Ex Post Facto
Copyright April 2004
Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel: the Series are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.
Season: Third (Angel)
Spoiler(s): "the Price" (Angel, S3-19), "Graduation", Pt II (Buffy, S3-22)
My dear Faith–
You probably didn't exp–
Very well. If only to move me past this ridiculous block, I shall open this missive by acknowledging that I have no actual notion of how to open it. I never framed any introductory salutations to you in my mind because I never anticipated communicating with you at all. There are a number of different reasons for such a disinclination on my part, several more than those of which you could be expected to be aware; I'm sure you would agree, however, that even that latter and lesser number would provide me with more than ample cause to refrain from contact.
Yet here I sit, pen in one hand and a half-litre of gin at the other, attempting to find words for things I never contemplated expressing. I still am not truly sure why I should do so — whereas I have numerous, detailed, and compelling reasons for letting you remain where you are and doing my utmost to forget your existence, my motives in violating that long silence are nebulous, ill-formed, and unconvincing even to myself — and yet I feel I must. I dislike finding myself moved by things outside my control, and have resisted by any means at my disposal for my entire life …
As have you, now that I think on it, though your means (and the results) differed signally from my own. Was that difference of response, though to the same stimulus and for the same purpose, the source of the first conflict between us?
I do not know, nor can I ever through my own ponderings, nor is it pertinent. What is pertinent is that such a comparison highlights a point of correspondence between us, and I have noted and speculated about several such points during my exile of the past weeks.
Further examples? Certainly. To proceed:
– Upbringing. You shall of course be scornful of any contention that my childhood was as unhappy as yours, but I stand by such a contention nonetheless. Undoubtedly my physical circumstances were more comfortable than were your own, but deprivation comes in many forms. While I can only guess as to the effects of your having grown up amid such squalor as that to which you occasionally alluded (during that brief period when we spoke to the same persons, if infrequently to one another), I am certain that the effort by those in a position of power in your life to crush your identity could not possibly have been greater than similar (if differently framed) attempts during my own rearing. I fought being crushed, and both the pressure and the resistance influenced the final form of my personality. Correctly or not, I see you as having undergone that same process.
– Professional identity. Unlike Mr. Giles, I never wanted to be anything other than a Watcher. Doing that, becoming that, being that, defined my concept of self. You were aware of the notion of a Slayer only briefly, at best, before becoming one, but you embraced that identity so fiercely that one cannot but believe that you viewed any lesser status as being unworthy of notice … and, thus, yourself without that status as being nothing. Nothing at all.
– Failure. You lost your first Watcher under circumstances that might well have seemed to you to be your own fault. I lost my first and only Slayer (you; Buffy was never mine, never could have been mine, her imperishable allegiance forged long before my arrival) as a result of actions that … Well, I cannot state with certainty that my deficiencies caused your defection, but unquestionably there was nothing in my behaviour that gave you reason to hesitate in such a course. I lost you, and it was a failure. Mine.
– Scars. Yours at your abdomen, mine at my throat, both from wounds intended to be mortal. Even the differences between our cases seem to parallel. You fell at the hand of one who had once trusted you; I, to one I unwisely allowed myself to trust. Stricken, you attempted to die to deny final victory to your foe; I struggled to live, though I no longer understand why. In hospital, your greatest enemy left you to rest; in hospital, my closest friend attempted to kill me.
– Betrayal. You of the larger group, the inexplicably named 'Scooby Gang', to the dark designs of the Mayor. I of Angel, and all other members of the Angel Investigations team, to what I saw as a greater duty.
– Aftermath. Alone, both of us alone. Both of us in prisons (again, differently framed) of our own choosing. Because, both of us, we feel them to be deserved.
I despised you for so long, held you in such unremitting contempt. All that power, all that fire, all that possibility, wasted and perverted and focussed on the destruction of everyone and everything around you. Said destruction, of course, including the hours you spent torturing me. Have you ever wondered why I didn't break? I have so wondered, many times, for I know it wasn't strength that sustained me. Compared to you, I have no strength, of body or of will. What kept me going, what carried me when nothing else remained, was simply and purely hate.
I lay on that floor, trussed and bleeding and spent, all resources exhausted, and yet found the means to hitch myself over to the fallen knife. To saw at the cords that bound me; to free myself, while you might still be within a range my labours could span; to force myself tottering down the stairs while the fray still raged, bearing the blade with which I would complete the task left unfinished by your sister Slayer.
Not to be. Angel held you weeping in his arms, and the knife slid from my slack fingers to ring against the asphalt surface, the sound obscured by the sudden rain and the temblor of your own sobs. Impervious, unreachable, within his sheltering embrace. Once again you had escaped your just fate: defeated me, by surrendering.
God, how I hated you.
How can it be? How can one hope to understand such impossible contradictions? You, with all that searing passion, giving up and begging for relief, for redemption, for absolution; while I, who could never hope to match the fury that drove you, would die spitting curses rather than seek the forgiveness of those who forsook me? It is both a paradox beyond adequate expression, and a reality I cannot begin to deny … for it opens a further paradox, that you seem (by last report) to be actually moving along that road to absolution, and I am mired in a morass of futility and pointlessness and seething rage I cannot even wish to try to escape.
You sought to taunt, and torture, and kill, and they forgave you. I sought to circumvent an appalling catastrophe, and for me there can be no pardon.
Not bloody fair, that.
Clearly I have had far too much time to dwell on far too many things, yet my ruminations lead me to no conclusions. I find only nuggets of irritation, issues that resist being sorted out and resolved. Little of it, to be frank, bears any direct relevance to my original intent in setting myself to formulate a message to you; but I have begun a process, and it would seem I must follow out the path that appears, in order to achieve the result. That, or it's the gin.
I raised the subject of points of correspondence, and listed several. Rather than resolving the matter, however, so doing has unearthed other areas for consideration. Perhaps those, once explicated, will provide what I feel to be the proper framework for what I wished to say.
Are we so different, you and I? It is to myself, rather than to you, that I pose the question; until recently I would have considered any such implication to be as vulgar as it was ridiculous. Every step of your journey seemed to have been marked by a wild drive toward self-destruction, carried out in a manner as extravagantly coarse as was possible, and not to be sanely compared to the conduct of my own life. Within my current circumstances, however, the possibility abruptly seems less farcical.
I had the best intentions, of course, in the disastrously botched kidnapping that led to my downfall. I have no need to convince myself of that, it is simply central fact. My adequacy as a researcher, my judgment in acting upon the translation as I understood it, my honour in having taken action apart from (and sometimes against) my friends and colleagues … each and all of these I have questioned, endlessly, but my fundamental motive remains unchallenged: I was seeking the greater good.
Thoroughly unlike your case, no? And yet … when the possibility of your treachery was first proposed, before the construction (with the collusion of the Blue Mage) of the test that confirmed it, there was in my mind for the barest part of a second a protest against the suggestion. I dismissed it promptly as wishful thinking, but for just a moment I tried to believe there was some explanation for your actions; perhaps, I rationalized in that compacted interval, she is attempting to infiltrate the Mayor's operation, keeping it secret because she wishes to present us with a fait accompli, and so atone in our eyes for her behaviour regarding and following the death of the unfortunate Allan Finch —?
Quelled on the spot, as I said, and quickly forgotten, but I remember it now and the question troubles me. Might you actually have had such a motivation, at least in the beginning? Might you have started along that tilted track with the seductive first step that offered no hint of the coming slope? Was the first paving stone of your path moulded from the same substance of good intentions as the one marking mine?
I can but wonder. In point of fact, I saw only the final stages of your journey; the embarkation, the earliest miles, the events and choices that solidified your personality, were all done before I first set foot upon the stage.
What, then, of my own journey? Not the ending phase that brought me to the eventual betrayal for which no absolution will ever be forthcoming; no, I refer to the milestones that preceded the commencement of my personal demolition.
Knotty question. Another tot and I'll think on it.
Ahh, yes. Now, as the poet Burns aptly noted, few of us have so accurate an image of self as can be offered by any outside observer, so my assessment shall be immediately suspect. By myself here, though, so I'm all I've got to ask. To it, then, and hope the rough grasp will suffice to capture the basic truths.
Hmm. Well, leading the list would be my decision to come to Sunnydale in the first place. Should have refused the appointment, and I knew it; I was a compromise candidate, wanted by neither faction but less unacceptable than any of the other possibilities. Even as inexperienced and unknowing as I was, I had a distant recognition that it was unrealistic of me to venture to such challenging ground. It was pride that smothered that warning voice, and lust for glory, and — never to be forgotten — the fear of paternal condemnation. And so I set my feet upon the slope.
I have barely begun this self-examination, and already I weary of it, so I shall simply touch the points as they pass. My shameful performance in front of Balthazar, of course. The debacle of my attempt to secure and transport you for Council discipline. The surge of triumph when I drove away the vampiricised pantemporal Willow, obliterated a moment later by the maidenish whinny that left my lips when Cordelia startled me with a hand on my shoulder. My offer to help with the battle at Graduation — the only true sign of humility I ever showed to that group — and the pathetic, ineffectual few moments of my attempt at combat.
Disbelief and impotent wrath when the Council sacked me, followed by weeks of gray, endless moping. The fresh impetus from that strange, intense young woman in Oxnard: first her demand that I explain my discouragement, then her later dismissive fury when she somehow became convinced I was part of a conspiracy against her, and my resultant new career as a 'rogue demon hunter' in emulation of her example.
The humiliation of my plaintive hints to be allowed to remain, when my first venture with Angel and Cordelia had been concluded, and the blissful relief when they offered me a place at their breakfast table. The first time I ever participated in full-on combat with a group of vampires, and neither fled nor disgraced myself. The unease of finding myself in seeming charge of Angel Investigations, during Angel's dark months: I, who had so blithely strolled into the Sunnydale High School library, assuming instant authority and demanding instant obedience! The dreadful responsibility of again being thrust into leadership, in Pylea, when I had to gamble — no, sacrifice — men's lives toward a higher goal.
Other moments since then, but those settle toward the final descent that began with me staring at the words, THE FATHER WILL KILL THE SON. Besides which, I skipped over one of the major markers: the evening my former student whiled away leisurely hours devising new torments for me, until my captivity was broken and I went stumbling down the darkened steps, praying as never before nor since that Angel would occupy her attention until I could drive a knife into her. Preferably her back; one does not waste fair play on vermin.
I can all but hear the voice of a one-time cheerleader familiar to us both: 'Issues much?' Of a certainty I have no deficiency of those, and be assured that I haven't come near to plumbing their full depths.
Still, enough. Time to move on.
I have compared you to me, and my path to yours, not to help you understand anything but simply to acknowledge the plenitude of disparate elements with which I am myself attempting to come to grips. Another comparison presents itself, however, and this one will perhaps bear us nearer the mark. Whatever else you are, or may someday become, can never be separated from your identity as a Slayer. You have responded poorly in the past to being compared to the other Slayer, but I seem at last to be approaching the point, so it might profit you to take notice.
Almost from the beginning you bridled and seethed at finding yourself in Buffy's shadow, but this much even you must admit: I was, upon my introduction, no more impressed by her than by you. Though not so explosive in expressing it, she was every bit as resistant to authority; but, however derisive your attitude, you at least operated within the standard programme of 'find the evil, kill the evil'. Buffy insisted on complicating everything, inserting her own values, making life-and-death decisions from the perspective of a hormone-besotted adolescent.
A list of her misdeeds would be as onerous as voluminous, but two in particular will serve. The first predated my arrival upon the scene (and perhaps your own knowledge as well), and so comes to me by two removes: my reading of Mr. Giles' record of Buffy's report of the incident, by then a full year in the past. It involves Buffy cornering the newly re-emergent Angelus in the Sunnydale mall, fighting him to a standstill … and then walking away, unable to kill the demon because he still wore the face of her lover. The second came about as a consequence of your own actions: after you poisoned Angel, and then removed your you-thought-soon-to-be-lifeless body as a source of Slayer's-blood cure, Buffy forced him to drink from her. On the very eve of the Ascension, looking to a battle that would threaten the lives of most of her schoolmates and who knows how many others, our greatest warrior and foremost hope unconscionably gambled her own life to save that of a creature who could survive only IF he was willing to drain the woman he loved.
Even now, the full import of those actions can still leave me aghast. How many innocents did Angelus murder because of her emotional incapacity to carry out a Slayer's duty? How close did he come to bringing an end to human existence with the revivification of Acathla? What would have been the death toll at Graduation, had he taken a few more millilitres of her blood, or transported her to the emergency room a few minutes later?
And how many times has he saved the world since then, because she would not kill him, or even simply allow him to die, as she very well should have?
That's the rub, you see. Time and again, she made ridiculous, irresponsible, indefensible choices; and, time and again, turned out in the long term to have been right. That goes beyond instinct; it would require a degree of foreknowledge literally psychic in its extent. But then, Slayers have always had a propensity for psychic insights, usually manifesting through dreams …
It brings me here, now. It is my reason for having essayed this communication. Comparing my journey to yours, your situation to mine, has made me sensitive to a possibility I would not allow myself to notice before this, because the process of analysis, once begun, leads where it will rather than where one would wish. What could only be judged as selfishness and stupidity on the part of the Slayer twice almost ended the world … but instead delivered it, many times over. Her decisions can be justified only in light of things she could not possibly have known …
And if that be so for her, quoth the insistent pedant that my most corrosive memories cannot silence, then why not so for her darker sister?
Your plummet to destruction blazed a meteor trail, not through a clear sky but smashing through a forest-tangle of others' lives. Some of those lives ended, directly at your hands. We know specifically of four, though there may have been others. Deputy Mayor Finch was an accident, albeit one for which you should have been held to greater account. The tattooed courier at the airport was in deliberate collusion with evil, for profit, and a cursory glance at his resumé makes one happy to close the book on him with relief. The minor demon who attempted to sell us the Books of Ascension was … well, a demon, and (despite his humanlike affectations) of a species the recreational habits of which put him well within your purview as Slayer.
There was a fourth, however: a middle-aged academic, a visiting professor of geology with a specialty in volcanology, a man killed merely for possessing knowledge that might have posed a threat. True, the fact and manner of his death drew attention to the very weakness Richard Wilkins wished to conceal, and led ultimately to that man's defeat; still, the act itself seemed to put the seal on any question as to whether you could ever be redeemed. For all the brusque toughness of Buffy's demeanour, I could see the question in her eyes (or was perhaps projecting my own disbelief and revulsion): How could she do it? What was it within her that made it possible for her to so casually erase his life?
A lost cause, our Faith. Was from the beginning. If you don't believe it, take a look at her record.
Yes, that's the ticket. Not the vagaries of the human mind, the buffeting currents of emotion: desire, envy, confusion, rage, bitterness, wishful thinking and misplaced benevolence and foolish certainty. No, look to the record. Facts set down in unambiguous characters: dates, measurements, events, figures. Always look to the record.
Lot of records out there, though.
Months ago, before the coalescing message from Grammaticus' commentaries on the Nyazian Prophecies came to occupy the full of my attention, an Internet search for a possible pattern of operation by a Tyristhes cabal led me to the post-mortem reports of several unfortunate young women found butchered in the San Fernando Valley. I could find nothing connecting them to Tyristhean rites, but there were common threads that might have suggested the involvement of some supernatural element, so I broadened the search. None outside the occult community would have thought to investigate the connection I was following, so possibly I am the only person ever to look at the final list: fifteen young females, and six even younger males, bodies littered mostly across the Pacific Coast but some in other states (one as distant as Hawaii). In one of the cases, the only facts available online were to be found in the PDF reproduction of a community newspaper … and, in paging past other news items to reach the material that interested me, I saw the passing reference to a university seminar by a visiting panel of volcanologists.
All of this was, by American standards, ancient history by the time I compiled the list; the most recent such death had taken place three years before, and no central agency had ever postulated a link between more than two or three of the scattered victims. I was, however, at length able to establish that over a third of them had lived in, or been taken from, communities either adjacent to the place of residence of one Professor Lester A. Wirth, or where he had been in attendance for lectures, workshops, or field research.
Having followed it that far, I let it go. The patterned killings had stopped, and the supernatural aspect had failed to prove out, so it didn't concern us. Our calling was to deal with such matters as could not be addressed by traditional police agencies; to dally beyond that venue was to neglect my duty.
Raises questions, though, doesn't it?
Was the harmless, helpless Professor Wirth an avocational killer of an incurable and particularly loathsome type? Did a dark girl cross his threshold to prod him for information or to deliver a warning, and immediately and instinctively kill the thing she found herself confronting? Was the death of Lester Wirth a callous murder, for gain or convenience … or did you see him and know, perhaps even without being aware you knew, that such as this could not be permitted to continue existing?
More to the moment, do I care? And will I tell you about it at all?
Because I can't really be sure, you see. Some of the deaths can perhaps be coordinated with his schedule; past that, there is nothing. And you truly did much for which you truly should pay. And I have personal grudges from which I have no wish to release you. And why should you be absolved from your sins when I am forced to pay so disproportionately for my efforts to do what was best for all?
Or perhaps I contemplate remaining silent, leaving this letter unposted, because I have such a talent for ruining whatever I stick my bloody fingers into. Deserved or not, halting and difficult as it may be, you genuinely seem to have commenced a process toward redemption. I have no wish to disrupt that … or, if I do, it shall be because I chose to, not because I bollixed yet one more thing in my life.
Bugger it, I'm knackered. (Mark you, here: I, too, can use crude language for proper effect.) No, I'll decide tomorrow. If I feel like it. If I even remember it. If I haven't burnt this little billet-doux to light the gas ring for my morning sausages.
In any event, I remain, as respectfully as ever I was,
Your former Watcher,