It was Xander who finally came out and told her, Xander with his gaze that could turn so cold and hard, Xander who spoke
the truth. “The last he time he looked like this and we all stood around his bedside, it was after you poisoned him,”
he told her, looking straight into her eyes just like he had when she pinned him down and tried to strangle him once up on
a time. “That’s hard, for her.”
“Not for you?” she asked, her lips gone stiff and numb.
He didn’t answer. He went back into the room with Angel and let the door band shut behind him. When he came out later,
there were tears in his uncovered eye.
She’d called up the old gang and they’d torn LA from top to bottom, but nobody- not any of Wesley’s sources
at Wyndham-Price or Gunn’s street contacts from the shelter he’d run since Anne Steel got herself bit- could find
one shred of evidence that the men were anything but what they seemed.
No vengeful enemies, no crazed demon Mafia, just bottom-rung junkies looking for a wallet with enough cash for them to score.
“Faith, I’m so scared.” He mostly seemed tired, and bewildered, like he simply couldn’t grasp how
this enemy had slipped around his guard.
They got by all right. Faith had the stipend paid to all Slayers by the Council, and only had to hunt two nights a week to
keep it. Angel- she still called him that, never Michael, not unless they were in public- worked at a used bookstore. He restored
antique furniture in the guest bedroom. He volunteered at Gunn’s shelter for troubled teens as his part of helping the
helpless, and he tried his best to stay out of fights.
Coming back to human with a claw through your torso meant that you were never going to be able to fight like a hero again,
even with the world’s most powerful witch at your right hand to heal you. He’d spent very few days without pain
as a human, he’d once told her- “but none without love.”
The name on his medical chart, his driver’s license, the lease for their apartment, was Michael. He’d decided
to keep up his personal tradition of a new name for each new life.
The Council got her a new name, too, so she could walk around in the world without getting arrested. But even if she could
remember to call him Michael in public, most of the time, to him she was always Faith.
He said her name like a prayer.
“A postoperative opportunistic infection,” they called it, one with “surprisingly high antibiotic resistance.”
Not such a surprise to either of them; he’d been dead for 250 years, after all, not exactly getting exposure to the
microbial nasties. Whatever immunities his system had, they were two and a half centuries out of date, as meaningless to bacteria
as the Big Bang. The infection swept through his unguarded system so fast the drugs never had a chance to work in the first
It was so random. It was so stupid. Even when he’d had a vampire’s strength and speed, sometimes a blade slipped
past his guard. The fact that now he was kind of slow and awkward even for a human didn’t really change anything.
“Deep knife wounds like that, especially to the gut...” The doctor had trailed off. “They’re ugly
Faith had stared blankly at him for a long moment before walking away. She knew that.
Wes had made the calls. She hadn’t been able to, had only been able to run her fingers over the photo a good-natured
tourist had snapped for them the day they married themselves under Santa Monica Pier.
He wore an awful Hawaiian-print shirt and khakis, she a green tank top and cutoff jeans. She had told him she wouldn’t
insult both of them by wearing white.
His arms were around her waist in the picture, hugging her back against him. They were smiling.
She tried to remember how that felt, to smile.
“It’s so hard,” he said, blinking up at her with sad, fevered eyes. “Why is it so much harder this
She swallowed and rubbed his chest. She didn’t answer.
His eyes slowly drifted closed. “I’ve died once already,” he mumbled. “It wasn’t this hard,
She lifted her other hand and ran it gently over his forehead.
Gray hairs had come in over his temples, and she loved that.
Faith had spent a lot of time teaching herself ways to not feel pain. She wished she could remember any of them, now.
“This is what Darla felt,” he whispered. “I told her it was a gift, to be mortal, to be able to die. I was
wrong.” He rolled his head sideways to look at her. “The gift was to live.”
The memories she treasured most were so simple, so sturdy.
Not the fragile spun-glass glory of spending the White Nights in St. Petersburg or dancing through the streets of New York.
Things like his hands expertly carving stakes, balancing them perfectly for her alone. Or sitting curled up on the couch in
the dim evening light, eyes closed, listening to him build worlds out of words as he read to her. He taught her about philosophy
and literature. She’d never realized that Shakespeare had so much to offer in the bloody death department.
She loved the Sha’nak crystal he’d spent three weeks and a quick interdimensional jaunt to get for her, but it
was nothing compared to the time he tried to bake her a birthday cake and almost burned the apartment down. She could close
her eyes and see him, staring at the oven in bleak dismay while the smoke detector screamed, covered in flour from head to
He managed a weak smile for Willow. “Hey,” he said, catching her hand, and even though his hand was so much larger
it looked more fragile. “Promise you’re not gonna get any crazy ideas about bringing me back. I’ve earned
my all-expense-paid ticket to Hell.”
“Don’t say that,” Buffy snapped, tight-lipped in her tears, just as Faith blurted, “You’re not
Wes stepped between the glaring Slayers, then thought better of it- Buffy wouldn’t hesitate to deck him, and he honestly
wasn’t sure if Faith would or not- and pulled Gunn there instead, hastily moving aside.
Angel coughed and they both turned back to him before there was any violence. Faith supposed that was a good thing.
The thing she wanted to fight today, no Slayer, not even Buffy the Great, could kill.
Spike didn’t come. “He and I said our goodbyes long ago, pet,” he told her over the crackly connection to
Malaysia. “Would only get him all excited if I were there, and he doesn’t need that.” He paused. “Besides,
I don’t like to ruin my perfect endings.”
She half-laughed at that, but over the miles it probably sounded like a sob.
“Give granddad my regards, Faith.” Spike’s voice was thick and rough now. She imagined him wiping tears
away absent-mindedly from a pay phone in Kuala Lumpur. “And tell him I know we’ll meet again, come the day. We
Wes emerged from the room white-faced and crumpled to the floor as soon as the door closed behind him.
“Wes, man, what-” cried Gunn, sinking to his knees beside him.
Wesley stared up at his friend and choked through tears. “He asked me- he said- ‘Wesley, why can’t I stay?’
That’s exactly- that’s what Fred asked me, Charles, and I can’t bear it, I can’t lose anyone else,
Faith stood stone-faced. She wanted to scream, to run, to put someone’s face through those pretty glass windows. To
kill and kill and dance in the blood.
But Angel had taken all of that away from her. And what he’d given her in return was useless now, here.
No one could agree on what name to put on the headstone, or how to deal with the years. He was either 262 or fifteen, and
neither was going to fly with the cemetery staff.
So in the end the stone bore no words at all, simply an image, plain lines chiseled in granite. Wes and Gunn had smiled and
called it fitting. The Scoobies didn’t understand, but they felt the rightness of it anyway. Even Buffy had almost smiled,
leaning on her handsome Italian Watcher husband on the one side and Xander on the other. Buffy clung to her two remaining
men like anchors to the world. It was five years since her last funeral- Giles’s heart attack on holiday in Scotland.
Faith remembered it as whiskey and making love to Angel in tartan sheets while they both wept for the wounds they’d
dealt the old man years before.
Faith understood. She gave B. that much. She’d lost her Watcher and her beloved too. Just had some more time in between,
She reached out and gently brushed her fingers across the stone. Someone- probably Gunn and Wes, and she was never going to
stop loving them for being her rocks through all this- had wrangled a plot beneath an oak tree. He’d have eternal shade.
It was only a stone’s throw from Fred’s delicate stone and empty grave, a lonely lilac bush he planted for Darla,
and Cordelia’s marker with its gracefully landscaped roses.
She found herself smiling as she traced the image on the stone. Cordy’s stylized drawing of an angel. The old business-card
logo. It was fitting, like the guys said.
She took a step back and looked at it. Behind her, Gunn laughed, a small, strange sound. “Still kinda looks like a lobster.”
“It’s perfect,” Buffy said. Faith glanced over at her and they locked eyes for a moment. Both Slayers. Both
Faith looked back at the stone again and found herself smiling. “Yeah, it is,” she agreed. “Just look at
the wings. It can fly.”