"What is it like down there, Charides?" "Very dark." "And what of return?" "All lies." - from Callimachus, on Hades.
She can't believe they're the last ones left.
It's some kind of irony, after all this time. Her and him, he and she, Faith and Wesley sitting in a tree. It's a bad fucking joke. Twelve years in prison for murder and by the time she came out everyone else was goddamned dead; people who might've understood; people it would've been reasonable to go to pleading sanctuary. People she hadn't had stripped to the bone, at her mercy, under her thumb and her fist for five hours on an evening twelve years gone that'd kept her company all the cold lonely nights inside.
She's an obligation he wishes he could refuse.
Closed up like a fist, her eyes grim when she looks at him, too much of his own failure behind them. He could cope better if he didn't feel like every moment of his mere presence was exacerbating in her a guilt almost beyond endurance. Her self-condemnation only reminds him. A lot of people have left scars on him. She's still the only one who made a game of it.
She tortured him. For hours. She enjoyed it. It isn't something he can forget, but he isn't going to fail her this time.
Far from the man she remembers, he seems to have developed an aversion to suits that's almost funny. He wears leather these days, protective armour, a tougher darker second-skin the knives and claws and the whole rest of the world too find just a little harder to penetrate. She remembers how that feels. It looks good on him, even though his figure's gone gaunt as hell with age and his hair's started to grey - his face developed a toughness that compensates at some point in the years she missed.
She doesn't wear leather. She doesn't wear fucking blue, either, not after over a decade of blue. Stupid colour, stupid uniform, stupid institution, and she misses it. Somewhere in those twelve years it got to be, if not home, a place she felt she belonged.
Institutionalised. Yeah, she read that. Done a lot of reading, in all that time. Has certificates to prove it. Yay her.
She feels agoraphobic, outside. All the world opened up around her, and she can't breathe. She guesses she'll have to learn to live with that, unless she feels like killing someone else to get thrown back in the pen.
Jeeze, Wes, man. Joke.
He's wondered about her new tendency to dress in neutrals - white, beige, cream, grey, green, not much enamoured any more of bright colours or dark. Although the paler shades and lighter fabrics show off the muscle tone underneath to greater effect than tight black and leather did.
He finds it almost amusing, that they swapped over. And of course, it goes deeper than fashion, deeper than skin. If they could talk to each other, maybe they could strike a balance.
If they could talk. Beyond monosyllables, beyond lectures, beyond factual monotones; the polite veneer his parents drummed into him versus what passes for her courtesy. But.
It's been only a month. Give it time.
He was starting to feel very weary of the world. If nothing else, her reappearance in his life has knocked him out of his reverie. He's grateful to be given a feeling of purpose again. At least sometimes he is, when he sits and thinks hard about it, because that's when he isn't walking round with his nerves strung tight almost to snapping, remembering she's had him helpless in a way nobody else ever has, remembering there's a piece of him she'll always own.
He tells her it doesn't matter any more. He tells himself he forgives her. He pretends it's true.
His company is based in one of the big collection of upmarket converted office suites that used to be Angel's big old hotel. He told her, a couple of weeks in, that the suite came up for lease two years ago and he bagged it then. So there's still a PI agency in the Hyperion, six years down the line from when Angel Investigations gave its last gasp.
He calls his business the Wyndham-Pryce agency, and for some reason is self-conscious as hell about the name.
When she first arrived, she was self-conscious as hell, too. Shit, it wasn't like she would've gone to him if there'd been anyone else she could take her questions to.
Looking for names she recognised, she'd tracked down Xander, still in Sunnydale (and, damn, were there a lot of Harris's in the phone directory). Un-thrilled to hear from his psycho-killer-ex-lay, un-thrilled that his prissy bitch of a wife had answered the phone to his psycho-killer-ex-lay, and probably still un-thrilled about the whole strangulation-sex thing too, he angrily told her that Wesley Whingeham-stick-up-his-ass-Pryce still had some kind of business in LA but so far as he knew, everyone else was dead or in England. For, like, years now.
Remembering the closeness of their friendship, she couldn't bring herself to ask him what happened to Buffy in 2006. Steeled herself to go see Wesley, who the answer was less likely to cause pain.
Xander would've been amazed by her sensitivity, if he hadn't slammed the phone down even as her resolve crystallized.
The Wyndham-Pryce agency was in the phone book. The address surprised her. She got a taxi to the door of the Hyperion, a place she'd seen only in Angel's enthusiastic descriptions when he was new-established there and much with the DIY back in her early days in prison.
She stood outside the door, looking up, wondering what it must've been like here in a second-hand storybook past where this sprawling building was the nerve centre of Angel's operation; Angel's family.
The first time he met her again he'd taken her for a client, inviting her up through the speaker system in reception. At his desk with his head half-buried in paperwork and his concentration somewhere in the twelfth century, he didn't register her furtive presence in the room for at least a minute before he looked up to find her standing there and with customary grace fell out his chair in shock.
She leaned over, helped him up, dusted him down, pinched his backside, and told him she liked the new look.
Some things never changed.
Other things did. Like the way in which, after that, she grew sombre and awkward. She was out of place, disconnected, lost. Twelve years in prison, and she'd been a minor when her first accidental crime sent her down that road. She'd never really lived in the world.
If he were to divide them up in proportion to blame, how many of those years were down to him?
He figures he has a claim to at least four.
She didn't come to him to be taken in, but he could do no less.
In twelve years...
The world changed. Country boundaries vanished and shifted. New regimes came to power and old ones fell. Some of the new ones fell, too. She watched it pass by. Events that couldn't touch her where she was.
People died. She doesn't give a fuck about what happened to Madonna or George Bush; it's the deaths she only heard about afterwards that hurt. The ones that should've rocked her world but didn't because she never knew. She's been wondering what dead people have been doing with their lives now for the past two, seven, eight years.
Computers, cars and cellphones got smaller and sleeker, then got larger again. A bunch of drugs got legalised. Protests about global warming turned into mass riots at the end of the decade. The United States of America went to war twice while she remained a dispassionate observer.
Wesley Wyndham-Pryce's hair went grey and he grew old before his time.
Odd to think that she never wondered, in prison, about what he was doing now. He's been twelve years frozen in her mind as a broken doll tied to a chair with her marks all over him.
You'd think that in twelve years she could've found the fucking humanity to loose the ropes, clean him up, let him out.
He's spent much of the last month teaching her to fight again.
She's still strong, and you wouldn't think instincts like that could dry up in prison, but it's as though she lost the spark. She used to be proud she was built to fight. Now she stares down grimly at her victims, as though contemplating those other old corpses less deserving, and obviously he can't get her to talk out her problems.
He finds himself furious when she scores a slash on his thigh in a training session and freaks out so much that, although he's the only one close to being a match for even an apathetic Slayer, he has to find her a new sparring partner in Gregory, the second newest member of his staff.
It's after that incident he finds her sitting, rocking, staring at his blood on the sword in her hands. He turns his back and stalks off without a word.
Beginning to doubt he has anything to offer her after all. If Angel had survived... maybe even Buffy... if Giles hadn't done what he did... if Angel hadn't...
There's nobody left; he can only fail or succeed on his own.
For twelve years he's ignored her existence, forgotten about her like everyone else and he never realised, never thought, never knew that she was alone.
He thinks - if he'd found it in him to visit the prison, to start the reconciliation all that time ago, maybe they wouldn't be so lost as they are now. Maybe things could have been different.
Maybe a lot of things could have been different.
//the tip of the glass sliding over the skin of his chest and oh God she presses down that little bit harder, the blood welling up around the shard. her eyes flicker between the glass/his face/the glass/his face and the glass meanders in a lazy journey from sternum to shoulder. there are techniques for dealing with torture and as a Watcher of course he knows these but he can't seem to disconnect. his eyes blankly stare at her as she pulls back the glass and ditches it into the breast pocket of his torn and stained shirt. then she's curled up in his lap again, her weight on the cuts and bruises she already inflicted, and one arm creeps over his shoulder for balance as she places her hand palm-down over the oozing cut and rubs and squeezes. he gasps and the gag chokes him.//
She wakes up screaming.
She remembers the first time she was told what it meant to be the Slayer. One girl in all the world (in the actually-not-really sense since Buffy fucked that one up and now she supposes so does she). Strong. Special. They didn't list 'doomed to die young' but she sorta figured that one out for herself. She thinks looking back that that's where a lot of the rage came from. She finally learned she was special at seventeen, that her shit-lousy life had been leading to something, and Something was death.
She's not dead. She's not young.
He has survived. Torture. Gunshot. A multitude of stab wounds. Demons. Slayers. Vampires. Lawyers. And no small amount of humans in there, too.
Fourteen years since the Council first sent him out. A plethora of potential deaths, from Sunnydale to the agency, from the first time Angel tried to kill him (softly, with a pillow; a soft death, for all that rage) to the last where he all but succeeded (metallic slice, hot gush, burning pain), through the long years beyond.
He should not be alive today. With the catalogue of failures at his back there is no way on Earth he should be the one left standing. But he is.
That first unsettling reunion in his office he made her tea and they talked stilted talk for about three hours, until they'd covered just about every angle of the last twelve years her brain could process. It wasn't everything - there is always more, and even now she keeps thinking of things and people and wondering. Half the time he doesn't know or remember any more than she does, so she ends up phoning around everywhere and trying to coax information from the scary sprawl the internet's become.
Angel stopped visiting around the fifth year. It'd been patchy at times before that, and it tapered off towards the end. From every other week to every other month, until she could no longer be sure if he stopped coming because he couldn't or because he simply forgot.
Either way she forgave it. She was ready for it. Had never expected constancy, not after her crimes, and had always known Angel did dangerous work that could end with him dusted any day. Nobody else ever came.
At least, not in visiting hours.
But she didn't need Angel or anyone else to walk the path she'd chosen. The awareness of him was enough. Him and the others from the stories he told her. Doyle. Darla. Lindsey. Connor. If they could follow the road, so could she.
She could make the journey alone. It was only when she reached the end of the tunnel that she realised the journey had been the point, the light at the end no more than illusion, and where did that leave her if not fucked?
Free after twelve years' penance, and no life left to lead.
He sends staff out on missions and she clutters up the office. Falls asleep across the row of low, padded client chairs, reads books (apparently she learned to enjoy this in prison: he is, frankly, amazed) more often than she watches movies on the office computers.
She is just there. He supposes something dangerous could come up, it doesn't often in daylight but it has on occasion, so he leaves her be. So far as he is aware, she has nowhere else to be; vestigial Slayer, ex-con, child of an abusive broken family even he shudders to contemplate. Every friend she didn't drive away lost to death, all those apologies and goodbyes unsaid. He knows something about that himself. The ghosts don't drag her under.
The current Slayer is called Sondra and living in Italy. The third since Buffy died and Faith... well. The others didn't last a year, sacrifices to the cause. From them, at least, the cause took only Life.
She is his penance, sullen slump of challenge and dark eyes whose gaze pins him to a past he'd rather avoid, the crack of a dirty joke that falls raw on the air even if he's heard it before.
Nights, she patrols. At times he accompanies her, but is content to trust her alone. Trust. Yes, he knows she's changed; yes, he trusts her - at least, intellectually. He still needs to get the message across to his body, those occasions she brushes past him and he instinctively goes cold and starts remembering the feel of ropes and helplessness.
She wonders how the hell the asshole she remembers from Sunnydale turned into this gaunt warrior with all his battle scars. She remembers the derision from Buffy's Bold Band of Merry Men, thinks on the reality that he outlasted any of them.
Remembers they didn't like her too much either and, watching him on the phone to a client, all stern-faced and tough-voiced, she takes odd comfort in that.
For the first time it occurs to her that Wesley, back then, was also young. A body full of starch and a head drummed full of regulations and expectations, armour against the world finding out he didn't have a fucking clue what he was doing. So along comes Faith to screw up his life, and a year later torture him for it.
Her mind blanks on her. Thought shuts down and all she sees is grey. An indeterminable time later she clicks back to reality staring at the dusky green walls of his office.
He'd never have imagined she would change so much. Faith, in watered-down shades. He wonders where all the energy and rage have gone; suspects they have merely gone inside, inverted rather than eradicated; ponders what would happen if she ever let them out and checks again with the prison psychiatrists who insist she's sane.
She is by all accounts the very definition of rehabilitated. The psychiatrists are positive.
They're not too sure about him.
Neither are the co-workers whose odd sideways stares inform him they're still curious to know why he's sheltering the woman who tortured him a dozen years ago. Even Kate, who knows more about his history than any of them, is convinced he must be harbouring some masochistic tendencies, to invite her into his home as well as his workplace. But his own paranoid jumpiness and cursed bloody nerves are a minor issue when weighed against the fact she must not be left alone, and nobody else he trusts is about to co-habit with a supernaturally-strong murderer (reformed).
He shares living space with his torturer, and makes an effort not to lock his room at night.
One thing about this new set-up he's got going, she supposes nothing says better that people can change. He's got some guy who used to work for the evil law firm, an ex-con, and a bitch of a blonde ex-cop who doesn't seem to have a civil word for anyone. And she thinks Gregory might be a demon. She needs to quiz Wes on that one at some point.
The lady cop is the one who took her confession, and she's not sure how she feels about that, remembering how she was all out to stuff Angel in a sunny cell.
Despite the fact the agency must bring in some money for Wes to have four other members of staff on the payroll, his apartment is still a shithole. A different shithole to the one she remembers checking out before moving on to Queen C's place (deciding he'd probably avoid coming home to it whenever possible), but a shithole still. Books stacked to the ceiling mark about the only thing there that doesn't surprise her. She finds herself tidying his rooms for him and it freaks her out.
But certainly neither of them have a problem with living in the bad part of town. Hell, he looks scary, these days (twelve years ago she'd have been rolling on the floor at that concept), and maybe she doesn't, but that's an illusion. She is scary. She can't change that. Twelve years inside can't change that. She still has the strength to break him in half without breaking a sweat. Those twelve years on his side can't change that either. He's still human.
She sleeps on the couch. He hasn't so far shown enough inane chivalry to offer her the bed. Probably only because he knows she'd laugh him outta there.
She has no damn idea why he chooses to tolerate her presence 24/7 when she can't touch him without him flinching. The man has issues a mile wide.
Someday she'll get the whole story out of him as to what the fuck happened while she was gone.
Faith is the oldest Slayer on record, or rather off-the-record, courtesy of an incident soon after Buffy had gone when, suffering from a severe case of Screwed, the Council broke into the prison, tied her down, stopped her heart and restarted it, then took themselves and their toys away for good.
He can't believe she doesn't hate them for it, but she claims it's 'five by five'. They needed someone to fight the good fight. She couldn't do it from a cell.
She's grateful they chose to re-start her heart, he's amazed they did. It must be Giles' influence. In fact, the incident had 'Ripper's' signature all over it. While Wesley admits the logic of it to be sound, he doesn't know if he could have ordered the actions carried out himself.
She's thirty-two. They killed her and freed her and cut her loose. But she still has the strength, the skills, the mission. Another anachronism, abandoned by the Council. Another reason why he's not going to abandon her, even if her presence does wake him some nights in a cold sweat.
Buffy's dead. She knew that back when they killed her, not that they gave her much chance to ask questions.
She remembers the feel of the gag in her mouth and her hands and feet tied down; the spark and thud as they pressed something to her chest that popped the world like a bubble. When she woke up she had three broken ribs and a man's taste on her lips for the first time in years and her brain processed things funny for about a week before settling again to something approaching normal.
The Slayer dreams she'd been having stopped. No use in prison. Someone else got tagged. Council bastards.
Why didn't they kill her dead?
She isn't sure whether she feels more satisfied to have her answer or betrayed by Wesley's explanation. Sure, she hasn't done Giles too many favours. But there had been a while. A while back at the beginning. When they didn't get on so bad. He was her Watcher longer than Wesley was.
Wesley who betrayed the Council for her.
She still gives him nightmares. He's experienced worse, done worse, since she tried her hand at carving her pain out of his flesh, has no place withholding forgiveness. He's read the books, of course. Knows how torture changes a person. She shattered something in him. An innocence, a vital piece of his worldview.
That piece of him that is hers, carried with her these twelve years, he wonders how often she takes it out and fondles the memory of his pain, of the sounds he made trying not to scream. He doesn't believe she's changed so much so fundamentally that she doesn't still get off on pain, at least until her new conscience prickles her and she starts to obsess on her guilt all over again.
If she could only meet his eyes.
If she could meet his eyes and look at him square, talk to him normally, he could tell himself it didn't happen and there's nothing between them now but an odd alliance of old enemies much changed by time.
As long as she won't look at him it will always be there; her guilt keeping him a victim.
The flinch is starting to really. fuck. her. off. She never expected forgiveness, but in the weeks she's been with him she's seen him face demons and vampires, lawyers and angry clients, and it's almost an abomination, the way Mr. flat-voiced, stony-eyed and bad-tempered is wiped away in a flinch by her touch. She figures landing her fist in his face would only exacerbate the issue, but still. She'd kinda like to do that, when she walks in on him getting shaved in the bathroom and he almost cuts his own goddamn throat.
Speaking of which. Still hasn't got the story behind that scar. Doubts somehow that it was from a shaving accident.
She asks if she could work days and pull a paycheck like everyone else
(if she asks him for money he flinches handing it to her as her palm brushes his, touching the soft pale flesh of a scar from when something with claws took a slice out of his hand and wrist, and she wonders how far it extends up his arm. she didn't put that one there and she thinks it looks pretty cool, like there's nothing better to say badass-demon-hunter-I-mean-business than this ugly brand. it's a message clear as writing. I survived, it says, I survived something with claws this big, you think you could?
and she had big claws too and maybe she's getting a little obsessive over the scars),
tells him she wanted the paycheck so she could get her own place and get out from under his feet all the time. He seems reluctant. He gives her the paycheck.
Memory slaps her with a chaos of vision...
//standing with a makeshift flamethrower in her hands she rages on his culpability and prepares to inflict damage no healing or long-sleeved-shirts in LA summer will ever cover. if you'd been a better Watcher, she says and the kick is that it's true, he brought himself to this place a mannequin strung to a chair at her mercy, so she smiles as she lifts the inferno to his face because even he can't tell himself he doesn't deserve this and she knows the truth comes closer to breaking him than anything else she's done.//
He recoils from the history in her eyes.
He's afraid he's failing her all over again. He tried to give her a home; she wants to leave it. And he's afraid - if she's not ready, then loneliness could turn her back to the dark. But maybe it's his own fears he's projecting. He signed away his soul in blood, once, and no amount of helping the helpless in Los Angeles, 2012, can reverse that.
If he can save her, at least that piece of him Faith owns will be safe when he's taken to Hell.
He wishes he'd killed Lilah the first time she let him close enough to wrap his hands around her perfect throat.
She has her desk in the underworld now, and he heard the farewell present she sent the vampire, that exploded in Connor's face instead, was what finally put the seal on Angel's fate, but he doesn't know for sure. He never talked to any of the people who would've known, and now there's nobody left to talk to except Giles in England (and he supposes the Watchers Council could have been keeping tabs on Angel back then, but on the other hand, does he really want to know half a dozen years on? besides, if Giles knows about Angel he knows about him, too, and probably wouldn't talk to him anyway) and Faith, whose tenure in jail ensures that she knows less than he does.
The two people in his life he loved most for longest both turned their backs on him. He carries debts of guilt he'll never repay. All that's left is her; his very first failure, dragged out from suspended animation; a second chance.
So Giles is in England, alive and still active if not on the front lines anymore, and apparently the only other anyone can say for sure is.
Angel is dust. Not the time he stopped visiting, enough after to be something of a painful jab to her heart, but not long enough to say he'd forgotten entirely. If he'd lived, he might've come back eventually.
Buffy wasn't long after Angel. Completely unrelated, though. The soulmates stuff must've just been a thing for souled vamps instead.
Queen C vanished back in 2002, never heard from again. Willow went to live out at some retreat and ended up drowning herself a couple of years later. And Xander got married and went on to live the most mind-bogglingly normal life a guy who used to list vampire-hunting as his favoured extracurricular activity could wish for.
Some folks she could remember Angel telling her about, Gunn or something, some chick with a man's name, had taken off together. Nobody knew for sure where they'd gone but there've been conflicting reports of a couple who matched their description fighting vampires in Texas. The newest are from four years ago, no sign since. It's no skin off her nose, she only knew them vicariously, but from his emphasis she figures they mattered to Wes.
She'd been stunned when he told her he hadn't worked with Angel since '02. Angel never told her that in his visits. She couldn't remember if he'd lied to her at all. She'd tended to avoid asking about Wesley. Probably he hadn't even had to lie.
Far as she could figure it, they'd had some fight. Wes knocked about by himself for a bit, fell in with a bad crowd, fell out again, formed his own agency after Angel's collapsed.
Some kind of guilt thing. She got that.
He wants her to keep believing it all ended the way it was supposed to. That they reached the last pages of the story and the heroes died heroically, fighting the fight. That it didn't fall apart like it did. He doesn't want her to know that he's already damned. He wants to keep hope alive; to keep her believing in him. He is after all, most bittersweet of ironies, all she has.
Over a month, and he hasn't told her, not properly.
Her lips press to a thin line and her eyes glitter. She slams a stake into a vampire, backhands another across the basement of the warehouse to slam into the wall, and he contemplates the unchecked force of her aimed at him. Fists and glass and fire and all the things she could do if she found out the truth behind the fairytale.
The vampire he's fighting almost takes his head off with a right hook in his distraction.
She likes to watch him fight. His movements economical, brutal. He takes damage but doesn't let it stop him. Another vamp bites the dust. He doesn't pause before moving on to face the next. He's thin enough that it looks like his arm will break from the force of the punch he throws. It doesn't.
And this is Wesley. It's Wesley. Forty-whateverthefuck years old and he's lived through at least a decade of this (with maybe a respite in the middle for whatever he did in that 3-4 year slump) and still fighting. Everyone else is dead and he's still fighting.
Wussley. Captain Couragous. Wimpy Wes.
It should be her finishing off these last vampires because, well, Slayer. But she holds back to watch him. She holds no doubt he'll win.
She has a feeling itching at the back of her mind, though, times like this, and it's nothing good. The feeling that this change had already begun back when she had him tied to that chair. That the guy she cut, bound, bruised and would've burned wasn't anyway anymore the Watcher who screwed her over.
The exhilaration of the fight is still thumping through her veins. Its lust has lessened with age, but not so much. Not for the first time, she wants to kiss and make up. Wants to find out what his skin actually looks like under that long-sleeved crap he wears even on the warmest of days. Is burning with the want.
He'd puke if she touched him.
He dusts the last vampire and hears her sardonic round of applause.
Scowls. Bites down on his irritation at the grin on her face, the very odd look in her eyes he can't quite define. He asks her what the hell she was doing and is utterly taken aback to have her come back at him that she likes to see him fight.
He tells her, with heavy annoyance, that he's not 'tight' (a moment of dislocation, hearing Gunn's remembered vocabulary from Faith's mouth) and he's not graceful nor any other of the adjectives she pulls out (is she on drugs?) but an aging demon hunter who'd very much like to keep aging, thankyouverymuch.
She smirks. She can do so. She has more years left than he does, and doesn't know what's waiting for him on the other side.
She sent a letter to Giles. It wasn't easy to write. What do you say to the guy who ordered you killed?
Actually, she said thank you. Wesley would choke and spit his tea across the room in disbelief. Maybe she'll tell him after all, just 'cause she digs the reaction.
Giles gave her her life. If it had been anybody else in charge when they found themselves without a Slayer, she'd be dead, minimum effort, no question. The special ops team and their guns, not a medical team to do what was necessary and then try so hard to pick up the pieces afterwards that they broke her ribs in the process.
The letter she receives back from him makes her cry. Fuck, man. Sounds like Giles has been tearing himself up over this the last six years. She wants to go visit him, talk to him in person, tell him how sorry she is that things went so badly back in Sunnydale, how sorry she is she never made up with Buffy.
She can't even pick up the phone.
Wesley remains unimpressed. He's more pissed about what the Council did to her than she is. The realisation twists something inside her chest.
Faith is more substantial than she used to be, more flesh on her bones. Though certainly not overweight, God forbid he ever thought that, she might instinctively know and punch him through the nearest wall (Slayer strength or no, Cordelia would have done so in the circumstance had she lived long enough for her figure to start develop padding). But she isn't a waif any more, with that pale-skinned dark-eyed look that seemed like she might melt away. A woman, not a girl.
No Slayer has ever grown old. Not that thirty-two is old, except for a Slayer. So far, she seems to be aging normally.
There are twelve years between them, the same number of years she spent in the prison. He doesn't know why the comparison amuses him.
She's lovely, in adulthood. Those dark eyes, the dusky voice, the untameable hair. She moves like an athlete even without quite the body to match, Slayer suppleness still holding strong.
Kate follows his gaze as she bandages the cut on his arm that he got because Faith likes to watch him fight. To Faith, over by the water filter, sharpening stakes with a knife and talking to Gregory. The arrogant sexuality of her posture hasn't changed much. Nor her habits. He knows full well she's jumped the bones of every man in the office but himself.
Of course. She'd have to touch him to do that.
Kate grimaces, and looks down. Their fling was a couple of years ago now and she's been seven months married to, of all things, a policeman. Which narrows the options on precisely what it is she's grimacing about.
She picked up the phone and dialled the number spur-of the-moment before sanity came flooding back in and she blankly regarded the angular black receiver held away from her ear in a hand that shook.
When the tinny voice came on the line, it was to tell her he wasn't there. It's a week before the next moment of madness ambushes her and she dials again.
She doesn't know what she expected. Giles is businesslike, soft-voiced, subdued, interspersed with moments of emotion and regret. He sounds old and strained. He asks where she is now and what she's doing. She tells him and he goes all quiet and English and huffy.
She tells him. Whatever problems he might've had with Wesley in the past, they do good work here now. She tells him. They have both changed, so has he (you had me killed, you fuck). She tells him. About herself, Wes and Gregory going up against that massive Van Damme demon the previous week. He chuckles and corrects her
(I believe it's Vanadan, Faith)
before having the grace to sound impressed.
The cut on his arm itches, bothering him. He picks at the edge of the bandage to scratch the swollen flesh underneath. The injury bisects another scar, much older, one of hers he thinks.
To tell the truth, it's been so long he's no longer sure.
And he's been thinking. Thinking about time. Thinking about how much they've both changed. Thinking the past isn't a country either of them should be living in anymore, considering their collective crimes.
Faith's still looking for her own place, in more ways than one. He knows she's dragging her heels, or she'd be gone by now. She has the money.
He needs to talk to her. Soon. Open his mouth, let the words out. From over a decade away, Cordelia's voice in his head taunts him for his babbling, his lecturing, his musty books. Words were always supposed to be what he was best at, though they proved themselves unfaithful to him more than once.
He starts at her touch...
//she straddles him, rocks back and forth on his lap, legs gripping with the force of Slayer strength. laughs at his body's response and lowers her face to his to deliver a parody of a kiss, her teeth closing on and tugging briefly at the balled knot of the gag that prevents him closing his mouth and resisting the forced intimacy. her tongue laps over his split and swelling lip and when he tries to pull away she sinks her teeth down so hard they almost meet through his flesh and she suckles there, mingling her saliva with his blood.//
She flinches back.
She finally figures it out. Call her dumb, but she gets there in the end. Helps when the ex-Wolfram and Hart guy opens his mouth and squarely inserts both feet.
She stares at him blankly a few seconds as things click. The world does a twirl, shakes her balance all to hell, readjusts, stills again in a shiny new alignment.
And that's the steel she sees now in his eyes, the darkness underlying his voice, the fixed purpose that moves his limbs when he fights, the grim efficiency with which he kills. And suddenly a whole lot of things make a whole lot more sense.
What doesn't make sense is why the fuck he seems to think he couldn't tell her.
He learned all too well to be wary of her anger. Clearly his decision to shield her from the truth is another example of his oft-demonstrated tendency towards not thinking things through before making his judgement calls.
He certainly did not expect to find himself faced with her here in his home, with her eyes angry and betrayed and her fists clenched at her sides, looking frighteningly like her old self and not the pale ghost of a woman he's come to know in her stead. His apartment hasn't been a haven since she got there. Abruptly it feels like another torture chamber and he's cursing himself for his well-stocked kitchen.
When she lunges through the door and snatches for his collar, small fingers twining through the fabric, and slams him back against the nearest wall, pinning him there while she shouts in his face, something snaps within him. His fist lashes out. She reels away. An instant later she's airborne, her foot arching towards his face. He blocks, grabs, twists and throws. His back responds with a protest that he's getting too old for that move, but right now he's not about to care because
(I'm not your victim any more)
she's spun around in the air, her feet dance off the wall, and she's hurtling back at him. Her head and shoulder hit him in the gut and he folds.
And, damn it, he's fought more demons than she has; he taught her a good proportion of the moves she uses against him; strength isn't the only factor that determines a fight and he isn't going to lie down and be her punchbag twice in a lifetime.
It ends with him pressed to the floor, her weight grinding him down, her hips riding his. Her hands desperately striving to free the two-handed white-knuckled hold he maintains on her throat as though his life depends on it, his muscles shivering with the strain.
The fight drains out of him despite himself as she asks, voice choked, if he's ready to stop playing now and give her some straight fucking answers already.
His mouth's a grim line, his breath in gasps, and her voice is flat and cold and comes from a part of her that hasn't stirred in a long time as she asks him. What the hell did he do? She asks him, what's so terrible that he had to hide it from her (did you lie to me, you bastard)? She asks him, how'd they really die, huh? how'd they really die back when he was working for the fucking enemy?
The skin and the leather under her hands don't feel all that different except the skin is more scarred and pitted and the leather
(I didn't kill him, Faith)
doesn't break and start to leak under the force of her grip and Oh God the familiarity is sickening and the rush that bubbles up through her brain drowns her ears with noise from within so that she can barely hear the words tripping over each other in a deluge from his mouth.
And Wesley didn't kill him, not with his own hand, though that doesn't mean much when the guilt behind his eyes says he had a hell of a lot to do with the process that led to it, that made sure by the end killing him was the best thing anyone could have done. Wesley doesn't even know who did it because he was in the ICU with his life hanging by a thread and apparently his heart stopped too, more than once-
Her hands have loosed their hold on his arms. His blood is under her nails again. Her body retreats from the feel of his underneath. The last thing she expects is for the hands around her throat to tighten and pull her back, lowering their grip to rest over her collarbones.
If he closes his eyes he can still see her against the lids, outlined in a haze he can't decide is the red of fire or the red of blood. A girl who doesn't exist any more, who ceased to be within minutes of doing what she did to him.
Time scars you and moves on, he thinks. You make choices and the world rolls on, he thinks. What you were is left behind. Only so much scar tissue. She chose. He chose.
It goes beyond all reason and logic that he not forgive her. She's not the only one here who's played death incarnate to unfortunate souls, who's left images of old phantom selves branded in the minds of victims. But reason and logic don't get to vote in matters such as these.
The loosening starts inside his chest, the painful tightness that's been wearing so heavily on him these past weeks dissipates, and he blinks to find himself sitting, legs awkwardly splayed under the weight of a smaller body he barely recognises anymore, staring up at an attractive dark woman who looks more than a little confused.
She feels her anger crumble; can't sustain it, when she watches as the flinch leaves his face and somehow she knows it's gone for good. It'd make her the world's biggest hypocrite. Even if he did take Angel from her.
And oh, God, she can barely take that in, what he told her. Her mind flinches from the memory of his words. He wasn't Angelus at the end, Wesley is sure of that. Certain that on the other side there was no excuse, no redeeming, for those last days. And she can see it in her head, clear as daylight, and later she'll cry herself hoarse in his memory. Angel gave so much of his redemption away that in the end he had none left for himself.
With a soul in his heart, he signed his life away to evil. With a soul torn, tattered and bruised, he paid his own penance. Six years fighting. How many more?
She had never expected forgiveness.
They're all dead and he's still fighting.
So is she.
He's suddenly terribly aware of her hands, how they're small and warm and tacky with sweat, and he always knew they'd send shudders through him where they landed. When her mouth closes on his he tastes the blood from her lip, split somewhere in the struggle.
His own hands' foray is halted, encountering the flare across her stomach where Buffy thrust in the knife that even Slayer healing never did obliterate. He wonderingly smoothes over it fingers calloused and rough from years of fighting, draws back embarrassed that he did. She makes an irritated noise and, gripping his wrist, replaces his hand over the scar with a strength he can't resist.
He finds himself terribly annoyed with Buffy, for all that she's six years buried - again - and Faith was, at the time, evil. An awkward moment ends as she makes a crack about how anyone would think he'd never done this before, and he twists his mouth in determination to wipe the smirk off her face, or at least replace the sentiment behind it.
In their previous lives, this would be wrong in so many ways he'd shudder to imagine. But they're years beyond the bounds of Watcher and Slayer now, and he suddenly feels grateful beyond measure to that bastard Rupert Giles and the Council of Watchers, who killed her six years ago so she could be with him now.
She pops the buttons on his shirt and yanks the collar down his back, leaving him to shrug his arms from the constricting sleeves with faint disapproval
The claw scar on his hand extends up wrist and arm, overcutting a set of straight, thin lines that look like someone hit the dark magic blood rites hard back in his evil phase. Beyond that, shoulders, back, chest - irregular marks etched over most any body part you care to name.
Fuck. Talk about an explosion in a scar factory, Wes.
She loves the way he can inject so much biting sarcasm into the words thankyouFaith. Takes down a mental note to insult him more often.
All this time she was aching to see the indelible proof of her guilt, her breath tight and her chest constricting at the thought of what she'd find. Now she finally gets her view she finds that other marks, new and old, obscure her early daubs. Too much time has passed, too much history she didn't share has written over what she did back then. The sight of him unclothed doesn't strike her down with guilt. She thought she remembered every detail of what she did to him, from the replay each night over twelve years, but now she has exhibit A in front of her she can't find the evidence.
She runs the tip of her tongue down the pale river above his left nipple that looks like it might've been drawn with a jagged shard of glass. Traps him with her thighs and pulls him close.
Come on, Wes.
I think wanna hear you scream.
By rights he should not be alive today. He should have died when Angel and Lilah walked away in opposite directions and left him for dead. He thinks it was Gunn and Fred who extended his life, calling for the ambulance in spite of all he'd done. That was when they left; either too shaken by the horrors they'd seen Angel commit in the name of the mission or too afraid he'd find out they called emergency services on the adversary Angel wanted dead.
He imagines them, sometimes, setting out in Gunn's battered old truck across the country to Texas, Gunn and Gunn's girl, never to be heard of again except in rumours.
By the time he was in any state to do anything, Lilah had descended, Connor was dead, Angel was dust. Wolfram and Hart fucked him over just like every other employer he'd ever had.
Angel - the old Angel - might've called it an epiphany of sorts. When he got his act together, he tracked down Kate Lockley, still hunting vampires by night in the meaner parts of the city, and they formed the Wyndham-Pryce agency from the ashes with wages accumulated in three years as a minion of hell.
Faith should not be alive today, either. Both of them are reanimated from the dead. Walking corpses, trailing death behind them and carrying it within them. Somehow, they both still have a heartbeat.
He rests his head against Faith's chest and listens to hers.
His body is a storybook.
She traces marks down the side of his right calf, little regular teardrop-shaped indentations, and prods him in query. He stretches his neck, contorting to see what she wants to know.
Sannoth demon, apparently. '08. They have quills.
On his stomach, a circular mark, hard, ridged, old, crossed over by a hundred smaller and more linear ones. She prods. He rests his chin on his chest to look and smiles a little sadly.
Zombie cop, '01. Bullet wound. She remembers hearing about that one.
At the back of his left knee, a long, broad, deep scar that could and maybe should have crippled. He's been lucky as hell with this one. It stretches up to his buttock. She prods. He can't contort to see it. He doesn't need to.
Angel. '05. Sword duel. Fuck, she needs to get that story. But not now, while his voice, even relating so little information, is dead and hollow.
A thin line over his spine, unremarkable. She prods. He laughs, briefly. His explanation is quiet and simple.
She remembers taunting him, sliding the shard of glass over his back, asking him how he felt about paraplegia. The way he shivered and stiffened, as she broke the flesh but didn't cut further than the bone.