Summary: Faith ends up in L.A. after the fall with the ghost of her former Watcher and a friend obsessed with setting things right.
Fandom: Angel the Series (Angel: After the Fall)
Spoilers and/or Warnings: Spoilers for Angel: After the Fall comics to #9 and Buffy: Season 8 comics to #11. Small bits of dialogue taken from same.
Author's Notes: Many thanks to anxiety_junkie for beta-reading and hand-holding.
Original Story: Ishmael Sings of the White Whale by liz_marcs
When she tries to work it out, it only kinda makes sense and then only when she doesn’t think about it so much. Fuzzy around the edges is an almost perfect description of most of her life. She can’t remember when life was ever in any kind of sharp focus, not even when she was tiny enough to think that some smeared lipstick would make her pretty enough to capture some of Mommy’s junkie attention.
Still, seeing the ghost of your former watcher floating out of the mangled remains of a gang of creepy no-eye demons? It takes fuzzy and turns it on its ass.
“Wes,” she says solemnly, “looks like you got a little deader since the last time I saw you. Can’t say I’m big on your return to the suit.”
“Nor I,” he replies flatly. “Evil always goes for the low blow.”
He turns, and she wonders if he really has to turn. He’s a ghost. Shouldn’t he be able to just sorta reform facing the other way? She doesn’t wonder about following him. She falls in slightly behind him because the suit and the attitude that comes with don’t fit him at all.
“Angel’s here,” he tells her softly.
“Sun and the moon in the sky at the same time, corpses everywhere, demon overlords,” Faith says, an edge creeping into her voice. “Kinda not surprised Angel’s in residence.”
It’s not nerves or exhaustion or fear that’s making her edgy. A Slayer in Hell quickly gets used to all of those things or she’s dead. Faith’s seen a few dead slayers already, little girls no more than twelve or fourteen, splayed open on the concrete as an all-you-can-eat demon buffet. Baby ones she helped bring forth or empower or whatever stupid term Willow used when she sucked the Slayer out of the scythe and transmitted it out to all potential Slayers everywhere. She didn’t do the mojo, but she thought it was a great plan and so those little girls on the sidewalk are on her.
That’s why she’s edgy. Too many dead Slayers and too much human cattle and it’s all she can do to stay not dead. Finding Angel here is like a blessing and a slap rolled into one. He’s been here the whole time and it’s still like this, she thinks, and feels the fuzz creep back in around her.
“What the fuck?” she asks abruptly, because almost running into the back of hovering ghost is as a good a wake-up as any she can think of. “I leave to help wreck one damn town and you throw this place to Hell.”
Wes doesn’t turn around. He just keeps moving forward and this is why she’s edgy. Because if he’s a ghost…if he’s a ghost…she can’t push past that thought, can’t see big bad Gunn and the skinny chick and Lorne and Cordy and Superfreak all dead while Angel fights on alone in Hell. Again.
Except that she can it. The whole shiny, brutally ugly picture stamps itself out wicked clear. They couldn’t take out Angel, so they did the next best thing. They took out the ones who fought beside him.
“Are you the only one left?” There’s a thick silence between them, the screams of the dying and the throaty moans of the victorious muting as she waits for an answer to a question she didn’t want to ask.
“Yes,” he says simply and motions her into the building.
She’d been so busy fighting off the disbelief she hasn’t even noticed the building. She looks at the grey wreckage, staring uneasily at the jagged pieces and decomposing bodies. She doesn’t even try to put faces on the dead. Hell is full of bodies.
But this building seems almost familiar. It’s a tickle at the back of her throat, something she’s stretching to touch as she picks her way mechanically after Wes. Whatever blast sent this place to hell wrecked it in the process, but it isn’t the climb that’s slowing her. It’s that nagging almost-knowledge seeping from her bones and she stumbles, dodging a desk torn to splinters.
“Dangerous base for a vamp,” she observes numbly, staring up at Wes.
“Yes. Part of its charm,” and his voice is so damn distant she almost wants to hit him. He needs a shake or a kick or something to bring him back to life. But she can’t and he can’t, so she just stands up. She has to keep up or she’ll lose him; his grey suit blends into the greyer building, the only shades of grey she’s seen since L.A. went to Hell. She’s not sure what that says about Wes or this building.
“Guests?” She can hear him but not see him. “Tell the Senior Partners we’re not really ready to entertain new clients.”
“Angel.” Just one word but Wes can pack a lot of disappointment into a few words. “She wasn’t sent by the Senior Partners. Though I imagine they know she’s here by now.”
“She?” Angel moves out of the dark, but even the light is dark here and so he stands silhouetted in the gloom. “Faith?”
She nods once and it’s not the greeting she wants to give him. She wants to touch him, to make sure they’re both okay and to find out exactly how the hell Hell happened. But whatever’s going on here isn’t about that and so she stands where he can see her and waits.
“Of all the people,” Angel murmurs. “I wish you weren’t here, Faith.”
“That’s two of us. Any chance you could fill me on what went down? “ Faith asks. Her voice seems to fill the distance between them, a verbal blow she wishes she could pull.
“Me,” Angel responds quietly and she closes her eyes against the wave of guilt carried on his voice.
“You,” she repeats. “I think you should probably make that picture bigger.”
Even after he explains it, she can’t believe it.
“So,” she says slowly, “you joined Wolfram and Hart, erased everyone’s memories and led them into some unwinnable fight against the biggest, baddest super-evil you could find?”
“Yeah,” Angel says tightly.
“You keep the dragon?”
“Yeah,” he says again.
“Least you didn’t walk away empty-handed,” she replies.
Angel pushes his hand through his hair, a gesture of frustration she’s not even sure he’s aware of. He feels off in a way she can’t explain, the same way she can’t explain the wrongness of this building or the weirdness of ghostie Wes. At least Wes has the excuse of being dead. Angel? He’s a whole other thing.
“Faith,” he grinds out, “I don’t think you’re really getting the big picture here.”
“Oh, I got it, “ she assures him. “You did a really stupid thing. People got hurt. No newsflash there, babe. No way was that going to end well and you knew it.”
He doesn’t respond. His eyes slide sideways and his chin jerks and she knows. Sometimes Faith thinks she knows Angel better than she knows herself. Probably she does. Someone else’s dark side is always easier to look at than your own.
“You seriously thought it’d be all okay?” She jams her fists in her pockets because she’s not sure she can keep from throwing a wild punch. “You thought you could walk into their headquarters with your Watcher and your muscle and your little brainiac and they’d just roll over on you? Shit, Angel, if you didn’t know better, you should have.”
He stands there, shoulders hunched, and she’s got no more defenses against his wounded eyes than any other Slayer. The fuck of it is he probably did think he was doing the right thing by putting his own people on some sacrificial alter. Serve up his own and save the civilians or some other really stupid fucking notion that’s all twisted because his own are scattered and dead AND the world’s gone to Hell.
Probably seemed so easy. In her experience, it usually is easy and that’s the first mistake. Nothing easy comes free and nothing free is ever really free. But easy can be so damned…easy, sometimes.
This is the ugly truth about evil. Evil with a capital E, not the small petty everyday evils that wander around cutting in line or not returning incorrect change, but the real down and dirty Evil. The sad truth is that Evil isn’t ugly; that evil looks so damn good, comfy even.
She stares at Angel appraisingly.
“You got a plan for getting L.A. out of hell?” she asks him with a sigh.
“Not exactly a plan,” Angel hedges. “I’m working on the plan part.”
She sighs. “You say that and all I hear is no plan. So is this planning the plan going to involve big dusty books?”
Hell has no bedtime. She can’t remember when that started to irritate her, but it does. She’s a Slayer and maybe, just like the vamps, night is where she belongs or some mumbo-jumbo crap like that. Whatever it is, having the sun always out pisses her off and she’s grateful to retreat into the darker corners of Angel’s destroyed building.
The bed is uncomfortable, mostly because it isn’t so much a bed as a padded gurney. The thing’s almost as wide as she is. Almost. Still, she thinks she could sleep reasonable well on the hard, narrow cushion if it weren’t for the creepy-crawlies running up and down her spine. Being stared at isn’t relaxing.
“Hell doesn’t cancel out Slayer senses, “ she informs him, propping herself up on one elbow to stare into the grey shadows. She knows he’s there, even if she can’t see him clearly.
He doesn’t answer. She’s not really expecting answers. She didn’t get any from Angel, either.
“So Connor’s still alive,” she comments, settling back into the pitiful excuse for a bed. She thinks about her cell bunk, and decides the gurney is actually worse. “Spike too, which I think might be the bigger deal. Dead undead comes back to life. That something you don’t see every apocalypse.”
“Actually, you do,” Wes replies. “Resurrection often presages the most brutal end of days incidents.”
She shrugs, a halfhearted motion that turns into a squirm. The bed’s so damn uncomfortable.
“Everyone’s not dead,” she says flatly. “And you’re only mostly dead.”
Wes laughs, brittle and bitter. “And no miracle man to be found.”
“What?” Faith shakes her head. “Whatever.”
She rolls over, burrowing into the tattered blankets. She can sleep through anything, even the ghost of her dead Watcher. She can.
“Okay, you’re Casper the Unfriendly Fucking Ghost. Could you peep your way outta the room?” she asks in irritation. “Isn’t there some afterlife you should be lounging around right now? Some not here fluffy cloud place, maybe.”
He slides out of the grey shadows and into the less grey light. She thinks it must be her imagination, but she can’t stop seeing little trails of Wes flowing out behind him. Something like smoke or fog, it seems to well up around him and make him appear less real.
“Wolfram & Hart find death inconvenient, but not insurmountably so,” Wesley tells her softly. “I tried to move on. I called on the only person with enough goodness to counter the force the Senior Partners exert here.”
“Since you’re playing Boo Boy here, I’m guessing your good got outvoted.”
“I recited the words for hours,” he goes on, ignoring what even she knows was a meaningless jab, “I stood in the Fashion District, hoping that she’d notice. I kept at it, long after the words themselves became meaningless, the incantation hopelessly muddled.”
Faith tilts her head slightly, trying to see which one of those things is not like the other. “Didn’t the Senior Baddies try and stop you?”
“No,” Wesley informs her. “They didn’t try to stop me because they knew I couldn’t succeed. No single point of good can defeat the evil they’ve massed in this dimension.”
Faith yawns. “Guess it’s a good thing me and Angel are gonna work together then, huh?”
She rolls over, finally finding a strip of cushion comfortable enough to burrow in to. Wes’s voice follows her, blurring into a tangle of sound that makes her limbs heavy and her head light. She wonders if he’s actually gotten more boring after death, and if that’s even possible. She’s asleep before she has any answers.
By the time she wakes, the building is empty. It’s actually more disturbing without Wes’s silent presence to lighten the heavy atmosphere. Faith tiptoes around the piles of broken desks and chairs; something in her doesn’t want to wake the building and she shakes in silent laughter. Hell makes her feel crazier than usual.
“I wouldn’t go out there if I were you.” Wes’s voice comes out of nowhere. She turns to see the rest of him coalescing.
“Angel left the dragon double parked?”
“No,” Wes answers. “He slaughtered the son of a powerful demon lord right on our doorstep. He’s declared war on Hell.”
She laughs, a short, terse sound of disbelief. “What the fuck?”
“He’s changed, Faith,” Wes tells her. “He seems to have lost sight of his goal. I’ve tried to guide him, to help him. But he doesn’t trust me.”
“No,” she says distantly. “He wouldn’t.”
She takes a step back and looks up through what used to the headquarters of Wolfram & Hart to the chaotic sky. It took her a full day to figure out why this place gave her the creeps, why Wesley felt so wrong and now she can only wish she’d never figured it out. This is the headquarters of Evil, Inc.
“You working for them, Wes?” Faith asks him, cocking her head to take in his transparent form. “Company man?”
“They’ve compelled my presence, Faith, not my compliance. I would give literally anything to be released from this torment. Except…” He trails off and she nods in understanding.
“He’d be alone,” she finishes for him. “So Angel went looking for a fight? Guessing that’s gonna get ugly. Still, at least he’s doing something. Better than sitting around like Granny Ghost, waiting for Hell to freeze over.”
“Faith!” Wesley’s voice is cold, harsh, and in it she hears echoes of the man who stabbed a junkie in the backroom of a vamp bar. “Angel wants to take on the forces of Hell by himself in some misguided belief that winning the fight will take down the Senior Partners.”
“Maybe he’s right,” Faith shoots back. “Maybe if he kills the big uglies…”
She doesn’t even have a chance to finish her sentence. Wesley rushes forward, and she gasps as the cold of his ghostly form washes over her. She stands her ground because she’s damned if Wes’ll move her, dead or alive.
“If he kills them, Faith, IF. Then what? He could kill every demon in this dimension and all that would bring about is an open portal bringing a brand new lot to fight. He needs sensible counsel, not a pair of willing fists.”
She rolls her eyes. “Wow, from zero to crazy in point three seconds. Must be a new record. First, I’m not a counselor, I’m a Slayer. Second, you think Angel’s gonna give fuck all about me telling him to back down? Only one person ever led him away from a fight and that was by the dick.”
She twirls, sidestepping the puffs of Wes that gather around him like a cloud. “Got the wrong Slayer for that job, Wes. And even if you could get ahold of Buffy from here, do you really think she’d toe your line? I can see it now.”
She raises her hand, miming the shape of phone. “Hey, B. Yeah, long time no care. Listen, Angel’s about to take on the combined armies of Hell. Okay, a hell dimension, sorry. How about you give him a stern talking to? What’s that? You’re busy with your own fun new army. Uh-huh and your own friends. Right, and Angel’s just some guy you used to bang so why should you leave your fight and join his? Gotcha. Thanks for pickin’ up.”
Soft footfalls reach her ear and she raises an eyebrow at Wes.
“Do what you can,” Wes says softly.
She nods. She has every intention of doing what she can, but she wasn’t yanking Wes’s chain. Talking Angel down off this ledge is a job for the One Girl, capital O capital G and those caps don’t belong to her. Gotta shrug it off. No time for pity parties in Hell.
She asks for details. Angel explains the details in detail. In great detail. In detail so detailed she thinks her head might fall off from nodding so much in pretend understanding.
“So,” Angel finally says. “What do you think?”
“I think, “ she says slowly, “that you clued the wrong side of this team onto your secret squirrel plans.”
“Wait, squirrels? I don’t think I said anything…” he begins and she waves a hand.
“What I meant was don’t you think Wes would be a bit more handy in this whole plan stuff? I’m all for a good brawl, big guy, but this is mojo and pie charts,” she says matter of factly.
“It’s not a pie chart,” Angel objects. “It’s a graph of the Lords’ power structure based on geographic area, taking into account human population per block and demon resources within the confines of…”
“Stop. I’m begging you. Begging and there can even possibly be hugging. Just listen,” Faith says. “Can you even hear how whacked out this sounds?”
“It’s how it is,” Angel replies stubbornly, turning away from her. “This isn’t Sunnydale, Faith. We can’t just take a stake and clean out the bad guys. There needs to be a plan and that plan has to take into account all the variables.”
“Okay.” she agrees because it’s easier to agree. “Let’s get those variables together. Wes says Connor’s still running around all footloose and fight-y and you gotta dragon which is crazy mad but still a variable.”
Variables. She’s talking variables because she can’t bring herself to hurt him.
“She’s right, Angel.” Wesley’s voice sounds cool, even reasonable. But Angel turns away, his rigid back and crossed arms doing all his talking for him.
“You need to lay low,” Wesley continues. “You’re not up to taking on the combined forces of these demon Lords.”
“I want out of Hell,” Angel counters. “This is the best way to do that.”
She pulls her hands up, palms out. She gives because there’s no arguing with the finality in Angel’s voice. Wesley nods once, a dip of his head that both condemns and reprieves. She’s free to go, but only because she’s failed.
As she walks away, a brief flash of light illuminates the darkness. She doesn’t bother to look back. She keeps walking forwards, ignoring what sounds like a chorus of female voices overlaid with Wesley shouting. Sounds urgent, possibly even important. There are weapons in here and demons out there. Those two facts always equal a good time and Faith knows for certain she is a good time girl.
It’s late when she finally gets back, stinking of demon blood -or what passes for blood- and covered in a fine coating of ash. At least, she thinks it’s late. That’s the trouble with day and night happening at the same time. Never know whether you’re late or early and she laughs, the sound thin and desperate even to her ears.
She’s going crazy. Or maybe she started crazy. Right now, she’s too amped to be tired and too exhausted to fight another battle.
He’s propped up on one arm, silhouetted against the broken windows of what used to his office. She stares at him, trying to see his face. Angel? Angelus? Who the fuck is he and why is it important? She can’t figure it out.
But she walks towards him anyways, because if she can’t figure out why it’s important, it must not matter at all.
“Faith,” he says, his voice hoarse and it’s just her name so it shouldn’t be such a big deal but it is and she reaches out to touch him.
Her hand skims his cheek, an almost not-touch because she’s not sure she can handle it. Maybe this is a bad idea or maybe she’s reading him wrong or a hundred other maybes that only seem to bother her in Hell. Just as she pulls away, he turns his head, swift and sharp, to drop a light kiss on her outstretched palm.
The sweetness, the sheer humanness of his lips on her skin, worms its way inside her, splitting her fragile shell. She doesn’t, can’t, cry. Sorrow is a luxury and she’s just too damn poor. But she leaves her hand in his.
“I gotta go,” she whispers. “There’s too many bodies out there, Angel, getting lost in your big picture. I can’t keep not seeing them, yanno?”
He nods and his hand tightens around her’s before pulling back.
“I know,” he says heavily. “But I can’t let this go, Faith. I have to put this right.”
She wants to remind him about all the things he taught her, about how it can’t be made right and all you can do is move forward. But those words belong to another man, another world. So all she can do is look at him and smile.
“Not going far, big guy,” she tells him. “Thought maybe I’d hook up with that super brat of yours, help him keep down the ugly. I’ll be back for the big throwdown.”
He doesn’t believe her; she knows that. It can’t matter. She can’t let his sad eyes and his save the world spreadsheets keep her inside this ruin built on bad choices and stupid pride. She swivels her wrist and his hand drops.
He won’t stop staring at her, but this isn’t her first awkward good-bye. She jerks her chin, the only farewell she’s ever been good at, and walks away. His eyes follow until she rounds the corner, leaving him in the shadows of Wolfram and Hart.
“Leaving?” Wesley asks from the shadows behind her and she doesn’t hear any judgment in the question.
“Yeah,” she answers. “Gonna go look up Connor, see if I can lend him a friendly stake.”
“Good,” Wes says.
She rocks back on her heels, blinking at him through the haze of ghostly smoke. “Wow. Gotta say I never expected to hear that from you. Figured I’d get the old duty and honor speech or something.”
“You want to hear about duty and honor? Fine,” Wesley smiles, a humorless twist of the mouth, “As a Slayer, your duty is to fight the forces of evil. Go. Fight. Don’t die.”
“Gotcha,” she says with a shake of her head. “I won’t die. But what about you?”
“Bit late for me to take my own advice,” Wesley notes drily.
“Guess so,” she agrees. “But I was more meaning what about you and the going part.”
“Go,” he repeats.
She goes because she’s not sure what else she can do and as she moves away from him, she feels a little glad that he’s staying behind. She can’t help Angel and she can’t help Wes. Hell, she isn’t even sure they can help each other. But they aren’t alone and that’s something.
She stares out over the ravaged L.A. landscape and sighs. It’s a long way to Santa Monica. She should have asked Angel if she could borrow his dragon. She shakes her head. How the hell do you have that talk? I’m leaving you to stew in your own personal apocalypse, mind if I borrow your supernatural flying creature?
One foot in front of the other and as she walks, she thinks about Angel and Wes. Being with them in that ruined building, making plans for a grand finale, it all reminds her of something Giles said to her after they left behind London and the body of that sad, broken Slayer. It was a terrible trip, full of non-conversations about the dead girl, her and Giles still not easy in each other’s company.
They were sitting in a train compartment, watching as the scenery lurchs by in dribs and drabs. Giles begins to talk, telling her of this ancient Roman emperor who said that life isn’t good or evil, it’s just a place where good things and evil things happen. She knows he said it to make her feel better about killing. It was a nice thing to do, especially for Giles.
But she doesn’t know if she believes all of that. There’s been too much evil in her world to say it just happens. She hopes that dead Roman guy knows what he’s talking about. If he's right, then Hell is just another place, one where some good can happen.
Don’t be evil isn’t exactly a peppy t-shirt slogan, but for here and for now and for her, it’s a victory.