Legal: All characters are (c) Joss Whedon, Fox, Mutant Enemy and probably a whole mess of other people. No infringement of copyright intended.
Archive: Go right ahead. Just let me know, please
Spoilers: All the way up to the end of Season 4 (Buffy) and Season 1 (Angel)
Summary: It's sweet 'n' fluffy, folks. Faith's in it, but it's B/A fic, 'shippage-wise.
Notes: This fic is a gift for Angel. Cos she's not been feeling well
The day she went to jail, Faith had been sure the trip from the front gates to the huge grey building would be longest walk of her life. Eight years, seven months and fourteen days later, she knew better. Parole papers clutched tight in her hand, she was finally walking back toward the front gates, but they didn't seem to be getting any closer. And every third step she had to fight the urge to break into a run, in case someone came out to tell her it was a mistake: that she wasn't being paroled after all.
The ink on the papers was smudged from perspiration by the time she finally reached the gate. A slightly sickly, half-mocking smile flickered briefly on her lips. She'd faced down vampires and demons alike in her time, taken on a dozen inmates alone more than once, but now her heart was hammering at the thought of having to take care of herself in the real world again. They'd got it right in that old Shawshank movie: some people grew to depend on the security of being inside. The brunette hoped she wasn't one of them.
The guard took her papers, checked them briefly. Like he didn't know exactly who was going to be let out today. Wordlessly, he offered them back. Faith took them with a whispered "thank you". It was ingrained by now. Act how you want with other cons, but always show respect to the guards. And never look them in the eye.
She took one last look at the name of her parole officer as the gate slowly creaked open. Ms E A Carter. Supposedly, she would be here to meet Faith. The brunette hoped Carter wasn't a hardass. She didn't want to screw this up. Not after so long.
Taking a deep breath, she stepped through the gate. Apart from the faded black jeans and white T she wore, everything she owned was in the tatty duffel by her side. Everything but those precious parole papers, anyway. The brunette glanced around, wondering what this Carter looked like. Probably a hatchet-faced broad in her late 40s.
Then her gaze fell on the black Ford to her left, and the slightly built blonde who leaned against it. Faith's breath caught, and she felt fear tightly squeeze her chest. She hadn't expected this so soon. Had truly hoped it would never have to happen. Perhaps she could walk away, even now. But her feet were already taking her to the other girl, and in her heart Faith knew that walking away had never been an alternative.
She stopped ten feet short of the car. The other girl looked good. Sharply dressed and successful. At least one of them hadn't turned out a screw-up.
The brunette swallowed, glanced around. At least there was no sign of this Carter, yet.
"B, you shouldn't be here. My parole officer is 'sposed to come pick me up -"
"I know." The blonde uncrossed her arms and pushed off from the side of her car. She reached out and took the papers from Faith's nerveless fingers. "I'm Elizabeth Carter, Ms Thompson. I'll be your parole officer for the next twelve months."
They'd been in the car for nearly ten minutes before Faith worked up the nerve to speak. Buffy; or was it Elizabeth, now?; drove like she dressed: crisply, precisely, confidently. The brunette felt a stirring of the old resentments and nearly laughed out loud at herself. She'd spent close to nine years paying for the last time she'd been jealous of Buffy. Reawakening that nightmare only nine minutes after getting out would be too stupid, even for her.
"So what's with the new name, B?" she asked, staring out of her window as she did so. Then she remembered why the other woman had met her at the prison. "uh, I mean, Ms Carter."
"It was my mom's maiden name." The blonde's voice was flat. She switched lanes smoothly, glanced at the brunette; Faith saw the action reflected in the window. "My father asked her to change back to it when he remarried."
"So you changed back as well." The brunette didn't frame it as a question. She knew Buffy well enough to know how she would have felt about her father's request.
"And you're a parole officer now."
"For nearly four years." The blonde's tone, if not friendly, was not exactly hostile. "I guess they were right at Careers Week, after all."
"Sorry." The apology was automatic, rather than heartfelt, "It was before you … got called."
"With a job like this you must be in LA pretty much full time. What about Sunnydale? All the vamps find a new holiday spot, or what?"
"We closed the Hellmouth about three years ago." Buffy explained, "Which left Wolfram & Hart as the biggest threat around. Most of us moved here, got jobs of one sort or another."
"So how many strings did ya have to pull to get my case?" the brunette turned to look at the other slayer at last, "And why? I woulda stayed away from ya, B. I really would."
"Willow hacked into the system and arranged it." Buffy answered softly, "She didn't want to, but she did."
"You still hang with Red?" Faith supposed she shouldn't be surprised. "But then I guess the whole gang is still together, huh? How are Giles and Xander?"
The blonde didn't answer immediately, and Faith felt herself flush. Buffy wanted to keep her friends safe from the psycho-slayer, no doubt.
"Ya don't have to tell me, it ya don't –" she began, but the blonde cut her off.
"Xander got married. It didn't work out, and for a while things were pretty bad for him. But he and Amy got together about a year ago, and they seem good together."
"And Giles?" Faith decided not to ask who Amy was.
"He and my Mom are together. Nearly five years, now."
"Really? You seem pretty cool with it … I woulda expected you to freak."
"I did, at the time. But I'm nearly thirty, now. I've grown up a little. I'm glad my Mom and Giles have each other. I wouldn't want them to be alone." There was a catch in the blonde's voice as she said the final word. Faith wanted to ask about it, but guessed she was the last person Buffy would want to confide in.
"So why didn't Red want you to play watchdog on me?" she asked, too casually, "I woulda thought she'd want me under tabs just as much as you."
Buffy shook her head,
"No-one thinks you need watching, Faith." Her voice was almost apologetic, "You spent eight years in jail when you could have broken out anytime you wanted. For me … for all of us … that counts for a lot. I didn't believe you'd changed, that night on the roof. I do now."
Faith felt a flush of pleasure at the words. She'd promised herself she would leave Buffy alone when she got out. Promised herself she wouldn't go looking for an admission that the blonde had been wrong about her. She'd been too scared by the thought she might not get it. She knew herself well enough to know that she would have reacted badly to that.
"Thanks." She whispered, then frowned. "But … why did you take my case?"
"I need you to help me find Angel."
"Maybe he just wanted some time alone?" Faith suggested. It sounded weak even to her.
"It's been three months." Buffy shook her head as she poured boiling water into the teapot. They had just arrived in the blonde's apartment, after an uncomfortable 'parole interview' at the offices where Buffy worked. Faith knew that the blonde had done it because she had to, but the implicit threat behind every question and answer had still made her uncomfortable. She wondered how she would have taken it, from a stranger.
"Okay. But how can I help?" Faith shrugged, "When I went inside, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston hadn't even got married for the first time, B. I'm not exactly Miss Up To Date."
"I know." The blonde sighed a little helplessly, "But Angel used to keep in touch with you, didn't he? I thought maybe he told you something he never told us."
The brunette shrugged uncomfortably.
"He wrote me a few times, that's all. Visitin' hours weren't exactly vampire-friendly."
"Still," Buffy persisted, as she let the tea stand brewing, "did he mention anywhere he might go to get away from it all?"
"What's the deal, B?" Faith wiped her hair back from her face, "Why's the big guy run off on you?" she quirked a half-hearted smile, "And when did you start drinkin' tea?"
Buffy's answering smile was as wan as Faith's own,
"You can't spend ten years around Giles and not get a taste for tea." She shrugged, deferring the important question. "As for Angel … we haven't seen one another very much for -" she stopped suddenly, as if thinking, "nearly four years."
Faith raised her eyebrows,
The blonde grimaced in what looked like a mixture of frustration and embarrassment.
"When Riley and I split up, we said some … unpleasant things. I accused him of running out on us, and he said there was no 'us', because I was still hung up on Angel. I spent the next two years trying to prove him wrong, usually in the worst possible way."
"I got some experience with that." The brunette remarked softly.
"Angel said something like that … I didn't take it well." She smiled apologetically, "I still thought of you as the world's biggest bitch, back then."
"The biggest. And then, we … stopped talking." Buffy slumped into the couch opposite Faith, the tea forgotten. "Other than slayer stuff, I mean. I even made Giles do most of that."
"So what changed? Why'd he disappear three months ago? And why wait for me to get out to come see me? I woulda told you anything I could while I was still inside."
Buffy gently rubbed her temples.
"I don't know what made him leave." She admitted slowly, "It was right after Wolfram & Hart took their last shot at causing the End of Days. They tried to open a vortex for the demons to come through. Our plan was to stop the ceremony, but we were too late. So Angel went through to the other side. I don't know what he did, but a minute later the vortex spat him back out and shut down."
"And you haven't seen him since?"
The blonde shook her head,
"It took me over a week to notice; we were so busy mopping up the last of Wolfram & Hart's clients that I didn't think about him until then."
"Okay." Faith said slowly, "but why not come and see me straight away? 'cos I think I know where he might have gone. He mentioned a place to me once; I woulda told you about it."
Buffy couldn't look her in the eye. Now that was a first.
"I can't go see him." She mumbled at last, "I want to, but I'm so afraid that he won't see me. Or even one of the others. But if you go see him, and tell him how sorry I am … he might believe it. Because he knows that you have no reason to lie for me."
Faith nodded slowly. She understood, now.
"Riley was right, wasn't he? You are still hung up on him."
Buffy looked up, and the answer was clear in her expression.
The Greyhound bus pulled slowly away, leaving Faith alone on the edges of a small town in Pennsylvania. She felt tired and dirty after the long road journey, but the only alternative had been to come by air. Rational or not, Faith didn't like aeroplanes. She figured she could walk away from just about anything a road accident threw at her, but her slayer powers wouldn't let her fly if something went wrong. It wasn't like she was afraid. Well, not exactly.
The driver had been surprised when she asked to be dropped off here. Most people on the bus were going to Gettysburg, she guessed. But it figured that Angel would pick a quiet place like this. Tourist spots would not be his thing.
She turned and walked slowly through the streets, occasionally checking the hand drawn map Angel had given her almost six years before. The town wasn't large, and it didn't take long to find the place.
He was sitting on the porch, a book on his lap as he watched her approach. Sunlight slanted down onto his hair and face, highlighting the strong features she remembered. It was easy to see why Buffy was so hung up on him.
Faith paused in mid-step, as her mind caught up with her eyes. Sunlight.
Angel walked down to the small gate in his front fence and held it open for her. She stepped inside, knowing her eyes were still wide with shock.
"You're looking well." His voice was warmer than she remembered, less sombre in tone.
"You too." The brunette answered automatically, then raised her eyebrows, "Although the tan could take some getting used to. What's goin' on?"
He gestured for her to take a seat on the porch,
"About a year after I went to LA, I stole some scrolls from Wolfram & Hart. They prophesied that I would one day become human -"
"Why didn't ya tell B?" Faith knew instinctively that Buffy had never known of this.
"I had no guarantee it would happen in her lifetime." Angel sighed, "And when it did; when my demon got trapped on the other side of the vortex; things were too bad between us for me to be with her. So I came here, instead."
Faith snorted. The last eight years obviously hadn't made Angel any smarter at relationships.
"Dammit, B's crazy for you, Angel." She shook her head, "That's why she sent me to find you."
"She sent you?" he looked stunned.
"Yeah." The brunette stood, "Now, are you gonna come back to LA or am I gonna have to pound some sense into ya, first?"
The first notes rose from the organ, sweet and clear as the sun that streamed through the windows. Faith gave Angel a reassuring nod, and patted her pocket to check that the ring was still there. She knew it was a bit unusual for the best man to be female, but Angel had insisted, and this was his day. His and Buffy's.
It was twelve months to the day since she had brought him back to LA, still doubtful that Buffy really wanted him. And the first days had been rocky. There were times she'd nearly screamed with frustration at their ability to misunderstand one another.
Her gaze flickered across the audience. There was Buffy's mother, already on the edge of tears. The blonde's father was absent, as usual. Probably still sulking that he hadn't been chosen to give the bride away. But Xander was there, with his girlfriend. She was prettily plump, and they looked good together. Willow and Tara were in the bridal party, of course, but Cordelia was there, and a dozen other half-remembered faces. Faith suppressed a grin. Every vampire and demon fighter in the state was probably squeezed into the one church, now she thought of it.
The music swelled, and Buffy appeared in the doorway of the church, her arm laid on Giles'. The brunette let her smile appear, then. The ex-Watcher looked so dignified, as he slowly escorted the pretty blonde down the aisle. Hank Summers had objected, but no one had paid much attention to his complaints. Giles had been a better father to Buffy than the other man had ever even tried to be. There was no one who had a better claim to this charge.
And as the music swelled again, Faith watched Buffy Summers begin the longest; and happiest; walk of her life.