Angels in the Architecture: Book One
by Only Passenger
Notes: I began this fic last October (2007), and it's been my pet since. In my head, the plot continues far beyond the contents of this fic, but over the last several months I've been diagnosed with serious health problems that make writing difficult, and I'm not sure if or when a continuation of this story will be written. There are loose ends in here, and I don't get Buffy and Faith to their final destinations with each other, but I wanted to share what of this story currently exists, and I believe this can be read as a stand alone. A stand alone with potential.
I was knee deep in this story when i wrote the much shorter Buffy and Faith oneshot called Gemini, and they're sort of sister stories, with Gemini taking the form of what i imagined this version of Buffy and Faith's relationship might look like earlier in the series. This story starts up right at the end of Season 7, and goes from there.
Beta'd by the amazing clawofcat, who has really been more like a midwife for this fic. Any remaining errors or shortcomings are solely mine.
The title comes from the Paul Simon song "You Can Call Me Al", which directly inspired this story.
Listen to the Music
When Faith was fighting like hell on the inside curve of the Hellmouth's lip, she saw the world in her head. Lives upon lives upon lives. People she knew and people she'd never meet. People who would wake up tomorrow and the day after that, and years would go by, and decades, and generations, and they'd never know who to thank, or that anyone needed thanking at all, or that there'd been this big, huge moment of truth, this shivering cusp where it could have gone either way for humanity, and that Faith had tipped the scales.
They twinkled in her head, stars, or Christmas lights. She felt a rush of them, every one of them urging her on, giving her the reason, the will, the strength.
That battle waged. And Faith felt every soul on Earth fill her.
All but one.
They loaded onto the bus after a blinding, trembling moment gathered at the edge. Shell shock, complete and total. They had won, and now the Grand Canyon had a Mini Me to show for it.
Robin missed the metaphorical cliff-side group hug. He was alive still, but bunched into a ripped vinyl seat in the front of the bus, like a parody of some goody-two shoes school kid.
Except bleeding to death from the inside out.
Four and five towns out lodging was full up and hospitals were over-flowing. It made sense. People had been fleeing Sunnydale for months, most of them worse for the Hellmouth wear. It got dark and Giles kept driving anyway, and the rest of them were mainly still and silent, exhaling cocktails of weariness and relief.
By morning they reached Frieda, California. Frieda had a few beds left, motel and hospital.
They needed both.
Mystical healing mojo a la the Calling rendered the Slayers pretty much patched up by the time the bus crawled into the ER's circular drive. Buffy was sore, sure, but Faith just reminded her about this one other time this Slayer'd gotten stabbed in the belly, and how that Slayer had lived to tell the story, so suck it up.
Buffy smiled at that, kind of. There was a whole mess behind it though. Sadness. Anger. Shame. Stuff Faith didn't want to put a name on.
Everybody who didn't come equipped with extra lifelines, on the other hand, was hurting from the battle. Breaks and bruises and sprains and concussions. Willow was dry as a bone until they pumped her full of a half dozen bags of saline. Faith figured it must have been one hell of a magic trick, pulling all those girls' numbers at once. Looked like the witch had bathed in bleach.
Robin was rushed into surgery. Faith was left standing in the linoleum hallway as the gurney sped away, feeling like she'd been holding her breath for five years now and wasn't that enough?
And then, after that, just blank. Like she'd gone way past the running on fumes stage and was now halted completely.
By the evening, everybody who needed medical attention had been attended to. Giles phoned a motel and booked a block of rooms for the last of the Sunnydale refugees. Some of the potentials-cum-superheroes were booking flights home, passing Giles' credit card around the ER lobby. Faith felt like a shipwreck, pacing and cussing under her breath at the stupid idiot whose decision is was not to stock smokes in the hospital gift shop, the whole time sinking down, down, down.
"It's okay." Buffy was murmuring to Giles, her hand on his shoulder. "Get them to the motel. I'll stay."
I'll stay. She meant she'd stay to be with Faith, that support thing. For just in case.
"Yeah. It's been different since…It's different now with us, Giles."
"I suppose it would be." He was smiling soft, and it put a little fuzz of hope in Faith's belly, the idea that Buffy gave a shit about her and that it made sense to Giles.
"I'll call when there's news," Buffy promised, solemnly.
Giles pressed a long, weary kiss against her forehead. Faith watched Buffy close her eyes and accept it, breathe it in.
Robin hung on for almost forty hours after his stint on the operating table at Frieda General. The doctors all tried to prepare Faith for the inevitable end, but she just sat there, eyes wet but never slipping, holding Robin's huge brown hand in both of hers, squeezing hard enough to hurt him, willing him to get better so the two of them could brawl. Because this was as close as she'd gotten so far, and damn if he was gonna take it away just like that. Damn him.
He never woke up after the surgery. When he finally flat-lined, Faith tossed her hair and sniffed and walked out of his hospital room without looking back.
Buffy was in the lobby. She'd kept to the shadows the whole time, but now was up and shouting and chasing as Faith stormed through, running like she was trying to beat her tears to the door. As soon as she'd closed the gap between them, Buffy grabbed Faith's arm with both hands and tethered her.
"Not in here, Buffy!" Faith fought against the hold. She was choking on it, the grief, felt her face twisting with it, the ugly heavy sobs roughhousing in her chest.
Buffy stayed close, but let go. "Fine," she whispered. "Let's take this outside."
"You're gonna wanna be careful about putting your hands on me like that right now," Faith half-growled as they strode through the automatic double glass doors and into the parking lot, Buffy on Faith's heels. "I'm at the edge here. Little push is all it's gonna take for somebody to get hurt."
"Yeah? So hit me."
Faith startled and spun. "I'm sorry, what?"
Buffy was deadpan. "You're looking for a fight? Who's to say I'm not?"
Faith's eyebrows knit up tight as she tried to figure out what Buffy was up to.
"C'mon, Faith," Buffy taunted. "You think you have this righteous sadness in you, like you have it so rough? Well, allow me to clarify something for you. You're not the only one who fell in love, and you're not the only one who watched that man die so the rest of the world could live. So I'm gonna say this once: Get over yourself."
Faith felt something like fire in her ribs when her knuckles connected with Buffy's jaw.
Buffy would love to be able to say it was all for Faith: the shiner blooming across her cheekbone, the grass stains in her only post-Sunnydale pair of jeans, the already sealing split along her hairline. She'd love to be able to say that Faith was hysterical with grief, while she herself was on an even keel. That she'd played the Fight Club card because Faith needed to blow off some steam, and Buffy was a safe, sane vessel to vent it into.
That'd be cool, huh? If she could say all that stuff?
It would indicate that she was fine. It would indicate that she was doing okay. It would indicate that she had enough will left to tow herself plus Faith's dead weight to the surface of an ocean that wanted to swallow them both whole.
Really, a tiny part of her brain thought maybe Faith was out of her mind enough to take it too far. That maybe Buffy could provoke her and Faith would let loose, do some serious bodily damage, maybe even…
No. She wouldn't want Faith to have to live with that. But still. There was no way Buffy could claim in good conscious that she didn't need the action just as much as Faith, and pretty much for the same reasons.
Life as they knew it was over. Good people had died. Their lovers had died.
Side by side on the curb, they compared cuts and bruises. Faith's nose bled and then stopped and Buffy tried to count in her mind the total number of times she'd punched Spike in the nose.
And the number of times she'd told him she hated him.
And the number of times she'd run out on him after sex.
And the number of times he'd said I love you anyway.
"Are you thinking about him?" She asked Faith, who was sniffling and smearing her eye make up around.
"Yeah. Tryin' to figure out how in hell I'm gonna say goodbye."
Buffy stood. Held out her hand. "Goodbyes suck. And you never get out of them what you wish you had. But you do it because you love the person. You do it for them."
Faith narrowed her eyes up at Buffy.
"You have this chance, Faith, right now, not to run. It's the last one you're gonna get with him."
Faith swallowed and reached up and let Buffy pull her to her feet. By the time their eyes meet, gazes level, Faith's weren't narrowed anymore.
Post Sunnyhell Battle of Doom, they were all supposed to get a break. They'd talked about it, dreamed about it, in the weeks leading up to the battle. Just get through this one, and there'd be tropical vacations all around, aqua beaches and paper umbrellas in your drink and endless sunshine and an army of strapping young men fisting bottles of coconut tanning oil.
Reality? Another day, another dollar. Everybody still had to eat.
Giles took Dawn, who it seemed was budding into serious watcher material, and hit the road in a busted-looking conversion van they bought cheap off Craigslist to scout for more Slayers. Everybody else got to work setting up shop in Frieda. Apartment searches. Job searches. Normal boring everyday life.
It felt to Faith like someone put the TV on mute and then walked away from the damn thing.
"Anything good?" Faith sat across from Buffy at a small, round, teal laminate table in some standard issue coffee shop. Three days worth of newspapers were scattered by section between them.
"Giles should have left Dawn here." Buffy grumbled. "She's old enough to work now. We could have been roommates and saved a bundle on rent. Every one bedroom in this thing is ridiculous." Buffy dropped the page she'd been reading and picked up her coffee. Styrofoam cup, even after they'd ordered for here.
"We could do it," Faith suggested, noncommittally.
"Do what? Live together?" Buffy looked like Faith had just suggested they take up the trapeze and run away with the circus. Which, incidentally, didn't sound all that ludicrous on second thought, considering the whole hot chicks with superpowers angle, but still.
"Look, B," Faith put her hands up, rocking back in her chair. "Just an idea. Don't get all worked up."
Buffy shrugged and kinda sorta smiled, like she was bashful about how she'd treated Faith's idea. Faith leaned on an elbow and situated her straw between her lips, eyes barely lidded and grin barley curled.
Buffy inhaled deeply. "How are you doing? Without him, I mean?"
"Dunno. How are you doing without your him?"
Buffy swallowed and looked away, but not quick enough to hide the sneak attack from her tear ducts.
Faith swung up out of her chair and tugged a couple napkins out of the stainless steel dispenser on the edge of the counter, hesitating to check her lipstick in the smudged surface. She laid them wordlessly on the table in front of Buffy before turning her chair backwards, straddling the seat, fisting her French soda, and grabbing another newspaper section.
They were hand-washing their undies together in the bathroom sink at the motel. It was one of those things, one of those things Faith relished: something she knew how to do and Buffy didn't. They were on equal footing these days, but Faith couldn't help the silent jab every once in awhile. Not when Buffy'd been going home to her doll of a mom in her hearth of a house all that time and Faith had been recycling yesterday's socks and smooshing roaches over breakfast. She hoped Buffy wouldn't hold it against her and made a firm agreement with herself never to find out for sure.
Anyway, once they had a shower rod hung with dingy thongs and those boys underwear they made cut for women now, both she and Buffy stood in the bathroom doorway, arms crossed, fingers pruned, admiring their handiwork.
"This is it for us now, I guess," Buffy said finally, making her way back out into the dim little room and flopping onto her unmade bed. "We used to get all proud because we saved the world. Now we think clean underwear's something to brag about."
"Could be worse."
"Sure. They could be granny panties."
Buffy tried to stifle her laugh, but eventually her mouth opened wide despite her, and the sound boomed up from her gut, complete with snorts and wheezing and the works. Faith just stared from the end of the bed, folding her a-shirts and smiling. Fucking sight to see if there ever was one. Faith could count the times she's seen Buffy laugh out on one hand.
When it died down, they hooked eyes, and it got serious, the kind of serious only Buffy Summers With the Weight of the World could conjure.
"I can't do this alone."
"Can't do what alone?" Faith climbed onto the foot of the bed, close enough to be holding down the I'm there for you babe vibe, but not crowding all mother hen-like.
"This. Normal girl this. Never gonna see Spike again this. My mom's grave in a crater this."
Faith shrugged. "Underground is underground, right?"
"Not the point."
"What is, then?"
"My sister's gone off with my Watcher, who's supposed to be watching me, but instead has to go all duty calls. Xander and Willow, my two best friends? Holed up together with their own problems, and I just feel like…I don't know, like a burden, I guess."
"They've got pretty exclusive little club going on, no doubt. But hey, there's me. I mean, yeah, there's some history there. But not all of it's bad. And lately…I don't know. Guess I've kinda been feeling like we're connected or something."
"You hitting on me?" Buffy smiled up through her hair. Her face was blotchy from crying.
"Just saying…don't count me out. If you're scared of being alone, you don't gotta be." Faith gave a sideways nod.
"That roommate offer still open?"
"Maybe for a little while. See how it goes."
"Yeah, B." Faith's eyes matched the gleam in Buffy's. "It's still open."
It wasn't crappy, per se. It wasn't Joyce Summer's Craftsman house on Revello, but by the end, even that sweet spot had gone the way of the slum, what with the disrepair and the tripping over sleeping bodies every time you had to pee in the middle of the night, only to finally get to the bathroom and find that the toilet was hopelessly clogged. Again.
It beat jail, and it beat the motel where Faith stayed when she first got to Sunnydale. The vanity mirror was foggy and the carpet looked like something Giles would wear, but it was clean. The water ran hot and cold. And everybody got their own room.
Scrunched onto the skinny fire escape balcony, Faith and Buffy sat next to each other and split wine straight from the bottle. The night was sticky-hot.
"Remember when we first met?" Buffy mused, face turned up at the stars, voice just a little wine-thickened.
"That night in the bronze. I remember."
"I was so…"
"Stuck up?" Faith grinned playfully, snatching the bottle from Buffy's fist.
Faith's face dropped into a serious stillness that matched Buffy's. She rubbed the mouth of the wine bottle back and forth across her lower lip and waited.
"I think," Buffy began again, "I think I wanted to be you, a little bit."
"Wild and stupid?" Faith's spine relaxed into the brick behind her.
"Free." Buffy held her hand out, and Faith fitted the bottle against her palm. For awhile they sat, wordless, heads situated against the exterior of the building, gaze on the stretch of dotted black.
"I almost kissed you once," Buffy eventually blurted. The admission was skittish.
Faith's smile was loose, her posture easy. "Yeah? What held you back?"
"I—I don't know. Maybe…" Buffy swung the wine bottle up. Faith watched the line of her throat ripple as she swallowed out of the corner of her eye. "I guess I didn't know what it meant." She shrugged. "That I wanted to."
Faith grabbed the bottle when Buffy offered it, sipped, peeled up the corner of the label with her thumbnail. Minutes emptied between them before Faith responded: "Do you know now?"
"It's different now."
Buffy's fingers brushed Faith's as she reclaimed the bottle. "Everything."
Buffy landed a serving job at a neighborhood diner. Faith…well. Buffy had her suspicions about Faith.
The stakes they shoved into their boots and inside jacket pockets were nothing but habit now. Buffy knew full well there was nearly nothing to slay above ground these days. Textbook post-apocalypse lull, with the added bonus of a brand new Slayer army to reckon with. The demon population would be regrouping for awhile. Even Giles said as much.
Still, Faith was out almost every night. The deadbolt would click open right before sunrise kissed up at the horizon, and Faith would stumble in and collapse wearily, still in her clothes, clutching the stake in her sleep like a security blanket.
Buffy got up at a regular hour and went to her regular job and got regular paychecks she cashed at the regular bank. Every Friday morning there was money on the kitchen table, crisp stack of twenties held together with a paper clip: Faith's earnings. Or whatever they were.
At the bank after work, the teller would count the bills while Buffy signed the back of her watermarked check.
She wondered if Faith had ever signed anything.
Buffy, apron under one arm, worked the key in the loose knob. Waitressing was as sucktastic as she remembered, and her feet were killing her, and she was going to draw a bubble bath up to her eyeballs just as soon as she could get the damn door open.
"Nice skills, B," Faith commented absently, yanking the door to their apartment open from the inside. "Good to see you still got that Slayer coordination working for you."
"There's gonna be a comeback to that as soon as I get the burger stink out of my hair." Buffy untangled the rubber band, and her ponytail exhaled onto her shoulders.
"I'll count on it. Whenever you're ready." Faith was back to the bag already, jabbing her wrapped hands at the heavy cylinder they'd hooked into the ceiling. She was lathered in sweat, like she'd been at it for awhile, her white ribbed tank visibly sticking to the small of her back.
"You want to get in the shower quick? Because I'm kinda planning an intimate evening in there."
Faith didn't look up from her training, but puffed, "Hot date?"
Buffy reached into her backpack. "July Vogue." She held up the glossy magazine. "Just hit the stands."
"Mmm. Compelling." Faith squatted to grab a water bottle. "It's cool, B. I think I got a few more rounds in me yet. Go ahead."
"Okay, over-achievey girl. Just save some of that energy for the dishes," Buffy teased on her way into the bathroom.
Buffy slapped her magazine down onto the white plastic toilet lid and rolled her neck around, trying to loosen even a little of the stiffness that had her upper back feeling like plywood.
Propping a foot up on the edge of the toilet, Buffy leaned down to loosen her shoelaces. Just as she'd won the tug'o'war with the double knot, a box in the stubby wire trash basket caught her eye.
Hesitantly, Buffy reached into the nest of cotton balls and disposable razors to tug free the pink and purple cardboard package: a home pregnancy test.
The box gave a rattle as she lifted it closer for further inspection. Buffy rotated it until the 60 watt bulb above the sink revealed the unwrapped test nestled inside.
"A baby?" Buffy was incredulous, waving the pee stick around like a fucking magic wand if the witch was on mystical crack. "We were just talking, Faith. Five minutes ago. Shower schedules and fashion mags. Ring any bells? Because somehow you forgot to mention that you're having a baby."
"Don't know if I'm gonna." Faith worked the tape off her knuckles one shred at a time, rolling the gluey pieces together between her palms.
"Oh. Great." Buffy threw her hands up and paced. "You don't know. "
"Found out this afternoon. What do you expect?"
"I expect that you'd tell me. That we're close enough where…that you'd tell me, Faith. It affects both of us."
"My problem, B. Don't trouble yourself." Faith tugged a hooded sweatshirt down from the coat rack. It was half on before she realized it was Buffy's. She yanked her arm out of the sleeve.
"Do you even know who the father is?'
Faith squinted at her. "Are you serious?"
"Out every night running the town? No steady work, but somehow you produce rent and grocery money out of your back pocket reliably?"
"You think I pull tricks out there?"
Buffy's face was cold and closed. "What else am I supposed to think?"
Faith snorted and smiled through the tears forming in the corners of her eyes. "Don't know why I bother. You had me pegged right out of the gate, and nothing's changed between then and now."
"You're wrong. Something has changed. I'm not willing to get sucked into your patented Faith disasters anymore. It was cool to have each other to turn to during the dicey post-battle stuff, but your life…Faith, I can't let you…"
"What, B?" Faith challenged. "Can't let me what?"
"…drag me down."
Faith rummaged through the hanging jumble of jackets until she located one that was indisputably hers. Pulling it around herself swiftly, she reached for the knob and ducked her head into the hood. "Like I said. Don't trouble yourself."
Faith didn't come home that night.
Buffy waited up. She didn't want to, but every time she steered herself towards her bed, all she was able to accomplish was a bedroom-wide fidget: refolding piles of clothes, dusting the bedside table with her palm, inspecting the framed photo of she and Dawn.
The sun rose. Buffy was a statue on a stool in the kitchen. From across the hall, her alarm went off. It was time to shower. Start coffee. Toast an English muffin. Dust off her apron and pile her hair up high into the precautionary hairstyle worn by greasy spoon waitresses world-wide.
Buffy slumped against the counter. Across the hall, the alarm kept ringing.
Two days after their argument, Faith still hadn't been home. Buffy asked around, but she realized she had no idea where Faith hung out, who she talked to. The hospitals were a dead end, and the lone Frieda abortion clinic couldn't give out any information to anyone, period.
Finally, Buffy did all she could think of to do. She called Giles.
"She's been gone two days, you say?" Giles was at the wheel. She could hear the muted radio and Dawn's instructions to Say hi! and Tell them we miss them!
"We had a fight, Giles. I was…I said some pretty not nice things."
"Did you mean them, Buffy?"
"No. I don't know. I don't think so." Buffy tried to find her way through the drooping folds of her mind. She hadn't slept since Faith left, and it was taking a toll. "The thing is…Giles, she's pregnant."
"And when she found out, I wasn't exactly the poster girl for supportive friend."
"Buffy, she must be terribly confused." His voice lowered, and Buffy knew it was meant to keep Dawn from overhearing. "I'll admit I was unsure how good an idea it was for the two of you to live together. I'm afraid I'm still rather protective of you, and Faith has a history of endangering those around her. However, this—her pregnancy—isn't something she's done to hurt you. You mustn't treat her as though it is."
"Is there anything you can do to help me find her, Giles? I'm worried."
There was a pause while Giles thought. "I suppose you could check the transaction history on the card I left with you when Dawn and I set off. If she's used it recently, it might give you an idea of her whereabouts."
"I have the card, Giles. For emergencies, like you said. There's no way Faith could have used it."
"We are talking about Faith," Giles reminded her, and Buffy could hear the edge of a smile on his mouth. "Do you have any doubt whatsoever that she wrote down the numbers at the first opportunity?"
Buffy's own smile crept up. "I'll let you know what I find out."
"I'll look forward to your call."
"Good. And Giles?"
"Bring that sister of mine back for a visit soon. I miss her."
Buffy could feel the warmth in Giles' voice when he told her: "She misses you too."