All About Forgiveness
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.
Author notes: This takes place at the end of season eight. However it is not necessary to have read the comics to understand the story. SPOILERS for Season eight are in it. This takes place after Angel has killed Giles; this is the story of Faith deciding to take him in after and care for him.
They would have killed him, if Faith was willing to let them.
Xander was the first to make a move, but he was not the only one with the desire. Spike, Dawn, Kennedy, Willow, when she was coherent enough, any one of the Slayers who hadn’t melted to death in her midst, any one of the witches who could no longer call themselves as such. Had she allowed it, either initially or at any time after, any one of them would have had no problem making a sharp wooden end of something make contact with Angel’s chest.
But she couldn’t let them do that. Even now, even with the depth of Angel’s mistakes, even with the world-changing consequences, on both a literal and personal level, of what he had done…even now, if there was any piece of Angel left, Faith could never let him go. And she was not willing to lose one of the very few who had ever shown any sort of love towards her.
Especially now, in the wake of the tremendous loss of another who had done so.
Faith had felt it, when Angel killed Giles. Not through Giles, though they had grown close over the past year, forging a relationship she would never have thought possible, a relationship she could not define and so actively avoided attempting to put a label on. Even so, she still was not quite so enmeshed with him as to feel his pain. But Buffy’s…Buffy’s was a different story.
There had always been an odd, almost physical, and often mental connection between her and Buffy from the first time Faith lay eyes on her, a drawing together that, no matter their feelings toward each other or their physical or emotional distance, could only be described as a sort of bond. It was a tie that, like her relationship with Giles, Faith could not explain. It had not disappeared when they had shared the power of their Slayerhood with other girls, nor had Faith felt anything like it with other Slayers since. It appeared to be unique to Buffy and Faith themselves, perhaps because of their status as the original Chosen Two, perhaps because of a chemistry of sorts reacting between their unique individual physiologies. Though it was fainter across distance that lapsed between them, whether physical or emotional, if something extreme were to occur to Buffy, either emotionally or physically, Faith was sometimes unconsciously able to “tune in” to her.
Giles’s murder was such a time. If it were not for their connection, Faith would never have known anything was even wrong. She had felt the shuddering impact of all magic being drained from earth, watched the Wiccans in the forest all around her dropping weakened to the ground, heard Willow’s hysterical sobs, and she had almost smiled, even as she worked to gather and tote the melted, mutilated bodies of the Slayers she had been leading in battle less than five minutes before.
He got the scythe to her, she thought to herself, the intensity of Giles’s face as he gripped her shoulder on the battlefield, asking her for its surrender, flickering to her vision. He got it to her, and B destroyed the seed, saved the day like usual. About-
But then it hit her, the intensity of grief and anguish, Buffy’s pain, rolling through her in sharp bursts of emotional turmoil, and without another moment’s pause Faith ran, not daring to consider what it meant.
It was not difficult to find the under dwelling of the seed’s former concealment. She only needed to follow the direction of Buffy’s strong emotion, for the closer she drew on it, the more powerfully Faith could feel her, to the point that she was in physical pain herself. Her muscles were weak and shaky, her heart squeezing tightly in her chest, and she didn’t pause even as her breathing grew ragged and her throat burned, dread closing its fist hard around her stomach.
Four figures remained within the dim dwelling where the Master had once protected the seed that could have ruined them all; a fast glance around showed no sign of the Master himself, and Faith assumed that someone must have killed him…for the third damn time now. Xander remained crouched over a fetally curled Buffy, one hand lightly resting on her shoulder as she did not respond to his softly spoken words, shivering hard as tears streamed down her face. She was beaten, bruised, bloody, and besmeared with dirt and grime, but none of this accounted for her hysteria. And as shocking as it was to see Buffy Summers in such a broken state, it was neither she nor Xander that drew Faith’s shocked stare and paralysis of limbs.
Giles lay on the floor a few feet away from Buffy, his body still, his limbs carelessly flung out in a manner of a puppet whose strings had been cut. His eyes were open, unblinking, and uncomprehending in death, not the eyes of Giles, but of a mannequin. His neck was almost entirely twisted to one side, the damaged, bloody tendons and broken vertebrae visible, and Faith swallowed desperately against bile rising in her throat.
And nearby…nearby sat Angel, his face and hands splattered with blood, his expression somehow both blank and utterly gutted all at once. Looking at Angel and the blood on his hands, Faith couldn’t move. She saw Angel before her, but her lips wanted to form the word ‘Angelus.’
She must have made some sort of sound, because Xander looked up at her, his hand still resting on Buffy’s shoulder, and the black bitterness in his eye was almost as astonishing as anything else. Faith had not thought Xander Harris capable of such hatred, even towards her.
“He was possessed,” he said flatly, though Faith had not asked, his eye hard as it held hers. “By the seed, I guess, or Twilight, or whatever the hell made him a murdering psychopath this time around. He did it. He killed Giles. Now, I think it’s time someone took care of him, like he should have been two centuries ago. Back when none of this had happened yet and never would have, if anyone had actually done the right thing and taken him out like any other murdering blood sucking fiend, hair gel or not.”
He stood up then, and with sure, square-shouldered strides, began to head towards a dropped stake some distance away from Buffy’s curled form. And this was the action Faith needed to push her into mobility.
“No!” she shouted, and with sudden ease of movement she threw herself in front of Angel’s huddled form, blocking Xander from reaching him just as he began towards him, stake in hand. “No, Xander, you can’t do this.”
He tried to fight her, of course. Not physically, because even when righteously enraged, Xander knew better than to attempt violence against an upset and passionate Slayer. But he argued and yelled, with wild gestures and taut tones, attempting to reason and rage all at once. But Faith did not budge. Even when Xander called her a shield to a murderer, a back-stabbing traitor to Giles’s memory, even when her legs shook and tears burned hotly behind her eyes and scalded her throat, Faith refused to back down. She didn’t know what could be done, but she did know that she could not let Xander or anyone else kill Angel. She could not let him die.
Eventually Xander gave up in disgust, hissing over his shoulder to her before tenderly helping the still-sobbing Buffy to her feet and guiding her away.
“You’ll never change, Faith. You’re exactly how you used to be…no, you’re worse. You don’t just escape justice for your own evil. Now you make sure everyone else does too.”
He probably didn’t mean it, at least not to the extent that he seemed to when he said it, not in his heart. But he had meant it in the moment, and Faith felt it as if he had punched her in the solar plexus.
Still standing in front of Angel’s hunched, motionless form, her legs quivering, Faith’s eyes drifted to Giles’s body, only a few feet away. She could not take his body with her, not if she were to leave now with Angel, who it seemed would be trouble enough. She knew that Xander would bring others back, people who would take care of him. But she could not leave here without giving him the respect he deserved, no matter how it killed her inside to do it.
She went to him on still shaky legs, almost collapsing rather than simply kneeling at his side. For a few moments she could only stare at Giles’s broken form, desperately battling her own emotion. Then, with a controlled expression she reached out, hating the cold stiffness already coming over his limbs, and she carefully straightened his neck and limbs, repositioning his body to a more natural position. With gentle touch she wiped as much blood as she could with the hem of her sleeve, hating the damp stickiness of his blood against her wrist, and then reached with a trembling hand to close his eyes.
When she turned back to Angel, he still had not moved. He had not spoken, and it seemed to Faith that he had not blinked. It was clear to her that he had broken in a way perhaps deeper and more fully than Giles. He would not be functioning on his own.
Faith didn’t want to touch him. She didn’t even want to look at him, not with his blank, staring eyes, eyes that were almost as dead as Giles’s. Not with Giles’s blood still splattered over his face. But it had to be done, so she pulled him to his feet with firm but reluctant hands, and with averted eyes and a shuddery inhalation, began to lead him away from the site of his destruction.
It was night, but by the time the two emerged into the open air, they did not sleep. They walked without sleeping, Faith grasping Angel’s arm and slowly pulling him along, and she struggled to form a plan.
She could not take him back among the others, that much was obvious. Though she had a key to Giles’s flat and had been informed that she could stay there at any time she may wish to, she clearly could not do so now, as it was. The only option was to take the car Giles had given her and drive it back to the ramshackled apartment she had called home back in Cleveland, before any of this had begun, until she could think of a better plan.
She drove through the night without speaking, rarely even glancing at the still silent Angel in the passenger seat. As dawn drew near, Faith began to look for somewhere to spend the morning. With Angel in tow, fully exposed to the sun as he was, it was obvious that they would not be able to drive during the day.
She pulled into the first crappy motel she could find, slamming the car door hard as she strode to the lobby to reserve a room. She didn’t look back at Angel, nor did she speak to him. It was clear that it was unnecessary by this point to tell him to stay put. It had been hours now, and unless Faith herself guided him, Angel was as still and blank as a marble statue of his own namesake.
The clerk looked at her somewhat skittishly when Faith paid for the room; he was a small, weasely looking man with a thin mustache and glasses, and he seemed in his abrupt manner to wish Faith into her room as quickly as possible. It took her until she reached the car and began the process of transferring Angel inside to realize how she must have appeared. Her clothes were streaked with blood and dirt, torn in some areas, singed in others, and small, healing wounds were scattered over her face and arms. It had been a long day…hell, it had been a long lifetime.
She pushed down on Angel’s shoulders, making him sit on one of the threadbare twin beds inside their room’s shabby interior, and emerged from the cramped, none-too-clean bathroom with a dampened, slightly smelly washcloth. Her stomach rolled every time she looked at him, every time she saw his face, his hands, and knew it was Giles’s blood covering them, traces of what had once been his life force. She could not look at Angel like that for long, and her heart shrank from the thought of touching him, Giles’s blood on him. But he wouldn’t do it himself…and it had to be done.
Angel remained still as Faith cleaned his face and hands quickly but thoroughly, almost holding her breath, her heart hammering. There seemed to be little comprehension in his eyes. It was as if he were no longer there, as if only the shell of his body, himself, remained.
Finishing and letting the washcloth drop to the floor, Faith took in a slow breath, remaining knelt before him, and looked into his eyes. They were dark holes, reflecting no light, but rather seeming to absorb it into their depths. When she spoke, her voice was calm, measured.
He didn’t respond. There was no sign of recognition in his expression. It was almost as if he were unable to hear her. Continuing to watch him, swallowing, Faith tried again.
“Angel. Look at me.”
He was looking at her, or rather, his face was turned in the direction of hers, but still, he did not seem to see. Exhaling, the silence seeming to crawl under her skin and scratch her from the inside out, Faith put her hands on her thighs and stood abruptly, speaking to him now in a lower tone, without bothering to look at him.
“Go to sleep.”
She slammed the bathroom door behind her, almost hard enough to take it off its hinges, and turned the water in the shower as hot as it would go. Her hands shook, and she formed fists quickly at her sides.
She would have given fifty dollars for a cigarette then. She would have given her arm to be able to turn back time, to rewind to one moment in battle, one decision to obey, to instead choose to refuse Giles’s request of her, and go to buffy in his stead.
She would have given both arms. Maybe even her life.
(to be continued)