Conflicted

Author notes: Takes place during Release, from its beginning, an alternate scene.

Faith stared at the blue and white tiles of the shower before her, trying to keep her eyes, her thoughts, fixated only on them. It had been quite some time since anything so colorful was integrated into her showers, unless you counted the tattoos of some of the other women in prison. It had also been some time since she could stand in a shower for as long as she wanted or needed, keeping the water warm and not having to worry about counting the minutes and watching her back, trying to make sure none of the others were looking to grab, grope, or stab her the second she let her guard down. But neither of these facts served to make her enjoy the moment any further, nor were they enough to occupy her thoughts, and in only moments Faith's eyes slowly slid downward, taking in the state of her body.

She had felt every mark, every cut, every bruise, strain, and break when she had undressed, wanting to flinch at the pain from the contact of her clothes brushing over her skin. They were heavy, darkened with her blood, and stank of it; Faith would not be able to wear them again. Stepping up into the shower had required a strength that she no longer fully possessed, and she had stumbled, catching herself against the wall and hissing at the pain that shot up her arm as a result. Though the water was only warm, the shower's pressure mild, it hit her aching, beaten muscles and open, bloody wounds roughly enough that Faith's body was a sharp mass of hurt, and she could no longer tell one source of pain from another.

She watched the blood drip down her face onto her chest, from her back and chest and legs, the water and blood mingling so that red streams ran steadily off of her. She saw the reddened water disappearing down the drain and stared at it, wondering detachedly how much blood a person could lose and still live, and how close she had come during her lifetime to meeting this quota.

She hadn't let Wesley look her over very closely, had barely let him touch her once she was back with him in his apartment. He had wanted to get her to a hospital, or at the very least for her to sit and let him tend to her wounds, assess for himself the extent of their seriousness. But Faith couldn't let him do that- she hadn't even let him help her take off her jacket, though it had taken her nearly five minutes to do so on her own.

Looking down at herself again slowly, her eyes, if not her brain, took in the damage done to her. Bruised eyes, bloodied nose, fractured cheekbone, loosened tooth, along with a badly split lip and bitten tongue- she had caught sight of this with one glance in Wesley's mirror before. Her chest tightening, she had turned away. Her ankle was badly sprained, her muscles strained, deep contusions marring her torso and legs, and she was sure she had cracked ribs as well. Faith felt light-headed, aware of her heart's pounding strongly, her veins pulsing heavily with blood that seemed too heavy, too thick to continue for long. She was in bad shape, but she didn't care. All she could really think about, all Faith could focus on, was the Beast…the Beast and her failure.

She HAD failed. It had been her task, her DUTY, to take down the Beast and to capture Angelus… and she had done neither of these things. Instead, the Beast had taken HER down. She had been no match for it…it had beat her into a bloody pulp quite literally, beat her until Faith could no longer fight, could not even rise to her feet. And its eventual destruction had not been to her credit in any way, but solely the doings of Angelus.

She went cold inside every time she thought about how he had looked down at her where she lay struggling for breath, struggling not to pass out from blood loss. Angelus had leered down at her, reveling in her pain, in the shame and failure she was feeling, and he had walked away. Just walked away, not even bothering to fight her, to kill her…because it wouldn't have been satisfying enough. Faith had been too injured, too weak, too pathetic, for him to even get joy out of killing her.

She had failed, like usual…she hadn't been good enough, smart enough, strong enough, and she had failed. And now here she was, in Wesley's home, of all places, being helped, supported, by him, of all people…standing here, bleeding all over the floor of his shower, his bathroom, his hallway…god…

This shamed and horrified Faith above all else…that Wesley, over anyone else, had seen her like this. That Wesley had asked for her help, trusted her enough to break her out of prison for her help… and that she had failed to give it to him, failed him, after how she had hurt and failed him in the years before. That he had to help her, after her failure…he had been injured himself, but Wesley had had to lift her from the ground in the warehouse, had had to actually carry her sorry, pathetic ass to his car, because she had been incapable of getting there on her own. And then once they were in his apartment, he had wanted to take care of her, wanted to look over her injuries, showing her a gruff but genuine concern that Faith couldn't deal with in general from Wesley…but especially after having so horribly failed, so massively let him down.

She had felt Wesley holding her so carefully as he carried her to his car, laying her in the passenger seat and buckling her belt for her, trying to avoid touching or pressing against her wounds. She had felt him lightly touch her arm in his apartment, as though leading her forward, felt him gently moving aside her hair to help her place a wet cloth on her neck and face, and most of all his gentle touching, something in Faith's chest felt as if it would break, shattering her from the inside out. She was afraid that she would simply fall to the ground at his feet, crying, unable to stop…so she had turned away, asking to use his shower.

As the water continued to wash over her, her body was slowly washed of her blood, but Faith could not rid herself of the emotion slowly rising within her, choking her, freezing her. She knew she was never going to be better…she was different, but not better. She would never be better. She would always fail when it really came down to it.

A visual of Angelus's leering face came to her then, mocking, agreeing… and before she knew it, Faith lashed out. Her fist shot forward, punching the tile shower wall. Twice, three times it connected, splitting the skin, cracking tile.

Faith screamed, a hoarse shriek of anguish, rage, and hurt, the sound echoing in the small room, spreading to the rest of the house. As she hit the shower wall, continuing to cry out her pain, the water continued, steady and monotonous, a contrast to her agony.


In the living room of his apartment, Wesley's eyes fell upon the droplets of blood Faith had left in her wake on the way to the shower. He could only imagine how much blood she must be shedding inside the shower itself, and he hoped she had the presence of mind not to make the water too hot. She had lost too much blood for that- overly warm water could weaken her further, causing her to faint. He suspected that by now, however, Faith might find unconsciousness a welcome relief.

He was worried about her. Wesley himself was tired, his body aching and feeling the punishment of the beating he had received. He was disillusioned, bitterly disappointed, now that he knew it was not Faith, but Angelus who had destroyed the Beast and brought back the sun- Angelus, was who was still running free. But his wounds and his feelings, he knew, were likely nothing in comparison to the dark-haired Slayer's.

Concern for the woman who had once tortured him nearly to the point of death, for the woman who had shown him not a glimmer of mercy in her brutal, vicious glee in observing his pain, was not quite foreign to Wesley, but it was difficult to experience, almost painful. He knew in only a few days that Faith no longer was the woman who had held the shards of glass to his throat years ago, who had threatened to burn him…the woman who leered because she knew despite it all, a small part of Wesley, the part that did not hate, did not feel contempt for her, was aroused by her very nearness to him. Faith would not hurt him now, and he was no longer certain that she could bring herself to do so even if it were necessary. Wesley knew firsthand what guilt could do to a person, given years to take root and spread through their very soul.

But though this concern for Faith was uncomfortable, unwanted, in many ways, it was certainly warranted, he was sure. There were her injuries, of course. She had not let him examine her, had not let him tend to any but the most shallow and visible of her wounds, but Wesley was quite sure she was badly injured. He had seen the limping stiffness of her walk, the pained way she held herself, the trail of blood dripping from her clothing and nose. And of course, there would never have been a time where Faith Lehane allowed Wesley to assist or carry her anywhere unless she required it.

He didn't know anymore if Faith could do this, if the girl he had seen five minutes ago could really pull herself together enough, be strong and smart and capable enough of capturing Angelus. Only once before had he seen Faith brought so low, the very same night that she had so literally left her mark on him. In a rainy alley he had watched from a distance, his knife clattering onto the ground from his hand-

And then he heard it, the sound of something being hit, something breaking. Again, again…and then the sound of Faith's screams pierced his ears, the raw, shrill pain and pure emotion behind it causing Wesley's heart to skip a beat in alarm…and something like dread. Without considering it he found himself running toward the bathroom, with every intent of breaking in if needed.

As he had hoped, Faith had not locked the bathroom door, and he flung it open, his eyes darting hurriedly, looking for the cause of her distress, the source of the horrible crunching noise that had sounded repeatedly in cacophony with her screams. Through the glass sliding shower door he saw it, though Faith's form was ambiguous through the steam….she was punching the shower wall repeatedly, breaking tile, and probably bone as well. She did not turn, did not acknowledge his entrance, perhaps did not even notice it. Continuing to hit the shower wall wildly, Faith screamed, seeming in the moment incapable of stopping.

With no thought of Faith's modesty- no thought of anything beyond stopping her, calming her- Wesley threw the shower door open, grabbing her less than gently by the shoulders and spinning her around, preventing her from hitting the wall again. Faith's screams rose up higher for a moment before cutting off, shock and rage intensifying at his touch, and she fought him, struggling to pull away, not seeming at first to recognize him. His eyes bearing into hers, Wesley shook her, speaking loudly, trying to pierce through to her. He did not let her turn, and he did not look away.

"Faith…Faith, stop. Stop!"

After a few moments a sudden light flashed across her eyes, and she went still, shuddering slightly, though whether from emotion, adrenaline, or pure weariness, it was difficult to tell. Her eyes slid away, and she said nothing; Wesley was not sure she could have even had she wanted to.

Half in the shower with her, the warm water soaking over him as well, Wesley continued to look her in the eye, searching, seeking answers in their depths. He did not let go of her shoulders, but he loosened his hold, realizing he might be hurting her. Faith swallowed, swaying slightly, and Wesley thought that she seemed suddenly weaker than ever, as if her outburst had drained all she had left of her strength. Her eyes grew bright, and it took him a moment to realize she was holding back tears.

It wasn't until then that Wesley really looked at her, that he noticed that Faith was naked…and how very close he was to her while she was naked. Before he could quite help himself Wesley's eyes scanned her quickly, taking in not only her wounds, but also simply her body before hurriedly jerking his eyes back to her face, addressing her again.

"Faith…it's okay," he said quietly, though he knew they both knew very well that it was not. "Do you want out…would you like me to leave now, or do you need help?"

"No," Faith said quietly, and she shook her head, repeating a little louder. "No. Just…"

She was nearly leaning into his touch, nearly leaning into him, even as she spoke again, more softly. "No."

Wesley watched her, seeing but not fully understanding the emotions flickering over her eyes, and he nodded, but did not leave, did not release his hold on her. "Okay."

A few seconds passed, and without quite planning it, his fingers moved to her face, slowly brushing damp hair back. As the water ran steadily over them, Wesley's fingers slid, gently cupping her face. He did not know why…he only knew that somehow it was right. It FELT right.

For a moment Faith stared at him, very still, her eyes dark, hooded. But then she closed her eyes…surrendering to his touch. Surrendering to him.

Slowly Wesley stroked his thumb against her cheek, just barely brushing against her lips. When Faith opened her eyes, staring at him with her eyes wide, devoid of anything but confusion and a weary sort of need that overpowered any rage or humiliation she would have usually displayed at such behavior directed at her, Wesley too froze for just a moment. What was he doing…

It was not he, but she, who acted. As Wesley regarded Faith, close, but unmoving, her face moved nearer, bridging the slight distance between them. As her lips covered his, the bruised, torn flesh nevertheless firm, and fully exciting to feel against him, Wesley could not help but respond.

For brief moments he held her close, his hands sliding slowly down her shoulders to gently touch the injured skin of her back, his mouth working against hers. His mind was sputtering incredulous exclamations, unable to believe what was happening…but it was Faith who abruptly pulled away from his hands, away from his mouth, her eyes wide, her mouth thinning as though she were trying to erase the memory of his lips from her own.

"Wesley," she said after several moments, and her hands were shaking; she made no effort to hide her body from his view. "Get out of here."

He could tell that she meant it…but he could also see the effort it took for her to say it, the strain in her tensed muscles. He spoke her name quietly, still trying to understand his own thoughts, but Faith turned away, once more facing the water.

"Wesley…please."

With those soft yet urgent words, Wesley turned, knowing he could do nothing else. For him, for her, it was the only way. It should never have happened…he did not understand why it had happened. But he had seen in her eyes, felt it in his heart, that it would not, could not, happen again.

Wesley turned and left the room slowly, shutting the door behind him. Her wounds were such that he would not be allowed to tend to them, emotional and physical both. But it wasn't until she finally emerged, dressed and composed, from the shower, throwing a flippant apology for his bathroom over her shoulder, that Wesley managed to talk himself back into a cool, distant concern that once more bordered on anger.