Faith was awake. She didn't open her eyes, or show any visible sign of being awake. That would have drawn attention and even before she was a Slayer, she knew better to do that when she woke up with someone in the same room as her. Now that she considered it, she'd had a talent for knowing when someone was in the same room as her even before she'd become a Slayer as well. Useful talent that.
She almost opened her eyes and made a smart remark when she heard Wes's soothing light British voice, but then the rest of her body began to wake up and she felt cool steel on her wrists and some constriction on her ankles. Forcing herself to focus on what she could hear, the words sprang into focus. "They are not high on my list of priorities, Archmage."
A low voice rumbled, with a thick Eastern European accent that Faith could not identify. "Why not?"
"Though their rituals are unpleasant, their subjects are volunteers and don't die, except four times a year. Four murders a year is neither particularly impressive, nor particularly worrisome on a Hellmouth." She could hear his eyes narrow. "Indeed, given your reputation, I'm surprised you're worried about any number of murders."
"It is their beliefs, not their casualties, which prompts my interest and, therefore, should prompt your intervention. You know what they believe?"
"You know what they're trying to do?"
"And yet, they remain a low priority?"
"They've been trying to release the Old Ones for four thousand years and have accomplished exactly nothing. No, their beliefs do not concern me as they have made no progress towards accomplishing them."
"Ordinarily, I would agree with you. However, certain writings were stolen from a mage who imagines he is a rival of mine. These writings are sacred to one of the Old Ones and they were stolen not a hundred miles from here. As you've already had a run-in with them, you are the perfect person to handle them."
"Of course, Archmage. I'll need her assistance."
"Help yourself," the man's deep, rumbling voice was laced with minor amusement.
Wes knelt by her sprawled forms and she let her eyes slit open, dark eyes flared at him, fury clear in them and in the slowly tightening muscles of her bound body. In turn, Wes's eyes narrowed as he read the desire to snap the neck of this 'Archmage.' He leaned forward, one glove sliding off, apparently checking her pulse as a finger traced an arcane rune on her throat. Faith's world went black again.
"She's gonna be pissed!" Harmony said, in an oddly eager tone.
"Thank you, Harmony."
"I mean, she was pissed before and you hadn't magicked her unconscious then."
"Thank you, Harmony."
"And we're in her room. She hasn't let anyone in her room."
"Thank you, Harmony."
"And you carried her around like a damsel in distress! I bet she's not going to love that."
"Thank you, Harmony," Wes said, irritation finally leaking into his tone.
In turn, Harmony finally smiled, hugging him from behind. "Don't worry, love, I won't let her hurt you." She smirked. He could feel her lips pulling against his cheek, skin wrinkling slightly, in a way undefinably, but unmistakably different from the way it wrinkled when she shifted form. Even that did not trouble him anymore. It had, once, when he'd still been blinded by the certainties of the Watcher Council and ten thousand years of tradition. But now he was not blind. Now he was not bound. Now he was free and he was not alone. "Much," she concluded, swirling away, skirt brushing against the back of his legs as she laughed.
Wes's hand reached out towards Faith. "Is that really a good idea?" Harmony asked.
"It has to be physical contact. I'm not powerful enough for a spell like that otherwise and once cast, it has to be broken the same way."
"She's gonna be pissed!" Harmony repeated.
Wes couldn't quite suppress a smile, "Thank you Harmony," he said and traced the counter-sigil on Faith's throat. Then it was time for Wes's world to go black.
Wes woke up to Harmony standing over him, looking concerned. Faith hadn't bothered to put down a rug, so his back was on the bare hardwood floor and he could feel a bump rising on the back of his skull, where it had impacted that hardwood, a sharp pain, as distinct from the dull ache that filled the rest of his head. A hand extended and pulled him to his feet. He didn't bother trying to conceal the wince, Faith wanted to be seen as powerful, self-sufficient and strong. All of which was true. But it would be better to conceal the reality of what she'd done, or almost done. Jane would check him out, make sure she hadn't given him a concussion, or done any neurological damage, which was all too possible with a blow to the head.
"You knocked me out!" Faith said, standing behind Harmony, fury and indignation in every line of her body.
Wes fought the urge to apologize. The boy who'd had to substitute arrogance for achievement and who'd had the self-esteem of wet toilet paper (soggy, easily torn and thoroughly worthless) was gone. He would apologize when he was in the wrong, but until then…"I prevented you from taking an action that would have gotten us both killed."
"Please, you think I can't take some witch?"
Wes closed his eyes for a moment, taking a firm grasp on his temper. "Understand this, the Archmage is the reason Cleveland isn't like Sunnydale, despite the fact that there is a Hellmouth here as well."
Faith glared at him.
"It's because he's bound up a gate to hell as his own personal power source, which means it isn't leaking all over the place and is instead, empowering one, crazy and crazy-strong mage. Fighting him is a losing proposition—"
"I could take him!" Faith interjected roughly. "I'm the Slay—"
"It's a losing proposition," he overrode her, voice rising, despite his attempt to control his temper, "because even if we win, all we'll be doing is unleashing the Hellmouth to turn Cleveland into a larger, bloodier version of Sunnydale. That counts as losing in my book."
Faith glared at him, arms crossed, "I still say I could have taken him."
"Maybe. With any luck, we'll never have to find out."
Her pout lightened for just a moment, then turned into a dubious, paranoid expression, "Wes."
"Why'd he take me, if he wanted something from you? Why not just grab you?"
"He tried, remember the whole," he mimed coughing up blood, "'magic, it's magic attacking me, get me to the car, where its safe,' thing?"
Faith smirked. "Oh, yes, I remember, but what I don't remember is how he got me, or why he was making you cough up blood if you were just going to roll over for him."
"That wasn't his intent. He attempted to teleport me into his presence. My protections prevented that, barely and with certain side-effects, so he grabbed you instead, in order to force me to come to him."
Faith's eyes widened in the glee of a paranoid who'd been proven correct. "And why didn't I have any of those protections, oh Watcher-of-mine?" she purred the question, sliding forward, until Harmony shouldered between them and they stood there for a moment, posturing like a pair of alley cats.
"You would have let me cast spells upon you?" Wes asked before anything could happen.
"I…" Faith considered what she would have said if he'd asked to cast spells on her, forcing herself to think past her instinctive reaction. Arguing with Wes without thinking her position all the way through was an exercise in aggravation. "Yes. After all, if you wanted to do anything to me, you could have done it while I was unconscious."
Wes weighed her statement. "A good argument, though incorrect, through no mistake in logic, but a lack of knowledge. Many spells do, in fact, require the consent of those they are cast upon, though that consent can often be induced…which doesn't change the fact that you didn't know that, so might well have let us proceed. You're correct, I apologize, I should have offered."
"Then do your stuff," Faith snapped. "I don't want to be teleported again. That sucked."
"Harmony can you go grab a set?" Wes asked.
"Are you sure?" Harmony's gaze was on the other woman, who still didn't look very happy, though she clearly had enjoyed winning the argument.
"Yes, love, thanks."
"Your funeral," she said with a shrug, then gave Faith a glare, "and if it is, then yours will follow soon thereafter, I promise."
"Wow, that was almost menacing," Faith sneered, "and even more impressive, almost clever."
"Be nice," Wes said to Faith, "and don't be violent," he continued, to Harmony, who pouted at him, then moved off.
"So, if it's this easy, why don't all Watchers have their own mystical protections?" Faith asked.
"Because it would disrupt any ritual, or summoning magic they attempted. Only inherent magic is still feasible."
"Wait, what the hell are you talking about?"
"There are several types of magic which—"
"Wait, no, now I remember that I don't care. It's not going to interfere with my being a Slayer, right?"
"And it didn't interfere with your fires, or," she glared at him, "whatever it was you did to me back there."
"No, but then again, I have a different set of protections than you will."
"And why is that?"
"Because I'm not a fifth century Navajo mage."
"So the fuck wha—" Faith began.
"Which means that I have no way of making more of what I used to protect myself."
"And why would you have a fifth century Navajo mage's stuff?" Faith asked.
"Because I stole it," Wes said, straightforwardly.
"Want. Take. Have. Remember?"
"Hardly your philosophy!"
"Admittedly not, and if it makes you feel better, the man I stole it from had stolen it as well. Unpleasant little shit."
"Language!" Faith teased.
"No, really, he was a walking shit. A waste demon. I didn't even know they still existed. Disgusting things."
"Okay, I'm ignoring your nonsense now."
"Really?" Wes blinked innocently down at her, "However will we communicate?"
"I've got fists."
Wes laughed and took a wary step back, then his eyes narrowed as he saw her fists clench and calculated the time it would take Harmony to get back from the roof. "You want serious? Okay. Tell me, Slayer, do you see the problem with your philosophy?"
"Want. Take. Have. Do you see the problem with your philosophy?" He repeated, stepping forward, very deliberately into her space.
Faith didn't retreat, it wasn't in her nature. "I see what you think the problem would be," her voice adopted a horrible and horribly fake British accent, "'It's immoral. It's theft. It's wrong.' Blah, blah, blah."
"Oh, yes, I apologize, I should have asked, do you see the flawed assumption in your philosophy?"
He leaned over and whispered right in her ear. "You're assuming that what you want, is something that can be taken." Faith flushed. Wes continued, "and the very best things in life, can't be taken," he slid away past her, content to exit on that line.
Faith smirked at his back, "That's what you think," she said.
Harmony made better time than he thought and caught him before he even made it into the hall, one hand full of what Faith had wanted (retrieved from the roof via an awkward pulley system that had been set up to prevent her from needing to expose herself to the sun and burn to death).
"She didn't hurt you, did she?" her voice was low, threatening, and for a moment, he remembered that she was a vampire, that she had a demon in her, that she was everything he was supposed to fight. Then he remembered that he'd killed far more people than she had and that everything he was 'supposed to' do/be had turned out to be utter and complete bullshit.
"No, no. Well," he continued as her empty hand traced the painful spot where Faith's fist had knocked him down and out. The bruise was already beginning to show, the curse of his pale skin. "Not after she punched me."
Harmony tried to look put out by that, but it kept coming across as a smug smirk. "I told you she'd be pissed."
"Yes, yes, you're always right."
"I know," Harmony smirked at him and passed him what he'd asked for. Then thought about that for a moment and took it back. It wasn't that she was jealous. She wasn't. Really. It was just…better this way.
They went back inside. "Did you just leave to be dramatic?" Faith asked, when she saw Wes coming back.
Faith was too stunned by that admission to come up with a response. When she looked, uncharacteristically plaintively at Harmony, her eyes widened still further at the sight of what the vampire was holding. "Is that a fucking sticker tattoo?"
"It's a temporary tattoo, yes. The magic's in the ink and the two weeks it spends soaking up solar energy," Wes explained. "A low maintenance and energy cheap, though expensive, way of mass producing mystical protection. It'll last a week or so."
"Look, just cause you're afraid of the needle doesn't mean I am." Faith flexed at him, her tattoo jumping, "obviously. Why get 'temporary' tattoos every week instead of just getting the real deal?"
"Several reasons. Most obviously, as I said, the power is limited. A permanent tattoo would just become a decoration. Also, you don't really want this ink under your skin. Honestly, you probably don't even want it on your skin, but better some skin irritation, than getting teleported a hundred feet up in the air."
"Just skin irritation?" Faith asked, a little nervously.
"Hopefully. It's not like we've done double-blind pharmaceutical studies. But we've been using them for two months and no one's had worse than a rash. Yet."
"So comforting, Wes."
"I try. Now, it needs to go near the center of your body, so you know, choose a spot and put it on, I'll be…not here," he said, turning away as Faith started to lift her shirt.
"What's a matter, see something you like?" Faith teased.
"Yes," he dropped a kiss on the top of Harmony's head as he passed the silently glaring vampire and she melted just a bit, then froze right back up as he left the room.
"So, where do you want it?" Harmony asked, holding it up. "Hip, stomach, or back?"
"Where'd you put it? Wait, I know, tramp stamp, righ—" Faith finally got a good look at the temporary tattoo. "That's a kitten," she interrupted herself, in the same flat tone which she might have described a cockroach, in her shoe, when she woke up, which she didn't discover until after putting the shoe on…with no socks.
"Duh! I wasn't giving you one of my unicorn ones," Harmony said, cheerfully ignoring (or not noticing, Faith couldn't tell) the Slayer's tone. "You have to be nice to get one of those."
"My choices are kitten, or unicorn?" Faith asked, incredulously.
"No! I already said you don't get one of my unicorn ones!"
"I meant that you don't have any other kinds?"
"Why would I?" Harmony asked, honestly confused.
Faith gave up on trying to explain herself (and reality) to Harmony. "I'm not wearing that," Faith's voice was flat and certain.
"It's a kitten. I don't do kittens."
"I would hope not! You don't even want to know what I did to those bastards who were playing poker for kittens. Kitten-eating cowards," Harmony's voice trailed off.
Faith's irritation melted into curiosity. "Oh, no, I definitely would like to hear about that."
"Well, they had this meat grinder in the back. I don't know why it was so big, since the only animals in there were kittens," Harmony pouted, "poor kittens…anyway, I wanted to feed them in while they were still alive, but Wes wimped out on me and made me kill 'em first. I still fed 'em through the meat grinder though. Send a message to anyone else who thinks about killing kittens!"
Faith blinked, impressed despite herself. "Well, what do you know, you've got a bit of demon in you after all…"
"Don't we all?" Harmony countered.
"Sure, but most don't hide it so well, cheerleader. How do you hide it so well, vampire?"
"Um…I think it's magic or something, but all vampires can do that. Don't you know that, Slayer?" Faith couldn't tell if the Vampire was being sarcastic, or was merely dense.
"No. I meant, why aren't you like other Vampires? Did Wes stuff a soul in you?"
"Not a soul," Harmony smirked, "No. Based on what he says about Angel, that doesn't sound like much fun at all, not like—"
"Okay!" Faith did not want to imagine Wes having sex. "Then why aren't you like other Vamps?"
"Wes has this whole long explanation, I don't really get it, but who cares? He did some Watcher-smart-guy stuff, and I'm still me, just with a few," her face changed and Faith flinched despite herself, then turned it into a deliberate stretch towards the stake she wore strapped to her back (which neither the Archmage, nor Wes had taken from her), "additions. And a new allergy," she admitted. "But I made it to eighteen without eating peanuts more than a couple of times. Shame an epi-pen doesn't work on the sun."
"Or magic," Faith said bitterly.
"Nope, for that you need one of these," Harmony agreed, waving around the temporary tattoo.
"Fine," Faith snatched it out of her hands, "but you're getting some new designs. Okay?"
"Like what? Crosses?"
"Do I look like a Christian to you?" she asked, with a demonstrative and impressive bounce.
Harmony gave a little, you-have-a-point headshake, "So what design would you like on the magical, expensive, protection which we're giving you for free?"
Faith ignored the Vampire's attempt at sarcasm. "Barbed wire, weapons, letters," she flashed a smile, "big honking dicks."
Harmony didn't blush and Faith was surprised to discover she missed Wes's presence, at least she could still make the Brit uncomfortable, sometimes. "No promises," Harmony smirked at her.
Faith upped the ante and casually pulled off her shirt. "So, what do you think," she waved the temporary tattoo around, "would this look better on the front, or back? I was thinking front to avoid the tramp stamp effect, but I think a kitten right above my—"
At that point Harmony, who had been blushing and staring and then blushing about staring and then spinning around so she wasn't staring, actually did flee the room, never seeing Faith's gleeful smirk, though the Slayer's cackling giggle echoed in her ears.
"I knew not wearing a bra would pay off today. I just had that feeling," she said to herself as she glanced around for a mirror to help her apply the tattoo properly.
Author's Note: Okay, that went a bit off track towards the end there. What can I say, Faith's a lot of fun to write for. I still have trouble with Harmony's voice, but I choose to blame any out-of-character moments on the rather different experiences this Harmony had. Though she died both times, the situation thereafter was a bit…different. How different we will see soon. Sooner, Faith will get an answer to the question it finally occurred to her to ask. She won't like the answer much.
But then again, she never does.
In other news, I'll be out of town for the next two weeks and won't have an opportunity to update. Updates will resume July 29th, on schedule.