Between Season 3-4, a spinoff set in the Offers You Can't Refuse AU. (Please read that first.) A woman broken enough to believe she can't be saved. A man who knows he has nothing left to lose. Desperation, fear, and some hidden strengths throw these two together, stubbornly determined to show the world who they really are, who they can be- if they can just figure it out for themselves.
Author's Note: Parts of the first chapter are from Offers. After this- we're in new territory.
Dedicated to: All those faithful readers of Offers Who Can't Refuse who said they were intrigued by the Faith-Wesley dynamic and wanted more.
Nothing of Buffy belongs to me, except my sincere admiration. However, this story is all mine.
It was a daring rescue. It was, some might say, a damned foolish rescue. The last time the girl had been conscious, she wanted to kill most of them, had nearly succeeded in many cases, and had actually succeeded in a few.
It was like saving a wounded tiger and hoping it licked your hand, not bit off your arm.
At least, those were a few of Wesley's thought at some points on his frantic drive to the hospital to rescue the unconscious girl from the assassin Travers had sent after her. He expected a helpless body in a coma. He expected to do his duty, to save his Slayer.
She is still mine. It's a bond I never understood, and never had. Was too pompous, too smart and ignorant all at once to have.
He hoped that at least once he'd experience that special something Giles and Buffy shared. Of course it wouldn't be father-daughter relationship, but... maybe there would be something. One moment where he didn't just know what the Watcher's job description was, that he actually felt as though he was her Watcher.
So Wesley resigned himself to have a one-sided labor- not of love, but of tarnished honor- that lived up to his title. Even if that title would soon be removed by the Council.
A Watcher watches. Watches over in this case. He'd save her life, and he'd prevent an unnatural death however he had to.
That was where the journey ended, and the man of letters found himself turned into a man of action. Real action this time, not grudging assistance or needed self-preservation. Taking action.
Wesley recalled wondering if most "heroic" figures on a mission of mercy thought they were about to expel their stomach contents. Maybe that's where the clenched, determined jaw comes into play.
Everything after was a blur.
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. The woman dressed as a nurse 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 staunch it.
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 over 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..."
Faith's 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.
Wesley 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. "You're awake!"
"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 usually do.
I guess the baddies just leave you to rot. Or hire someone to shoot you up with whatever was about 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. Massive blood loss." We can go into that later. "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 would-be killer 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. Tired of being a pawn. Don't need to be "Watched".
"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. Fine then, don't trust. That doesn't have to mean kill- not all the time. 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.
Even though barely any time had passed, the world seemed changed. By adding one person, everything shifted in perspective. It wasn't what either of them was used to.
One day and seven hundred miles away from Sunnydale...
"It's a nice little town."
"I don't like 'nice little towns'." Faith huffed.
Wesley reached into the passenger seat and hauled her to a standing position. Faith clutched him and the car for support on her atrophied legs. "Then we won't stay for long. But you need to eat and we need gas. Furthermore, you need clothes. Those are covered in blood."
"I'm used to it."
"Well, I'm not." They glared, inches apart. He quirked one eyebrow. "Does it mean something horrific if a person wants you to have food and clothing? Do I get beaten up?"
She shoved him back as best she could and attempted to stand on her own two feet. She fell.
Only halfway to the ground, he snagged her up with a startled cry, and a look of such frustrated pain in his eyes. "Fine, if you want to wear that, so be it. If you want to be hungry, fine. I'm not here to force you. I'm here to help you." He let her sink back into the seat with his assistance and turned away muttering, "Some grand, helpful chap I am..."
They both were startled. He spun too quickly, almost comically. She asked me to wait!
I called him Wes. She sighed. "I look kinda gross, huh?"
"A bit. Better than yesterday." He encouraged.
"Are you always going to do that really annoying thing where you act like Mary Poppins and try to see the best in me?" Faith spat crossly.
"No. I'm going to always tell you the truth, and try to see you how you are. You look greatly improved from yesterday, and, if we're embracing honesty, you smell. You need a bath and a shampoo."
She smiled lopsidedly. "That's better."
"Thank you." He gave her a half-grin himself.
He got in beside her and started the car. "I'll find a bigger city, if that makes you feel more at ease."
What would make her feel more at ease was if he suddenly turned on her and she could hit him. Or if she was strong enough to knock him out and steal the car. To find out if he was going to hurt her, or if she was going to hurt him. "Don't waste your time trying to make things nice." Faith moodily advised, closing her eyes.
"I don't think anything I do with you wastes my time." Wesley stared straight ahead and drove with a grim set to his stubbled jaw.
They'd only gone two blocks when her inborn rebelliousness found a new path. Dammit, Faith- you smell nasty, you're starving, your wardrobe is full of dried blood and stab holes, and you're probably on everyone's hit list, bad guys and good guys. So what if he wants something from you someday? He saved your life and he wants to help you- for now, for whatever reason.
You have to try. If you ever want to be anything, you have to try one more time.
"Could we stop at that hotel?" Faith asked in a flat voice, acting as if she didn't care one way or the other.
"If you like." Wesley replied in the same emotionless tone, and headed for it.
She never stopped watching him. He deliberately didn't watch her. Showing he could turn his back on her, even though he held his breath a little every time he did. He moved with all of his former neat, fussy precision, but in sweat-stained clothes and with a stubbled jaw, setting things down for her in her room, preparing to adjourn to his own- before both of them remembered she couldn't even walk on her unsupported yet.
"You always so tense when you're alone in a room with a hot brunette?" Faith tossed out flatly. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. "Or is it just corpse-like brunettes?" Pale, gross, and - ew. Shit, man, I've seen dead junkies who have have healthier looking hair.
"If I seem nervous, I imagine it's because I expect someone to barge through the door and kill one or both of us." He paused, head cocked slightly. "Both of us, upon further consideration." Wesley turned down her sheets for her and that was the last of the meager tasks he could do for her, with the next to nothing they had with them.
Faith frowned. What? He's going to die for me now? No. I don't think so. I don't deserve it. I don't want it. The frown twisted, sardonic, sarcastic, mocking. "Yeah, you talk tough, Poindexter."
Wesley felt a prickle of anger, and ignored it. "Would it make you feel better if I were scared of you?"
Hell yes. Faith opened her mouth to spew out something vitriolic but he kept going.
"Because I am. I know how amazingly powerful you are, and I know that you don't exactly enjoy my company, that I'm not the person you'd choose to - well, to do anything. But it's not going to stop me." He turned and gave her a grim ghost of a smile. "You look quite terrifying. Is that what you wanted to hear?"
Faith looked past him, to the mirror. Her head refused to stay up straight for more than five minutes at a time. Her fingers could clench but her hand wouldn't even tighten into a fist. Can't stand. Can't make a move. Can't fight.
He still thinks I'm powerful? Screw loose. All that tea must cause smart ass accents and stupid ass logic. Inside she was grudgingly relieved. "You don't have to be a wimp. Not like I can even tie my shoes." She joked and attempted to shrug.
"I'll remember that." He mimicked the slight easing of tension. "Well... A good meal and a good rest and a change of clothes should do wonders. I'll let you get sorted and I'll order in something. I saw a shopping center a block or two down. If you'd give me your sizes I'll pick up an outfit. O-or you could do that yourself."
"You go ahead. What's the point of me taking a bath and then having to get back into this?" She picked feebly at the stained shirt with the six inch split in the middle, still caked in dried blood.
"Quite." Wesley tried not to wrinkle his nose. "I'll leave you to your ablutions then."
"My what now?"
"Your bath." He gestured to the little room off to the side where he'd carefully laid out everything for her, the towels, the tubes and bottles and all those miniature toiletries.
"College boys." Faith pushed herself out of the armchair Wesley had put her in. Force of habit. The floor rushed up to meet her and she landed, sprawled, helpless, on the stiff carpeting.
"Faith!" He hauled her up gently, silently berating himself for not catching her. She glared at him.
"I hate Buffy." She struggled to her knees with his help.
"I imagine it's mutual." Wesley sighed and laid his shoulder under hers, hoisting her to a standing position .
"Where are we going?" Faith protested, as if she didn't know.
"I- um- can you- that is..." Wesley was too stressed to even blush. Why in the world did I allow myself to get into this predicament?
"You don't have to do this. I can do it myself!" Faith snapped at him, embarrassed and annoyed that she even needed help walking. Now dressing too. Undressing. Bathing? What, am I not going to be able to wipe my own ass?
She'd been pushed and thrown around a lot of her life, until she got big enough and bad enough to fight back. Life like this? Maybe dying would have been better.
"I don't object to doing it! I'm simply not- very good at doing it." Wesley confessed. He would gladly let her attend to everything herself. This job, as the Academy presented it, was about knowledge, techniques, tracking, portents and potions. You had to find out yourself how messy it was.
But how human and real.
No. Not "gladly". I need this. I need to be there, to know what it is when you live life, when you care, when it hurts. Tired of being in shadows and living by rules that were not meant to do anything but make your soul as dry and paper-thin as the books you pore over.
"I'll help you get - hrm- prepared, and then you can- ah- stay wrapped in towels while I run out to the store."
Her limbs shook with exertion.
His hands shook with nerves.
She nodded, and he stiffly jerked his head in turn.
"You get wandering hands and you die."
"I had figured." He gasped out an acknowledgement.
His eyes stayed pointedly down. He saw ankles and toes. A wadded up pool of denim in his hands followed by something smaller and cottony. He only touched them long enough to remove them and look at the size labels.
Faith had a man literally kneeling at her feet. She'd had men there before. Never like this.
There was something that was helpful about the position without being servile. He helped her undress, his eyes never lifting, he helped her into the tub without ever touching, simply kneeling and letting her use his shoulders as a living support to guide herself into the bath.
Now for the supreme effort of staying upright and not drowning... Faith braced her feet on the inside edges, a large towel clutched with one arm to her chest.
"Are you alright?" Wesley asked, hearing splashing, afraid to look.
"I'm not five by five, but I'm approaching two." Faith grimaced.
"I'm going to go now. If you're sure you don't need any help. I- I'll come back in when you're ready to get out." He fumbled to shut the shower curtain, not looking at her at all.
"Okay..." She called after him. She had an odd sensation. A doubting one, a nagging one, one that made her tired brain drop its defenses. They hadn't turned on each other. He hadn't tricked her, turned her over to someone from the bad side or the good side. Twenty four hours and no one was dead.
In the warm water, she let out a deep, shuddering sigh, and felt tears she didn't have the energy to brush away roll down her cheeks. "Hey... thanks." Faith called to her unlikely ally.
Wesley was running a tired hand over his rapidly aging, slimming face. Shadowed eyes momentarily lit up at her voice. "Of course!" He called back. It's what I do. What I will do. "Of course..."
To be continued...