Finding Faith

by Sweetprincipale

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: A short, single scene chapter. I decided to break the story here, otherwise the chapter would be novelette length :) Thank you for the ongoing support!

Dedicated to: Ginar369, Omslagspapper, Cavemenftw, Sirius120, Illusera, The-Darkness-Befalls, AGriffinWriter, Jinxgirl, Austexfan, and Alkeni.

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

Part XIV

Power

Days passed. Early September was chill and made it seem as though autumn had truly arrived, and both people in the apartment seemed to get busy with their respective tasks.

Faith found a bar, still run down and minus the club-like atmosphere, but closer to the university and the apartment. She got friendly with a couple servers and got herself an in for the weekends. And during the day, after her workout, she hunted. Not vampires, but clues to where they'd be.

Wesley received word that his final and official visa, granted with Trans-Lex as his sponsored business, would be sent out in four to six weeks. He gave a P.O. Box in Sunnydale as the address and made sure Giles would pick it up, to ship to whatever state they'd land in next.

He worked in dreary obscurity at a back table in the computer area of a continually crowded public library, this time given the relatively easy task of translating a series of factory manuals from Japanese to English.

In between the more respectable pursuits of career and legal residency, he made phone calls and arranged a meeting with Mr. Murray or Mr. Fazbak, or even the son- he wasn't sure, he didn't get anything aside from a first name. They met at a coffee stand in one of the train stations, and Wesley explained what he wanted, provided the sketches, and a small percentage of the cost up front.

When the deal was done, he had to stay seated for several minutes after the contact had left, feeling elated, brave, and quite horrified that he'd just given money to a man who was obviously running some kind of unsavory businesses under a semi-respectable front.

But I do it for a good reason.

Isn't that sort of rationalization always the way to greater and greater evil?

He stood and began to walk home, face hard and wearing a mask of concentration.


You get led down a path. You start making deals with the devil. You... you go rogue.

"Hey." Faith fell into step with his somewhere, a few blocks from the flat he supposed.

"Hello."

More steps, a hand on his elbow. He looked up.

"What's wrong?" Her mask had fallen. The voice still sounded light and matter of fact, but her eyes really studied his.

Sometimes rogue just means running free of the pack, deviating from the course.

Some courses were meant to be run from. I have my own pack, my own place to run. Someone to run with. "I missed you today." He said simply, before decades of squashed emotions could bar the words.

Faith's insides burned and throbbed. Not the lower regions, 'cause that would have been weird with Wes in particular, but normal enough for her in general. Primal, human basic instinct stuff, nothing to it, just an urge. She could fix that urge. This sudden flare of heat seemed higher up, a sudden swift tightening in the chest which she shoved away hard and fast. "Well, I'm right here, and I'm pretty much always right here, day and night, goofball. For someone who 'Watches', you're kinda missing that." She grinned in spite of herself. "You don't need to miss me."

"You're absolutely right." She's right here. It's worth getting my hands a bit dirty, as long as she's the one I dirty them for, and I'm still on the right path.

We're going along together, getting better.

"You know, this really is quite a beautiful city."


"You don't have to come with me."

"Yes, I do."

"Why?"

"Because you're going to get killed or mugged and I'm gonna be pissed." Faith groused and got in the car. "They told you to meet them at some random warehouse, late at night, and you didn't think that sounded bad?"

"I thought it sounded illegal, which made sense, given the fact that I believe these gentlemen excel in illegal activities. Hence the ability to go around making weapon cases to conceal in cars."

"First- way too many words! Second, they could have bought you the case at a McDonald's parking lot, Wes. They don't need to install it. Do they?"

Actually- "No."

"I know what happened. You got caught up in your rebel fantasy. You gelled your hair. Since when do you even have hair gel?"

"It's just the way I combed it when it was wet." Wesley said defensively. So what if as he'd been coming it he'd also been wondering how he'd look holding a cigarette, and minus the glasses? "Don't be silly." He coughed.

"Thank God. If I have to live with shoe polish head again..."

"Faith, really!" He flattened his lengthening bangs self-consciously. "Denizens of the gangland fronts are hardly likely to notice my hair." Oh dear God. Gangland. Abandoned warehouse. They're going to find my body in the river.

"It's not just the hair. You're wearing your jacket. The one that's taken a beating."

"It's nippy." He said defensively.

"Jesus Christ... Dude, if you wanna sell the badass image, don't say 'nippy'."

"Are you going to continually limit my vocabulary?"

"Until it doesn't suck, yep."

"I was raised on something other than a diet of soap operas and sit coms, do forgive me." He sniped.

"The jacket looks good. Are you packing?"

"I- perhaps."

"Oh God, that means you're packing the wrong thing." Faith reached across the front seat and groped at him.

"Stop that!" She didn't. "Stop that, or I'm pulling over!"

"A crossbow?"

"You said I'd be good at using it."

"Yeah, well-" Faith slipped a long thin dagger in a shiny, uncreased leather sheath from her ankle, one of Wes's unused "toys". "I'm better with something that doesn't need to be reloaded."

Wesley's face turned grave. "Faith... this isn't that sort of situation. If things get dangerous, we'll leave. Our lives are worth more than some storage box."

"Relax, Wes. This is just for show, in case I need it." She put it back down and tried not to notice the wet trails her sweating, shaking fingers left on the sleek black case.


"Hey, Mr. Pryce." A smiling man with a thick, orange-tanned face and buzz cut greeted Wesley in the parking area of the warehouse. "Bring your car on in, we'll fix you up."

"You gave him your real name?" Faith hissed.

"I-" Wesley shrugged helplessly. "Partially?"

"Oh man... What are you doing?"

"He said to pull in."

"Don't pull in, are you-" Faith's hiss rose to a hoarse shout, but too late, the car was already a few feet forward, into what had once been a loading dock. A metal garage style door slowly clunked and chinked its way down behind them.

"Faith, why don't you stay in the car and let me handle this? " Wesley parked and didn't look at her. "It shouldn't take very long."

"Wes-"

"Please." Wesley's face was set, hard, voice dropping into that unfamiliar, firm register Faith rarely heard. "I don't think anything untoward will happen if we conduct the business civilly and quickly. The less said the better." He got out of the car and Faith glared through the windshield as he walked to the front. "Good evening, Andy."

"Sorry about that." He jerked his head towards the now shut door. "Figured you'd want privacy."

"Of course." That makes sense. I'm sure everything is just fine.

"We got you all fixed up. You're gonna love it. Tommy, Roger, bring it out."

Wesley turned his head rapidly in the direction of footsteps. Two men, one black, one white, both muscular yet somehow lanky, stepped from the shadows, a long black box between them.

"Show him what we did, boys." Andy said and the men put the box down a few feet from Wesley, and flipped the lid open.

Wesley tensed during this exchange. He didn't know much about the criminal classes, but he did know when he was being sized up, and the two young men were doing that right now. Under bulky coats and trousers that seemed to fall off their hips, Wesley could detect the bulges of guns and holsters. His eyes drifted past the smiling "businessman" to a collection of high end cars, particularly the expensive black Italian model that the man now leaned on. He saw the metallic glint of something long and black through the windscreen.

Wesley released a nervous breath when the case was opened. So far, so good.

"All them measurements you asked for, the little pegs and the foam lining and the packing, the quick release catches and locks- all done. Easy."

"It certainly is well done." Wesley approached, slow, even steps. Mustn't show I'm worried. Or afraid. Faith's watching. I told her it would be fine, a simple business transaction. He ran a tentative hand over it. "And the layers?"

"Stacking shelves, insulation lined, memory foam fitted." Andy nodded his square chin at the boy on the left, and he yanked the inside up with a sharp snap that made Wesley gasp and his shoulders spring back, only for a second. "Three levels. Just like you asked for."

Wesley nodded, regaining his composure. "It is indeed. Perfection. May I?" He held out his hand to the case.

"It'll be yours in a minute, knock yourself out."

Wesley ran his hand over it, adjusted the shelves, felt the thickness of the lining. Perfect for cradling the weapons, and with enough layers that the top could be filled with "harmless" supplies to fool any onlookers, should that ever be a concern. "It's exactly what I wanted. Thank you."

"Maybe your little lady'd like to take a look?" He nodded to the car, and the woman peering through the open window, brunette with hard eyes in a pretty face.

"My- oh no, I-"

"Sure I would." Faith swung out of the car, legs seeming to suspend time. Even in blue jeans and black, dirt caked boots, she made each second it took to get out of the car an eye catching experience. "Hi boys." She flashed the grin Wesley had come to think of as the "sweet predatory smile". "Glad to see you delivered what he asked for." There was some sultry danger in the voice. An implication of, "If you didn't do it right- I'm not happy. You wouldn't like to see what's under this pretty face, now would you?" But she wasn't the player here, he was. "He likes everything just so." She ran a falsely possessive hand over his arm as she passed him.

"Your guy was very specific. We aim to please. You pay, and you take it home now."

"Excellent. Faith, do you like it?" Wesley watched her saunter around the box, arms brushing past the thugs on either side of it, touching each indentation of the lining with supple, but critical fingers.

"I think it works. Nice workmanship." Faith grinned at the boss.

"Worth every penny."

"Yes, indeed. Time to settle our affairs, and we'll be on our way." Wesley smiled and reached for his wallet.

"Afraid we went a little over our estimate."

"For such excellent quality, I don't mind a slight increase." Wesley's voice remained guarded, and he smiled politely in a way that didn't reach his eyes. He noticed the florid, jovial owner's face wore a similar expression. Expansive and friendly until the eyes- which were calculating and cool. "Your price?"

A regretful noise a spread of hands, a shrug, "Double."

"Double!" Wesley exclaimed, momentarily losing his facade. "Now see here, that's hardly a small difference!"

Faith, who knew what Wesley had planned to pay (their finances being a shared concern), echoed him. "Double? For this? Damn, that's whack, it's not worth double the price!"

Andy stepped menacingly close, looking at him, and then Faith. "Mr. Pryce, you wanna shut your whore up, while we finish business, or would you like Roger to do that for you?"

Oh, no.

Everything happened very quickly. Wesley's mind streamed five images in at once. They were going to hurt her. He was going to pay, but they were going to grab her, and she was going to fight and there would be blood and death and they'd be running and- and then there was a noise, her grunted cry of "Hey!" and the mental images went away, replaced by reality.

One of them, presumably this Roger thug, yanked Faith's elbow and twisted it back behind her, forcing her back to his chest, and Andy gave a smile that seemed- cocky. Like he enjoyed the power. Power to hurt her. Power to cow him.

Enough of them hurting us.

Andy didn't expect it, that was certain. Wesley was aware of his hand flying forward, curled in a fist, and landing squarely on the beefy man's nose.

A crack, a curse, and a shout. "Tommy!" Andy howled.

Wesley howled too, but in his head. Dear sweet bloody Christ that hurts! Oh my hand will never be the same again, dear Lord, like punching a rhinoceros!

That happened in the first three seconds.

The fourth second, Faith stopped her awed spectating with the chilling thought of- Oh, no. He's gonna get killed. He's gonna get killed. He just punched the jerk in the nose- that puppy's broken. Wes's hand might be too, damn his pretty boy knuckles.

She couldn't watch him beaten, broken, killed.

Her body took over, just like his had.

She was a mass of kicks and punches, wheeling her way through the two lackeys before they pulled their pieces, past the bleeding, cursing Andy who was trying to blink away blood and land a shot on Wesley. He was stumbling back towards the sport car behind him, but Faith was there first after an impressive running skid. Her hand slid under his, inside the open window, over the steering wheel, and latched onto the prize they'd both been going after.

"I'm sorry- did you need this?" Faith stepped back, a shotgun in her hand. Power in her hands. I can make them pay. I have a weapon that'll make this place a sea of blood and guts and brains and they'll never hurt me again. Or him. Never touch us again. "You thought I was his whore, huh? Well, I'm not." She clicked slid the pump up once and a crack blasted through the warehouse, aimlessly this time. "I'm his muscle."

She laughed and tossed her hair back, that smile turning wider, darker, bitter. Look at them flinch. They were gonna beat him, rob him, do God knows what to him. And me. Fuckers. Another pump and this time she aimed right past Andy's foot, taking out the tire on the car, making the vehicle lurch down and to the front as the tire bust with the acrid tang of burnt rubber.

She turned the gun towards the hired help, gloating grin on her face. "Don't even, boys. Just stay on the floor where I put you, or I'll paint the walls with your brains. It's not actually gray, y'know that? Kind of a pink and red ripple. Wanna see?"

Wesley's world spun. He was so much better in libraries than on the field. Here is where it's hard and messy, and there's no time for research or rules. Images feared were becoming living nightmares. The two boys whimpered, Andy was no doubt searching for another weapon, and she was a ticking time bomb, the counter rapidly running down. He had to act.

Wesley walked toward her, and the barrel of the gun jumped in his direction as she caught motion on her periphery. His insides tightened, but he kept his voice even "Faith..."

"I'm not done talking," she warned him. Her fingers tightened, and she stopped looking at the Watcher, eyes roving, darting, between all three of the other men. "You ever... you ever come near me again and I'll blow your fucking brains out." She told the trio. "I might do it now." Her hand came up to the pump again, finger curling on the trigger, ready. "You think you can hurt him- you think you can threaten us -"

"Faith!" No time for temerity. His own safety notwithstanding, if she killed again- he'd lose all the work they'd done together. The long hard climb up the slippery pole, and they were still so near the bottom. He didn't need to lose her down in that black pit again. "Faith, please, we're fine. And you've proven your point. You're strong and you're - merciful."

"What?" His words made no sense. And why was he walking toward her? I'm a bad girl, I've got a gun, I can have blood on my hands again. On yours too. Stay away! Save yourself, my God, why do you keep trying?" She let out a heaving breath and shook her head slightly, a twitch. Idiot... He just keeps coming...

"I think you've made your point. They were wrong to act as they did. I'm sure they know it now." Wesley moved between the barrel and Andy.

He can't save himself. He's too busy saving that fat bastard behind him. "Move." She whispered

He ignored her. "If these gentlemen will just apologize?"

Never had an apology been granted so unequivocally.

"We're sorry, right?" Andy wiped blood on his shirt and looked both scared and grateful, seeing a possible light at the end of a tunnel- or barrel. "Mr. Pryce- simple miscalculation on the money. We're good with the original amount. If that's square with you?"

"Miscalculated on what we were, not just the money!" Faith spat, growling, lunging forward, But Wesley stepped between her and her target once more. She felt the muzzle hit him in the ribs, and saw him give the slightest gasp but not change expression.

"Okay, okay!" Andy flinched back. "We were wrong, we played a percentage an' it didn't come off. This is a business, you take risks, you make guesses." He sniffed blood in, and gave her a nod. "You're one hot chick, and your boyfriend's one lucky man. No harm done. Forget about this, we'll all forget about tonight, okay? Never happened, never see each other again." Andy held up peaceable hands, and tried a more sincere version of his salesman smile. "I got plenty of tires, here-" he gestured to the auto parts on the walls behind them, "so don't even worry about the car." He said hastily, well aware of the deranged look in her eye, afraid she'd think she had to end this now, prevent retaliation. "No one's gonna worry about that car, right, boys?" They both made noises of agreement, still plastered to the ground.

The gun had been lowered, and she'd stepped back a few inches. She didn't want that thing touching Wes. Accidents happen. Or I might happen. Wesley risked reaching for the weapon, and she found herself letting it go.

He gently took the gun from Faith, and emptied the shells with a surprisingly practiced hand. "Yes. I'm very fortunate and you're very fortunate as well." He clicked the stock back into place.

"You know your way around a gun, Mr. Pryce." Andy blinked.

"In my family, the annual shoot is a much looked forward to event."

Annual shooting? All three paled.

Dude's a psycho.

They're both psycho.

Probably breeding little psychos, mad dog killers. "Really?" He quavered.

"Oh indeed." Wesley smiled frostily. Grouse. The Glorious Twelfth.

"You like the gun?" Andy's voice sounded strangely pinched.

Wesley gave it a critical glance, one eye still on Faith who was a bottle of rage waiting to blow, one that he must extricate from this scene without making sudden moves, loud noises, or showing that he was one tense ball of fear and worry. "Hmm. Yes. It's a suitable piece. Mossberg, twelve gauge."

"W-why don't you keep it? Little present. No hard feelings. Peace offering." Andy kept backing away, and this time when he reached behind him, it was to hit the button that raised the warehouse door, obviously deciding with these two, the more witnesses the better.

"Thank you, what a lovely addition to our collection." Wesley laid it across the newly acquired case. He took out a roll of cash from his wallet and dropped it gently on the floor between the two henchmen, before picking up their purchase, trying not to show how much pain it caused as his badly bruised hand as it flexed around the handle. "Is our business concluded?"

"Absolutely." Andy nodded.

"We'll say goodnight then." Wesley slid the black case, topped with gun, into the trunk with a minimum of fussing, Faith walking beside him, eyes alert, watching their collective backs. "Faith? Any last thoughts to impart?" He asked kindly, as if nothing was wrong, as if everything hadn't already gone wildly wrong.

"Stay away from us." She stormed into the car, shaking.

Wesley put his glasses back on and looked at them unsmilingly. "Do as she says. She's a force to be reckoned with."


Wesley drove like he had the first night they began this journey. Far too fast, and as if he imagined hell hounds were after them. They were in a way. He felt as if could see the old specters haunting her, old demons, current demons, clawing at her. He didn't stop until he had left that dank and dangerous area of town, gone from it completely, zooming into the first well lit, highly populated area he could see, and then parking there in a strip mall parking lot.

Faith was mostly unaware of the driving. She felt the speed of the car, but it felt slow and sluggish compared to the blood rushing behind her eyes and through her veins.

She was shaking, fingers clenched on her knees, and the shaking kept escalating, until it peaked with the echo of a shotgun blasting inside her mind. Instead of black smoke and flying, molten rubber, there was a bright red arterial spatter, gore dotting her, blood flecking her face as she heard her own laugh of triumph. Of winning, of beating them, making them pay-

And she'd pay. The price. Blood money, a new way. Blood on her hands. Never washes all the way off, the stench won't get out of your nose, the sounds of death- they haunt you, and the victory doesn't. That runs all too fast.

No . No it's not winning to kill when you don't have to. It's winning my way. The way I did it tonight.

What'd I win? What'd I even fight? She didn't mean the stupid, half-assed thugs and some aging wannabe mobster. Something darker. Something violent, more violent than just fighting, because that was what Slayers do, every night. There was some line she's crossed before, and tonight she'd screeched to a halt at the edge - and let someone shove her back to a safer place. Faith shook her head mutely. I don't know. But I beat it. I beat it. I beat it again. If I can just keep beating it, each time...

Wesley couldn't sit in silence anymore, watching her hold herself together, afraid what would happen when she unraveled. He didn't know what track to take, the urge to caution, the babbling outburst of fear for her, for him, for humanity, the need to lecture, the desire to cross examine and probe... He stalled it all, fought down every instinct Watchers' training had hammered into him. Watchers had not been good at holding things together, at finding the woman outside of the textbook definitions.

"You were magnificent." He said with genuine warmth. Think about what she did do, not what she threatened to do, not what you were afraid she'd do. Praise her, encourage her. Let her know how proud you were that she fought well, that she protected us both, that everyone got out alive. That at least physically, she is still every inch a Slayer. "You were as fast as ever, and your strength surely seems to be back! Oh, but your first roundhouse. I only saw a glimpse of it, but it was- ah." He sighed. "Pure poetry."

She finally spoke. "I didn't kill him." Why? I should have. I shouldn't have. Trembling hands raked her hair. They were bad. They were human. I'm human, I'm bad, do I deserve to die?

Not if I change.

Who's watching what changes and when, and how the fuck are you supposed to know when you're in a battle? Why the fuck are you supposed to care, when you've seen the shit people do, the way they stomp on you until-

The hands clenched and slowly fell back into her lap.

I want things to be simple. I want it to be what it was. Simple. Want, take, have. Never want to be judge, jury executioner for humans. I'd have to start with myself.

"I didn't kill them." She repeated.

"That's right." Wesley whispered finally.

"I - was going to, and there was a reason, and- Goddamn, Wes, I feel like everything is sliding around in my head, you know?"

He would love to reach out and massage the troubled brows, rest a comforting hand on lustrous brown hair, still that sliding she felt. He couldn't do that though, he didn't know how to comfort, and she didn't know how to take it. He tried to alleviate the tangle in her mind, give her a pathway out of the mire. "You were afraid."

"I wasn't!"

"You were afraid they would hurt us. You were not scared of the men, but what they might do." He continued as if she hadn't protested. "I- I didn't handle it well. I was unprepared, as you said."

"Yeah, you were!" Faith spat angrily, and with surprising suddenness the anger faded. "You didn't know. You have to get stabbed in the back a lot before you start assuming everyone carries a knife with your name on it." She smiled bitterly.

"I haven't dabbled in the muddy waters much." He admitted easily, then continued, "I think you did everything beautifully." Wesley tapped her knee once and quickly withdrew his hand.

"You mean shooting up the place? You mean having a mental freak out right in front of them?" She shook her head, and the bitterness in her smile grew, sharpened. "Don't even, Wes. There's only so much sugar you can put on anything. We both know that -"

"Look at your hands." He cut through the strident tone bluntly. As if all of that truly matters in the end...

Faith looked. Slightly bruised looking, bluish on the knuckles, not used to fighting these days. Shaking, faint little spasms, not the steady shaking of a few moments ago.

"So they're shaking, that mean something to you?" She asked defensively.

"Not that." Though, yes it means something to me. It means you weren't a robotic machine, nor heartless, blindly raging. You cared, during or after, or both, about what you were doing.

"Then what?"

"Your hands are clean."

"Clean." Clean. No blood on my hands. No blood on my hands!

The shaking got so much worse suddenly, along with a rapid exhalation. "Good point." She managed to gasp out.

"All you did was put the fear of God and a certain type of Faith into them. If you destroyed a few bits of car that was probably already stolen, so be it."

He treats it like no big deal- so I don't panic. But he lets me know it's a huge deal and he still can keep it light. This is not Wesley Whiner-Pants. The tight ass taskmaster of Sunnydale seemed to have vanished, and turned into- she didn't really know. She guessed the closest word for it was friend.

When she said nothing, he got nervous. After all, he told himself he was entitled. He'd held it together marvelously, aside from the sheer bloody foolhardiness, bladder emptying terror, and staring down the barrel of a loaded gun in the hands of a known murderer. He said the first inane thing that came to mind.

"I call the evening a success, regardless of any and all blunders. We got the gear for the car, after three months of waiting, and you showed you're a tremendously skilled fighter who put a bunch of blighters in their place. Everyone leaves alive and we even received a gift with purchase."

"A what?"

"The gun."

She laughed. It burst out, hard and sudden, as she looked at him like he was crazy. Maybe he is, for doing what he does. But I can respect this kinda crazy, I guess. "You're one weird guy, Wes."

"Perhaps, but successful. Agreed?"

"Well, I didn't blow anyone's brains out, and we got that thing for the car you've been bitching about so- yeah. Success." No blood on my hands. I was gonna paint that place red, and like it- then hate myself. But I didn't. I didn't. She studied her hands as if they were brand new.

"A success deserves a treat. Ice cream? I believe you've mentioned a preference for the selections at Baskin-Robbins." Babbling. He was babbling and inane. Calling a shotgun a gift with purchase, like a sample of cologne with your latest purchase of monogrammed handkerchiefs?

I'm going mad. And she still says nothing. Faith had retreated into silence again, looking unblinkingly at her spotless hands.

Perhaps now is not the time to be lighthearted, to try to make a success a celebration, to joke about. To act as a "friend" would.

How would I even know that role?

"Or perhaps that was just me. They have them in England, you know. The ice cream parlors." Babbling wouldn't turn off. I'm still babbling. I suppose it's better than wetting myself, but hardly what is required.

"Or we could just go home." He became serious, quiet, manic prattle gone as he looked at the woman beside him, still studying her hands, hair falling against her shoulders.

She didn't know what she meant to say, but what came out was, "I'm cold." It was true. Had she been more self-aware, had he been more "on point", they might have realized she was coming out of some sort of mild shock after the first hand to hand battle she'd had in over three months, a battle with humans, not demons. Internally, a battle with both.

"Let's get you home. I'll make some hot soup." He soothed and put the car in drive.

"No...it's too hot for soup still. Wait until winter for soup."

"But if you're cold, season notwithstanding-"

"Not cold outside, cold inside. Even when I'm clean." She suddenly rubbed her arms convulsively. "There's nothing that warms you up, sometimes."

Hand on her arm. She flinched and it flew off.

"Nothing warms it up. Nothing warm." She warned him away, away from her, even clean, even changing. You got lucky this time, Wes. We've been lucky this far, two unlucky bastards like us. Don't press it. You can't fix all the broken parts.

His hands stayed in his lap, but his voice contradicted her, warm and soft, somehow worming its way in and taking the chill off, proving her wrong, if only for a moment.

"I'm an Englishman. I'm far from warm. I'm temperate at best." He patted her arm once more, lightly and quickly before gripping the wheel again. "You succeeded." He didn't look at her, he studied the streets and the ever buzzing traffic. "You very possibly saved my life."

She shook her head, ready to argue. "We wouldn't have had life saving if I hadn't - hey." A little flash of the old fire was sparked, and she looked at him. "You started that fight."

"I beg to differ!"

"I meant, yeah, he was an asshole, but you threw the first punch. You started the fight!"

"You finished it." He said simply, though blushing. He called her a name and I went raving mad. He threatened to hurt her and- hm. That seems to be a trigger. He felt a sudden burst of understanding for Giles, and what kind of man possessed he could become when Buffy was in danger.

"We kinda bail each other out, don't we?" Faith shook her head and sighed. The cold was slowly melting. Now she was hyped but tired.

"We really must stop that- at least in non-slaying situations." There was chuckling. Mutual and surprising. He took another shot at this clumsy and unfamiliar thing they called friendship and asked once more, "Ice cream? For a job well done?"

She gave. "You buying?"

"Naturally."

"Two scoops." She managed a smile.

"You saved two lives, and spared three others. I think you deserve two."

"Well... if that's the way you're figuring, I'd say I'm up for about five." The smile became easier.

"Perhaps we should just go to the store and buy a half gallon."

"Nuh-uh. Like my sugar cones. I don't know if they're still open this late. Or where one is in this city..."

"I did see one someplace at some point. We could just drive until we find it?"

"Just drive around the city half the night- looking for someplace that'll give me my sugar fix?' She asked, leaning on one elbow, arching one eyebrow.

He conceded. "Yes, that is foolish, isn't it?"

"I was gonna say fun."


"Strawberry and Tutti Fruity, as requested." He handed her the cone.

"What did you get?"

"Chocolate."

"I never get the urge for chocolate. I like my fruity stuff."

"I know. Starbursts."

"And Skittles."

"I'll remember that."

"I know you will."

They got back in the car.

Nibbling, inane comments about flavors, and then silence.

"You thought I was gonna lose it, didn't you? More than I did."

"I was worried abut it, but I wasn't sure what was going to happen." Wesley was, as ever, honest with her.

"Me, too." She moaned softly and reclined the seat. First time she could remember lying back in a car, guy next to her, and feeling relaxed. Not hot, not wet, not angry, not violent. Just- chill. Even after a night like tonight.

"It was your first battle since you've recovered. Human or demon, there can be evil in both, the rules just change from case to case." He mused.

"I don't like rules."

"I don't think I use them much anymore." His turn to give a soft moan, one of his rare admissions of weariness or worry. He tried to keep the calm front, the stiff upper lip, at least around her, and he knew he failed so often.

More silence, more eating.

"You were pretty wicked in there."

"Hm?"

"The punch. The cool front. The 'If these men will just apologize, we'll be on our proper English way.' All that stuff." She nodded over the remains of her treat, slowly. "You can be smooth sometimes."

"And you can be quite intimidating. I felt like I had front row seats in an action movie." An uncomfortable look crossed his face. "I think I'd rather sit farther back, actually."

Another one of those unexpected laughs. "You can't be further back out here. In the real world." Laughter died. Cold seeped back, and not just from the ice cream. World had always seemed cold. Cold shoulder. Keep yourself from feeling the warm happies about anything or anyone because then it gets ripped away or turned on you...

Here he was, the biggest cold, impersonal jerk of them all, living and almost dying next to her, getting nothing out of it but grudging respect and pretty much perpetual embarrassment and stress.

First he makes it feel like home. Then he makes you feel warm.

Push him away, now. Hurt him. Get him to snarl, snap, so you don't get used to it. Nothing good lasts.

"I think I may have a lie in tomorrow." He smothered a yawn. "Shall we go?"

"Yeah." The cutting words wouldn't come. It was always so easy to be a bitch. She thought this might be the first time in -ever- that she felt like she'd struggled to find something to hurt him with. In the end, she said nothing.


"Are you feeling a chill again?" He asked with concern when they arrived home, seeing her pale skin, her strained face.

"Mhm."

"You're also uncharacteristically quiet."

There was the opening. "Wes- I feel beat." The flare died before it could burn him.

He heard the anger in the first word, the resignation in the rest. "I could get those fleeces for you? Not entirely impractical." He smiled.

"I don't want that."

"Is there anything I can get you that you do want?" He asked as they stepped into the dark apartment.

"Nah. I just wanna sleep." Don't figure out the big stuff, or even the little stuff. Just sleep and hope when you wake up, it's better.

"Right then." He nodded and gave her a genuinely pleased grin. "Well done tonight."

She paused in the doorway of her room. "Not so bad yourself."

He looked down with a pleased smile and headed into the kitchen to brew himself a cup of tea, looking as if any word of praise was gold.

She shut her door and flopped onto the bed, a tired smile passing over her lips as her body shut down for the night. Tries so hard. Asks for so little.

But he's no slouch. Tries so hard... for us... Her eyelids closed, thoughts came more slowly, then stopped.

The warmth came curling back, and she slept.

To be continued...