Offers You Can't Refuse

By Sweetprincipale

Late S. 3 AU. Buffy's only way to stay alive and expose a plot by the corrupt Quentin Travers involves staying out of Sunnydale and staying one step ahead while Giles finds a way to save her life and get the evidence to stop the corrupt Head of the Council. But who watches the Slayer's back when she's the prey? If the motivation is right, Spike will do anything to help the woman he loves.

Author's Note: One chapter to go, and then back to Unknown. And... I may do an epilogue. The jury is still out on that. This is a big loose end that needed tying up, so I hope you'll enjoy it. Not Spuffy-centric, but they have their turn next.

Dedicated to: Skeezixx, Ginar369, Alexiarrose, Sirius120, Jewel74, The Three March Hares, micmoc, Embers and Flames, Omslagspapper, Rosalea12, ValidescopeWest, Rachel, Alottalove, Cavementftw, Maire Ailbhe, Illusera, mike13z50, Loverswalk89, Suzanne, KittenofDoomage, PeaceHeather, CailinRua, Neinka, cosmiclove, N172Shay, Kathryn Merlin, kse93, and Magnipotence.

Thank you to the faithful ones who are hanging in there until the very end!

Nothing of Buffy belongs to me, except my sincere admiration. However, this story is all mine.

Part XXXI

Wesley settled down around mid-morning, once the call came through. It came to him, as the "Active Watcher" on record. For the time being. Utterly laughable.

I could save her life and she'd thank me and mean it. I could be her Watcher for another year, another five, and Giles would always be the first one she ran to, her real Watcher, her true one.

So he made his call in turn.

"Hello?"

"Ah. Yes, Joyce, good morning."

"Oh, hello Wesley." The cheeriness turned to instant panic. "Is something wrong?"

"No, everything appears to be right, actually." Wesley forced his cheerful tone to hold. "I just spoke to someone at the Council. It's quite late there, but Collins has arrived, and is safely in quarters and will start giving evidence immediately. Apparently we're not the only ones who've been staying up around the clock."

Joyce sighed thankfully and ignored his feeble humor. "I'll get Rupert for you."


So they exchanged information. Buffy and Spike were resting, apparently feeling a sudden exhaustion, all their battles catching up with them was what they supposed.

"We'll have to dispose of that car." Giles groaned as he moved painfully, stiff from a month's worth of tension in his muscles.

"Oh dear, how do we do that?" Some more reserved part of Wesley's nature recoiled from something so- so thuggish sounding, as something newly awakened in him thrilled at the idea. Covering the evidence, protecting his charge...anything to kill the drear of waiting and wondering what would happen next, what would be the final outcome once they'd compared their story with Collins'.

"Don't worry, I'll do it." Giles muttered crossly. I don't want it botched. "Nothing I haven't done before." The mumbling continued as he dropped the phone into the cradle, "Just give me until well after midnight at least. We don't need an audience."


It was a long, dull afternoon, after weeks of anxiety. He could have gone back over to the house, or out to the store. To anywhere, really, he had neglected all but the most basic of needs for a month. But he sat and sweated, wondering what would happen after the evidence was heard. They'd charge Travers, officially, no more simply keeping him during an investigation, but an actual sentence and actual punishment. They'd assuredly have some sort of punishment for Collins as well, although he'd acted in innocence, mere obedience. That was unfortunate.

What about me? What do they do if Travers maintains I was in on it all the time? There's nothing to prove I didn't go along with it at first. I'll be brought before the board as well. I'll probably loose my rank as Watcher.

Giles lost his. But that didn't change who he was.

I am not as strong as that. And nowhere near as ruthless and reckless.

Perhaps I ought to be.

He got up from his seat, frustratedly rubbing at his red rimmed eyes and inhaling, deep breaths to keep his calm.

He threw open the windows, trying to air the place out as the scent of Collins' cigarettes hit him afresh, paced and fiddled a bit before falling onto his unmade bed with a weary sigh.

Nothing to do but wait and worry. I'm so tired of both.

So tired.

Soon he closed his eyes, and sleep overcame him.


He woke to his alarm ringing, then stopping. Then ringing again. Then stopping. "Oh, do shut up." He groaned and rolled. It refused. He sat up with a bleary, confused look on his face, looking at the window, blinking at a night sky. What time is it? Why is my alarm going off now?

Groping for his glasses, his eyes focused on the phone. "What now?" Adrenaline instantly spurting into his system he grabbed the receiver and answered with a sharp, "Hello, Wyndham-Pryce here."

"And here as well." A grave, haughty voice informed him.

Wesley's shoulders sagged, the weight of the world firmly slammed back onto them. "Hello, Father."


"Don't waste time on petty pleasantries with me, boy." Wyndham-Pryce Senior instructed harshly.

"Of course." I had no idea a greeting was no considered a waste of breath. "It's -" blast it, where's the clock when you need it? "It's late here, so it must be-"

"Don't tell me the time! It's the middle of the night in London, and that's where I am, all of us in fact, are still here, at headquarters."

"Yes. Yes, of course." Wesley hastily agreed. "Collins is giving his side of the story, and-"

"Oh, he finished an hour ago. Sensible, obedient chap Collins. Not given to dramatics."

You have a good word for everyone, Father. Everyone but your only son. "He seemed truly horrified at the turn of events." Wesley said quietly.

"As am I! Which is why I cannot bear to go home to your mother. To wake her up and tell her what you've done. What path you've led us down. Oh, I prayed Collins' evidence would clear it up, but it's only tightened the noose."

Genuinely stunned, Wesley stammered out, "Me? I- I risked everything to expose this plan, Father!"

"Oh yes, and damned theatrical about it, weren't you? Cloak and dagger, secret recordings, plots and planning. You're not in an Agatha Christie novel!" The older man's voice thundered and even a continent and an ocean apart, his progeny quivered. Wesley could feel the rubber returning to his recently acquired stiff spine.

"Surely being discreet was better, Sir. To confront Travers to his face would have led to- well, you heard about Spears?"

"I did." The voice paused, a small glimpse of humanity shining through, for a moment. "He was a good boy. Too eager. But loyal. Driven. I admired that."

Oh, and I was every bit as driven! I worked far harder, studied far longer, I'm the one picked for duty with an active Slayer, not Spears. Wesley crushed down those paltry feelings and tried to seal himself up inside that wall of manners and crisp collars, all geared so that the painful words rolled right off your back. "We're all sorry for his loss."

"None more so than Collins. Man is a shell of himself."

"I imagine trying to murder an innocent girl will do that to you. If you have a conscience." Wesley's tone was bitter.

His father squashed that tiny spark of strength at once, with practiced ease. "It needn't have gotten this far! None of this. To think that my own flesh and blood should bring such disgrace upon-"

For one of the very few times in his life, Wesley was moved to interrupt. "Now, see here, Father, I did my duty, my sworn oath as Watcher to aid and assist my Slayer and-"

"Rubbish! Rubbish and lies!" The elder Pryce cried furiously. "No, you didn't pull the trigger, you didn't even suggest the plan, but by God you made a mockery and circus of this, and of all of us!"

Too injured to speak, Wesley just blinked and let the blood pound in his ears, swept up in a tirade of cutting words, a thousand flashbacks coming home to him again. Always an angry face, or a cold, disapproving one. Nothing ever done well enough or correctly.

"You were sent to fix things! A crisis we'd never had before, two Slayers at once, and one Watcher, then no Watcher and who do we send? You! Head Boy, but green as grass. Of course you failed! You couldn't keep a spaniel in line on a lead, let alone the two most powerful women in the world. Oh, and don't think we didn't know just because we were miles away. You couldn't command their respect!"

"Perhaps you have to be given some in order to know how to ask for it." Wesley whispered tightly.

His father ignored that, or if he noticed, he considered it too unimportant to acknowledge. "You were the one! You asked for a new assignment. Put the ideas in Travers' head with your pitiful whining. 'She won't listen to me, I've lost control of her!'."

"She is not to be controlled. She is a human, not a machine that one can program!" Wesley growled.

His father paused a split second, and for a brief moment, Wesley thought his tone and his anger finally penetrated the never ending shield of disapproval. But he was wrong. When the voice began again it was low and virulent, oozing angry regret.

"A man in power cracks from yet another incompetent, overemotional weakling unable to shoulder his responsibilities."

"You can't believe that Travers was right, can you? Not right at all, even in the slightest!" Wesley exclaimed in horror.

"Don't talk nonsense, Wesley, of course I don't think any thing of the kind. To kill an innocent human is the highest crime, treason against mankind. It's why we hunt demons, it's the purpose of a Slayer. And Ms. Summers, aside from her strange romantic dalliances, has proven herself to be thoroughly committed to preserving human life and slaughtering the vampires who end it. A firm, commanding hand could have handled this entire situation, made peace and cooperation occur. Travers didn't want anything but an obedient woman who he knew would follow orders. Orders in line with her own aims, with the aims of all good people."

"Father, he tried to murder her! He called up demons from the depths of otherworldly hells and set vampires on her!"

"Because he had lost control of her! An uncontrolled Slayer is a tremendous liability! Look at your other failure, what's her name? Lehane! Look at Lehane!"

Look at Lehane. "What was that, Father?"

"He was fully within his rights to seek control of the Slayer! But he shouldn't have tried to call a new one." A pause, and a deep, loathing snarl, "He should have called a new Watcher."

The thought Wesley was chasing escaped him yet again. Words pounded into him like heavyweight blows. Should have called a new Watcher. In other words, I am to blame. This was all my fault. "So my incompetence drove him mad? Made him a lying, conniving, demon-calling, murderer?"

Even the enraged man had to admit that might have been too far. "No. No, Wesley, unfortunately, we believe that side of him was there already." He confessed mournfully. But sorrow was an uncomfortable feeling for him and anger was so much more empowering. "But it had been kept under control until something snapped it. Something like a little boy playing at soldiers with real troops. Oh, the shame you bring to this name, Wesley. No, he shouldn't have tried to bring a new Slayer to this world, merely recalled one young Watcher. Put in someone experienced. I could have told him- in fact I should have! Even rule abiding and as knowledgeable as you were, you lacked the command. When they put your name up for consideration, I prayed you'd finally make me proud, I cast my vote for you- and look how it's served me."

He didn't know if it was cold sweat or hot tears making him blink his eyes at this point, and his voice was too low to be clearly sad or angry. Numb. Muted. Smashed under his father's heel, as ever. "I'm sorry."

Yet apologizing only made him madder. It showed no strength, just more cowing and cowering. "We're past apologies!"

"Then what do you want me to do?" Wesley sat back up, untucking himself from the hunch he had slowly pressed into.

"There is nothing you can do! You've done the damage."

"I saved her life. I believe- I did the right thing." Wesley choked out, though he tried very hard not to let his father hear the thickening in his voice.

The aging member of the Council also believed that. Honestly, given only the bottom line, he believed his son had done the right thing. But he could not let go of the feeling of disgrace, of the publicity amongst his colleagues and peers, the glances he received in the hallways, the fact that some may have been questioning his ability and judgement, even his place on the board, because of his son's involvement. "It's the way you did it... Not even acting alone, but bringing in the worst elements."

"I could hardly stand against the entire Council by myself with just a few pieces of hearsay!"

"You called upon an ex-Watcher, one living in disgrace! And not only him, that- that Welsh lout, Aberswyth, and a secretary! A secretary, you had her snooping through files like a company mole!"

I will never win this argument. I should just apologize again. And again. Until he hangs up. That's how it always seems to go. The unwritten rule.

Rules. How had they served them lately?

A vampire desperately pleading for the life of his Slayer. A Slayer claiming a vampire as friend and lover. A gaggle of teens and funny old academics as her appointed front line warriors. Sometimes you must break all the rules you know to win the game, if the game is important enough.

"Rupert Giles is a good man. Robson and Aberswyth as well, and Ginny is the name of that secretary, Father, and she shouldn't be doing clerical work. With a mind like hers, and as fast and bright as she is, she should be in Surveillance, or in the field with her future husband."

Across the Atlantic, a graying head lifted, and a fist clenched around the polished black receiver pressed to his ear. "Are you telling me you think those- those renegades- are actually Council material?"

"Yes! And the Council would be better off if we had more of them!" Wesley was standing now, own fist clenched and voice beginning to raise, even though he also felt faint. He kept waiting for some sort of thunderbolt to strike him dead, for his father to pull one spectacularly cutting phrase out of his bag of hurtful words and deal him the killing blow.

He didn't have long to wait. "You're just as bad as they are, then. You don't deserve your title, and you don't deserve a place on this Council."

"Then vote against me. Perhaps I'll be deposed, like Giles." Wesley was stung, a wasp's venom pumping into his heart now. All his father had ever wanted was for him to be a great Watcher. The only thing he'd ever done even remotely right was to be considered worthy of a post. And of course, his father had taken all pretense of that away, letting him know for certain he had lost all hope in him.

"Perhaps you will be." The elder Watcher cleared his own throat, finding it suddenly, oddly tight. Must mean it was time to unleash more words, to clear it. "I'm sure I won't be the only one who calls for your removal after this." That was untrue. No one was demanding any such thing. "You and Rupert Giles can make your own Council, and do nothing! You'll both be as equally useful as you ever were!" The tightness didn't clear. He coughed and shouted hoarsely. "I imagine your only job will be to stand guard over Lehane as she lies in that hospital bed! Maybe you'll finally be able to succeed there, Wesley, sitting motionless, staring at an unmoving object that doesn't depend on you for anything! Maybe then you won't fail! "

Wesley's eyes blinked and froze open. The thunderbolt had come, but it wasn't that soul crushing pain he usually associated with his father's anger and disappointment. It was a conglomeration of phrases he'd heard in the last few days, suddenly all rolled into one.

"Lehane can wait. I prefer only having one slayer to deal with. In fact- let her vegetate. I'll have someone over there by the end of the day, a specially trained nurse. We'll keep her alive until we've found a way to reunite the Slayer essences."

"Still, as we are the only Watchers on this coast, - the only active ones- I suppose we'll have to scrape along as best we can."

"I imagine your only job will be to stand guard over Lehane as she lies in that hospital bed!"

All of them connected, and Wesley tuned out his father's words, mind churning too fast to process anything but this thought.

Oh good Lord! There were more Watchers on the coast than I thought! One more. One more standing guard over Faith. One is enough.

Travers was keeping her alive, going after Buffy.

When Travers realized I'd betrayed him, protected Buffy- would he have changed his plans? Would he have switched targets? Was this whole fiasco a decoy, or at the most, a fifty fifty shot? More like a ninety-ten shot, pushing hardest for Buffy's death, his twisted wish for a new Slayer mingled with all his pride and hatred.

"Wesley! Wesley!" Wyndham-Pryce Sr. bellowed as loud as he could, annoyed by his son's complete lack of response after a particularly splendid belittling.

"Give my love to mother." Wesley replied in a rush, and dropped the phone to the floor as he sped to his door.

Then he sped back in again. "Weapons! Weapons? Yes, dammit weapons." He didn't have a lot of those, mostly wooden at that. And a sword. Does one take a sword in a crisis? "Why not?" He bundled it up in his arm, his wallet, and his keys. Keys? Where the hell are mine?

He patted down his trousers and then seized the keys left on the small bar counter top of his little kitchen, then fled the apartment. He left everything behind and didn't lock the door. Nothing he was leaving behind was more valuable than what was ahead of him.

In a moment, a black car barreled through the night, towards the hospital.


Sylvia moved with a practiced, efficient gait through the basement halls. Her peach scrubs and white sneakers meant no one looked twice. The folded set of linens in her hands were perfect cover for the barbiturates she carried as insurance.

Simple. Painless. She's already asleep, poor thing. Quick, clean tug, the life support will cease. Care coverage discontinued.

And if, Sylvia swallowed, and the gray pallor shown around her eyes, if that Slayer strength keeps fighting on, though everything else is technically dead, if the heart keeps pumping... I'm only sending her to dreamland. And no one will think to examine the body. As much damage as the girl had, the uninformed considered any sign of life a miracle.

Worst case scenario, I give her a little jab, right where the I.V. was, and then reinsert the drip. And then I can call him. I can tell him I've done my duty, and he'll unite me with my Slayer. My Slayer.

The eyes shone, no longer afraid, but filled with some near manic joy.


Faith was faintly aware of shuffling. Living like this, sometimes everything was black, sometimes it was in color, and sometimes there were sounds. Never voices speaking to her, just about her. Not in a very, very long time had she heard a voice call her by name, say anything except about numbers or vitals or other crap like that. The rustling faded back to black.


Tidy the room. Notes on the clipboard. Remove catheter. Move pillows. No flowers to water, or balloons or stuffed animals or cards to fuss with. She fluffed the pillows once more.

Waiting to make sure no one else was in this lonely hall, and that no one would think anything unusual about a nurse attending a comatose patient.

"Let's just see how you're doing tonight." Sylvia murmured in a falsely calm, pleasant tone. Hands on her wrists, fingers. Fingers were warm. Sylvia frowned. It would have been better if she'd been cool. Easier to believe this was a body waiting to be classified as such, instead of a young woman.

She clucked and tsked, and gently raised a bruised looking eyelid.

Sylvia bit her lip and stifled a curse.

The brown eye was alert! It seemed to focus on her. The pupil was responsive to the light change. The brain wave activity showed a tiny spike. Then another. Another. Oh God, real activity! A pattern, not an occasional fluke. Not now, not now, not now!

Sylvia let the eyelid fall and it fluttered weakly, like a moth caught in a storm. Shaking hands fumbled among her towels and sheets, searching for the injectables.

Faith's uncanny senses twinged and pinged. What is it? What's wrong? Am I dying? I don't feel like I'm dying. Feel like shit, but, if I know I feel like shit, that probably means something.

Faith's cracked, beige-colored lips parted in a mute exclamation as something was jerked out of her arm. A warm trickle of blood was sopped up, and Faith used every ounce of her beyond natural strength to force her eyes open just a sliver.

Sylvia was unsettled. She'd unplugged the machines now, one by one, and waited for some sign of slowing. But nothing. The thready pulse, if anything, became stronger. Time for the drugs. She found her hands had the nerves that she refused to acknowledge outright, for they jerked roughly, clumsily, and blood flowed from the vein before she was ready to stop it up.

Syringe loading was difficult with one hand, but she had to keep the washcloth pressed to the arm now, or someone would wonder why there was blood on the sheets and her gown. And the stained washcloth- I have to hide that, burn it. The hands trembled again, unsteady as they prepared to inject the drug, enough to send her into a permanent slumber.

Faith knew something was wrong. Slayer senses, waking after hibernation, screamed "Danger! Danger!" This is where I kick ass.

Her body had betrayed her. She couldn't move. Her fingertips danced once, then lay still, trembling slightly. Outside forces. Controlled my life. Ended my life. The liquid brown eyes opened further, painfully, and met anxious ones a foot away.

"I'm sorry, my dear. Your time is up." Sylvia said with a sick attempt at compassion.

I have to move, I have to! The fingers flailed again, and her arm made a leap of an inch that left her feeling ready for death, so literally "dead tired".

"You've been still for a month. You have no muscle tone. Even for- well what you are- that's a long time to sleep." Sylvia kept prattling, sheer anxiety making her hiss out words as she pulled the arm taut, lifting it to her side. "You'll sleep now, my lamb. Sleep where no one will hurt you..."

Her strength gave out, arm went limp, eyelids fell, squeezing out a tear from under each as she waited for a cold steel pinch.

Which didn't come. Rustling came. And two sharp grunts, one male, one female, she could tell. Eyelids managed to struggle open again, a millimeter just enough to see-

I must be dead. 'Cause this sure wouldn't happen on earth.


Ten minutes ago...

Wesley sped. He parked in the loading zone. He didn't give a damn. He ran.

"Faith Lehane, please!" He demanded breathlessly at the central reception desk.

"Family?"

"Yes!" I am still her Watcher. Until they dismiss me. He thought of Buffy and Giles. Even after.

"Name?"

"Ah- Albert. Mister. Mister Albert. Lehane." Wesley decided to work on his lying skills as soon as he made sure she was okay. He was sure nothing was wrong. It was all paranoia.

And I have excellent reason for that. "She's my late brother's daughter. I'm not listed. I've been overseas."

"I thought you sounded like you weren't from around here." The receptionist smiled slightly. "I'm sorry, there are no family members listed on here."

"I'll have my lawyers phone up to show you proof of relationship, if you like." The lying improved under pressure. Or maybe it was just channeling pomposity that did it, as he drew himself up to his full height, looked down his nose, and continued, "In the meantime, please get me a hospital administrator to speak to, I need to at least be apprised of my niece's condition. I heard she was in a coma. Massive blood loss and head trauma. If I find that this hospital has been in any way negligent in her care simply because they didn't thoroughly investigate who her next of kin was..."

"I'll -" The girl looked around frowning. After eight. All the screwballs come in third shift, and of course the admins would be the third string ones as well, the ones who you could never find and pretended they didn't hear you page them. We're going to get sued. "I'll find someone for you."

"Yes, you'd better."

Wesley waited until she hustled off, then leaned over the desk and yanked the computer monitor to face him. "Lehane, Faith, female, long term care, basement level. Room 001."

He ran again, everything but signs and arrows a blur. Elevators took too long to arrive, and so he stumbled down steps and panted and scared people in the stairwell as he came panting and streaking past them.

He calmed himself and adjusted his pace to that of a purposeful walk. I am here to see my sick friend. I mean- niece. Perhaps I should have said cousin, the age difference might be more plausible. Never mind who. I am gravely concerned so I frown and give off "vibes" as Buffy calls them, that I have business here and have no time to talk to you.

It worked. No one even looked up as he entered the ward, and walked all the way down to the very last room on the left.

Then calmness left him.


Present...

He hesitated for a second. A nurse preparing an injection. This was routine. He prepared to knock softly, then he saw the woman slip a bloodstained cloth into her pocket. But the laundry hamper is right there. And bloody linen is never touched in a hospital setting if they can help it. And bare hands are never used either.

She's not wearing gloves. She's not a real nurse. Faith!

He hadn't felt this before, but it was a superhuman rush. He suddenly understood why Giles would make deals with vampires, why he'd steal cars, why he even thought about taking a life. There was something very, very precious, a one of a kind jewel with a living soul- and it was his to guard, and he could not let it be lost.

He didn't recognize himself in the rush, only knew that he was through the door in a silent blur, and his elbow crashed into the back of the woman's skull with enough force to make her grunt and fall to her knees, and him to grunt and wonder how one wore an elbow cast.


The shock of what she saw made her eyes flare open, then settle halfway closed, watching the show from the corner of her straining eyes.

Faith didn't recognize this man. At first. When she did, she couldn't believe it anyway.

Mr. Uptight, Up My Ass- minus the glasses and the suit- going for the K.O. on the nurse lady. Power move, a bone to the back of the head. Ooh, and when she rises- knees her in the face! The eyes found another burst of interest forcing them open again.


The rush wore off when the pain set in and the blood started to flow from the unconscious woman's split lips and bashed nose. "Oh what've I done? What've I done?" Wesley held his hand to his mouth. What if that was a nurse? A careless, new nurse, but a nurse nonetheless? "What have I done?"

A weak, dry whisper followed his words. "What've you done? Who the hell are you?" Faith's eyes were closed, but she managed to gasp out her question.

Pain and worry forgotten. "Faith!" Wesley nudged the prone form out of the way, and yanked the privacy curtain around the bed, coming to her side as he spoke urgently. "Listen to me, we haven't got much time." He began. "They'll know something is wrong in a moment. That nurse should be back on her rounds I imagine, or they'll have heard the noise. Or they'll check for equipment failure. Your monitors aren't sending any data- they've all been unplugged." He was instantly relieved. "Oh good. She's not a real nurse."

"No." Faith didn't have energy for a big answer, though her weak body managed a tiny smirk. If he had beaten up a legit nurse it would have been funny. "Think I... got that... when she said my time... was up." Oh man, speaking wore her out. Her eyes were frantic when she opened them again. Weak and unable to move very much, or at least not without feeling like she'd just went ten rounds with a horde of vampires, she realized the last memory she had was battling with Buffy. And this simp was on the goody-goody side. So why'd he save my life?

It's what the good guys do.

I guess the baddies just leave you to rot. Or hire someone to shoot you up with whatever was going to end up in my arm.

"Your time is not up." Wesley misread the panic in her eyes. "You just aren't used to speaking. We'll sit you up and you'll be fine in a minute. And then we need to move." He looked over his shoulder and at the woman on the floor. "Just for a minute." He mumbled and slid her up with one arm, scooting pillows under her back.

She fell back halfway, unable to catch herself, and she glared at him for it. "What'd they do to me?"

"You've been in a coma for about a month, Faith. Severe head trauma. You'll be fine. You're a Slayer. Your body can work through most things." I've just had first hand proof. And Travers is wrong. This 'second string' is not inferior. She's every bit as strong as Buffy.- at least physically. And many times more likely to slit my throat. "I'm sorry to - ah- come upon you so abruptly, but-"

"Take your hands- off me." Faith spat with as much anger as she could call forth. Damn. Thought there'd be more.

"If I do that, you'll fall out of bed." Wesley told her flatly.

Faith huffed and blinked angrily, shifted around to knock his hands off. Nothing. More like a muscle spasm. "Why are you here?" Faith masked gratitude and relief with memories of rage and hate. Hate him. Hate them all. Stupid dupes, all of them pretending the real world was some magic fairyland with happy endings. Good guys. Yeah. Stupid guys, more like.

"Travers is trying to kill you. He's gone mad, barking, blistering mad. That nurse was a Watcher, one he ordered to stand guard over you. Well- posted here, with you." I should have guarded her. She would have killed me. She still may.

"Huh? What?" Faith was genuinely startled. B might want to kill her. That was the point of so much of what she'd done. To make her know... what it was like when the darkness had hold of you and you stopped trying to fight it, and you just let yourself get swallowed up. Stop fighting the good fight, and just fight nasty, because you were good at it, and power was a trip, man.

But tweedy boss man, who I've never even met? I was in a coma! What evil was I doing? Just leave me to die slowly, locked in this gray box with no windows. It'd hurt more. With everyone hating me. No one coming to see me.

Her dark brows drew together, and her eyes raised up to meet his. "What happened?"

"Oh, what do you think? Wesley snapped waspishly. For heavens' sake, why are we having this discussion now? Someone tried to kill you and we can talk about it after we leave the room with the unconscious woman in it! "Buffy won, the town isn't devils playground, and you have a very long list of enemies in both camps, for what you were, or what you are, or what they think you might be."

Discomfort. No one was supposed to look under the armor. "The usual, huh?" Faith said with a touch of her dark wit.

She still smirks. Or she can't control her facial muscles. Either way... Yes, that probably was her usual. Sadly he didn't know, and hadn't bothered to find out more than the basics- the basics according to what a young, prideful Watcher needed to know. Troubled past. Death of one Watcher. Then thrust into the care of a reckless, unsuitable one. Needed a firm hand, rules, orders, someone to show her respectability.

In other words- he knew nothing. Except this.

Faith gasped as his grip shifted. Wesley left his stance supporting her, and came around her front, pushing her shoulders back so he could look in her eyes while kneeling. "Now listen to me- I am not the person you think I am, and you are not the girl I think you want to be."

She hated this. Him looking at her, with something- honest and unvarnished in those eyes. "You don't know me." She growled weakly.

"No. I don't." Wesley returned simply, truthfully..

But people lie and play or expect something. People don't agree or use the truth unless they need to conceal a bigger lie, Faith's bruised psyche reminded her. "What's the deal?" She asked cautiously, wondering what he could want, what in the world she had left that someone could take.

"I want to get you out of here!"

A half mumbled moan came from the nurse. Wesley winced, and applied his foot to her face with a mumbled apology. "I can't keep her knocked out indefinitely!" Wesley looked back at Faith with an anxious stare.

Speaking and breathing were getting easier. Not much to go on, but at least she could tell him where to get off. "I'm not gonna be slaying- for either team- for a long time. Not the way I'm feeling..." In other words, don't do me any favors. I don't want to owe you one. I never liked being owned.

Apparently he didn't realize that was what helping her equated to. He shook his head and continued in a low, urgent voice, "That doesn't matter. If you stay here, you die, and I don't want that to happen."

Oh come on! If B, poster girl for Good Guys Inc. wanted her filling a coffin, and the Almighty Prince of Tweed was sending fake nurses after her, then this stuffed shirt was just playing with her. Ha. You want to see me get all weak and helpless? Already am. I'm not gonna crack anymore for you. "That so? Why not, English?" Faith demanded.

"Because I am- no, because I want to be your Watcher." I am many things without you. But I am not what I want to be.

"I don't work for anyone. Never will, ever again." Faith shot that down in a hurry.

"Then I won't work for anyone either." Wesley vowed. They would dismiss me anyway, according to Father. I suppose I'll lose my pension. I won't live to retirement anyway. When she gets back to full strength, I may not live to see my next birthday. I lose the title I've coveted my whole life. He thought of Giles. No. You might lose something official, some ink scratched out, words stricken from the rolls, perhaps. But you never lose the position of Watcher. Not if you do it right.

"What?" Faith blinked.

"If I'm your Watcher, and you won't work for anyone, then I won't work for anyone." He reiterated. His eyes left hers and began to scan around the room. He hadn't planned on this. Well, he hadn't planned, period. We have to get her out of here and she can't walk. This must be the most negligent hospital in the world, where is security? Where is- He stopped and sighed. This is a Hellmouth after all. I wonder if a good percentage of those in the morgue suddenly make a recovery of the vampiric nature? "Give me a moment. If we're going to get you out of here we need a wheelchair. And we have to do something with her." He grunted at the body in scrubs.

"I'm not going with you!" Faith declared reflexively. Why not? He has a lot more reason to be scared of me than the other way around. I was the one who played them. I could still play him. Wait until I get better and sneak up behind him. Knife in the-Something inside abruptly snapped the train of thought onto a new track. What 'outside force' makes you want to do that? Kill a human? Who just saved your life?

Nothing. Just better not to trust people. Her eyes closed, the effort of keeping them open for minutes at a time suddenly too exhausting, more than she'd done in weeks.

Maybe for everyone, it might be safer, if I wasn't around people. Slayers are like that. Loners. So we don't hurt. Maybe so we don't get hurt. "I'm not going with you." Her voice was fainter, less reactive.

Wesley ignored her for a moment, slipping from behind the curtain round her bed after another hasty glance at the form on the floor, recalling that he'd seen one of those old, folding plasticine leather and steel wheelchairs in the hall. He furtively looked out the door. An orderly at the far end. The nurses station was a good distance from her door and no one was facing his direction. He silently lifted the contraption up and slid back inside.

Faith opened her eyes again to see him unfolding the chair, locking it's collapsible joints in place. "Didn't you hear me?"

Yes, he'd heard her. He stopped fiddling with it, and moved back to the foot of her bed. Eyes locked.

He didn't know where this voice came from, nor the words. Maybe desperation. Maybe not giving a damn anymore. He was a condemned man in many ways, and so was she.

Faith's eyes opened fully , staring, as the voice turned low and gritty, but not threatening. Simply very, very sure, very soft. Almost silky, but silk stretched to the snapping point.

"I'm giving you a choice- either you lay here and waste away to nothing, or you trust someone for once in your life and we give each other a second chance to be the Watcher and Slayer no one thought we could be. That no one thinks we can be- not even us." What was making him talk like that, like he was struggling for air when she was the one who had been barely breathing? Nonetheless, the words were fierce and labored, even though they were coming out in a quiet voice. His last offer was said the softest, yet made her feel the most. "You lay here and die- or we show the world who we really are." He straightened back up, released the mattress that had somehow come to be the support under his hands, and stared at her, waiting.

She stalled. So many things inside her reached for that, and so many things warned her to back away. Stalling was middle ground. "Big speech..." She raised one eyebrow and tried to cross her arms indifferently.

He gave her a sardonic smile and offered her his hand. "Much shorter than my usual." Take it. I know you can if you want to. If you still want to try.

She looked at it, fingers ticking slightly, and she shook her head once, muscles limp, but Slayer healing working with her newly awakened will. "I'm not trusting you- I don't know who you really are, man..."

It was so easy to quail under her rejection and mistrust. Wesley didn't let her see that. He looked at her unflinchingly, keeping his hand a few inches from hers. "Lying here won't help you find out, either." More certain words. "Those are the choices, Faith- second chances with someone who has nothing else to lose and everything to gain- or be nothing." A flash and a flare in her eyes, the real person underneath the hard mask. He dropped the unwavering glare he wore as well, just enough to let her see the empathy in his eyes. "Like they said we would be..."

The mocha eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You're not the same guy."

"No. I'm not." Some sort of bitter pride came across in his tones. "I don't think any of us have ever met the real Faith. Not even you, perhaps."

Ooh, the fire was blazing now, molten and coppery in those formerly candid eyes. "Don't analyze me."

"Fine. I won't . But let me help you." This was becoming maddening. He now realized why Giles sometimes seemed to fly close to the edge.

"Don't rush me." Faith said mulishly.

Certainly a wise suggestion in this case. But not the one he could follow. He shook his head sorrowfully. "I'm afraid I have to, we're running out of time. Those are the choices- what's it to be?"

Faith smiled a sickly version of her tough girl grin. "Death is such a buzz kill..." She struggled to sit up slightly, and this time her shoulders lifted on their own. Wesley caught her around the wrist, and helped her up, feeling feeble fingers clench reflexively on his.

Faith grit her teeth. It was the first time in a long time someone had been stronger and she was weaker. She thought it was the first time that had happened to him too. He didn't mention it, no gloat, no big grin, just another urgent look over his shoulder. "Into the wheelchair, your chariot awaits."

"Ooh a chariot. What kind?" Faith tried to joke to cover up the frustration she felt that he had to half lift her, half drag her up, that she leaned so heavily on him, and felt like a rag doll from the waist down.

"Hrm. It's a rather battered stolen rental honestly..." Wesley winced and sat her into the seat.

"Stolen?" An impressed look crept over her face. "Watcher's got some balls..."

Wesley felt his chest expand with a rush of pride, though he kept his motions quick and matter of fact. "Perhaps."

"Stolen from who?"

"Spike, Buffy, and an assortment of Council agents, and the good people at Pacific North Rent-A-Car." He smiled lopsidedly up at her as he evened out her legs.

All of that made NO sense but it didn't matter. Watcher grew some balls, and some bad to that ass! "No way! Sweet!" She chuckled. It startled them both.

"You may want to wait until you see it before you praise me too much." He knelt at her feet, sliding the wheelchair footrests under them.

Surreal. Mr. Suit and Accent, knocking out sweet little ladies, stealing cars, appearing like a scruffy savior and making her think, just for a second, that someone might offer you helping hand and not be holding a knife in the other one.

"I'm still knocked out aren't I?" Faith asked as he reached under the small nightstand and retrieved a bag of bloodstained clothes and personal possessions. He dropped them in her lap with a soft thud. "Feels so real..."

With a supreme effort, he lifted the unconscious "nurse" from the floor into the bed, and covered her with the sheet. That'll buy us about five minutes. I hope. "Would you dream this?" He demanded, tugging the sheets up firmly and turning breathlessly back to Faith.

"Um. No. Never." She scoffed openly.

"There you are then. You are- what's that phrase you like? 'Five by five'?" He suggested with a grim little twinkle in his eye.

Faith shook her head and smiled wanly. "Dude, I am one by one at the most."

"That's a start." He stood behind her now, gripped the plastic handles. "Here we go. I'm afraid this isn't going to be smooth. In fact this whole evening has fallen into the fast and messy category. But you'll be alive at the end of it." I hope with my whole heart.

She hugged the bag tighter to her, and leaned back, letting him drive. Fast. Messy. Alive at the end. "Just the way I like it."

He snuck a smile at the top of her head, pushed, and sent them out the door, back into the world once more.


To be concluded...