Chapter Nineteen: Forgive… Even If You Can’t Forget
A/N: No. Your eyes do not deceive you. This is an update. It has been a very long time but I'm back. This story drew me back in when I had thought I'd completely lost the drive to write. For those of you who were loyal fans of my other fic, Master , I'm making a conscience effort to finish that story as well, which may take a while since there is a giant hurdle of writer's block in the way. Thank you for the continued support even when I had for a short time given up. Enjoy.
Chapter Nineteen: Forgive… Even If You Can’t Forget
“I know I called you all here tonight so that we could get the scoop from Giles about what he found out from the Coven in England,” Buffy began her opening speech, her face stern and voice steady.
She was the quintessential General again, standing before her troops without a single vestige of fear, completely void of the insecurity that had had her emotions running rampant just a mere hour ago.
“But that’s gonna have to wait.”
Giles considered interrupting, wondering if it was best to postpone the divulgence of Althenea’s visions to the group. His better judgment, along with the gnawing guilt, kept him silent.
Since his return, the Watcher’s attentions
had been split between numerous distractions. He hadn’t been given the chance to sit Buffy down and deliver the devastating news. Giles had yet to tell his Slayer the unforgiving truth that the demonic possession that had begun in another dimension weeks before would finally come to completion in the not so distant future.
There hadn’t enough been time.
Or so he kept telling himself.
A grimace crossed the Englishman’s face. The possibility that he was using the lack of opportunity as an excuse for his procrastination was a notion he immediately disregarded. Giles wasn’t sure how he would be able to look Buffy in the eyes and tell her that her worst fears would soon become realized. He was fairly certain however that he couldn’t tell her now, before she intended to face impending doom, when she had the lives of so many on her already burdened conscience.
The Watcher’s gaze drifted, landing on the vampire, who at the moment was standing behind Buffy, leaning against the wall. Wrapped in his iconic leather, he drew little attention, if any, from the gathered crowd as he stared down at the floor, deep in thought. Giles reverted his focus back to the Slayer when Spike suddenly lifted his head, having picked up on Giles’s curious glances.
“There’s a new player in town,” Buffy declared. “Goes by the name of Caleb and he’s working for the First. He says he’s got something of mine,” she vaguely elaborated, pacing with all the room’s eye’s following her every step. “This is what we’ve been waiting for. It’s our time to act, now or never. So, we go to Caleb and take back what’s ours.”
Dead silence pervaded the room. A mixture of fear and confusion stared back at her.
“Is this really such a good idea?” Xander spoke up.
Buffy nodded. “I know,” she agreed. “I know it looks like we’re walking into a trap.”
“I’ll say!” Anya chimed in.
Buffy gave her an unimpressed glare before she explained her logic. “But the longer we wait, the stronger the First gets. This gives us a chance to find out who we’re really up against. There’s a reason why this Caleb guy showed up only now. And we can’t ignore the fact that he sounds a lot like the Tainted guy from that bizarro prophecy either,” the Slayer reasoned. “This isn’t going to be a full on assault. I’m not bringing everyone. Just the girls who’ve been here the longest, the ones’ with the most experience.”
“When?” Rona asked, her fear masked by a steely look of resentment.
“Tomorrow at sunset. I still have some recon to do,” Buffy answered, her conviction still undeterred.
The SITs in question only nodded as though it was all out of their control, as if their fate had always been in the hands of another. Buffy fought off a wave of overwhelming despair. If only they knew how much was still up in the air. They weren’t the ones with a vaguely portentous prophecy hanging over their heads.
Buffy turned to Faith, who was currently avoiding any sort of eye contact with the man at her side, opting instead for furtive glances from the ground to the rest of the group.
“You in for some afterhour’s espionage?” the Slayer asked her darker counterpart.
“I’m game,” Faith shrugged, attempting levity when she was still feeling awkward from Buffy’s earlier intrusion on her near kiss with Robin. Ergo, the avoidance of eye contact with either the Principal or his former vampire slaying guidance councilor.
Buffy quickly delegated tasks, ignoring the unspoken sense of uncertainty radiating from the gathered group.
Xander, though still inwardly protesting the plan as a whole, was given a handful of SITs to assist on weapons detail. Anya and Dawn were to also take a few girls to finish the inventory on what had been acquired from looting the remains of the Magic Box, with specific instructions to separate weapons from magic supplies. Taking advantage of recent nightfall, the Potentials who were to join Buffy tomorrow night would continue their training with Spike in the backyard. Willow and Giles had been asked to do further research on their latest adversary, hoping to find anything that would give them an advantage in a fight.
As everyone went off to fulfill their appointed roles, Robin stood there awkwardly, unsure as to how to bring up the fact that he hadn’t been given an assignment. “I guess I’m getting everyone coffee, huh?”
“No. That’s Andrew’s job,” Buffy informed him, hoping the pest overheard so she wouldn’t have to explicitly give him those instructions. “I need you for something else.”
Robin nodded, wanting to accept whatever task she doled out, hoping to find a way to rebuild the trust between them that he had so carelessly destroyed.
“I need you to watch Spike train the Potentials,” Buffy requested. “I need to know that you can respect his authority and trust him as much as I do with those girls. If you can’t do that, if you can’t get over whatever vendetta or confusion you have about Spike and his role here, then I can’t have you as a part of this.”
Wood lifted his eyes so that they locked with the Slayer’s resolute gaze. “I can do that.”
Buffy gave him a curt nod. “Good. I’ll let him know you’re gonna be watching.”
Marching to the kitchen, Buffy headed to the door. She paused however before going out to the back porch. She turned spun around to face Wood. “We really don’t have the luxury of any distractions so just don’t say anything, okay?”
Wood couldn’t help but give a bashful grin. “Got it. Leave egos and grudges at the door.”
Buffy gave him a grateful smile. “Thank you.”
“Mission first,” he answered soberly.
With that said, Buffy opened the back door, allowing the two of them to venture out onto the porch where Spike was hollering commands. “Strike!”
Silently the two observers watched as the girls attempted to offensively swing a sword.
“It’s a sword, Vi, not a bleedin’ baseball bat!” he shouted. “Follow through Rona. Let momentum do its job. Nice form Kennedy but you jumped the gun there. Wait for my—”
The vampire spun around, having detected the intrusion, thrown especially by Robin’s presence. “Signal,” he growled.
Buffy approached him slowly, the expression on her face completely business. Her hazel eyes however were warm and understanding.
“He’s going to watch for a while.” It was all she said. No explanation given.
Spike’s face remained impassive. He knew better than anyone that there wasn’t time for ill feelings. And obviously Buffy knew that he knew. That meant something.
“Just keep him out of my way.” It was all he said as he turned back to the group of girls. “Strike!”
Wood took a spot by the far wall, very much out of the vampire’s way. Before stepping back into the house, the Slayer exchanged a quick glance with her ex-boss, letting him know that not all was forgiven but that he was on the right track to being in her good graces.
Heading into the kitchen, Buffy was greeted by a silent Faith, waiting for her so that they could leave on their own reconnaissance mission.
Buffy released a weary sigh. Another soul she had to forgive before she could divert all her energy into defeating the First. Though she had skirted around apologizing for her not so warm reception of her fellow Slayer, Buffy knew that before she could order Faith into battle, she had to bury the hatchet. This little op of theirs was her perfect opportunity to do so.
“We good to go?” Faith hesitantly asked.
“Yeah,” Buffy confirmed. “We good.”
The Slayers made sure to keep their distance as they stealthily followed the lone Bringer, silently communicating to one another when they finally saw where exactly it was that the First’s minion was heading. Once they cleared the forest, a vineyard spread out before them, with a quaint little house in the Northwest corner, most likely a winery, which was the Bringer’s final destination.
Buffy could spot other minions meandering around the building, keeping guard of the grounds, a few even patrolling the nearest rows of grapevines. Guardsmen were only necessary if someone had something to guard. What could the First be keeping stashed away in such an innocuous locale? What was it hiding?
Buffy signaled to Faith for them to head back, having seen enough. Quietly trekking across the wooded border of the vineyard, the Slayers picked up their pace, eager to discuss what they had found away from possibly any eavesdropping Bringers.
“Who knew the First Evil was such a wino?” Faith said, breaking the silence as they headed back to town. “What’s it want with all that hooch?”
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Buffy agreed. “Why hasn’t Caleb come after us yet? I mean the First knows how weak our defenses are. It got passed them before, right under my nose. Why keep all your man power here instead of using it to get rid of the only thing standing in your way of total world annihilation?”
Buffy couldn’t wrap her mind around what she had seen. She knew she had to confer with Giles, to get a different perspective on the matter. All she knew for certain was that it didn’t follow any form of logic she was familiar with. Nothing anyway she had encountered in her years as a Slayer.
Faith scratched her head. “Man things were easier in L.A. At least you know what to expect with Angelus.”
Buffy couldn’t have asked for a better cue.
“Willow told me you helped him out. She said you even went on this mind walk thing to get him back,” she commented, her tone purposefully light and void of any accusation.
Faith remained in step beside her, though somewhat unnerved by Buffy’s blameless interest, keeping her eyes focused ahead of her. “Yeah. Was a real trip.”
“How is he?” Buffy asked, her voice straining slightly with concern.
Faith glanced at her side, eyeing the other Slayer suspiciously. “He’s alright. Well… as good as he can be I guess, considering his recent personality transplant. He’s got a nice set up in L.A, though. His crew’s pretty decent too,” she answered, unsure exactly what Buffy wanted to know. “Nah, Angel’s got things covered,” she added, feeling that the other Slayer may truly need a bit of reassurance.
Buffy grinned. “Good. I’m kinda relieved you were able to help him out.”
The unexpected gratitude however made Faith stall momentarily. “Really?”
Buffy couldn’t help but feel like a total bitch for putting that look of astonishment on the other woman’s face. “Really,” she affirmed. “I know I wasn’t exactly what you would call welcoming when you first got here.”
Faith let out an involuntary snort. “No shit.”
“Still,” she continued to argue. “You didn’t have to come to Sunnydale. Wesley busted you out to help Angel and you did. Debt served.”
“Is this you trying to get rid of me, B? Lettin’ me know I’m off the hook or something?”
“No,” Buffy blurted, really not wanting to give Faith the wrong impression. “I’m just saying that I shouldn’t have gone on attack mode when you showed up with Willow, considering you’re sticking your neck out for us when you really have no reason to.”
“I got no where else to be,” Faith quietly replied, her confession exposing a bit of her vulnerability.
Buffy released a steady breath. “I know but it still doesn’t mean you had to come here,” she said, finding that forgiving the other Slayer may be easier than she had initially expected. “Which, by the way, I’m glad you did.”
Faith quirked a skeptic brow. “Really?”
“Really,” she assured, again. “I already owe you one. I know you had something to do with Robin’s newfound change of heart.”
The other Slayer shrugged at the accolade. “Just gave him some Slayer insight. That’s all.”
“Uh huh,” Buffy responded unconvinced. “So what’s the deal with you two?”
Faith faltered at the question. “I…There’s nothing…We’re not…”
Buffy held up her hand, a suppressed chuckle in her throat. “Never mind.”
Faith sighed, thankful that she didn’t have to categorize her affiliation with the principal turned demon hunter. “Thanks.”
Finding their way back onto Rodello Drive, Faith eyed Buffy warily. “So are we like pretty much square? No more hard feelings?”
“Not to spoil the mood seeing as you’re being all with the forgiving,” Faith tentatively began. “But mind if I ask you something?”
Buffy didn’t hesitate. “Shoot.”
“What’s the motivation, B? I mean, I’ve done some pretty messed up stuff and you and I both know we don’t have to be best buds to save the world,” she wondered, knowing that genuine forgiveness was a stretch between herself and the other Slayer.
Buffy came to a stop. They had arrived back at the house, which was eerily quiet, completely turned in for the night. “I know,” she admitted, her gaze travelling up to the window of her room. She knew a certain vampire would be waiting for her. “But I need us to be okay in case we don’t.”
Faith was taken somewhat aback by the statement. Buffy never spoke in terms of even the possibility of failure. She never realized it was in the other Slayer’s vocabulary. “This thing we’re up against, it’s the real deal, huh B?”
Buffy nodded somberly. “Yeah,” she exhaled.
Silently the two women entered the deceptively peaceful house, an unspoken truce firmly established between them. Going their separate ways, Buffy to her upstairs sanctuary in Spike’s arms and Faith to an empty a couch, neither would reach sleep easily. One Slayer would shed silent tears, finally allowing herself to legitimately feel the forgiveness she had desperately longed to possess. The other Slayer would dwell on what she had seen in the vineyard, her mind unable to let go of the riddle that was the First’s apparent headquarters.
Lost in their ruminations, neither woman was aware of the man in the room with them. Vampire and Principal both had found it impossible to fall asleep, too engrossed in the object of his personal affection, too consumed with his conflicted emotions. The four wrangled with their respective worries, letting precious sleep slip away as the night progressed to day.
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