"So, what are we doing?"
Wesley looked up from his book in surprise. It seemed unlike Faith to ask for guidance or reassurance or anything, really, other than the occasional pizza night. Or ungodly expensive pairs of leather pants. "Well, I'm researching the feeding habits of the Muraugiam, and you're flattening the punching bag. Or am I missing something?"
"I mean, why are we hanging around L.A.?"
Wes frowned. Faith had never expressed displeasure with their arrangement, such as it was. They both seemed content to vegetate in comparative peace. Was a few weeks of that enough for her? Was she going to leave? he wondered, anxiety beginning to bloom.
"You're unhappy?" he asked carefully.
Faith shrugged and flopped down on a chair. "Couch's soft, food's good, plenty of demons to kill. Nothing to complain about."
"Except for the little thing about how this city's already got a big-time demon hunter, and we have to be real careful to avoid him, because he might go off and try to kill you again and that might be kind of, you know, awkward. Besides, if he killed you, where would I stay?"
He looked hurt.. Faith rolled her eyes—he was such a girl sometimes. A hot, scruffy girl.
Okay, maybe not a girl.
"I was kidding, Wes," she said, not very impatiently.
He was silent for a long moment. "Faith? Have you ever wanted to make reparation?"
"Reparation? What do you mean?" she asked warily.
"To right our misdeeds. Maybe it's impossible to truly make things right, but I don't like to believe that. It's what separates us from the animals."
She frowned. "I thought that was our thumbs."
Wes scowled. "That's entirely—well yes, that's the other difference," he conceded.
"Wes, it's been straight with us ever since you got me out of Wolfram & Hart," she told him. To her surprise he looked puzzled.Oh. Duh. "You don't mean me."
Wes stared down at his hands. He could never make things right with Angel, never expiate what he'd done. And yet it preyed on him always, there at the back of his mind. Sometimes it was barely above the point of consciousness.
Sometimes it was all he could think about.
"You sought your redemption, Faith, when you went to prison. You turned yourself in. And I—I don't feel free to leave. Not until I've achieved a kind of redemption, too."
"So what does redemption take?" she asked after a moment.
He hesitated. It should have been him, all him. It had been his fault, no one else's. He should take care of it, but that was what he'd tried to do before, be the hero. And he understood now, better than he ever imagined, that it would never work that way. He wasn't a hero.
But she was.
"It takes you, Faith," he answered softly.
It was weeks before Wes found a way to get her there. He didn't find it in a book; he looked, but they didn't seem to help him much anymore.
Instead it was an Asian man Faith had never seen before, with knife-blade cheekbones and panicked eyes. She'd returned from patrolling alone one night to find the man occupying her old spot in the closet, wrists chained, stripped to the waist, with delicate shiny patches on his chest that told her Wes hadn't forgotten the lesson she'd given him the first time she'd visited L.A.
It turned her stomach.
And yet, watching Princess Margaret get what he wanted out of the guy was … kinda hot.
He told Wes exactly what he wanted to know. How to get Faith into Quartoth.
How to get her and the baby out.
Faith could feel her heart thump unevenly—she could damn near hear it—but she ignored it. She kept her eyes on the fancy-ass steak knife with the long German name as she sliced off a piece of steak. Rare and bloody, just like she liked it. The way Wes liked it too, actually. Before, she would have thought it would be too earthy for his highness, but he wasn't that Wes anymore.
Good thing for both of them.
"Is it okay?" Wes asked, his voice slightly strained.
Faith stared at him. Was it okay he was sending her to Quartoth, because the place was so bad that he probably wouldn't survive? And that if she didn't make it, he'd be free to just go on as if it had never happened? Yeah, that was great. It was just—
Shit, who was she kidding? She'd agreed to it. He hadn't pressured her. He'd told her his plan and asked her, not ordered her like he used to when he was her Watcher. And he was right—she did have a better chance of getting the baby away from Holtz and getting out alive than Wes did. And she knew why he needed redemption. She knew how much it mattered.
She opened her mouth to reassure Wes, then noticed his gaze was directed at her plate. "Sure, it's fine," she shrugged. He'd poured wine and made a salad with weird greens, and got some expensive steaks. He was trying to make the meal nice. It was kind of pathetic, but hell, why not? Tonight was the night. They'd thrown together everything they needed, and in a couple hours she was leaving. This was the last supper.
"Faith…" Wes began tentatively. Faith looked at him. "I want to thank you. You're doing a wonderful thing. It will mean so much to Angel."
"I'm not doing it for Angel," she said tightly, standing up and taking her plate to the sink. She hadn't eaten much, but she was never really hungry before the big event. After, yeah. If she survived, she was gonna make Wes buy her everything on the menu at Fatburger. And then maybe later they could hit the East Coast and she could educate him about sliders. She'd bet her left arm he'd never touched one, and that was just … sad.
Yeah, a lot of things were sad.
Wes stared at the floor. He felt guilty that Faith was taking such a huge risk for this, but he needed it so badly. He'd go himself, the part of him that he been inculcated since childhood to clean up his own messes. Lectured, compelled to. But he knew it was foolish; there was no chance. As much as he'd learned, as hardened as he'd become, he knew he stood little chance of getting Connor out of that place.
But Faith was a champion.
He approached her. "Faith, are you—you don't have to do this—"
She smashed her plate down into the sink, breaking it, and he jumped. "Jesus Wes, shut up, just shut up," she snarled.
His heart sank. "Faith—"
Then her hands were on his face, her fingertips pressing hard into his cheeks as she kissed him, her teeth scraping against his lips. She dropped one hand to his shoulder, then to his waist, and it should have been awkward, it should have been Cordy in the library, Virginia after he realized he was falling for Fred, clumsywrongsad, but it was just her, there, immediate, hot, Faith, and then his hands were on her face just as hard as hers, just as needy, just as desperate.
A few stumbling steps and they were in the living room, falling to the couch, struggling to pull off clothes, then he was pressing inside her, both panting, straining, and finally shuddering against each other. It was over shockingly quickly.
It was a few minutes before he stirred. "I didn't mean for that to happen," he said wryly.
She chuckled. "Yeah, it was a little faster than I expected." Okay, a lot, but it still got the job done. She had a feeling he'd get better with practice anyway.
His face was somber. "I mean I didn't plan to do this at all," he said, and Faith went still. "I didn't want to remember this later."
Faith froze. Didn't want to remember her, huh? God, asshole. Just like all the rest of them.
"If you don't return, it would hurt me so much—to have had you and then lost you … it's cowardly, perhaps, not to risk it at all, but I never claimed I wasn't a coward…"
"That's it?" Faith blurted in surprise.
Wes looked at her blankly.
"Wes … that's it? God, I'm a Slayer! I'm not gonna be having any fat grandchildren around my deathbed. It's wham, bam, dead, ma'am. If I don't come back from Quartoth, let's just say I gave you the best night of your life."
Wesley smiled faintly. "And if you do come back?"
"When I come back, we hit the road. The hell with L.A.! Nothing keeping us here after I get back … right?"
Wes hesitated a moment. "Right."
They'd opened the portal shortly before midnight in the park by Wesley's apartment. One moment there was only the faint light of the street lamps filtering through the trees, and the next there was an angry blaze. Neither of them said anything. He felt cowardly for not speaking, but he didn't trust his voice. Then she nodded and ran into the fissure and it closed up behind her, leaving the park dim and silent.
There had been no reason to speak. They'd already said everything either of them had been capable of. They could talk when she was back. Until then, Wesley would wait.
At first he didn't notice the shadow that fell across his face—not until she spoke. "She's not coming back, Wes," said Lilah casually, tilting her head towards the horizon. Wesley's gaze didn't waver. "You took a shot. It went about as well as usual, but you should be used to it, right?"
"Go away," said Wes calmly, not raising his voice.
He didn't have to turn his head to see her smile; it was in her voice. "Now why would I want to do that?"
"You must have other things to do—justice to subvert, innocents to kill … perhaps a judicial appointment to undermine?"
Lilah smirked at his naïveté. Business was always rewarding—when she wasn't under consideration for permanent termination—but nothing could take the place of well-earned mockery. "Come on, Wes, what could be better than this? Watching the lapdog of my enemy lose his last chance at redemption? You couldn't pay me to miss this one. Warms me right in the cockles of my heart."
"Go away," he repeated stonily, too tired to be sound as bitter as he felt. It had been … he wasn't sure how long. The cooler he'd brought along was empty, his thermos drained, dry water bottles littered the grass beside him. Faith had carried a backpack with similar rations. She could get more, probably, if there was anything there humans could eat.
And if there wasn't, there wouldn't be anything for her to retrieve anyway. Nothing except bones.
"No reason for you to catch a chill, Wes. She's not coming back. She's probably not even in Quartoth. I mean, how would Gavin know where to find her? She's in Alternate Dimension X, and she's not coming back."
"He knew," Wes insisted.
"Then why didn't he get the baby back for Wolfram & Hart?" Lilah challenged.
"Because it's yourcase, Lilah. As long as Connor is missing, it's a black mark on your record."
Lila ground her teeth. "Fine. So that's two people in Quartoth because of you. But why stop at two? You've got to have five or six friends who'd let you ruin their lives … right? You do have friends, right? Don't tell me Faith was it, because that's just sad. And now she's gone, too … because of you. Hey! Am I sensing a pattern here?" She took a moment to let that sink in, then added, "I was planning to make another tempting little offer about joining Wolfram & Hart, but the firm actually decided you're more valuable for us when you're trying to be the good guy. Same results, and no pesky conscience to worry about."
Wes forced himself to look at her. "Your life must be very empty, Lilah, for you to be so preoccupied with this. Have you ever thought of taking up knitting? I understand it's not just for the elderly anymore."
Her eyes sparked. "And how empty was yours, to get involved with me?"
Wes didn't answer. When he looked up again she was gone, and it was night again. For the fourth time? He wasn't sure. Time tended to crawl when Lilah was about. Assuming she'd ever really been there.
Maybe it had just been his unconscious, telling him what he already feared.
Faith wasn't coming back.
It was amazing, really, how long a person could survive on nothing but Scotch. Although in all honesty he had a vague recollection of finding something food-like in the kitchen and eating it. He was relatively sure it hadn't been nutritious, though.
And now he was out of Scotch. Perhaps he should go to the store. But that wasn't necessary, was it? He was fairly certainly the liquor store down on Cartwright deliv—
"Wes! Open up!"
Wes sat bolt upright, suddenly much more sober. He lunged across the room and jerked the door open and there she was, dirty, circles under the eyes, holding a squirming toddler. "Damn, Wes, I thought you said the kid was a baby!" she said, holding the unruly child out to him. Hell, half of the bruises she had were from him kicking her. It figured that his parents were vampires, what with him being so strong and everything.
"This is Connor?" he asked in astonishment, staring at the child. Sandy hair and blue eyes—nothing like Angel. There was something, though, about the shape of his jaw... "How can you be sure?"
Faith grimaced, flexing her shoulder. She deserved a long, hot bath and a nice massage, but she had the feeling she wasn't getting either one of them for awhile. A beer would be nice, though. "Uh, Quartoth isn't exactly swarming with humans," she said dryly. "It was him or the old guy, and he's no longer an option."
"He didn't want to let the brat go. The kid kept calling him 'Father,'" she said brusquely.
"Did you want the kid back or not?" she asked shortly "I did what I had to."
He took the child, and the child promptly cuffed him across the cheek, hard enough that Wes staggered. "He is strong, isn't he?" he marveled, beginning to laugh with delight. It was setting in, the realization that Faith had done it. Connor was back. She was safe, and Connor was back.
He was free.
Only Cordelia came close. The others stood back, respecting the moment between father and son. Angel growled softly to the little boy in his arms and Connor stopped struggling, soothed by the sound that had once been his lullaby.
The others had doubted Wes, but Angel's sensitive nose had immediately told him that the child was Connor. Wesley had backed off as soon as Angel had taken the boy. He wasn't using Connor as entree back into the group, no matter what the others thought. He'd done too poorly by Angel ever to keep company with him again.
And the others had done too poorly by Wesley for him to simply forget their treatment.
So this moment of joy was theirs; he'd find his happiness elsewhere.
He turned and looked at Faith, waiting in the doorway, and started towards her. Faith was glad he didn't wait to stay—she couldn't wait to get out of the place. All the nasty little undercurrents were making her skin itch, and not in the way she liked. "Wes, you're—"
Then she moved close, and Wesley forgot Faith existed. "Wesley," murmured Fred, looking at him with undisguised admiration.
Faith muffled a growl. Little Miss Matchstick was giving Wes the big wet cow eyes, like he was her fucking hero. Now that the kid was back, everything was forgotten. Before that it had been Wesley who? Bitch!
Faith watched as Wesley's face softened as he looked at the slight girl. She was so skinny, maybe she was a boy in disguise. Faith hadn't checked. You could give her latex gloves and a shot of penicillin and she wouldn't check.
"Wesley, this is just—it's incredible, I can't believe that you were able to—"
"What were you saying, Faith?" he asked, turning away from Fred.
Faith felt relief overwhelm her. She was too proud to let it show, but he knew. She could see it in his eyes. "This place is over," Faith said, jerking her head towards the door. "Let's go."
"Time to move on," he agreed, leaving Fred without another glance and moving to Faith's side. He took her hand and followed her outside, feeling absurdly carefree as he passed through the courtyard to what he once considered his home. It had been an illusion, nothing more. His future was with Faith. He'd discharged his debts, and could feel the past and its ties releasing their hold on him.
"Where to?" he asked Faith as they left the Hyperion behind them.
The smile she tossed to him was a challenge. "Surprise me."