Natually, I don't own Buffy or any of the other Buffyverse characters. And even if I did, I wouldn't do this to them except in an "imaginary story." Makes you wonder if Joss used to destroy his toys when he was a kid...
When Buffy left the Sunnydale Doublemeat Palace she was worn-out, both physically and mentally. She'd had to do a lot of fast talking to explain why she hadn't shown up for work the previous day, without even a phone call to explain her absence. (Sophie hadn't needed to do the same kind of fancy footwork, since the day she'd been stuck in Buffy's house was her day off. Which was bad for her stress level, but good for her employment level.) Luckily, her boss still seemed more worried about Buffy spilling the beans about the Doublemeat Medley than about a single absence. Especially when Buffy had promised to make up the time, not only to the restaurant, but also to the person who'd had to cover her shift.
But that was not going to be tonight. She'd promised Dawn couple nights' worth of quality sisterhood time. Dawn had also made her pinkie-swear -- she couldn't believe her sister had fallen back on that old little-girl ritual -- to work out a patrolling schedule with the Scoobies where they would cover for her a couple nights a week. She wasn't quite sure how that would work out yet, but she was sure that she needed that time as much as Dawn did.
She walked up the sidewalk to her home, and put on her "Dawnie, I'm home!" smile as she climbed the steps to the front porch . . . and then she noticed two things.
One: there was a package on the porch next to the front door; probably left there by the mailman when it wouldn't fit in the box.
Two: there were no lights on in the house, and Dawn hadn't taken the package into the house . . . so she wasn't home yet.
Biting her lip, Buffy hastily grabbed the package, unlocked the door and ran to the kitchen. There was
a message waiting on the answering machine. She pressed the button, and was relieved to hear her sister's voice.
"Hi Buffy, it's Dawn. I'm sorry, but gonna be late tonight, 'cause I forgot that I missed some tests yesterday when I was home sick, and they say I have to make 'em up today, or else they can't hand the corrected tests back on Monday. And I need to stop at the Library to pick out a book for a report that's due next week. But I promise that I'll be home by five-thirty, even if I end up having to borrow one of your boring books for the report! Bye!"
Buffy couldn't help smiling as the message ended. Dawn must've made that call in front of teachers, or else she wouldn't have mentioned the "being sick" cover story they'd come up with for her absence the previous day. They'd agreed that in exchange for Buffy writing an excuse for Dawn today, there'd be no more problems at school. She wasn't sure how long it would last -- only about half of her own skipped classes in high school could be written off to Slayer duties -- but she knew that Dawn would at least try to do better. She'd made Dawn pinkie-swear to that!
She looked up at the clock. 4:40 or so. That gave her plenty of time to change out of what she'd started to call her "Palace Guard Uniform," and see what the package was. She looked down, and froze.
The package had no return address, but it didn't need one. She could recognize the way Angel wrote her name instantly.
She grit her teeth, took a deep breath, and then carried the package into the living room, where she set it on the coffee table before settling onto the couch. She stared at it for a full minute before resolving to open it before Dawn got home. Although her younger sister had disliked Riley as much as Xander had liked him -- and vice versa when it came to Spike, she found herself thinking -- they both agreed completely when it came to her first boyfriend: Deadboy was Bad News.
She carefully opened the box, and found, surprisingly, two separate wrapped packages inside it. They were long tubes, one wrapped in blue, the other in green. There was also a card, which she opened first.
It was a typical Angel card, one of those lovely artsy cards that left you torn between wanting to frame it and wanting to tuck it safely away in an album of mementos. Angel never got her funny cards, like Xander and Willow did, but she had kept every single one she'd ever gotten from him.
Inside the card there was a folded letter, and she opened it nervously. If Angel had more to say than would fit on the inside of a card . . .Buffy,
I know that this package will arrive a day or two after your birthday, and I'm sorry. But, try as I might, I just couldn't finish these items in time.
There's a story behind both of them. Please open the blue package first.
She frowned a bit, then shrugged and opened the blue-wrapped tube. Inside was a rolled piece of paper. Beginning to guess what she would find, she gently tapped it out of the tube, and gasped in wonder as she spread it out on the coffee table.
It was a portrait of her.
She couldn't tell whether he'd done it from memory or from an old picture, but she could tell the era instantly. Junior Year at Sunnydale High, pre-Angelus. She looked happy, hopeful . . . She hated to sound vain, but she looked beautiful, in a naïve, innocent kind of way. She looked back at the letter.This is my true gift to you. I'm sure you can recognize the girl in the picture. It's the sweet, innocent girl who stole my heart. And who loved me back, with her whole heart and soul. It hurt to create it, remembering how that innocence was lost forever, but the act of drawing helped me work through some of the guilt that I still feel. Although I can't undo the things that I did back then, I can try to keep the happy memories alive.
That's another reason why I did it -- I know that you got rid of all the drawings I taunted you with when I lost my soul, and I wanted to give you something good to take their place. I thought it out carefully, and made a drawing that recalled one of the happiest times in my life, and the happiest I've ever seen you. I had intended to have it ready for you a week ago.
But in remembering that time, I also remembered something else.
I'm afraid the second drawing isn't a gift from me to you. It's a gift from me to someone else, and from that someone else to you. Please open the green package now.
This was starting to worry her. When Angel did his Cryptic Guy routine, she always knew she wouldn't like what he had to say. But her curiosity was now piqued. She opened the green-wrapped tube, and, just like before, found a rolled paper inside.
The portrait on this paper was shockingly different. The style was coarse, even harsh. The first picture had been delicately colored, but this was in stark black-and-white. And the girl in the picture? She was tired, thin, and frail-looking. Drained of life and hope and courage. There were tears streaming down her pale cheeks, and her mouth was half-open, as if she needed to say something but couldn't find the words to say it.
It was Faith.
As Buffy gazed at the picture before her, she tried to summon up the will to feel anger and hatred at the sight of the rogue Slayer. But this was a Faith she'd never seen before. A Faith with every guard torn away, every wall broken down. Even when she was lying in a coma, Faith had never looked this . . . broken.
Tearing her eyes away from the portrait, she caught her breath and returned to the letter.
This one was much harder to do, not only emotionally but also artistically, since I only saw Faith look like this once. On the day I told her that you had died.
Buffy nearly dropped the letter in confusion. Faith had tried to kill her on more than one occasion. Was it even possible that she had reacted like this to her longtime rival's death? She made herself read on.She never told me what she was thinking or feeling, but beyond the bluntly obvious grief, I can make some good guesses, having been there myself.
On my earlier visits, Faith and I had talked for hours on the subject of redemption. We both knew what it was like to have done things so terrible that they can never be forgiven or forgotten. To carry burdens that we might hope will be lightened one day, but that we know we will never fully be free of.
In my case, most of the people I hurt are long gone, remembered only by me. I have little hope of earthly forgiveness, only vague promises from the Powers That Be.
But Faith still had the hope, in the back of her head, that someday, somehow, she could try to make things right with you. She had the hope that one day she would be able to meet you face to face, and ask for your forgiveness. She didn't know if you would ever actually forgive her for what she'd done. But at least she would have tried.
That day, I saw that hope taken away from her. I actually saw it die in her eyes. She wept, and cursed, and wept some more. I tried to speak to her some more, but the guards had to take her away when she hit the clear plastic barrier and cracked it.
I had to go away myself, for a few months, to deal with my own feelings at the time. And when I got back, there were all kinds of new disasters that I needed to attend to. When Willow called with the news that you were alive, I was caught between someone stealing my body and a demon who turned every man he touched into a woman-hating potential serial killer. Everything was so crazy for a while, that I didn't realize that I was forgetting something.
I had forgotten to tell Faith that you were alive. And when I remembered, while finishing your portrait, I found out that it was too late.
Buffy, Faith died two months ago.
She was a target every day she was in that jail, and it just took one prisoner with a homemade knife that she wasn't fast or strong enough to stop.
Now I have another soul on my conscience, because I'll never know if Faith would have found it in her to survive that fight if she'd known that you were alive. And the only thing I could think of was to make sure that you knew how sorry she really was. How much she wanted your forgiveness. Because even if she'll never get a chance on this Earth to ask for it, maybe one day you'll find it in your heart to grant it.
Buffy tried to read the rest of Angel's letter, but her eyes were too blurred by tears to make out the rest of the words. She was still weeping when Dawn -- and Spike, who'd walked his Niblet home from the Library -- came home.
A/N: This used to be a chapter from a larger work called "Demons and Souls," which you might still find on a few sites. However, it was a *blech* B/S story, and I've sworn off that pairing forever. So I'm not posting that story anymore.