Summary: Five years after NFA, Faith goes to help an old friend.
Author Notes: Written for Duck's Angelthon.
When all was said and done, when it was all over and she was watching the muscles of his shoulders roll under the silk of his shirt as he walked away from her for good, she realized the magnitude of her mistake.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, seemed like the right choice to make given what she had thought were the alternatives.
She had been wrong, wrong about all of it. Now she would pay the price just as she had always paid the price.
He had called her just over a year ago to ask for her help with a demon. She'd come to him without hesitation, not bothering to wonder why he had called her. Faith was the senior slayer now, even if she never really bothered to act like it--and besides, they had a history.
The sun was just beginning its descent when she'd arrived in L.A., the orange-red hue of the rays washing over her as she stepped from the beater that she was driving in those days. The drive from Mexico hadn't been too bad and the border cops hadn't even blinked at the fake passport that Angel had hooked her up with when he was still with Wolfram & Hart. He'd actually sent her a whole new identity so she could move back to the States if she wanted. Back then she'd had no reason to come back
It was funny how things had changed.
Angel had called and she had come, and when she pulled into a space in front of the address on the scrap of paper she was holding she had blinked in surprise and rechecked it. The building looked like it should have been condemned a decade ago. Faith had been shocked and a little apprehensive. Her own living space looked even worse, but this wasn't the kind of place she ever expected to find Angel.
She'd decided to leave to find a pay phone when the passenger door of her car had opened and the vampire in question had slid into the front seat next to her. Except that it was still daylight and he wasn't a vampire.
"Drive," he tersely ordered as he stared straight ahead, and to her own surprise she had silently followed his directive and bitten back the myriad questions that pounded through her brain and throbbed on the tip of her tongue.
Later, it was his cock that was throbbing on the tip of her tongue and the questions were momentarily forgotten as she reveled in his pounding, merciless want.
It wasn't the first time they'd fucked, but it was the first it had happened without any tears or guilt and Faith decided that she would replace her memory of their first time, on the eve of Buffy's final funeral, with this one. This time he didn't call out someone else's name when he came and this time she could fool herself into believing that she was more than an easy lay in the midst of staggering grief. She soon found, however, that grief came in a multitude of variations and she couldn't hope to understand the depths of his losses.
After, when their breathing had returned to normal, she asked him why the hell he was breathing at all.
The bitter laugh that rumbled from his chest was sharp and harsh and she had recoiled from its slicing chords.
"The fucking Shanshu," he mumbled, and then laughed again at the confused look on her face. Then he'd gotten up and pulled on his pants before turning back to her. "Get dressed. We have a demon to hunt," he said, his voice hard and emotionless.
"What kind of demon?" she'd asked as she clasped her bra, carefully schooling her features so that he wouldn't be able to see the hurt that pulsed, uninvited, inside her.
Several moments passed in silence as he stared blankly over her shoulder, his eyes dark and unreadable. Faith had sighed and raised her voice in irritation. "Hey. Angel. I asked you what kind of demon I'm putting my ass on the line for," she repeated.
He started at the sound of her voice and pulled his eyes away from their target over her shoulder. Later, on the way out, she would notice that it was the mirror that had stolen his attention away from her as though even here, with just the two of them, she wasn't the most beguiling person in the room for him. Much, much later she would wonder if that was when the seeds of jealousy and doubt had been planted.
"Vampire. Goes by the name Angelus," Angel finally answered.
The fight had made her a little dizzy, feel a little hazy and unreal. It had taken her a second to realize it was because she'd been here before, right at Angel's side as he battled his inner demon--except this time it wasn't a drug-induced dream and the demon wasn't so inner anymore. This time Angel was weaker, more of a liability in the battle despite his centuries of experience. This time it was Faith who had to strike the killing blow, but it was right, somehow, that she should do it. She was the Slayer after all.
It wasn't until after Angelus was dust on her Doc Martens that her head cleared up enough that she could ask the questions that had been eating at her since he slid inside her car.
They were back in the hotel room, cleaning their wounds, when Faith had broken the tense silence.
"What the hell just happened here?"
"You just killed Angelus," he answered, wincing as she roughly pressed the butterfly bandages against the tender flesh of his bleeding forehead.
"Cut the shit, Angel. Explain to me how what just happened--happened," she snapped, throwing the first aid supplies down on the veneered nightstand hard enough to scratch it.
Angel sighed heavily, but he didn't avoid her questions this time. "It was the Senior Partners. They've been throwing everything they've got at me until there was nothing left to throw at me . . . well, but me. They did a spell, separated Angelus the demon from Angel the human, and sent him after me. You know the rest."
"What now?" she asked quietly as she looked at him through slightly lowered lashes, waiting with baited breath to see if he would run from her now that he was human and free of his demon. She had always thought that it must have been his demon that felt an affinity toward her anyway, and now that it was gone. . .
He'd looked at her, intently, for several moments before lying back on the bed and throwing his uninjured arm over his eyes. She thought then that she had her answer and she started to rise, to get the hell out of there before she said something stupid and emotional for which she'd never be able to forgive herself. Instead he had reached out with his hand and grabbed her by the wrist, halting her retreat.
Faith turned and he looked at her with his deep brown eyes that, if not alight with their usual life and fire, were at least simmering with something more than the cold detachment that had kept them frozen in indifference since her return.
"We wait for the next attack. The Senior Partners have been hunting me for 5 years. Now you're a target too," he said, and she understood that he wanted her to stay with him, to fight with him, and most likely, do die with him.
Except that the attack never came.
Now, a year later and a million different theories tested and discarded, she knew without a doubt that that was what had broken him in the end, made him someone less than he used to be in ways that couldn't be explained by the loss of the demon.
The Senior Partners hadn't ever come looking for him-- for them-- after they had killed Angelus. Years of fighting the massive evil of the SP had culminated in . . . . nothing. Angel was forgotten by them, ignored as though he hadn't ever caused them significant damage, as though they hadn't systematically hunted and killed nearly every person that he cared about on the earth in their search for vengeance.
For a while, Faith and Angel had lived cautiously, keeping to the shadows and the darkness, not exposing themselves unnecessarily. Their lives were transitory, defined by a series of cheap hotel rooms and her shitty car. They ran all the way to New York before she asked him what they were running from.
They had stopped at some non-descript diner in Brooklyn for dinner and she had watched him pick at the burger in front of him, listless and uninterested as usual. She was always surprised to see him so blas about food after spending so long without the finely tuned taste buds he had now.
"So are we there yet?" Faith asked, gracing him with a slightly sardonic smile before stealing a fry from his plate and popping it into her mouth.
Angel's eyes had darkened at her teasing tone. "Your life isn't something to joke about, Faith," he snapped before throwing his napkin over the food in front of him and pushing the plate away. "As long as they're after us, we keep moving," he said.
Faith raised her eyebrows at him and snorted. "Who, exactly, is after us Angel and why the hell do we care? I'm the fucking Slayer and you may be human, but you're no Xander Harris."
"Have you forgotten what the Senior Partners did to everyone . . . to Buffy . . . to . . . to Connor? I won't let you risk yourself--you can't beat them. I sure as hell can't beat them, couldn't even do it when I was more than . . . this." As always, his voice was dominated by anger but this time she had also detected a certain desperation.
She had shaken her head, tired of this argument in the absence of evidence that they were of any interest at all to the Senior Partners. "Angel, give me a break. No one is following us. We've been running from goddamn shadows for over a month and Angelus is the last demon we've come across that had any connection to those bastards," Faith argued.
The low growl that emanated from his throat warned her that he wasn't happy and then the cruel grip of his hand on her small wrist confirmed it. "They have to be following us. They've been following me for years. Why would they stop now?" And then his eyes had lightened in understanding, his mouth twisting in a bitter, slightly maniacal smile.
"Angel. . ." Faith began, but he cut her off.
"No, I get it. You're right. They aren't after me. I'm not a threat to them. Not anymore. The fucking Shanshu," and he had barked out a bitter laugh that didn't reach his eyes, his hand tightening on her wrist so hard that Faith knew she would have a ring of bruises around it.
Then he had noticed the way he was twisting her wrist and he had loosened his grip, but he hadn't removed his hand. Instead, his thumb snaked out and he gently caressed the mottled skin for several long moments.
Faith kept her mouth shut, lost in the gentle stroke of his thumb on her flesh and afraid that whatever she said would break the moment. He stayed that way, silently staring at her wrist as his thumb traced over her skin, for several minutes. When he looked up again, met her troubled brown eyes with his own, she could see the pain in them.
"I just. . . I just want us to be careful a little longer, o.k.? I don't. . . I couldn't stand it if they hurt you too. They've already taken so much. . ." His voice trailed off but he didn't flinch away from her gaze.
That's when she had admitted to herself when she was in love with him. She knew that he didn't feel the same, but it was enough that he cared enough for her that he didn't want to risk her life--that her death would mean something to him. Faith nodded and gave him a tiny smile.
Still, it hurt when he refused to touch her in public, even when he couldn't keep his hands or his mouth or his tongue off of her when they were alone in whatever hotel room they were staying in. Faith never said a word though, always locked herself in the bathroom when her eyes threatened to betray her with thick, luscious tears that streamed down her cheeks in silent rivulets of denied want. A secret, carefully guarded place in her heart wished that he would take her out into the light like some goddamn white knight and let the world know that he was hers and she was his, even if their relationship was by default. . . alive and present because the others weren't. . . alive and present.
She understood, though, that Angel didn't want to give the Senior Partners any ammunition against him--didn't want them to find out that he might care about anyone else so that he could find the tortured, murdered corpse of someone else that he loved.
He didn't ever say it, but she knew.
Four months after that she found out the lengths he would go to prevent them from hurting someone he loved again.
They had just moved into an apartment, small but clean and safe, and Faith had felt like she had a home for the first time in her life. She teased Angel about his girly needs to decorate, but secretly she was glad to see him take a little interest in his surroundings again and it wasn't like she couldn't appreciate the use of ancient battle weapons as the dcor of choice.
Then one day Faith had woken up in their big wrought-iron bed with its red velvet duvet (the first purchases Angel had made) and she realized she hadn't bled in over a month.
The two blue lines stared back at her from the little wand that predicted her future with 99.9% FDA-approved accuracy, and Faith was stunned, stuck in a state of confusion about how she should feel, how he would feel. She stood there, motionless, until he came in and stood behind her. Faith watched his reflection in the mirror as he plucked the test out of her hand and stared at it before setting it down gently on the counter. She saw the fear and revulsion flicker across his face briefly before he could school his features and pick her up to carry her unresisting body back to the bed. After that she didn't have to wonder how he would feel, even though he never said a word.
The miscarriage had come three weeks later and Faith had shrugged it off, told him it was no big deal, told him that she wasn't ready for any brats to be crawling around her feet and demanding things from her that she wasn't ready to give. When she cried, great big sobbing waves of grief and loss crashing through her fighter's frame, she did it silently, locked in the bathroom under the pretense of a long, soaking bath.
When he scheduled the vasectomy it was her turn not to say a word.
But she couldn't help wondering if he would have done the same thing if she was Buffy, or even Cordy, and she questioned for the millionth time whether he loved her even a little.
Once, when they were more than a little drunk on a bottle of whiskey and Angel was being more talkative than usual, she had asked him why he still lived a nocturnal life now that he was human.
"The fucking Shanshu didn't change anything about me except my life expectancy," he had answered.
Faith threw back another shot and then frowned at him. "What the hell are you talking about? You're a man now, not a vamp. No more evil murdering rampager existing inside you-- I'd say that's different," she argued. She still had secret, hidden dreams of him taking her out of their half-lit world into the sun, still thought he might be able to be a prince to her trailer-park princess.
That's when he had enumerated all the ways in which he wasn't different, why he never referred to being human without mockingly using the word "Shanshu" and why he never said Shanshu without a "fucking" before it.
She hadn't ever heard of the prophecy, hadn't ever known that his current state of being was foretold centuries ago before he even existed as a man the first time around. Angel told her that for a long time he had thought of it as a reward from the Powers That Be, that he hoped it would happen while the people he loved were still alive so that he could share his life with them. He had laughed his broken, bitter laugh for a full minute after he told her that he had thought that becoming human was supposed to be the tangible sign of his redemption, and he kept laughing, tears (of anguish or mirth, she couldn't be sure) streaming down his face when he told her about the days that had set their current state of their lives in motion.
"I thought it was some kind of reward. When the Circle of the Black Thorn asked me to sign it away, I actually. . . I actually thought I could! I signed my name in blood like some kind of fucking martyr!"
Then he had taken a few deep breaths and the laughter had died away, even though the tears did not. When he continued, he did it staring into the bottom of the highball glass with its amber contents as though it contained the answers to all of life's mysteries.
"Turns out it was never about redemption, never a reward. It was just a prophecy that after fighting a few battles, killing a few demons, I would turn into a human. But it was the Partners who did it, not the Powers. An act of evil, not of good," and his voice was quiet, pained. As he picked up the glass and tipped it back, Faith hoped that the whiskey would wash away a little of his hurt.
They never talked about it after that. Angel pretended it had never happened and Faith let him. She'd never really believed in redemption, but she knew he had . . . understood the loss he must be feeling in ways that others couldn't. She wanted to wrap him in her arms and tell him that she loved him anyway, let him find some redemption in her acceptance--but she didn't. Faith was afraid-- frightened that she wasn't qualified to offer him redemption, terrified that he would reject her love.
So she kept her mouth shut and tried not to flinch on the few occasions he referred to his "fucking Shanshu".
Over the next several months they had established a routine and Faith was mostly content with her life. They patrolled the streets of New York, taking out any vampire or demon they ran across, keeping a low profile as much as possible. Faith spent her days training, while Angel collected and read ancient text after ancient text. She wondered what it was that he was looking for and tried not to think about what might happen to her when he found it.
They might have existed like that forever, or at least until a vamp got lucky and killed one of them in battle, if she hadn't idly picked up one of his books out of boredom and a little bit of jealous curiosity about the texts that occupied so much of his time now.
Faith had flipped through the pages, almost absently, until a few words caught her attention and stilled her fingers on a single page.
A truth spell.
She didn't allow herself to consider the repercussions as she secretly gathered the necessary ingredients. She told herself that it would only last for a few hours, that he never even needed to know, that she could deal with whatever happened. Faith was tired of wondering what she was to him, tired of waiting to see if he would find whatever it was that he was looking for and leave her.
The casting had been amazingly simple. Faith sent Angel to the corner market to pick up a few things, mixed the herbs and spoke the incantation, and then waited for his return.
When he walked into their apartment and carried the bag to the kitchen, she waited. When he came back into the living room with a bottle of water for her, she waited. When he gave her a quizzical look and pulled her out of the chair and into his arms, she knew it was time to learn the truth.
His lips met hers with a tenderness that she had never felt in him before and he pulled her close against him, letting his hands roam over her back and thread into her hair. Moaning in want, his mouth retreated from hers and they both gasped for air.
"Angel. . . I. . . god I love you," she blurted out, saying it out loud for the first time and then holding her breath as she waited for his reaction, waited to see if her heart was about to be crushed by the unknowing and unwilling man who held her tightly against his body.
He stared deeply into her eyes and sighed his answer against her lips.
"I love you, too."
Faith's heart leapt in joy but the smile that began to move across her face stopped abruptly as she saw the panic and confusion flood his countenance. Angel moved the arms that had been tenderly cradling her until he was gripping her upper arms and shaking her fiercely.
"What the hell did you do?" he growled, the fear and anger soaking his voice until they were both drowning in its wake. Then he pushed her away from him so hard that she stumbled into the wall.
She reached out for him, but he recoiled from her touch as though she were something dirty and unholy. Faith tried to speak, but even if she had known what to say, the words couldn't work their way around the dense lump in her throat.
He picked up the book that she had left lying open on his desk and Faith watched as understanding washed over him. Angel shook with his anger, and as he closed his eyes in an attempt to gain some control, she realized that she'd really fucked up this time. After what seemed like an eternity he turned back toward her, holding the offending book in his hand, shaking it at her.
"Do you know what I was looking for, Faith? I was looking for a spell powerful enough to cloak you from them, to hide us from them so that I could make love to the woman I love without having to worry that they would see--that they would find out that you are more to me than a convenient piece of ass," he yelled, his fist clenched tightly around the book, spittle flying out of his mouth as his eyes blazed with the fire of his rage.
"I . . . I'm sorry Angel. I just wanted to know. . . I didn't know," she said, desperate and pleading, her hands reaching out to him in supplication.
"Now you do. I hope it was worth it," he answered, turning away from her out-stretched hands and ignoring her sobbing apologies as he moved into their bedroom and quickly packed a bag. He didn't look at her as she slid down the wall until she was crumpled on the floor, cries violently shaking her frame. Only when he reached the front door, the duffle bag held tightly at his side, did he turn back toward the broken woman on the floor.
"They've killed every single person that I've said I loved in any way. I will not watch them do it again," he said to her, his voice quiet and withdrawn, devoid of emotion. Faith could see the light leaving his eyes and when he finally turned back toward the door, she knew that his love for her was already beginning to wither and die.
Now, as she watched the muscles of his shoulders roll under the silk of his shirt as he walked away from her for good, she realized the magnitude of her mistake.
And her half-lit world faded to black.
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