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.

Dedicated to: Ginar369, Omslagspapper( Artistic Consultant), Sirius120, AGriffinWriter, and The-Darkness-Befalls.

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

Part XIX

Gaps

"Can't we leave yet?"

"No."

"Why?"

"Dear Lord, are we actually having this conversation?" Wesley rolled his eyes.

Faith huffed. "I'm going crazy, man. There's nothing to do."

"Which is a mercy, because I'm dangerously close to missing three deadlines." Three days later and his shoulder was wrapped and taped, a mass of hematoma and burst blood vessels. The bone must've been bruised judging by the amount of pain he felt. Amazing how something so painful could still be quite numb. He carried on without complaint, but typing was taking longer than ever as his fingers fumbled in their half-awake state.

"Yeah, well..." She shouldn't fight yet, either. Her wrist was healing faster than his shoulder, Slayer perks, but it still hurt and was still in a bandage. But unlike Wes, she didn't have a job to keep her busy. No one in this town seemed to want to hire a hot brunette for a little bar tending work. Or a little flirting.

"Give it time." Wesley seemed to read her mind. "The Hellion influence, the evil they permeate, will take awhile to pass. When no one is murdered in a gruesome fashion this month, hope will be restored, fears lessened, and -"

"We'll be gone, dude."

"Ah. There is that." For once, he didn't offer to extend their stay. He hated this place as much as she did, with the tension filling the air, mirroring the humidity. "You could come to the library with -"

"No."

"Perhaps try to find another city that has-"

"No."

"I'm going back to my reading now." He decided.


Days of apathy, healing, and general moodiness. She did seem to notice a lessening of hostilities as time passed. People were smiling. Must've passed the due date for the next big ol' killing. Or something else.

Or both.


"Stupid Americans."

"Dumb Brits. Are we playing the insult game? 'Cause if we are, I'm gonna win." She smirked.

"I have no doubt of that." Wesley said tersely.

"You're usually little Mr. Sunshine's Coming Out of My Belly Button. What's wrong?"

"The library is closed Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week! And after that, we'll only be here a few more days. It's not enough time to upload all this work and send it back. Especially with the internet speeds they offer. I'm going to have to drive into a city with one of those 'cyber cafes'. "

"Why is the library closed, and why is it the fault of Americans?"

"It's Thanksgiving."

"Oh. Well, then yeah. Stupid Americans."

Wesley let go of his snit- to an extent. "You're a native of Massachusetts." Hie eyebrows raised skeptically. "Birthplace of the holiday, the landing of the Pilgrims, etc. I expected you to-"

"Love it? Celebrate it? At least realize it was coming up? Nope." She popped a Skittle in her mouth with a defiant jut of her chin. "Thanksgiving for me was mom drinking vodka with a shot of cranberry juice and blaming her daily blackout on too much turkey. Which was kinda funny, since we never had one. So no, I don't give a rat's ass about the holiday, okay with you?" Listening to every kid in every class, no matter what, no matter where, talk about seeing their family, sledding, eating until they puke. Seven kinds of pie, three kinds of mashed potatoes. Who does that? Is there more than one way to squash a vegetable?

"I see. Well. Hrm. Not that I have a dislike of the holiday, I've just never celebrated it. We could, of course-"

"Cook a turkey in this oven? Wes, this oven won't even hold a turkey, let alone cook it. It's a dicey situation on whether it'd fit a chicken." Don't. Don't try to make this a happy holiday. Don't try to fix it. Some things are not about being a good guy gone to the dark side. Some things are just about being a screwed up kid with a rotten life.

"Perhaps a nice restaurant in town will do a turkey dinner?" He winced as her eyes slashed him.

"No. Hey. Y'know what? This place still sucks with sucky human scumbags beating on each other and robbing each other. I got work to do."

"Your wrist-"

"Can slap a few others. I won't put anybody in the ground. Just on it."

She left the bungalow with a slam and a kick, not giving him a backwards glance.

Wesley stared after her. How can she be so close, and so far, all at once?


The holiday came. He kept busily typing, as usual, though in cramped spaces, instead of at the library. He hated constantly having to look at downloaded and printed copies of what he was supposed to be doing, squashing his sore shoulders into a crunch over the keys, something that seemed to irritate him more than anything else.

Faith was just irritated to begin with. "Fucking parade on every fucking channel. Let's get to football." She growled. "At least then I can check out some nice glutes and maybe some blood."

"I miss cricket matches being televised." He sighed half-heartedly with a momentary pause in the clicking of keys.

"They're not anymore?"

"Well, not over here."

"Yeah. Guess things are different here than at home."

The key clicking died again and stayed dead.

"I am home." Home is where I have a purpose. Where I- have someone to care about, who, in some way, sometimes, seems to care about me. "I'm just not in England anymore." He murmured. The laptop seemed to shut on its own, his nerveless hand resting atop the case, but himself unaware of putting it there.

Home? Faith stopped angrily speeding through channels.

Holidays weren't really about "home" to her. They couldn't be. You have to have spent some happy times on holidays in the place you felt was home, with the people you loved, to make some sorta memory, to have some kinda tradition.

So what happens to me now? Faith lazily clicked, but she'd turned the sound off. What happens the next holiday? The next? Christmas. New Year's. Easter. Those are all legit "family holidays", not "get trashed or wasted on candy" holidays like Halloween and all those other days in the summer when you take long weekends and drink beer on the beach.

What happens when the next holidays come?

If I'm still around him. If he's still around me.

"We have to eat eventually. Shall we venture out? Or I can make toasted cheese sandwiches?"

"I told you. It's grilled cheese."

"And I told you, we call- oh never mind, I'll make omelets." Wesley sighed and got up from his nest of books and papers.

"Suicide rates go up around the holidays. Did you know that?"

"I had heard." I can see why...

Faith saw the thinning of lips, the furrowing of brow, but she kept silent. Another holiday. Slipping past like all the other days. Unhappy, oddly lonely days, like all the others.

I don't want that. If I'm gonna be good, I better not be miserable at the same time. 'Cause what's the point then?

"Did your folks do the big turkey dinner for Christmas?"

"Sometimes. Or some sort of roast. A breaded ham. Mother didn't cook, the cook- cooked." He concluded with a shrug. How lovely. You sound like a snob.

I'm a snob whose choices of a holiday meal include either eggs and cheese or bread and cheese heated in a pan on a temperamental stove. "I'd rather eat toast and eggs with you than have a seven course meal from the finest chef with anyone else." He smiled crookedly and passed her, heading to the fridge.

He didn't expect her to particularly care. Or even to hear. To pay attention. They drifted around each other sometimes, like stars in the night sky. Appearing beside each other from a distance, in reality moving miles apart in a similar patch of universe.

"Buffy and Joyce had me over for Christmas." She was beside him, when he shut the fridge door and straightened up.

"Did they?"

"Funny how that happens. One week you're scraping up change to buy them some little gift at the local gas station, the next week you're killing each other."

"That - doesn't always happen." It won't happen to us. I won't betray you. It can't happen.

"No. Just a lot." She smiled in the same crooked fashion, eyes so tired under the youthful glow. "Like- one day Mom was sober and stuff, and buying frozen dinners and making sure I had clean clothes... and the next day she passed out by five and your frozen mac and cheese melted in the toaster oven."

Yet I'm not allowed to pity her. I don't know how to reach that pain without poking it open, making her angrier, making her retreat, close back up. He tried empathy. "One day you're just the son he is eternally disappointed in. The next day, you're simply disowned. Not even a son."

Faith blinked. "Are you still a daughter if you were never someone's child?"

"I don't know... I'm still waiting to find out if you can ever be a man, when you were such a failure at being a boy."

My God. Listen to us.

Listen to us. Damn, we're sad. Sadder 'cause it's true, and until right now, no one even knew we wondered that shit. Heavy.

Faith shook her head and placed her palms to either side of it. "Most people on this holiday have to be with relatives who drive them to drink."

"Then we're doing splendidly." Wesley suddenly said, laughing uneasily, so much emotion stirred up and no outlet to release it. "I often find myself wishing for alcohol around you."

"Amen to that. Any Bud in there?"

"Beer with omelets?"

"It's either that or we wallow in self-pity."

"I hate American beer." He still got her one.

"How do you feel about watching four hours of men on trucks trying to hold a two hundred foot of Big Bird balloon in place?" She popped the top on the edge of the counter.

Wesley looked pained. "We could perhaps attempt hugging instead?"

"We don't hug."

"I know, but I really, truly dislike that swill you drink."

He looked so piteously uncomfortable that she had to laugh. Then sighed. "I could eat."

"I know. That's why I'm standing here with a carton of eggs in my hand." He pointed out patiently.

"Not feeling eggs."

He gave up guessing, just let her speak.

"Think we can find a place that'll take two scruffs like us?"

"One scruff. I have a suit." He teased.

"Then go put it on. You're the one who's going to look like an ass if we end up eating at McDonald's."


It was a nice restaurant. Crowded. Packed, actually. "Doesn't anyone cook anymore?" Wesley blinked.

"You had to pick the only restaurant in thirty miles that has a menu in a foreign language." Faith kicked him under the table.

"It's French!" He rubbed his sore shin.

"Why are the French celebrating Thanksgiving?" Faith demanded.

"Because, Madame, Monsieur- we all have something to be thankful for." The sommelier came over and interrupted them. He was long practiced at inserting himself between squabbling couples in an attempt to save the dining experience. "And look at the two of you. Such a-" Very odd couple. But that's love for you. He in his suit and his rakishly combed hair, her with far too much makeup on what could be such a stunning face but- the British and the Americans, what do they know about arranging themselves for the best? That is why one eats in a restaurant like this, not just for the food, but for the presentation. Something only the French can do to perfection.

Done with his inner monologue, he realized he had left the couple hanging in mid-compliment. "Such a lovely couple. So much to rejoice in, yes?" He poured the bottle Wesley had ordered with a practiced hand, a practiced eye. Ah ah ah, no ring. He bowed with an amused smirk and departed. "Your waiter will be over in one moment."

"He looked at my hand. Dude, he totally checked out my hand." Faith growled under her breath.

"Hm? Faith, are you a fan of duck?" His eyes were engrossed by the menu.

"He smirked!"

"He's French. They all smirk." Wesley looked up. Then frowned. "We're beginning to sound like- hm- an old married couple."

"I wouldn't really know. My parents were never around each other enough for me to learn what that sounded like." She shrugged off his comments far more easily than she should have. Partially because she'd thought the same thing a few times before.

"I wouldn't know either. My father married my mother because she was the granddaughter of another Watcher, beautiful, suitable, well connected, and had a comparable amount of money. I rarely heard them converse. He talks, she listens. She talks, and he ignores her, or says, 'Yes, of course, do what you like with the house'." Wesley assumed a gruff, bored, almost patronizing tone.

"Whoa." Faith looked impressed. "That's scary good."

"Being in boarding school most of my life, I haven't had a lot of time to observe, but when the program never changes, you learn the act very quickly."

Faith raised her glass gracefully. "To not being as screwed up as we could be."

"To everything we're missing." He clinked her rim to his.

He watched her drain the burgundy filled goblet with her smoked-cherry lips and made his own silent toast. And to all the things we have right here...


"Did you get it done?"

"Finally, and thank God." Wesley collapsed into the sofa, winced, groaned and teetered the few feet to his bedroom. He sank down on his bed. "Be a helpful person and just pack me along with the books, will you?"

"Headache?"

"Very much so."

He almost yelped when she crashed next to him. Literally. For all the grace she possessed, she could flop down like a cascade of bricks. "Want that stuff from the drug store? That oil of hazel?"

"The witch hazel? Perhaps. Later. Thank you, dear." He murmured and rubbed his temples. "Twenty hours out of the last twenty four spent typing, but it's done, sent, and receipt email has arrived. Deposit should hit by the time we arrive wherever we're going."

"You called me dear." Faith said in a disbelieving, almost upset, tone.

"Did I?" Wesley stopped massaging his brow. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay." No! No it is not! Her inner bitch was about to storm out and break a few skulls. The only time a guy ever called her dear, or honey, or baby, was- okay, sex doesn't count. That's like- part of it. You say these empty things. You never mean them.

Dear is an empty thing, a tag on for the boring Brit. Shut up and sit down. Faith hushed the railing harridan inside her mind.

The Mayor called you nice little names. Didn't he? Is Wes your new sugar daddy?

Faith made an angry sound inside, that somehow seeped out. Shut the fuck up about him.

"You're mad at me aren't you?" Wesley sighed. "I didn't mean it offensively. It slipped out. And one can have a dear- a dear... associate. F-friend." He risked saying the word aloud.

"Don't say that." She froze, inside, outside, a frightened child trapped under layers of hard, independent woman.

"Dear?" He deflated, knowing that wasn't what she meant.

"The f word."

His brain computed it wrong in a burst of whimsy and offense at her hypocrisy. "You use it all the time!"

She didn't share the whimsy. She hit him with a pillow and stormed off. "I'll get your damn hazel."


"Where to this time?" They were packing now. It was late, they were rushed.

"I didn't really look anything up, so... whatever."

"We can pick tomorrow, but what state?"

"Florida's still gonna be warm. Especially if we go farther south."

"Florida?"

"Unless you want to go someplace else."

"I don't care." I'm just stunned. Beyond stunned. It's not the same address, or even the same city for two months in a row, but it is the same state. That's got to be something. "I think it would be lovely. Provided we avoid all those amusement parks."

"Not a fan of the big mouse?"

"Who?"

"Mickey!"

"Oh, right, yes, Mickey. No, it's not that. It just seems that half of the English uppercrust take a December holiday in that region. At least the ones with children."

"And where do the ones without children go?"

"I have no idea."

"Then we're going to Miami."

"Miami? Why Miami?"

"It's full of hot guys, good sun, hot days, long nights. Plus there's the crime rate and everything is shady and seedy. I fit right in." She grinned and motioned for the roll of tape. "Not all the guys are 'my type', but I can look."

"Does this mean I have to get a tan?"

"You already have a tan, Wes." And when you take off that shirt- you got pecs. She subconsciously raked his form. She'd seen him shirtless a lot this month, making patch jobs on his injured shoulder. Not so much abs, but pecs, baby. Nothing soft on that body anymore. From training with her, patrolling with her, literally fighting for his life at times, he was turning into a muscular little whippet of a man.

With that crooked, slow smile...

"You can pick the place. In Miami." Faith said quickly. "Here. Tape up your box, I'll get it loaded."


"I wish you'd mentioned Miami was so expensive." Wesley hollered. He had to. They were in the car, but the car seemed to be in the middle of a neon covered street fair. By the end of the month he'd learn that was simply any beach front street in the city once night fell.

"You're not looking in the right place!" She hollered back.

"Every place I look, you say it's not right!"

"Get back on mainland!"

"I'm not on mainland?" Wesley cast a frantic look around them. "You might have mentioned that earlier!"

"You had your stupid Wagner turned up. I tried." She shrugged innocently. Wesley muttered something decidedly un-innocent and decided that he deserved a reward. A big one.


"You were the one bitching about the prices!" Faith stared in shock when they pulled up to the tall, glittering, glassy building.

"I complain about any number of things." He said with honest complacency. The sign said "Executive Suites". The smaller sign mentioned monthly, furnished rentals, but it didn't mention how much. That alone meant it was a bad idea.

"You stay here. I'll get this. You can't talk these people down by means of cleavage and intimidation." Wesley got out of the car before his nerve could fail.

"Wanna bet?" Faith shouted after him.


"Wyndham-Pryce." He said in a voice that his father might actually have approved of. Cold. Condescending. Intimating that the person to whom you were speaking was a mere inconvenience to be dealt with on the way to necessity. "My associates recommended you."

"Oh, we're delighted to hear that Mr. Pryce-"

"Wyndham-Pryce." Wesley gave him a flint eyed warning stare. The desk agent agreed quickly, correcting himself.

"Which one of your associates did we have the pleasure of serving?"

Wesley rattled off a list of names vaguely aristocratic sounding to an American ear, a list just long enough to make the man's eyes widen slightly. Ever so slightly, the mark of someone used to not showing surprise, just polite service. "They mentioned your rates were favorable."

"We have several packages-"

"For a man who doesn't want to be disturbed." Wesley said significantly, and allowed the man to see past him, to the car parked under the canopied valet area.

Ah. The brooding beauty with full lips and long dark hair. "We could find you something discreet."

"Two bedrooms. Of course."

"Absolutely."

"Nothing exorbitant. Affordable. Nothing that would look out of place on a billing statement. Nothing that would call attention to our presence." Faith will take care of that the second she sets foot in this place.

The gentleman ran his fingers over a few keys, and motioned, "Bring your car to the South Entrance, Sir. We have something that shouldn't raise any eyebrows. It's not very big, but it would run the same amount as a 'typical' hotel. Especially after I gave you our 'Friend of a Friend' discount."

"Lovely, thank you." Wesley took the slip of paper, the keys, and paid in cash. The clerk smiled knowingly.


"That was fast."

"Was it?" It had felt like an eternity. "Try not to argue with me too loudly in this place, please."

"Why?"

"It would be helpful." He answered shortly.

"Who are we this time?"

"People in need of making the money last, and not above a little subterfuge to get a cheap room in an expensive place."

"I'm not going to have any trouble getting hired here. The valet already gave me his number."

"What? He's not supposed to fraternize with guests. I could have him sacked!"

"Whoa. Paging Doctor Tight Ass. Welcome back."

"We're going to have to unload everything in the middle of the night. When no one's around."

"What the hell did you tell these people?" Faith wondered in amazement.

He looked at her. "Absolutely nothing wrong. Nothing of importance." I simply insinuated a great deal.

"My kind of nothing wrong, or the real nothing wrong?"

"Tell me how you got us the place in Philadelphia." Wesley asked with a blunt change of subject.

Faith suddenly lost interest in his cover story. "I'm up all night anyway, moving boxes in is no big deal." She shrugged and let the matter die.


"We have internet. In the flat!" Wesley was looking through the amenities packet. "There's a pool! There's an exercise facility, a steam room, and complimentary pastry, newspapers, and coffee in the lobby from seven until ten each day." He turned and looked at her triumphantly, "Not to mention-" he reached out and touched a slender white box on the wall, "a thermostat that works!"

"You died and went to heaven, huh?" Faith was containing her excitement. It was fancy. It was sparkling clean and frankly, it was gorgeous. All white and black and modern with bursts of color accents thrown in.

Wesley grinned and reopened the booklet. "There are six clubs and four bars in a five block radius, and the beach is a mile away. That's a two minute brisk run for you, isn't it?"

"Not exactly, but I'm diggin' the bars." Faith peered over his shoulder. "Why the sudden return to lifestyles of the rich and suit-wearing?"

"I thought every six months we deserved a hint of luxury. If we can afford it." Because it's your birthday in two weeks. Your twenty first. Because you fight so hard, and I see you sweat and scream, I see you fight and fall, and I see you hide every bit of softness. You camouflage it in your surroundings. You'd hew a hole in a mountain for a bed. I know you would. Let the world think you're hard and brittle, with nothing soft underneath.

Maybe I hoped the soft would be fooled into coming out, like some shy chameleon, if I gave it the right surroundings.

Why would I bother to hope for such a thing?

"Don't you like it?" he asked, trying not to sound too eager, too hopeful.

"No, I like it. I just don't want to get used to it." She assured him. "Hey- a dishwasher!"

"We may not need to bring in anything but the books and clothes. The bedding is beautiful." He had poked his way into one of the rooms.

Small indeed, ha. A silk covered queen size in each room. A full dresser and desk. Book shelves. Filled with actual books. "This one is mine." He claimed it like an eager school boy.

Faith looked at the other room, this time all the way across the living room. They were probably identical. "Fine, I like this one."

"Not much of a view, I'm afraid." A few floors up and they could have seen the ocean. Many floors up and they would see the ocean, the beach, and a twinkling skyline. Here, in the understandably more affordable room- they saw shrubs.

"I like it. It's private." Faith smiled, and his whole frame relaxed. "I've been in Miami before. Vamps looove this place. We're gonna be wicked slammed, man."

"Oh." Wesley's frame lost the relaxed air immediately. "Shall we head out now?"

"Nah. I think I'm gonna go swimming."

"The pool's closed at this hour."

"I know." She winked.

"Do you have a suit?"

"Nope."

"Don't get caught." He pressed a worried hand to his temple where the familiar throbbing was returning. "I doubt we can get our money back."

Any other guy in the world says "Ooh, can I come, too?" He says don't get caught. Faith made an inaudible impatient noise and turned away, making a circuit of the place while he went about unpacking his laptop and the few things he'd put in his satchel.

Faith watched him via his reflection in the window that she was staring out of. He cares more about what happens to us this month, more than his cock getting a little happy right now.

So frustrating. She really liked it. She really hated it. She liked things she could understand. Not that she couldn't understand Wes, she just couldn't put him in the neat molds she put people in anymore. Watchers are stuffed shirt jerks. Men are beasts who use you, who want something from you.

Friends are imaginary or impossible. Kind of in the "there's no such thing" category. You have to believe in someone to have them exist.

Man, it's easier to believe in the monster under the bed.

"Actually, I'm dying to check out the silk sheets. That looks like the ultra bed experience." Faith turned her head towards the bedroom.

Another easy opening he completely ignored. "I agree! It'll be wonderful not to wake up with a spring sticking into my spine. I don't think I've had a proper night's sleep since we stayed with Mrs. Baker."

"You're too soft, Wes."

"Not anymore. My back probably has callouses on it after last month's concrete-filled mattress." He quipped.

Faith laughed. God. She really did like this guy. "Rest up, then. See ya."


He took more jobs than he probably should have. He didn't want to leave them short with his little foray into gracious living.

She knew he was worried about money. He wouldn't talk about it this time, because it was "his choice", but she knew. It's not like it's his fault. I didn't make any money for a whole month. He's floated this damn ship for- Faith tried to figure out the amount of months and stopped quickly. Thinking about that number, listing the places, watching it climb- made her feel seasick. Not the point. Point is that when I can earn, I do.

She broke the security tag out of a blood-red bikini, slayer strength crushing it like a peanut shell. The whole thing was only a handful of fabric. She slipped it into her pocket and left the store unnoticed. She went into another stop in the myriad of crowded stores and boutiques, to change. Bikini top. Low slung jeans. All her scars healed. Lips plumped, mascara on, and she strolled the club strip.

"You look busy." She purred when she found her mark. The smallest bar, the most stressed out manager, shaking up frothy pink and peach drinks while his staff and servers were frantically taking orders, and then getting waylaid by the air of partying and flirting that permeated this whole area.

A good bartender laughs and smiles, even if he'd rather yell, "No shit, genius. Order or leave."

Faith ducked under the bar counter's partition when some blonde bubble butt waitress went in. "Hey! You can't-"

Faith took bubble butt's slips and reloaded her tray with a practiced hand. "Sex on the Beach, two Long Islands, a martini, and a Stoli Gibson. Please tell me that's not just from one table?" Faith started reaching for ingredients. I'm gonna get arrested or hired... Please let it be hired. I'd hate to play the bold card, and also the "punching out people card so now I can't go anywhere in this part of town" card on my second day...

"No, it's two tables."

"Thank God, and give me a couple." Faith could feel the manager staring, probably with his mouth open in shock, or clenching up in fury.

Blondie left, and he finally spoke, still making drinks with a frenzied demeanor. "You don't work here."

"Then call it volunteering." Faith made the drinks smoothly and quickly. If anyone had bothered to really watch her, they would have noticed the unnatural speed, the abnormally sure hands as she reached for things, caught bottles, took glasses, put everything back. The Slayer package. Speed, skills, and hand-eye coordination. It's not just for slaying vamps anymore... She smiled cockily to herself.

"But-"

"See, I'm in town for a month, livin' the high life. But I get bored easy. And you look like you have an exciting little place here. Order!" She finished the drinks and beckoned Blondie back over. "So how about I give you my number..." Faith took another slip and started on another order, "and then you call me when you need some help. Or, if I go stir crazy-" she popped a cherry in her mouth, stem and all, dramatically de-stemming with her flexible tongue it as he watched with a look of awed confusion,"I pop in, and you let me work for a couple hours. Tips only." She swallowed the fruit, and spat out the stem, finished making another martini, all in the space of a moment.

"Are you an illegal?" The guy paused before leaping at the offer he so obviously wanted to take.

You have no idea. "No! Dude, I'm from Boston." Faith laughed.

"Oh. I mean. Well. We could use the help. Winter, and around the holidays, people take off, some of my servers are heading home for Christmas break, and then all the people who decide to use the Christmas break to come to Miami and visit all the retired grandparents-" He shook his head. "It's a mess."

"How long you been managing?" I'm gonna bet under a year...

"Here? Four months. I used to work out in Cocoa Beach, but then I-"

"Didn't want the life story." She cut him off and yelled, "Order!" Another tray sent off, another bunch of slips in. "You make these. I gotta work the actual bar if I'm just living off tips. Unless you feel like paying a girl an hourly rate on top of that?"

"I would need you to fill out your W-2s and-"

"No time. Only in a town a month. Hey, boys!" Faith was gone, down to the end of the bar where guys were swarming, waiting to order. She pushed her shoulders back, her bikini covered cleavage up, and tossed her hair. "Who wants something short and hard? Not me, I like it long and hard... C'mon if you want shots, I'll take you first, let's get this crowd down!"


"Dear Lord. You look like the cat who ate an entire cage of canaries. Did you slay something particularly viciously?" Wesley smiled and looked up from his work.

"No. Just workin' my new outfit." She peeled her tee shirt off over her head to reveal the scarlet suit top underneath.

"Oh, did you go to the beach?" Wesley blinked quickly.

"Nope. The bar." She took the roll of cash out of her jeans pocket and put it down in front of him.

"Good Lord!"

"Mainly singles and fives, don't look so shocked." But people were paying with a LOT of singles and fives.

"You don't need to -" Wesley began to push the money back towards her, only to find her holding up an equally sizable wad from the other pocket. "Ah."

"I don't play well with others, but sometimes I share." She winked and walked off. "Now that I have the suit, I'm totally trying out the pool. You comin'?"

I don't have a suit. Or time to splash about. "Not just now. Thank you."


"Not to go all parent on you- and not that my parent ever said this- but if you sit so close to the screen, aren't you gonna hurt your eyes?"

"This print. It's very small..." Wesley squinted.

"Do I need to go kick some translator-y behind? Tell them to send you large print?"

"I'm not reading a manuscript, I'm reading the Miami coroner's report. I did my hacking attempt again." Wesley sat back and looked at her.

"Oh? What'd you find?"

"A lot of bodies dumped in the water."

"Hate to tell your lily white self, Wes, but that's where mob snitches and drug runners run wrong usually end up dumped. It's easier than ditching a car with a body in the trunk."

"Bodies of people who didn't drown, who weren't shot, and who weren't weighted down. All stabbed in the neck with an ice pick or other long, pointed weapon."

"That's just sloppy." Faith critiqued.

Wesley's brow twitched. Sloppy. Yes. Untidy. How coldly, how callously we put it. "Sounds like you have a vampire, possibly several, to deal with. Excuse me, I need to call the London office and ask about something."

Faith frowned in his wake. "You got something on your mind, you can just say it." She called after him.

"I have a lot on my mind. Nothing worth saying." He tried to shrug it off and smile easily. Because I know this life makes you hard and callous. That if you stopped to weep for every victim, you'd drown in tears. Because she and I, we don't cry. We barely laugh anymore.

There had been a peak, and this was the valley. The joy of getting back into the game turned into a mirthless existence of playing for your life and lives of others every night.

This is being a Watcher. This is being a Slayer. The Slayers die soon, and the Watchers turn into empty vessels with cold hearts full of words, not feelings.

We have to find something to help us survive this life.

I want this life. I want her in this life. I want to live it with her. Not die a day at a time.

He made his call, knowing something had to change, but he didn't know what it was.


He'd left the coroner's website up. Faith sat down and read the screen. Hm. Eight bodies since October. Hungry and sloppy, maybe turning more, maybe others hadn't been found yet, maybe others had been fed from and let go. If you're going to set up shop, you can't just leave bodies lying around.

When did I stop seeing people? When did I start to call them bodies, and stop wondering who they were, just wondering how many there were?

Probably when you start making bodies. You can't take someone's life if you think about them, wondered who they were before you stabbed them through the hear,t slit their throats... if they had a wife. Kids. Grandkids. She realized she couldn't even clearly remember the face of the professor she'd killed for the Mayor. Just that he was old and he was trusting.

She shook herself.

I never wondered that shit. I care about what I can do now, kill the bastards. It's too late to worry about that I can't change.

Only a couple bodies I ever gave a damn about. Mine is one.

One Kakistos took.

The other one has to be Wes's. Long as that body keeps on breathing, then I don't have to start over again.

I don't have to feel too much. I don't have to care or any of that shit.

Other people can cry and send flowers. I just wanna slay the sons of bitches.


"You're gonna sweat to death."

"I don't own any resort wear." Wesley reminded her.

"Then buy some, Moneybags."

"Oh honestly..."

"You stick out. You're gonna get your pocket picked down there."

"Well you're going to be at a disadvantage as well. I speak Spanish fluently- if with a questionable accent..."

"I don't need to understand what they say. No heartbeat is the universal language." She smiled saucily and put her hair up, piling it into a curly bun where locks escaped and cascaded.

"Are you wearing heels?" His eyes widened as he looked down.

"It's the closest I can get to doing the helpless female. But I hate 'em." Faith pouted her glossy lips and then smiled. "Maybe it's good you're Mr. Out of Style. These damn capri jeans and the stupid heels are totally cutting into my arsenal." She handed Wesley three knives. "Hold these for me, will ya?"

All the henpecked husbands in the world asked to hold purses, and my female companion hands me an assortment that would make Bowie jealous. "Of course." He smiled slightly. He tucked them into the much faded jacket, now bearing a stone-washed khaki look. Apparently even the best dry cleaners in the state and an entire gallon of stain remover could only do so much for demon blood on fabric. At least demon blood that utterly soaked the fabric. "You do look lovely."

"You look okay yourself." Stubbled, minus glasses, stiff, straight shoulders and hair that was getting just a little bit too long. Something like a good boy gone bad.

That kind never appealed to her. She liked her boys to be bad. Once bad, always bad, just not in bed.

"I'm seeing a barber as soon as I can this week. I can't stand my hair like this one more moment." Wesley grumbled.

"C'mon Wilma." Faith rolled her eyes and tugged his wrist. "We'll get you some curlers while we're out kicking asses."

"I've had enough speculations about my supposed transvestitism, thank you." He said primly, shaking off her hand.

"God. You talk way too much. Where we're going, just try to look like you're pissed off and thirsty. And maybe like you've done time."

Wesley blanched. "I don't even know what expressions one would use to -"

Faith turned and grabbed his shoulders, speaking slowly. "One would not say 'one'. Unless one wants the shit kicked out of one, or one wants a broken bottle through one's face."


Wesley felt like he was drowning in a sea of sweat. Not his own, that would be unpleasant, but allowable. The sweat of others. Scantily clad women who wore neon and nude strips of nylon, who sold "beers" for twenty dollars and then sat down beside you, "flirting" where hands couldn't be seen. Loud music, all of it in Spanish, screamed and scrambled through the crackling amplifiers, while swarthy men shouted obscenities, laughed and argued, and everyone drank. Everyone but him. The women wouldn't approach.

"I think you're scaring them off!" He shouted directly into Faith's ear.

"What?" She shouted back.

"You! With me! You're scaring off the waitresses!"

"We have to split up! No one's gonna come near a couple!" She screamed.

"I just said that!"

"What?"

He resorted to hand gestures, and pushed her gently from his side. "Stay in sight." He mouthed slowly, once they had eye contact again. She nodded and moved, her hips on instant sway, her most feminine top, that red and white creation she'd worn for Halloween, fluttering around her rolling shoulders.

Wesley marveled. Not one second apart and she could join in with anyone. She's so alive. She just has this passion for life.

Well, for the fast, painfully bright parts. Sadly, she doesn't seem to feel all the other things, the slow parts, the simple moments. At least, not all the time. She was swinging from man to man to woman to man again, arms draping across shoulders, smiling seductively, shaking bust and shoulders with loud laughs, and then off again, her hips leading the way. He followed her at a distance, squeezing through a sea of bodies and trying not to end up with liquor on him.

She changes when she slays. I change when I Watch. With gnawing worry he kept fighting through the ocean of living waves, desperate not to let her slip from his sight. Why in the world is she moving so fast?

Faith targeted him within seconds of leaving Wesley's side. A man in a leather jacket, laughing and drinking, cigarette flying in his fingertips. A man who seemed perfectly at ease, comfortable.

Who can hear in this place? Who's in leather and not sweating when it's five-effing-hundred degrees in here? A man without pores who can lip read, or- way more likely- a vampire. Faith navigated the cantina style dive bar while internally cursing her decision to wear heels. Fitting in with the rich bitch wintering in Miami set was one thing, breaking your neck before you even throw the first punch was another.

"Hey, Baby." Faith came up behind him, trying to look blissed out, running her hand over the faded brown leather of his jacket. "I love your coat..."

He turned. "Yeah, Chica? You like what's under it even better." She purred and put her hand on his chest.

Silent. No pulse. She closed her eyes and pursed her lips, hoping he wouldn't have caught the momentary dilation in her eyes when she realized she'd been right. "Mmm, definitely."

"You dance, little mama?"

"Only with the bid daddies." Faith licked her lips.

"Oh, I'm lucky tonight."

"Sure are, Baby." Let's hope I'm lucky, too.

"There's no room to dance in here. You wanna go upstairs?"

"Huh?"

"Not like that, Chica, don't you worry." The double r rolled into a quiver against her skin, his cool finger tips delicately traced her chin, her bare shoulder, her bare belly, roaming her as he led. "There's a rooftop. VIP access. Just through this hall and up the back stairs. A little trip to heaven, munequita."

"Wow. You're a VIP?"

"And when you're with me, you're one special lady. Such a gorgeous one."

Damn those Rs. Faith was mesmerized by the sound and she didn't mind, for a second, when he rolled them against her ear. A low down throb ached inside her. She saw the sudden cruel tint in his smile, hidden under sensuality. Dead give away. Smells you're wet, smells you're hot. God dammit. Where is Wes?

They came to a door in a narrow hall, painted plum purple, guarded by a burly, blank faced man. "VIP pass?"

"I don't need one."

"Says who? You can't come-"

"Yes, we can. I'm the only one allowed up tonight. Remember me?" The vampire said smoothly, eyes locking, voice rocking, smoothing out the frown in the guard's face.

He thralls. That explains getting the other kind of vibe. Great. But I'm not one who's gonna get thralled. Thrall is just demon bull. Bull never worked on me.

"Come on, Chica. I'll show you the stars like you have never seen..." He pushed the door open, and the man stood silently, letting them pass.


"Excuse me, I need to get up there. That lady- uh- left her lights on. On her car." Wesley tried to skirt the guard at the door.

"Sorry, private party. You have to have an invitation."

"I have this. Does this work?" He held up a twenty.

"No."

"Does this?" Wesley rushed the burly man at close range, slamming his thick, bald head into the wall. The man blinked up, stunned, mouth open, eyes unfocused. "Terribly sorry." The Watcher ran.


"Don't you love this view? The whole city sparkles. But not like your eyes."

Wes, if I have to listen to one more corny pick up line...

"Turn here. Look out, and you can see the harbor lights in the bay."

He's putting himself between me and the rooftop door. And- oh look. Oh goody. A body of water. She reached for her stake, and felt him running his hands along her sides, his arms wrapping around her, getting tighter- "I'm cold. Man, I know it's hot, but I just got a real bad chill." She lied, trying to get him to back up.

"I'll warm you up, Chica."

"Can I borrow your jacket?" So you get your demony hands off my ass?

"I don't think you'll need it..."

"I still kinda want it." Faith turned sharply. The time for subtlety was over. So not her thing anyway. She reached for her stake in her capri pocket, only to find herself slammed back into air, knees on the edge of the rooftop. "Whoa!"

"Oh, I won't let you fall." The purr turned into a panther-like growl as the handsome Latino features rearranged themselves. "What a waste that would be..."

"When a lady asks for your coat, a gentleman gives it to her. A true gentleman wouldn't even wait to be asked. He offers." Wesley appeared, disheveled and breathless, but there when it mattered.

My back up is here. He's going to do an etiquette lesson while I try to keep my balance in these heels. Or- Faith suddenly hopped out of them, broke the vampire's grasp and ducked down. "These cost me a lot of money, so you better have a good answer..." She used one stiletto as a makeshift stake, plunging it into the vamp's arm as he grabbed for her again.

He howled, yellow eyes suddenly blazing as he jerked the accessory slash weapon free and sent it hurtling off the roof.

"Dammit! I just said those were expensive! Stupid vampire piece of shit!" In reply something was cursed back at her, but in Spanish.

Wesley called to her, "He says that you-"

"I got the gist, Wes!" Faith stayed low, moved fast, away from hands that could hurl her from the rooftop, away from teeth that could bite.

"What are you? A Slayer?" He kicked hard, caught her wrist. Faith winced briefly and pushed him back.

Wesley loaded his crossbow, and moved in. Not making the same mistake twice. And that was Faith's bad wrist. Brute. The crossbow collapsed, went back to his pocket, and one of her knives came out, the largest of the three she'd asked him to hold.

"Yeah, I'm the Slayer. I'm the bad one though. I don't play nice, and I don't let you live." Faith growled.

"You won't be in any position to let- aghhh!" The vampire stopped in mid-threat. So busy being concerned about the Slayer, he'd neglected the puny little man who lectured him. The puny little man had a very big knife, and it was now embedded in his back.

"Move! I got this!" Faith pushed the vamp down, driving the knife in deeper, then straddling him, stake finally out, and pointed at his heart.

"Not a fair fight, Chica." The vampire wheezed, and writhed, trying to take the pressure off the the metal she was forcing him to take ever deeper. "Two on one."

"Biting girls after you bring them up here for dancing and star gazing isn't cool either, so shut up." Faith slammed his back down to the stone roof slates, grinding the knife into the hilt and beyond. "You're not the only one, are you?" No answer. The stake made a plunge - about an inch too far down.

"No! No, I'm not!" He groaned.

"How many?" No answer. "Do I have to make a dot-to-dot pattern? Go through all the vital organs 'til I hit the heart?" She pretended to ponder. "I know they don't work anymore, but do they still hurt when you drive a wicked big piece of wood through them?"

"Not... many here." He gasped.

"More than five?"

"Maybe, I don't know!" He struggled. "Sometimes we turn one we like. I would have turned you, Chica. I still can... You can be young and just as beautiful as you are tonight, for a thousand years." His eyes and his voice stroked her mind, a desperate attempt to control her. Her hands tightened, but her eyes didn't blink. He smiled, "Slayers die so young and you will live forever as one of-"

Faith gasped and her hands jerked as Wesley's arrow pierced the kneecap.

"Don't." Wesley said quietly, dispassionately. "Don't try that again."

Faith blinked up at him. The grim mouth. Hard eyes. If that arrow could smoke, it would be. "Take it easy, Slick." She cautioned in an uncertain voice. "I know a thrall when I hear one." She turned her full attention back to the vamp. "Okay, so you don't know the exact number. Do you know where?"

"Why should I tell you? You're gonna kill me anyway."

"True." Faith reached down and broke one of his fingers with a simple brutality in her eyes. "But I can make it hurt a lot, or a little."

What the hell are we becoming? "Faith. Just end it. We'll find out another way. We are- merciful." Wesley swallowed. "We are not murderers. Nor torturers."

"Oh, I am. I am, Wes. Both." Faith sat back, and looked at him. "You don't even wanna know what I would have done to Buffy when I had the chance. Angel had way too many nasty little toys in that place of his."

He shivered despite the warm breezes. "My Faith doesn't-"

His Faith went flying backward as the demon suddenly kicked both his legs up hard, and Wes went down under a hundred fifty pounds of slavering, pained demon who wanted to make him pay for ramming a knife in his back.

"Your girl is a demon." He spat.

"We all have- our- demons!" Wesley countered fiercely, used all his strength and rolled, hand around the monster's back, finding a slippery handle, yanking it free, and plunging it back in- higher this time. Through the cervical area. Eyes widened, then closed. A few inches of wiggling, and the head would be "off" enough for the vampire to turn to dust. Wesley kicked him the now unconscious figure to the side, and got to his knees.

"Wait."Faith was scooting up behind him, reaching for the vampire.

"He can't possibly tell us anything, Faith. Demon or not, I've just about disconnected his brain stem and - what are you doing?"

"I said I wanted this." She grabbed jacket and tugged.

"Why? It's far too warm and we don't need some 'trophy'."

"It's not a trophy." She grunted. "It's 'cause... it's a- leather jacket. For Jimmy Dean." Faith yanked it down, breathing unevenly as she struggled to pry it off. There was one long, narrow hole, but it was an awesome coat, one they could get fixed. She shook it out, over the prone arms, and tossed it roughly at Wes who snagged it, wide eyed. She finished off the vamp with a single swipe of her hand, and stared at her Watcher across a pool of dust.

He stared at the bundle in his arms, feeling confused, instantly admiring the jacket, as she put it, for "Jimmy Dean." But he wanted no spoils from some vampire who could just as easily have taken their lives. "Why?"

" 'Cause you're a badass." Faith got up slowly. "You still do it your way. Fighting, killing-" She looked at him briefly, "saving people... you get it done."

Wesley was touched. She believes in me. "Oh, that's such a lovely thing to say, Faith. Considering everything we've-"

"I know, I know. Hallmark worthy. C'mon, Mr. Dean. Let's go find my shoe. I'm never wearing them on patrol again, but if I ever got go someplace fancy, it's good to know my footwear could totally dust a guy."

He nodded, then looked apprehensive. "Um."

"What?"

"Is there another way down?"

"Maybe if you got wings, why?"

"I incapacitated the bouncer."

"Oh, baldy downstairs? He was thralled. He should be fine now that Romeo's dead."

"No... I - eh-hm. I incapacitated him. Then I jammed the bar at the door at the bottom of the stairwell with the fire extinguisher. But I'm sure he's fully awake by now, and probably quite angry."

"You? You took out a bouncer?"

"Hrm. I rammed his head into the wall."

She was impressed. "Knew you had it in there. Always the straight laced ones- full of surprises."

"Ah, yes. I suppose. At least worthy of a new jacket."

"Yeah." No. Not because you can throw down. Although, good to know.

It's because you said "My Faith". I thought I'd hate it, but when you said it to me, I didn't. Love it. Loved the way you weren't ashamed to say I belong with you. Not to you. I know the difference.

It's because you'll watch me about to go marathon man on some vamp, watch me start to slide, and you still keep believing in me. I'm not a murderer. I'm not a torturer. I'm a Slayer, and he's my Watcher. He believes in me, so I can spot him a little belief. Just a little.

We're kinda awesome together.

Yeah. I said that.

In my head. I'm not gonna tell him. Dude's got a fricking library in his skull. Let him figure it out.

"I'll go down first. If that guy is awake, I'll tell him I haven't seen anyone on the roof. He'll figure you're hiding someplace in the cantina. If that doesn't work, I'll make up something. I'll get rid of him somehow. When he goes, I'll whistle."

"And I come running." He teased and was rewarded with one of those truly sweet smiles she seemed to save just for him.


She went to the exercise room, preparing to work off the last bit of tension by beating the heavy bag into submission.

He went to his room, to his journal, ready to cool the adrenaline by reading and writing their story until his eyes were too heavy to stay open.

Wesley was chronicling this night, his worries, his frustrations about how they could survive the life set out for them without becoming something they hated. Again. How do we become something new, while we try desperately to do ancient jobs?

Buffy and Giles have mastered it. They love each other. Like father and daughter.

I don't feel at all paternal towards her. Not even fraternal. Familial, yes, I suppose so, if only I knew what a family felt like. When I think of the word, it just feels cold, all about names and bloodlines, meeting expectations, failing them. When I think of her, all I feel is warmth.

Even heat.

He swallowed. He shouldn't be writing that. But who else would ever see it? They'll find it after my death, but no one will claim it. Perhaps Giles would., if he's still knocking about. Or Faith. Faith wouldn't keep a dusty old book. She'd give it to Giles and he'd discreetly tuck it away. He wouldn't read another man's journal. I won't be alive to care, but there you have it. Twenty seven years of being in mortal fear of looking foolish, and being told you are. Even death doesn't preclude the worry.

To quote Faith, "Screw it."

His pen started across the page again.

I don't suppose it's so strange that I feel as if she's the best friend I ever had, even if we've nothing in common, aside from the horrible things, and the supernatural veins of our lives.

I think Giles and Buffy would say they are true friends as well. If Faith knew I compared our relationship to theirs, she would most likely attack me with one of her new shoes (see above).

He sighed, considered that, and kept going in spite of his misgivings.

It's simply because they are the only pair I know of who treat each other as friends and family, not merely assigned duties. I know many Watchers and Slayers have bonded, in some sort of respectful mentor- student relationship.

But our relationship is bound to be different. We're not operating under the Council. We live in the same home- wherever that may be. We- The pen took another hiatus. -have no one else in our lives aside from the most perfunctory of interactions, a work phone call, a bartender she keeps on a string for a few weeks before she leaves town.

Not to mention our ages, it's extremely unlikely to have a Watcher and Slayer even twenty years apart, let alone

Wesley blinked. "It's December," he realized aloud. He concluded his entry hastily.

sharing the same decade. She'll be twenty one in just a few days. I haven't bought her anything. I think I ought to. I don't think she'd like it if I did. I also think there's every possibility she'll accept it as a matter of course, with one of her patented flirtatious smirks and some remark about my taste or my spending habits, playfully barbed.

She is so wickedly sharp, yet most of the time, her words don't sting anymore. That's enough of a gift for me.


To be continued...