TITLE: . . . Has Two Sides
AUTHOR: Eleri McCleod
CATEGORY: Challenge response, drama, series
PAIRINGS: Faith/Jack friendship
SPOILERS: BtVS – none; SG-1 – none
SEASON: BtVS – 3; SG-1 – pre-series
SERIES/SEQUEL INFO: Part 2 of the "Worth Fighting For" Series. Can be read on its own, but will make more sense if the first story in the series, "Worth Fighting For', is read first.
CONTENT LEVEL: FR13, C, 13+, take your pick
CONTENT WARNINGS: little bit of language, sexual innuendo
SUMMARY: Nine years ago, Faith and Jack met by accident. Neither could ever imagine the future their brief encounter would set in motion.
DISCLAIMER: Buffy the Vamipre Slayer and its characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy . Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of MGM, World Gekko Corp and Double Secret productions. I'm just borrowing them for a little while and will return them unharmed. No copyright infringement is intended.
ARCHIVE: TtH, Jackfic, Gateworld, any others please ask
AUTHORS' NOTES: Faith has had ample opportunity to tell her side of things. I thought it was time to let Jack have a voice for a little while. vbg As always, any and all feedback is appreciated.
. . . Has Two Sides
It was boring with a capital B. Dull, tedious, mind-numbing, monotonous and repetitive also came to mind. But most of all, it was boring.
Jack O'Neill's day had consisted of mowing a lawn that hadn't needed it, washing a truck that already sparkled in the bright Colorado sun and rearranging his fairly impressive music collection. All in all, a highly productive day of doing nothing.
He hated it.
Kicking out a chair, he sank into the seat with his back to the wall. Some habits he didn't even bother trying to break any more. The beer was cold as it slid down his throat, emphasizing the fact he'd forgotten to eat dinner. Great. That was the icing on the cake. He set the bottle on the table, spinning it idly between his hands. It was time to find something to do with his life. He couldn't go back to the military even if he wanted to. He'd retired, given up his commission. There was nothing left for him there.
Movement caught his eye on the other side of the table, but he didn't track it any farther. No one bothered him in here.
"You and I are going to make each other's night."
It took a second for him to realize the blatantly sexual words were aimed in his direction. Eyes flying from the beer now sitting on his table to the face above it, he saw the young woman who'd been leaning against the bar when he'd ordered. Black leather pants covered her lower half and a tank top that barely deserved the name backed up her verbal offer. He'd been hit on a few times since his divorce had been finalized, but none of them had been quite so open about it. Flattered as he was by the idea, she was way too young for him, even if he had been interested in a little fun. "I'm not looking for any company tonight, but thanks for the offer."
That wasn't the answer she'd been expecting. Her come-hither smile froze for a split second before she took a long drink from the bottle she carried. He knew the show was for his benefit, a little looksie for the stupid guy, but he'd passed the point in his life where one night stands could even pretend to fulfill what they promised.
"You don't know what you're missing," she countered, obviously not willing to give up so easily.
He smiled slightly, head tilting to one side as he told her the absolute truth. "I'm sure you'll find a substitute easily enough."
He was positive she thought she was portraying the epitome of confidence, sure of what she wanted and what she was doing. But she wasn't talking to just anyone – Jack was a master of the game and he could see the uncertainty buried deep, the fear she probably didn't even acknowledge. For some reason, he couldn't let her go. Something about her called to him, made him want to keep her close. If he let her walk away she'd find someone else to proposition, someone who wouldn't be as hesitant as he to accept her offer.
"Hold on a second." The words were out before he'd even thought about speaking. Where the hell had that come from?
Turning back, she raised an eyebrow, face as easy to read as a book to him. She thought he'd changed his mind. "Yeah?"
"You look hungry," Jack said, the words practically stuttering out. What was he doing? She didn't need him wasting her time when he had no intention of leaving the bar with her. But hadn't he just been griping that his life was boring? Maybe he could do something for someone else since he couldn't for himself. This young lady looked to him like she needed a friend more than a lover at the moment. "Sit down and I'll buy you some dinner."
He had to give her credit, she didn't even twitch when her stomach grumbled quietly at his offer. Although with the noise level in the bar she probably assumed he hadn't heard it. A long few seconds passed before she shrugged and accepted with a tossed off, "All right." He hid a grin as she reversed a chair across the table and straddled it with ease.
"Stay here. I'll be back in a minute." Pausing halfway out of his chair, he set his beer on the table and met her eyes briefly. "Anything in particular you don't want?"
"Food is food. I eat so I don't die."
He gave a surprised grunt of laughter, smiled carefully and moved off without waiting to see if she had anything else to say. She'd either be there when he got back or she wouldn't. He ordered quickly, two chicken strips baskets with extra fries. Something told him the young lady hadn't eaten in longer than she'd ever admit. And just where had this Galahad syndrome come from anyway? The last few months of his life had been one never ending study in drudgery after another. Even before that he hadn't been one for saving damsels in distress, no matter what some people seemed to think about him.
Food order complete and paid for, he crossed the room once again, eyes automatically scanning the crowd for trouble. Years of training and experience were impossible to turn off, retired or not. Nothing but the normal noise and rowdiness of a weekend night in a bar met his gaze. He reached his table, vaguely surprised to find her still sitting there, waiting for his return.
"What's your name?"
He'd admit it, she surprised him. He wouldn't have thought names were really big on her list of necessary knowledge for the evening. Just went to show what he knew. "Jack," he answered, voice suddenly tight. Relax, man. It's not like she can track you down with a first name. You invited her to sit down, remember? "And what can I call you?"
She smiled, just the tiniest bit. Apparently she'd caught the careful phrasing. "Faith. My name's Faith."
That drew his eyes from his bottle back to her face. He could have sworn she'd given him her real name. A swift evaluation of her expression confirmed it – she seemed as surprised as he was. "Sounds like there's a story in there somewhere." And just where was this Mr. Chatty coming from? It wasn't like him to make personal inquiries, especially with someone he'd only just met. Jeez, maybe he did need to search out a little companionship. He obviously wasn't himself tonight.
"If there is I don't know it."
The grunt came from the bottom of his gut and settled over the table like an exclamation point. Faith settled herself against the chair, face expectant. For what, he had no idea. After a silent minute, she grabbed her beer and took a swallow. Jack's eyes floated between her face, the table and the bar in the quiet of their table. He had no idea what to say, no idea what she expected from him. Hoping their order would arrive soon, he downed another bit of his beer. It was out of his mouth before his brain caught up. "How old are you, Faith?"
She froze, her eyes flying up to meet his. "Old enough to know what I want."
Their eyes locked together and Jack found himself reevaluating the situation. Who was he to judge someone who hadn't done anything more than look for oblivion with a stranger? He'd done far worse in his life. Hell, he'd stomped all over the rules of polite society for most of his adult years. So what if – and he was positive he hadn't missed this one – Faith was quite a bit under the legal drinking age for Colorado? And yet some perverse part of him wanted her to admit it aloud. "How old are you?"
Maybe it was the quiet way he asked or maybe it was the complete lack of condemnation in the tone, but this time she answered. "Seventeen."
He watched the panic hit her and kept the smile under control. She didn't know he could care less she was underage. The confident siren disappeared in a blink, replaced by a trapped animal ready to run. He moved without conscious thought, his hand sudden just there on her forearm as she lifted herself out of the chair. "I'm not going to turn you in, Faith." She paused, her hand floating an inch above his wrist, her eyes narrowed and meeting his suspiciously. What she planned to do with that hand he had no idea, but she seemed to think she could do something to stop him if she wanted. "Let's just sit down and eat. I'm not going to tell if you won't."
He slid his hand off her arm, fingers trailing away as he sat back, leaving the decision up to her. Keeping his face completely blank, he held her gaze, wondering what thoughts were flying through her brain. There had been a second there, just the briefest of moments, when he'd thought she'd actually try to rip his hand off her arm. A glint of steel shone in her eyes as she finally lowered herself back into her chair, gaze never leaving his. And, God help him, even knowing exactly how much he really shouldn't be reacting to her, he found himself appreciating the fire in her. This was a young lady who wouldn't let circumstances dictate her life. Oh, she'd follow where the wind blew her, but she wouldn't bow down in surrender to it.
With a suddenness that almost had his eyebrows raising, she flipped her chair around and settled back, one leg crossed over the other. Jack nodded and reached for his beer, content with their mutual understanding.
He'd stopped counting swallows when one of the waitresses delivered the fried chicken strips, ketchup, mustard and utensils with a quiet efficiency. "Thanks," he said, ignoring the loud rumbling sound from across the table and pushing one of the red plastic baskets toward Faith. Taking the ketchup bottle, he upended it and drowned his fries in the bright red liquid. The battered knife and fork clattered against the table as he unrolled the paper napkin.
"So what's the deal?"
The suspicion in her voice kept his eyes on the chicken instead of looking up at her. "No deal," he replied, carefully lifting a fry to his mouth. "Just dinner before you head out."
"How do you know I'm leaving? Maybe I live here." Eyes still lowered, he saw her fingers snatch a fry and bring it to her mouth.
Jack finally looked up, swallowed his bite and gestured with a new fry, sure he'd won a tiny victory he hadn't known he was fighting for. "Let's just say I recognize the signs."
"Good Samaritan, huh?" Another fry disappeared from her basket.
His voice froze, simply vanished at the question. That was the last description he'd ever use for himself. Too many people had died because of him, too many had almost been blown to kingdom come because he hadn't cared whether he lived or died. No, Good Samaritan was the the farthest thing from truth. When he realized she was still waiting for an answer, he swallowed hard and forced his mouth to form words. "Something like that."
Thankfully, Faith let the subject drop and focused on her food, letting Jack do the same. The automatic action of eating allowed him the time to settle back into his little cocoon of solitude, each precise cut he made into the chicken a carefully thought out motion. They ate in a surprisingly comfortable silence, the noise of the bar somehow forming its own barrier around their table, keeping everything and everyone else out. Idly, Jack wondered if she realized she was relaxing, the stiff set of her shoulders loosening ever so gradually. By the time she pushed her basket away, every fry and bit of chicken nothing but a greasy memory, he'd relaxed himself, the tension he'd carried since Charlie's death easing the tiniest bit. Before he had time to do more than acknowledge that one, Faith leaned back in her chair and eyed him speculatively.
"So really, why'd you buy me dinner?" He got the feeling she finally understood he wasn't leaving the bar with her.
"You really want to know?" At her nod, he wiped both hands on his napkin and met her eyes solidly. "You looked like you needed it. And I've got nowhere else to be." When her face twitched slightly, Jack realized exactly what he'd just admitted. He sounded like some pathetic old guy, lonely and alone. It was definitely time to find some temporary companionship. He was turning into a hermit, damn it. That was the last thing he needed with his history. Too much solitude equaled bad times coming.
Just when he'd decided she wasn't going to continue, she smiled, a half-tilt of her lips, and asked, "So you travel the city looking for women in need of dinner in your spare time?"
"Not hardly." The snort of derisive laughter came from way down deep within his gut. "I'm not known for any kind of White Knight sensibilities." The self-mocking joke did the exact opposite of what he'd intended. Her face and body stilled, eyes going serious. Meeting those eyes, he suddenly saw someone who was far older than her chronological years, someone who'd seen more than she ever should have. He saw his own eyes staring at him from across the table and knew she recognized it as well. Her mouth opened, to say what he had no idea, but he beat her to it, leaning over the table and breaking the uncomfortable moment of sympathetic resonance. "Look, let's not make anything more out of it than it is. We were both hungry. We both needed to eat. End of story." He forced a small shrug, almost desperate to get away from the moment. "Besides, you saved me the hassle of fighting off my adoring masses."
That surprised a laugh out of her. Not just some tiny giggle or a little snort, but a full blown laugh, one that filled the air around them and pushed back the blackness that had threatened to take over them both. Her face was alight with humor when she met his eyes and he couldn't have stopped the smile from lifting his lips if he'd tried. The laugh was still present in her voice as she drawled, "Well, I'm glad I could be of service."
"So am I," he said, somewhat taken aback to realize he wasn't lying. The last thing he'd been looking for when he'd headed out the door that evening was a dinner companion, but now he was glad she'd approached him. They both had needed it.
A raised voice from a nearby table pulled his gaze, eyes narrowing as he scanned the bar quickly. After a long moment, he turned back, met her assessing stare, then glanced to his watch. Huh. Where had the evening gone? He couldn't remember the last time he'd lost track of time, especially since. . . No need to go there, Jack. "I need to head out," he said, some small part of him quietly reluctant to part company with her. "You'll be okay?" Faith's lips twitched once, as if she wanted to smile, but wouldn't let it appear. Irony was heavy on her face for a split second before she hid it away. Wondering where she'd learned the skill, and why, he kept his expression still. She really wasn't any concern of his. Really. So why was his hand searching surreptitiously though his wallet for whatever bills he had stashed away?
"I'll be fine."
Hand fisting under the table around the three bills he'd found, he searched her face intently for a long moment before he nodded and climbed to his feet. There was nothing else he could do for her. He had his own issues to deal with. And did he really want to contemplate screwing up someone else's life? He held a hand out to her from a few feet away, money hidden in his left hand. Faith stood slowly and stepped closer, never knowing he used her motion to disguise the the way he slipped the bills into her front pocket.
Her grip was firm in his, somehow not a surprise after their moment of shared understanding. Voice sounding as if she didn't use the words very often, she nodded once. "Thanks for dinner."
"You're welcome," he replied, his tone surprisingly rusty as well. Had it really been that long since he'd helped someone? "Be safe, Faith." After one final look into her eyes, he turned and left, weaving his way through the crowd. He felt the weight of her gaze on his back until the door shut behind him with a clank.
Blinking against the brightness of the overhead light, he shoved his hands into his pockets and made his way over to his truck. Hand reaching out to unlock the door, he paused, an unconscious smile on his face. He felt good, light, as if a huge weight had been chucked off his shoulders and over a cliff. The smile widened slightly and his hand finally finished the halted motion. Sir Galahad, that was him.
The distinct thunk of the bar's door whirled him around, back against the truck, body tucked into the shadows around him. He hadn't felt a threat, but instinct had taken over and he never argued with instinct.
Faith stood in the doorway, clearly visible in the light. Two steps out of the door and she froze, her right hand flying out of her pocket. Body dropping slightly, her feet shifted into a defensive crouch as her eyes flew over the parking lot. Appreciating her instantaneous reaction even as he wondered how it'd become so ingrained, Jack stayed motionless. For some reason he didn't want her to find him, didn't want to have to acknowledge his spontaneous action. After a few moments, her left hand joined the other in the chill of the night air, her body still suspiciously tensed. He saw the instant she figured out what he'd done. A smile teased her lips up, eyes never leaving the cash in her fist.
Her gaze finally came back up for another sweeping look around the parking lot. Still hidden in the shadows, Jack kept perfectly motionless, watching with an unexpected tightness in his chest as she eased from her defensive crouch and tucked the money back into her pocket.
The words whispered through the air, fluttering across the distance to his froze form. His chest gave one convulsive heave before loosening in an almost painful moment of release. The bar's door opened behind her, spurring her into motion and she walked quickly through the parking lot into the night, a sense of purpose in every stride. Jack didn't move until she was long out of sight, his brain carefully avoiding asking any awkward questions he didn't have answers for.
Finally, he got the truck opened and climbed inside, body on autopilot as he cranked the engine, put on his seatbelt and shifted into drive. Foot paused on the brake, he stared out into the night, eyes tracing the path Faith had taken. She hadn't said a word about it, but as he'd told her, he'd recognized the signs all too easily. "Good luck, Faith. I hope you find what you're looking for."
One final look and he let his foot off the brake, easing the big truck through the parking lot.
It was time to go home.
Part Two of the "Worth Fighting For" series is complete. Thanks go out to all the readers. Keep a watch out for Part Three!