He's standing at the bottom of the stairs. He can hear the comforting sounds of crockery being laid on the table. He can smell the orange juice and something wonderful cooking on the stove. He hasn't even gone and he misses it already.
For a moment he had belonged, he'd been a member of a team which had accomplished something important. The need to feel that acceptance again is gnawing away at his resolve.
The touch of Angel's handshake still lingers and Cordy's 'take care' is still ringing in his ears. He wills his feet to take that first step. He wants Angel and Cordelia to remember that at least his exit had some dignity. But more than that he wants the camaraderie, that sense of place he'd felt for so brief a time. Against his better judgement, he turns back. Just one more moment in their presence, just one more glimpse and then he'll leave.
Angel throws him a casual glance. "Breakfast?"
"Ooh, I suppose so," he answers and quickly makes himself at home.
The blood dripping into his eyes can't hide the scene playing out in front of him.
For hours he suffered at her hands. Shards of glass have been scraped along his throat, across his forehead and imbedded in his skin.
With a precision and patience she'd never displayed when he was training her, Faith has systematically carved her presence into his soul. He thinks he hates her for her trespass.
He's never been so glad the Council sacked him; rid him of the responsibility of being her Watcher. He doesn't know how a young girl can turn into such a vicious animal. He doesn't know and he doesn't care. What he does know is that no one is going to make a victim of him again. He's stronger than he looks. Faith couldn't make him scream but he will delight in turning the tables to listen to her cries.
The rainfall muffles their words, but the outcome of the fight is all too clear. He'd thought Angel had come to rescue him – how wrong could he be? He watches as Angel holds her sobbing body in his arms.
With all that she's done, it amazes him that Angel can even bring himself to touch her, let alone try to redeem her blackened soul. He clutches the knife in his hand. This is the only thing he's willing to use to touch ...
The full horror of the gypsy's curse slowly dawns on him; Angel's tortured soul doesn't give him a choice.
The knife drops out of his hand and falls unnoticed to the ground. With one last glance he leaves and savours the pleasure at being able to walk away from her without looking back.
He had always assumed his death would be in battle at the hands of a demon or vampire. Human atrocities were normally so far from his perception as to be unfathomable. But nonetheless, here he is in hospital recovering from a gunshot wound.
Even in his drugged up state he's aware of Angel lurking in the background. He isn't in the hospital room - that much he can see. But Angel has a knack of making his presence felt in other ways. It shows in the stiffness of Cordelia's back and her over chirpy, some might say brittle, demeanour when she comes back into the room. Her poor acting skills are in evidence as she fails to cover up her anger over Angel's appearance at the hospital after he fired and deserted them.
The feel of the bullet entering his stomach is still fresh in his memory. He assumes it always will be. Funny how he never expected to ever experience anything so real. His life has revolved around the supernatural and the fight against evil for as long as he can remember. Not even his childhood had been spared; fairy stories told to other children to enchant them into a magical wonderland of dreams were taught to him as lessons of what happens when Watchers fail at their jobs.
His injury may have come from battling zombies and from fighting the good fight, but police and bullets and homeless kids in urban war zones skewed the picture. Nevertheless, he doesn't blame Angel. How could he blame the vampire for his predicament when Angel is as lost in this world of humanity as he seems to be?
No, he doesn't blame Angel for abandoning them. But he does wonder how Angel imagined that without his quest for redemption, the rest of them could return to a normal life. They are all as damaged as each other; none of them are equipped to believe in a reality where fairy tale princes save the world from mystical dragons.
He'd never learnt to trust his own experiences. He'd never believed that he might know more than the books he revered. He'd been weaned on the importance of research from the moment he'd learnt how to read. There was nothing he couldn't know, as long as he found the correct source document to teach him.
It was his job in life to understand the wisdom of ages, to read the prophecies, to decipher the evidence and come up with solutions. His father had instilled that lesson at the end of a switch. The Academy had driven home the lesson with hours and hours of lectures. He was taught that his skills lay in obscure languages, intricate translations and his dedication to the cause. He had found his place and that place was deep in the pages of old tomes the world had forgotten even existed.
He was a diligent student. He came to prominence at the Council for always being the one who stayed longest in the libraries, who could spot the clues others had over-looked. It was how he got his chance at becoming Watcher to the active Slayer. He might have failed at that endeavour, but he never failed when it came to research.
He didn't realise until it was too late that this blinkered diligence to rigid methods and out-dated rules was the very trait that had caused their downfall.
The one thing the books had never taught him was to trust his instincts. If the books and prophecies said Angel was going to kill his son, then he believed it must be true.
He'd been taught that books were the font of all knowledge and he was nothing if not an exemplary student.
He lost the bet and it cost him a dollar.
If he was only willing to risk a dollar, he could hardly blame the other player for not taking him seriously.
Maybe if he had gambled more, the winnings might have lasted longer than they did - been valued a little higher. He supposed he got what he paid for. And what can you get for one dollar nowadays anyway?
You certainly can't afford to buy trust with it. At a pinch you might get a discount on a small bout of betrayal - that always seems to come cheap. He knows, he's had experience of it before. But then all the money in the world wouldn't have been enough for him to gamble her loyalty to him against her duty to Wolfram and Hart – not with Angel and Cordy at risk.
Would things have been different if he'd ...? If she ...?
He's still got the dollar in his wallet. He doesn't know why. It's worth less now than it was then and it still won't buy him what he wants.
It hurts him to remember but he can't forget. He doesn't even have to shut his eyes to picture her being devoured from within.
Then nothing. She was gone, just like the others. Everyone he's ever touched is gone - Cordelia, Lilah, Fred. And now he's left with this monster that wears her face.
She wants to consume the world; turn it back to what she knows. She wants to consume him; extract his knowledge to fuel her existence. He wishes he could stop her. He wishes he could let her go. But he can't. He hasn't got the strength. He's been empty for so long, he's got nothing left with which to fight.
She can have him. What does it matter? He's never asked for much - just a little happiness. But obviously even that was too much.
Angel robbed him of his memories. Fred's death robbed him of hope and now he's just this hollow shell, that can't find it within himself to care.
He looks into Angel's eyes and everything finally makes sense - the fight, the losses, the battle itself.
For a while he had lost his way. The one certainty in his life seemed to have withered away, deformed by corruption. But it's back – Angel is back. The anchor tethering him in place is as firm and strong as it has ever been. The relief that floods through him at this realisation energises and calms at the same time.
He knows now that this is where he was always meant to be. Everything he has ever done was for this moment alone.
Without a word he lifts his hand. He'll follow Angel 'unto the breach'.
He'll do it because it's right. He'll do it because nothing else matters. But most of all he'll do it for Angel, for his champion, for the man who offered him breakfast when he had no place else to go.
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