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 Notes: Thank you all so much for the kindness and support for my little character study piece. I know it's a slow transformation, but I do think it's the appropriate pacing for this wounded warrior and warrior-to-be.
Author's Second Note: If anyone has any artistic talent and would like to make a "cover" for this piece, please do let me know via PM. I would love to have something that captures the essence of the piece and characters. Thank you so much.
Dedicated to: Ginar369, Omslagspapper (my technical advisor), Cavemenftw, Sirius120, Jewel74, Illusera, The-Darkness-Befalls, and Kathryn Merlin.
Nothing of Buffy belongs to me, except my sincere admiration. However, this story is all mine.
Wesley liked this library. This one reminded him more of the Council's, though it was vastly smaller. But unlike a capitol city's library, experienced at their last stop, this library was less gray and impersonal. It had polished hard wood floors and many fewer computers, which concerned him at first. Also, unlike the the librarians in Lincoln who mainly watched to make sure rowdy youths didn't misuse the lab privileges, this librarian made time to speak to him- at least after he'd been there for five hours a day, five days running.
"Are you a graduate student?" The lady asked kindly.
"Hm? I- ah, no." Wesley decided not to complicate his life further by lying. At this moment, anyway.
"Looking for work?" She said sympathetically, gesturing to the computer and stack of paper he was now pulling protectively close to him.
"No, I am working. I believe the term is 'telecommute'? I just come in to check emails from my employer and do some typing." He answered haltingly.
The librarian nodded in further sympathy. "No computer at home?"
"I have a laptop, but no internet."
"If you'd like to bring your own in, and just bring your ethernet cable, we have a few designated spots for that."
"Your ethernet cable."
"Oh! Oh, jolly good."
"I was only mentioning it because when school starts in late August, there's going to be a lot more students here in the open lab."
"Thank you. Thank you, that was most kind of you." Wesley nodded gratefully. He waited until she left, then tucked his papers in his satchel, logged off, and walked quickly from the building, pulling his phone from his pocket.
"Wesley! Are you okay?"
"Very well, thank you." Wesley let her get through the standard formality questions before he blurted desperately. "Willow, what is an 'ethernet cable', and what does it do?"
New city, same routine. Sorta.
There was one of those small city colleges nearby, with the usual couple college bars, no dives, and they had a track open to civilians, a fact Wesley found out criminally early. She walked it alone in the morning, he walked it with her in the late afternoon. She ran the bleachers circling the track, alone in the morning so he wouldn't see how many times she fell down. She ran them again with him later in the day, usually still falling, but falling less.
There was a park with actual ducks and actual kids with moms and the occasional dad. Sunnydale had that too, but Faith had felt fairly confident that Sunnydale's park was also full of demons just looking for snacks, which made the cherry suburban atmosphere acceptable to her. Here she looked at kids chasing balls and ducks chasing breadcrumbs and felt severely out of place.
She went home early that sixth day in the city.
"Hello there." Wesley was coming up the street from the north as she strolled up from the south.
"You get out early for good behavior?" Faith called and he waved. "Everything cool?"
"Five by five, I believe the expression is." He grinned.
"Don't even. My line." She laughed though. When he tried to relax he was- kinda cute.
She waited for him at the edge of the house, and they rounded it together, up to their fire escape. Without ever having spoken about it, they'd decided to avoid going into the lobby and interior of the house as much as possible, avoiding conversations and curious looks.
Avoiding conversations with others, but not avoiding talking to each other anymore. Not since they both realized whatever mess they were in- it was still the high point of their very different lives.
Faith had summed that up rather nicely, after their strange shopping trip and the conversation following it. "We're sad, Wes. We're two sad, sad people."
"Fairly pathetic. But I'd say things are improving. Wouldn't you?"
Faith entered the apartment with some measure of her old grace, and Wesley stifled a proud smile. "Did they finally kick you out for hogging the computers?"
"No, although that entered into it." Wesley hurried to his room, still speaking. These rooms, while small, were furnished more like a home than a flop house. Instead of merely a bed and closet, his room, the larger one, had a desk and a small dresser, so he used it as a workspace as well as bedroom.
"Yeah?" Faith took off her jacket and shoes, started piling her hair up into a sexily sloppy bun. "Some librarian pick on you? Want me to go show the bitch some moves?"
He smiled. "Hardly necessary." He came out holding his laptop, the manual and a long blue cable, a faintly mystified expression on his face. "Do you know what an 'ethernet cable' is?"
"I'm gonna bet it's that blue cable-shaped thing." She said cheekily. "Now who's the smart one?"
"Well, yes," he ignored the playfulness in his haste to share new knowledge, "but listen to what it does." He was genuinely excited. "If I take this to a place with internet access, and I have permission, I can simply plug this into the wall, and - a port-" He turned the laptop sideways and studied it. "Anyway, the point being, I can stop switching from disks and programs, back and forth, hacking and risking getting caught, and simply use this, because the librarian and Willow-" he ignored the momentary darkening of her face, "explained how an ethernet cable works." He looked pleased.
Faith's smile peeped out. "Nice, Wes."
"Oh, on another note, both my paycheck and the estate money have been deposited. We're solvent." Wesley had saved that news as a sort of balm to the wound if Faith had been upset about him contacting the Sunnydale lot.
Faith felt like she'd just dropped twenty pounds of bricks from her shoulders, but she couldn't let him see the relief, just the happy. "Alright! Now that is five by five!" Both her hands up high, both of his quickly, if awkwardly, raised to meet hers, and then they laughed.
She's simply so- lovely, when she laughs.
Damn. He is cute. How'd he get cute?
"I'll have to do some budgeting, of course. Future expenses, pay back some of my debt, there's all the postage to be considered that I've already spent, I need to send Giles the money for that mailbox in my name, I-"
"Wes. Five minutes of happy, okay, Dude?"
"Ah. Yes." He grinned and began to head into the kitchen. He wasn't a bad cook, though he didn't have much experience. He'd never really made more than the occasional meal prior to moving to California. What he really missed, now that he had tea, was a glass of wine, or using a dash in his cooking. He used to make chicken in a simple white wine and tarragon sauce.
No wine, red or white. No tarragon. Well, best carry on with salt and pepper.
She came in and stood at the sink beside him and started pulling over potatoes. "Do I use a knife or is there some kind of special tool for these suckers?"
"A vegetable peeler." He opened the drawer, and yes, the thoughtful Mrs. Baker had provided one. "I thought I'd make the chicken."
"You gonna fry that bad boy?" Faith started attacking the potatoes as if they'd injured her personally.
Wesley stared. Dear God. She's a master with any sort of blade. If she ever went dark again, if she should ever- he stopped that thought. "I don't think I bought anything to fry with."
He washed and seasoned. She peeled and chopped.
"We should do something since you got-"
"I was wondering if a small celebration was in -"
Another laugh, another realization that things were pretty good. At that moment.
"Yes, indeed." Wesley smiled. "I think some shopping is in order. You said you needed a new handbag?"
"Purse. The queen mum has a handbag, I have a purse. Well- I don't usually do the purse thing, but since you might take my makeup for your little drag show-"
"I guess I could have one. Keep you from swiping it. You'd never go through a lady's purse, would you, Wes?"
"I suppose not. You could also use something in the way of clothes, I'm sure." She'd been living in the same four outfits day in and day out. Night as well, taking a clean teeshirt and pair of- hrm. Wesley had done their laundry for over a month now, as well as having picked out every stitch of her clothing while she was too weak to move, but he still blushed when it came to the unmentionables. "Sleepwear, perhaps?"
"You tired of seeing me in my briefs?" She teased.
"I - no! I mean, I don't like to, there's not a preference, or- or a dislike. I merely meant-" He sighed. She chuckled, deep and throaty. "Would you like pajamas?"
"Maybe." She grabbed a large pot from the cabinet below the sink, purposefully wiggling her way down with a sultry smirk. Guy was throughly consumed with canned vegetables now. Hey, give him points for being that tenth guy, the one who wasn't wearing a mask, who didn't have a hidden agenda. "I was thinking we deserve a drink."
"A drink?" A nice cabernet...
"We've been here almost a week and we haven't hit up a bar. We pass three on the way to the track."
"Do you think they have wine?" He asked longingly.
"Good wine? No. Some kind of wine? Yes."
"Then after an early dinner, I say we do shopping and a night cap."
"I just wanted to check in. I haven't heard much from you in a week, I wanted to make sure you're settling in." Mrs. Baker bustled into their flat, the next morning, coffee cake outstretched.
Faith, in new pajamas, black of course, a spaghetti strap tight tank with slightly flared black shorts, just stared. "Hi?"
"Ohh. Am I waking you?" Mrs. Baker seemed both surprised and sorry. "It's after nine. Is your husband already at work? I used to get up thirty minutes before Mr. Baker did, get the coffee going. Man was a bear until he'd had his first cup. Then when we had those coffee pots with timers, you could set them the night before, but I don't think I trust those things. I had a cousin, Judy, her entire house went up in smoke, the dishwasher circuits overheated, though how the fire could start with all that water..."
"My husband?" Faith scratched her head vigorously with both hands, trying to get her brain to work. Shoving dark handfuls off her face and neck, she managed to make her eyes focus. She means Wesley. Right. "Yeah. He, uh- he's already gone for the day. He lets me sleep in."
"Oh, now isn't that nice?"
"Yeah... I'm spoiled." Faith hugged herself, bare skin prickling with the just woke up chills and lack of clothing. This was the first time in years she didn't have some kind of bruises. The first time in ever she'd actually owned actual pajamas. Or had a person letting her sleep in.
"That's the way it should be. The husband takes care of the wife, the wife takes care of the husband." Mrs. Baker moved through the kitchen like she owned it, which she technically did, getting plates and cups.
Faith woke up as her hands fastened around Wesley's fine china. "Oh. Hey." Faith retrieved them with Slayer swiftness and a delicate touch she didn't know she had. "Sorry, these are um- these are really special to him, and we only have two, so-"
"I understand. Mr. Baker was the same way with his father's steins. Could only use them at Christmas."
Faith blinked. "Is there something we need to do?" She finally asked. It was an effort. Her original statement had been, Look lady, it's the buttcrack of dawn for me, I'm a night person, so can you get the hell out of my kitchen and stop staring at me like you've never seen a pair of boobs before?
"I figured you might be lonely. Being new in town and you traveling around all the time." Mrs. Baker was unperturbed, proceeding to cut huge slices of heavenly smelling coffee cake and put it on plates. "Wanted to make sure you had everything you needed."
"We do. I - we kind of um- kind of keep to ourselves." Faith said pointedly, nibbling a piece of cinnamon crumb topping as she stood at the table, refusing to sit.
Mrs. Baker nodded, oblivious to the attitude."I was like that and then-"
"Holy shit, this is amazing." Faith's eyes widened as she swallowed, then plopped down and grabbed a fork.
Mrs. Baker blinked, and the unceasing flow of words finally came to a halt.
"This is like- heroin good. What's in this?" Faith licked her fingers.
More blinking. "Nutmeg?" She finally whispered.
"Nutmeg is the bomb then. Is this hard to make?"
"No..." Mrs. Baker seemed unable to get a grip on her fork, watching Faith cut a second slice.
"Wesley's good in the kitchen, but he never-" Faith suddenly gave an uneasy smile and took another bite to stall. "I mean, I'm not really much of a baker."
"More of a main dish cook?"
"Would you like the recipe for this?"
Do I look like I bake? Right now I look like I pose for Hustler's skankier mags. "No. I don't want to put you to any trouble."
"No trouble! It's in a cookbook, I can just lend you the whole thing. Might even have a roast recipe in there. Is it true about Englishmen?"
Faith's fork froze halfway to her lips. Oh no. Is this like black guys? Think, think... no, I never fucked a British guy. Are they good in bed or not? Crap... "Is it true?" She repeated slowly.
"There is that old stereotype about the British and what they love." Mrs. Baker laughed.
Stereotype. I don't know the stereotype. Just be complimentary. "Well, I don't know what the rumors are, but Wes is damn good. Just won't quit. Talk about your mild mannered exterior. Whoooeee. No. He's like- James Dean under that bookworm front." Faith told the truth- in part. Just not the part Mrs. Baker meant.
"I meant that they love roast beef." Mrs. Baker looked beyond lost.
"Oh! Oh, yeah. Yeah, he's all about the roast beef." Faith winced inside and some of it leaked through this time. Mrs. Baker winced in sympathy. "This is..." So awkward. But I think Wes'd get mad if I punched her out. I mean, I wouldn't have to deal with her looking at me for ten minutes, but when she woke up, same problem. "This is really good cake. I think I- I'd like the recipe."
"I'll bring the book. Yes, I'll-I'll got get it, right now." The landlady nodded, and fairly fled.
Faith put her head in her hands as the door closed. "I'm starting to miss vampires..."
"I'm back!" Wesley called to the bedroom as he came home. He was almost magically led to the table, a spicy, delightful scent pulling him by the nose. He looked around and pulled off a corner of the cake left on the table. "Mm. Mm! Faith? Faith, did you make this? It's extraordinary." If she made it, it's beyond extraordinary, it's miraculous.
Faith popped her head out of her room. "Mrs. Baker did it. You're later than normal, aren't you?"
"I did the shopping. This is delicious. She's a marvelous cook. I'm putting the kettle on." I can have proper tea. There is a God.
"She's a marvelous motormouth, too." Faith grouched. She stopped scanning the cookbook and hid it under her pillow before walking nonchalantly into the living room.
"Oh dear. What'd she say?" Wesley asked worriedly from the kitchen where he was simultaneously putting away the perishables and laying out his tea things.
"Don't worry about it."
"I passed her in the car park. She barely said two words. She just looked at me rather strangely."
"Yeah... She might keep doing that."
Wesley craned his neck around to look at her. Faith smiled uneasily and hurriedly grabbed one of the bags of groceries from the floor and took it to the counter. "Oh, you don't have to-"
"I'm walking like five miles a day. I can hack a little unpacking." Faith lifted out a dozen eggs and a gallon of milk, opening the fridge.
A six pack. Top shelf, wreathed in a little halo made by a tiny lightbulb. Faith swore she could hear that weird harp music they use in cartoons when something magical appears. "Hey. There's-" She began pointing, and he began speaking.
"I can't stand Miller. I can't stand American beer in any form. I just thought you'd like it, so I picked it up for you."
Her stomach went all warm inside, and it was stupid to get fuzzies at time, but especially not over a six pack. "Why?" She swung the door shut and went back to the brown paper bags.
He repeated himself, expression and tone unchanging. "Because I thought you'd like it."
Faith made sure he didn't see her smile by going to go get another bag.
Starbursts were in that bag, stuck between the lettuce and the apples. The warmth in her stomach turned into a weird, worried knot. He's really nice to me. Just to be nice. And he really, really picks up on the important things. Even when I'm freaking at him.
The idea she'd been playing with became a resolution. I'm going to do something nice for him.
"Oh, hey. You're here." Faith entered the apartment to find Wesley already there.
Wesley tried not to look either annoyed or relieved. He'd been home for an hour, and she was no where to be seen. He knew she couldn't be at the college track because it was used midday, and he knew, admit it or not, that she was still completely exhausted after her morning workouts, and by her own admission starving afterward, so she headed right in for lunch. For fifteen minutes he'd been assuming she was just a bit delayed, for the rest of the hour he'd been giving into increasingly terrifying scenarios involving her being captured, injured, run off, or killed.
"Yes, I am, I've been home for an hour now." He said with a faintly panicked edge in his voice. He expected an explanation of her whereabouts. He didn't get one.
"Cool. You finish something?" Faith asked.
"Hm? No, Mandarin takes a long time to format. I'm nearly done, and they've sent me seven other work requests. I don't even think I can accept all of them, the deadlines are too close together." He sighed. "I wish I could though..."
"Don't worry about it, we're doin' good." Faith came to the living room, kicked off her shoes, flopped back on the couch and grinned languidly.
Maybe she simply changed her routine for the day. I'm hardly in a position to dictate when and where she goes some place. I'd still like to know. I tell her where I am. "My employer sent an email that my visa paperwork was sent to this address, and they gave me a head's up on some additional documents I'd need to produce. I came home to see if I had everything and then I figured I'd go back to the library after lunch to make copies and finish another chapter."
"Congrats. Soon you'll be legal." She winked and channel surfed.
"Speaking of lunch- what can I get you?"
So she ate already. Not here. She ate out. That's not so unusual. Except it is. For us... Wesley gave her an openly puzzled look, one she couldn't ignore.
"What?" Faith rested her hands on her lean, torso, with its resculpted muscles. "It shocks you I can ever get full? Are you saying I'm fat, Poindexter?"
"Great heavens, no!" Wesley cried, horrified at his glance being so misconstrued.
"Oh, you think I'm too skinny?"
"You look fine!"
"Yes, just fine!" He said in some relief. Not thin, not fat, perfectly proportionate and healthy, and what business is it of mine to comment on her size?
"Bastard." Faith stormed off to her room, insulted. Okay, maybe I'm not a ten, but I am so much better than a "just fine". I'm a hotty and I know it.
"But I..." Wesley looked after her, hands slowly reaching, bewilderment complete. "Did I do something wrong?" He hollered through the slammed door.
"For a guy with all the languages, you sure don't how to talk to women!"
Wesley shook his head. But I barely spoke to her. I didn't even ask where she was.
"I'm going out." Faith said cooly.
"Out? Where are we going?"
"I said me. I'm going out. Not 'we'." Faith's frost-laden voice softened slightly at the instantly hurt look that earned her. "I just feel cooped up, okay? Restless, yo?"
"If it was about what I said yesterday-"
"We're cool." Faith grinned. "I'll be back in a couple. Chill. I can take care of myself." She opened the black denim jacket she wore to reveal his beautifully polished, virgin stake, and beautifully carved dagger that had never seen battle.
Wesley's jaw dropped, as did his current manuscript. "Are you patrolling?" If she was patrolling, he must go with her! First patrol as new Slayer, with a new Watcher.
Faith snorted once and rolled her eyes. "No." She slipped out the front door with a little wave and left him sitting in a pile of paper.
It happened again the next few days.
He tried not to care. "Oh, you're home, are you?" A loud yawn, as if he'd just woken up on the couch. "Must've dozed off. Well, night then." The picture of relaxed civility.
It made her angry. "You fell asleep?" Toss of the head, angry shrug, and another slammed door.
Another evening, another failed tactic.
He tried to show he was worried. "Faith, really, I should know where you are. Roughly. At all times."
"You my warden now? Got news for you, I don't look good in orange."
Until he was about to follow her and she was about to slug him.
"See you in a few." Another night, same deal as a half dozen other nights and mid afternoons.
"What?" Her tone was instantly dangerous.
"I said, 'No'." He was reaching for something in his bag.
Faith tensed. She wasn't at full strength but she could take a human- if he didn't put up of much of a fight. But Wes wouldn't hurt me.
Oh. That's neat. I know someone who won't hurt me. I haven't even been able to say that about myself... Faith's defensive posture dropped and she found her hands sliding to her back pocket, ready to counter whatever he had with a surprise of her own.
"Take this." Wesley put a small, boxy black object in her hand. "I won't bother you, but should there be an emergency, or you don't turn up in 'a few' as you say, I-"
"You bought me a phone?"
"It's the same as mine. You can add a family member very affordably with their 'Family Plan'. Oh, not that you're- but I- well, I have to say you're a member of the household so..." He stammered himself into silence. "Have I done it wrong again?"
"Nope." She kept her face blank with a painful effort. "You did it- so right." Her voice sounded oddly strained, and she nodded jerkily to get herself back in the game. "Thanks. I promise not to go crazy calling all my buddies."
"Oh, no, you have a certain number of minutes per month and we can add more. I'll show you the booklet, it's-"
"Wes. I don't have any- anyone I'd call but you." Another stumble, the tense voice was back. She made it hard, almost harsh on purpose."I don't like when people cage me. I tend to break the bars."
"I was worried. I care. I don't mean to cage." Oh, yes I do. I've been trained to think that way, that a Slayer answers to the Watcher, the Watcher answers to the Council, and we are never in cages, but we're always in chains. But she'll break the bars, I'll break the chains.
"You I believe. Only you." She had to laugh quietly. Guy had almost no shields. His expressions of joy and relief were just so damn adorable. She kinda wanted to hug him. But they didn't hug. It was an odd impulse anyway. A deep sigh and she flicked something at him.
Wesley yelped and snatched frantically at the air as a sliver of plastic assaulted him. "Ah! Oh! I've got it!"
"You catch like a girl, Wes."
"A bit of warning helps." He quipped and looked at what she'd thrown him.
Her picture. Indiana issued driver's license. Faith L. Pryce. Hair brown, eyes brown, age, weight, birthdate...
"You used Pryce." He was in awe.
"Not that, the age! Twenty one. I figured in a town with this many college kids, someone had to run fake IDs. I hit up the bars and the jocks around the track who are there for practice already until I found a guy who knows a guy, who's lousy at pool." She grinned, something sharklike and proud. "I beat him, best two outta three, I got myself a card, and now I can tend bar." He looked stunned so she kept talking. "Don't give me any crap, alright? I would be twenty one in December anyway, but-"
"Your birthday's coming up?"
"No, it's in December, which is forever away." The thought that they might still be together in December weirded her out, and she didn't think on it. "So I needed something in the meantime and I figured I'd better have a name that wasn't on the 'we can't wait to question you about a murder' list. I know how this works, I did it before. You don't take anything too steady, you just get friendly with the bartenders and the owners, whoever makes the call, and you pick up shifts when they're busy or their regular staff is sick. All cash, all under the table, sometimes I did it strictly for tips." She licked her lips in memory, the shark replaced by a tigress, heated and hungry. "You should see me mix a drink, Wes... I get twenties..." Her hand ran down her neck, head tossed back, hips swiveling, demonstrating.
The image sprang unbidden to his mind. A cherry swirling over her parted lips, an ice cube down something very low cut, and those searing eyes sending unmistakable invitations.
He blurted the safest thing he could think of, shocked at himself. "You used Pryce."
She groaned, seduction demo done. That was one reason she hadn't told him. She didn't want him to say no, she wasn't ready to work yet, she didn't want him to say no, don't do anything else illegal, and she didn't want him to make a big deal out of questioning her choice of alias. "Look, I figure we've been lucky so far. But maybe someday, someplace will ask for ID and it's not your full name... I can be a cousin or something. Just 'cause Mrs. Baker thinks you're the dorky version of a British stud and doing your husband-thing with me so much I need to sleep until nine every day to recover-"
"What now?" Wesley cried, ID drifting to the floor.
"Don't make a big deal! It's just a name that makes it safer!"
"But it's a very big deal to me!" He decided to let the last comment about studs and 'husband-thing' pass unexplained, chalking it up to, "Some places might have assumed we're married, so be it."
Faith snatched the card off the ground. Great. Now I have to beat that loser in pool again...What name should I use this time?
"I'm simply so- honored."
Faith's eyeballs attempted to leave her skull. "You're honored?"
"Yes. And frightfully pleased as well." We're a team. We're- a sort of family. Dysfunctional, of course, but then that's nothing new for us. A family. Wesley's look of touched pride suddenly changed to one that was gleeful. Almost impish. "Can you imagine what my father would say when he thinks of you sharing the family name?"
Faith laughed so hard she had to lean on him, doubling over. "Oh God... I kinda wanna watch you call him and let him know..."
"I kind of want to do that as well." He wasn't merely chuckling. He was laughing. She'd never seen him let go and completely laugh before. Really laughing. Laughing-so-hard-you-might-pee kind of laughing.
He hugged the form crashing into him as they fell in a giggling heap. "I've never heard you- laugh." Faith gasped out, wiping her eyes.
"I've never heard you- laugh like this." He took off his glasses and collapsed back on the floor, Faith sprawled alongside. "Thank you."
Faith grinned. Nailed it. "Don't mention it."
"You're more aware of a place when you only have a limited amount of time to spend in it. Don't you find?" Wesley remarked with a cheerful sigh as they walked across the now bustling campus, back from the track.
"What are you talking about?" Faith walked quickly- which was to say that she now could keep up with him, the mere mortal, after almost two months of intensive training.
"Well, we only have a week left here. In each town you notice things much more keenly, seeing as you know you'll probably never return."
"What? No." Faith disagreed. "You just let it blur. Bars, beds, faces- all the same really." He opened his mouth to protest. "Listen to the expert, Wes. I've been doing this a lot longer. That phrase 'seen one, seen 'em all' gets to be pretty accurate."
He paused, and was nearly run over by a string of orientating freshmen. "You're a dreadful cynic, do you know that?"
"Yeah, whatever." She pushed on, trying not to get winded. "I gotta beat feet, no time for talking."
"You mean no breath for talking. Which is good, then you'll simply have to listen." Wesley took a paper shoved into his hand. "Oh. Thank you!" He called to the waving person who was passing out more brightly colored papers. "Look, we've been invited to a- a 'rush'."
Faith rolled her eyes.
Wesley continued with his point. "You're jaded because you've done it so often. This is new to me, but I do notice things about our ports of call."
"You spend eight hours or more a day bent over a desk with a laptop."
"You're supposed to be too breathless for argument." Wesley had to admit she had a point. "Well, a certain level of anonymity is freeing. Being a Wyndham-Pryce working for the Council is the equivalent of working under a magnifying glass. You must always be the best, the picture of intellectual obedience, protocol- and other things you'd hate."
"Well, being Faith Lehane in the Greater Boston Area foster care system sucked too. You get a rep as the one no one could take for more than three months. The one who was a discipline problem. Psycho. Juvie. Bully. Target. Slut. Runaway. Whatever. I get you. Why do you think I don't stay anywhere for too long?" Or near anyone?
He was suddenly sobered. He dared pat her back once, quickly before she could tense and glare. "Forgive me for being 'Mary Poppins', but I'm making the best of the situation." He said briskly.
She laughed. "Yeah, you do that." She sorta liked it. He made the best of her. Completely foreign sensation, but yeah. She liked it. "All right, Poppins, lay it on me."
"Nothing you're not familiar with." He realized. "You see everything differently, and - they see you differently. Then you get to leave it behind." He turned an amused face toward her. "For example, I've been simply thrilled not to be a suspected transvestite with no color sense." She snorted out a quick laugh. "I'll also be happy when I bid farewell to Mrs. Baker. I've no idea exactly what you said, but she does titter and blush in a rather off putting way if we meet."
"I promise it was something good." Faith gave a husky whisper and leaned on him momentarily, seeing if he blushed.
Wesley flushed, but that could be hidden under the tan he was getting, or the five o'clock shadow he hadn't managed to remove today. "Ah. And you. Are you enjoying the role of doting housewife?" He asked facetiously.
"More like the devil in the big St. E." Faith moved away from him, outdistancing him with painful effort. "Hottest bartender around. Jack at the Blue Lizzie hasn't found all the staff he needs, and the students are back and starting to come in. I got a shift."
"You do? Tonight?"
"Aww. Don't miss me too much."
He would miss her. They spent enough time apart that they seemed to enjoy, without calling attention to it, there afternoon exercises and their few hours together at night. But he didn't smother. "I'll muddle through. Are you working until closing?" He asked nonchalantly.
"Unless it's dead."
"Would you like me to come give you a ride home?"
That damn confusing warmth came back into her stomach, so she tried to squash it. "At two in the morning?" She scoffed.
"I thought I saw he closed at midnight." They'd frequented that particular bar a few times, and as any good Watcher, he noted details. Faith had picked up a happy hour shift once or twice as well.
"That's because it's slow in summer, with all the little campus rats away."
"They're not quite back yet. Just the athletic teams and the new students."
"Wes. I'll be fine walking home. 'Kay?"
"Could you at least call me when you leave?" Then I'll know whether or not to have a very unmanly, non-indifferent panic attack if you're not home shortly after?
Faith cocked her head. "You do remember I'm wicked strong, right? Slayer stuff on tap?"
Whistling innocently, he bumped into her, and she stumbled forward with a cry. She would have been kissing asphalt if he hadn't quickly grabbed her by the elbow. "Your reflexes still leave something to be desired." He told the sky.
Faith spoke through clenched jaws. "You know you'd be paying for that with some teeth if I didn't- kinda- want to save my energy, right?" If I didn't maybe like you a little bit, if you hadn't also just proved a point. Jerk. "Look, I get that you have your undies permanently knotted, but you hafta realize- I've been walking myself home from way worse dives than Jack's since I was thirteen. I can take care of myself."
"I'm aware of that. You just also have to realize that I- never had anyone I care about perhaps rely on me. Slightly. At times." He added hastily.
What got her most? That soft serious "anyone I care about" or "rely on me"? One made the heat rush back in a good way, one made her temper flare. "You drive me crazy."
"It's mutual." He grimaced and muttered.
"I'll call when I'm done."
"Hi. I'm leaving. It's like five blocks away, so don't wet yourself or anything."
His voice was mellow, half awake. Faith couldn't tell if he'd just been woken, or was trying to keep awake. "I shall endeavor to control my bladder. You be safe."
"Oh I'm safe. And I'm struttin'. I still got it."
"I know." He grinned into his palm as it supported his tired head. She'd left looking - he wasn't sure what the word was. She was wearing the pajama top for some reason. No, he knew the reason- its extremely tight fit and slim straps, chest pushed to new and dangerous heights. She completed the outfit with black jeans cinched so they hugged her hips, and her dark cherry lips glossed to a wet lusciousness. He wasn't sure what "it" was, but yes. She definitely had it. "I'm sure you were a great success."
"Let's just say I have fifteen phone numbers and some students are going to be a little light when it comes time to buy their books." She sounded outrageously pleased with herself.
"You've put a crimp in a few college educations in a single evening. Congratulations."
"Aww, don't be such a stick."
"It's one thirty. I'm afraid what you see is what you get at this hour." He groaned and eased himself of the couch where he'd fallen into an uneasy sleep, the Portents for Demonic Manifestations and a Turkish manual on optic laser calibration propped open on his chest. "Blast. My notes've gotten mixed." He realized as the pages fell to his feet when he rose. "Some poor ophthalmologist will learn about spirit walkers in the Ashundi language if I'm not careful."
She laughed. She noticed two guys smoking cigarettes on a front stoop. One whistled. She ignored. Didn't need the attention right now. "You drunk?"
"No. Just tired."
"Go to bed! I can literally see the sign for the house."
"I'll feel better if I see you."
"I know. It's dreadful." He sighed in mock woe. "So, tell me about the life of the femme fatale bartender."
She came in, wearing a haze of secondhand cigarettes, beer, and too much pheromone-laced cologne, hanging up her phone as she opened the door. His face let slip one second of pure relieved happiness.
"Oh good. Well. You must be exhausted." Wesley said, rearranging his face quickly, now back on the couch, his papers and books restacked in neat piles on either side of him.
"No way! I'm wired." Faith grinned at the exhausted man, now leaner, cheeks no longer so fresh faced, but slightly hollowed with weeks of worry, eyes no longer haughty, covered in shadows tonight. He smiled at her energy, his head resting wearily on the back of the sofa. "Hey, Wes?"
"Hm?" He blinked. Relaxation was washing over him now that she was back.
"You ever had a lap dance?"
"No." He shook his head. It was a delayed reaction when the warning bells began to ring, when her hips started to sway and her smile took on something- different. It wasn't predatory or sexual, it was soft, teasing. "I never- um- I don't think I-"
"I never gave one. Not my thing." She sauntered over. "But I get the idea. You dry hump some tired businessman's hard on, and he shoves money in whatever you're barely wearing."
"Well- Jack didn't ask you to do that did he?" Wesley choked out as she was suddenly directly in front of him.
"Nope. I was just being brilliant. I am sometimes, just-" the grin broadened, "no one lives to tell about it." Her hips swung over his, one knee on top of a legal pad covered in strange symbols, one on a stack of papers in a foreign language. "I had this great idea."
"Faith." He sat up, inched back. "I don't want -anything like that- from you." Wesley tried to explain as inoffensively as possible, although his mind had just given him a very confused warning that Faith's nearness wasn't unpleasant and he shouldn't be so hasty.
"Well, thanks. I'd be pissed if I was gonna give you one. But I just invented the reverse lap dance. Minus the grinding." Faith tossed her hair back, rolled her shoulders, and her hands slid down over her rear- emerging with fistfuls of money. She giggled and tucked fives and ones into his collar as he squirmed and shouted, a few tens and a lot more fives between the buttons on his short sleeved button down shirt.
"Gas money." She slid off her half-perch above his lap, a final twenty wriggling in a line from chin to belt buckle before she slid it behind the earpiece of his glasses.
"You earned this, you should keep it." Wesley started pulling money from off his person.
"Like you do when you translate all these big ass books?" Faith cocked one eyebrow in a way that meant only fools would argue.
"Ah. Well, I-"
"It's our money. I have the money from the other shifts. For when I need stuff." She realized she was no longer planning to bankroll a cut and run, no longer planning to run at all. It was an unsettling feeling, but one she knew she had to suck it up and face. "I owed you." She whispered.
"You've already paid me in full." He whispered back. "And you never 'owed' me anything to begin with." She's simply- a very odd gift. A very odd, very dangerous, very beautiful gift.
Why does he look like that? Like- I don't know, not like the Wes I used to know. Like a Wes I could get to know better in a big hurry. Too much looking. Too much, too close. "I reek." She said abruptly. "The only smoke I like on me is mine."
"You smoke?" Wesley found the strangely tense atmosphere suddenly cracked and he was deeply relieved for it.
"Only when I want to. Are you done in there?" She gestured to the bathroom.
"Yes, yes, all finished." Wesley rose and nodded his goodnight in typical courtly fashion.
"I won't wake you in the morning." He seemed to need one more thing to say.
"You never do." She reminded him. "Remember? You exhaust me."
"Ah yes. Well, enjoy your last week as the happy homemaker." He winked and she waved herself backwards, into the shower, door shutting between them.
Faith stretched as the sun hit her. Noon. She could tell just by the way the heat and light blended. She'd been a night owl for years, and it felt good to be back in her routine, even for a day.
Except she wasn't waking up next to a bunch of used smokes and crushed cans on a seriously filthy sheet, scaring the cockroaches with her sudden panicked rise. She was waking up in a quiet room, with way too many flowers on the wallpaper, but whatever.
Healthy stuff in the fridge, nice shows on a little television, no one pounding on the door asking where your money for the rent was, no fast talking, no fighting...
So boring I might slit my throat.
Except it ends in a few days, and I am getting better. I can't sit around forever, and a steady, strictly legal job is never going to be an option.
Slaying, here I come...
She dressed, she ran, she pretended not to recognize a couple bar patrons who looked at her lustfully, all the while thinking what it would be like to get back into action.
It would be awesome.
It would be terrifying, and she didn't scare easy.
It would kill her.
It would bring her back to life.
Oh God. Not that old life. Not with Wes around. She was annoyed, grateful- overloaded. She ran harder, hurdled the bleacher benches, trying to exhaust the arguing voices in her head.
Look at you. You are so stupid! You count on him already!
Well, he's stuck around.
You haven't given him any real reason to run yet. Wait until you slip up. Wait until you take out a vamp piece by piece, loving it, practically getting off on it.
Faith didn't really doubt him. She had severe doubts about herself.
She clung to the idea of a few more days of anonymity, no identity other than the somewhat strange Mrs. Pryce.
"What on earth are we watching?"
"Simple Smashing Suppers on All Food TV." Faith popped a Starburst, followed by a handful of Rice Krispies.
Wesley winced. "Educational television for some. Much needed."
"Shut up. Look. That's how you make stuffing. Did you know that?"
"Eww. I mean, I've gutted a lot of nasties in my time, but I never stuck my hand up someone's ass to do it. That is the turkey's ass, right?"
"I think I'd rather watch Jeopardy. I think I'd even prefer the hijinks of Laverne and Shirley." Wesley took the remote with a look of alarm. "Or, I know this sounds like a foreign concept to you, but I do have some books you might like. If not, I would willingly buy you one." He gave the television another disparaging glare.
Faith shrugged. "Not a big reader. If you had packed a pool table. Or even a dart board-"
"Darts?" Wesley's eyes lit up.
"There is no way you're going to tell me you can play a bar game."
"A pub game, and it's properly called feathers. And yes. I can."
She was up and in her coat in seconds. "It is so on. Best two out of three. Winner has to carry the books to the car when we pack."
"I hate to take advantage of a lady, but-"
"I ain't no lady." And I don't think you'd ever take advantage of me.
"I always carry the heavier boxes anyway." Wesley consoled himself.
"You had me on the ropes, English. Made me work for that win, right up until the end of the third."
"Slayer precision. Should have known better."
"You're really good. I bet you're wicked good with a crossbow."
He looked pleased. "I could always use some lessons."
"You wait until the next town, and you'll be shooting undead bulls eyes. I'm going to need back up."
Pleased look became cautious happiness as he processed her statement. "Oh? In- in the next town?"
"Pick something with vamps. I might as well start easy. No clean up." Faith said in a tight, guttural voice.
"There's no rush. You're still healing. There's no rush." He repeated. He wanted to keep her safe. From herself, mainly.
"I know. It's not time yet."
"Um. Hi. Is this a good time?" Faith stood sheepishly by the door, hands clasped behind her back like a nervous child, then defensively crossed at the front, head tilting to the side with her patented tough chick look.
"Well- yes." Mrs. Baker blinked.
"Here." Faith thrust a white china plate at their landlady. "That was awesome cake. Wes was all over that."
"I'm so glad." Mrs. Baker took the dish with a look of slight surprise. "I haven't heard that you want a renewal. You'll be out at the end of the week then?"
"Yep. Four days to go."
"You must be busy. Packing. Cleaning."
Cleaning? There's cleaning? Shit. "Swamped. But uh- yeah. My old man. Never did fix him that roast beef. And I liked the recipe in your cookbook, but I -"
"Oh heavens, you can't make a roast in those little pans I have upstairs. I mostly rent to nice college students or people on a fixed income. They don't make big dinners. Does he like Yorkshire pudding on it?"
Please let that come in a plastic cup in the dairy section... "Crazy about it."
"Then you'll want to borrow the pan with the rack. Catch the drippings."
Beef drips. Oh shit there's gonna be all kinds of cleaning. First turkey molesting and now beef getting me all nasty. "Thanks. Thanks a lot. I'll bring all the stuff back tomorrow."
"Take your time! I know where you live." Mrs. Baker laughed pleasantly at her own little joke. Faith gave a single strained bray. "What kind of cut do you use?"
Clean, across an artery. "Beef?" Faith asked rather than answered. Mrs. Baker looked confused. "You know. Beef. As long as it's beef, I can roast it." I hope to God, or there's something wrong with this picture.
"Yes, I suppose you've had to learn. Cater to his needs."
Yeah... Gotta get out my little white apron and some heels. "He deserves it."
"I'm sure he does. He's lucky to have a woman like you."
No one had ever been lucky to have her. "Thanks."
"I'll get the pan for you. Come on in."
Faith hesitated and peeked in. Doilies. China puppies and flowers and crocheted things everywhere. "No, that's okay. I gotta run to the store." I better make a list. How can roast beef have so many ingredients? What's fennel anyway?
"Okay, your store? It's whack." Faith put down two pounds of bloody meat in front of some poor innocent stock boy's face as he stacked eggs.
"I- I'm sorry, ma'am?"
"Where is your fennel?"
"Uh... do you want it in a bulb or a bottle?"
"Fresh? Chopped? Dried?"
"Screw the fennel. How do I know this is rump?" She shoved the meat at him.
"It- it says it. Right over the price."
"This doesn't look like rump." 'Cause it's like the size of a football. I've seen cows. On television. They look a lot bigger, 'specially the rumps.
"You can ask our meat buyer, but I'm pretty sure-"
No more talking to people. I don't talk to people. I suck at it. I can only go five minutes before violence happens. "Screw that, you can use this for roasting right?"
"I'm only 17. I never made a roast." He stammered nervously.
"Well, I'm twenty and I never did either." Faith spat. She sighed. Last item on the list. "Yorkshire pudding. I found banana, rice, tapioca, vanilla, caramel, and chocolate. Low fat, no sugar, no fat, low sugar, where the fuck is Yorkshire?"
The boy reached into the hip pocket of his stained green apron. "Can I get a manager to dairy? Now?"
"Hey... When are you coming home?"
"At the normal time. I'm hoping to get this done. Sixty more pages, and I can send this off and concentrate on finalizing the visa process before we leave." He paused. "Why, is something wrong?" Faith had never called him merely to ascertain when he was arriving. Faith had never called him at all, unless at his explicit insistence.
"No. I just- uh- wanted to check."
"Are you working tonight?"
"No. Okay. See you in a couple hours. Later." She hung up before he could say anything else.
Faith braced her feet, shifting with subtle, agile motions, shoulders set, arms raised, game face on. "You're going down." She hissed.
The cold lump of meat didn't reply.
"Three and a half hours." She stared at the open recipe book. "Well he's gonna be here in a couple. So... turn this up." She turned the oven dial past the recommended setting. "That should work, right? Higher heat, cook things faster. Olive oil. Garlic. Salt, pepper. You better work, because you were mad expensive. Well, on my budget." She told the oil and garlic powder.
Soon the meat was awash in spices and carrots and potatoes were ringing the pan- and curses were ringing in the air. Nothing was going terribly wrong, Faith just seemed to regard cooking as swear-worthy.
Probably because it didn't come easily. Because she'd never made anything with an oven, and her cooking experience pre-Wesley had been limited to hotplates.
It's a girl thing. It's a sexist thing to say it's a girl ting, but okay- to me, it's a girl thing. Moms teach their daughters. You bake cakes and pies and Mom coos over your pitiful lopsided stuff like it's gold, 'cause you made it with your own little hands. My mom never asked me to bring her anything from the kitchen except a cold one...
Being able to cook means you must want to be this little Suzy Homemaker, means you liked playing house.
Faith drained the last of this week's six pack and put the cold can on her eyes. "So what? I'm allowed to pretend. For a day." Maybe I would be good at it. I'd never hafta do it again, and Wes wouldn't tell anyone. That once upon a time, Faith Lehane did something nice and normal, and she didn't suck at it.
"C'mon. Channel a little Mrs. Perkins." Faith slid the roast into the oven and kicked the door shut. "I bet that bitch made smokin' roast beef."
"What's all that smoke? Faith? Faith!" Wesley entered the flat to a haze of gray and the beeping of a smoke detector.
Faith shrieked, not at the smoke, but at him."You said you'd be a couple hours! Damn! Stupid son of a bitch cheap oven!" Faith hurled something charred and football sized into the sink and turned the water on full.
Wesley dropped his satchel to the floor and climbed onto a chair to switch off the smoke detector. Next he leaped down and threw open a window. "What happened?" He coughed, waving the gray air out of his face.
"Why are you home so early? You said you had sixty pages to translate!"
"The last chapter was copied twice, so it was only thirty. I can go out again if you like." He answered in honest befuddlement.
"You're gonna have to. Pizza or McDonald's sound better to you?" Faith retrieved the black mass, still hot and burning her hands, with a particularly colorful curse as she slammed it onto the counter. I cannot cook.
"For the last time, what-"
"Roast beef. It's like the national food of British guys. I heard." She shrugged and looked miserable. "And I like a good beef on rye with spicy mustard. Mm. We could have sandwiches. You could take one to the library. Whatever. I watched a cooking show, figured I'd cook something." She shrugged.
He smiled at her like she'd shown him filet mignon instead of a head sized hockey puck. "What a lovely thought. Thank you."
"Oh, for God's sake, Wes- don't Mary Poppins me this time." I can't be normal. I can barely be nice. Everything I try- gonna go up in smoke.
He ignored her, getting a plate, scraping the charred meat onto it, and peering at the little black nuggets that remained in the bottom of the pain. "Carrots and roasted potatoes? You did it properly, well done, you!" He sounded thrilled.
"Well done is an understatement. Wes, you can't eat this stuff!" Faith washed the black off her hands.
"I think we have some canned carrots. Bring a steak knife to the table."
His full name. And she was most likely right. It was probably inedible. "Sometimes if you cut off the black bit, it's still very good inside." Stubbornness was champion. He fetched the knife himself.
Faith watched. "The black seems to go a long way down."
"Well... the best bit is the middle, and- ah. See. Perfection." Quite overdone perfection, but at least a dark, graying brown, not black. "Just enough for two for dinner tonight. Can you put the carrots on? And we have potato chips. Roast, potatoes, and carrots. Old fashioned English fare, with a new American twist." Wesley looked up from what he was hewing out for dinner, locking onto her liquid brown eyes. "I do so like my new American twist."
"That was a simply delightful meal." Wesley rested- and attempted to digest, whilst sitting on the sofa
"Nope." Faith laboriously swallowed her last mouthful of gristle-y roast and joined him.
"You have all the makings of a wonderful cook."
"And he's 0 for 2, ladies and gents. Damn. Do we have any Tums?" Faith belched.
"That was the first time someone's made a home cooked meal for me in -" Ever. Mother had a housekeeper and a cook. The Council had caterers. University had canteen vouchers and take away curries. Joyce and Giles cooked- but I was merely included. It wasn't with me in mind. "Many years. I hope you'll do this again."
"Not unless you fill me with uppers and get me drunk." Faith laughed. "You're out, Wes. Three strikes. You gonna be right about anything tonight?"
He thought. "Yes. You said I'd probably knock on the door, even if there was a fire. I didn't." He sipped his tea and smiled into the cup.
He caught a pillow to the face, glasses knocked askew.
"You're doing the dishes. I hope you have a spell for cleaning up burnt offerings somewhere in your big ol' books." Faith staggered off towards her room.
"I'll manage." Wesley assured her.
"Couldn't go to sleep. My stomach's survived a cringe worthy diet, but it can't digest my own cooking."
Wesley, huddling in boxers and a white undershirt, cautiously joined her on the fire escape. "Surely you can have indigestion in the house?" He urged.
"I just figured I'd enjoy some star-watching time. Isn't that what you do when you're normal? Look at the night and see the sky, not the corners and the alleys and the fresh graves?" Faith gave a dark snicker and sigh. She scooted over on the narrow landing, an invitation for Wesley to sit if he wished.
"I suppose it is. I don't usually do this either." He self-consciously joined her, well aware he wasn't dressed for mixed company.
"Nope. You lock yourself in the portable library- after spending all day in the actual library." Faith referred to his nights spent reading and re-reading his Watcher's texts. "I could really use a cig right now..."
Quiet stole over them. Real quiet. For a college town in a reasonably large city, everything seemed to be still in the wee hours of the late August night.
His voice broke the silence gently, an unhurried whisper. "We can stay. You seem- happy here."
Is this happy? Maybe. Is this me being happy? Not as much. This is just me trying on a different life to see if it fits. Feels comfy, but it's not... not right yet. "This isn't my kind of happy." Faith laced her fingers together and squeezed them, locking around her knees as she pulled them close. "You know how in Lincoln you were Mr. Drag Curious, and here you're Mr. Traveling Man, with his little wifey in tow? I'm just trying on different faces, too. Surly Fugitive to Martha Stewart's Sassy Little Sister." She swallowed. "I'm not gonna be like this in the next place. You get that, right?"
Not like this? Trusting him, talking to him, showing- showing something like kindness or care for herself, for me, for us as a team? Wesley nodded slowly, not really understanding at all.
"I gotta try again." The words were so heavy, but she said them with all her usual brashness. They both knew she meant attempting to slay and fight once more. "I had a Watcher before, you know?" She said abruptly. Wesley nodded more quickly this time. "I'm not good at keeping people safe. I'm - I'm not good at not letting people get hurt. I had another Watcher. I'm not good at keeping Watchers in one piece."
"I'm not good at keeping Slayers in any better condition." He replied neatly. "That was then. This is now. New."
"Well, new me in some new place isn't going to be acting like this." I can't get soft. I can't pretend to be this sharing, caring, sappy girl who cooks and makes chit chat over coffee. "I'm not going to be happy, like this."
"Then I'll find you another sort of happy. Wherever we go. Happy doesn't have to end when we leave here." Wesley declared, speaking fervently. "Sometimes happy doesn't involve anything except being with another person, regardless of the place or the role."
Silence found them again, just for a few minutes.
"You happy, Wes?"
Simply, firmly, quietly happy. The boy with the dictionary jammed in his mouth, just waiting to spew out his wordy speeches summed up everything he felt in one word. Faith felt her body leaning towards his before she was even aware of it.
Wesley swallowed. She had such gloriously thick, soft hair, and it was resting on his shoulder, along with her pale, perfect face.
"You must really mean that." Faith kept her eyes pointed at the stars.
So did he. "Yes. I do."
Mrs. Baker found them like that the next morning. Leaning together, silently watching the sunrise, shoulder to shoulder. She found them like that on the last morning, too, only this time dressed and ready to go on their way, their car loaded with boxes and bags, their keys resting on Mr. Pryce's knee.
"I hope you enjoyed your stay." Mrs. Baker said sincerely, climbing the black iron steps to reach them.
The two pulled apart reluctantly, unsmiling, rising to meet her.
"We did." Wesley pressed the keys into her hand. "Thank you for everything. We were ...very happy here."
Faith allowed herself to be hugged by the shorter, older woman, though she was like a cardboard cutout in her embrace.
"You two come through this way again, you make sure to let me know, and I'll save you a room."
"Yeah. That'd be great." Faith pulled back. "I hope we find this place again."
To be continued...