A Different Perspective

By Eleri McCleod

*****

Disclaimer: We all know Joss Whedon and Co. own Buffy and Angel and the rest of the gang. I just borrow them on occasion with grateful thanks.

Summary: The episode 'Enemies' from Angel's point of view with a couple of added scenes.

Author's note: I started this one a long time ago, around the time that 'Enemies' first came out and I was not feeling happy about the whole Angel leaving thing. Because of the feedback of people who have read some of my stories (thank you all!), I've gone back and finished it. It's really just a bit of Buffy/Angel angst for those of us who still can't seem to get enough.

(c) Dec 2000, Eleri McCleod

*****

"I'm sorry to drop by so la-, um, early."

The last lingering light of day was coloring the sky. It was safe for me to go out already, but he'd caught me feeding. Not my best moments. Giles was clearly nervous. Hell, I would be too if I was voluntarily walking into the home of the guy who'd tortured me. Now that I think about it, that was the *only* time he'd ever been at the mansion. I forgave him his reticence about being inside. "Come on in." I stood well back from the door and let him decide whether to shut it or not. He did.

We stood awkwardly in the foyer, the silence broken only by the crackling of the fire. Yeah, I know. Pretty stupid for a vampire to light fires, but it gives me comfort. The silence was growing louder. "You said on the phone that you needed to talk with me about something?"

"Yes." He seemed relieved that I spoke first and headed into the main room. "We must find out more about this Ascension and the Mayor's plans." I followed slowly, already getting the feeling I wasn't going to like this little meeting. Giles paused near the fire, toying with his glasses, a typical worried Giles action. Yep, this was going to be fun. "A colleague of mine called today. The Mayor is looking for someone to perform a soul removal spell." Mine quivered slightly at the thought. There were other ways to take my precious soul away? Didn't I have enough to worry about lately? But Giles was continuing.

"And I can think of only one individual whose lack of a soul he could benefit from."

"Mine." He was looking straight at me, as if he knew what I was thinking. They weren't pretty thoughts. "So what's the plan?"

"We let him."

"What?" The word wasn't strong enough to canvas the emotions that flew through me, but it just sort of popped out. I think I was hoping I'd heard him wrong. Things hadn't been great between us before Angelus had come back, but I thought he knew how sorry I was. "Giles, that's a really bad plan. None of us want Angelus back around. Tell me you've got some other idea."

"Actually, that's it, I'm afraid. But," he held up a hand to stop any interruptions. "There's even more bad news. That colleague also told me that the Mayor has a young lady working for him. A young lady that sounds an awful lot like Faith." He let that sink in for a moment, at least that's what I gathered when he took a little tour of the room. "He has offered to 'work' the spell for us. You 'become' Angelus and find out what you can."

I could only stare at him. The thought of even pretending to be that monster shook me hard. I swallowed, trying to put it into words. "Do you know what you're asking of me?"

"I do." He returned my gaze and I could see the emotion in his eyes. He really didn't want to ask me to do this. "I haven't spoken with Buffy yet. I needed to talk with you about it first. I'm not sure how she'll take it. Angelus wasn't, well, you know." He flushed slightly at the reminder of how I'd treated her as *him.* As if I actually needed to be reminded. "There's the chance that you two would run into each other while you were, um, undercover, so to speak."

We stared at each other, neither wanting to be discussing this. I didn't know if I could do it. Purposefully acting like Angelus could be the one thing that I would never recover from. But what other choice was there? We needed to find out what the Mayor was planning and if Faith was really working for him, that was information we needed sooner rather than later. Could I do it? Could I be Angelus to Buffy? "Talk to her." My voice sounded strange to me, as if it were someone else speaking. "If she agrees, I'll do it."

The Watcher looked relieved and sorry at the same time. "I wouldn't ask this if there was any other action we could take." The way he ended, there seemed to be more he wanted to say. But after nodding slightly at me, he turned for the door, striding quickly to escape the memories that had to be going through his head. I followed, wondering if I'd just destroyed Buffy's ability to believe in me. Giles had grasped the knob, but paused, looking me straight in the eye. "Angel, you and Buffy are stronger than you think. You can make it through this."

Somehow, he'd known. Oddly comforted, I nodded and closed the door after him. I leaned against it, eyes closed. Giles knew her better than anyone, even me, most likely. But there was still a tiny voice in the back of my head that told me I had just made the worst mistake of my cursed life.

*****

So far Faith hadn't been doing anything but acting all nice girl. I didn't trust her. The apologetic words clashed with the tension radiating from her body. She *was* up to something. I followed her across the room, gripping her shoulders lightly. How far was she going to let this play?

"It's important that you have somebody who's been there, who understands what you're going through." She pulled away quickly, turning to face me. It was there in her eyes. She wasn't sure she wanted to do it. A cloud hung, shadowing the deep brown orbs. Maybe I could stop this right here, keep her from stepping over that final line. "I want to trust you."

With the words, the cloud dispersed, replaced by a hard glint. "Chump."

She threw something at me. I tried awkwardly to get out of the way; I'd forgotten how fast she was. The liquid landed with a splat on my chest, staining the white of my shirt. The smell of blood assaulted my nostrils, teasing the demon. I stared at her as a figure appeared from the shadows, chanting darkly. I didn't have to fake the anger, fear, and desperation in my voice when I shouted her name.

She actually smiled at me, voice hard, bitter. "I wanted to do this the old-fashioned way, but, hey, your loss. I think I've got some tricks Buffy doesn't know yet."

Anger surged up at the words. She had no right to go there. But the chanting continued, as did my apprehension. It was a little late to wonder if I could actually trust this guy. I really liked my soul where it was. "You don't have to do this."

"I know, but it's fun." A smirk appeared, distorting her striking features. "Now relax. It'll all be over soon."

The sonorous words grew louder as lights began to form around me. I almost missed Faith's taunts in my relief. The lights were hard on my eyes, but that was it. There was no pulling at me, no intense pain. But the memories were there to know how to act. I threw my head back as the lights swirled and danced around me. A sudden crash of thunder and it was over. I fell to the floor in the silence, face to the ground. I could hear Faith's quiet footsteps as she moved toward me. It was time to start.

I took my humanity and placed it in a little box in my mind. Knowing it was the only way to get through this, I separated 'me' and locked it away. I got to my feet, still facing away from her. Her curiosity was palpable as I brought the vampire forth, changing my features. I dug into memory and pulled Angelus out, already feeling him taint my soul. What would he do with a Slayer?

I spun around and grabbed her, sealing our lips. She was forceful, angry even, in the kiss. So different than -- Abruptly I halted that thought. Thoughts of her needed to stay in their box. But the comparison had already been made, causing a slight, unexpected case of nausea. Not something I'm used to. I pulled away roughly, letting her smile for a brief moment. Growling, I put the grotesquely familiar sarcastic tone in my voice. "Thanks. So much." Then I backhanded her, sending her flying back into a chest a few feet away. As she collapsed on the floor, I searched for something Angelus would say. And found it far too easily.

"It's good to have the taste of a Slayer back in my mouth. It's like cigarettes, you know, just when I thought I'd quit." I kicked her in the stomach, hard, before I had a chance to think about it. "No, really, don't get up." I watched her writhe on the floor for a moment, vaguely disgusted with myself. The words and mannerisms were too effortless, too familiar. Angelus really wasn't that separate from me after all.

"Oh, it's good to be back in Sunnydale." I took a little stroll around the coffee table, waiting for Faith to get up. "Oh, nice climate, plenty to eat, no tortured humanity to hold me down. But you know what bothers me?" Here we go. She lunged, furious. I gripped her throat, holding her despite her struggles. "You don't seem to be getting the big picture here, Faith. Now I don't know why you turned me, but let me tell you, I'm glad you did." This needed to be finished now. It was even harder than I had thought it was going to be, trying to keep 'me' separate. I yanked her head back, fist clenched in her hair. I leaned in, fangs nearing her throat. She'd better hurry up and do the Slayer thing. I wasn't about to bite her.

She got her knee up, just barely missing from taking me down hard and connected with my stomach. Stumbling away, I heard her mumble, "I got my reasons."

Regaining my balance, I saw a stake in her hands. Now it was going to get interesting. "Let me guess. You summoned back the true Angelus because ..." what was a good reason? "... you need a new boy toy. Sorry, doesn't work that way." That seemed to piss her off. She flew at me with a series of blows before coming in with the stake. I just managed to grab her arm, stopping the potentially fatal blow.

"You wanna be smart, you listen to me." She wasn't struggling too hard to get the stake back. I guess the bad guys really wanted me for something.

"Funny thing about vampires, Faith, we don't establish meaningful dialogue with Slayers."

"Not how Buffy tells it." She caught me by surprise with that one, getting in a solid hit to my knees in my momentary shock, sending me to the floor. Straddling over me, we fought for the stake again.

Trying to disrupt her mind-set, I laughed. "I should have known you'd like it on top." She was getting annoyed by my little digs. That was good. She didn't fight well when too many thoughts were crashing around inside her.

"You want to listen or you want to die?"

Finally. She's getting to the point, I thought. One more dig and it might be okay to let up a little. "As long as you're there, I mostly want you to wriggle. But I'm listening." She seemed almost eager to believe me, like she didn't want to send the stake home. What did she think was going to happen?

"Last time you got like this, Buffy kicked your ass all the way back to Hell. Do you want to do better this time?"

"Still listening." I let the vampire go, smoothly regaining my human features. A smug, pleased smile worked over her face.

"Good boy. Now all you gotta do is play nice and call truce and I'll hook you up with the real power in this town. Interested?"

"Very." It was the first truthful thing I'd said since she'd started this. All in all, it could have been worse. I realized too late that that wasn't something I should have believed. Murphy's Law and all that. Now it had to get worse.

Faith stopped pulling at the stake and simply lowered it to the side. The smile grew on her face, turning shark-like. "Then get ready to meet the new boss." She leaned down to me, clearly expecting a kiss.

It was more of a mauling. Mine. Struggling to maintain the contact and not throw her off, I closed my mind and let the kiss go on.

*****

I nearly choked when Faith pulled me into the Mayor's office. The evil in the room was stifling, even for a non-breather like me. The Mayor and I locked gazes and I was happy to not hide the dislike I held for him. Faith was hanging all over me, like I was some new toy that she just couldn't believe she'd been given. I rubbed my hands together continuously to keep them from shoving her off.

"So can I keep him?"

You and what army? For a split second I'd thought I'd actually spoken aloud when Richard Wilkins III continued to smile at the rogue Slayer.

"Let's just take things step by step for a moment." The man, the whatever he was, needed to die. There was no question in my mind after feeling him this close in the small space of his office. "Now then, Angelus, may I call you Angel?"

I pulled away from Faith, still staring at the seated Wilkins. "Well, I'm thinking more along the lines of you calling me Master." Very Angelus. It wasn't hard at all to find the appropriate tone after recalling the pain the Mayor had caused Buffy. I wanted dearly, longed even, to strip that smirking smile off of his face, literally, and save my Slayer the time and effort of killing him. Just one less evil thing to hurt her.

"You know, Angelus, attitude may get you attention, but courtesy wins respect."

This guy has balls, I thought, as I stepped toward the huge desk. I was also pretty sure he was just slightly insane.

The Mayor laughed, obviously unconcerned about my proximity. "I am the one responsible for your new attitude."

"That's why I'm here." Duh, to use one of Cordelia's caustic exclamations. I grabbed a simple, but well-made letter opener that was lying on the desk, dragging it across the polished wood surface with a small hint of pleasure. I'd learned over the years that you've got to appreciate the little things in life, well, unlife.

Wilkins ignored the offense to his desk, going on merrily, like we were all about to run out for a round of golf. "No trouble with the transformation, no side effects?"

"Hum," I stalled, leaving the desk and moseying toward the far wall. The man was beginning to seriously wig me out. But how to answer? "Had a soul, now I'm free."

"That's terrific. Poetic, too." Poetic? My eyes caught Faith's movement as she sat on the arm of one of the plush chairs arranged in front of the desk. "Not that I read much poetry. Except for those little ones in the Reader's Digest. You know, some are quite catchy." A giggle, an actual giggle, escaped him, pulling me around to face him. I didn't think I could take much more of this tiptoeing around.

"Hey," I put a bored tone in my voice, even though I was anything but bored. "I don't mean to rush things here, but you are trying to get to some kind of point?" The opener was sharp at the tip as I moved it from hand to hand, reminding myself why I was here.

The Mayor lost his smirk. Good. "Huh. Kids today, rush, rush, rush. Well the point, Angel, is you're a very powerful young man." I came back toward him, stopping just behind the still seated Slayer. "Good for Faith. And there just might be a future here for you here in Sunnydale." He looked like he wanted to continue, but abruptly changed the subject. "I see you're admiring my letter opener.

The truth spilled out of my mouth before I had the chance to stop it. It was just luck that it happened to be in line with what Angelus would say. "Well, actually, I was thinking of stabbing you through the heart with it." I stared directly at him as I said it, letting him see how much I cared if he died in front of me. I expected him to jump up, run, shout in anger, something along those lines. But he merely turned to face me square in his chair, hands held wide.

"Please do."

I looked to Faith to check for any reaction, but she simply sat there. Well, he did ask for it. Without a warning movement, I hurled it at him with all the strength I could muster, which was fairly significant. I could see the opener whirl across the distance, spinning end over end, ready to punch into his chest. It really was a perfect throw. And a split second later it was all I could do to keep my mouth from hanging open when he blocked the metal with his hand, letting it sink all the way through. No human was that fast.

Admiring the letter opener that stuck from his hand for a moment, he gave me a nod. "Nice shot." Then he carelessly pulled the metal from his hand and waved it at me as the wound sealed itself in seconds. My heart sank into my gut while the Mayor smiled and reached for a Kleenex. "You see, I'm what you might call impervious. Can't be killed or harmed in any way." He strolled around the desk, wiping the blade of whatever had managed to leak on it from his hand. "And that's just a cornerstone in my plans for this great town of ours."

I took the offered opener from him, struggling to push the shock out of the way. Angelus wouldn't have cared if the man had just danced around the room in a tutu. Sarcasm. Angelus would just go for the sarcasm. "Uh-huh. Can't be killed, but you don't like germs." As I said it, I realized that I didn't understand that one either.

"Ich, uch, awful things, unsanitary." Abruptly, the Mayor's attitude changed, leaving the fastidious man behind and showing me the real evil. "But my question is, now that Faith has brought you back, what are your intentions?"

"Well, gee, sir, I thought I'd find that Slayer that's given me so much trouble and torture, maim and kill her." I felt a sadistic smile pull at my lips and let it blossom. The demon inside yanked on its cage, demanding to be let in on the action.

"Fine." A gleeful smile spread over Wilkin's face. "You know, it's nice to see you're not one of those slacker types running around town today. Torture Buffy, killing her is fine, just make it a slow one."

I'll give you a slow death, you son-of-a-bitch. "My favorite kind."

"Wonderful, wonderful." I needed to get out of the room. Now. My skin was trying to crawl off my muscles. "We don't want a replacement Slayer anytime soon, they can't all turn out like my girl Faith. Have fun."

Faith appeared next to me, encircling my arm again. "Let's do it."

I turned to head for the door as quickly as possible without making it seem like I was running, which is what I really wanted to do. The Mayor's hand held no warmth when he grasped my arm to hold me back a second. Really not human. "Uh, try to have her home by eleven."

I slid the letter opener into the breast pocket of his expensive brown suit, staring into his eyes. There was no danger in him seeing the anger that I knew was boiling in them. Not bothering to reply, I tugged my arm away and gave him my back.

*****

Faith kept up an almost constant chatter as we headed for the library. She'd said that Buffy was most likely to be there, conferring with Giles and Wesley, the new Watcher. I tuned her out for the most part, concentrating on keeping the lid closed on the box I'd put my humanity in. The real test was coming up. But with any luck, this would all be over before morning.

I spotted Xander before he did us. Just what I needed. The kid seemed to always be in the way. I put up with him because he was Buffy's friend. That and his loyalty to the Slayer were really the only redeeming qualities I'd found in him yet. I could see it when he finally caught sight of the two of us. He picked up the pace and nodded a greeting.

"Hey guys. Man, where you been? You gotta find Buffy, she's going to her place to stock up-"

I hit him. I hadn't thought about it ahead of time, my hand just sort of reached out and connected with his chin. It wasn't a particularly hard blow, but the youth went down. I fought the urge to check on him, keeping my eyes straight ahead. "That guy bugs me." The guilt surged through me at the truthfulness of the words.

I stalked down the street with Faith at my side. Now we knew where Buffy was.

*****

The walk leading to Buffy's two-story home was familiar, comforting somehow. I knocked as I'd done numerous times before, hoping Joyce wasn't home. I wasn't having much luck tonight.

"Faith. Angel." She seemed surprised to see us, but she opened to door wider anyway. It had taken her a long time to get used to the idea of me being around Buffy again. Mother's protective instinct and all that.

"Hi, Joyce, nice to see you again. Buffy home?" I was me as I spoke to her. Faith would think I was playing a game, toying with her. I just didn't want Joyce to be afraid of me or of Buffy's relationship with me again.

"Upstairs." She stepped back, waving us in. I followed Faith, letting her go up the stairs first. "Please tell me it's not some vampire thing."

Faith was halfway up the stairs. "The only vampire here is me, Joyce. Say, did you change your hair?" I knew I was stalling. I didn't want to start this. But it was days too late for second thoughts.

"Highlights."

I smiled as she shrugged. "Looks nice." She turned away as I headed up the stairs, coming up behind Faith at Buffy's bedroom door. The Slayer was packing weapons into her slayage bag, looking sweet and perfect with a black shirt emblazoned with the British flag. Her hair was a waterfall of sunshine against the dark of the cloth. Momentarily, I was stunned. She did that to me every now and then and I was never prepared for it to happen.

"Knock, knock." Faith's voice pulled me back. I had to get her out of here before things went sour. Joyce would never understand any of this.

"Where have you guys been?"

I moved around the bed to stand next to her. "Looking for you. Good thing we found you before you left." I kissed the warm silk of her hair, glancing at Faith, hoping the rogue Slayer would continue to play along until we all got to the mansion. Everything was set up there. She just had to let me take the lead here.

"We got the books." Faith's voice was hard, curt.

"They're at the mansion." I gave her a warning stare, which she seemed to understand as her voice softened a little.

"We'd take them to Giles ourselves, but I think strength in numbers is the way to go. Come on." She turned quickly, heading out the door.

I stepped toward Buffy again as she hefted the heavy bag. "Let me get those for you." Our eyes met over the bag. I knew she'd read it in my eyes when her lips tightened ever so slightly. This was it. The gloves were coming off. I just prayed that we weren't about to be destroyed by our charade.

*****

I stepped into the mansion, not stopping until I reached the table before the fireplace. I paused, steeling myself for the act that was about to begin.

"Okay, let's get the books someplace safe. Where are they?" I knew Buffy was scanning the room without looking at her. She really was amazing.

I forced that kind of thinking into the back of my mind, dropping the weapon filled bag on the table with a clank. Still facing the crackling blaze, I loosed the vampire, letting my face contort into its hideous countenance. "Actually, there's a slight change in plan, Buff."

"Buff?" I could hear it in her voice with that one word, that dreaded nickname that only *he'd* used. She didn't have to fake the startled shock and disbelief I heard plainly. God, I needed this to be over fast. "You just called me... What's the matter with you?"

Abruptly, I whirled to face her, letting her take in the vamp features. "Nothing. Matter of fact, I haven't felt this good in a long time."

"Angel?" I could see it in her eyes now, the pain that had never truly disappeared over the months that I'd been back. The beautiful green clouded, becoming murky. Even at this distance, I could feel her heart begin to race. She wasn't sure who I was.

And I had no way to reassure her.

"You know, I never did properly thank you for sending me to Hell." I moved closer to her. Although I think 'stalked' would have been a better description.

She stood frozen in place, watching me come nearer. "No."

"Yeah," I countered, stopping near enough to feel the heat from her body. "And I'm just wondering, where do I start? A card? Fruitbasket? Hum?" Roughly, I grabbed her slender arms and hauled her up to my chest. She was so tiny against me, so fragile. Realizing that my grip was loosening, turning into a caress, I forced her eyes to meet mine with a jerk. "Evisceration?"

"No," she repeated softly, head shaking, eyes sliding shut. My throat tightened at the pain I saw on her face. Pain that I was causing by my actions, so similar to Angelus'. But it had to be this way. We needed information that could possibly save her life and the lives of everyone on the planet.

Forcing the words out, I kept them light, conversational. "Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Maybe there's still some good deep down inside of me that remembers and loves you." She met my eyes, tears trembling on her lashes. I shook her once, hard, to keep from pulling her into my arms and cradling her like the precious thing she was. The rough, unexpected action shut her eyes once again. "If only you could reach me. Eh, then again, we live in reality."

I saw the anger flare a short moment before she broke my grip with a shove and stared daggers into my eyes. "I will kill you before I let you touch me." She backed away, her words tearing a hole in my chest. She was talking to Angelus, but I felt them all the same. "Faith, we need to get out of here. Now."

I watched the surprise radiate up the Slayer's spine as Faith didn't move, remaining in the doorway with her arms crossed. "Speak for yourself, Buffy. Me? I like it here."

I slowly advanced from behind, growling. As Buffy turned to face me, I lashed out before I had the chance to think about what I was doing, sending her to the floor. Faith sidled up to me, staring down at the still form of my beloved.

She seemed to expect some comment, as she rubbed her hand over my chest. I ablidged, swallowing the self-hatred that threatened to overwhelm me. "One thing I learned about Buffy, she's so cute when she's sleeping."

Faith laughed and leaned over to grab Buffy's hands. Wondering what she was planning, I didn't get the chance to ask as she began to drag the Slayer over to the side wall. I hurriedly followed, picking up her feet. I'd hit her harder than I'd intended, knocking her unconscious. Remorse filled me, tightening my gut. Would Buffy understand? Could she ever forgive me? I didn't see how when I didn't know if I could forgive myself.

I leaned her slack body again the stone wall, the chains we'd used on Faith not too long ago waiting to bind her hands behind her back. Faith took my duster after I shrugged it off, leaving me to work the shackles. She sat on the coffee table like a kid waiting for a surprise from Mom. Buffy blinked, blearily looking around. Her eyes landed on me, filling with warmth. She needed to know we weren't alone, that the game was still in play.

"Morning, sleepyhead." I put all the sarcasm I could into the voice, instantly bringing her around. She jumped slightly and a small sound slipped from her throat. I hurried to finish, needing to get away from her. "You know what I just can't believe? All of our time together and we never tried chains." She shrank into the wall when I stood lightning quick. "Can't dwell on the past, especially with the future we have ahead." Hopefully, my part in this was over. I couldn't hurt her any more. I made my way over to Faith, who still sat on the table.

"Bondage looks good on you, B. The outfit's all wrong, but hey!"

"You don't know what you're doing." Pride filled me at the strength of her voice. She wasn't going to let Faith intimidate her.

"Really? Weird, 'cause something about all this just feels so right." I kept her in front of me as she stood, gesturing triumphantly. "Maybe it's one of those unhappy childhood things. See, when I was a kid, I used to beg my mom for a dog. Didn't matter what kind. I just wanted, you know, something to love." She caught me by surprise when she grabbed my shirt and pulled me down for a kiss. The unusual nausea rose up again as her warm lips met mine. I tried to keep it short, knowing Buffy was right in front of us and probably not real happy about the kiss either. Faith pulled away, leaving a hand on my face, but looking at Buffy. I slipped my arms around her, choking the bile back. "A dog's all I wanted." I kissed her neck as she moved to the table and out of my arms. "Well, that and toys." She tossed back the cloth that covered a full set of silver torture instruments arranged neatly on the table. Picking one up, she continued. "But Mom was so busy, you know, enjoying the drinking and passing out parts of life that I never really got what I wanted. Until now."

I grabbed the first gadget I saw as Faith walked toward Buffy. I needed something in my hands to keep from hauling her away and beating the information out of her. This had gone on long enough. It needed to be over.

"Faith, listen to me." I couldn't keep the pride from swelling again. Even now, Buffy was still trying to get through to her. "Angel's a killer. When he's done with me, he'll turn on you."

I looked at them both, light facing dark, and smiled. "Gee, you're right. I probably will." It was a relief to speak the truth, even for just one moment.

"Yeah? Huh, guess we'll just have to keep you around a while then. Before we get started, I just want you to know," I tensed as Faith leaned her hand on the wall and got in Buffy's face, "if you're a screamer, feel free."

I kept alert as their words flowed back and forth, wanting to be ready if Faith tried anything serious. Buffy's voice was filled with hurt and confusion. "Why, Faith? What's in it for you?"

"What isn't? You know, I come to Sunnydale, I'm a Slayer, I do my job kicking ass better than anyone, but what do I hear about everywhere I go? Buffy. So I slay, I behave, I do the good little girl routine and who does everybody thank? Buffy."

"That's not my fault."

"Everyone always asks, why can't you be more like Buffy? But did anyone ever ask if you could be more like me?" She moved toward me, silver pincers flashing as she gestured.

I didn't look up, still looking at the knife in my hands. "I know I didn't," I answered her rhetorical question before my brain could catch up. My mouth really was letting things out tonight. It was something I was going to have to work on.

Suddenly, Faith was in her face again. "You get the Watcher, you get the mom, you get the little Scooby gang. What do I get? Jack squat! This was supposed to be my town." I moved a step closer when she hit Buffy in the shoulder, but relaxed when she stalked back over to me.

"Faith, listen to me." I looked back and forth between them, giving one last thought to the hope that Buffy could make it through to her. But the little flame was doused when her words flowed like acid over the chained Slayer.

"Why? So you can impart some special Buffy wisdom, that it? You think you're better than me, do you? Say it. You think you're better than me." She traded tools from the table, obviously not expecting a response.

The Slayer's voice was soft, full of the confidence that I loved when she spoke. "I am. Always have been." My hands stopped toying with the knife of their own accord, waiting for Faith's reaction. She simply stared at Buffy for a moment before sidling over to put her arm in mine.

"Um, maybe you didn't notice, Angel's with me." I kept my eyes on Buffy, looking for anything to tell me where she was going with this.

"And how'd you get him, Faith? Magic. You cast some sort of spell?" Praying I was reading her right, I handed Faith the knife I'd been holding. "Because in the real world Angel would never touch you and we both know it."

Lightning quick, Faith flew at the Slayer, the back of her hand meeting Buffy's cheek cruelly. I looked down, unable to stomach the sight, but heard the scorn-filled words clearly. "You had to tie me up to beat me. There's a word for people like you, Faith. Loser."

I thrust my hands into the pockets of my jeans when Faith slammed the knife into the wall next to Buffy's head. Looking up from under my half-closed lids, I tried to quell the uneasiness that was filling me. She was breaking. We had her.

"Uh-huh, you're just trying to make me mad so I'll kill you. But I'm too smart for that." My hands clenched into fists against my legs as she grabbed Buffy's face roughly with her left hand. "Stick around." She paced back over toward me, only to be stopped by Buffy once again.

"For what? Your boss's lame Ascention? Like I couldn't stop it?"

"You can't."

"I will." Faith ignored the steel I could feel in the Slayer's words.

"Keep dreaming. No one can stop the Ascension. Mayor's got it wired, B. He built this town for demons to feed on and come Graduation Day, he's getting paid. And I'll be sitting at his right hand. Assuming he has hands after the transformation, I'm not too clear on that part. And all your little lame ass friends are going to be Kibbles 'n' Bits. Think about that when your boyfriend's cutting into you."

My eyes flew to Buffy's, knowing that that had been Angelus's plan a year ago. But her face held sadness, not the pain of memory. "I never knew you had so much rage in you."

"What can I say?" the rogue Slayer smiled smugly as she looked at me. "I'm the world's best actor."

Checkmate. "Second best." My voice felt odd without the snarl of Angelus' sarcasm. It was over. I met Faith's eyes as she whirled from Buffy to stare at me in confusion.

I heard Buffy as if from a distance. "Graduation Day? You think we missed anything?"

"I think we know everything she knows." I pulled my hands from my pockets as I smiled at her. My smile, not his.

"May I say something?" Faith turned once again to face my love as she yanked her hands from the chains, waving them in the air. "Psych!"

"You played me, you played me!"

Faith's furious realization was accented by the doors of the mansion being thrown open. Turning to meet the new threat, I didn't see Faith move until she'd hurled me at the incoming Scooby Gang. Xander and I hit, collapsing to the floor. I felt a piercing pain burn its way over me. Searching for the source, I found Wesley holding a cross to keep me at bay. I tried to ignore the agony the holy object caused, tracking the two Slayers as they fought their way around the room. I couldn't move to help with the cross and stakes out in full force, but it was over almost as fast as it had begun. I swallowed drily, my gut turning in knots, when they froze, kneeling in front of the fireplace, a knife at each other's throats. They were focused only on themselves, not even aware of the others in the room. The moment stretched into eternity before Faith spoke, still full of cocky confidence.

"What are you going to do, B? Kill me? You become me. You're not ready for that." With a sudden lurch, she knocked Buffy's arm away and grabbed her neck, pulling the Slayer forward. I stood, ready to dive across the room, not even feeling the weight of the cross anymore. But all Faith did was kiss her counterpart's forehead roughly. "Yet." The meaning of her parting words had barely soaked in when she let go and fled out the atrium door.

Willow ran past me to kneel next to the dazed Slayer "Are you okay?"

She said nothing, merely turned from staring after Faith to stare at me. The other members of the Scooby Gang erased from my awareness as our eyes met for a timeless moment. Something had been damaged tonight. Something we might never truly be able to fix. I broke our contact, eyes lowering to the floor as my soul cracked, bleeding as I never had in over two centuries. Would things ever be the same between us?

*****

I'd waited for her all day, wondering if she would even come. After the night before, I wasn't sure she should. Seeing me as Angelus.... It had to have been hard. Just how hard was still to be determined.

The day had been spent in silent torment, dreading the fall of the sun, knowing that if she came it would be after the stars appeared. I almost wished she would decide not to show, that I wouldn't have to see the pain in her eyes or hear the trust breaking in her voice. I sat next to the fire for hours, candles all around me, wondering how I was going to make it right again. Wondering if I even could. The shackles sprawled on the table, glaring at me in their unmoving condemnation.

The sun had dropped below the horizon over an hour ago before I felt her. I didn't look up as she entered through the doorway Faith had left from the night before. I didn't look, but I knew she was there. Deep inside, my soul sang as it bathed itself in the warmth that was Buffy. She stopped not far into the room, obviously uncomfortable.

"How you doing?" The question was pitiful and I knew it. I focused on the absentminded rubbing of my hands, avoiding the consequences for as long as possible. Which wasn't long at all.

"Been better."

Her voice flowed over me, the slight break in the tone one only I would ever be able to hear. My eyes slid closed for a moment before I pushed to my feet. "Not too hard to believe." Finally, I looked at her. God, she was beautiful, the fit of the purple shirt and gray skirt only making me want to cross the room and pull her into my arms even more. But I remained still, letting her decide where the line was going to be drawn. "You were a real soldier last night, Buffy."

"That's me. One of the troops."

My heart clenched at the ironic smile that flitted over her face. "I know how hard it was for you."

"I really doubt that." She stared at the floor, seeming to be gathering her courage for something. I spoke quickly, wanting to stall the words from leaving her mouth.

"If there's anything I can do to make it better ...." She still wasn't looking at me. I was losing her and had no one to blame but myself.

"Look, I know you only did what I asked and we got what we wanted."

I interrupted her, unable to listen in silence. "I never wanted it to go that far."

Her eyes finally met mine, the bright green dulled by memory. I could see the love in them, but it was almost overshadowed by pain. Pain that I'd put there a over year ago and then again last night. "I know that. It's not even a question of that. It's just ... after ... I need a little bit of a break." I couldn't speak, a boulder-sized lump choking my throat. "Please?"

I swallowed, unable to look at her any longer. My chest was being squeezed by a vise, so tight I was surprised I didn't hear the ribs cracking. I shoved my hands into the pockets of my pants, straining to keep from striding over to her and never letting her go. My eyes slid closed when I caught the barely audible click of her shoes. She was leaving. One thought flashed through my mind, the one thing that could keep me sane while she tried to banish the memories I'd resurrected. "Are you still my girl?"

She stopped, almost at the threshold. Our eyes met, saying more to each other than what was spoken. "Always." She smiled gently at me, so far away, so much farther than our mere physical distance and turned to leave once more.

I faced the fire abruptly, not willing to watch her walk away. The vise around my chest tightened sharply. I had been right the day Giles had asked me to do this. It was the worst decision I'd made so far in my cursed life, but it had been the only one possible. And my Slayer and I would both pay the price for a long time to come.