I realize the Watcher's Council is a little on the cheapskate side and all, but I really wish they would've paid for more than one full-sized sleeper car. I know Angel's the one who needed it most, so I don't begrudge him his, but I wish I had one too. These little bunks -- you just have to lie here stiff as a board to fit in. It feels like lying in a coffin. Or does it? I should've asked Angel to come try it out last night. He could have told me for certain. Then again, maybe I really don't want to know.
"Winifred?" I smile and pull back the curtain that encloses one side of the bunk; even if I didn't recognize the voice, Connor is the only one allowed to call me by my full name. He's kneeling by my bunk. "We're almost there. Do you want to go get breakfast in the restaurant car with me?" He says it really fast, with a little hopeful smile. Connor has a crush on me. I try to be real gentle with him about it, because when I was in junior high, I had the biggest crush on Scott Moore, and he wasn't gentle with me about it at ALL, and I got my feelings hurt and spent my free period crying in the bathroom, so I wouldn't want to do that to anyone, even though Connor doesn't seem like the crying-in-the-bathroom type.
Also, it's kinda fun, knowing somebody has a crush on you.
"The food here's not what you'd call -- well, food, really." I prop up on one arm so that the blanket falls away from my shoulder, and Connor gets all blushy, even though I'm wearing a T-shirt. He's so bashful. "But I tell you what. On our way back to the hotel, we can swing by and pick up doughnuts. How's that?" Then I frown. "Or would that not be appropriate? I mean, murder trial, doughnuts, not really the best combination."
Connor considers that for a moment. On one hand, he's got that 18th-century side of him that likes things to be proper. On the other hand, he's a teenage boy who needs to eat his weight in junk food every four hours. I hug the pillow and smile as I watch him decide. At last he says, "We'll eat them in the car."
"Perfect," I say. "Now scoot while I get some clothes on." He's so cute when he turns red like that.
This is the day Faith's going to be made to admit that she killed Buffy and those Amesace people, so they'll be talking about Buffy's death a lot, and that's going to make Angel and Cordy and Wesley really sad.
I guess it makes me sad too, kinda. I always did feel bad for Buffy. But the fact is, we really ever got to know each other very well. And it's hard to keep mustering up grief for a person I barely knew.
Charles and I had fought again, supposedly about Faith. I kept telling him that he wanted her and not me. He kept denying it. I kept pointing out that she was pretty in that flashy, ho-baggy way he liked. He kept saying he didn't need flashy. I kept asking why he wouldn't be all over a girl who liked all the same stuff he did. And at that point he just got rude.
As I went up to the roof of the Hyperion to recover from the fight and get some fresh air, I wondered: When is he EVER gonna get gone?
I was so sick of Charles. I was sick of his weird music, all of which was sung, or should I say yelled, by people who had criminal records. I was sick of having to drink beer instead of wine. I was sick of having to define every fourth word out of my mouth. And I was really, REALLY sick of pretending that I liked talking dirty during sex. I mean, I think a rousing "fuck me" now and then adds some gusto, but every single minute, every single night? I was starting to have to think up things to say ahead of time, which totally kills the mood, if you ask me.
Most of all, though, I was sick of being sick of Charles. He's a good person, and I wanted to relax and like all the things I used to like about him; I thought maybe I could do that after we stopped dating and started being friends again. But Charles wasn't going anywhere, and I was starting to realize that I really was ready for him to go -- well, somewhere.
I'd been jealous of Faith for so long; those two had energy, chemistry, all those science words we use for attraction. And I had hated her for it for so long. But at this point it was starting to sink in that maybe, deep down, I was hoping Charles would leave me for her. That I kept worrying about the two of them, not because I was scared they'd get together, but because I was scared they wouldn't.
Of course, I could have broken up with Charles myself, but I still didn't feel strong enough for that. He was one of the people who saved me from Pylea; he'd done so much for me, in every way. It didn't matter if all the good between us had kinda gone sour. Dumping him still felt -- wrong.
I sighed as I stepped out onto the roof, then realized I wasn't alone. Buffy was up there too, curled up in a little ball right on one of the corners. Like a gargoyle, if gargoyles were pretty blonde girls instead of Gothic stone monsters. So not that much like a gargoyle, then. "Hey," I said, because I didn't want to surprise her.
Buffy half-looked over her shoulder, then looked back out at the city lights. "Hey," she said faintly.
Obviously, she'd come up here to be alone. So had I. But we weren't alone, and I figured there wasn't any point in pretending. I went and sat by her, just on the edge. It looked like a really long way down, but I wasn't scared. Who could protect me better than a Slayer? "Charles and I just had a fight," I said, in case she wanted an explanation.
If she did, she was willing to leave it at that. We sat in silence for a while, and I tried to relax. After a while, it started to work; I stopped fretting about Charles and started just looking at the city. "It's beautiful from up here, isn't it?" I murmured.
Buffy glanced over at me, like she didn't understand what I was saying. I said, "You know, you can't see the alleyways, or the trash cans, or the really scary guys in polyester who tell you that you ought to dance in one of their clubs." She smiled a little at that, and I kept going. "You can't see anything but the lights. And Los Angeles -- there's so much light! Spotlights and streetlights and headlights. It looks like nothing but light, from up here."
"Is that what you see?" Buffy shook her head. "I wish I could see it like you do." I realized she had tears in her eyes.
I felt -- all kinds of weird. I felt bad for her, but I also felt super-awkward, because she and I just didn't know each other that well, and it's not like it's comfortable even when somebody you know really well starts crying. Still, I'm pretty sure there's some unwritten international rule about helping out other women when they start to cry. "Are you thinking about -- about your friends? The ones who died?"
Buffy wiped her eyes and nodded. "That's not all of it," she said. "But that's a lot of it."
"What's the rest?" I knew Cordelia was worried about this, maybe Angel too; maybe I was the right person to ask. A neutral party. "Is it about Angel? That he's with Cordy now?"
She shook her head. "That was over a long time ago. I miss him -- I miss the way I used to feel about him, I guess. But it's just part of this whole other world I miss. Where Willow was good, and Xander was happy, and Giles was wise, and I was the strongest and fastest and bravest of all." Buffy smiled, and something about that smile made me want to cry with her. "I left that world a long time ago. And I ended up here. It's the same world, but it doesn't feel like it."
For the first time ever, I felt like I knew what she was talking about. "When I got back here from Pylea -- they told you about Pylea, right?" Buffy nodded, and I continued, "I couldn't quite believe this was the same world I'd left. This world had vampires in it, and demons, and all these events I didn't remember and couldn't understand, and the governor had become president, which was pretty dang weird if you were one of those people who couldn't even figure out how he got to be governor, and I'm one of those people, but that's not the point, is it? Sorry. Getting back on track." I took a deep breath. "What I mean is, I know what that's like -- feeling like the whole world changed around you. And what's really scary is thinking maybe the world's the same, and you're the one who changed. Not for the better, either."
Buffy stared at me for a moment, and then she nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, that's it exactly." She leaned back on her hands as she studied my face. "So, you're not freaking out anymore. How did you do it?"
When I tried to remember that, I couldn't think of any one answer. I remembered Angel taking me out for ice cream, and my parents calling every Thursday night, and Wesley acting like it was perfectly normal to chat with someone hiding under a table, and Cordelia going clothes shopping with me, and Charles feeding me pancakes. I hadn't thought of Charles like that in a while, and it made me kinda misty. "It wasn't anything I did, exactly. It was just -- time, and trying, and hope."
"Hope," Buffy repeated. She looked up at the sky. "That's what it takes, huh?" I nodded, thinking she'd brighten right up. Whenever people talk about hope in the movies, they get very cheerful and brave, and a lot of times the music gets really loud. But this wasn't a movie, and Buffy and I didn't have any music, and all of a sudden she looked tired and small.
She got to her feet. "I'm going inside," she said. I thought I should try and stop her, talk to her some more, until she really did feel better.
But then I remembered what I'd just said; it would take time for Buffy to feel better. We could talk more, get to know each other better, and she'd open up eventually.
We didn't get the chance, though. That was the week before she died.
Connor and I scarf down about eight Kripsy Kremes before we get to the hotel. That leaves four in the box, but I figure we can smuggle it into the fridge without anybody seeing our non-mournful breakfast. "The trial is set for one o'clock," Connor says. "We have a couple of hours. Do you want to -- to drive around, maybe?" He keeps trying to get one of us to teach him how to drive.
"I think we ought to stay here today," I say. "Your dad probably needs us. Needs you, anyway."
Connor rolls his eyes. Teenagers. "Angel doesn't need me. He has Cordelia."
"It's not the same," I say. "And you know it." But now that I think about it, I realize Angel's not the only one who's going to be hurting a lot today. Wesley is too. He took Faith's betrayal hard; he thinks it's his fault, and even though I've tried to talk him out of it, he just won't believe me. If I know Wesley, he's at home all torn-up right now. He won't come back here until right before the trial, so he won't be burdening us or whatever it is he thinks he's doing. I wish Wesley wouldn't do that. I wish he'd talk to me.
"Winifred?" Connor's looking over at me strangely.
I shake my head. "You go on inside," I say. "And be sweet to your daddy. Just this once, it won't kill you." Connor hesitates, so I resort to a little dirty pool. "What, you scared because Faith's in there?"
Taunting is always a good way to motivate teenage boys. Connor draws himself up very straight. "I'm not scared of her," he says. "I'll prove it."
"You do that," I say, and I wave at him as I pull out of the lot and head over to Wesley's. I hope Wesley will be glad to see me. I think he might be. I smile a little. It's kinda fun, knowing someone's got a crush on you.
I never was the kind of girl boys had crushes on back in high school. Or even college, though you might have thought the guys in the physics department might have been a little more appreciative of the only girl in lab. I squint in the rear-view mirror: same face, same hair, same everything. Oh, well. I'm just gonna enjoy being the girl with the mojo while I've got it.
I go up the steps of Wesley's apartment building, through the garage where his motorcycle is parked under a tarp -- wish he'd take that out more often; riding on a motorcycle would be fun -- up through the stairwell. When I rap on the door, he doesn't answer at first. "Wesley?" I call. "Come on. I saw the jeep and the motorcycle, and I know you hate the bus!"
At last he opens the door, looks at me warily. It reminds me of that time -- well, I don't like to think about that time. "What is it, Fred?"
"I knew you'd be over here moping," I say. "I'm either gonna stop you or mope with you. Your call."
He smiles a little. "Why don't we compromise? Come have some tea."
I flop down on his sofa and prop my feet up on his suitcases, still sitting unpacked in the front room. He starts the kettle and comes to sit with me; he sits all the way across the room in a chair. Wesley is a very smart man, but he has a lot to learn about flirting. But then, he's not acting very flirty. He's quiet, and he's drawn inward. He's hurting.
"This trial today -- it's a good thing, you know," I say. "I think we're finally gonna be able to put the past behind us."
"It feels unnecessary to me," Wesley says with a shrug. "The Council will accuse Faith, Faith will deny it, she'll be found guilty and we'll pack her off to England. I don't think I'm going to feel any better afterward. I don't imagine anyone else will either."
"I think it could be closure," I insist. "Anyway, Faith won't be able to deny it. She'll have to tell the truth."
"You think the Council's that persuasive? Or that Faith would have some long-dormant morality that would forbid her lying under oath?"
"The magic spell," I say. Wesley looks at me blankly, so I go on. "They're doing this magic spell that makes Faith have to tell the truth. She can't lie. So we'll know for sure what happened. I mean, we know already, but we can just get it all set in stone. And if she didn't do it -- not likely, but if it turned out like that, we could go after whoever did do it."
Wesley keeps staring at me. He looks kind of pale. "Wesley?" I say. "What's the matter?"
He looks awful. His hands are balling up, and the muscles in his jaw are tense, and his eyes are wide. He looks like he's going to do -- something, I don't know what --
Why would Wesley be so upset about us getting the truth?
It hits me like a wave -- like the way adrenaline hits your bloodstream when you hear a strange sound in the night. My ears prick up and my eyes go wide and my skin is numb and I can't do anything but stare at him. He can't do anything but stare at me.
"Wesley?" My voice sounds very strange.
He's trying to think of something to say. Something else, something that doesn't have anything to do with the trial, or Faith, or Buffy. He can't. It's too late. I know. He knows I know.
Wesley opens his mouth, but he can't say anything. I want to jump up and run out of there, but right then the teakettle starts to whistle. Both of us jerk around to stare at it, and then Wesley gets up and takes it off the heat. He doesn't pour our tea. For a while he stands at the kitchen counter, and I try to think of what to ask, where to begin.
"Faith is guilty of the other murders," Wesley says at last. "I wouldn't have -- I'd never have framed an innocent woman. Believe that at least."
"Okay," I say automatically. I don't know what I believe. Right this second I don't know up from down.
Wesley isn't looking at me; he's sort of staring down at the mugs he'd set out for our tea. One corner of his mouth turns up. "That's rather rich, isn't it? I'd never frame an innocent woman. But I murdered one." His hands are shaking, and he grips the counter to steady himself. "Oh, God. I never said it aloud before."
"Aloud?" I'm too freaked to do anything but repeat what he's saying. But I make myself calm down; I take deep breaths, concentrate just on what I can feel -- the sofa's upholstery against my hands, the soft cushions against my back. I can focus when I have to. You never know what might depend on it. "Wesley -- why?"
"I went by their temple on patrol. Just to be cautious. I -- I am so very cautious, for all the good it does." His voice has that bitterness to it that I remember. I hate it. "Buffy came out, and she was covered in blood -- the Brotherhood of Amesace were dead --"
"Buffy killed those people?" I say.
Wesley bows his head. "I thought she had."
"But you -- you were wrong."
"I knew, once I'd found Faith's knife," Wesley said. "The tracks of those ludicrous boots she used to wear. The evidence was all there for me to see. But I didn't look until after -- after."
My stomach's churning, and I hug myself with my arms, trying to hold myself together with my own hands. I just found out one of my best friends is a murderer, and my skin is flushing hot and cold, and I'm shaking, and most of me wants to run away from him as hard and as fast I can. But the person I'm looking at isn't some crazy killer. It's Wesley. Same Wesley, same kitchen, same teapot painted to look like a rooster. Behind the lenses of his glasses, I can see tears in his eyes.
Get the facts. "Tell me what happened."
Wesley lets out a breath I hadn't realized he was holding. He didn't think I'd listen. "Buffy had clearly been in a great fight. I asked her what had happened, and she said only what needed to happen, and I said murder never needed to happen -- Oh, God, I said that, right then, and I meant it. And she said we didn't always like the things that needed to happen, and I thought she meant she'd killed them herself. It sounded like that, didn't it? Don't you think?"
He walks over to me, hand out, as though he were showing me a book. "They teach us from the very beginning, you know. A Slayer's power is fundamentally a dark power. If they do not die very young, they begin to sink into that darkness." Wesley starts to sit by me, but he can't quite bring himself to do it. To my surprise, he kneels near my feet. "We give them a test when they turn 18. Take away their powers, make them fight for their lives. They're meant to lose. We kill them so that they can't go on to become -- what they all have the potential to become."
"What Faith became," I say.
He nods. "I'd been watching Faith. You all knew that. But I watched Buffy too. The way she was behaving -- you couldn't have known this, Fred, but she wasn't at all like herself. She was hostile, difficult, acting out in ways none of the rest of you knew -- violent and sexual and God knows what else besides."
"How --" My throat is dry, and I have to swallow before I can finish. "How did you kill Buffy? She was the Slayer."
"I stabbed her in the back. Very courageous." He takes a deep, shuddering breath. "I thought -- I thought she'd gone mad. I should have -- but I -- with the blood on her, and the dead people upstairs, it seemed different to me. I told her she had to come back to the hotel, tell the others about the Brotherhood, about what had happened here. She said they were dead -- I took her word for it, and never went up to take a pulse or call an ambulance -- maybe some of them might still have been saved --"
Wesley's shaky and strange, and I know I have to pull him back to the here and now. If I don't, he'll get lost in his memories, and I'll get lost in them too. "When did you stab her?"
He closes his eyes, forces the words out. "After the fight -- if you could call it a fight. After I tried to drag her to my motorcycle and she shoved me down. I hit her once, hard as I could. Perhaps she flinched a bit. Then she hit me so hard -- broke two ribs I had to pretend weren't hurting for weeks." Wesley opens his eyes again and looks squarely at me as he finishes. "She didn't think I'd be foolish enough to try anything else. She turned her back on me. I thought -- I thought she'd gone mad -- I stood no chance against her, and what she might have done -- I stabbed her. I stabbed her in the back. She didn't say anything. She just fell."
For a little while, we are quiet together. There's nothing to say. We're both wrapped up in visions -- Wesley's are memories, and mine are imaginings. Buffy, falling down dead. At last I say, "So you let Faith take the blame for Buffy, too."
"She deserves it, doesn't she? I wouldn't put it past her to have set the whole thing up to destroy me and Buffy both. But I -- Fred, they couldn't punish me anymore than I do myself. Living with this, knowing what a damned fool I am, what harm I've done -- there's no jail worse than this, Fred." He laughs, and it's a horrible sound. "I'm always making mistakes, aren't I, Fred? I was fooled by the scroll, and I took Connor away, and you all hated me so much for that --"
We didn't hate you, I want to say. We hated ourselves for letting it happen, the world for being the kind of place where it could happen. But how was Wesley to know that, when the rest of us didn't talk to him and Angel -- oh, God, if that's what Angel did then, what would he do now?
Wesley's still at my feet. Whatever Wesley turned into that made him capable of what he did -- I had a part in that, when I let them shut him out after Holtz got Connor. We all did a little bit to push him to that breaking point. Maybe every one of us has a breaking point. Only the unlucky ones find out exactly where it is. I whisper, "Angel mustn't know."
Wesley stares at me for a long time. At last he says, "What?"
"You made a mistake," I say. "It was a terrible mistake, Wesley. But -- it can't be undone now." Right now it doesn't seem possible to do anything except try to keep us both steady. Like we're on a runaway train, and all we can do is brace for impact.
Wes breathes out slowly. Then he starts, his whole body tensing. "The trial," he says. He glances at his still-packed bags. "Once they learn that Faith didn't kill Buffy, they'll start looking -- God, Fred, I have to get away from this place." He looks up at me, hesitates, then says, "Come with me?"
Despite everything, that kind of sends shivers up my back. It's kind of thrilling, having someone ask you to run away with them. I wonder if that's how Charles felt, when Faith came to him. "Wesley, think," I say. "If you run, they'll know it was you. And they'll find you just like they did Faith."
"Yes," he says. He's calming down just a little bit. "Yes, you're right."
I finally know how to feel. I don't have to worry about guilt or grief or fear or anger. All I have to worry about is being practical. Wesley needs somebody to steady him, and I can do it. I just have to focus. "We just have to go to the trial," I say. "Faith will admit she killed the Brotherhood of Amesace, but nobody will know what happened to Buffy. They'll figure it was a cult member who got away, most likely."
"I don't know how I can endure it," Wesley says. He rests his head on my knees, and I stroke his hair. That always seems to calm Connor down. "Every time I hear you all talking about Buffy's death -- every time, I have to fight not to confess. Every night I dream about her -- about the way her head tilted back when she fell --" His voice chokes off, and I'm glad. I really don't want to hear the details. I know too many already. "I thought about killing myself, you know? The expiation of guilt. Confession through action. If nothing else, the end of this torment."
"You have to promise you won't do that," I say. "Please, Wesley. We've all been through too much already. We don't want to lose you."
Wesley's hand finds mine and squeezes it tightly. "It feels so good to have told someone. To have told you. But in that trial --"
"You'll get through it," I tell him. "I'll help you. I'll be with you."
"Fred," he whispers, and he kisses me -- not a romantic kiss, just a way for us to touch. Then he lays his cheek against my knees again. I hold him, arms curved around his shoulders, and when he cries, I rub his back.
Confession through action. The expiation of guilt. If I helped make Wesley break, I can hold him together too. He's held on so long; I just have to help him make it a little longer.
We get to the Hyperion in time for the trial, but just barely. The ballroom has been opened up and aired out -- at least a little bit -- and the Watchers are all assembled there. The four on the train seem to be in charge, but there are dozens more, crowding around in chairs. They seem to regard themselves as the most important ones there; they take all the seats in front, which means Wesley and I have to sit in back. Right on the same row with Cordelia and Connor and Angel; this morning, I wouldn't have expected to sit anywhere else, but right now, it feels very, very strange to be sitting between Angel and Wesley.
Connor's on the other side of Angel, and he keeps leaning in front of his dad to whisper to me. "When will this start?" "That Watcher is really fat." "Did you get lunch?"
"Connor," Angel says, and he doesn't sound amused. He's tense and freaking out, not that I can blame him. "Be quiet. You can talk to Fred -- after this, if -- you can talk to Fred later."
Cordelia sighs. She's sitting right on the other side of Connor, but somehow it seems like she's a lot farther away. She and Angel don't say anything to each other.
Wesley squeezes my hand very tightly. I squeeze back.
Charles walks in and looks at us. I smile at him a little; I know this must be hell for him. I feel bad; he wouldn't be in this mess if I hadn't driven him to her. Poor Charles. He sits by himself, over in the far corner.
This room still smells a little stale. There's some dust haze in here. Everything's white and shining. It doesn't seem like a courtroom at all.
Finally, the door opens, and the guards bring Faith in. I wonder if she's got the handcuff spell? Makes sense, I guess. Faith doesn't look scared. She looks like her usual cocky self, chin up, swagger in her step. No surprise there.
Ramsay holds up his hands and starts an incantation -- oh, this is proto-Bantu, Wesley and I went over this. But try as I might, I can only catch a word or two: "Compulsion." "Totality." "Murder." The other Watchers join in the incantation; I don't understand it, but it has power anyway -- you can feel it. Low, murmuring voices send a seismic shiver through the room, and I can feel it in the floorboards beneath my feet. My hair stands up on the back of my neck. The meter of the incantation has everyone speaking LOUD on the THIRD note and LOUD one more TIME and we HEAR and it GRABS us and --
The air in the room goes thin, and room shimmers in a weird blue-green, and the light goes liquid; it looks a little like we're at the bottom of a swimming pool. Feels a bit like it, too -- sound seems further away, and I know I'm working a little harder to breathe.
Faith is pale in the blue-green light, her skin unearthly, her eyes glittering. Cornish says, "You are Faith, the Vampire Slayer."
"You got it," Faith says.
"Tell us a simple truth that you don't want to tell," Vambrace says, her voice echoing strangely in the enchanted room.
Faith says, "I'm totally hooked on General Hospital." Then her eyes go wide. "Holy shit, that really works."
"You will answer the questions put to you, and no more," Ramsay says. "You are the chosen one, the vampire slayer, anointed by destiny to battle the vampires and dark forces of the world. Have you forsworn this duty?"
"No," Faith says. "I take it serious. I do my job."
Ramsay raises a bushy eyebrow. "I should not have expected that to be true, and yet it must be so. Still, this court has but two inquiries before it. Answer the first inquiry: Did you kill Buffy Summers?"
"No," Faith says. Gasps echo around the room, and I have to force myself to act surprised. Angel tenses up. Oh, brother. Here we go.
The Watchers up at the front look at each other for a minute. Finally, Ramsay continues, asking the second question, the one that ought to save us, "Did you kill the seven members of the Brotherhood of Amesace?"
Faith holds her head high. "No. I didn't."
Everyone's talking, murmuring, freaking out. Angel puts one hand on Connor's shoulder. I glance over at Wesley, who can only stare at Faith.
"Order!" Vambrace is talking now. "Do you know who did kill them?"
Faith hesitates for a moment before she says, "I know who killed the Brotherhood of Amesace. Buffy killed them."
Angel's head jerks back. Cordelia makes this weird, strangled sound in her throat. I cover my mouth with my hand so nobody can see my smile.
Oh, thank goodness, Wesley was right.
"How do you know?" Ramsay says. "Were you there?"
"No," Faith says. "She asked me to meet up with her there that night. B said -- she wanted us to patrol together, sometimes -- she hadn't in a while, so I kinda wondered -- well, it doesn't matter now. I was late, because I ran into a vamp nest. By the time I got there, she was already inside. I went up and found -- what you guys found. I tried to drag her outta there. We fought. Not with fists or nothing -- just argued. About whether or not she'd been right to do it. She thought I woulda seen it her way, but I didn't. Finally I left without her."
Cornish leans forward. "You left the area immediately. While she was still alive."
Faith's face gets cloudy, and then she says, "No. I didn't leave right away. I was freakin' out, and I didn't know what to do. I hung out down the street for a while."
Wesley's hand tightens around mine, way too tight. It hurts. I feel like someone punched a hole in my stomach. Oh, God. Oh, no.
"Faith," Ramsay says, "Did you see the murder of Buffy Summers?"
"Yes," Faith blurts out. "Yes, I did."
There's no place to run to. There's no weapon I can grab -- oh, God, why didn't I get a stake or a crossbow or, or -- I look up at Angel, who for some reason is looking down at Connor. When he hears this, he's gonna go after Wesley, and that means he's gonna go through me --
Ramsay asks, "Who killed Buffy Summers?" His eyes narrow, and he adds, "Was it the vampire Angelus?"
The Watchers swing toward Angel as one, hundreds of eyes on him in an instant. It feels like they're looking at me -- or at Wesley. But they're looking at Angel, who doesn't seem to notice or care. He still only has eyes for Connor.
"No! Hell, no," Faith says. She pauses barely long enough to take a breath. "I'd have recognized him if it were Angel. I was close enough for that. But it wasn't him."
It sounds like she doesn't know the person who did it. But if she was close enough to recognize Angel, she would have been close enough to recognize Wesley -- any second now, she's going to tell them it was Wesley --
Faith hesitates again, then finishes, "It was this guy who came up to her on the street."
What the hell? I don't dare look over at Wesley right now. Anyway, it's hard to look away from Faith's face. She's ashen, and there are tears in her eyes, and her whole body is locked up, like she's so upset she can't stand it.
Vambrace leans forward and says, "Can you describe this man?"
I can see every muscle in Faith's arms, in her hands. But she's steady as she says, "His back was to me. He -- he -- he looked older." She relaxes a little. "I'd say he had gray in his hair. At the temples. Seemed that way to me."
Does Wesley have gray hair? I force myself not to turn and check.
I guess he must, though, because she's telling the truth. Everything she's saying is the truth. It's just not the whole truth.
"As best as you could determine from your own personal vantage point, worldview and set of preconceived concepts and prejudices, what happened?" Revelstoke asks.
Faith blinks at him, then starts talking again. "Uh, I couldn't exactly hear from where I was standing. I knew he -- the man -- he was asking Buffy what had happened. And she was telling him, like, daring him to do something about it. She was gesturing around a lot, and I could tell she had my knife. I musta dropped it."
"Did you not realize she was in danger?" Vambrace says.
"No," Faith says quietly. "I thought he was. I thought she was -- Buffy wasn't herself. Don't write her off like a bad person, like you wrote me off. It wasn't like that. She was just mixed up in her head." She swallows hard, then continues, "Sometimes, enough bad shit happens to you, you can't see straight anymore. That's not an excuse. That's just the way it was. That's what happened to her."
"So the man struck first," Ramsay says.
"No, there was a fight. Not much of one, but a fight. She pushed the guy down, gut-punched him. Then he saw his chance and stabbed her in the back," Faith says. For the first time, I can tell she's angry. But she's still lying to protect Wesley. Or, well, not telling the whole truth to protect Wesley. Why? Why would she do it? They hate each other. But she's doing it all the same.
"Undoubtedly one of the other cult members," Cornish says, and Ramsay hushes him. But I can tell by the murmuring in the room, that's what the others think too. Faith pulled it off. Wesley's not going to get caught. I look over at him, and though I don't dare smile, I know he can see the surprise and relief in my face. Wesley just looks more shocked than anything else. Can't blame him.
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Charles beaming. I turn to face him and smile right back. He looks surprised, and then he winks at me. Next I glance over at Angel, who must feel awful right now. Imagine finding out your ex-girlfriend had some sort of psychotic break and murdered some people while you were supposed to be looking out for her. But he doesn't look awful. He's slumped back in his chair, almost relaxed, and he's got an arm around Connor's shoulders. And Connor's letting him do it without rolling his eyes or anything. This day is officially completely insane. For a second I wonder if I'm having another cave-moment, where all the real and unreal things are running together again.
But no, Wesley's hand is still in mine, and the sweat is still cooling on the small of my back, and I can still smell the funky old aftershave that seems to be Council standard-issue. All sensory perceptions report this as reality.
Ramsay finally gets the room quiet, and then he stands. "Faith, you have proved yourself innocent of the charges against you. It is the judgment of this Council of Watchers that you are free to go, and to resume your duties as the Vampire Slayer."
"Yes!" Charles shouts, and Faith turns to smile at him. Revelstoke makes a few gestures and blows out the candle, and the blue-green light fades away. Faith breathes out heavily, then puts her head in her hands.
"I can't believe it," Cordelia says, her voice weak and uneasy. "I just can't believe it."
"Me either," I say. "Come on, Wesley, I need a drink of water." Which is as good an excuse to get him out of the room as any. He leans against me heavily as we make our way out of the room.
I ought to feel great. Wesley was right to suspect Buffy of murder and to be afraid of her. He did the right thing, and finally he knows it, and that will help him get over this so much faster. Faith came through for him, for whatever reason, so maybe they'll end up Slayer and Watcher again. I'm sure Angel's going to lose it over this, but at least Connor's being nice to him. But I don't feel great. I can't feel much of anything besides profound relief. Well, that and -- I don't know. Something I can't quite name.
I suppose that, even after years of fighting evil and learning about the world and watching "Law & Order," I always had this belief that the truth would come out, in the end. That if you killed someone, sooner or later, you would be caught.