Water

He could hear her crying.

He remembered the first time he'd heard her cry. The only other time. Outside a dead man's apartment as she attempted to bring Angel to her mercy with angry fists before finally sinking to her knees and begging him to kill her. He'd heard her cry then. He'd remembered that night that she was truly human.

Now, she was almost too human for him. Too real. Too tangible. He heard her sobbing under the weight of the showerhead. Heard the crack and crash of cement and knew without needing anything that she was hurting herself. She was forcing her hands to bleed in order to feel, even if all of her was a mess of broken bones and torn muscles.

It was bizarre having her here. Bizarre, but strangely right.

Even under these circumstances, it felt like he had brought her home.

She shouldn't be alone. She was aching in ways he didn't wish to fathom. Wesley sighed heavily and rose to his feet, tentatively approaching his bathroom door. Though she might not wish his company, especially now, there was a certain sort of intimacy they had already attained. Intimacy which didn't require the union of bodies or anything primal in the slightest.

They were kindred souls.

Wesley didn't bother to knock. He pushed the door open and stepped boldly across the threshold.

"Is everything all right?" he asked softly. The mirrors were steamed, the air too thick to make out shapes. The blurred vision of her nude body struck him in ways he never thought possible, but he forced his first instinct aside with casual ease.

Faith was panting hard, her hands braced against the tattered remains of what had once been his shower wall. "Y'know, Wes," she said, her voice tempered but strained. "If you wanted a peek, you coulda just come in here and watched me strip. Would've been a helluva lot hotter than this."

"I heard—"

"Yeah. Shower. Sorry." She kicked at a chunk of concrete with her bare foot. "I just…I needed to let out, you know?"

He swallowed hard and nodded. He knew. God, he knew. If he had even half the strength Faith possessed, his shower wall would have been dismantled with his own tortured fists months ago. Back when he sank into the shadows—shut out by the people he cared about due to his misreading of an ancient prophecy.

He had tried to rescue Connor, and in doing so had damned him. Damned him and destroyed Angel.

In some way, what was happening now was Wesley's fault. No matter what he'd done in the interim to make amends. To put things right between them. He'd pulled Angel from the ocean, and yet there was nothing which could fix the void.

Their relationship was permanently damaged. All because Wesley had tried to save his son.

"I know how tempting it is to hide, Faith," Wesley said, swallowing hard and taking a step forward. She had turned to face him fully, unashamed of her nudity in ways which had nothing to do with the rippled shower-glass separating them. "To vent your frustrations on walls and save your screams for your pillow while bottling everything else inside."

Faith snickered appreciatively but didn't say anything.

"I've been there."

"I don't think so, Boss," she retorted. "I get it. You went through the Change. Guess the other one finally dropped, yeah? Your voice stopped squeaking and you gave it away to some very, very special girl. Don't think that means you got some special insight. I'm the way I am because it's—"

"I don't have insight on what you're going through. You're right."

Faith blinked and tossed the shower door open, leaning against the doorway. "You don't? So you're not in here, trying not to stare at my tits while under the guise that because you got a little rough and dark you suddenly get me?"

Wesley didn't break his eyes away from hers, despite the wholly male need to drag his gaze downward. "I only mean I know how it is to be isolated," he replied. "To keep your pain inside and hope it will ease with time. But we both know where that leads with you."

"Hey. I'm not the kinda girl to make the same mistake twice."

"No. You're the sort of girl to make the same mistake over and over again. Twice is selling yourself short."

Faith snorted. "Well…you know it's the definition of insanity, right? Doin' the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. You think I'm crazy, Wes?" She shrugged. "Wouldn't be the first."

"I think you need people, and you don't wish to admit it. Because needing people makes you weak, doesn't it, Faith?" Wesley swallowed hard and took another step forward. "And after all this time, even after facing your ghosts, you're afraid to be perceived as weak."

She stared at him for a long minute before breaking away with a sharp, angry laugh. "Trying to play therapist? Don't bother."

"I'm trying to tell you…I'm here."

Faith's eyes darted to his crotch, her brows arching appraisingly. "I'll say."

"You can't change the subject."

"Well, you can change your shorts, right? That looks wicked painful." She paused thoughtfully. "Or is that the real reason you came in here, Wes? Hot naked jailbird in your shower. You busted me out—I pretty much owe you. Want me to suck you off? Give you a taste of what—"

"Stop."

"Right. Stop. Drop. Open my mouth real wide."

Wesley frowned and claimed another step. "Why do you do that?"

It was small, nearly indiscernible, but it was there. A flicker of fear in her eyes and a waver in her confident stance. Her arms were crossed but she couldn't hide how hard she was trembling. Her body was worn and bruised, the wounds which hadn't yet stopped bleeding forming purple patches against her sunkissed skin. The defenses she'd built around herself were nearly indestructible. She could bat an eye, curl her lips in a way guaranteed to wrap any man around her little finger, and offer a smile which promised nothing but pleasure if he just stopped talking. Wesley couldn't imagine many men strong enough to push beyond her greatest weapon—her dark, alluring self—to reach the scared little girl inside.

He was determined to show her that he was different.

"Do what?" she asked. If she was aware of how hard her voice shook, she didn't betray it.

"Devalue yourself."

She quirked a brow. "Huh? If I could do that alone, I wouldn't need a vibrator."

Wesley's lips tugged upwards reluctantly. "You equate yourself with the sum of your parts," he explained. "You don't think you have anything to offer but your body."

"I got a wicked punch, too. Or don't you remember?"

"I remember."

"Then you oughta know you're risking—"

"You're not alone, Faith."

She spread her arms. "Who've I got?"

"Me."

"Yeah. Till Angelus is stuffed back inside Angel's soul. Wanna take a bet at how fast you'll reach for the phone? That's how good I got you, Wes." She paused. "Or will you do it yourself? Rassle me to the ground and drag me to the nearest precinct, 'cause I got you so fucking well?"

Wesley didn't blink. "It is my understanding that prison is designed to rehabilitate people," he replied. "You are not the girl you were when you went in."

"You think?"

"I know." He paused. "I believe in you, Faith. You don't have to be alone." His eyes fluttered downward, focusing on the crumbled chunks of his bathroom wall. "If you need to beat on something, beat on me. I won't fight you. I will still be here when it's over." His gaze found hers again. "You don't have to do anything alone."

The look in Faith's eyes was unlike anything he'd ever seen. Deep, fathomless confusion wrapped in gratitude. The face of a girl who didn't believe she could exist except in the body of someone else. And before he could say anything, do anything, she had seized him by the shirt and tugged him to her.

For an insane instant, he thought she meant to kiss him. She didn't. Instead, she folded her bruised body in his arms and began to cry.

She cried, and he held her. She cried under a cold baptism of shower water, holding onto him as though he was the only thing keeping her anchored to this world.

Faith was crying. This girl who had wandered through darkness. Her face had been a ghost of hope throughout his own trial. He'd wandered through Hell over the past year, clawing desperately for freedom. Clawing toward the light.

He tainted everything he touched, but he couldn't taint Faith. He couldn't.

But perhaps—just perhaps—he had a chance at saving her.

And if he succeeded, he at least had the hope that she would save him back.

TBC