A/N: Sorry about the delay in posting this. I've been interviewing at medical schools this past week, and life has gotten a bit intense.
Jaws hit the floor at Illyria's announcement. There was a moment's silence, and then she was engulfed in a wave of one-word questions and inquisitive onomatopoeias. The god-king briefly allowed her pets' concern and curiosity to wash over her. She stood and gestured for quiet.
"Peace. I shall continue my research and experiments until I have an exact procedure. At that point, we shall review it together and then perform the permanent ensoulment."
"Good luck," whispered Gunn. The others were all too busy impersonating fish to speak.
Wry amusement flashed across Illyria's face. "Thank you, Charles, but I doubt I shall need it. I am a god. I make my own luck." She dismissed the group with a cursory glance and swept from the room.
They listened to her light tread ascending the stairs. For another long moment, no one spoke. And then everyone started talking at once.
"A soul?" Angel gasped as if he didn't have one already.
"A permanent soul, at that, Peaches. Bet Angelus ain't too happy 'bout that."
"Permanent." The dark-haired vampire was still in shock. He sat quietly as the Slayerettes bombarded Faith, Spike, and Gunn with endless questions about magic, vampires, and those fragile things called souls. Angel listened, his eyes fixed on the opposite wall, and slowly slunk deeper and deeper into a proper brood. A permanent soul? Non-removable? It was like the promised Shansu, but better, perhaps. He could still battle evil and protect others with his vampire strength and speed. But without the threat of losing his soul to that moment of "perfect happiness", what would happen to his atonement complex? Angel was guilty. He was bad. And he needed to dwell on it for the rest of his un-life. Maybe he should say no to Illyria's plan, just as he had refused the ring of Amara. Yes. Perhaps he should. After all, no one who had done what he had done deserved to be happy.
Angel was startled from his reverie by a pillow that smacked him in the face.
"Oi! Forehead! Stop getting all thunderous over there. Cheer up, ya moron. Now you can boink whoever you like."
Someday Angel was finally going to put a muzzle on Spike. It was only a matter of time.
"Good morning?" The voice was low, gruff, and husky with sleep. It sounded as though she had just woken up a very refined smoker.
"Giles?" Faith attempted to keep her voice level, neither excited nor apprehensive. She liked to pretend that it worked. "Having a bit of a lie-in, are you?"
She could hear his exasperated-with-Faith smile from all the way across the Atlantic. "Crisis last night. Some out-of-control witch tried to turn the Thames into a water cyclone and destroy Buckingham Palace. Thankfully, Willow and Buffy were able to stop her in time."
The gang was back in London? This was new. Faith hazarded, "I though you were all in Scotland?"
"I needed to visit the archives of the British Museum."
"You got homesick, didn't you? The Scoobies aren't nearly nerdy enough to be your proper type of people. Not since Willow went all lesbian-Wicca-yay and stopped living in the library, anyway. Did you miss your kind, Giles? Is it nice to be back with your own species?" The Slayer strode into her bedroom and shut the door gently. Everyone else was either lost in video game land or passed out on the couches downstairs. Except for Illyria, who was off somewhere doing whatever it was she did in her spare time.
"Faith . . . I'll have you know that I used to be a very well respected curator at the British Museum. They've asked me back, actually."
"Woot!" Faith flung herself across the queen-sized bed and dangled her ankles off the edge. "Congrats, G-man! You gonna take it, or are you holding out for more money?"
Giles sighed on the other end of the line. "Isn't it three in the morning in Ohio? You should be in bed-"
"Asleep," he finished forcefully. "Is something on your mind?"
"Nope," she lied easily. They could get down to business later. She was having way too much fun teasing her old Watcher right now. "I was just missing my favorite respectable English gentleman, and I thought I'd brighten up your dull, drizzly, dreary Sunday morning with a lovely chat."
"Faith – "
She ignored his interjection. It was one of her best party tricks. "Rupert. Tell me more about this museum thing. Seriously."
Giles found himself smiling again. Faith's persistent lack of respect for authority came coupled with many traits he actually enjoyed. Since the destruction of Sunnydale, he had grown much closer to the brunette Slayer. He appreciated her dedication to the job, her irreverent humor, and her awareness of the fine lines that surrounded them. She did what needed to be done without compromising herself or her honor, and on the rare occasion when a compromise had to be made, it was always with an ironic smile. Faith did not participate in self-deception. She knew the morality of her choices.
Most of all, Giles was grateful that she treated him as more than a repository for Slaying information and seemed genuinely interested in his life outside the Watchers' Council. She had added him to her small collection of friends and was determined to make sure he knew it.
"They want me to come back and work in their Medieval department. It would be a better job than the one I had before I came to America. Medieval artifacts are some of my favorites, actually. They are generally in better condition than the more ancient pieces, but there still lingers so much mystery about them."
"Plus you can get your rocks off trying to read all those illuminated manuscripts without them falling apart."
"Something like that, yes."
"Were your family Watchers back in the Middle Ages?"
Springs creaked as Giles shifted positions. Faith grinned. A lazy morning without having to prevent an apocalypse, defeat a Big Bad, or comfort an exceptionally moody Slayer would be good for him. Now if only she could keep the conversation on him and off of the halfway house, they'd be five by five.
"I am not sure," he admitted. "I believe the Giles family has been deeply interested in and frequently associated with the occult for many, many generations, but I do not have records of our medieval pursuits. The surname Giles is not listed in the Watcher annals of those times, but that is by no means a conclusive proof that none of my medieval ancestors had dealings with the Slayer."
"Where does the last name Giles come from, anyway?" Faith prompted, rolling over onto her back to stare up at the funky texture of her ceiling. "Popcorn," Linea had called it – or something like that. The Slayer closed her eyes, the better to soak in his posh, accented tones.
"It is a derivative of the ancient Greek 'Aegidius,' a word which literally means 'a wearer of the goatskin' and refers to a person who does good works or a holy man. The original St. Giles, patron saint of beggars and cripples, left Greece and became a hermit in France. His Greek name Aegidius eventually was turned into Giles – it being a much more natural sounding word in French. The Normans brought the surname to the British Isles – an early form of it appears in the Domesday Book, in fact. Since then, I believe, it has spread to many European countries as well as the colonies."
"Goatskin, hermits, cripples, and beggars? Sexy."
"The shield of Zeus – and sometimes Athena – was named the aegis because it was made out of goatskin."
"So don't mock the goats?"
Giles laughed. "Indeed. At least not when in ancient Greece."
"Duly noted. Sorry, I'm afraid I don't know too much about Greece or Greek mythology or any of that stuff, really."
"Well, there are a wide variety of books available on the subject. Many of them are much less 'dry' than the books you use for Slayer research. I am sure the library in Cleveland would have something interesting and to your tastes."
"Meaning little books with lots of pictures? Ha ha, Giles. Ha ha. Seriously though, me in a library? Did someone feed you magic tea and crumpets last night?"
"Faith . . . "
"My bad, G-man. Come on, tell me a myth?"
She heard a rustling of paper, the click of a lighter, and then a long, slow exhale. Great. Giles was having a smoke. Her insides lurched with jealousy. She had lost a game of poker to Spike three days before and, as a consequence, had to go two weeks without tobacco or French kiss Angel in front of Rona's Slayers. Faith strongly suspected Zoë's scheming mind behind this and chose to temporarily stop smoking.
"I thought you quit?" she asked, mouth dry.
There was no answer for half a minute as he took another drag on his cigarette.
Strangely, Faith was starting to get nervous now. "Giles? Is everything okay? You're smoking on a Sunday morning."
"I am preparing myself for whatever bomb it is you are about to drop on me," he replied. "Also, it has been a rather hectic week, and I have not been able to find time for myself until now. Buffy, Willow, and the other girls are all still asleep, and I am taking advantage of the quiet."
"B doesn't like it when you smoke," Faith surmised. "Don't forget to open the window after."
"Quite." Giles exhaled again. "Now what is troubling you?"
Best to get it over with quick – like ripping off a band-aid. "Illyria wants to restore Angel's soul. Permanently. Like Spike's."
"Does she know how to do such a thing?" Giles frowned thoughtfully. "That would be a rather difficult spell to cast."
Faith shrugged. "She used to be an Old One, remember? Before some idiot stuck her in Fred's body. Now she's more human, less demon, but she still can work some powerful mojo. Don't tell Red, but I think Blue might be even better than she is – when she isn't too busy killing lesser demons for fun. If anyone can restore Angel's soul properly, Illyria probably can."
"Then why are you worried? Are you afraid the spell will fail and Angelus will return? You were able to help re-ensoul him last time."
"Yeah, but I almost died – I think I actually wanted to die at some point in there. And I had Wesley then. We never really got a chance to be friends, but that was when we finally worked stuff out until it was okay between us . . . when we were finally five by five. It's not fair, Giles," she added angrily.
"Mmm?" He coughed, choking slightly on the cigarette smoke.
"Why did Wes have to die? He was . . . He was . . ." But Faith could not articulate her feelings well – hell, she'd never been able to do that – and she honestly wasn't sure how much she wanted to discuss Wesley with Giles. There was an ocean full of uncomfortable memories down that road. So she changed the subject. "Can a Slayer retire?"
Giles was still coughing. "Er, what?"
"Jeez. G-man, drink some water. Anyway, Slayers. Can they retire?"
"Are you asking for yourself or for someone else?"
"My girls – Linea and Zoë – have been talking about SATs and college. I don't think they want to go the Buffy route. Thankfully, it doesn't look as if they'll be going my route. And . . ." she hesitated in a Faith way that always let Giles know there was more to come if he waited patiently enough.
"And?" he encouraged gently.
"And I've got my GED, and I'm actually working two jobs now – or will be next week – and maybe I'd like to try community college or something. I want to understand why books make Linea and Angel and sometimes even Spike light up like it's Christmas. I want to not come across as white trash."
"I highly recommend furthering your education, but allow me to ask you a question. Do you desire to cease being a Slayer? Do your girls?"
"I dunno about them, G. But me . . . When I was called, I was in a real bad place, and my future was not pretty. Slaying gave me something to do that wasn't dwelling on how eff'ed up my life was. Somewhere in there, though, I stopped paying attention to me. I lost track of myself, of who I was, and I ended up even more eff'ed up than before. Being a Slayer – good, bad, psycho, comatose, remorseful, whatever – it took over my life. I never had a shot of finding out who 'Faith' was. It was either Slaying, death, or both. It wasn't until I landed my butt in jail that I started thinking. And maybe . . . maybe I want some options. Maybe I want a second chance . . . a chance to actually be Faith, not just B's replacement Slayer."
Giles absorbed this in silence, watching ash fall from his cigarette onto the brown glass coaster atop his nightstand. His eyes traced its path through the air, and he gathered his thoughts. "I see," he said at length. "Here are a few things you may want to consider . . ."
They continued talking for nearly another hour. When Faith's yawning began to dominate the conversation, Giles bid her a firm goodnight. He could hear someone stirring in the living room of his London flat, and he needed to go play a proper host – or it would take him weeks to sort out the mess the Slayers left in his kitchen.
"Night, Giles," Faith yawned again. "If you don't go back to your museum, come home, okay? I miss you."
Touched, he replied, "And I, you. If this post at the British Museum doesn't come through, I shall keep your request under advisement. Now get some sleep."
"Aye-aye, Cap'n." Only half conscious, she clicked the 'end' button on the phone and was conked out by the time her hand hit the duvet.
Faith awoke to sunshine and silence. A glance at the clock on the wall showed it to be two o'clock in the afternoon. Groaning, she pulled a pillow over her head and attempted to return to her dreams. They had been exciting – that much she remembered – featuring a handsome, swarthy English pirate and a naval battle against a Spanish galleon. Try as she might, the swashbuckling outlaw and his dangerous smile would not reappear. Grumpy, she abandoned the cause and left her warm nest.
The house was quiet and empty, the usual state of affairs on a Sunday afternoon. Faith padded softly to the kitchen. The fridge was a horrid mess, but amidst the half-empty pitchers of blood, moldy cheese, and stale bread, she managed to find a gallon of milk that hadn't expired yet. Grabbing a bowl and a box of Cheerios, she settled down at the kitchen table. Breakfast, a shower, and then she was going to clean the house. World War Three. Faith versus the dirt invasion. It was going to be epic.
For once, she was true to her grand designs. By the time her roommates ventured forth from their own rooms, the kitchen, bathrooms, living room, hallways, and spare bedroom had all faced the violent wrath of Faith's vacuum, mop, duster, and industrial-sized box of Clorox wipes. The fridge had been emptied of all questionable items, and the myriad containers of blood consolidated by blood type. Faith honestly didn't give a flip if Spike and Angel had to drink after each other. It wasn't as if they could give each other mono . . . although that would be a huge laugh.
All the trash bags had gone out to the dumpster, and new liners were put in their places. Satisfied that the bacteria had been beaten back into submission, Faith set to cooking. It was a new skill she was trying to develop. So far, as long as she stuck to simple things, it all worked out okay. Humming under her breath, she browned a pound of ground beef and minced onions and garlic cloves.
Spike wandered in first, sniffing appreciatively. "In a house-wifely mood tonight, ducks? What time's dinner?"
The Slayer glanced up from stirring her pot of spaghetti sauce with a grin. "I can smell you from over here, Spike. No dinner until you take a shower and clean your room. That goes for you, too, Angel," she added as the older vampire entered behind his peroxide pet peeve. "Vacuum and stuff's in the hall closet. And if either one of you leaves hair gel gunk to fossilize on the bathroom counter again, there'll be a trip to sunburn land courtesy of me. Got it?"
"Your wish is our command." Angel swept an imaginary hat off his head and bowed with a series of excessive flourishes.
"What he said," Spike echoed, without the flourishes.
"Then dinner's in half an hour. You'd better hurry."
Faith smirked to herself as they vanished down the hallway. The sauce was simmering, the prepackaged cookie dough was in the oven, and she had thirty more minutes of peace and quiet all to herself. Just then, the back door slammed open, and Illyria poked her head into the kitchen.
"Sizeable nest of demons living near University Circle," she said matter-of-factly. "Apparently there's some strange animal flu going around the city, and the hospital morgue has been very full lately. The demons have been breaking in at night and stealing corpses. The flu's been most prevalent among the homeless, so there hasn't been any uproar about missing corpses yet."
"Grave-robbing demons?" Faith pulled a face.
"Worse. Corpse-eating demons. Speaking of eating, when will this be ready?" she motioned towards the stove.
"We have time?"
Illyria plopped down in a chair and shrugged. "The demons eat decomposing bodies. They won't care what time we show up to massacre them."
"Great . . ." The Slayer's pipe dream of dusting some easy vamps in the park and then watching a movie started to fade. "At least we can still eat dinner." But somehow, she fancied she'd lost her appetite.
A/N: Originally, this chapter was going to include a lot more action. And then Faith and Giles started talking and wouldn't shut up. Coming up next, our heroes battle demons, Illyria does some experimenting, and Angel plans SAT strategies. As always, feedback is greatly appreciated.