Chapter Ten—If I Die Young
Eight months. Eight long months. It might have been worse than solitary, but not by much.
Faith was pissed beyond belief. Her legs itched, a rash around her ankles and calves. Probably from wading through a freaking jungle, she concluded. She'd wade through a freaking jungle and more to get what she wanted. Connor, on the other hand, had been whistling, like they were on a hike for fun. Sure, she'd love her fist to tell him, we're having so much fun my fist connected with your hard-ass head. Having fun now, kid?
His fist came up to stop her in her tracks. He wanted her attention and compliance. When he had first agreed to help her, she had told him that she was the boss and to deal. Anything to do with the tracking though, she handed over control from day one.
Only two hundred, forty some odd days later, and they had not found what they were looking for. So close a few times. Faith stilled her body, attempting to sense if anyone, any human, was near. The jungle's noises invaded her brain, making it all but impossible to tell if their prey was up ahead. Something had peaked Connor's interest. What she wouldn't give for his senses.
Connor pointed to her right, instructing her without words for her to quietly go forward and around their possible prey. He'd go left. As silently as she could, Faith crept through the jungle, hoping that it was Wesley, and not some drug runner or tiger up ahead.
Her senses finally went into overdrive. Whoever was up ahead was definitely human. She caught out of the corner of her eye movement. Luckily it wasn't a fast movement. Crouching down low, she made her way through the brush and probably bugs and small creatures. The sun was fully up now, beaming down here and there through the dense trees. The humidity was almost as bad as the bugs and her rash. Her hair, which she had pulled up and out of the way, dripped with sweat. Not a beauty contest to find Wesley. She just had to bring him back alive.
At least she knew he was alive. Their last encounter had been a surprise. She had discovered that Mark had possibly taken him to a deserted island in the Pacific. They had made it to the island just as a helicopter was lifting off. His eyes glared back at hers from a distance, almost like he was trying to warn her off. Not likely. That was two months ago. Another dead end and now this.
Slow and steady. She had rushed into too many situations and failed miserably. There was too much at stake, too many deaths in the last few years. Failure was not an option. This had to be stopped, right here, right now. Mark had taken this way too far. He had kept her and Connor busy for months, time that they could have spent saving Cordelia and stopping Willow. One was in a coma and the other off her rocker. Wesley needed to come help her fix all this and get them all back in one piece.
Seeing Connor off in the distance, he pointed to what looked to be a primitive campsite. A lone figure sat on a stool, motionless in the midday heat. It had to be him. The hairs on the back of her neck stood at attention. This was potentially another trap set by Mark and his henchmen. The last two traps had almost stopped them dead in their tracks. A broken arm here, a broken head there, nothing had slowed them yet. This one could be booby trapped with a bomb or worse. They could be sucked into Hell. Or a hell dimension.
Connor called a halt to their progress again. Up ahead, she could hear three voices coming their way. The lone figure flinched a little at the sounds too. He, she could tell it was a he now, raised his head, looking to his left and right.
Oh shit, it was Wes. By the hunched shoulders, the neck, the arms bunched up under the t-shirt, she could finally tell. Why had it taken her so long to figure it out?
Because he was attempting to warn the two off rescuing him, that was why. Shaking his head slowly, he raised his hands slightly, if just to show her that he was tied up. She didn't give a rat's ass if he was hogtied, she wasn't going to give up this time.
His hair was short, really short, neck burned from the intense sun of the day. He had gained weight and muscle from the looks of him. The t-shirt he wore was ripped in places, his bare arms scratched up. Her arms didn't look any better. Hiking in a jungle without a long sleeve shirt on was not a good idea, but it was better than passing out from the heat.
She could see him struggle with something, watch as the muscles in his forearms and neck bunched as if working at something. Probably whatever bound his hands together? He stopped as soon as the voices became clear. Were there three or more?
Faith turned when she heard another voice off in the distance. Were they aware of her and Connor's existence? The voice hummed in her ear again, this time a bit clearer. It kept saying one word over and over again.
No, she blasted back in her mind. Wesley's head jerked in her direction, glaring her way. Well hell, he knew they were there and had just told her in no uncertain terms to leave. When had he learned how to communicate like that? There had been a few instances when she thought she heard his voice off in the distance, but she had ignored it, until now.
Fucking no, she directed at him. His chin dropped down toward his chest.
"Traps are set."
Whoa damn. A whole sentence that time. But how would she warn Connor? She didn't have to warn the kid. He knew and had pointed to one of them. Faith looked up and saw the net hanging in the trees. Must be a trigger somewhere. Where there's one trap, there were others.
The three men approached Wes now. One had a nasty looking knife by his side, while the other one had what looked like to be some kind of pistol. By the looks of them, they were henchmen. It's the man in the middle that had made those hairs stand up. She didn't know who he was by sight, but she bet he wasn't a nice guy.
"Hello. I finally get to meet you in person, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce. I trust that we haven't inconvenienced you too much. Now if you just come this way, I can show you what I'd like for you to do."
American by the accent, Faith concluded. Well-dressed, but not overly so. Clean-cut, unlike the two with the weapons. Wesley stood and complied. Why wasn't he fighting this? Hell, he was strong, able, smart, and always ready for a fight. What did they do to him?
Wes shuffled along after the older man. Leg wound, Faith noticed. The dried blood on his upper thigh would explain the limping motion. Had he tried to escape or did his captors just like to torture him for fun? She motioned for Connor to follow the four. Hopefully wherever they were going, there wouldn't be any traps.
In the clearing, there was another burly guy, this one carrying an ax of some sort. Mark was sprawled nearby, bullet between his eyes. Faith certainly wasn't sorry he was dead. Only now there was a new player in town.
"Negotiations break down," Wesley's gravelly voice asked.
"He served his usefulness. The greed was too much in the end. Plus he attempted to kill me. Since I'm already dead, that didn't work, now did it?"
Dammit, Faith thought. Mark was human, alive and evil. This being wasn't alive, so how would they stop him?
"You see, this is something that he should have done months ago. He promised me that he would. He didn't. Let's get on with it, shall we?"
The burly guy raised the ax in his hand. Connor's eyes widened considerably. They'd need a miracle to fight three possibly skilled fighters with weapons and one possibly undead being that might be able to kick their asses with his pinky.
Faith crept closer, hoping to get her opening and crush these guys once and for all.
Connor almost yelled out loud for her to wait, but she saw his gesture to stop just in time. She mouthed "no way" when she saw their new arrival. Damn, can't people stay dead in this world?
"You're done, Holland."
It had been a lifetime ago when she had seen him last. Evil lawyer, hiring her to kill Angel. It didn't work, which pissed lawyer guy off immensely. Faith just thought it was a little funny. He certainly had changed.
Lindsey's hair was long, blowing in the breeze that had developed over the last few, agonizing minutes. When had the guy muscled up? He handled the sword in his hands like he knew what he was doing. Behind him, out of the wind, two women appeared. Faith had no idea who the black-haired chick was, but she certainly knew Anya when she saw her. Only Anya was dead too. So was Lindsey, according to Angel.
Holland glared at the arrivals, motioning the henchmen forward, while he backed closer to Wes.
"Wow, you're really difficult to find Holland. You too, Wes."
Faith swallowed hard, hoping that she was hallucinating the next voice. She'd been there when he died, had searched for his body to give Buffy and Willow closure. There hadn't been much left, since the bomb that had been set had done its job a little too well.
"Yes, of course. You don't seem to understand, Alexander."
Oooh, Xander hated to be called that. She just wanted to see him slap the older guy just once for saying that.
"He must die to restore all that was before."
Anya snorted while the other girl walked a few more steps forward. Damn, her eyes were black. Her chants made Faith's ears finally.
"Back away from Wesley, now," Lindsey commanded Holland to do.
Connor looked at Faith for direction. Hey, they were just the audience at the moment.
Holland wasn't backing away at all. The dagger that he had hidden somewhere glinted in the bright sunlight now that Holland revealed it. No way was some undead son of a bitch taking Wes out with a knife, again.
"He will destroy the world as we know it, joining forces with the witch if you do not let me handle this."
"Afraid he might actually topple the Senior Partners? Angel came so close last time," Lindsey said as he walked forward, sword swinging.
Faith just wished that Wes would knee the guy or something and run. Or stagger. He stood stock still. Something was wrong with him. Faith had been with Wes too many times when whatever evil magicks arose to not know that Wes was working up to a big one. His neck bulged, veins popping out. His arms flexed and moved, breaking the bonds that had held them still.
"Holland thinks that he is saving the world. I think not."
Wes sent his forearm into the closest captor, sending him flying. Whatever signal she and Connor had worked out had flown into the wind. Connor was on the one with the ax faster than she could have gotten there. Now they only needed to take out the guy with the big gun. Must be her cue.
Running at top speed, Faith was able to tackle the guy before he got off more than a few shots, all which went wide except for one. Her arm burned, but she ignored it for her one purpose in life at the moment: saving Wes. This guy was twice her size, but slow and stupid. It didn't take much to knock him senseless.
Holding her injured arm, Faith turned to see Wes's black eyes stare at nothing, all the while staring a large hole into the center of her heart. Only he didn't act all evil, like he had before. All the other dead people stopped in their tracks with the commotion. Holland seemed to have disappeared into the air.
"Someone want to tell me what the fuck is going on? Eight fucking months," Faith yelled at no one and everyone.
"We can't," Anya had started. Faith turned to her, willing her to shut up.
"You can't. You won't. Bastards. There are people dying here, suffering. And all you do is say, 'we can't'. Well, fuck that. I am so sick and tired of all this."
Eight months of bottled up fear and desperation, of wondering if someone else was going to die in this battle. She needed to solve this, get Wes back, cure Willow, get Cordy out of her coma and make sure that Angel didn't kill himself. Right then, Wes was the first and only step that she cared about.
Wes gasped out in pain from his injury, crashing to his good knee. His eyes returned to normal, face twisted in pain. Connor caught him before he could sink any further to the ground. Faith ran to him, cupping his face in her grimy hands.
"Hello, my dear," Wes got out before collapsing in her arms, making her cry out in pain from her own injury.
Looking up, she noticed that the three of them were alone. All the dead had fled, leaving them in a clearing in the jungle with bodies all around them.
"OK, did we just rescue him?" Connor said as he took Wesley's weight from her arms.
"Working up a good one? What in hell possessed you?"
Lindsey grimaced at the yelling. Sure, he'd been yelled at plenty of times in his life, but never like this. A foot was stomped; bottles went crashing to the floor. When someone like her works up a good mad, then she'd better get it out of her system. He didn't want to be on the receiving end of any sharp objects.
"We saw an opportunity."
"He's gone. We were so close."
Yeah, he guessed that she was right about this one. They all were so close to figuring out what Holland's game plan was. One, they knew he had to kill Wes, Cordy and Fred. Two, they had to be killed in a certain way or else whatever he had planned wouldn't work. Three, everyone else was collateral damage, whether dead or alive.
Holland had accomplished one out of the three at the moment. That one out of three broke his heart every day he looked into her face, but it had happened. Wes had almost been number two. Almost. He was so lucky they had arrived, until he had seen Connor and Faith on the scene.
He and the other three, Xander, Anya and Jenny had tried to protect the other two as much as possible. Since Cordelia wasn't going anywhere anytime soon, she was as safe as she could be. Surrounded by trained slayers day and night in addition to Angel had made her safe. Wes was the wild card. It was almost like he wanted to stay kidnapped.
"He's safe now. Faith and Connor…"
"Have more sense than the four of you do."
Lindsey had never wanted to cause any more pain and sorrow for Fred. She had enough to last a few lifetimes and more. She'd also died a few too many times. Why did she keep ending up here? Hadn't she done her time? Didn't she deserve a rest from all the chaos? Lindsey wondered what she could have done while living that put her here?
And here he thought he'd get a quiet moment with Fred. Lilah barged in on them, not bothering to knock, as usual.
"No. What else is new?"
"I had it you know."
Yeah, Lilah had it. She was supposed to be protecting Wesley. By the dried blood and torture that Wes seemed to have endured, that was protection? He was alive though, barely. Lindsey had seen that knife Holland was holding. It was the same one that had killed Fred. Their guard had been let down for an instant. Holland was more than a third of the way there, whatever the plan might be. Cordy would be next if she didn't have so many people around her. What were they going to do next?
"Holland stood not two feet from Wes with that damn knife. And you had it?" Lindsey explained to his former partner.
"I knew Wes could stop him."
Fred snorted in return. Lindsey was amazed that Lilah had so much faith in her former lover. He didn't look so good was Lindsey's impression.
"What, with that gunshot wound to his leg. Yeah, he had it," Lindsey told Fred.
"It wasn't Wes I was worried about. It was Cordelia. Someone tried to kill her early this morning. Wes told me…"
"You stay away from him," Fred vehemently challenged Lilah. "You are to protect him. That's all."
"He had information. What, you think they could keep him prisoner? He's been faking for a long, long time. He knows so much that we don't. Just because he looked like he was beat, doesn't mean he wasn't playing them."
The look in his eyes really didn't look like a man who was about to die, Lindsey thought. What in hell was the man planning and why didn't he let them in on it?
"I know exactly what kind of games Wes plays. Remember?" Lilah directed that last comment at Fred.
"Vividly. What did he tell you?"
"That someone trusted was going to kill Cordy. He knew the exact time even. He may have overheard Mark discussing it. I don't know. All I know is that she had to be stopped and quickly."
"She?" Fred finally asked.
"Willow. They were able to subdue her for now."
Fred sighed in frustration. Willow, the witch, wasn't supposed to be the bad guy, only she was, at the moment. Fred wasn't supposed to die, but she did, again. Lilah wasn't supposed to be working for the good guys, but she was, for now. He wasn't supposed to be in charge, but he was, for now. Now if that Irishman, Doyle, would just get back from wherever he was, Lindsey could get back to cracking heads instead of giving orders.
Frustration. Eight months of frustration and not enough answers. He was sure he was on the verge of figuring out the answers. Only Faith and her merry crew of one had to interfere, along with Lindsey and his dead merry crew. Why hadn't Lilah listened to him?
Apparently she had listened, to a point. Cordy was safe, for now. Willow was in custody, for now. And his line to the answers was dead of a bullet to the head. How Mark had liked to talk about all he knew. Greedy bastard.
Faith had slapped a bandage on his wound and walked away. No glad to see you or how are you doing. It was all business with her. By the look in her eyes though, she was attempting to keep her anger at bay. He knew it would all be directed toward him. He indeed had kept them on the run. It was all necessary. If no one had come to his rescue, or at least attempted to rescue him, then the ruse would have not worked. From the moment that Mark had taken him, he realized that there was more to be gained by staying than leaving. Mark had a big mouth.
The gunshot wound had hurt, but it had missed all the vital arteries. The cuts on his arms would heal quickly. The ones on his back would probably take a bit longer. That knife that Holland had produced though would have ended his life just by entering his skin. It gleamed in his hands as he turned it, him hoping there was some type of inscription. Ceremonial knifes always held some significance.
"Knife?" Connor asked as he crouched down to Wesley.
"Yes. One of significance I believe. I took it from Holland just before he disappeared. I do hope that this is the only one in existence."
Wesley realized that it could be the same knife that had killed Fred. The inscription he knew must be there just became more important than anything at the moment.
Making their way back through the jungle to the road hurt his leg immensely, but they needed to get back to civilization and medical attention. Infection could set in. That might do Holland's work for him. Faith walked ahead of him, Connor behind him, sometimes the latter whistling a tune.
"Dare I ask?" he started with Faith as she trudged through greenery.
"Fred is dead, which I think you know. Cordy isn't doing so hot. Willow is freaking insane. Isabella hasn't spoken a word since you left. Giles has a broken leg, courtesy of Willow. Angel's been sitting by Cordy's bedside for months on end. Spike is in charge."
Wesley knew all but the last statement as fact. "Spike is in charge?"
"Who else is left? Dawn?"
"Hey, watch it," Connor answered in return.
"She's research girl. Not much time to order people around. We, on the other hand, have been tracking you, for months." Faith turned to confront him.
"What the fuck is going on? Why aren't you happy to see us?"
Now that was a loaded question. He was happy to see Faith. Only now their job had gotten more difficult without information.
"Glad to see you? Yes. Happy to see you? Questionable."
If Wesley could take away that look of hurt in Faith's eyes, he would. He had seen that look only a few times, the first time when he had called her a piece of shit. The second time had been when they were attempting to capture Angelus without staking him. Third time's the charm they say.
They made it to the road before nightfall and the vehicle that Faith had rented. Being in a jungle could be potentially dangerous in the nighttime. Wesley didn't have any idea which country they were currently in, much less what the date was. They didn't stop their travels until late in the night. His body shook from exhaustion and little food. Connor grabbed them some snacks from the back of the jeep, but that hadn't been enough. His body craved sleep and food, not in any particular order. And possibly a shower.
The hotel Connor had picked was a bit rundown, but clean and had hot water. Wesley had scrubbed for a good twenty minutes before realizing that Faith would want to get clean also. As he entered the bedroom, she wasn't there. Food was placed on the side table, but no Faith. Wesley finished his meal quickly, hoping that he could speak with Faith finally.
Only he fell asleep before he spoke a word with her. He awoke with a shudder, a nightmare just on the verge of becoming terrifying. The dimly lit room at first was difficult in which to see. Wesley spotted Faith curled up on a chair in the corner of the room. She must be clean, he assessed, because her hair was down, curling in all directions. The wound on her arm was bandaged and had probably begun the healing process. He winced as he moved his leg under the sheets. The only thing he had on were a pair of boxers that Connor had provided.
"I hate you, you know that?" Faith said as she stretched her toned body.
"I don't particularly like myself right now either, Faith. I am sorry."
"Don't say you're sorry," she shot back angrily. "People were dying, hurting."
"I know. I was attempting to stop it."
Faith had gotten up from her uncomfortable perch and walked over to the bed. She stood not two feet from him, so close yet so far.
"By letting Mark do whatever."
"Whatever he did to me, he also talked, a lot. He had a big mouth. I am very close to figuring out what Holland Manners is planning. If I had had just a few more days."
"You'd be dead. That knife. Remember that? Same exact one that killed Fred. Or one that looked exactly like it. Don't you get it? You didn't have to martyr yourself. We could have figured this out together."
And Faith possibly would have died attempting to protect him. Being with Mark had been a type of protection. Mark wanted something, probably money or riches. Holland had promised him something in return. He had never attained that information. Lilah fed the others the information that Wesley had. It had been a good arrangement. Except Mark had gotten greedy about something. His payment perhaps?
"We would have all been dead before now."
Faith took his shoulders in her small but capable hands and shook him.
"No. No way would I have let that happen."
Wes grabbed her hands in his to stop the shaking.
"I missed you."
There, he said it. He had wanted to tell her what he was planning, but she wouldn't have stuck to the plan if she knew he was in danger constantly.
"And I'm sorry. I should have told you."
"No, you shouldn't have done it in the first place. You bastard."
There was no venom behind her statement. The fact that she hadn't moved away from him said it all. Pushing him down on the bed, she climbed on top, meeting him face-to-face.
"I still hate you."
She possibly did hate him. And wanted to kill him. But that's not why she had crawled up his body and ground her hips into his.
"At this moment, I don't particularly like you either," he managed to pant out.
If she didn't remove a few articles of clothing, he might just have to do it for her with dire consequences for the cloth. Almost like she was reading his mind, she threw off the clothes, adding his one item in. It was only when they were both completely naked that she finally kissed him. It was odd that she hadn't done it before now.
"Don't do that again."
Wesley was in no shape to fight with her. Gentle wasn't usually in Faith's vocabulary, in every sense of the word. She lived life fully, whether it was fighting or in bed. Only she was now treating him like he would shatter at any moment. Twisting, he had her over and pushed into her in almost one motion. She gasped in surprise and pleasure, giving up what power she had.
As she arched her back, Faith took him over that edge, making him feel boneless and loved for the first time in a long time.
"I still hate you."
It might take some time for her to come around to him returning to her life.
Author notes: Wow, sorry it took so long to update. It's happening, but at a snail's pace. I hope to get back on that writer train very soon and continue updating. Thanks for the support.