IMPORTANT NOTE: There is now a music video based loosely on this story, with the same title, on youtube that I have recently completed and upload. My name on youtube is ChristianGateFan1. There aren't any comments yet, but then again I haven't had a chance to let ya'll know about it. I can't wait to see what you think! Read the summary first; it explains what I did with the video vs the story.
Anyway, I hope to hear from ya'll on this chapter too. Thanks for being so patient with me! All right, now that this is up I off to work on the next chapter of the X-Men First Class crossover...good night everyone!
Buffy went straight to the mansion from school the next day, glad that it was finally the weekend. What a week it had been.
She found Faith on the couch in the main room, staring absently into the fire. She'd changed since last night, and her bag was now on the floor.
"Out of the chains but still under house arrest, huh?"
Faith didn't look up; she only shrugged. "Under your orders."
"Yeah..." Buffy rounded the side of the couch and dropped onto it near the other Slayer. "How are you doing?"
Faith shrugged again. "Sam old, same old. I would assume that the same could be said of you, what with the having to go to school thing. Glad I got out of that a long time ago."
"It wasn't so bad today. Or it wouldn't have been if I hadn't spent all day avoiding our new British stick in the mud." She let out a breath. "We have to make sure we keep him out of this. If he finds out anything and he tells the Council...I don't want to think about it."
"Don't know what they'd do and don't want to know, huh?"
"Solid plan. Let's not know."
Buffy winced, and then fell silent for a minute or two before she spoke again. "So...what about you? What are your plans?"
Faith's eyebrows went up at her. "I was pretty sure we'd settled on the me-leaving thing."
"I-I know. I know that. I know there aren't really any good alternatives, I just..." She shook her head. "Do you really have to go with the ship thing? If you have cash you could just get on a bus."
"You got something against cargo ships?"
"No, but...well, sort of." Buffy hesitated before going on, and when she continued it was more quietly. "They usually end up pretty far away."
Faith looked at her sharply, and her expression softened for a moment. "Look, B..." She stopped and looked away. "I was thinking about the bus thing, anyway. I figure I've got enough to get into LA and pick another bus from there—however far I can get, which is...yeah...closer than anywhere I'd get by ship. I mean farther away would be better, but I was just thinking how the water's not all that great this time of year. Too cold, and all that."
Of course, the sea was always cold. So Faith cared too. She didn't like the idea of leaving any more than Buffy liked it. That was encouraging.
"Definitely way too cold," Buffy agreed.
Xander couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Wait, so that's it? Faith tries to kill me and she gets to just walk?" He braced his hands on the back of Giles's couch, looking at Buffy incredulously. "You can't be serious."
Buffy glared at him from the middle of the living room, where she stood because apparently she didn't really feel like sitting down just now either. They'd gathered here again this afternoon for Buffy to give them an update on the situation with Faith, and so far it had been mostly shouting.
"We'll keep her at the mansion for a few more days and keep an eye on her to make sure she's not dangerous to anyone. Then yes, she's leaving—because she has to. What more do you want?"
"I don't know! Something else!"
"You provoked her, Xander!"
"But she didn't let go!" If the mirror was telling the truth, the bruises around his neck looked pretty nasty now that they were fully developed. His parents had hardly noticed, of course. Now that Xander thought about it, maybe that was why he was so adamant. It had been one of the most terrifying experiences of his life, that whole thinking he was going to die thing...and it didn't seem to matter to anybody. He glared right back at Buffy. "Does nobody care that I almost died?"
Her expression softened, and he was almost surprised. They were all wound pretty tight, and he almost hadn't expected that. "Of course I care."
Willow piped up quietly from the couch below him. She looked up and had to twist around to meet his eyes. "Xander, we care. We do. But...as angry as we are at her right now, we have to care about Faith, too. She's...I mean, I guess she's one of us. Or she was...I don't know..."
It wasn't that he didn't know all of that. He just didn't like it. Faith had made a fool out of him, used him, and tried to kill him whether she'd wanted to or not. Needless to say, he wasn't very fond of her right now.
"I know, I just..." Suddenly he couldn't glare at his friends anymore, so he glared off into space.
"She deserves a second chance as much as anyone," Buffy said gently.
"What about a third or a fourth or a fifth chance?" Xander asked dryly. But he wasn't only asking about Faith anymore, and he figured Buffy knew that when she smiled some.
Xander wondered if he was ever going to get over this being-an-idiot thing.
At least he had the friends he had.
When Buffy left later that afternoon, Faith stayed where she was on the couch until she couldn't stand it anymore. Angel came in around about the thirty-somethingth time she'd paced around the main room of the mansion.
"You got anything to do around here?" she complained.
"I have books."
"I was never much on the books."
Angel shrugged and sat on the couch himself. "Sorry. When I'm not out or sleeping or training, that's pretty much what I do."
"No other entertainment whatsoever? You don't have a TV? A boardgame? A deck of cards? Give me something here."
He just looked at her from where he sat, while she continued to move about. "Need to take your mind off something?"
Faith glared at him. "What the hell kinda question is that?" But she gave up on the pacing and dropped onto the other end of the couch. Angel moved closer, and she looked away but she didn't scoot away. "What?"
"So you're leaving."
"No choice; been over that with Buffy more than once. Otherwise I'd have the cops on my ass. Besides, you know, with me on the move we can share the Slayer resources; I can help people out there, and all."
"But do you want to?"
Faith looked at him sharply. "Well...yeah. Sure. I mean, isn't any decent person supposed to want to help people? Or at least not mind it?"
"What matters, Faith, is if you want to."
Of course she wanted to. She wanted nothing more, but after her past she didn't know where to start—how to do things different. Even if she wasn't completely able to admit it to herself, she wanted to do thing differently.
Maybe what had happened with the deputy mayor had flipped her around so good because it made her afraid that after that it would be so much harder to get to where she wanted to be. She'd panicked. She was beginning to realize that maybe she'd freaked out on Xander because she was terrified and angry and wondering if there was any point in trying to turn around anymore—not after killing a human being.
Suddenly Faith was more serious. She still wouldn't look at Angel, but she gave him a straight answer. "I want to." She didn't know how to put the rest into words, and she wasn't sure she wanted to. There was still that part of her that firmly believed that if one got all touchy-feeling feelings-sharing that it was a sign of weakness.
From the corner of her eye she saw Angel nod. "Good. And I believe you do." He paused. "I also know why."
"Yeah?" she challenged. She pulled a knee up to her chin nonchalantly and glanced at him.
"You want to make up for what happened, Faith. Believe me; I know the feeling."
"Haven't we been over this? You killed scores of people, you feel awful, end of story. We've all heard it before. Really sorry, and all that."
Faith fell silent, and so did Angel, but Angel didn't move or concede to ending the conversation. Finally he spoke again. "Are you going out there to do good, or are you running away?"
She wanted to do good, yeah...but there was the running away part too. She opened her mouth, but realized she wasn't going to answer without lying. So she shut it again, and Angel waited. Finally she let out a grunt of frustration. "Both, okay? Are you happy now?"
"What the hell is this? Are you a shrink now?"
Angel shook his head. "I just want to help. And just so you know, the fact that it's both is okay. As long as the good part is in there, you can work through the rest."
Faith was silent again, for a long time. There was always going to be that part of her that clung to her past and the way she used to think things were everywhere. There was always going to be that part of her that didn't want to say anything to anybody, and she knew there would still be plenty of times that she wouldn't.
But right now, she had to ask.
"Do you think I can?" she asked quietly.
"Work through the rest of it." Faith hesitated, and pulled her other knee up in the interim. "Do you think I can make up for any of it?"
Angel looked at her for a long moment. "That's what I've been trying to do for a long time. But me...I did so much more than you ever have, or ever will. You're nowhere near where I was, and you won't be. If I have a shot...and I've been led to believe that I do..." He smiled a little. "I think you've got a hell of a lot better one."
"So what's the verdict?"
Giles looked up to find Erin at the foot of the stairs he was about to go down, in the building that would becoming Lily's shelter. Lily and Erin had both been at work all day, but Lily had left him the newly acquired key and he had come as soon it was dark enough. He'd given the interior of the building a cursory inspection, and drawing from what he did know he believed the building to be in good shape.
He told Erin as much as he took the stairs down to her. "It all seems perfectly all right to me. I still hold to my hope that this place will work quite well for Lily's purposes."
Erin smiled. "Our purposes, now."
"Of course. But what are you doing here? I thought you would want to get home and rest after such a long day. I was more capable of handling this on my own."
She shrugged, and they both walked out into the main room on the first floor. "I wanted to see how it was going."
But she wasn't telling him everything, and Rupert knew it. "Erin? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," she said quickly. "I mean, I just wanted to make sure that it was going all right. That the building was all right, I mean..."
"You said that."
Giles looked at her curiously. "Were you afraid it wouldn't be?"
Erin look at him for along moment before she answered. "I was afraid something would go wrong. I still am."
"I don't understand. Why?"
She let out a breath and looked away. "I just want this to work out for her so badly, Rupert. I don't think you could understand how much."
He took her shoulders and looked at her until she looked at him again. "Try me."
Erin brought a hand up to wrap around one of the hands on her shoulders. "Me, I've...I've wasted my life. Until I took Lily in I'm not sure I ever did a single thing of any value. With this shelter she has a chance to make a difference. So do I." She swallowed. "If this doesn't work, Lily isn't the only one who'll be crushed. I don't particularly feel like going through that myself, and I certainly can't let it happen to her."
"I don't want that to happen, either."
She smiled. "I know you don't. That's why I...care about you, so much." Before she trailed off for a moment it seemed as if she might have ended that a bit differently, but Rupert couldn't let himself think about the possibility.
Erin sighed and rested a hand on his cheek for a moment. "You are a blessing, Rupert Giles."
Giles didn't know how to respond to that, or even if he should. Instead he kissed her cheek and pulled her into his arms, hoping to comfort her—to let her know that it would be all right. This would work. That was all he meant to do.
But Erin held on tightly in return, and when he tried to pull back she wouldn't let him. He looked at her for a long time, and it should have been time to think, but he didn't, and when she kissed him he wasn't ready. He certainly wasn't ready to resist her. No, he responded, and held her closer.
Then he realized what he was doing.
Rupert quickly broke lip contact. "Erin..."
"What?" she asked, a bit breathlessly.
"The last time we did this...it did not end well."
She smiled in amusement. "This time there aren't any extra vampires around to ruin it. There's just you."
Carefully he disentangled himself from her. "That could very well be more than enough."
"What are you talking about?" She caught his hands now that he had the rest of himself free.
Giles winced. "This is not a good idea." He was hoping he could keep it vague.
"Why? Just because you're different?"
He laughed once, with no humor. "That is putting it in a wildly mild light."
"That doesn't matter to me, Rupert."
"You sound like a schoolgirl."
"What if that doesn't bother me, either?"
He pulled his hands away from her now too—not because he wanted to, but because that way it would be easier to convince her that taking their relationship any farther was a horrible idea. She looked hurt when he did it, but he had no other choice. "Erin, if we..." He grimaced. "You could be hurt, putting it very simply. I won't risk that."
She just looked at him, not giving up but not saying anything else for now, either. "Rupert..." she began finally.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I can't."
For a minute more Erin just stood there, until she snapped suddenly into action. She looked away quickly, and shifted uncomfortably on her feet. "I should go. I uhm...I should stop at the store."
It appeared that, what with its unsatisfactory outcome, she intended to act as if their conversation had never taken place.
"All right..." Giles answered uncertainly. "I'll uhm...see you at home?"
"Right. I ah...later."
Then Erin made her way quickly to the foyer and out, leaving Rupert alone in an empty room.
The bus station was dark and not extremely busy, but there was the occasional small group milling about waiting for the last departure of the night. It was going straight into the city, and that was the bus Faith would be boarding in a few minutes.
Almost a week had passed since the accident—since the deputy mayor's death. Buffy still couldn't get the small man's face out of her mind, and she knew it had to be worse for Faith. The rest of that week she had split her time between the rest of her friends and being at the mansion to keep her fellow Slayer company. Granted, Angel was always there—and he and Faith seemed to be getting on all right now—but soon enough she wouldn't be able to spend any time with Faith at all.
It didn't take long to be absolutely certain that Faith's willingness to change was genuine, even if she didn't know how to put it into words. It was something in her eyes, and what of it Buffy didn't understand Angel did. Buffy told the others, but still they had refused to come to the mansion to see Faith. Or, they weren't exactly adamant about it. They didn't seem overly angry anymore, and they never specifically said that they wouldn't come. They just hadn't.
"Do you think they'll forgive me? Someday, maybe?" Faith had asked last night.
Buffy had slowly let out a breath. "I don't know. I mean, they don't exactly completely hate your guts; it's not that bad..."
"But they're not here," Faith finished with a shrug, looking away and pretending not to care.
Now she and Buffy stood in the swath of a streetlight next to the bus station building, waiting for the boarding call.
"You know, they've really quieted down on the search," Buffy said suddenly. "Maybe—"
Faith cut in quickly. "We're not changing the the plan now, B."
She sighed. "I know. I'm just not a big fan of the plan."
But she knew it was the only plan. It was safer this way. The search for the deputy's mayor's killer was a little less vigorous now, but no less present. It wasn't safe here yet, for Faith. It wasn't as if she could clear her name. It wasn't as if it wasn't true that she'd killed a man, accidental though it was.
When Faith didn't say anything, Buffy eyed her closely. "Hey. Don't forget the coming-back part of the plan."
She actually smiled a little at that, and met Buffy's gaze. "You worry too much, B."
"If another new Slayer shows up here, I will be supremely pissed."
Faith actually laughed. "And that is definitely too much worry."
"I was just making sure you knew," Buffy answered, smiling back a little.
But Faith's attention was already elsewhere, and her smile was fading into an incredulous stare. "Huh," was all she said.
Buffy looked where she was looking, and her eyebrows went up when she saw Willow, Oz, and Xander approaching from the parking lot. "Took you long enough," she said when they were close enough. She expected the typical insolent retort from Xander, but none came. Instead he just shrugged.
Willow spoke up, looking at Faith. "I know we've been...less than friendly, this week. We're sorry. We figured we should at least come and see you off."
"Thanks...but you don't have to be sorry or anything."
"We know," Xander answered immediately. "But it's, you know, the right thing, and all that."
Faith crossed her arms and smirked. "And you care?" Xander just looked at her, and Buffy wondered what was going through her mind—not to mention Xander's. After another moment or so Faith's shoulders relaxed some, and her posture was less defiant. "Look...I'm sorry too, okay?"
Xander only nodded in acceptance, but that was all that was needed. Willow seemed relieved, and Buffy knew she was.
Willow cleared her throat quietly before she spoke again. "Faith, I uhm..." She didn't seem to know what to say after that. "Be safe out there," she finished lamely. But she seemed to mean it, and Oz nodded his agreement to the sentiment.
The boarding call echoed from the speakers overhead, and Faith bent to shoulder her bag.
"That's you?" Xander asked.
"Yeah." Faith paused and glanced around at them all, and Buffy thought she saw a tiny bit of a smile. "See you guys." She headed for the bus and Buffy followed her. The others stayed behind and let them go.
"No getting mushy on me, B. You promised, remember?"
She shrugged guiltily and tried to smile. Maybe Faith wasn't her best friend, but she was a friend. A colleague. Someone she'd sort of been able to talk to for a while there. After everything that had happened it would have taken a while to get back to where they'd been, but Buffy still hated to see her go. They reached the bus and Faith stopped by the open door.
"So here goes nothing, huh? Hey, if I run into G I'll tell him hi for you."
"Thanks." Buffy paused. "See ya."
"Yeah," Faith grinned. "Keep the place from blowin' up or anything til I get back. Think you can handle that?"
Things were different in the days after the conversation at the shelter building. Erin wasn't petty—she didn't go about angry or snappish or saying things to spite him—but Rupert could tell that she was more distant than usual. Everything was awkward between them now, and that was the very thing he'd feared. It was all civil, but it was all unbearably awkward.
On an evening two weeks or so later work was well under way on preparing the shelter, and Giles was walking Lily work at the coffee shop before heading over to the building to work there for the night. Erin was at home, and Lily seemed deep in thought for the first half of the walk.
"What's wrong?" she asked finally. "I know something's wrong."
"Wrong with what?" he asked innocently.
"You know what I'm talking about. You and Erin have been...weird, recently. Not to me, but with each other. You're scaring the hell out of me."
Rupert blinked in surprise at the amount of sincere fear in that statement. "Scaring you? What on earth do you mean?"
She stopped walking, and he was forced to stop too. "I mean..." she said. "I don't know. Just tell me what's going on."
He had to think about how best to answer that. "I um...I've just been thinking that, perhaps once the shelter is up and running that I should...maybe I should be on my way then." It wasn't a lie. He wouldn't abandon Lily while in the middle of this project, but he was beginning to think that it would be better if he left once it was through.
"Are you crazy? You can't! We need you here." The way she said it made him realize that idea he might be planning to leave was what had been scaring her about the way he and Erin had been acting.
"Once the shelter is running I won't be of much use any longer..."
"You know it's not about that," she said crossly.
He paused before he answered now. "I know," he said gently. "But I'm afraid Erin might not see it quite the same way anymore."
"Why?" Lily questioned. "What happened between you two?"
Rupert winced. "Nothing. However, that is precisely the problem. Nothing can."
"Why not? You're a vampire, not a robot."
"Yes, but it's much more complicated than that."
Lily was looking more and more discouraged. "I still don't understand."
"I don't think you want to," he told her quietly.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"It means, as I said, that it's complicated. I can't..." He trailed off and shook his head.
She crossed her arms and eyed him. "You can't what? Explain?"
"Among other things."
"Could you explain it to Erin?"
Giles made a face. "I would rather not."
"But if you were going to explain to one of us, could you explain it to her? Would explaining it to her make more sense than explaining it to me?"
"Well, yes, but—"
"Then explain it to her. Whatever the hell is going on, she needs to know."
"I've explained as much as I can."
"As much as you can, or as much as you want to? There is a difference, you know."
"I know that, Lily..." She continued to look at him, and finally he conceded. "All right, perhaps it was simply as much as I wished to explain, but I doubt that she wants to hear the rest of it. Especially not now. She's already upset with me."
"So fix it!"
He winced. "Somehow I don't believe telling her what is wrong will make her feel any better."
"Well it's not her fault, is it?"
"Then at least she'll know that much."
"I'd hoped she already knew that much. I did my utmost to make that part clear."
"Then why is she still so upset? I mean, know she doesn't exactly act like it—she's too nice for that—but I can tell. She's like a mom to me; I know her."
Giles shrugged helplessly. "I don't know. I don't know what else to do, really. What I would have to explain to make her truly understand...i-it involves the details of...of how I can be this way, with a soul, and...well, it isn't exactly pretty. There really isn't much of a tactful way to put it."
"She'll get over it. I really think she just wants you to talk to her. I think she deserves the truth, whatever it is. She's letting you live in her home, you know."
"Yes, I know...it's much of the reason I want to find a way to resolve this. If leaving was the only way to do that..."
"It's not," Lily said gently. "Talk to her." She smiled. "We're almost there anyway; I can get the rest of the way on my own. You go back home and talk to Erin."
Rupert looked at her for a long moment, debating. "I..." Eventually he nodded. "I will try." But he refused to head back before she was safely at work. He walked with her the rest of the way, and once he had Lily promptly made certain he turned around and got going immediately.
He went back, not sure at all how he was going to do this or how exactly he was going to explain the truth. Was this even the right thing to do? If he explained, Erin would know how he felt but would know that they could never be together. Was that any less cruel than letting her think that he cared about her, but not that way? It certainly seemed the best thing for her, but Lily was also right. She deserved the truth.
He'd spent the last two weeks debating between the two options, and now Lily had forced his hand and made the decision for him. Giles felt absolutely pathetic. What was wrong with him?
The problem was, he knew the answer. He simply didn't want to admit it to himself. If he admitted it; really admitted it...it would hurt too much. He didn't want to do that to Erin, but he couldn't let things go on as they'd been.
When he made it back to the apartment building Rupert hesitated a long time at the base of the stairs. Could he really do this?
He found Erin in the kitchen, standing at the sink and staring out the small window above it. She must have heard him come in, because she spoke. "I wanted to do dishes—do something—but they're all done."
She stood where she was for another moment, her back still to him, but then she spun around. "I don't understand," she said. "I've spent days trying to figure it out, and I still don't understand. Would it really be that dangerous?"
Giles looked back sympathetically. "Yes, unfortunately. Though when I said that it was much more complicated than that I'm afraid I was being being truthful about that, as well."
Erin swallowed. "Then can you at least explain what you mean? You don't need to protect me. Whatever it is...just tell me."
Rupert crossed to where she stood, and gently took her hands. "Are you sure? I'm not entirely certain how best to explain it, but...I will try, if you want me to."
She squeezed his hands, and nodded firmly. "Please try."