Slaying duties in Sunnydale, moving into the Summers home. She is currently a sophomore at UC Sunnydale.
7. Because of Kendra’s later death, Faith was summoned a month later in the Wandererverse. Because of lies told to her and her Watcher, she assumed Buffy was dead. Her Watcher lived a while longer but was killed by vampires working for Kakistos and Angelus in Atlanta, Georgia. After learning the truth and helping Section Seven, Faith moved to Sunnydale to be with kids her own age, despite her original idea of working on the East Coast with Mulder and Scully.
8. Despite no official word in the Buffyverse, in the Wandererverse Giles’ father is alive and well. He has come back to the Council (having been in semi-retirement) and is on good terms with son and future daughter-in-law.

Xena: 
1. Gabrielle is an Immortal, her first death from a spear that pierced her during a battle against the Romans around 500 BC.
2. After the same battle in which Gabrielle first died, Xena tried and failed to find her body. Shortly after, Ares came to her and offered her godhood, which she took. She eventually left Earth and became the lover of Tyr, the Norse God of Justice, only returning in Avatars of Sung (February 1999).
3. In 504 BC, before their separation, Xena and Gabrielle trained a girl named Alika, who became the first Vampire Slayer in Wandererverse mythology.
4. Gabrielle is now the Queen of the reborn Amazon Nation, and CEO of VAN Ltd, which is a corporation that acts as the "front" for the Nation’s organization.

Red Sonja:
1. Sonja is an Immortal, and was Gabrielle’s first Immortal teacher.
2. Sonja is also a member of the new Amazon nation, the Queen’s Consort.


Standing Proud

Prologue: Congratulations! You May Already Be A Winner!
(But Somehow, I Don’t Think Ed McMahon’s Picture Was On THIS Envelope)

Standing Estate
Curtis County, Virginia
9 November 1999

"What the Hell?" David Standing muttered as he found a strange, thick envelope in his large assortment of mail. < Department of…> He pulled out his letter opener, shaped like an Army Lieutenant’s sword, and sliced the envelope open. He saw multiple sheets of paper in it and drew them out.

Sorting through them, he found one that stated, "Dear Mr. Standing, we wish to inform you…"

His mental voice trailed off as he moved further into the body of the letter, his eyes growing wider with incredulity with each typed word he read. A cold, sick feeling took root in his heart, one that made him wish he were dead.

Unable to break the pall the letter had cast over him, David switched to another piece of paper that had been in the envelope. He scanned the information on the page and finally found the will to escape his trance.

He immediately reached for the phone on his desk and started dialing.

*****

Felicia Standing’s Office
Standing Estate
Curtis County, Virginia
9 November 1999

Felicia Standing looked up from the monthly reports from her family businesses when she heard a firm yet gentle rap on her door. "Come in," she called out.

The old walnut door slid open and her son David stepped inside with a dire look on his face. Her first instinct was that something had happened to one of her daughters-in-law or grandchildren, until she saw the crumpled papers in his right hand, a hand that was trembling.

That worried her; David was one of the bravest members of the Amazon clan of which she was the matriarch. "David, what is it? What’s happened?"

He looked up at her, a haunted look in his eyes, as he stiffly moved forward and sat down in one of the Colonial chairs usually used by someone on that side of her desk. With nervousness uncustomary for the old Amazon matriarch, Felicia asked, "David? What’s wrong?"

He took a deep breath and it seemed to Felicia that he’d received some very bad news. Instead of answering, he reached forward and held out the papers that he had held in a death grip. "I need your help," he said hoarsely.

"Of course, son," she said automatically, taking the papers from his unsteady hand. She opened them up and tried smoothing them out. Finally, she began reading them, one at a time. Felicia methodically read through the entire set of documents before carefully setting them down. Like her son, she was unsettled by this news. "I assume you tried to take care of this yourself?"

She looked at him and his eyes grew hard. "Why do you think I waited until now to come to you? I’ve called everyone I can think of; Department of Corrections, Social Services, police, even the District Attorney. But the records were sealed! Most of them wouldn’t even let me explain the situation!" He angrily banged a hand against the arm of her chair, making her wince. His face settled a bit but she could tell he wasn’t any less frantic about this news. "I finally caught a break, if you even want to call it that, when I talked to an Assistant District Attorney. I got the whole ‘the records are sealed, I can’t talk about this case’ spiel before I finally got in her face and yelled at her about why I was looking for information."

David stood up and started to pace. <Goddess, there goes the Persian rug.> Felicia’s lips pursed. "Did it help any?"

"If you want to call it help." He stopped, hands linked behind his back, and she saw the haunted look in his eyes. She understood all too well, because he was so much like her. "She didn’t believe me and told me off. I told her I had the letter in my hands, sent by her friends in the DOC. So she put me on hold for thirty minutes while she called those friends and confirmed what I was telling her." Seeing the look in her eyes, her son sat down again and it was like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. "She gave me a name. The name of the opposing counsel. That’s why I came to you."

"Who is it?" she asked, wondering why she wasn’t liking this one bit.

He gave her the name and Felicia Standing found herself frozen in her chair. She knew the name; she knew the man. Of course, she didn’t know if it had any connection to her own more… esoteric acquaintances, but she knew that coincidence was like leprechauns. As far as she knew, they didn’t exist. But she decided to get some of the missing pieces that only her son could provide. "How, David?"

He seemed to know what she was asking and folded his hands between his legs, staring at them rather than looking her in the face. "I didn’t even know, Mother. Do you think I would have let it come to this if I had?"

"I feel insulted that you’d think that I could ever think that of you, David," she said irritably. However, she couldn’t hold the anger since she knew how thrown he was by this news. "I want to know. Tell me."

Couched in both motherly concern and an order from his matriarch, David started telling the story to her.

"Do you remember the mission in June of 1980, where I almost lost my leg?" She winced but nodded; that had been a heart-wrenching time for her as well as his siblings. "You remember where I spent my convalescent leave. While I was there, when I was out of the woods but still recovering a bit, I met someone. We hit it off and started seeing each other."

When he paused, Felicia waited a bit before gently prodding him. "Go on, David."

"She had a drinking problem at the time, but I didn’t care." He laughed a hollow laugh as his hands clenched together and the Amazon woman saw his knuckles becoming white. "I suppose I believed at the time we were both damaged goods and good for each other. I fell in love with her, and I thought she was doing the same with me. It wasn’t long before we were sleeping together. We were both happy, or so I thought. She knew what I did for a living and it didn’t stop her from going out with me."

He looked up at the ceiling and she knew that the sad news was coming quickly. "One night, just after Christmas, I stopped by to talk to her. I was very close to actually proposing to her, Mother. I might have done it that night." His eyes became distant and moist with tears. "I walked in and found Erin lying on the floor of her apartment, smash down drunk. I thought she was hurt at first, by the way she was screaming. I tried to talk to her but she screamed at me to get the Hell away from her."

His jaw clenched and Felicia knew that he still thought fondly of this woman, whoever she had been. "I tried to ask her what was wrong, but… she threw a whiskey bottle at my head. I was lucky to dodge it. She… she told me to get out and never see her again, or she’d do whatever it took to have me arrested." David took a deep breath and finished, "I tried to reason with her, to tell her how I felt, but she picked up a kitchen knife and threatened me with it. So I left."

"That was the last time you saw her?" she asked. She had a very good idea about the reason for the tension that night; it made sense and the timing was right.

David probably knew it by now, also. "I tried, Mother. I called her every day for a week straight. But she had the number changed and I had to ship out. I knew it was over," he said, trailing off at the end.

<Ghosts of the past,> she thought to herself. <And apparently in more ways than one.>

"I can’t believe she hated me for this…" She knew the feeling; unlike some, to the Standings, such times were times for celebration. But just as quickly, David’s famed determination to get something done reared itself and his eyes became serious. "You know why I need your help."

"I think so. You want me to contact him and try to find…"

"No," he said adamantly. She blinked; if he didn’t want… "Mother, I think we’d just get the same runaround, because of the matter being sealed. Besides, this is a Standing matter first, which makes it an Amazon matter. I want us to keep it that way. That way, maybe we can find out what happened to her."

Felicia’s heart swelled with pride for her son, because he wanted to keep this within the family. Despite her own instincts that told her that the man they knew would gladly help them, provided they explained the whole situation, she would follow David’s wishes.

"All right, David. I’ll contact her immediately. Hopefully, she’ll be willing and able to help."

With a nod, David stood up and bid her goodnight. She waited until he left her office before picking up the phone and dialing a number that only a select people in the United States even knew existed.

<Goddess, please allow her to be able to help us…>

*****

Part 1: The Truth Is Stranger Than (Fan) Fiction
(Don’t You Just Hate It When Those Things From Your Past Come Back To Bite You In The Ass?)

VAN, Ltd. Headquarters
Sunnydale, California
9 November 1999

She froze when the red phone flashed on and off. This was one of the few times it had done so since being installed six months earlier. Again wishing painful rectal cancer upon whichever of her Amazons (or more likely, one of their boyfriends!) had decided to rip off the Batphone shtick from that stupid ‘60’s series, Gabrielle Sirtis picked up the telephone whose number was only available to the matriarchs of the various Amazon clans who’d been contacted in the last year or so.

With a firm voice belied by the innocent, cherubic face most of the world saw, the Battling Bard of Potadeia said, "This is Gabrielle."

"Your Highness," a proud yet gracious voice replied, "this is Felicia Standing in Virginia."

"Felicia," Gabrielle said, her voice melting into a smile of remembrance of the things she’d learned about the open-minded, steel-willed matriarch. "It’s good to meet you, after a fashion."

The woman on the other end of the line chuckled. "Thank you, Highness. I only wish that this call was under more pleasant circumstances."

<If it were, you wouldn’t have called on this stupid ‘Amazonphone,’> the Queen muttered to herself. "Is there an emergency with your clan, Felicia? Do you need our help?"

"No, at least to the first. As to the second, I dearly hope so." Gabrielle heard a sigh of frustration in her ear. "It involves my son David and…"

"Matriarch Standing," Gabrielle stated, going to a formal tone so that she could show the woman warrior that she could speak freely, "this line is secure and no one outside of you and I shall know what passes between us, unless you give me leave to speak of it. Please, speak freely. And drop the ‘Highness’ stuff. What good am I to the Nation if you can’t talk to me like I’m one of you?"

Felicia’s voice broke into a bit of a chuckle and Gabrielle thought that perhaps it wasn’t a life or death situation after all. <But still one that involves something serious.> "This morning, my son received a letter from the Department of Corrections in Massachusetts. It said that a young woman, one whose mother died years ago, had been arrested on suspicion of attempting to murder her foster father last year. They performed a blood test and to the surprise of everyone, found a match to her DNA."

"Your son," she said and sighed. She had known when she had gotten out of bed this morning that this was going to be one of those days.

"He never knew. Our family takes care of their own." Gabrielle knew that from prior reports and was very proud of the clan for that. "But because of how long it takes DNA tests to be performed, plus the time for the postal service to get the letter to David, the trial was already over. David tried everything he could think of to get any information on her, but no one involved has been willing to talk except for one District Attorney, who gave us only the name of the primary defense attorney."

She paused to take a breath and then continued with her story. "Gabrielle, I know this man; we met last year when we were helping a man recover his children from a perverted bastard. But David wants to keep this within the family, so to speak, and we were hoping you could make inquiries for us." A pause, then a plea. "We, that is David and I, are asking you to aid us, my Queen. To make inquiries that might yield information that this lawyer, a man I believe to be honorable, might not give to us alone. You know those he works for and with."

<Indeed,> she mused, tapping her fingers together. This was hardly the sort of request or situation she often found herself in. But for once, it was something she would be glad to do.

"Felicia, I will look into this matter right away," she vowed, her eyes flashing with delight, "and when I mean right away, I mean as soon as we’re done talking. I will not rest in the search for David’s daughter until I locate her, bring her to my office, and personally explain the situation to her. You have my word as a fellow Amazon, a mother who lost a child so long ago, and one of the Nine."

"Thank you, Gabrielle," the matriarch’s voice sounded over the telephone. Gabrielle could tell how heartsick she was over this situation. "We will eagerly await any news you can give us."

"I’ll be in touch." <Or your granddaughter will be.>

Felicia Standing’s end of the connection broke off and Gabrielle set the phone back in its cradle. She thought about the whole situation and, despite the seriousness from the viewpoint of the Standing family, Gabrielle did the first thing that came to mind.

She buried her face in her hands and started laughing her royal ass off.

After a few minutes of enjoying herself and this surprising situation, Gabrielle gathered her dignity and picked up her regular phone.

*****

Sunnydale Cemetery
Sunnydale, California
9 September 1999

<Whoever you are, your timing SUCKS!>

Faith was pissed. She and Ladyhawke had been just about ready to wipe out the vamps from hiding when her cell phone had beeped. So of course, now the Soul Sisters were stuck in the middle of a four-pack of vamps.

Not that they had any chance against them, but come on. It was the principle of the shit!

She ducked a wild roundhouse from one vamp and sweep kicked his legs out from under him. Without stopping she used her momentum to pivot and throw her own roundhouse at the jaw of a second vampire. His jaw spun around and Faith took the moment of space to jab her hands down to her thighs and grab two smooth, leather-wrapped handles. She brought her hands up and took up a classical boxing stance, waiting for one or both of her opponents to go game face.

The one she’d punched turned on her, in demon mode. Fine by her. She threw a one-two combo, relishing the bloodsucker’s gasp as her blessed daggers punched into his belly. The instant his hands dropped to the points she’d stuck him, she jabbed again, this time lodging a dagger in his throat. Her Slayer-sharpened hearing picked up the sounds of vamp coming up behind her and she spun.

She stooped as she came around, slashing back and forth with her knife. The blade was smoother than a razor, slicing through his shirt and into his ribs. The damage wasn’t much, but it still hurt like the dickens. She came back up and rammed the knife through his chest, straight in the old, not-working-on-this-guy ticker. His eyes bugged out for a split second before he dusted.

She turned back to her first piñata impersonator and pulled that knife out of his throat. She dusted him and couldn’t resist twirling her daggers before stopping and jamming them back into their sheaths.

She whirled to see how her sis was doing, but she needn’t have bothered. Shaw had just finished decapitating one of the dead guys and stood there, probably trying to see any vamps with her freaky eyes. Just to be safe, she extended her own senses but came up nada.

"This was it, Sis," she drawled. She felt the heat in her belly going down to manageable levels and shook herself. Slaying always did that to her. "So you wanna flip for smacking whoever blew our hideout?"

Shaw turned to face her and even though Spockette’s red eyeballs shining at her distracted her attention, she just knew Sis had an identical smirk on her lips.

"Please. You can do worse to them than I ever could."

"Always good to have my talents recognized," she said easily, sparking laughs from them both. She heard the phone start ringing again and her smile vanished. She picked it up and flipped it open. "Whoever this is, you better hope I don’t track you down and kick your ass for calling us while we’re on a stakeout!"

"You’re welcome to try, kiddo," Her Royal Blondness’ voice answered back.

She paused and then snapped, "Don’t tempt me, Gabs!" She rolled her eyes as Xena’s Ex-Sidekick sighed.

"I’m sorry, Faith. It’s not like I go out of my way to make your life difficult. But I need you to come to the building, posthaste. It’s important."

"Amazon type stuff? You know I’m not the corporate type, Blondie." Faith loved messin’ with her about this stuff. She might be on the Board, but that didn’t mean she always liked doing the business type stuff. <Hey, Sis O’ Mine might like playing ambassador to the pointy-eared for the girls, but I’m strictly warrior type stuff.>

"Faith, I wouldn’t ask you on a whim. This is very, very important, and I’m asking you to do this as a favor. It…" Her voice trailed off and Faith knew she had something heavy in store for her. "It involves one of my Amazons and this is something best discussed in private. I already called Joyce to ask if you could come in, so you won’t get in trouble."

"Thanks," she said, trying to sound disappointed but actually smiling. "I’ll have Shari drop me off on the way back from patrol. I’ll be there in about…" She looked at Shaw.

"Forty-five minutes, provided no other action," Lady Tuvok guessed with a smile.

"Gimme an hour, outside?" Gabby agreed and Faith smiled. "See ya on the flipside." She closed the phone and turned it off, just so they wouldn’t have any other comedy routines for the Big Guy. "Ready to roll?"

"Let’s."

The Twin Towers of Tactlessness walked into the night, daring any vamps to try their luck with the professionals. Besides, whatever Gabby had in store for her, maybe it’d be fun.

*****

Van Ltd. Headquarters
Sunnydale, California
Late hours
9 November 1999

"Hey, guys, how’s it hanging?" Faith greeted the secretaries as she strode into the main office area reserved for Blondie and the Redhead Ah-nold. "Boss Lady waiting for me?"

Marcie shot a mock grimace her way. "If I told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times--I wouldn’t know how anything is ‘hanging.’ I’m gay!" Then she smiled at her. "She’s expecting you, Faith."

"Hey don’t bother giving Queen Bee a heads up, Marce. I’ll let myself in. Oh, and, if you ever need a girl to scratch that itch of yours…"

"Yeah?"

"I’ll be sure to send Netgirl your way!"

As Marcie and Doris shared a laugh with her at the unlikely scenario of Willow being gay, she strolled by them as they returned to their work. She liked that about these two; they weren’t Amazons hired by VAN. They were just normal girls who worked here as Gabrielle’s personal aides. But when visiting bigwig types came to town, they were as formal as could be. <Or more than I could be,> she noted with a smirk. She liked the ladies, because they knew their stuff but were casual around her and most of the girls on the team.

She did give Gabs some props by stopping at the door and knocking instead of just barging in. She did respect Gabby, ‘cause she knew how to draw a line between being a nice gal and kicking evil ass. Especially with how long she’d been doing it.

"Come in, Faith," Blondie’s voice called out.

She let herself in and walked up to Gabby’s desk. She took in the old stuff, whether it was Amazon, European, or American furniture, that was her idea of decor. Of course, that didn’t keep her from having totally modern stuff like a top of the line PC or bar with all kinds of liquor behind it for meetings.

She sat down in one of Queenie’s chairs and cheerfully said, "So what’s this about, Gabs? Sounded really important."

"It is, Faith," she told her. Her eyes became concerned and that nabbed Faith’s attention. She thought about how unlike Cordy and Will, she didn’t think of Gabs as one of those role-model types, or a Mommy type like Joyce. To the Slayer, Gabby was a really close pal, nuff said. "There’s a reason why I asked you to come here." She hesitated again and Faith knew this was big in some way.

"Spill it, Gabs. What’s up?"

"All right, but this won’t be easy for you." Gabrielle looked at her and Faith just shrugged, prompting her to get on with it. Her Amazon Royalness folded her hands together and stared at them. "I received a call from the head of one of the Amazon clans here in the U. S. Specifically, the Standing family in Virginia."

Her eyebrows scrunched; she knew that name. "Weren’t they the ones who helped Frank and Cass get his kids back?"

"Precisely. But this is about another matter, one that involves you personally." Faith arched an eyebrow, since this was news to her. Gabby’s knuckles turned white as she gave her spiel. "It deals with something that happened during your trial, a month and a half ago."

"Wait a minute. I thought this was an Amazon thing," she interrupted. <What the heck does this Amazon thing have to do with Foster Shit?>

Gabs took a deep breath. "While you were incarcerated, they did a blood test on you, right?" She nodded, not seeing why that was important. "Well, they ran tests on your blood and DNA, and much to the surprise of everyone… they found a match."

That puzzled her. "A match with what?" This was really going over her head, really quick. "Gabby, what are you trying to say here?"

The bigwig Amazon stared at her and Faith saw that she was really having a hard time with this. "Faith, today a member of the Standing family, David Standing, received notification in the mail from the Department of Corrections that a girl, an eighteen-year-old who’d been put on trial for attempted murder of her foster father, matched his DNA. HALF of his DNA, Faith."

<Half? Wait a minute. That’s only if…> Faith’s heart skipped a beat as it sunk in, what Gabby was trying to tell her. The Dark Slayer had never expected something like this to happen. "You’re not pulling my leg, Gabs?"

She hoped Queen G wouldn’t think she thought this was a joke. She seemed to know it, because she shook her head. "No, Faith."

Her stomach felt like it was dropping through the floor. She just stared at nothing for a few moments before a feeling of anger flooded her heart. She looked at her pal with fiery eyes. "So what?"

Gabby blinked. "Faith, he’s your father," she said.

"So?" Boston’s Finest stood up and folded her arms across her impressive bust and shrugged uncaringly. "Lemme tell you something about Daddy Dearest, Gabrielle." That should put her on notice; she wasn’t going to have anything to do with the shit. "He didn’t care. He walked out on my Mom when she got preggers." Her friend’s eyes grew hot but Faith wasn’t having any of it, ass kicking Amazon Sword of Destiny wielder or no. "Gabby, I’m the first to say my Mom wasn’t the best. She had her bad points, and she had a lot of ‘em. She didn’t care about me as much as she did her booze. She left me alone to fend for myself. But lemme tell you something; she didn’t deserve the end that she got." The image of finding her mother on the floor of their dingy apartment, when she was all of eleven, came back to her. "And as much as I’d never wish that I hadn’t become the Slayer and met Linda and Slayer Mom, maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t have killed herself with the booze if Daddy hadn’t screwed her over." Her face twisted into a mix of rage and regret. "Hell, she didn’t even put his name on my birth certificate, she hated him so much." She was simmering on the inside, and put it into the simplest terms she could, as far as she saw things.

"He left us to rot."

"He didn’t know, Faith." Faith found that hard to believe, but Gabrielle didn’t stop there. She just kept their eyes locked and started talking. "She never told him; she chased him out of her life, when he was thinking of proposing to her. Think about that. I know you’ve grown up thinking he abandoned you, but you only know what your Mother told you."

"Why didn’t he stay?" she demanded. If Gabby had all the answers, then she wanted to hear them. <Not that I’m going to give him the time of day!> "Why’d he leave?"

"She wouldn’t talk to him after she threatened him. He tried calling her, but she refused to let him back in." Now Gabby stood up and walked around the desk. Her baby blues were saying, ‘I’m sorry, Faithy.’ "As for why he didn’t stay, he was on convalescent leave from the Army at the time. Faith, David was a member of the same unit Steve was assigned to when he was mortal."

"WHAT?!?" she blurted out, not believing this! She held up a hand to stop the speech she just knew had to be coming. "Are you telling me that my so-called ‘Real’ Dad is not only some Amazon’s baby boy, he’s also a crazy-ass Boy Scout like Steve?!?"

"Something like that," she said, although Faith saw her lips curling up.

"Laugh it up, Gabs," she snarled evilly. She hugged herself and glanced at the floor before fixing her eyes back on Miss Drops-The-Bomb-On-Me. "Look, lady, I’ll admit, I don’t have his story. But let’s get something straight; I’m not going to leave here. It’s my home. I have a Dad now. His name’s Giles. I have a Mom again. I have sisters, whether it’s Buffy or Kendra or Shaw or Dawnie or Will or Cordy… I’m happy here. I’m not leaving."

"Faith, I’m not saying you have to meet him," Little Miss Purity said, but Faith figured this was just to keep her from walking out on her and this guy who thought he was her Dad. "Besides, you’re eighteen, you’re a legal adult and you can make your own decisions. But here’s something to think about. Please think about it."

She sullenly said, "What?" For Gabby, she’d do it. Probably.

"He only received the letter today," she told her. "He only found out about you today. And I think the fact that he spent all day telephoning everyone in Boston who was even remotely involved with your case, over a six hour period, says something about him wanting to find his daughter."

That did mean something to Faith, although she was still trying to reconcile what she’d been told for eleven years, against what she knew about her Mom in the first place. She knew that maybe her Mom was just heartbroken or, more likely, pissed about getting a bun in the oven, but she still wasn’t too keen on this little discussion. <I have my family.>

Still, the smallest bit of curiosity, even if only to make this guy know she had her own life, thank you very much, reared itself in her mind. She was pretty zoned out about this, so she barely heard Gab’s, "Faith?"

With the weekend coming up, Faith had time to think about it, but she knew Gabrielle wasn’t going to let her have a ton of time to stall. "Tell you what, Gabby. If I decide to meet this guy or even let him know I’m alive, it’s on my terms."

*****

Gabrielle felt a small bit of triumph in that simple statement, because it meant that Faith was at least thinking about this situation and the man’s side of the story. "What terms, Faith?" she asked carefully. She knew that if she pushed the young Bostonian too hard, she’d only push back and the situation wouldn’t be resolved positively.

"If I go, I don’t go alone. Someone goes with me, people I pick." Gabrielle didn’t have a problem with that. "That’s if I even decide I actually want to meet Daddy Dearest. I don’t like what I see or hear, I’m not going to waste my time."

"Faith, I can tell you, he’s a good man," she assured the stubborn Slayer.

"You think that, and yeah, what you think means something to me. But I want to get my own look-see on this. Which brings up number three, Gabs; no one is gonna let him know if I go on my way to see him. I’m doing this my way, and I don’t want him to be able to hide anything that shows me he’s not what he says he is."

Although stung by her thoughts that David Standing might be like the person her mother laid him out to be, Gabrielle knew that Faith wouldn’t put those terms out there for no reason. It was more than she’d hoped to get, despite the good heart Faith had beneath her Boston Bad Girl personality. Plus, she had to remember that Faith was worse than Xena when it came to getting a head of steam on something.

So it was just best to go along with her terms, which she found to be fair to an extent. And although she hated to keep the news about Faith from Felicia or David, she knew that Faith wasn’t one to be double-crossed. She would at least be fair about this.

"Do you really want me to keep it from your father that I found you?" she asked, laying out her own concerns on the line.

Faith’s defiant gaze didn’t waver. "I’ve got a lot to think about, Gabby. The last thing I need is the pressure of him knowing that I know about him. If I’m gonna meet him, I’m gonna do it my way."

"All right," she said in very reluctant agreement. She leaned against the edge of her desk. "Assuming you do go to meet him, who do you want to go with you?"

"Redeye, of course," she said, her tone being one of "DUH!" "Don’t have to tell you why."

<Of course not.> In fact, she agreed with the choice; those two were inseparable at the best of times. Gabrielle half-closed her eyes, because she dearly wanted to know who else she’d decide to take. "Besides Shaw, who else would you want to go with you?"

"Well, they’re Amazons, right?" Gabrielle nodded, not bringing up the fact that if her natural father was an Amazon descendant… Faith’s mouth split into a grin accompanied by gleaming, mischievous eyes. "So I figure I should get one of the girls to go with me. Maybe so they can see who and what I work with, or maybe to show ‘em I haven’t been totally in the dark about this whole Greek mythology stuff."

Gabrielle felt a rush of pride in Faith’s surprising insight. She nodded to the Dark Slayer and said, "How about Cordelia?"

"Why her?" Faith asked. Gabrielle just knew she’d been expecting her to suggest Willow, given their deep friendship.

Fortunately, she had a viable answer. "I’m thinking about things regarding David and Felicia’s backgrounds. Your fa--- David is an ex-Green Beret, a warrior in a clan of warriors. If I’m sending someone to vouch for you and to take your side in the meeting, I’m thinking the Warrior Princess of the Nation is the perfect choice." She flashed a winning smile. "At least this side of me or Sonja. Willow? She’s a witch; I don’t want to make them nervous."

Faith grinned. "Spoil my fun, Gabs."

"So you’ll think about it?" she pressed, taking care not to go too far into the touchy subject.

The non-voting member of her Board of Directors looked her over, very carefully. In the end, she just said, "I’ll have an answer for you by Friday. Good enough?"

"Good enough," she agreed. She sent up a silent prayer of thanks that Faith was willing to give her father a chance. In her mind, he at least deserved that much.

*****

Sunnydale High Library
Sunnydale High School
Sunnydale, California
10 November 1999

Giles ducked another wild roundhouse and followed up with a reverse punch that Faith barely blocked. His youngest Slayer reached for his arm to set up a judo throw that would leave him sprawled flat on his back on the mat in the middle of the library, but he managed to keep his arm free and follow that up by crouching and sending an elbow into the right side of her trim stomach.

Faith doubled over with an, "Oof!" Giles continued his attack routine by sweep kicking Faith’s legs and sending the high school senior to the mat with a muffled "thud!"

The Watcher leaned forward and laid his flattened hand across her throat. "I believe this is the part where I say, ‘Bang, you’re dead.’"

Faith’s face twisted in anger and she angrily pushed his hand aside. She scrambled to her feet and snarled. "Everyone gets lucky! You were due."

He didn’t believe that. "Well then, I’ve gotten ‘lucky’ with you at least seven times in the last two hours." By the way her eyebrows arched toward the ceiling, Rupert Giles just knew he’d left her the perfect set up line. "And I cannot believe I just said that," he groaned, rubbing his nose with his thumb and forefinger.

"Yeah, whatever." Faith walked to her starting point on the mat and took up a ready position. "Come on, let’s rock, Watcher Man."

He gave her an even look and she waved her arms about. "What?"

"Faith, you’re distracted by something. What is it?" She blinked a couple times and he knew something was bothering her. "Faith, I’ve overcome you in seven matches today."

"So?" she snapped, her face hardening into that tough exterior she normally showed the world. "So I’m off my game today."

"My dear, please don’t shut me out." She winced and her cheeks flushed a bit. Giles padded toward her and pulled his gloves off. He laid a hand on her shoulder and gently smiled at his most independent charge. "Faith, even with my empowerment, I’m no match for a sharp and focused Slayer. You’re distracted by something that is weighing on your mind, and it’s showing in your training today; your punches aren’t focused, your kicks are wild, and your balance is slightly off."

She cocked her head at his little speech. "You can tell something’s bugging me just from how I fight? Whatever happened to reading palms?"

"That’s another sign," he crossly added, running a gentle, paternal hand through her sweat-matted hair. "You’re using a defense mechanism, making jokes about something that you usually treat very seriously."

Her eyes shone with confusion for a second before her shoulders sagged. She sighed and turned away from him, walking to the edge of the mat and angrily pulling off her own training gloves. His charge just stood there, staring at the floor, before thumping her gloves against her thigh. "I got a call from Gabby last night."

"Yes?" he said. It was all he’d say, because prodding Faith to move at your speed never worked.

She turned around and gazed at him. Giles was stunned to see something he rarely detected in her dark eyes; a plea for help to understand a personal crisis. "She got a call from one of the Amazon higher-ups, from that family that helped Frank get his kids back last year."

"I see." He rubbed his chin. "What does this have to do with you?"

"Well, uh…" She faltered and he knew this was truly bothering her. He resisted the urge to do the fatherly thing and offer reassurance, because Faith rarely let herself get, as Americans put it, "mushy." Her attitude reminded Giles of himself at times. She gathered her considerable courage and brought her head up, her hair flying about. "When I got busted, they did a blood test on me." He hadn’t known that, but he nodded for her to continue. "Well, they ran some DNA tests and…" She stopped and shook her head in frustration.

He started to walk forward to offer her some reassurance when she suddenly threw her gloves violently, hitting the punching bag that they had set up earlier. He snapped, "Faith!"

"They found my Dad, Giles!" she snapped with a half-sob. The librarian and Watcher for three Slayers saw actual tears starting to form in the corners of her eyes. "They matched me with my Dad! The one my Mom told me left us when she got knocked up with me! The sonuva…"

She stopped and closed her eyes, clenching her fists to regain her self-control. Giles decided, circumstances be damned and put an arm around her shoulders, guiding her over to a table and leaning them against it. She wasn’t so much crying as trembling in a vain attempt to regain her composure.

"What happened, dear?" he asked, letting her proceed at her own pace.

Finally, she took a few deep breaths and looked up, but straight ahead, not at him. "She always told me he skipped out on us. But Gabby told me the first thing he did after getting the letter yesterday was call everyone in Beantown, trying to track me down. And she says he didn’t know about me, and…"

Some of the pieces were falling into place for Giles, very quickly. Some things he didn’t require Faith to tell him. He also found himself fighting the expected reaction of wanting to track down the blighter who’d dared abandon this wonderful young woman… <Violence isn’t the answer, Old Chap. Your Slayer needs your support.> "He’s a Standing?"

"Uh huh," she said softly, wiping her eyes and sniffling. "His mom is the boss of the whole family. And there’s more; seems he worked with Boss Man in the Army. That’s how he met… met Mom in the first place."

His hazel eyes squinting in confusion, Giles asked his troubled pupil, "How did they meet?"

"He got hurt, almost lost his leg," she replied, although he could tell she was trying to make sense of this stunning news. "He took some time off in Boston, met Mom, and they got hot and heavy." Of course, only Faith would put it that way. "When she got me in the oven, she said he split on us. But Gabby says he didn’t know until the DNA guys sent him the letter about me."

"Do you think your Mother lied to you?" he asked, thinking that perhaps that was what Faith herself was trying to determine.

"I’m still trying to figure out if she lied, or if she just hated him leaving, or if it was the booze talking…"

Faith shrugged off his arm and took a few steps forward. She turned around and folded her arms under her chest. "And now Gabby gets this call from Dad’s mom and they’re trying to find me, and she thinks he’s on the up and up and says it’d be good to meet him…"

A rush of conflicting emotions welled up in Giles at that moment; anger, resentment, fear, and love. Faith’s voice trailed off as she sensed the change in him, but he didn’t notice, because he was too caught up in his own surprising maelstrom of feelings.

He pushed off the table and stalked toward his office, his private sanctuary, growling something that was nearly incoherent.

*****

Faith jumped at the sudden change in G-man’s attitude. One second, he’s all Doctor Laura, the next he’s Doctor Banner. He snarled like Oz in Fang Face Mode and her Slayer ears overheard him mutter something about "bloody Amazon meddling."

Her problems concerning her father vanished for a moment as she watched the door to his office slam shut. <What’s eatin’ him?> she asked herself. Worry for Giles overcame her own emotional troubles and the Dark Slayer did what only she could be brave enough to do.

She walked toward Ripper’s lair.

She didn’t bother knocking. She just opened the door and stared at him when his flashing eyes riveted themselves on her for disturbing his solitude. She cautiously asked, "G-Man, what’s wrong? What’s got your boxers in a bunch out there?"

Just as quickly as Ripper Boy had come out to throw a temper tantrum, Giles’ usual dry, stuffy English side regained control. It was like the Hulk, only without the color change…and the Muscle Beach bod.

"Faith, I…"

"What?" she pressed. Okay, this was weird; he was the one who’d been giving her the family-type advice. "I thought I’m the one who’s supposed to be all conflicted about finding this out."

"Faith, you don’t see…" He stopped and sighed like he was real tired. Alfred tried to get himself together, like she’d been doing just a few minutes ago. "I just found myself torn in two different directions regarding you, when you told me about how your father is looking for you."

"Why? I don’t even know the guy," she said, hoping he got the point about this. "Hell, I’m still trying to figure out whose story to believe, his or Mom’s. What’s your beef?"

"It isn’t about your father’s character, I promise. It’s… frankly, Faith, it’s about you and me. And our relationship."

When he put it that way… she rolled her eyes. <Okay, color me confused.> "In American, G-Man," she drawled. "Why does this bug you as much as it does me? I was hoping you’d help me out, not the other way around."

"I know, Faith. And I’m sorry for walking out on you," he apologized, folding his fingers together. "Please, Faith, sit down."

She did and felt the sweat covering her body moisten the cold leather of the chair. She folded her arms and said, "Spill, Giles. I don’t get what’s got your goat."

He looked at her the way he always did B and K and she felt like a little girl. G-Man seemed like he was trying to figure out where to start, so she just let him stew for a minute. Finally, he broke the Cone of Silence with her. "I’m divided over how to take this news, Faith. On the one hand, I feel like this man has no right to come into your life, because…" She watched him get up and walk around his desk.

He reached up and smiled at her, cupping her cheek in his hand. "Faith, you know how I feel about you. How I feel about my girls. I suppose I’ve grown accustomed to your face and wouldn’t want you to leave."

She shot him a cheeky grin. "I can’t believe you’re ripping off My Fair Lady, G-man!"

He sighed. "It’s Pygmalion, you bloody Yank," he muttered good-naturedly.

She smiled and felt herself choking up as his eyes welled with father-type fuzzy feelings for her. "I know. You’re the Dad I… you’re a Dad to me."

"I try to be, Faith." He moved his hand away and down to her shoulder. He fixed his eyes on her and he became serious. "But another part of me, another part that is frightened every time you go out on patrol, wonders…" He tilted his head forward and if it had been some other guy, she’d have got the feeling he was checking out her boobs. "Another part of me thinks I’m mad to wish you anything other than a life away from this place. The Hellmouth. A life with a loving family."

"I already have a loving family, you goof," she protested with a smile. It faded away when his serious eyes stared her down.

"Faith, think about this. Your father is trying to find you. You would have a chance for a life away from here, away from the short, brutal life a Slayer leads."

That insulted the Boston Bad Girl! "Short? Thank you so much for your overwhelming confidence in my skills, G-Man."

"Faith!" he snapped, shooting down her attempt to cheer him up. "I only want what’s best for you." He stood up and stalked over to his bookcase, the one filled with Watcher Diaries. He ran his fingertips across them and she knew he was thinking about the horror stories in those books. "I want you to live. I lived through Lillian’s loss. I failed in trying to save Buffy from her fate at the hands of the Master. Kendra died under my watch, Faith…my watch, during the battle in Los Angeles! And what about two months ago when I almost lost you to that witch doctor’s poisoned dart?"

She grimaced. That had been a close one. Although she had fully recovered from that ordeal, she still believed the only thing that had kept her alive long enough for the gang to find the antidote was the strength of Giles’ will not to let death take her. He would, she knew, have gladly faced the Grim Reaper himself to save her life. Then her reverie was shattered by the agitation that showed on his handsome face as he whirled toward her.

"If I truly cared about what was best for you, I would place you on the first train out of Sunnydale, away from this godforsaken place, instead of keeping you here to live a life filled with nothing but death and darkness."

She couldn’t believe she was hearing this, but a small part of her heart went out to him as she truly realized the extent of his love for her and his other "girls." "Death and darkness? You’re kidding, right?" She stood up and was ready when he turned around, a little miffed about her taking this lightly. "You don’t want me to live with death and darkness? Hello, G-Man!" She leaned across his desk, eyes hard. "Would those of us who didn’t spend their first sixteen years in a fancy English mansion please raise their hands?"

"Faith, that isn’t what I meant," he pleaded, but she cut him off at the pass.

"Lemme tell you something about my life here, Watcher Man," she said firmly, trying not to dig her nails into his pretty desk. "You haven’t even thought about the non-dead and dark parts of my life here! Buffy. Kendra. Shaw. Willow. Dawnie. Joyce." She paused and snapped out, "You!"

*****

His feelings only became more conflicted because of her selfless words. But he wanted her to see that she had options available to her. "Faith, I know how you feel about us, and I revel in the idea that you might care for me as much as I do for you. But you have a family elsewhere, a family that obviously wants to be part of your life. How can I ignore the idea that you could live a life elsewhere, a peaceful life?"

"You can ignore it because the way I see it, peace is overrated." His Dark Slayer stood up and waved her arms around wildly. "You wanna talk about my life here? Just remember that I didn’t have a life before coming here, except the time I spent with Linda. And when I thought it was over, after I lost her, you guys showed me it wasn’t." She pointed at him and hissed, "You gave me what Linda gave me; a Watcher who gave a shit about me. I wouldn’t have a life if it wasn’t for you."

"I think Wesley would have come around in time," he countered, weakly.

She rolled her eyes. "Keep something in mind here, Giles. For six months I wanted to hunt you down and ice your ass because I thought you left Buffy to die."

He stared at her before remembering the old lies spun by the Council a while ago. "I…I can understand your old feelings. As a Slayer, you’d be dedicated to the memory of your predecessor… your sister as it were--"

"Let me finish!" she snapped, cutting him off. She came around the desk with the predatory grace only a Slayer could possess. But the look in her eyes belied that strength and agility, showing that she was still oh-so-young. "A year ago, I wanted you dead. Now, I can’t imagine not loving you." At that, he swallowed the lump in his throat and fought to keep his eyes from tearing up. "Do you really think I’d give up the family I have here so easy? This is where my heart is, G-Man. With you guys." Her mercurial humor showed again and she flashed a gorgeous smile at him, one that swept through his soul and stole his breath away. "Besides, I’m eighteen. I do what I want."

The man laughed wryly and shook his head. "Yes, I suppose that is true. And as often as that tendency drives me mad, you’re probably right."

With a shrug, his youngest grinned. "Hey, what can I say? It’s a gift."

He reached out and she rushed into his arms, letting him cradle her and rock her back and forth. He knew she still wanted someone to help her decide what to do about this shocking news. "Faith, about your father… what do your instincts tell you?"

"I dunno," she said meekly, her earlier confidence dissipating like fog on the moors. "I just… I think about what Mom told me, I get all pissed at the guy’s nerve, wanting to see me after all this time. But I think about what Gabs says, and what I know about the whole Standing track record, I know Mom couldn’t be right. I just don’t know."

"I see." He laid his chin on top of her head and cooed to her. "It’s usually been my experience that the truth might lay somewhere in between, Faith. Perhaps you should try to find that middle ground, or…"

She moved her head to look at him. "Or what, G-Man?"

He snorted. Even now, she still referred to him by that irritating nickname. "Perhaps you should just say, ‘Screw it,’ and find out the truth for yourself."

She looked down and chewed on her bottom lip for a second. "You think I should meet him."

"Personally, it might help settle the past, as my Father and I did months ago." He released her and crouched a bit, putting his hands on her shoulders and looking her in the eye. "You have a chance to know the truth about your…" He stopped and smiled a bit, hoping she wouldn’t take this badly. "…Your natural father, to grant peace perhaps not only to him, but also to yourself."

She just kept staring at the ground, deep in thought. He wished he could solve the dilemma for her, but this was one time when "fatherly" advice was the only thing he could give. "I’m not gonna let him take me away from you."

"He won’t unless you wish it. You’re a grown woman and you have the right to make your own decisions," he reminded her. But still, he knew that he had to offer her the advice he thought best. "I do believe you won’t have any peace regarding this matter unless you meet him. I do hope you’ll at least consider it."

"I will." She stared into his eyes and steeled herself despite the fears that she’d be disappointed. "I will."

"Good."

He took his third Slayer into his arms and held her again, the quiet allowing them both to believe the world was a perfect place for a little while.

*****

Part 2: Showdown On The North Forty
(How To Take A Bad Situation And Turn It Into One Hell Of A First Impression)

VAN Ltd. Headquarters
Sunnydale, California
Early hours
13 November 1999

"Are you kids ready?" Gabrielle asked her and her pals for the, like, sixtieth time.

"Yes, Mom," she snapped in frustration, "we’re ready, willing, and, dare I say, Five by Five!"

She ignored the look the Ball Buster gave her and stared at Gabby, who was really, really getting on her nerves about this. "Faith, I just worry about you girls. You know that the final choice is yours."

The Slayer turned around and brushed some of her dark brown hair out of her face. She studied Gabrielle’s expression, trying to get a read on what was getting Queen G’s armor in a bunch. "Look, Gabs. I said I’d go and scope out the guy…" She broke off and came to a decision, one she’d been putting off for the last four days. "I’m going to check out my Dad. I’m going to see how he lives and what he does. I’m going to read the stuff Steve wrote down about them being Army buddies. I’m not going to blow this off or make a big joke out of it. And I am so not going to get cold feet."

"If you decide to do it, you’ll go all the way," the Immie who was technically her boss in VAN finished for her. Faith nodded, hard. "All right, Faith. Good luck."

"Thanks. But tell us something," she said, nodding at the silk-wrapped cases they were putting in Shari’s "trunk." "What’s the stuff for? We’re really packing a lot of heat and cutlery."

Gabs smiled and looked at Cordy, which told Faith it was another Amazon ritual-type thingy. "A couple of gifts for Felicia Standing. Partially, it’s as a present for a fellow Amazon and powerful Matriarch in particular, partially it’s in recognition for her service to mankind since they took up hunting vampires." She faced Faith again, and the Dark Slayer figured she knew what was coming. "But also, it’s to smooth over any ruffled feathers caused by you showing up on her doorstep, and to hopefully start a ‘formal’ relationship to bring them closer to the Nation as a whole."

"So you’re turning this into a diplomacy thing?" she asked, cocking an eyebrow. She shrugged and smiled; she supposed it made sense. "Okay, I’m game. But that’s if I go in, right?"

"Right," Gabrielle agreed. "I wouldn’t pull an end run on you. It’s not fair to you."

"Okay, enough on that. What can you tell me about him?" She wasn’t going to admit she was at least curious about him, mostly because she wanted to decide for herself what she was going to do about it, but she did admit that Gabby’s opinion meant something to her.

It wasn’t like she was nervous about this, let alone scared.

<Me? No way in Hell, buster.>

Gabs pulled out one of those manila folders and held it out to her. "His Army file, courtesy of Steve. I know it’s not the same as knowing him personally, but I think it’ll give you some idea of what kind of soldier he was."

"If you say so," she said, taking the file and tucking it under her arm. She gave Gabby a quick grin that she hoped hid the bit of doubt she was feeling about this whole shindig. "So no pep talks or pretty speeches before we head into battle, huh?"

"Please…I’m not St. Wolf." The girls shared a laugh and Faith decided it was time to hit the road.

"We’ll see you later, Gabby."

Gabrielle came up and gave her quick hug. She backed up and smiled at her winningly. "Good luck, Faith."

"Thanks." <I’m probably gonna need it.> She looked at Sis and Cordy and said, "Ready on my end. You guys?"

"Ready, CSB," Ball Buster said with a smile.

Shaw’s eyes were full of support for her. "I am ready, sister."

"Then let’s roll." She whirled her head around and said, "And you don’t cheat on me, Queenie!"

Gabrielle chuckled at the "threat" she gave her. "The Standings will have no idea that you’re coming."

"Good." With that final "warning," Faith jumped in the car and buckled her "seatbelt." "Let’s roll, Hunter."

Shari started moving and Faith slumped back in her seat, determined to get some rest. The plan was simple; drive to LA, where they’d get their pointy-eared buds in town to open a Gate for them to Fairgrove. Once they were in Georgia, they’d drive straight up to Virginnie, where Dav… where her father was living. Easy as pie.

As they started driving, Cordy slumped in the back seat, getting a little extra z’s. Shaw was keeping her eyes on the road, pretending to actually be driving. But rest eluded Faith, so she sighed to herself and pulled out the Army records on the guy she was going to see.

She opened the manila folder and got her first look at the man who’d knocked up her mom eighteen years ago and she immediately saw some of the features she’d gotten from him. He had the same hair, that much was easy to see; Mom’s hair had been dark, blood-colored. She saw where the brown in her eyes came from, too. She’d really gotten a mix there. She realized what she was doing and shook her head.

<Stop looking at the pic and look at what he did!> she snapped to herself. She started reading and was impressed by some of the stuff she could actually understand. <Lessee… eighty-something missions. Not bad. Not as many as Boss Man’s, but forty-six of ‘em were with Steve. Senior Staff Sergeant, forced retirement…>

"Wait a minute. They forced him to retire? As good as he was?!?"

She heard Cordy shifting in the back seat. "The Army made him leave? Probably got hurt too many times."

"Come again?" she asked, turning to look at BB. "How’s that work? And how do you know?"

"From Xander. I have to know what he’s talking about half the time, when Steve’s Army buddies show up," she explained. Faith nodded; made sense. "Anyway, in Black Ops units, if you’re injured often enough in a combat situation, they’ll force retirement on you. Look at his commendations. Four to one odds says he’s got three Purple Hearts."

Knowing how dangerous being a commando was from Steve and Charlie’s old stories, Faith smirked. "No bet, Cordy. Thanks."

Cordelia grunted and leaned back in the back seat again. Faith decided to take her advice and look at the shiny things he’d earned as a commando. She flipped through until she saw it. The first two lines made her straighten up and take notice; Silver Star and three Bronze Stars. She knew enough about medals from working with the units Section 7 worked with to know that was a big deal. The next line showed Cordy knew what she was talking about; three Purple Hearts, which meant he’d been hurt more than once. <Then again, so have I,> she muttered. Her teeth gritted a bit when she read that one of those had been in 1980, which would have been when he met her natural Mom. And another was only two years later, which was when he’d left the Army.

That wasn’t lost on her at all. <If he hadn’t gotten hurt, I wouldn’t be here. Great, the only reason I went from being Shaw’s Pointy Eared Blue Eyed Twin to the Slayer was because this guy played English Patient in Beantown.>

She also read his list of service medals; Panama, Grenada, Beirut… <Goddess, this guy’s been through it all, hasn’t he? > This gave her an insight to him, just because it showed the places she could tell he’d been. <And say what you will about my school smarts, I watched the news growing up!>

"Faith?" Soul Sis asked her, making Faith look over at her and grin.

"Just learning things about him," she answered. That way of putting it seemed safe, and she was still uncomfortable about calling him by what he was. "He’s been through a lot, especially with Steve."

Shaw just nodded and turned her attention back to the highway, knowing that for now, she needed some private time.

*****

VAN Ltd. Headquarters
Sunnydale, California
13 November 1999

Gabrielle sat down in her chair and whirled around, a small smile on her face. She knew in her heart that Faith was going to end up meeting David Standing by the end of the day; she could feel it. One thing about Faith was that she was loyal to family, even if she’d never met them. <Even her birth mother gets the benefit of the doubt, after the life Faith had with her.> One only had to see her interactions with the other kids on the team to know this and admire that trait of the Slayer’s. She might not be certain in her mind about meeting her biological father, but in her heart, she was going to make sure that he was all right.

<But now, time to walk the high wire and try to keep my promises to Faith and Felicia.> Gabrielle hit the intercom and told the secretary on the current shift, "Doris, hold any calls for the next ninety minutes, unless they’re from Ms. O’Brien, Mr. St. Wolf, Ms. Summers, or Ms. Calendar." As soon as Doris acknowledged the order, she turned back and picked up her phone.

She decided not to play games by bypassing protocol for Felicia’s clan and dialed an office number that would likely be picked up by a junior member of the family. Sure enough, someone other than Felicia answered.

"Standing residence," a dignified woman’s voice greeted her. "May I help you?"

"I believe so," she warmly said, a serene smile coming to her lips. "May I ask which daughter of Artemis I have the pleasure of speaking to?"

The woman paused a bit before replying with a warm tone. "This is Cynthia Standing of the Standing clan. And your name, daughter of Artemis?"

Gabrielle winced; it wasn’t often that she was called that. She drew herself up on reflex and introduced herself. "I am Gabrielle Sirtis, descendant of Gabrielle of Potedeia, bearer of the Chakram of Light and Dark, wielder of the Sword of Destiny Purity, Queen of the New Amazon Nation…" She couldn’t help but smirk a little as she added something totally on a whim. "And Miss August of the VAN Ltd. 2000 calendar."

She smiled sweetly as her sister in Virginia took more than one heartbeat to recover. "Y-your Highness! How can I be of service?"

"I need to speak to your matriarch, Cynthia. Would you be so kind as to tell her I’m calling?"

"Of course," Cynthia said, regaining her composure with a speed that made Gabrielle proud. "One moment, please."

She was put on hold and patiently waited for the matriarch to connect. She did so very quickly. "Your Highness?" she asked impatiently.

Gabrielle felt a touch of pride for the woman’s devotion to a granddaughter she hadn’t even known existed until earlier that week. <I can see why Artemis favors her.>

"Hello, Felicia," she said, bringing her full attention to the matter of Faith and her upcoming visit. "I have some news." Felicia didn’t answer, preferring for her to go ahead. She nodded proudly. "I made inquiries as promised, and I can give you some details about David’s daughter."

"Please, go on."

"All right." Gabrielle decided to give some basic information about Faith without giving away too much. "Her full birth name was Faith Patricia Reilly, which I’m sure you already know. She was born in Boston, where her mother died when Faith was eleven. Over the next five years, she was shuttled from foster home to foster home, most of which she ran away from."

"My Goddess, all because we didn’t know…" Felicia guiltily said.

The Queen of the New Amazon Nation shut that line of thinking down very quickly. "Do not blame yourself, Matriarch! She doesn’t blame anyone, I know that much about her. Now. She ran away from her last foster home in June or July of last year because the foster father tried to rape her. She defended herself in a way worthy of any Amazon. The problem is, she ran away rather than tell the police about her side of the story. A member of the Pryce family of Boston found her and took her in and Faith started to blossom as a young woman." <Not to mention as a warrior and champion!> "Unfortunately for Faith and her foster parent, Linda, they traveled to Atlanta just after New Year’s. Linda, who had become a true mother to Faith, was killed by the vampire cult that was terrorizing the city. A cult composed of real vampires."

"Oh my Goddess!" However, Felicia’s voice promptly went from stunned to threatening and fierce. "What happened to my granddaughter, Gabrielle!"

<Finally! Someone calls me by my name!> She tried to remain calm to do the same for the matriarch two thousand miles away. "She was placed under protective custody by the Atlanta Violent Crimes Task Force and once the cult was wiped out, she was covertly placed in another home after changing her last name to Pryce in honor of her foster mother. She reentered high school and has since started growing into, by the reports I’ve been able to see, a fine, courageous young woman to be proud of. And a bit of good news, which I can give you with full certainty."

"Yes?" she asked hurriedly.

Gabrielle smiled and folded her hands together, knowing that giving the Lady Standing this information would only predispose her in a good way toward Faith. "The house she lives in, while not having a single Amazon descendant," <Unless you count Dawn,>, "has three female teenagers who worship the Lady Artemis already."

She knew that had to be a surprise to Felicia and hopefully, it would satisfy her for now. "What about the matriarch of the household?"

"I’m not completely sure if she formally worships Artemis, but I know she greatly respects and sends prayers to the Lady Goddess, and also has sent a few prayers in the direction of Mother Hera, while also playing the role of an extended Den Mother to several young Amazon women. That’s all I can tell you for now, Felicia. I’m sorry."

She could almost imagine the smile on the elderly Amazon’s face. "It’s more than I had before, Highness! I’m very happy to know you’ve been able to find her! What happens next?"

<Uh oh.> "Well, I have been in contact with the family in question," she admitted. So what if it was a half-truth, it was better than nothing, and she could freely admit things over the phone. "You do have to understand, the choice, in the end, will be Faith’s. She is an adult, Felicia, both legally and emotionally. Believe me, she had to grow up a long time ago. But if I were a betting woman, and I am at times," she grinned happily, "I’d say your son will be meeting his long lost daughter much sooner than you or he could ever hope."

<Much sooner…>

*****

Outside the Standing Estate
Curtis County, Virginia
13 November 1999

"Damn…this place is humungous," Faith observed for the sixth or seventh time since their arrival two hours ago. She was looking through a pair of high tech binoculars that weren’t affected by the camouflage spell Shaw’d placed on both them and Shari. "And there’s a ton of ‘em."

"Tell me something we don’t know, Obvious Girl," Cordy muttered irritably. She was antsy too, despite her choice to keep watch for a while. The sun had gone down about an hour ago, and nighttime, well, that was when they were usually doing their thing back home.

"I haven’t seen him, though. I wonder where he is," she grumbled.

That apparently drove Cordy over the edge. She padded over like an angry tigress and despite the fact they were pretty much hidden from anyone watching them, they could still see each other.

"Look, Faith," Ball Buster snapped harshly, "I know you’ve got butterflies in your stomach. It’s natural. But maybe it’s time we said screw the stakeout, go down there and meet them, huh? They’re Amazons, and good ones. This is why we’re here, not to spy on them like some kind of Stalker Girls."

"I know that," she snapped. She immediately regretted it, but stood her ground on her decision. "Look, CC, I’m still trying to sort out the truth here, least as far as what my Mom used to tell me. I know she probably lied, but that’s in my head. Down here…" She pointed at her heart. "I want to believe in this guy, but…"

"Been there, Faith. Remember my Mom?" Faith couldn’t help but nod; at least her Mom hadn’t left because of money. Cordelia put a hand on her shoulder and rubbed it a bit. "Look Faith, I’m not saying our situations compare. But I know Gabrielle wouldn’t lie to us about it, and I don’t think this David and Felicia would lie to her. Not with what we know about them and how they treat family."

"I got the report, Cord. I know they’re ahead of their time. It’s just, I know what it’s like finding a new family." She looked at Cordy and Shaw in turn and they both smiled happily. "But this… well, this is blood type family. These are, I don’t want to say ‘real’ relatives, but…"

"They are your kin, Faith. That is as important as anything you share with me, Buffy, or Kendra," Soul Sis said, tossing her two copper pieces worth into the discussion.

"She’s right, F." Cordelia sat on Shari’s hood and stared at the football field that she supposed the Standings called their "front yard." "When my Mom left us, she broke my heart. You know how I acted. But I realized that I had the support I needed. All you guys. And well, Gabrielle’s kind of been the role model for me, and Joyce acts like she does with all of us. So it’s there, just like it was for you."

She turned her dark eyes back to her and Faith just knew what she was gonna say.

"But if I could patch things up with my Mom, if there was even a chance of it, I’d jump at it." She squeezed her shoulder. "You can’t let this go, Faith. Things happen for a reason. He knows you’re out there and he’s hoping to meet you. Can’t you give him a shot?"

"I will," Faith said, putting the decision into concrete. "I’m just trying to figure out what I’m supposed to say when he wants to get to know me."

"We’ll figure out something, girlfriend," Cordy told her. She stood up and stretched a bit. Faith decided to do the same with her legs. "And we’ll be there to help you, if you’ll let us."

"Darn tootin’ you will," she chuckled. The talk made sense and was making her feel better. "It’s just a lot to take in, seeing all these people. It’s like it was for Redeye over here when we went to her rock. Right, Sis?"

She didn’t answer. Faith turned around and saw Shaw staring off into the distance. <Oh shit.> Redeye was really tense. "Shaw?"

"Something is about two hundred feet from us." She turned back and Shaw’s eyes were in full heat vision mode. "I can feel the animals being frightened off."

"Can you do some magic to find out more?" Cordy demanded, acting like she was in charge. Faith wasn’t going to argue. "Find out if they’re evil."

Shaw nodded and started chanting under her breath. She finished but, rather than concentrate, started chanting again. That confused her. Now her Partner In Recycled Souls looked really intently. She hissed and the next thing she knew, she was drawing her sword.

"Shaw, report dammit!" Cordelia snapped.

"Ten vampires and one living being. The vampires are soulless, but the woman is orderly and neutral, but not evil."

Faith felt a chill in her heart. <Damn, damn, DAMN!!!> "We gotta do something."

"We’re going to. Let’s break out the gear."

Faith was the first one to the trunk, where they kept their weapons. She knew that the silk they wrapped most of the stuff in was the only thing keeping Shari from pitching a fit about the iron, but she never complained.

// Because this is important to you. Besides, you spend two centuries serving sword-crazy samurais in the Order of the Grail, you build up a tolerance for it. //

"Smartass," she said with a smile as she pulled out her rapier, a pistol inside a shoulder holster, and a belt with six wooden stakes in it. She also pulled out two sheathed combat knives made for hand-to-hand or throwing and shoved the sheaths down her boots. Luckily, they’d chosen to wear their battle armor, which made them immune to the cold nighttime weather here in Virginia. "I got my stuff."

"Got all I need," Cordy said. She strapped on her belt that held the two Desert Eagles she usually carried on patrol. That meant her Ginsu was down her back, since it certainly wasn’t at her hip. "Hunter?"

"Just a moment." Faith looked over and saw that her sis had already put Feasellityar back wherever it went when she wasn’t carrying it, she’d slipped on her shoulder holster with the Beretta she liked, and Faith knew she was already packing at least four daggers on her bod but she couldn’t see where… Then the location hit her. <Ick.>

She tested her last weapon and nodded that she was ready. "Let’s go," Faith said before anyone else could. The Slayerettes headed into the brush, Shaw taking the lead and using her elfie forest girl skills to lead them after the bad guys.

Faith’s heart leaped into her throat when the sounds of battle broke out before they’d even gotten a hundred feet. She said the hell with stealth and charged forward. She didn’t have any choice. Rather than tell her to wait, Shaw and Cordelia followed, sprinting for all they were worth, but unable to keep up with the furious Faith, who was livid that anyone would dare to attack…

<My family, damnit!>

*****

Delilah’s face was as cold as granite as she swung her cleft blade with a perfect, precise stroke. Her immaculate style sliced through the guts of two of these Standings, whom her employer had hired her to kill. She wasn’t to kill all of them.

No, the vampire who’d paid for her talents only wanted her to, as he had put it, eliminate some of their best and brightest as retribution for their killing of some of his own. She’d not wanted him to hire these pitiful soulless breeds as backup for her, for it insulted her own sense of honor. But with two hundred battle ready members of this family, she saw the necessity for their accompaniment.

The two warriors from this rich family went down and the Coda assassin wondered just how they’d managed to take out two Kindreds, children of the one who’d hired her for a little revenge.

She was surprised at how the six Standings managed to shoot three of the vampires, causing them to suffer their final death. But the numbers were against the four women and two men, who she decided would be enough to send a message to these vampire hunters.

But then one of them shouted a battle cry from her soul and charged her, calling out a challenge to the Coda to stand and fight. The woman’s rigid code of honor to the Coda precepts, which told her to show respect for women warriors of any creed, made her proud to accept the challenge.

"All of you," she shouted, calling on the soulless vampires, "cease fighting!"

The vampires and humans stopped and stared at her, watching her eye the young woman, who couldn’t be more than twenty-five years of age, as she gracefully yet predatorily stalked toward her.

<This is a warrior born. This family is everything the Kindred said they were.> She held her cleft blade up in both hands and stared down the younger woman. "You wish to challenge me?"

"Yes, I do, you piece of shit." She took a classical stance and handled the rapier and dagger in her hands with practiced ease. "Who the Hades do you think you are, to come here with these vampires and attack us!"

The moment of truth, she thought to herself. She shrugged off her trenchcoat and started circling her opponent. "I was hired to kill some of your kin because of the deaths you have caused my employer. But you six will do."

"You’re a merc?" the black-haired, green-eyed woman said distastefully.

"I am no mere mercenary, woman." She hefted her ritual blade into position. "I am Sister Delilah, member of the Coda sisterhood. Name yourself."

She allowed herself the smallest feelings of satisfaction as the Standing girl’s eyes lit up with recognition at the Coda name. <Good. Perhaps that will inspire her to actually give me a worthy challenge.>

"Coda." Her lips twisted into a snarl. "There was a time when our grandmothers fought together, Sister Delilah. But obviously your sisterhood has fallen far." Before Delilah could respond to that insult, her challenger announced her identity. "I am Tawnie Standing, daughter of the Standing Clan of the reborn Amazon Nation!"

Now it was Delilah’s turn for recognition. <An Amazon!> No wonder the whelp was confident! And this might be a worthy distraction after all. "Very well, Amazon. To the death."

"I couldn’t have said it better myself," she hissed. She took the offensive, swinging her rapier at Delilah’s throat.

Delilah easily parried it with the flat of her cleft blade and spun it about to deflect the follow through dagger attack. She turned the handle over in her hands and swung, neck high. Tawnie Standing brought her blades up to block and sparks flew as tempered steel collided. Delilah knew the Amazon shuddered a bit under the impact and lashed out with a snap kick to the girl’s undefended stomach.

The Amazon fell back, not letting herself get the wind knocked out of her. But she was backpedaling, and that was all Delilah needed. She pressed the advantage, swinging her blade with moves invented and perfected over centuries of training and tradition.

Delilah swung her cleft blade in a crosscut maneuver, which the Amazon neatly dodged by moving to Delilah’s left. She lunged with her rapier, trying to skewer the Coda through her left breast. Delilah was willing to admit it; this modern Amazon knew her fighting style. Unfortunately for her, Delilah’s skill was the greater.

She flicked the long hilt of her sacred blade up to deflect the American’s sword. With the opening it presented, Delilah reversed the blade in her hands and sliced through the Amazon’s body armor like it was paper, opening a line in her stomach. She then twirled her blade around and, before the Amazon could recover from the pain and shock of her wound, ran her blade almost a third of the way into the point where the arm met the shoulder.

Tawnie Standing’s arm went limp, and her fine weapon fell from dead, useless fingers. Delilah was impressed despite herself, because the Amazon didn’t groan or gasp. Instead, her eyes lit up with an inner fire borne of defending her kin. She brought her dagger up and barely deflected a strike of her cleft blade.

The Coda sister decided to finish the duel and struck again, past the Amazon’s faltering defenses and penetrating deep through her tawny, muscular arm. The old dagger fell from her hands but the warrior woman didn’t falter. She tried to launch a nearly perfect spin kick, raising her arms for balance despite the agony surely shooting through the limbs. Delilah had to use all her feminine agility to avoid the fearsome blow and countered with a spin kick of her own, the heel of her boot solidly connecting with the American’s stomach and sending her to the ground.

Delilah felt the slightest twinge of sorrow at having to slay this valiant warrior, because in another time, she might have made a fine Coda. She raised her cleft blade in both hands, preparing to drive it through Tawnie Standing’s heart. She respected the defiant, acid-filled stare directed back at her by the Amazon woman.

"This duel is over," she declared to her unwanted lackeys, "kill them all."

Just as she started her downstroke, knowing the Amazons were going to fight to the last to prevent the vampires and her from fulfilling their contract, she felt the tingling sensation in her spine that told her they weren’t alone.

She hesitated the slightest bit as her mind tried to ascertain the danger. With anyone else, even this Amazon girl or another Coda, it wouldn’t have been enough to take advantage of. So she was surprised when she felt a small hand grip her shoulder, its strength unbelievable! She was forcibly turned around but she reacted with her Coda reflexes, swinging her ritual weapon around to take the head off of whomsoever dared to interrupt an honor duel.

Her cleft sliced through empty air but she came free of the intruder’s grasp, which was her first priority. She saw two trim, feminine blurs race past her and tear into the vampires, who began howling in desperation and pain that came from battle wounds. Delilah stopped when she saw another woman facing her, eyes gleaming with barely controlled rage. <Another one,> she thought, fighting down the urge to rip this girl apart for stopping the challenge. Since these ones had come from behind, she was willing to consider the possibility that they hadn’t heard the ritual challenge.

"You interfered with an honor duel, child," she said harshly, projecting her disdain for the meddling trio of women. "The penalty is death."

The girl, who was barely an adult by most modern standards, stalked forward, showing the grace of a born predator. "Like I give a shit, Slut-O-Rama. Besides…" She cracked her knuckles and gave her a very wicked grin. "You should pick on someone your own size."

*****

Melinda Standing led her four-member security team through the woods of the estate, racing to lend aid to the family members who’d engaged the vampires and the living woman accompanying them. She felt her grip on the MP-5 machine gun tighten as she leapt over a fallen log, trying to race against time to save her brothers and sisters.

She heard the sounds of combat and sent silent thanks to Artemis that they’d reached the site in time. She cleared the brush and brought her gun up to look for a target. However, the action before her shocked her into paralysis.

Two women, complete strangers, were taking down the remaining vampires with a vicious precision that she’d never seen, even from her own kin! The woman on her left, a brown-haired, statuesque beauty, wielded what was simply the most magnificent katana she’d ever laid eyes upon! The sword gleamed under the moonlight as she took down vampires with one or two strokes, and Melinda shivered with fright that a masterpiece of the Japanese sword craft would be used with Amazon fighting styles. The other woman, black-haired and with the trim physique of a dancer, carrying identical swords that glowed with mystical light and using inhuman agility to duck and weave, relying more on speed and grace than power. The word inhuman came automatically to Melinda’s mind, because her eyes shone red in the darkness.

Melinda saw two more women staring each other down and knew on first sight that these two were warriors born. She knew the look. But what caught her attention and wonder was the strange look of familiarity that the woman whose front faced her, a girl of about eighteen years of age, spawned in her heart. She felt she should know this girl, yet she’d never seen her before.

The flash of a human body interposed itself between them and she knew a vampire for what it was. With the speed and skill at her command, she raised her rifle and fired a two-round burst. The bullets penetrated his chest and he went the way of a dust cloud, leaving one less dead body to clean up. She barked orders to her kin to see to the wounded and watched them cover the two women who were actively engaged with the remaining vampires.

She listened in on the conversation between the two warrior leaders and realized what was going down. Not only did she feel a trace of horror at the things she gleaned from the speeches, but she also found herself feeling a swell of pride in her breast for the woman who’d come to their aid.

*****

Delilah didn’t care for the girl’s bravado. Her hands tightened around the hilt of her weapon as she considered the girl’s boast. "My battle is with the Standing clan, child. I had no argument with you or your companions, and will have none if you leave and do not look back."

"If you’ve got a bone to pick with them," the teenager shot back, her voice dripping with sarcasm, "then you have a bone to pick with me."

The implication was clear and Delilah knew that the girl was being truthful. Somehow, she was convinced of that fact, through her words and her appearance. "I had a formal challenge from your kin, Amazon."

The girl’s upper lip curled into a snarl. "I’m no Amazon, Chica. I don’t even know these guys." She stepped forward and the Coda brought her blade up to block a potential attack. "Here’s the deal, Challenge Girl. You. Me. One lives. One dies. You take me out, you get your paycheck. No one’ll stop you."

"I was hired to deliver a blow to the Standings, child," Delilah countered. The Coda wasn’t going to violate the terms of her binding agreement. Her honor demanded she fulfill the spirit as well as the letter of the contract. "One death will hardly inflict damage to their family’s morale."

"Like I said, jackass, these guys don’t know me from Adam. This is the first time they’ve ever laid eyes on me. They don’t even know I exist." She folded her arms and shrugged. "You take me out, they don’t get to know the Prodigal Irish Boston Standing. They’ll always wonder who, what, and why." She paused the slightest before demanding, "So what do you say, you warrior wannabe?"

Delilah, normally, would not allow herself to be swayed by such an obvious ploy. But the girl’s words rang true, in more than one way. And for the Coda, daughter of a sisterhood that relished personal honor in all its forms, couldn’t help but recognize the sacrifice this girl was willing to make, for kin she had no reason to defend. There was a resemblance that forfeited any chance that this was a ruse.

She lowered her cleft blade and did what honor demanded. "Very well, child of the Standings. Your challenge is accepted. These others are safe, and you may do as you wish with the soulless ones. I have no use for them." She started circling as the unwounded Standing warriors and the girl’s companions formed a circle around her. She knew of Amazon honor; they would not interfere, nor would they take her life if she won. "These are the terms, child; no firearms, no modern weaponry. Blades and hand-to-hand weapons only."

"I’ll go you one better," the beautiful child with an angelic face taunted her. She unbuckled the rapier she had and threw away the entire thing, which was caught by one of the reinforcements that had arrived. She then removed a bandolier loaded with wooden stakes and threw it off to the side. "I don’t need weapons to take you, bitch. I can take you with my bare hands. But just to make it interesting…" Her smile went from amused to feral. "You can use your little toy."

That insult hit home. The girl thought she could beat a Coda assassin with her bare hands?!? Either she was more skilled than this Tawnie Standing, or she was insane. Delilah nodded and accepted the girl’s foolish terms. "So be it."

Nothing more needed to be said. She attacked.

*****

Faith had watched the duel between this bitch and Tawnie, so she had some idea of what to expect from her. That wicked ass blade came across and Faith did what she’d been taught to do from the day she’d first run away from home; she let her instincts guide her.

She ducked, crouching and allowing the razor-sharp blade to pass over her head. She heard the rush of wind caused by Slut-O-Rama’s swing and sprung into action like a striking cobra. She executed a textbook spin kick, which caught the bitch’s arm and she could feel the shuddering impact even through her boot. The Dark Slayer’s kick forced the strange sword out wide and Faith followed up with a simpler attack; a left-handed roundhouse that clocked Hit Bitch hard, sending her jaw spinning around like a top. She followed it up by grabbing the woman’s right arm and bringing it up and about to keep her from swinging the sword again.

Faith shot a quick triple-strike side kick, snapping the toe of her boot against her enemy’s upper arm, neck, and temple. That got the results she wanted; it staggered the bitch who’d dared to help vampires attack her family! The slut ripped her sword away and tried an overhead chop. Knowing that she wouldn’t over commit like a rank amateur, Faith didn’t dodge left or right; she did the unexpected. She rolled forward and came up behind her foe. She struck, a rear kick to the bitch’s knee, which sent her stumbling forward. Faith noted that; anyone else would have gone straight to her knees. The Dark Slayer knew she had to finish this quickly before this bitch got lucky.

The Coda, as she called herself, didn’t allow her leg to become a liability. Instead, she spun around and let fly several throwing stars at Faith. The Slayer countered by doing a back flip, which caused the weapons to sail past her harmlessly, however, she cursed herself because the damage had been done. The stars merely allowed the Coda to gain a respite to recover from Faith’s initial onslaught. As she sprung off the ground with her powerful hands to a standing position, the Coda had already moved into position to launch a spin kick of her own, her barely injured leg being the one aimed at Faith’s head!

Faith used the usual countermove for that; she ducked and sweep kicked the woman’s other leg out from under her. She’d half-expected the woman to be able to counter it, given how good she actually was, but she wasn’t fast enough for a Slayer, apparently!

BarraCoda fell to the ground, her head hitting really hard. Faith straddled her chest and struck her four or five times, using her right hand to punch the bitch! She growled and barely kept both her Irish temper and metahuman strength in check. Using either to help you along was one thing, letting either one control you was another. She’d learned that the hard way.

She stood up and gazed at her sparring partner with a look of anger. "Get up, bitch. Let’s finish this."

Her answer came as the Coda sweep kicked her from the prone position. Caught off guard, Faith cursed herself as she landed on her back, barely rolling to absorb some of the impact. She rolled onto her back and saw the hit woman lifting her fancy pigsticker up to drive into her.

"Consider it finished…’bitch,’" the Coda with a bloody nose said. Faith noted that she seemed quite pissed off at her at the moment.

*****

This time, Delilah felt no regret about eliminating this wench. Those punches had hurt like Hell! She knew she’d probably require the services of a top-notch reconstructive surgeon to fix her face after she left this accursed place. There was no hesitation this time. She drove the blade down at the Standing girl’s heart with all the strength she could muster.

However, even her Coda training had not prepared her for the surprise of seeing the girl catch the cleft blade, using the flat palms of her hands, to stop the weapon from penetrating her heart. Despite herself, Delilah gasped at the incredible strength in the young warrior’s hands.

Her eyes met those of her opponent, and again she saw the resemblance between her and the other Standings. That cost her. Stars exploded across her field of vision as the blunt end of her cleft blade smacked her in the forehead, between the eyes. The pain only confused her for a second, but it was enough for her opponent to capitalize on her disorientation. She felt her blade being ripped out of her hands and she doubled over as the hilt was jabbed, with extreme force, into her abdomen. The hard heel of a boot cracked against her temple, sending agony shooting through her skull.

The impossibly powerful pile-driver blows from this little girl had finally taken their toll on Delilah as she fell on all fours struggling to retain enough presence of mind to push off with both hands. But before she could rise from her knees to battle on, she felt the cold caress of razor sharp steel pressing against her jugular. It was over. She furiously blinked, determined to see the death-blow coming. Her honor demanded it!

Her vision finally cleared and Delilah saw the unknown Standing, her face tight with determination, holding her own cleft blade to her neck.

She couldn’t believe it. In her years as a Coda, never had she witnessed someone with such power and skill! But she felt no shame, for this woman was a worthy opponent. "You have won, child of the Standings." She raised her chin with pride. "Finish it."

The Standing girl’s eyes flashed and Delilah prepared to meet her end. But rather than deliver the killing blow, her opponent backed away, still holding the cleft blade at the ready. "No. I’m not going to kill you."

Delilah started to rise but became aware of the automatic weapons pointing at her. She had a desire to attack them in a suicidal charge, but restrained herself, because doing so lacked dignity.

"Our duel was to the death. By your terms, child," she stated. She had thought the girl a worthy foe! "You owe me the courtesy of an honorable end."

"I’m not like you," the powerful young woman told her. "I don’t kill human beings, not if I don’t have to. I’m giving you your life back. Go live it, but do not come back here to try anything against my family!"

Delilah’s heart blazed with fury. How dare she! "I will not breach my contract. My word is my bond. For a Coda to violate her precepts is unthinkable."

"What kind of honor lets you work with soulless vampires?" one of her companions, a young woman carrying a masterpiece katana, asked harshly. "Those vamps are demons."

On that subject at least, the proud assassin agreed. "I was left little choice about them accompanying me. I would sooner work with males."

The women stared at each other, each trying to live up to their own code of ethics. Delilah said, "My life means nothing without my honor, child of the Standings. Kill me and do not force this shame upon me."

The girl just as defiantly shook her head. "You want to kill Standings? Fine. Go ahead and try. But you’ll do it without this."

The Standing girl backed up and held Delilah’s cleft blade! The Coda’s eyes opened wide and she almost charged the impudent woman. "How dare you?!?" she shouted. "I allowed you to take the place of another in this battle, under the agreement that our duel was to the death! And now you refuse to fulfill your end of the bargain, a bargain with terms you yourself named? Have you no honor?!?"

The girl actually reacted to her verbal assault; her hands tightened around the hilt of her weapon. "What was your contract? To just kill all the people here?"

"I was employed to kill some of the younger, yet battle-experienced, members of this family. The purpose was as much to deliver a blow to their hearts and morale as to eliminate a number of vampire hunters. It was a personal vendetta of my employer."

"Any time limit on this?"

That question confused the Coda sister. She wondered where this child was going, but she would rather she ceased this prattling and just kill her. But she answered her anyway. "I was told to take as much time as I deemed necessary to ensure the maximum effect of my actions."

Her conqueror strode forward, once again every inch the warrior who had brought her low. She stared into this young, beautiful fighter’s eyes, which were cold and calculating. Their gazes locked for several seconds before she said, "I have a way that we can both be happy. You want to hear it?"

"You swore to kill me if you defeated me," she reiterated. She would not be humbled! "Will you do the honorable thing or not?"

The girl looked around at her kin and companions. "Here’s how we’re gonna do this. Take it or leave it." She didn’t answer, so the child continued. "Our duel isn’t over yet. You’re gonna leave and tell the piece of shit who hired you that there’s a Standing that you’re setting your sights on. That would be me."

"You want me to exchange you for the rest of the entire clan?" Delilah asked doubtfully.

The girl leaned in close so that only she could hear what was said next. "What would your boss like to hear more? That you came here and killed a few fighters that this family’s gonna replace in less than five years… or that you’re gonna take your time and try to take out the one Standing who became the Slayer?"

<The Slayer?> Delilah was flabbergasted. The Kindred had only told her about hunting vampire hunters, not Amazons and now the one whose skill overmatched her own turned out to be the Chosen One! Just as quickly, her self-control returned; the Amazons didn’t know about the child, by her own admission. There was no ruse here. "You know that I do not have the skill or power to defeat a Slayer in hand-to-hand combat," she muttered in a low, hard voice.

"Not yet. Fighting skills can always get better and magic might give you a power boost," the Slayer added, just as quietly. "Like I said, our fight’s not over, it’s just postponed. When you talk to your boss, tell him you’re going to take out the one girl whose death will really hurt the Standings and drill their family’s honor. And it’s a win-win proposition for you and me, lady. If I win our rematch, you get your honorable-type death."

"And if, when the time comes, I should prove victorious?" Delilah proudly asked.

The Slayer shrugged as if it didn’t matter to her. "When a Slayer dies…"

"Another is Chosen," she finished. This impressed her; the child did have her own sense of honor, however rough around the edges. And a Slayer was worth five or six normal humans, or two to three average Codas.

"Take it or leave it," the Slayer said harshly. "Now."

The Coda assassin considered her limited options, but her decision was a forgone conclusion. Her honor would remain intact, for the most part, if she agreed to these terms. "Very well, daughter of the Standings. As of now, my contract focuses solely upon you. Only one thing will return my honor to its prior state of grace; your death at my hands in single combat. When I am ready, we will see who is the finer warrior."

This Slayer, this woman who was willing to risk her own life for kin she knew nothing about, stepped aside but held her cleft blade in her hands. "When you’re ready, I’ll have this waiting for you."

Delilah gritted her teeth at the insinuation that she was not to be trusted. The Slayer shook her head confidently. "I figure I can trust you, Hit Lady. The guy what hired you, that’s another animal."

<Ah.> She was keeping the very symbol of her status as a Coda hostage against the Kindred attempting to alter the terms of the bargain. "He will not, Standing. I will not give him the leeway or motivation." Her eyes narrowed. "But you live a dangerous life, to put it mildly."

"If one of these soulless walking dust bunnies takes me out, then I don’t rate fighting you again. When you come to Sunnydale for our rematch, if I’m gone, look up the Wanderer. He’ll give this back to you. No questions asked."

Delilah knew the Wanderer’s reputation; every Coda did. He was widely admired amongst her sisters, as much as a man could be admired by the Coda anyway. The story of his elimination of twenty of those animalistic, amateurish Terakans always brought grim nods and smiles of approval to a Coda’s lips.

"Surprisingly, I can accept those terms. When I am ready to finish our duel, I will seek you out."

The Slayer’s eyes became hard as gemstones.

"I’ll be waiting."

*****

Part 3: Standing Proud
(Congratulations! It’s A (Boston Bad) Girl!)

Standing Estate
Curtis County, Virginia
13 November 1999

"Until we meet again, child of the Standings."

Faith prevented herself from firing a sarcastic, parting shot as Delilah wiped the blood from the corner of her smashed lip with the back of her right hand, bowed slightly to Faith, then turned and strode off into the night. For some stupid reason, she thought it wasn’t right, like she should respect this hired killer. <I’m getting too weird with this honor stuff.>

She looked around and saw the improvised ring that the others had formed and saw that the Standing guys were really twitchy with their guns. <Shit.>

She looked to Shaw and Cordy, who still had their swords out. "Shaw, Cordy, check ‘em out."

The girls started to put their weapons away but stopped when several machine guns clicked. She groaned and tightened her grip on the blade the bitch had used against Tawnie. <Goddess, what kind of name is Tawnie, anyway!>

*****

Melinda wasn’t going to take any chances until they could sort this entire matter out. She was uneasy with pointing a weapon at someone who’d hinted that she was family, but the family she knew had to come first, especially since one of her companions wasn’t human. It was the resolution to the attack against the family that left her unsettled. Letting the Coda live wasn’t the smartest thing to do in her mind, but one thing Amazons did not do was violate honor or ritual challenges. That was one thing the Amazons and Codas had shared in the ancient times, and she would honor that tradition.

"You’re not checking anyone out until you tell us who you are!" she ordered, pointing her gun at the woman with the red irises.

Instead of being cowed, the other human girl, who couldn’t even be twenty years old yet, angrily stepped forward three steps, although she wisely kept that fine-looking samurai sword pointed downward. She tossed her dark brown hair behind her shoulder and snapped, "Put those weapons down, NOW."

Chuckles emanated from more than one throat. "And why should we?" Melinda asked, smirking along with the rest of her detail.

The woman’s dark hazel eyes shot laser beams at her. Her voice was just as imperious as before as she declared, "Because the Warrior Princess of the Amazon Nation TOLD. YOU. TO."

Melinda’s smirk vanished, and she was quite sure she was in a state of disbelief. <The Warrior Princess?!?> she dully thought, unaware of the identical reactions to the woman’s statement coming from her family. However, she had enough presence of mind to say, "Prove it."

"No problem. Anyone got a light? Take a good look at me."

She heard rustling to her right as Terrance pulled out his mini flashlight and turned it on, shining it at the strangers. As the light splashed across the claimant’s face, she realized that this woman was at least an Amazon in reality!

It was Miss February from those damned VAN calendars so many of the boys were spending their money on! She knew that VAN was the corporate front that the reborn Nation was using, and that they also put millions of dollars into humanitarian programs, ranging from international food relief to college scholarships.

"Oh my Goddess, it’s Miss February!" Terrance said, echoing her own thoughts. Melinda moaned at the recognition. It got worse when he flicked the light around and identified their rescuers as "Miss June and July."

The Amazon carrying the fantastic sword sheathed it without care for the weapons pointing at her and raised her chin, standing proud. "Cordelia Chase of Sunnydale, California, Warrior Princess, at your service." Her face broke into a friendly smile. "Pleased to meet you."

Melinda slowly lowered her MP-5, which the family took as a signal to do the same. She said, "We need to get the others inside to the infirmary."

"No need," the red-eyed one said, moving forward and checking on Diana. She glanced at the Princess, who nodded confidently.

*****

Diana Standing felt her lifeblood seeping into the cold, dank earth and thought about her husband Bill and their baby. She didn’t care about the pain; it was the emotional hurts that were taking up her attention.

She dimly heard the conversations going on and "felt" someone kneeling next to her. Determined to see who was attending her, the twenty-three year old Amazon warrior forced her eyes open and had to fight to shrink away from the red-eyed thing standing over her.

Determined not to let it touch her, she hoarsely snapped, "Wh-what are you!"

"A healer." The answer was simple, but Diana could swear that the woman was… irritated by her attitude. "Is that good enough for you?"

She decided it was. She just sighed and closed her eyes again, letting a tiny smile touch her lips. "Yeah, it is."

She heard soft whispering and felt a pair of hands pressing against her wounded stomach. But instead of pain, she felt a rush of good feelings racing through that part of her body. She could feel her wounds knitting themselves back together and the gash in her stomach closing! Just as quickly, the feelings faded and Diana felt like new! She started to sit up but was firmly, if gently, pushed back down.

"My powers heal the trauma of physical wounds instantly, but some of the shock remains in your system. Give yourself a few minutes, and you will be all right."

She decided not to argue with good advice, even though she was lying on a cold, winter forest floor. "Sure. See to my brothers and sisters."

She felt the hand squeeze her shoulder lightly and leave.

*****

Tawnie Standing was still regaining her clarity of mind and hating every minute of it. Then again, she mostly hated the fact that this stupid bitch had shown up, interrupted her fight, and decided she was going to single handedly save the day for her family! At least that was what she’d determined from the conversations going on. <Ohhhh, that bitch is going to pay for this! I swear to Artemis!>

She saw the magic-bearing woman, whatever she happened to be, casting what she divined to be a healing spell on her cousin Diana. She was mollified the slightest bit by the fact that they were helping, but she shot a glare at the unknown teenager who’d taken down the Coda. <A Coda!> she thought. Despite her immense state of being pissed off, Tawnie had to respect the girl’s triumph, although all she had to go on that the girl had won were her cousins talking about… <Faith, that’s the bitch’s name!> Faith had taken the Coda down even quicker than she’d been defeated and was holding the Coda’s own blade in her hands.

The healer knelt beside her and said, "Let me check your wounds."

Tawnie sullenly said, "Sure. But hurry up. I want to have words with that bitch who thinks she can come in and take over my fight!"

The red-eyed woman stopped moving her shredded armor aside and Tawnie looked at her painfully. The woman’s voice was hard. "You have no right to complain, Tawnie Standing. You had no chance against that Coda assassin, yet you foolishly allowed yourself to engage an opponent of far greater skill."

"She had no right to interfere! This was a Standing matter! The Coda was hired to kill some of us!"

"Yes, it was a Standing matter. And if you or the others had been killed," she countered, pulling her bloody clothes away and making her hiss, "Faith would never forgive herself."

Tawnie was too preoccupied with having her clothing peeled away from her wounds to argue. She heard the chanting begin and let this arrogant healer witch do her thing.

But she was still going to get on that bitch’s case!

*****

Melinda slung her MP-5 over her shoulder and walked forward to greet her Warrior Princess. They shook hands and despite the fact she had to be eight years older than Cordelia, she was very respectful. She’d heard from Mother and Grandmother how Artemis’ Chosen fought vampires on a nightly basis and had even defeated an Elder Goddess! "It’s a pleasure to meet you, Princess Cordelia! We’ve heard good things about you, the other Amazons, and the Wanderer, and the work you’re doing. Is it true what the rumors are saying about the Queen?"

Cordelia rolled her eyes and Melinda was reminded that despite being a fearsome, and tremendously skilled, warrior woman, this Amazon was still in her teens. "Which rumor? She is descended from the other Gabby, she does hate being called Your Highness or Your Majesty, and she does carry a Sword of Destiny."

Melinda laughed at the casual attitude; obviously the Queen was a solid, down-to-earth woman in her own right. "I was thinking about the Sword. Our Queen is one of the Nine?"

"Yep. She’s got Purity," the Coda killer said with a chuckle. Melinda turned to her and saw her still holding the weapon that the assassin had wielded. Melinda was struck again by the familiar look to the other teen, who had hinted that she was one of them! Dark brown hair, brown-green eyes, and a figure to die for! She realized why this was another one of those pin-up girls from that calendar. She also realized that until her male relatives knew her supposed relation to them, there were going to be many, many fantasies that would eventually be dashed. Hard.

"Who are you?" the head of Standing security asked, deciding to get things out in the open. "And why are you here?"

"We’re here because we were told by Gabrielle about the Standings and their connection to Faith," her Princess told her. Melinda couldn’t take her eyes off of this woman, who’d beaten the Coda with her bare hands and confiscated her weapon as a prize of battle! "This was one hell of a way to introduce ourselves, I know. But we were lucky to be here when they attacked."

"Ya think?" Faith asked cheekily, and Melinda found herself liking the girl’s sense of humor. She moved up and held out her hand. "It’s… good to meet you guys."

Melinda realized the girl was nervous! And after the way she’d so easily beaten the woman who’d humiliated Tawnie… <Uh oh.> She knew what was coming and on nearly supernatural instinct, turned to see Tawnie, face set with anger, coming up to them.

She started to move forward; Tawnie was still too impetuous for her own good. "Tawnie, stand down!"

"No way, Melinda!" She brought herself to a halt mere inches away from Faith and verbally barreled on. "What the Hades makes you think you can just waltz onto our property and interfere with an honor duel, you arrogant bitch?!?"

To her surprise, Faith just smirked at Tawnie’s attitude and cocked an eyebrow at the twenty-four year old Tawnie. "Hey! Who’re you callin’ arrogant?"

"You’re the only person here who happens to have me in their face!"

"Before I answer your question, let’s review. You were hopelessly outclassed, she took you down in about the time I take to stake two or three soulless vamps, and you were about to be Tawnie-ke-bobbed." She shrugged and "absently" twirled the cleft blade in her right hand in what Melinda knew was an attempt to drive the dagger in further to deflate Tawnie’s considerable ego. "Okay. What gives me the right to take over for you, is the fact that I was way more qualified than you to fight a duel against her."

With a low, angry hiss that told Melinda and her family that their beloved cousin was just about to go Stone Age, let alone medieval, on the self-proclaimed prodigal Standing, Tawnie asked, "And just what makes you think you’re more qualified than me, you little punk?"

Faith didn’t answer, but rather waved for Tawnie to step aside. When Tawnie didn’t bother to oblige, the woman who’d saved Tawnie and maybe all of them reared back with her right arm, bringing the cleft blade back like a javelin, and threw the Coda’s sacred weapon at a nearby tree. Melinda and the rest of her kin watched in stunned amazement as the blade drove itself into the trunk about two-thirds of the way! She turned back to Faith and saw the claimant of Standing blood addressing them with a faux angelic smile.

"I’m stronger, faster, tougher, more agile, and average dusting about fifteen to thirty vamps a week." Her smile vanished and she growled, "That’s what makes me more qualified. Punk."

Tawnie was even more ticked and Melinda thought of a quick solution to the problem. "Terrance, light!" she barked. Terrance shone the light on Faith and Tawnie and hoped that they’d see…

"Oh my Goddess," Cordelia said for them. Melinda was stunned despite herself, especially when the red-eyed healer walked into the light circle and added her face to the mix.

She saw amazement ripple across Faith’s face as she leaned into the woman whose flat black, wavy hair could have been an almost perfect match for Tawnie’s! "Uh, Shaw? Are you sure we weren’t triplets in my last life?"

<What?!?> Melinda thought. <What the Hell does she mean, last life?!?>

"I will get back to you on that," Shaw said in response, her voice just as stunned.

"Can we please get some explanations?" she said, trying to get things back to where she could understand them. She turned to the one person who had any authority over her, whoever informal. "Princess Cordelia?"

"Call me Cordelia or Cordy," she replied. She took a quick glance at Tawnie and shook her head, just as surprised. "Okay, short version. Earlier this week, Gabrielle gets a phone call from Felicia, your matriarch. She brings up how someone in your family’s gotten notice about a kid he never knew he had. That being Faith here. Turns out Faith lives in Sunnydale with us. So here we are."

Melinda was rocked back a step. She hadn’t heard anything about this, not even rumors in the family! So whoever her parent turned out to be, he… <He! A father?!?> "Who?"

Cordelia turned to Faith, making Melinda wonder; by the strength she displayed, was it possible that this unknown Standing was one of the Lady’s Chosen?!? That mystery had to go unsolved for the time being, because Faith said, "I want to meet with Felicia first, talk about this whole to-do. I think she should be there when I meet him."

Melinda looked at her fellow Amazons, including Terrance, Diana, and Tawnie, whom all had looks of surprise and admiration mixed into their features. She was feeling it as well and understood why. <A long-lost kinswoman comes home to greet family she’s never met, and saves the lives of her family while showing true Amazon honor to an enemy. The stuff that legends are made of.> The last part came somewhat humorously, but she shoved it down to handle the amazing situation.

A sister had come home to the Standings.

*****

Faith saw the looks on the Standing’s faces and it made her uncomfortable. She decided that was just because of her post-Slaying adrenaline fade and chalked part of it up to butterflies. <Screw that.>

"So now what?" she asked, determined to do what she had come here to do.

The boss girl smiled winningly. "Now we introduce you to our matriarch!" The boss girl laid a hand on her shoulder and said, "I’m Melinda, Faith. It’s good to have you home."

Faith’s discomfort shot up. "Uh, look Mel. I’m only here to meet some people. I can’t move here." The smile started to fade, so Faith laid it on the line for them all. They could take it or leave it. "My home’s in Sunnydale. I live there, I have sisters there, adopted or soul, you know the whole chosen family drill." Melinda nodded a bit, but Faith went on, to make sure they understood her heart. "I work for VAN, Mel. Hell, some of you have to have that calendar if you recognized Cordy from it, even with her clothes on…"

"Hey!"

She didn’t stop, even to laugh it up with the others. "So you know I’ve got responsibilities there. And those are just the Amazon ones you might know about. There’s other stuff, heavier stuff than the Nation things."

T-Girl didn’t take that real well. "What’s more important than your responsibilities to the Nation?!?" she shrieked.

Yeah, she was really like Shaw before she’d mellowed out. She turned to face Green Eyes and barked, "There’s a Hellmouth there, Tawnie. I help defend it. I fight vampires almost every night. Do I need to spell it out for you, what happens if it gets opened? We’re talking five-headed dragon bitch to start. Got it?"

*****

Her short-tempered cousin looked ready to argue the point again, so Melinda stopped it before she got started. "Tawnie!" Despite her impulsive nature, Tawnie stopped and reined in her ire. Melinda gripped Faith’s shoulder again and told her and the rest of her detail, "Tawnie, Faith is one of us. She came here and saved our lives, particularly yours. We have a new family member. Isn’t that more important than our egos?"

Diana, who in her own way was as proud as Tawnie, stepped forward, a wide grin on her face. "I just feel sorry for the men when they see her and realize that their sudden fantasies of this calendar pin-up girl bite the dust."

They broke out in laughter, Tawnie and the Princess included. "That settles it then," she declared. "Let’s get inside, get cleaned up, and then Faith meets Grandmother." <And from what I can tell, Grandmother will agree. This Faith is a fine Amazon!>

*****

Faith looked past her reflection in the mirror and grunted at the wary look Tawnie was giving her. <Now I know how Soul Sis felt with Amy that first time.>

Finally she fixated on looking herself over. She agreed that meeting the lady that was turning out to be her Grandma dressed in Amazon battle armor, wasn’t the way she wanted to go.

So here she was, dressing in some stuff she’d gotten from Viccie’s Secret, which was actually stuff you’d wear to some kind of formal or office thing. She looked over the black skirt suit, liking how it actually made her look professional. Of course, the fact that it was 100% imported silk could do that. She was wearing some 3 ½" stacked heel pumps with nice stitching detail. A real change from what she usually wore.

<If Jess could see me, she’d be scared for Davey,> she thought, a smile touching her lips.

"What’s so funny?" her pissed-off cuz, or potential cuz, asked her with a real shitty attitude.

Faith decided to get this over with. She turned around and glared at Tawnie herself. "Just thinking how this is so not the stuff I usually wear."

"What do you usually wear?" TS asked her snidely.

"Depends on the situation. Parties, I’ll wear cool stuff." She decided to lay a trap for Tawnie and put her in her place, so far as her attitude went. "But usually, people think of me decked out in a t-shirt, leather pants and jacket, and boots."

Tawnie shrugged uncaringly. "Clothes for vampire hunting?"

"I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. And you need to keep it to yourself, because I don’t want it spilled to Grandma until I tell her." Faith moved toward her "guard," heels muffled by the carpet in the room. "I’m not a vampire hunter. I’m a Vampire Slayer."

Tawnie’s eyes flashed; so she did know what a Slayer was. But she way wasn’t convinced. "Oh come on, Faith! I was willing to buy that you might be one of the Lady’s Chosen champions. But do you really expect me to believe that you’re the honest to Goddess Slayer?"

"Call Queen Gabby and ask her. Let her tell you. Or better yet, ask Arty!" Faith saw her wince. The shot really hit home. "That’s right, Tawnie, I pray to Artemis and I’ve even met her. And Gabby’s a good friend of mine. A real good friend, who’s helped me through some tough times. But she wouldn’t lie to you just to cover for me. She’s got too much dignity for that."

For the first time, this Tawnie chick looked less than certain. <Gawd, she’s almost a clone of Shaw, or me,> she thought. But she knew that there probably wasn’t a connection. Millie would’ve told them back when Shaw asked about that past life thing. But Faith didn’t want to put her down so much as get along with her. "Look, I know you’re pissed about the fight. But can’t you look at it from my POV? I only found this Standing stuff out Tuesday. And the first time I come to see what you guys are like, maybe to meet you guys, you’re in the middle of a vampire fight. I came here to meet you guys without having to get into that! Hell, even the Slayer deserves a night off!"

Her cuz, the one with the same hair as Shaw and darker, more intense eyes than her, nearly hyperventilated and dropped her tough act. "She would’ve killed all of us, because I wasn’t good enough."

"Not for this fight, no. But who knows about other fights?" Faith shrugged. "Hey, I’ve almost been taken out before, vamps, demons, you name it. I’ve nearly lost a few times, but I had my buds to pull my Irish Boston butt out of the frying pan."

"Maybe, but still…" She stopped and Faith watched her look her over again. "So my long lost cousin just happens to be the Slayer, eh?"

"Blame the Big Guy. He’s the one stuck me with this gig," she said with a grin.

"Okay. I’ll keep it between us." Her face became evil. "I want to see the look on Aunt Felicia’s face too."

They shared a laugh and Faith felt the tension begin to melt away.

*****

Melinda watched as Prin… as Cordelia finished putting on her outfit. She nodded approvingly of how she’d gone from a katana-wielding Warrior Princess to a corporate representative. She was dressed in a sleek, java three-button jacket, the type you could wear at work or at a business dinner. Very professional. Added to it was Cordelia’s cuff pants of the same color, and she’d seen the well-priced belt that went through the belt loops.

She watched as the Warrior Princess and one of VAN’s Board Members finished looking at herself in the mirror and turned around. "Well, I’m ready. Let’s hope CSB and Ladyhawke don’t take too long," she said cheerfully.

"CSB?" she asked. She figured their friend Shaw, the half-elven healer, was "Ladyhawke." "What does that stand for?"

"Cleavagy Slut Bomb," Cordelia said with a laugh. "That’s what the Popular Clique at school called her last year. So of course Faith takes it as a badge of honor that she can outdress the rich girls, including me sometimes. And if you tell her I said that, I’ll gut you."

Melinda laughed at the empty threat and good humor that they shared. "So what can you tell me about her?" she asked. She wanted to know about this unknown Standing.

"Hey, I promised her she could be the one to spill her secrets." So much for her hopes. "But there’s stuff that should be obvious. She’s very quick on the uptake, she had to be growing up. She’s very Boston, very Irish, and very proud of it. And she’s the first one to tell you that, and if you don’t like it, well, tough shit. Pardon my French."

"Don’t worry about it," Melinda assured her.

Cordy’s smile brightened up the room. "Sure. Anyway, that’s one thing about Faith; she lets you know who and what she is up front. She doesn’t hide behind a mask, except when she tries not to get all mushy on the outside, because it’d ‘ruin’ her bad girl shtick. Don’t get me wrong, she’s even tougher than she looks or lets on. But she’s also got a big heart in there, even if she plays it off with the ‘tude."

That sounded like a lot of the Standing children, herself included. "Sounds like I’m going to like her," she said before catching herself. "Assuming she allows us to get to know her."

Cordelia walked up and said, "Don’t worry. She’s not going to let this go away. Yeah, she’s gonna stay in Sunnydale, but she’ll do everything she can to get to know you. That’s something you can take to the bank."

"All right." She could accept that. She knew there was something, something big that was being kept from her, but she figured they might find out before the night was through. "How long can she stay?"

"We have until tomorrow night. We have to head back if we’re going to be back before school starts on Monday."

<Going from here to California. I don’t want to know how you’re going to pull that off…> She knew it probably involved magic. She decided to change the subject to something that had been piquing her curiosity for over an hour. "Cordelia?" The Princess looked up from putting on her watch. "That’s a lovely katana."

"It sure is," she said, picking the old blade and giving it a twirl. Even dressing like a corporate powerhouse, it looked natural, an extension of her hand. "It’s a Masamune."

Melinda gaggled a bit. "You use a Masamune to hunt vampires?!? That sword is priceless, Cordelia!"

"Well, duh!" she said, sounding like the teenager she was, despite her standing as one of the Goddess’s mortal champions. "If I’m going to be a Warrior Princess, I want the best equipment I can get to fight my battles!"

*****

Shaw finished clipping on her black star sapphire earrings and glanced around the room once more. She admitted to herself, Felicia Standing had outstanding taste when it came to antiques. However, she refused to bring up her connection to her antiques salesman.

<This is Faith’s day,> she told herself. And she was going to focus totally on helping her get through this meeting.

She turned around and saw Diana Standing watching her with an uncomfortable look. Despite the irritation she’d felt at the slight hint that she wasn’t trusted, she knew that it was common sense given how their introductions, such as they were, had been made.

But it still did not make her feel any better that Diana had to be exposed to things she shouldn’t have to see.

"Diana, it happened twenty-six years ago. Do not concern yourself over it." She turned around, closing the subject and looking over her navy blue pantsuit, which was something new to her wardrobe. <Goddess, I look like a fool.> She’d much rather have worn something casual, but she had to admit to herself, there was some decorum to be met here; Faith was meeting her family, one of whom was a powerful and well-regarded (by Gabrielle and Artemis at least) Matriarch of this Amazon clan.

She just wished it didn’t smack of how she’d had to dress up for that blasted dinner her Grandmother had thrown for her back in April, over her embarrassed objections. <The things we do for family,> she decided. That mollified her a bit.

"You don’t like this," Diana guessed and Shaw could hear the amusement in her voice. "How come?"

The nature priestess couldn’t help but sigh. "Because it reminds me too much of how some people in my homeland would change how they look at me as a person, should they find out I come from a noble family on my mother’s side."

"As opposed to being related to an Amazon princess on your father’s side" Diana joked easily. Shaw felt herself starting to smile a bit. "Somehow, I think you just prefer being casual."

"At least in function, yes," she admitted. Shaw turned around and also admitted, "But for Faith, I will do just about anything."

"I can tell. We Standings are the same way." Diana folded her arms and looked a bit puzzled. "But clear something up for me. You and Faith have lived past lives where you were sisters."

Shaw had known it would come to this. "Yes," she groaned, closing her eyes and hoping this would be over with soon.

"And she was your twin sister in a past life for her, which is the current life for you." Shaw just nodded; Diana was enjoying this far too much. "Okay. At least now I know where you two stand. But what’s Faith’s big secret, Shaw? I know there’s something."

Now it was Shaw who smiled, because she knew she was not going to indulge the Amazon’s curiosity. "If I told you that, Faith would kill me."

"Spoil my fun," she grumbled. The two shared a chuckle and got ready to help Faith meet her grandmother.

*****

Felicia felt her heart racing as the expected knock came at the door. She glanced over at David, who was also nervous. She understood totally. She’d gotten a briefing from Melinda on how Faith had shown up in the company of two friends, saved Tawnie and perhaps more of her family from a group of vampires and a Coda sister, and then come in to meet her and her Father.

She also had been notified about the other surprises already in store for her; the trio being garbed in Grail battle armor, the other girls being an elven warrior-priest and the Nation’s own Warrior Princess, and that they also came bearing gifts from the Queen herself.

She didn’t even feel any anger at how Gabrielle had not told her that Faith was on her way when they had talked earlier that day. She understood how Faith had wanted to handle this meeting herself and, truth be told, she found herself grinning internally at the girl’s attitude.

She did things her way, and too bad for you if you didn’t like it. Felicia did like it. To a point.

She became aware of David glancing at her and she decided to see what the Fates had in store. "Come in," she said.

The door opened and Melinda entered first, followed by Diana and Tawnie. Felicia’s lips curved upward; obviously they were not going to be left out of this meeting. She assumed much of the family wanted to be here to greet the prodigal daughter. Diana and Tawnie stepped to opposite sides of the room and Melinda smiled at her and David.

"Grandmother, Uncle David," she started, her eyes shining with admiration, "may I present the envoys of our Queen, Gabrielle Sirtis; her Highness Cordelia Chase, Warrior Princess of the Amazon Nation; Lady Shawukay Hunter of the House of Redstar of Elhame Fortress Home, our Queen’s Ambassador to the Elfhames of the Seelie Court and soul-bonded sister to our kin…" She paused as the Warrior Princess and the elven healer who’d helped save three of her family entered and each bowed their heads to her, personally. Melinda took up the introductions again and raised her voice. "Our kin, Faith Patricia Reilly-Pryce of the Standing clan!"

Felicia unconsciously leaned forward, wanting to see her unknown granddaughter. When she walked in, she couldn’t help but be amazed and impressed. Not only was Faith a beautiful young woman; from her face to the lines of her body to the ease and grace with which she carried herself, she was a warrior already! She could see the signs emanating from her granddaughter without even having to look.

"Faith…" she said dreamily, the burden of not knowing what her life had been like vanishing now that she was here.

Faith’s brown-green eyes settled on her for a second but just as quickly, she turned her head to stare at David, who had stood up the second she walked in. Felicia felt a secondary flash of disappointment before she scolded herself that the girl’s attention was where it rightfully belonged; her father.

But she did keep her eyes on Faith, searching the young woman’s face for any indication of her feelings toward her father. She quickly deduced that Faith was reserving her own judgment for the moment.

*****

Faith watched David Standing stare at her for a few seconds before she decided to take the first step. She just said, "Hi."

Despite the fact she hated that she could fight demons without blinking but had problems thinking of stuff to say to the guy who was her Dad, that was all she could get out of her mouth.

Still, it cracked the ice. "Hello, Faith."

She knew that he was feeling really guilty over the whole not-being-there thing. And she felt a little angry about it. But there wasn’t any reason to be, so she was just going to have to deal with it. She did the best thing she could think of. She held out her hand and said, as she realized it herself, "It’s… it’s really good to meet you."

His eyes started tearing up and she felt like hitting herself for making him bawl. The guy was a commando like Steve, for Goddess’ sake! But she couldn’t bring herself to use her usual defense mechanisms, sarcasm and the tough girl hide, on him. He didn’t deserve it.

He took her hand and gripped it a little tighter than most guys would’ve done to a girl. Obviously, he didn’t care about being all gentlemanly around women. Being a hard ass herself, she liked that about him.

<Point in his favor,> she told herself.

"Why don’t we sit down?" Felicia… her grandma, she realized, asked to break the moment.

She nodded and took one of the lots of chairs they’d brought in, sitting between Cordy and Shaw. She knew Fantasy Girl wasn’t very comfy in the suit, but she was bearing up for her. She appreciated that.

"I’ll be honest, Faith," Felicia said, as surprised as her Dad was, "I don’t know where to begin."

"Gabs gave me the basics on you guys," she said, trying to do the same thing, get a starting point, "but why don’t you tell me about you? That is, all of you."

Felicia’s eyes lit up happily and Faith knew that maybe they weren’t so much different in that respect; their roots mattered to them. Although Faith wasn’t going to admit she was anything less than Irish if she had a choice in the matter. Felicia went into their history, as far as the last couple hundred years and moving here to the good ol’ US of A. Faith listened intently and she liked what she heard.

Once she got done talking about the family history, her Grandma told her how they’d gotten involved in the whole fight against the Darkness thing.

"I was as surprised that Artemis came to us as we were when we received the news about you," Felicia continued. Despite herself, Faith found herself wanting to hear the "inside story." She liked the look of pride she saw in the old lady’s eyes. < Maybe that’s where I get it from?> "After taking down that bastard Harry Tuttle, we talked with Frank and Cassandra about the greater fight they were involved in. The family decided we couldn’t stand by and have the right to still call ourselves Amazons."

"I got started before you did," Faith said with a little dry humor. "But only a month or so."

She got a small smile out of the nominal grannie, and chuckles from the cousins behind her. "I heard about your special relationship with Linda, child. I’m sorry we cannot thank her for giving you the love she gave you."

A tiny pang stabbed her heart, but she was glad that Felicia and Dave thought so well of her. "She tried taking on all those vamps, telling me to get away," she sniffed. Shaw’s hand covered her own in support and, though she didn’t really need it, she damn well appreciated it. "We took out nine of ‘em before we were taken down. Thank the Big Guy and Boss Lady that Stalker and Ali showed up. It just…" She sighed and wiped away the single tear forming in her eye. "It just wasn’t enough."

"I understand, Faith," Dave’s voice sounded. "Both in the Army and since we started actively hunting vampires. We’ve gone through it."

The Slayer Supreme’s old nasty feelings and thoughts about him tried to bubble up and it surprised her that it didn’t take much to push them back down. Still, maybe he saw something in her Irish eyes, because he got all regretful.

"Faith, I’m sorry," he said, looking at the floor. "If I…"

"Stop it," she said, putting some of her temper into the voice. She ignored the looks she got from Grannie, Soul Sis, and Tawnie. She took her hand out from under Shaw’s and told him, "Look at me. I need to get something off my chest, and I need you to look me in the eye when I say it."

He looked back at her and she waited a few seconds before going on. Her anger was still there, but she hoped to keep it on a really short leash.

"I’ll be straight with you, because that’s how I am," she started off, fighting the lump trying to form in her throat. "And you be straight with me. I admit it, when I found out about you I got pissed. I got pissed because I went by what Mom told me growing up, that… that you left us."

She saw the way he felt just by reading his face. She was good at reading people and he was way upset that he’d never been there but he didn’t deny leaving Mom. He didn’t even try to defend himself.

Grandma did, though. "Faith, your father tried to…"

"Let me finish, okay?" Grandma didn’t like being interrupted, but the Boston Bad Girl was bound and determined to say her piece. "After I talked with Gabby about you, I was mixed up inside. Really mixed up. But I talked to people I know and they told me what I was already thinking; I should think about everything and decide for myself about you." She took a second to catch her breath and he was getting a little hopeful.

She leaned forward and folded her arms across her thighs. It wasn’t businesslike, but oh well. "And you probably know that I work for Steve, your old Army buddy. He remembers you and told me what you were like back in the day. Take that, add what Queen G told me about you and the whole Standing Bunch…" She let her face become soft. "It was pretty damn easy to decide to come here and get your side of the story."

*****

David’s guilt faded just a bit as his daughter all but said the words, "I’m sorry." But at the same time, he dared to hope that she would accept him into her life.

"I swear, Faith, I swear I wouldn’t have left your mother if there’d been any chance." He bowed his head and confessed, "I wouldn’t have left if I’d known. I would’ve come for you."

He could see the conflict in Faith’s eyes, the war between whatever Gabrielle and Carson had told her and a lifetime’s worth of assumptions given to her by Erin. But after a very long five or ten seconds, perhaps the longest of his life, she quietly asked, "So what happened?"

He told her of his leave in Boston and how he and Erin had met at a bar, not to mention how they’d hit it off so well. He covered meeting Erin’s grandparents and how cautious they’d been about her dating him, because of his choice of career.

"You met them?" Faith asked, sounding surprised.

"They were good people, Faith," he countered, getting the idea that perhaps she hadn’t known them. "I assured them that I wasn’t in the habit of ‘flings.’ I was serious about Erin."

"Grandma died when I was four. Grandpa went downhill fast without her there." It seemed that she had some good memories of them, but she changed the subject. "But what happened with you and her?"

The old pains that still remained came back in full. Not because he still blamed himself for not trying harder to salvage their relationship, but because he’d left his baby without her father.

"She was in a bad way the night we broke up. I tried as hard as I could to get her to let me in, but she chased me out. She said she hated me." He stopped there, not wanting to give her the intimate details of their break-up. She didn’t deserve that kind of image about her mother. "I tried to get us back together, but it was just no use. I…"

He tried to go on, but he couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t sound like a feeble excuse. He’d not tried hard enough back then.

"You loved her, huh?"

He felt something pass between them, something that made him believe that she might not blame him. So he answered her with what he saw as the truth. "I did, Faith. I loved her a great deal. But if I’d only tried harder…"

"Then it was her fault that you split up," she said, her husky New England voice surprisingly gentle. He tried to read her face and her eyes, a perfect mix of his brown and Erin’s seawater green, radiated an aura of understanding. Faith licked her lips and glanced at his mother before going on. "I don’t have any glamorized image of her. I know she had her problems, and that the drinking was the big one. And I think…"

She let out a tired sigh and finished with, "I think maybe she did realize that she screwed up when she let you leave."

David watched her carefully, not trying to read too much into things. But he saw that, however nervously, she was offering him an olive branch. She didn’t think he’d abandoned her and Erin, not anymore.

"Faith, I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you," he finally said in return.

It was all he could say.

*****

The Dark Slayer felt how sorry he was. She couldn’t do anything but believe him, and it wasn’t just because of how sad he looked. It was everything that she knew about him, however little that was.

"She was the one who did it, not you," she said again. She still felt the distance between them, but she thought maybe now it was just years of being apart, not blaming each other or themselves. She decided to take a step forward again and stood up.

She walked three feet to Dave’s chair and held out her hands, offering them to him. He seemed almost afraid to do it, but he gently accepted them and wrapped his own fingers around hers. She stepped back and he rose.

"I’ll admit it, I’m trying to figure out where this is gonna go," she told her father, not releasing him from her steady gaze. "I’ve got issues about what I know and what I think I knew, but I’m trying to decide for myself what to feel."

She stopped and looked over at Felicia, her Grandma. Her eyes were all hope-filled too, like she saw where Faith was going with this. "And I know that I don’t know you, any of you. But you don’t know me, either."

She looked back at Dave and gave him a squeeze of both hands. "You don’t know me, but you’ve spent all week trying to find me. You don’t know where I’ve been and some of the things I’ve done, but you’re still willing to give me a shot." She looked at the floor and swallowed. "And I’m willing to give you one. You deserve it."

She felt a little silly about getting mushy, or so far what she saw as "mushy," but she looked him in the eyes, trying to show just how much she did want them to make up for a lot of lost time. "So how do you want to get started?"

Her Dad’s eyes started getting wet but he tried to act all dignified. "Where do you want to start, Faith?"

Her shoulders slumped but she tried something else. "Look, I already know about you and you playing Rambo in the Army. I know about you and the other guys fighting vamps." She let go of one of his hands and gripped his upper arm. "And we’ve got until tomorrow night to get caught up on an A&E Biography rip-off. I admit there are things I want to ask you, things I want to find out, but we don’t have to get into everything in our sordid backgrounds just this instant. So let’s just sit down and rap, okay?"

"There are some things you should know, Faith. About me."

She tried not to get too frustrated, but she tried to turn it around. "Okay, there is one thing I’ve been trying to figure out. Can you answer a question for me?"

"Anything," he promised.

<Okay, here goes.> She tilted her head and asked him, "Why ‘Girly Man?’"

That sparked a lot of snickers from the Standing girls, especially Mel. She arched her eyebrows when even Dad laughed. "Well?"

"Look at how many sisters, cousins, and relations I have of the female persuasion," he said with a chuckle. "Cherokee never let me live it down."

"Figures," she laughed softly. She let go of his other hand and said, "Look, I know we’re gonna go through some start and go, trial and error type-stuff with this, but I want to do it. And we can get started soon as we get done with this meeting. But for now, I’m hoping you’ll be willing to cut me a little slack, for how I was wrong about you all this time."

He looked stunned that she’d be asking him to give her some leeway on making mistakes getting to know each other. He looked like he was ready to start bawling a bit. "I could do that," he said with a frog in his throat. "Can you do the same for me, after I missed all those years being with you?"

She so didn’t like this guilt trip he was putting himself on, so she decided to take that on in her own damn way. She gave him one of those "I don’t know" looks but playfully told him, "I might be able to… that is, if you start making up on the eighteen years of back birthday and Christmas presents you owe me…"

That comment got peals of laughter from the peanut gallery, mainly Di and Tawn. She didn’t look away from Dave, trying to see if that was gonna finally make him see that he wasn’t the bad guy to her. He started laughing but he was crying a bit, so she took the initiative and gave him another mushy gesture.

She stepped forward and put her arms around him, giving him permission to give her the first hug from him in her entire life. He didn’t need any more persuasion, carefully bringing his hands up and whispering into her ear.

"I’m sorry, baby," he said over and over, and she could tell he meant it.

<I know you mean it! I’m trying to get you to get over it.> She let him hold her, not caring how goofy it made her feel. He needed something like this, so he got it. "Don’t be sorry, Dad. It wasn’t your fault."

After a few seconds, they parted and she saw he was crying, but in that happy way she didn’t see too often in her line of work. She smiled again and said, "We’ll forget the birthday presents for now, okay?"

He laughed under his breath and sat back down, now that they’d made a connection, one she gave him willingly. "We’ll talk about that."

"Sure." She looked at Standing Boss Lady and said, "So can we move on now?" She liked the looks of approval and happiness in Grandma’s eyes. The lady nodded so Faith sat down, waiting for the Amazon in Charge to go on.

"I would like to know more about you as well, Faith," she said, looking very Grandmotherly. She leaned forward and asked, "What is your life like now? Gabrielle told us that you’re living with women who worship Artemis, and that you’ve become quite a woman in your own right. But we so much want to know more about you."

She grinned and nodded easily. She was glad that they were skipping over the street years and not talking about the trial. But she felt her cheeks heating up a bit. "Yeah, Mom is great," she told her Grandma and Dad, "she’s helped me through so much, finding a new home, losing Linda, everything. She’s so great and… I think you’d like her." The Chosen One’s smile became a little weak. "And it was after seeing how happy they are, and how much She cares for everyone, that I realized how much I liked the Boss Lady. So I started ‘talking’ to her, you know?"

Felicia’s eyes were somewhat weird. "Boss Lady?"

Didn’t she get it? "Yeah, you know," she answered. "Arty."

"Arty?"

Cordelia’s voice said, "Now you see what we go through."

That got a couple snorts and Felicia decided to let it go. "I see," she said, but Faith caught the little twitch of her eyes. She was laughing on the inside. <Let’s hear it for dignity.> "Now Faith, I do want to ask you. Now that you know about us, what are your plans? Will you stay in California?"

Somehow, she’d known it might come to this. She knew it’d make her Dad upset again, but she was not going to leave her other family. "Uhm, look, Felicia," she started softly, gathering her nerve and sitting up straight, "I want to be straight with you. There’s more to me than you know, and well…" She faltered but the woman nodded for her to go on. She wasn’t going to take it well, Faith thought, but here goes. "I’m happy in Sunnydale. I’m happy with Joyce and Buffy and Kendra and Dawn. And with the rest of my family there, that’s where I’m staying."

She knew that might be a real sore spot with her and Dave, but Felicia seemed to understand, even if her eyes said she wanted her to "come home." "Faith, we’re your family too. You have a place here, I want you to know that."

"I know," she said, nodding her head. But she wasn’t going to give in on this, Grandma or no Grandma. "Look, I swear, now that I know the truth…" She looked at Dad and saw the hope in his eyes. She hoped she wasn’t about to shoot it down. "I’m not going to let this go, Dad. I will get to know you and you’ll know what’s going on in my life, whether it’s from me on the phone or through the mail, or heck, Gabby can call you and give you updates. I want to get to know you guys. But…"

"But what?" her Dad asked, a really sad look on his face. Faith wanted to hit herself.

"But I want to get to know you by talking to you, not when you join us and other guys for fighting vamps and demons." She faced Grandma again, because she was the one who was the Standing version of Gabby. The big boss. "And it’s not just that I like it there. Keep in mind, I’m a big city girl." She heard the younger girls laughing a bit. "But there’s things in Sunnydale that I can’t get here. Some of the girls there are the only ones that I can talk to about some of the stuff in my life, with what we do."

"Faith," she said and Faith could hear the slightest pleading in her voice, "we were hoping you would come home, to our home. You have a place here, as a Standing or as an Amazon."

That brought a tiny smile to her lips, and she knew it was time to lay it out there, why she couldn’t stay here. "Sorry, but no can do. I can’t, Felicia. I can’t be an Amazon. Ever."

That seemed to take everyone by surprise, if Faith’s Spidey-sense was telling it right. Her Dad’s Mommy Dearest, for the first time, looked less than happy about meeting her. "And why can’t you be an Amazon, Faith?"

"Two reasons, really. First reason, I like being Irish way too much." That sparked laughter from the girls and her Dad, too! Felicia gave him the evil eye, making them settle down before turning back to her. Faith didn’t flinch under the look; she felt okay with it. She liked that Grannie here was willing to stand up to her. "And the second reason, I’m too busy being what I am to be an Amazon."

"And what are you?" She-Who-Is-Grandma asked with a really frosty voice.

Faith stood up, smiled at her Grandma, and gave her the answer.

"I’m the Slayer."

Faith just waited to see if Grannie Standing took this very well. She was also hoping she didn’t give her a heart attack. <Hey, it was the Big Guy who gave this gig! And it’s not like I can hide it from her.>

Thinking that maybe it’d be better if she sat back down, she took her seat between her buds and glanced around to see how her other relatives were taking the news. Tawnie was grinning from ear to ear and the Dark Slayer knew that she had the wicked ass sense of humor to go with her similarities to her and Soul Sis. <Arty, talk to Millie and make sure we weren’t triplets after all!> She knew it wasn’t true, but still, this was eerie…

Mel and Di’s mouths were wide open at her little secret being out in the open, and Dave… She saw that Dad was staring at her, his eyes being all proud and stuff! She felt herself blushing because it was like how G-Man looked at her when she did something that made him really happy. <The way he does when he gets all fatherly with me…>

She looked at him again and said, "Congratulations. Your little girl’s a Chosen One."

He seemed to find some amusement in that and just left it there. He turned to Felicia and asked, "Mother? Are you all right?"

"Does the Queen know about this? About your destiny?"

"Of course," she said, not seeing what the big deal was. "She knows I’m the Slayer. So are Buffy and Kendra, two of my ‘sisters.’ They know what I go through, and… well, I know what they go through. That’s part of why I’m so happy there."

She was trying to let them down easy and figured out part of why she might be surprised. "Look, Fel…" She stopped and gave the woman what she deserved. "Look, Grandma, I was taken by finding out about you guys, just like you’re being surprised here. Part of that’s my fault; I told Gabs that I didn’t want her warning you, well… because I wanted to see what you are. What you’re like. I’m sorry if you’re angry, but… I wanted to see the ‘real you.’"

She bowed her head a bit but quickly brought it back up. "I’ll be honest. I’m still trying to get used to knowing about you guys. I would’ve been here sooner if not for school and being mixed-up about finding out about Dad. But I’m here now and I know a day and a half isn’t much, especially to catch up on everything, but I want to make a start. Don’t you?"

That got to Felicia, she could tell. She nodded heartily and choked out, "I do, Faith."

"So do I," her Dad said. "So do I."

"Well then, let’s get started, huh?"

*****

Part 4: A Little Bonding
(Nuff Said)

Standing Estate
Curtis County, Virginia
14 November 1999

The next day flew by, far too quickly for Faith. She got to meet a ton of different Standing folks and she followed Mel’s advice; she gave up trying to keep track of who was whose daughter through whose son, ad nauseam. She just went by cousin, niece, and so forth. But still, she couldn’t imagine how she’d had this many folks who were willing to take her as one of their own. It was even more than Sunny D.

But still, Sunny D was where her heart was. With the guys.

She still found herself getting along real good with some of them. Mel was cool, even if she was almost as old as Jenny. She was a real pro when it came to fighting. Di and Tawn were on her "way cool" list, and closer to her own age. It still scared her how much Tawnie reminded her of herself and Shaw. Then there was Di’s squeeze, Bill. So what if he was old; the man could fly circles around anyone she knew of. And even with him being a cowboy, she could tell Di was crazy about him.

And then there was Page. One of her five brothers and sisters. Not the soul-type or so-close-because-you-love-each-other type, like Will and Buff, but actual blood and tissue, DNA-type sibs. Especially Page, who was "dating" Frank’s kid, Will. He and Heather were still living here until they finished junior high and Heather was still teasing the Standing boys. That brought a prim smile to Faith’s lips. She and Page had really gotten the Standing guys, telling them that Miss July had come to visit and getting them all hot and bothered before springing the news to them about her being one of them!

Oh Gawd, them looking all heartbroken had even gotten Grandma laughing. And that was even before she was challenged by what seemed like half her relatives, who wanted to see how tough a Standing she was. Grandma just let her have her fun, wiping the mats with them before Melinda "accidentally" let them in on the secret of her being the Slayer.

She was sorry she had to head home, but she had at least spent some time with all her bros and sisses, letting them know why she had to leave just after meeting them. And Dad’s wife, who she supposed was the nominal Evil Stepmother, was just as cool with it. Seemed this whole "enlarge the Amazon family" thing smoothed a lot of wrinkles. Although she, herself, was still wondering why the folks thought one of their own being the Slayer was a big deal. To her, it was just what she was meant to do.

She was walking through the big ass front yard with Daddy Dearest, getting ready to leave. She knew that Grandma was busy with paperwork and stuff, but she’d already talked to her about maybe visiting during Spring Break. Christmas was already spoken for. But she knew that Grandma was also talking to CC about Amazon stuff and those gifts, the Amazon sword from sometime older than dirt, and the funky Amazon headdress, one that belonged to the tribe they came from, the way she heard it.

"Are you all right, Faith?"

She looked at him and again, saw how his and Mom’s genes had combined to make her the hottie she was today. She smiled and lowered her head so she wouldn’t think she was laughing at him. "I’m just thinking about all this, you know?" She flipped some hair over her shoulder and eyed him again. "It’s a lot to take in, but usually I roll with the punches pretty well."

"I’ve gotten that impression about you," he told her. They stopped and faced each other. "You’ve had a hard, long life, Faith. I only wish I could’ve been there to help you."

"Reason for everything that happens. You know that," she said, waving it off. The last thing she wanted him doing was putting himself through another guilt trip. "I figured a long time ago that if I hadn’t had that life, I wouldn’t have had the edge I needed to be what I am." She reached up and rubbed her hand along his left arm. "Look…" She stopped and laughed at herself for being so goofy. "Look, if you’re gonna be my Dad, well… there’s things that you gotta do. First thing is, don’t treat me like a flower. I know you don’t with the other girls, so don’t do it with me. I’ve been handling the Slayer gig for over a year, after five years on the streets, so I can deal. Don’t worry about that."

"Anything else I have to do?" Dad asked her, calming down a bit.

"Yeah. Quit it with the guilt trip. I’ve seen people go through it, I’ve been through it when Linda died." She sighed and an old vestige of the pain she’d lived with for so long flared briefly. She looked into her father’s eyes and saw that he cared. Maybe it wasn’t Daddy type love, but it was a start she’d never even thought about, until she’d gotten it from Giles. "In a way, I’ve been lucky. You know the family I’ve got in Sunnydale, so you know I’m gonna be taken care of. I can handle it, I always have." Her eyebrows rose and she chuckled, sending a goofy smile back at the house. "Getting used to having long distance snot-nosed kids as brothers and sisters I have to visit, that I might need help handling."

Her attempt to get him to lighten up worked; he laughed aloud. She knew it was drawing attention to them from some of her other cousins, but she didn’t care. He needed it. She knew he worried about her, mostly because of the danger she lived with.

He tried turning to another subject, one that they’d both gotten evil looks from Grandma when they laughed about it. "Faith, you do know that your Grandmother is somewhat, shall we say, ‘scandalized’ about the whole calendar thing?"

"Why?" she asked, wishing Grannie was here so she could pick on her just a little more before leaving. She liked Grandma, who wasn’t such a tightass about anything else! "We’re raising lots of moolah for hungry women and children!"

"Yes, but still…"

"Dad, look!" She knew he was laughing at Grandma’s attitude just as much as she, Di, Mel, Tawn, and Shaw were. "That’s what I can’t get. I mean, I like Grandma, sure. But what’s her deal that she has no problem with me saving the world and Slaying every night, but gets her bowstring in a bunch over me posing in a bathing suit?"

"Is that what you California girls call it?" he jokingly asked, trying but failing miserably to look like an irritated father figure.

"There’s a reason they call it the ‘arrest me’ bikini," she said innocently. But the girl-next-door act wasn’t something she knew how to pull off very well.

"I think maybe it’s also the fact that you were the cover girl," he admitted.

<Okay, even he has some problem with that part,> she decided. Maybe it was because all the boys had been looking at her in that way before letting the Standing cat out of the bag. "Hey," she told him with a devilish smile, "they went with the best. Can’t blame the Royal Blondeness for having good taste. Just like the boys here have." Before he could go into that topic, she slapped him on the arm, laughing about it. "Besides, there’s another way to look at it, Dad. Beyond the whole ‘my daughter is the Slayer’ thing. Something about my life in Sunnydale with the family there."

He was still grinning at her teasing, but he went ahead and asked, "What’s that, sweetheart?"

She flashed him her best smile, one she only gave to those she loved. "From what you know about me just from how Grandma’s reacting about this whole calendar thing, think about all the crap I put He-Who-Was-Cherokee through! That should more than make up for anything you had to put up with thanks to him!"

His laughing doubled and she suddenly found herself pressed hard against his body. He was hugging her for all she was worth, never mind she was the Joanie-come-lately. She returned it, although she didn’t dare give him all she could. She didn’t want to break his ribs.

"I’ll hear from you?" her father asked.

She tightened the grip just a little to really get her answer across. "I won’t be a stranger. Not to you, Grandma, or anyone. You’ll get to know me…" She was amazed that what came next came out at all, and that it came so easily. But she wasn’t amazed, in fact she was happy and content, with how easily it rolled from her lips and how right it sounded.

"… Daddy."

The End

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