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A Slate Not So Clean

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He waited until after visiting hours to see her. Though he held little belief that Buffy or Giles would come, Wesley had no desire to risk an encounter with either of them or any of their companions. Giles had been polite enough when the emergency technicians had been tending Wesley’s injuries, but he could still see the disdain the other Watcher could barely conceal. The grand battle against the Mayor had been a spectacular success, and none of it could be attributed to Wesley’s contribution. He was a failure. The Slayer had little room in her dangerous life to mollycoddle a weak link. Plus, he didn’t believe she liked him very much, either.

Navigating the dim corridors of Sunnydale Hospital without detection was surprisingly simple. Staff attended their duties with a quiet efficiency that bordered on paranoid, and eyes were averted moments before they would have seen him. It seemed as if existence on a Hellmouth conditioned its residents to take the path of least resistance. A survival mechanism, perhaps. Under other circumstances, he would have found it a fascinating conundrum to investigate. Now, Wesley was simply relieved he did not have to fear being caught out.

He turned the corner toward her room. This wing was as deathly still as the rest of the halls he’d walked through, with only the electronic beeping of life support and monitors to shatter the calm. Doors were closed, but whether it was to protect the inhabitants from the outside or to allow the world to forget its less fortunate denizens, Wes didn’t know. Both were viable explanations, especially in such a place as Sunnydale.

When he saw the slightly ajar door to her room, he hesitated. The last thing he wished was to have to explain his presence to a surly nurse or a disaffected doctor. What would he say? Anything resembling the truth would make him sound certifiable, though in light of everything that had transpired since his arrival, it would be the least of his tales. They would not understand that, though. So further caution would have to be exercised.

Wes shortened his steps, tugging at the hem of his jacket in order to better his appearance should he be cornered. Each click of his heel seemed to boom, and as he approached, he realized he was holding his breath. He exhaled as quietly as possible. This was a hospital. There was no greater harm here than in the battle at the high school.

Glancing through the crack, he stopped dead in his tracks at the familiar sight of the broad back. It wasn’t a doctor, and it wasn’t a friend. But what Angel could want being in Faith’s room, Wesley had no idea.

“You don’t have to stand in the hall.”

The low, modulated tones of Angel’s voice made everything in Wes snap to attention. He had thought he’d been stealthy in his approach, but of course, Angel was a vampire. There would have been telltale signs that it was a human behind him, and he imagined he had spent enough time with the demon the past few days to merit recognition without sight. Knowledge was no balm for a racing heart, however.

“This is a surprise,” Wesley said, entering and closing the door behind him. “I didn’t expect to find anybody here.”

“Same here.”

Angel didn’t move from his stance several feet from Faith’s side, forcing Wesley to skirt him and stand at the foot of the bed. The sight of Faith lying there, skin ashen, lips pale and dry, made his empty stomach revolt, and he picked up the chart that hung at the foot of the bed in order not to turn on his heel and run.

Reading the results of her various tests did nothing to ease his disquiet. Neither did seeing the pessimistic prognosis for her recovery.

“It’s not about modern medicine, you know.” Angel’s even voice drew Wesley’s gaze up to see him regarding Wes with that dark, inscrutable regard. “You won’t get any answers from a few scribbles.”

“Is that why you’re here? To seek answers?”

Angel never wavered. “I’m here because someday, she’s going to wake up. She’s going to be pissed, she’s going to be frustrated, and she’s going to be alone. She’s not done with Buffy, or me, or anybody.”

Something cold coiled around Wesley’s insides, dark and dangerous. “You can’t kill her,” he said before common sense reminded him he was attempting to ward off a threatening vampire. “I shan’t allow it.”

He thought for a moment that Angel looked amused. “If I wanted her dead, she already would be, and we wouldn’t be standing here playing twenty questions.”

“Oh. Right. Good point.” Still, Wesley didn’t relax, coming around the edge of the bed so that he was placed more definitively between Angel and Faith.

“You’re not warning me off because you want to kill her yourself, are you?”

The suggestion made his eyes widen behind his spectacles. “Certainly not.”

“Because I’d have to stop you if you tried. No offense.”

The last thing he’d expected to hear was Angel’s protective tone. Confusion bloomed, took root. “Surely you’re not saying Buffy’s forgiven Faith for her betrayal,” Wesley argued. “She seemed quite resolute the last time I saw her.”

Angel rolled his shoulders before turning back to look at Faith. “Buffy doesn’t know I’m here.”

“Then why?”

The soft electric monotone of her monitors filled the silence while he waited for Angel to reply. It was a long time coming, so long that Wesley wondered if Angel was searching for some lie with which to placate him or if he knew the answer to that particular question at all.

“She’s vulnerable now. She deserves better than to die without being able to defend herself.”

Wesley stared at him with nothing short of amazement. “Faith tried to kill you.”

Angel chuckled. “That’s not exactly an exclusive club.”

“She tried to kill Buffy.”

“And again, not so exclusive.”

“But…” He stopped. There was more at play here than he understood, and engaging Angel would waste time Wesley wasn’t entirely certain would be productive. Intriguing, yes. So much of what he’d been taught regarding Angelus failed to mesh with the reality. At one point, fathoming the dichotomy would have been a favored priority.

But not now. Not at Faith’s bedside. Not when there were more pressing concerns weighing in Wesley’s mind.

Like what he was going to do next.

The silence returned, a thick and palpable presence cloaking the room. With every passing second, Wesley waited for what he considered the next logical progression in their conversation, but Angel said nothing, his presence as heavy as that of the quiet. It grew too much for him to bear, and he fidgeted in his suitcoat, pulling himself straighter.

“You’re not curious about why I’m here?” Wesley prompted.

Angel shrugged. “I figure you have your reasons.”

He tried to mask his disappointment with a brisk nod. “That, I do.”

Still. No reaction from Angel.

“She’s a very ill girl, you know,” he said.

Angel shot him a frown. “She’s in the hospital. Of course, she’s---.”

“No, I meant regardless of that,” Wesley interrupted. “If she ever awakens, Faith will need extensive psychological help in order to cope with the evil she’s done. As her Watcher, it’s my responsibility to see that she gets it. The Council’s edicts are quite clear on this matter.”

“Are these the same edicts that told you to try and kidnap her when you couldn’t control her any longer?”

The humor had fled from Angel’s demeanor, as had any shred of camaraderie Wesley might have thought they’d been sharing. A flare of fear, reminiscent of his youth, made Wes stiffen, swallow against the tightness of his throat, avert his eyes and return his attention to the pale girl in the bed. It was easier to face her silent condemnation than Angel’s. He believed that she, at least, partially understood.

“I did what I must,” he replied, regretting bringing up the subject at all.

“No, you did what you were told. That’s always been your problem, Wesley. Hopefully, you’ll learn that before somebody else ends up alone and in a coma.”

What to say to that? Wes knew Angel was right, had told himself that repeatedly ever since the Council had turned their backs on the events of the Ascension. It was why he had requested to fight at Angel’s side in the battle, and while he was far from proud with how that had turned out, he thought that a modicum of recognition would be in order regarding his decision at some point in the future.

Not now.

Only when the memories of the day had been tempered by time and he didn’t come across as quite the prat.

He held his tongue until he felt Angel turn on his heel to leave. “I never wished to fail Faith so utterly,” Wesley said softly, refusing to look back at the vampire. “I had such ideals, not just those of the Council’s. And this is their result. I’m very well aware of my shortcomings, thank you. I do not require you to remind me of them.”

No response.

It was impossible to tell if Angel still hovered behind him without looking back. He refused to do so. Appearances should still be made, as ridiculous as they might be.

“The trick is not to forget what she was like when you first met her.”

This time, Wesley did glance back, to see Angel standing in the open doorway. “I doubt anybody could ever forget Faith’s first impression,” he tried to jest.

Angel didn’t smile. “If you don’t want to make the same mistakes again,” he continued, as if Wes hadn’t interrupted, “you’ll remember both girls. Not just the one who ended up in the hospital.”

It dawned on Wesley that if his father ever discovered he’d received some of the best advice of his entire career from a notorious vampire, he would have disowned his son on the spot. As it was, all he could do was nod once in acknowledgement.

A door closed somewhere down the hall. Angel looked over his shoulder, but when he didn’t move from where he stood, Wesley knew they weren’t in danger of being discovered. Still. He’d done what he’d come to do. Perhaps it was time to go.

With one last glance at Faith, he walked toward the doorway, grateful when Angel stepped back to allow him room to leave. He was several yards away before he heard the door click shut behind him, but if he expected the vampire to appear at his side, he would have been sorely disappointed.

He only turned to look back when he reached the corner. The corridor was empty.

A ghost of a smile curved Wesley’s mouth. Nobody else would have known it was there but his mother and perhaps his Ancient Languages professor from the Watcher’s Academy. But it was enough.

His chin was a little higher as he resumed his path.