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: Happy New Year! Thank you to all the readers who gave this piece the BEST GIFT, your support. Finding Faith took home five awards at Sunnydale Memorial. Five by five, right ? ;) You're all tremendous and I hope you all have a blessed and happy year ahead.

Dedicated to: Ginar369, Omslagspapper( Artistic Consultant), Sirius120, Illusera, bookwarnedbookworm,Soaringclaws, AGriffinWriter, Kitakana, Skullmunkey, Sjwheelan, Alkeni, The-Darkness-Befalls, and the lovely guest reviewers whose names I don't know, but am so thankful to have.

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

Part XXVI

Apart

"You'll be alright to load the car on your own?" Wesley smoothed his printed boarding pass nervously.

"Dude. I picked up a pool table and only sprained my wrist. I can shove a couple damn boxes in the trunk. Not to mention, you're taking half the junk with you." Faith looked at the suitcases in the backseat. Not to mention you're taped up and you probably should have had some stitches this time. Not to mention your chest opened up again and I know it 'cause I found the bloody towel in the laundry. Not to mention you'll probably open it up again when you try to haul all this stuff through the airport. "When I traveled, all I ever needed was a backpack. I can't even say you pack like a girl." She mocked to still the worried voice in her brain.

He ignored her. "You have the address of the hotel? You actually have to follow the map this time, Faith. I highlighted the most straightforward route in yellow, and I've placed some notes in the margin about where you might want to stop for the evening." Wesley looked suddenly ill. "Be careful out here. And on the road. I know you're quite capable and you'll tell me not to worry, but-"

"You think I'm gonna stop for the night? Psshh." She laughed through her teeth. "I do that shit for you. Slayer stamina, baby. Drivin' straight through."

"Oh, lovely. They'll call me from the hospital, then. I won't be at the conference as long as I thought." He rubbed his forehead, the uninjured side, and wished he had some slayer healing. He would have to wear his hair at a rakish tilt all week to avoid showing the remains of his wound.

"I'll stop. Once." Faith gave in.

"Don't speed."

"Ha. Don't get mugged."

"Ha."


"What are you doing?" Wesley demanded incredulously, a tone of almost reverent, surprised awe in his voice.

"Uh... I'm turning left?" Faith resisted the urge to reach out and lift up his bangs, see if his head injury was suddenly all bulgy or something gross.

"You're humming Ritt der Walk├╝ren. Ride of The Valkyrie."

"Da-da-da-daaa-dum, da-da-da-daduuum... That's nothing. It's on cartoons." She said uncomfortably.

"It's part of Wager's masterwork, his Ring Cycle." Wesley leaned back in his seat, watching her. "You weren't just humming the main motif, you were going into the lesser known parts, the parts not in the cartoons."

"You hum it all the time! Whenever we drive to a nest. Like we're going into battle."

"It's a song of battle." He pointed out reasonably. Are you battling now? Battling me going, or you staying, being alone? Being apart?

"Well... then it's not a crappy song." Faith twisted the wheel and took them out on the freeway.

"You've just admitted a piece of classical music isn't 'crappy'. I can die happy now."

"You die at all and I'm gonna kick your ass."

"If I'm dead-"

"I'm driving. Don't do logic at me."

He subsided, still happy, quietly humming until she gave in and joined him.


She gently braked. McCarren airport loomed beside them, lights flickering in the blue-black of a midnight sky. "Finally gonna get six hours undisturbed sleep." She joked about his decision to take the late night flight.

"Promise you'll be careful." He insisted once more.

"I- promise." She gave in abruptly. "Promise the same?"

"I will. I'll call you when I land." He reached in the back, grabbed his carry on.

"Cool. I'll keep the phone near me." Faith nodded, fingers flexing on the wheel.

Not looking at each other.

We don't know how to say goodbye.

Afraid of goodbye.

"Ma'am? Unloading only. You have to move to short term parking if you're here for longer than five minutes!" Someone passed by in an official airport security uniform and tapped lightly on the window.

"I'm just going!" Wesley swung his door open, and climbed out.

Then leaned back in. "I- I'll call."

"Take it easy, Wes." She gave a swift wave, a swift dart of her hand to his wrist, a squeeze, and then she was gone as soon as his luggage touched the ground.


"We just touched down."

"Cool." Faith answered on the first ring. "Just goin' to bed."

"What? Where have you been?" Wesley calculated what time it must be out in Nevada.

"Working. At the bar. Someone booked the place for an overnight bachelor party, and none of the regulars wanted to stay past two. Dude, I made so much money I could probably afford to fly me and the car out there, first class. If, y'know, I could fly with my doctored up ID." She laughed confidently and swaggered through the living room, undressing as she went, enjoying the freedom to leave her clothes in a trail behind her, enjoying the privacy.

Not telling the truth about why she jumped at the chance to work a pretty skeezy event. Wanting to prolong the moment she walked back into an empty place and for the first time in her life, felt the difference.

Knowing what alone is, compared to knowing what together is. Damn, I miss him. Already. "So, yeah. I'm good. You good? Nice flight, nice flight attendants?"

"Very helpful." He smiled drily. "I trust everyone at the party behaved themselves?"

"Oh, hell no. But no one tried anything with me. I'm all safe and sound. You on the other hand- how are you hailing a cab in the middle of the night with your ninety suitcases and-"

He silenced her teasing, "The hotel has a shuttle service, 24 hours. They're picking me up. It's all arranged."

"Wow. Nice." From hole in the wall and scraping for quarters to limos through the swanky district for an international conference. He's not gonna miss me at all.

"I'll call you when I get settled, if you'd feel better?"

"No, it's cool. Just call, whenever you feel like it."


"I felt like it." He couldn't control it. Like a physical need, to hear her voice every few hours.

Faith blinked. Barely four hours of sleep. "You okay?"

"I'm fine. Did I wake you?"

"Yes." No, Wes, I thought I'd go for a jog. Idiot.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, dear, I'll let you go-"

"No!" Faith sat up, then rolled over. "Who needs sleep? Talk to me."


"Dude. Did we not just hang up, like- an hour ago?" How do two people with almost nothing in common talk for an hour? About nothing?

"I just wanted to remind you, when I'm translating I will have my phone off, or at least silenced. The last speaker I'll work with today ends at five. Five eastern. But if you need me urgently, you can call the hotel and have them get me."

"Will do. If I don't answer, it's because I can't hear the phone over the undead or the bar. 'Kay?"

"How comforting." He groaned. She laughed, rich and sinfully, like she knew just how she worked his nerves. Actually, that sound is quite comforting.


Absence

Three days alone reminded her of a couple things. Parts of her old life hadn't been so bad. Being held accountable, communicating, schedules- bullshit invented by the uptight people of the world.

It also reminded her that she'd been lonely before, she just never had the name for it. She confused or misused loner, lonely, alone, all jumbled up together. And she remembered how she used to deal with it.


He was undoubtedly the hottest guy in the place, the A-List of the tanned bodies with tattoos and leather vests over tight "checkout my workout" tee shirts. Bad boy. The kind that made plays for her every single night, sometimes every single hour, that she flirted with, led on, or told off, but always ended up ultimately rejecting.

"What's your name?" She asked. I wouldn't have asked that before. I used to just say "Wanna have some fun?". Now I ask for a name? What's next, favorite foods and how often he calls his mother? Fuck, what's wrong with me?

"Billy." He smiled, and she refocused. "And you go by something other than Sexiest Woman in the World, right?"

"Faith's shorter." She grinned.

"Faith. Hm, Faith. I, mmm, I-" he was smooth, his bronzed arm brushing her elbow as he leaned over to speak in a velvety voice, just for her, "I bet you'd love to get off your feet after a shift in this place." He looked around at the huge happy hour crowd filling the bar.

"Maybe." She made him work for it.

"Can I take you someplace to relax? You pick?"

She couldn't believe the words coming out of her mouth. "My place."


"Mr. Pryce?"

"Oh, yes." Wesley rose at once, as his upbringing taught him so to do when addressed by a beautiful woman he had not been formally introduced to. "May I help you?"

"I'm Yvette Fournier. I work under the Paris office. You translate for me tomorrow when speaking to our visitors from China."

"Oh. Oh, yes, of course." He nodded in recognition, and then shook hands. "I received your lecture notes, and of course I can translate on the fly, as it were. It's a pleasure to work with you."

"I heard you speak today. You're flawless. I'm sure that... pleasure... is just the right word."

Wesley blinked. Her hand lingered a bit too long, and her green eyes, black lined to a cat-like seductiveness fed him signals. Signals he was sure he misunderstood.

"Would you care to join me for a drink?"

Oh no.

"Before we have dinner with the others in the banquet area?"

Oh. A drink here, just before going into dinner. That's harmless. And probably rude not to accept. It didn't feel quite right, but he heard himself answering, "That would be lovely. Thank you, Mlle. Fournier."

"Please. Call me Yvette."


It's just sex. Sex doesn't mean anything. And it's not like I have anyone else that I need to mean anything to, and it's been so long. So long, waay, waaaay too long. God, I hope he lives up to his looks. Faith led the way up the stairs.


"There's dancing after. Some of us are going to the little bistro, up on the rooftop? The view of the city at night is spectacular." Her lips and eyes tried to hypnotize him.

"I don't dance much, I'm afraid." Wesley grinned apologetically. He ignored the visions of Faith in her Halloween finery, flitting sinuously in step with him, around burnt umber shadows in an Atlanta ballroom.

"Would you like to just come to my room for a nightcap then?"

Wesley blinked. How gloriously simple this woman was. No, not the woman herself, just this whole interaction. Her attraction polite and obvious, her attractiveness traditional and uncomplicated.

What a welcome break from months of unwitting cat and mouse and endless emotional agony and frustration of one sort or another.

I like my complications. "Oh, dear. Mlle. Fournier, I'm so terribly sorry, I thought you realized, or I would have mentioned before but... I'm-" involved is the right word, but it's not right for here, oh good Lord, here we go- "I'm married."


He filled the doorway completely this guy, a big bruiser. Leave plenty of bruises on him, too. Her smile was welcoming as she led him inside.

It'll be hard, quick, easy, never see him again, and I don't care what he does to me, or what I do to him. That's the way, baby.

"Beer?" She offered.

"Sure." His hands were against her hips, following her intimately close, into the kitchen. "You live alone?"

No. No, I don't. I don't live alone. I may be on my own for a week, but I don't live alone. "I have a roommate." She said hoarsely.

"Hope she's not gonna mind that you're having me over." His lips brushed her ear.

Faith turned. "He. No. I don't think he'd mind." Because Wes never told me I couldn't date, couldn't have someone over, fuck someone into the next time zone if I wanted. He would just want me to be happy, and safe, and treated right.

The way he treats me.

His mouth was on hers abruptly, and at first, she kissed back, reflexively. Then stopped. Repulsed. Disgusted. Puzzled as hell.

She tried again. Even worse this time. What? What's going on?

Billy asked the same question. "What's up? I thought you were into this?"

"I thought so, too." Faith frowned and wiped her lips, then drained her beer, as if she could wash away the taste of him. "Guess I'm not feeling it. Sorry. I like to relax with wrestling and a cold one, though. You down for that?"

"Uh... well..."

"Sex or you're done?" Faith asked and watched him shrug defensively. What the hell do I want that kind of guy for? I mean- yeah, that was me, but- that's not me anymore. "No hard feelings. I get it. Sorry to waste your time."

Billy looked lost. Women didn't usually react this way. "Did I do something?" He clarified.

Faith shook her head. "Nope. You just... weren't someone."


"Hey. I miss you." She dialed before he was even out the door, and she was straight with him, blunt.

"I miss you, unbelievably so." Wesley confessed in absolute relief.

"Only a couple more days, right?"

"Thank God." He laughed. "I had the most awkward encounter with a female colleague. I barely escaped." Somewhat of an exaggeration, but he felt that way. It was more the feeling of having escaped from a moment of foolishly being tempted than anything else.

Faith laughed, but looked guiltily at the floor. You just... weren't someone. She'd realized that she didn't like the way that guy tasted. Because Wesley tasted different. And kissed different. He wasn't weak or mousey, like she'd thought his type of buttoned up bookworm would be. No, surprisingly giving whatever she gave, yet somehow, he managed to make her feel-

She had no words for that type of feeling. Like the kiss was a gift, and an experience and he was loving every second of it, because maybe he - "Yeah. I know the feeling."

His heart twisted. "Some lout at the bar?" He laughed lightly as possible.

"Don't worry. I might be a screw up, but I uh- I'm less of a screw up now. I have my 'type'."

Relief bubbled up once again. "We ought to do something special when you arrive."

Special. Yeah. We could call it a "special"thing. Not a romantic thing, not a meaningful thing, but a special thing. One time. To bite that not-really-forbidden apple and to have the taste, but not to make it every day. "Something special?" She led.

"They gave all of us complimentary theater tickets." Wesley sounded overjoyed.

Faith shook her head. "I guess I can suck it up through one play. I was thinking... I don't know."

"Something different?" Different between us. Things are. Things have become different, complicated. And I like it. I love it. Love her. "I'll try anything you like."

"Makin' rash promises, Wes. Am I waking you up?"

"No, things went a bit late tonight. My judgement isn't impaired by alcohol or lack of sleep," he grinned, "I trust you."

She swallowed. "Ditto." We trust each other. I think people who trust each other can maybe- experiment. Her hand trailed down to the hem of her teeshirt, undid the button on her jeans and pushed down. "Been stressed lately."

"Indeed." Wesley noticed the change in her voice. Deepening, drawing him in.

"I - I already said I miss you, right?"

"You did. But say it again. I love hearing it." He confessed, rolling over on the queen sized bed, suddenly very aware of the fact it was meant for two, and remembering the few times they'd slept beside each other.

"I don't know... don't want you getting full of yourself." Faith pretended to consider, but then relented. "What can I say? I like my daily dose of Wes." She pictured that dosage differently. Receiving him in whole new ways. Should feel wrong, but instead felt like she'd been waiting for it, and it was natural and comfortable. Two words she'd never used in terms of sex. Hell, two words she'd never even used about a person.

"I don't think I'll be away from you again for some time. Since... both of us miss each other so terribly. That's- that's fair to say isn't it?" Wesley asked nervously.

She teasingly replied, "Terribly's a stretch, Wes." Fingers invaded. She gasped a little. Stretch indeed. Tight and all the sudden aching, stupid body, confusing her, like he confused her.

So it may be a little one sided. Or completely one sided. "Ah. Well, I-"

"Shut up, Wes. I miss you. Bad enough to ... do stupid things." Like tell you I miss you. Like- her finger thrust inside again, like try to get that good, low down, "grr" feeling filled and still act like nothing is going on over here that's any different.

"Stupid things? Oh dear, Faith, what've you been doing?" Wesley demanded.

"What I'm doing now." She grunted softly.

Wesley's eyes widened. She couldn't possibly be. And there is no way on earth that I should become aroused by pretending she is.

The contents of his boxers refused to listen. "Should I let you go?" He finally asked in a semi-constricted voice.

Faith could hear him blushing, and knew she probably was, too, and she didn't even care. "Kinda the point of me calling, Wes. To have you around."

"I- wish you were here."

"You might regret wishes like that." Faith snarked.

"Or maybe wishes come true."

Even his sexy talk isn't that sexy. But it's just what I want. 'Cause I'm so messed up. "Dude, I'm a mess right now." Faith hissed desperately.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Everything. I don't know. I don't like feeling like this." Faith burst out, hand suddenly abandoning its pleasurable pursuits.

His chest tightened. "Feeling like what?"

"Like I can't tell what's old stuff and new stuff, and I'm just a freaking mess, man. I guess I do need to let you go for now. I just wanted to tell you I was thinking of you."

"Faith, wait. I- want you to know. That when you can tell, I'll still be here. I'm always going to be here. Goodnight."


Faith collapsed back on the couch, phone clicking off, and hand returning to work as her eyes fluttered shut. Amazing. All he had to do was say he'd be there and it was a whole new kind of lust. Brain lust.

Crap.

Whole new kinds of freaky.


"What are you doing?"

"Eating breakfast. You?"

"Coffee break. What are you having?"

"Beer and Rice Krispies."

"Oh heavens..."

"Yeah, well, I bet you ate fancy people food."

"The standard fare, pastries and coffee. Choice of salmon or chicken cordon bleu for dinner."

"I ordered pizza. I even made sure they put a vegetable on it."

"I'm so proud."

"Hey... That lady leaving you alone?"

"What lady?"

"You know what lady." Faith's voice ground in his ear, leaving no room for mistakes.

"Yes. She is. And your bar fly?" A similar warning, but a blend of steel and silk ties, no less dangerous, just more mannerly and subtle.

"Haven't run across him, and not planning to."


"Are you driving?"

"Yeah."

"While you're on the phone?" His blood pressure instantly spiked.

"So?"

"You're going to wreck the car."

"You want a new one anyway."

"For God's sake, be careful."

"Same to you, Wes. You hitting the town?"

"I did receive an invitation to an actual ex-pat club. Or rather, pub. So nice to be around some of the traditional trappings and-"

"You're trying to tell me yes, aren't you, Lassie?"

"I'm trying to tell you, no, not yet." His voice lowered. "But I will be. And once you get here, I want to visit some of the occult shops. New York has some of the finest. Not to mention the collections of weapons. Stakes, pure iron knives, silver arrows-"

"Stop, Wes, you're making me soak through my thong." She teased in a breathy voice.

There was an uneven grunt, and the low voice turned to a hiss. "You really shouldn't say things like that."

"Why?" Faith challenged.

"Well... I'm in the middle of a crowded cafe in the hotel, full of colleagues."

"So, I should only talk dirty when we're alone?" Faith's voice wrapped around his mind, sultry and seductive.

"If- you're going to talk that way at all, I suppose so."

A pause. "That's a big difference from what you told me in December, you know that?"

"That was December. This is the first of May. Maybe five months has... changed things?" Wesley answered somewhat stiffly.

Five months? Five months! After -how ever many months was it before? Holy shit, I don't even know, I don't even keep track any more, I... Faith felt a wave of nausea and dark cloudiness was over her. "Yeah. Maybe. I think- hey, Wes, heavy traffic here. Can I call you back?"

"I'm about to go back in to translate for some prospective new clients, a team of Japanese engineers who don't speak Russian. Can I call you when we're finished?"

"Sure thing. Talk to you soon, Mr. Dean."


I didn't think we would make it this long. Honest. Faith had a panicky reality check-slash-conversation with her inner bitch, who was fuming.

Look at me. I'm drivin' "hubby's" car across the country, making sure I call to check in, making sure I'm actually checking the map, making sure I packed the damn teacups and I even wrapped them in my tee shirts so they don't break.

A year. It's not a year yet, but it will be, before you know it. It will be, because he's not going anywhere. Always here.

Three months it the expiration date on people around me. He doubled it. Then he- tripled it. He'll make it a year. Fuck. A year.


She has to know. By now. It's been- goodness, is it nine months? She has to know without a doubt, that any affection I express isn't something I want her to return because she "owes" me. She has to know I haven't done all I've done for the sake of some sexual favor, like she once suspected.

Neither of us have run away, even though this was the prime opportunity so to do. She has to know that things have changed, but only in a good way. In a sincere way.

"Mr. Wyndham-Pryce?"

Wesley started and dropped a page of lecture outline. "Question from the panel?" He responded in the language of the speaker.

"Yes. They would like to know what it means for the deadlines to be given with change... but also sincerity?"

Wesley blinked. "Did I say that?"

"You did. We are confused."

"So are we all." He mumbled and smiled apologetically.


"Good evening, Sir, how can we assist you tonight?" The concierge smiled ingratiatingly.

Wesley closed his eyes and tried not to frown. He'd developed an instinctual dislike of people who referred to a single person as "we".

"I was wondering if I could possibly have a different room?"

"Oh my, Sir, we're so sorry to hear that! What seems to be the trouble?"

"There's no trouble, it's simply that my- that I need to get a second room. Ones that adjoin, perhaps? A suite that has a second room?"

There was a frown and some clicks, all the while the eyes never left his face. "I see, Sir. Well... your company is paying, and they have you listed as a single guest. Is there a reason a single guest suddenly needs a second room?" Speculation, the unfavorable sort, wasn't completely masked by the routine politeness.

"Someone is joining me. I realize I should have made the request sooner." But I got busy. I got confused. Tempted into foolish fantasies where only bed is needed and then horrified beyond belief that I want to launch into a sexual relationship with a woman who may not even love me. A woman I can't even tell I love.

Another click, this time displeased eyes scanned the screen purposefully. "Is this a child, Sir?"

"No! Far from it." We are several years apart. But not that many. Really. Within the same decade, and she's so much older than her years. Her life has aged her.

"A blood relative?"

"I-" Blood. Blood is everywhere with us. Soaking into our clothes, spilling from the people we save, spilling from us. We are indeed, related through blood.

"A spouse?"

My life partner. "I'm sorry, but why the questions? If you can't provide accommodations, simply -"

"I'm not trying to be difficult, Sir." The ingratiating smile, a bit more fake this time, reappeared. "Your company booked the rooms, and they've been very clear about only paying for accommodations for their employees, with exceptions in the cases of dependent children who are in the care of the employee, a blood relative who is for some reason in the care of the employee, or a spouse, who may accompany the employee. Although in those cases, we're not supposed to give a second room, Sir, just a second bill for meals."

Wesley swallowed. He had told one person at this conference he was married. That could be an idle rumor, and if confronted, he could easily say he'd been trying to ease his way out of an unprofessional situation the woman should never have placed him in to begin with. But if he lied to the hotel staff, who were obviously following guidelines set by Trans-Lex...

"She snores. Terribly. And I have to be up early. I'll be happy to pay the difference." Wesley glared and set his jaw, thrust some imperiousness into his tone.

The concierge smiled uneasily. "I see. Um-right, I'll see what rooms we have available. Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce will be joining you when?"

"Tomorrow." Wesley answered hoarsely.

More clicks. "Fine, Sir. She just needs to show proof of relationship."

"I- why in the world should she-"

"I'm sorry, Sir, it's not our policy, it's your company's. They must have had expense account fraud at one point."

Like I'm doing now, in a manner of speaking. "What proofs would you like? We don't carry legal documents around with us."

"A simple photo identification card, state or country issued... I'm sorry for any inconvenience. I can get in touch with the person at Trans-Lex who sets these guidelines if you want to-"

"No. No, no, no. That's fine." Wesley walked away hastily, mumbling to himself. "Thank God she got that ID made up. And thank God I-"

"Mr. Pryce? You're wanted in the Whitehall Room."

"Just coming."


"W... this place is... ever!"

He could hear her annoyance loud and clear, but nothing else. "What?"

"What?" Faith pressed the phone more firmly to her ear.

"Faith!"

"Dude... and...traf...crappiest..."

Wesley groaned. "Are you stopped for the night?"

Faith looked at her phone. She had no idea exactly where she was, someplace in rural Ohio where cell phone signal seemed to be on vacation. "Wes! Can you hear anything I'm saying?" She shouted.

"Hello?"

"Wes!"

"Bloody hell."

"I heard that!"

He looked heavenward. Of course she hears that. It's my lot in life. "Listen, when you get here- hrm- I've had them get you a room adjoining mine." A room he'd move into tomorrow.

"You got me a what?"

"A room! Next to mine!"

"Why? The conference only lasts another couple days. I could... you... for this?"

Wesley cursed all phones and all mobile phone reception. He clutched his temple as he rolled into his pillow. "Never mind. Call when you arrive?"

"About nine, I guess."

He paused, pieced it together, and then said, "I've had to sort of- bend the facts a little. I'll explain when you get here."

"I said... in the morning! Nine!"

"I heard that part. Oh dash everything, goodnight, Faith. I can't wait to see you."

"You, too."


"This isn't an adjoining room. This is a suite. I thought I was paying for a separate room."

"I'm sorry, Sir, a patron hasn't checked out of the available adjoining room. This is one of our executive suites. There's a small second bedroom off the kitchenette. Is that not satisfactory?"

It has to be. And it's not a bad thing. I hope it's not ridiculously more expensive. "As long as any extra expense is paid by myself, not my company. I - didn't inform them my w-wife would be joining me. I don't want to put anyone to any trouble. Any further trouble." He nearly stammered. The concierge looked at him doubtfully. Wesley mopped his brow reflexively. I should have just had her check into her own room, never given the slightest indication of our relationship. Her own hotel, even. I'm a fool.

Just wanted her near me.

"Is there anything else we can help with? Has all your luggage been transferred?"

He looked around distractedly. "Yes. Yes, everything is in place." A bellhop placed his last suit in its long plastic liner gently over a black leather sofa. "Thank you." Wesley fumbled for his wallet and fished out a few dollars as a tip.

The concierge left, the not-quite-true smile plastered in place, and the bellhop remained. "Thank you."

"You were most helpful, you deserved it."

"Well, one good tip, deserves another." The bellhop leaned over and whispered. "Your wife coming to stay with you? Suddenly?"

"Well... in a matter of speaking. I hadn't arranged for it ahead of time so I-"

"So you better put your wedding ring back on before she gets here. Right?"

Wesley stared at his hand. "Oh. Right."


Together

"Pick up, pick up, pick up..." Faith parked outside of the hotel and waved off the valet, phone pressed impatiently to her ear.


Wesley looked anxiously at the clock over the podium. Nearly ten. Well, there's traffic and the parking is disastrous. I hope she has the good sense to let the valet do it.

Why hasn't she called? He self-consciously felt his breast pocket.

He paled.

In the hustle of moving rooms this morning, must've left it on the table with that handkerchief. Bloody, bloody hell.


"Hey! I said leave the car. Yeah, you, you leave it right there! I'll be back in a minute." Faith took the keys she'd been about to hand over and stormed past the protesting valet.

"Hey. Checking in. Wyndham-Pryce's room?"

"Oh, yes, Mrs. Wyndham- Pryce. We just need to see some identification. Would you like me to page your husband?"

Faith's jaw opened and shut a couple times. "I... guess so."

Paging was not needed. Wesley had excused himself from the seminar, one he was listening to, not translating for, thankfully, and was dashing back to the elevator, back to his room, to his phone, and -

"Wes! Hey, Wes!"

"Faith!" Wesley's whole face lit up, and his pace changed, not slower, faster, beelining for her.

Faith left the desk, identification still not produced, and seemed to blur the air, making people look more closely at them, unfortunately. "Hey, babe!" She halted, then reached out to grab his elbow, a friendly half-sort of hug- and was completely taken aback when he kissed her soundly, sweetly on the lips.

"Darling! I've missed you. And -oh dear, you'll never believe this, but I've forgotten my ring. In the car."

"The - what?"

"My ring. Our rings. I think I left them in the jewel case." He took her firmly by the elbow and propelled her towards the front doors.

"Uh- Mr. Wyndham-Pryce?" The clerk at the front desk held out a pen plaintively. Wesley ignored him and steered Faith past him.

"Where are my tea things?" Wesley whispered as they cleared the scowling attendants at the valet stand.

"I'm sorry, did I miss something?" Faith quirked an eyebrow.

"Quickly, I've already had to deal with a catty colleague and suspicious bellhops." He hissed.

Faith leaned into the front seat. "Right here. I thought I should- y'know. Watch the breakables." She tugged the box to the edge of the car door and stepped back.

"Very considerate of you." He gently pawed around the edges, fingers searching for- "Ah ha." He held up a little black box.

"Ah ha?" Faith blinked. Valentine's Day box.

"We talked. About- fitting in. You said the gift should be something practical, I said I found something to help us with our work?" Wesley looked at her apprehensively. Somehow the charade seemed so much more real, and this seemed like such a rushed, indecorous, bad time.

Like our lives are. So in other words, perfectly normal.

"What's in the box?" She knew. She wasn't stupid. She just couldn't believe that he actually had done it. But then he flipped the lip open, hiding it down low, where the onlookers couldn't see it, and showed it to her.

Two little gold circles. Plain. Thin. He wouldn't have had much to spend. He wouldn't have wanted it to look too ornate or she wouldn't have accepted it, part of the package or not. Couldn't be too cheap or too unique, had to be a matched set, or people might doubt even more.

"I know it's not ideal, but-"

"Give me the smaller one." Faith fumbled the slighter circlet from the box and slid it on, feeling it cling perfectly, not too loose, not too tight.

He pushed his on own left hand, and smiled as he dropped the box back out of sight. "Go on in and register then, and I'll get your bags out of the car. Is what you need on the floor here?"

"Yeah, but I can handle my own luggage, man."

"You might be able to, but I'm sure Mrs. Pryce wouldn't reject an offer from her gentlemanly spouse, would she?"

"I'm gonna get you for this later." Faith rolled her eyes and half-pouted.

He expected as much. "Do you at least like the rings?" Wesley asked in a moment when he caught up to her.

Faith looked at it. Looked at him. "It fits nice." She retrieved her bag from him at the counter, and sent him back to his conference with an awkward pat on his shoulder. Man. I gotta go watch some old black and white television. I don't know what the hell "wives" are supposed to do.


"Hi, honey. Had a nice day?" Faith reclined in the room they showed her to, barefoot and sprawled on the couch, ankles crossed, eyes half-closed and smirking.

"I'm only halfway through, it's lunch. As I see you have also decided." Wesley looked at the stack of plates next to her. "Room service?"

"Wicked ribs for a stuffy hotel, Wes." She licked a finger, and gold glinted at the base.

"I'm so sorry for the mess. The rings. Everything. I should have told you last night, but the mobile reception..."

"Sucked ass?" She swung her legs over and stretched as she sat up. "I hope you have this stuff comped. Slayer appetite, man."

"It's fine." Wesley smiled suddenly. "I'm just happy you're here in one piece."

"And the car. I saw you checking it out." Faith chuckled.

"Only the driver." Wesley corrected, coming to sit beside her.

Silence.

"Hey. Uh- quick thinking. G-good cover." Faith cleared her throat, and wiggled her hand.

"You don't have to keep it on." Wesley reassured quickly. "Just for the sake of one particularly rule-abiding clerk at the main desk."

"I think I better. 'Til we leave. Afraid if I take it off, I might lose it someplace." Faith replied truthfully.

"Perhaps you're right." Wesley conceded.

"So... Valentine's Day?" Faith looked at him sideways. "Had it all this time?"

"You wanted to fit in where we were. You wanted... more." I heard you talking in your room, but you don't know that. Heard you asking questions you wouldn't like my answers to. Not then. Probably not now, either.

"Gotta admit, this is more." She was mesmerized. Frowning thoughtfully. It's not that the gold band meant anything, and she didn't go dreaming of white dresses and church music, hell no, not her, never. It was the guy who understood her. Who went looking for ways to make it better, but didn't complain about how bad it was. How fucked up I am.

She had some ideas of what you say to a person like that, but she didn't say them. "Big brain comes in handy, Wes."

"That's what I'm here for." He gave a good natured sigh.

He's here for everything.

"Now, I have to get back down in a few minutes, then I'll be translating until two, attending a meeting for the New York branch, which is technically mine, for an hour, but we should be finished early today, by four." Wesley said briskly. "I haven't looked at the the restrictions on the theater tickets, but if you-"

"Shut up." Faith concluded his ramble abruptly, suddenly swinging her leg over his knee as he began to rise, planting her mouth on his.

He obeyed.

Oh, this was different. This was longing and needing and very, very mutual. This was not about adrenaline or comfort. This was sheer missing and desire.

But it's probably not love.

Oh, hang love, I'm not making love, I'm just kissing the woman I love and-

"Turn off that big brain, Wes." Faith breathed as she left a welting kiss on him.

He nodded, and left a sudden hungry nip across her jaw.

"Yeah?" Faith nodded at him breathlessly.

He nodded back jerkily.

"Mmm." She made a low hum, laughing against his throat, delight running all across both of them, down their spines, across their skins. Her knee crossed over his other, rear dropping down against crisply ironed trousers, scuffing them with her well-worn denim.

Who'd have through we'd have such wicked good chemistry? Faith sunk her tongue into his mouth, then down, over his chin, working her way to a pulse point.

His hands tangled in her hair and he gasped, eyes rolling up. Sinful. Sweetly sinful, the way her mouth could grace one place of pounding blood and set all of it racing and boiling. My perfect poison, my fever, my cure... His head spun, poetry spouting, lost in a haze of finally feeling something inside a hollowed out place in himself.

"You like?" She purred. Like he wouldn't.

"Your lips..."

"Oh, you wait until you get to the rest." She lunged forward, hands getting into the action, tracing his chest through the fabric of a starched, buttoned shirt, gauging the right time to pop off a button, her head pounding, heart pounding, trying not to listen to the worried voices in her head. The voices saying it was different this time, the voices warning her not to hurt him.

Wesley closed his eyes and shuddered, mouthing silently, verses colliding in his brain, hormones drugging him as her eyes darted past his yet again. Her lips. The verse never more true, Then have my lips the sin that they have took.

Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!

He knew it wasn't quite right yet, but he didn't care. He echoed Romeo, understanding his addiction, his dangerous not-ideal, not-supposed-to-happen kind of love, better than ever, "Oh, give me my sin again."

Lips jerked apart. If there had been a record playing, it would have made the horrible sound of skidding vinyl.

Wesley looked up, dazedly. "Faith?"

"Wes..." She wasn't angry, which surprised the crap out of her.

"Did I do something? I did something." Guilt washed over him, though he couldn't figure out the trigger. Or he didn't want to.

"No. No, no, it's uh- It's cool." I am his sin. I'm his bad girl. I like that. I always said I liked that. And, it is cool. To loosen him up. God, he'd be one hell of a bad boy. I've seen glimpses of it.

But I always kinda wanted him to like being bad. Being a little bit bad, is a whole lotta good. Faith smiled in a half-sad way. He's not really all that angelic. But I don't think I want him to think I'm his sin.

"I think- you- have to get back, right?"

"But, I don't have to go yet." Wesley sat up, shaking his head, eyes confused.

"I don't want to rumple you up, okay?" She said with an edge in her voice.

"I see." Wesley cocked his head. She would love nothing better. "I'm sorry."

"No. No, it's good. All good." She lied.

"I'll go then. And see you after?"

"Theater, right?"

"If you want?"

"Of course! I mean- boring and stuff, but we said we'd do something 'special'."

"That's fine."

"It's clean enough, right?" Some tinge of bitterness in her voice.

Then everything clicked. My sin.

Rush to her, take her in your arms and - have her punch you through the wall. You're not her lover. You're not her Romeo. There is sin, and yes, it is your sin, yours alone, nothing to do with her, Wesley silently berated himself as he slowly straightened himself up, found his glasses, repaired his loosened tie. You love her, but you know she doesn't love you. you know you're taking advantage of her, how she views relationships, how she views sex, as a commodity, a tool. Merely using it today... to show how much she missed you.

Temptation. Not that it's such a bad thing, at least it's about an emotional connection of some kind.

Still.

I thought you told yourself, thought you were a man who realized that it's wrong to play with someone's head, and heart.

She doesn't love me back. She's done it every way but in love, and I will not be one more way.

"I did miss you." He whispered as he placed his hand on the door. "I never meant to show you like that."

But I liked the way he showed me. I loved it. Felt real.

Okay, that part gave me cramps in my stomach, but it was okay aside from the nerves.

There was nothing left to say but, "Missed you, too."


He hadn't expected to move rooms, to be rushed from the new room, to have her arrive and have almost no time to speak. Only enough time to make things worse. He rode down in the elevator in silence, brow creased, head hanging.


Boredom. She would leave the place. If she wasn't so tired. She hated admitting she was tired. Normally there was something to do the first day of arriving. Finding the essentials, housing, laundromat, library or internet cafe, food, finding the likely targets... Here- well, she could unpack for two nights. She could help him get straightened up. Everything had just been piled into the room on the easy chair by the door, his suits in bags, his shoes and luggage half opened and spilling out.

"Mrs. Brady, eat your heart out." Faith grumbled sarcastically and began to lug his stuff to the bigger bedroom in one large, sloppy armful.

"Shit." Ties, socks, a glasses case, a brush, and a couple books fell out and practically tripped her. "That's right. Mrs. Brady had that maid..." She grunted and hurled his stuff onto the bed. "And all those stupid kids, I bet they had to pick up their own-" Faith stopped muttering to herself as she retrieved one of the books and realized it wasn't a regular book.

Everything else was temporarily piled on the edge of the sofa as she gazed unblinkingly at the pages. She flipped through cautiously, not really reading, kind of scanning. Wes's handwriting. Half blank. Half full.

He keeps a diary?

That doesn't really surprise me.

I shouldn't read this.

But I don't really care. I'm "sinful", right?"


The Story of Us.

Faith found that title- evocative- to say the least. It was in the middle, too. Just a random page it had fallen open to, and she liked the sound of the title enough not flip to the end, or start over at the beginning.

It's like some fairytale.

How the hell does he see us as a fairytale? She read on.

'How we, a force of only two, managed to prevent apocalyptic disaster. I say we, but in reality all credit goes to my Faith, with her fearlessness in the face of the enemy, and her beauty and skill on the field.'

Faith shut the book and pressed it to her chest, where her heart was doing some weird thump-skip-thump thing she didn't understand or really give a crap about. He writes pretty good!

And he said 'My Faith'.

That didn't even make me flinch. Maybe I am having some cardio-pre-death thing. Beautiful. Fearless.

She read on, breathless.


He translated like a general giving orders, blunt and short, no time to mess about. His session that should have lasted two hours lasted barely forty five minutes. He turned on his heel and marched back to the elevator, tunnel vision.

I will fix this. I am too tired, and it has been too long, and too hard, for her and I to dance this dance one more day. We have to stop. We - we have to establish that we either are, or are not, romantically involved, and that's enough of this confusion.

I'm going to break my heart either way. I at least can spare hers from going with mine.


Faith jerked as the door opened, reflexes tightly coiled as she was reading their adventures.

"Oh no." Faith looked down. Two torn pages in her hand.

Wesley looked in. Saw her on the floor by the couch. My Watcher's Journal! Torn! Oh, she was never meant to see that.

What if she thinks I've been keeping tabs on her this entire time? Lying to her, the Council's puppet...

What if she read how I...how I feel?

"Faith, what did you read?" Wesley asked in a calm, "frozen in fear" voice.

Faith looked at the pages, at him, sorry for invading his privacy, sorry for ripping a page, but really, not sorry at all. "The part about us in the canyon... you called me- you wrote... Wesley..." Her voice was oddly steady, closed over. He was unfamiliar with it, but the way she looked fixedly between the book and the pages she'd ripped out made him fear the worst.

"Faith... listen. I don't know what you're imagining, but I assure you, these are my own thoughts. For me. It is a journal, yes, and I am a Watcher, yes, but I only intended these to be notes. My- reflections. I'm not doing this for anyone but myself, not the Council, not to invade your privacy. I never-"

Faith knew he was talking. And she was nodding inside her head, if not outwardly. Yeah, Wes is saying something. I never thought he was doing whatever he's worried about me thinking he was doing. All I'm wondering is, "Is this what you really think?"

"What?" Wesley halted in mid-explanation.

"This. What you said?" She shook the pages at him.

"Of course it's what I think! I told you, I swore, these are only for me. I'm not sending them to anyone, no one is keeping tabs on you. It is merely something I always dreamed of doing. Having my own Slayer to write about." He shuddered to think of his barren, clinical reports in Sunnydale. He shuddered to think of the other pages she could have seen. Might have already seen. "No one will see them but me." He reached for the book.

She held it back. "And me. Do they have tape in this joint?" She stooped and retrieved the book, holding the pages tightly, not looking at him.

"I think it can be repaired easily." He took the pages and book from her gently, letting her relinquish it.

"You write good."

"It is easy when all I'm doing is reporting what actually happened."

"You gotta change one thing for me."

"What's that?" He asked cautiously.

"Take out the part about all credit goes to me. Just cross it out."

"But then the sentences won't make any-"

"Cross it out. Just- keep the rest. You'll know what it means." She hurried away, presumably in search of the adhesive.

He reread the sentences silently as he followed her. He took the pen from his pocket and made the adjustments 'How we, a force of only two, managed to prevent apocalyptic disaster. I say we . My Faith, with her fearlessness in the face of the enemy, and her beauty and skill on the field.' He added a phrase to make it right. "And I, a rogue Watcher and demon hunter who has been privileged to fight at her side."

Some warrior. "Faith! Come back. I'll find tape later." He tucked the pages back in and went up to her.

As usual, she struck first, as he deliberated one second too long.

"You can't think I'm sin. Not in a bad way." Faith, always brave in battle, finally found bravery beside him. "Not when you wrote- all those things. About ... how good I am."

"Sin? Oh, darling." Wesley shook his head. "Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged."

Faith blinked. "What?"

Wesley looked at her regretfully, "Then have my lips the sin that they have took...Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged! Give me my sin again."

"Wes... lost. Not getting any less lost." Faith prodded.

"Romeo and Juliet." Wesley closed his eyes briefly. She's never read it. She never finished high school. Never had time for the theater or even books. "I quoted. I only meant... that I love when we- when you and I- hrm-"

"Make out?"

"Yes, fine, make out. And I meant, that I wanted more of it." He concluded in a hurry. "But that has to stop, it's not fair. It muddies the waters. Irresponsible. Unwise. I- what are you doing?" She had sidled up to him. Close. "I don't think you're listening to me."

"Sure I am." She snagged the book and opened to the torn pages, turning from his frantic attempts to reclaim it. She read the newly edited sentences quickly. "Good. You write... well, it's good reading."

He blushed. "I said they were for me. I didn't intend you to ever read these." He waxed lyrical at times, went into minute detail at others. Mentioned how he'd been ready to curse her for her lack of caution, ready to weep in relief, hug her in triumph. So much more.

"I want to."

"I don't get much time to write, so I'm afraid they're not thorough." Some are private.

"I'll read whatever you got." Faith heard herself saying earnestly.

He blushed crimson suddenly. "You're making me uncomfortable, do you realize that?"

"Yep." She impulsively touched his hand. "You should be proud. The things I'll do for a good book. This from the 'not a big reader girl'." Her hand brushed up his arm- to his face- snagged his glasses.

"Now see here!"

She lowered her head and put the stem in her mouth with a coy, cheeky smile. "Wanna see what else I'd do for some more of that story? It involves things you're not gonna find in the card catalog."

"Oh for God's sake, yes, you can read it- parts of it. Some parts are private." He looked so solemn, so guarded suddenly, and she knew that look. On her it was called normal. And then he suddenly sprang forward, all solemnity gone. He snatched the glasses back as she laughed and looked smug. "Never nibble on a man's glasses." He scolded wiping them off fussily.

"Only on his ears?" She swayed around him.

"Did you just try to seduce me for reading material?" His head turned, following her incredulously.

"Yep."

"Just checking" He sat down in the leather chair and reclined slightly. We lead very unusual lives. And nothing has been resolved! "Faith, sit down."

"I thought you were all kinds of busy?" She ignored the order.

"I couldn't leave things how they were. I rushed back up as soon as I could. Things still haven't been settled."

"What do you want to settle, Wes?" Faith saw his written words scrolling across her mind's eye. So many things he said. And meant. He took the time to write them down, in a private place, secrets meant for him.

"We can't keep doing -"

"Who says? I don't like rules, remember? Don't like chains and bars, man." She warned him.

"I would never- These aren't rules, I just- I don't want to hurt you." Wesley answered after a second.

"You're the only one who never has." Faith admitted with a slight thickening of her voice.

"I don't want to start."

Her eyes locked on his. "I'm your Faith. You said that."

"I meant it."

"Do you think... I'd hurt you now?" She asked slowly.

"No!"

"You won't hurt me."

"Confuse you then, confuse me, I don't know!" Wesley cried in exasperation.

"The only thing that confused me today was when you had to quote some dude from the bad old days before indoor plumbing. What the hell did you mean?"

"That I want more of you all the time!" He burst out in frustration. "That you take what is bad in me, and you give me what is good, and that- if there is anything wrong in it, I don't care. I simply... don't care. Maybe I've come to hate rules and chains as much as you have." Maybe I like everything wild and free in you, and I never want to break it. Already so many bad breaks that she won't admit have hurt her.

Faith watched his shoulders heave once, then still. "That's not gonna hurt me. Or confuse me. In fact, totally dig that." her hand stole across his arm, down into his palm, fingers interlocking. "Am I confusing you?"

"Not at the moment." He admitted wearily.

Her voice was weary too. "I can stop with the touchy feely crap."

A pause. "Is that what you want?"

A longer pause. I don't want to answer that. "No. Not what I want."

"I never expect anything from you. Do you know that?"

"Got it months ago."

Feelings. I'm supposed to say I have feelings for her.

I'm British. I'm twenty eight and I've only just admitted I have feelings at all, full stop.

Her hand began to sweat slightly against his. This is where you tell him that you want to give him ... stuff. Like, sex, but with emotions. Or at least repeats. Where you say you like him more than a friend and you -have never ever said that in your life and aren't going to. He can't make you. It's the ultimate weakness, admitting that you even think you might have those feelings.

"I trust you. I like you. Nothing has to have a label." Faith said with a herculean effort.

"I'm a Watcher. I like to define."

"Get a new hobby." She leaned her head to his shoulder briefly.

He rested his atop hers. "You're right. I like you indefinable."

"Hey. I'm 'your Faith'. I'm 'your Slayer'. I'm your friend. That's all the labels I want and that's saying something."

My God, yes it is... "I'm your Wesley-"

"Wes." She corrected automatically. My Wes. Her stomach twisted into a full double knot.

"Fine, Wes. And your Watcher. Your friend as well. I know how you like to keep things even." He murmured against her hair.

"You know me." And it hasn't scared you off. That's gotta be the reason I-

The fire in her ribs, the ice in her twisted stomach. She got up abruptly. "Okay, we're evened up, squared away, you've gotta be someplace right?"

Wesley, suddenly fining himself leaning on nothing, toppled a bit, then righted himself. "No! Not for about thirty minutes. I missed lunch."

"Good thing I ordered extras." Faith called from the kitchenette. "You want nuked ribs or nuked steak?"

"Like living with some sort carnivorous creature..."

"I heard that!"

"I know! You have freakishly good hearing."

"Damn straight. You want the parsley off the sides? That's a veggie."

He got up. "No, it isn't."

"It's green!"

"It's a herb!" He joined her by the small fridge.

"Thank you, Mr. Dictionary." She rolled her eyes at him and thrust several plates into his hands.

Squabbling, shoulder to shoulder in the small space, eating, laughing, arguing...

Back to normal.

They gave each other relieved smiles.


Our Normal

"I don't understand this premise."

"Oh cool. So it's not just me?" Faith wore her most conservative and fully covered outfit to the theater, sitting beside him in the dark, blinking at the stage where elaborately made up humans sang and danced and pretended to lick themselves.

"No... They seem to have taken a book of simple poems revealing human nature in cats and turned into a musical without a plot. Or- they're actually reenacting the ancient Rite of Bastet in which true believers were believed to become werecats after drinking a sacred potion." He frowned at the stage. "But none of the texts I ever read mentioned so much singing."

"Or dancing?"

"Or dancing." He polished his glasses. An older woman in front of them turned around to glare. He made an apologetic gesture and stopped talking.

Faith kicked the seat and made her screech. On stage a row of furry-suited people halted.


"I've never been kicked out of a theater before. Not like the ritzy kind. I got thrown out of a couple movie theaters in Boston. For sneaking in. Or stealing candy. Or for going to third in front of the projector and ruining Jurassic Park with some full body shadow puppets."

He choked on the last piece of information, and then coughed it out of his system. "I don't think we should have picked a musical." Wesley mused. "We can see if there's something else with a later start time."

"Or... we could patrol. You packing?"

"Always."

"That's my boy. This is my kind of date night anyway. A good slay, a good-" Don't say lay. "A good double scoop after."

"Hrm. Yes. Well, I have seen several ice cream parlors in my travels." He offered her his elbow and she took it easily. She said date night. His insides fluttered.

I said date night. Fuck. Her insides froze again.


"I was thinking we'd stay in the city for a bit." He staked one, she battled two more. "Mind your skirt!"

"Screw the skirt!" She grunted and stomped one to the ground, foot triumphantly on his chest as she fired her crossbow down, a huntress and her prey.

Wesley never realized how bloody amazing she looked when she did that. Or rather, he had always thought that, it just seemed to keep rising to new levels.

"It's very costly though."

"I bet we can get a discount." Faith panted and grinned as she looked over her shoulder at him. "Let's talk to that magic shop guy."

"What magic shop guy?"

"You said this place had some of the best shops. Let's talk to one of the guys who works there, see if he's the real deal, knows what he's selling and why. If he's legit, maybe he'll tell us where there's a hotspot, or see if anyone knows there's a hotspot, and if they'd let us have a deal on the rent for doing a little undead pest control."

Wesley stared. Nodded slowly. "That's brilliant. I don't know if it will work, but the idea is brilliant! You know you're very amazing, don't you?"

Faith felt her cheeks flush. "Yeah, I heard someone say that once."

He persisted. "A woman both equally brilliant and beautiful."

Faith misstepped, then shook her head. "Nah. I mean... I don't think I really fit into either of those categories. Now, if you'd said street smart and hot as hell..."

"I mean what I said, but I include your terms. It's a blanket statement of your brilliance and beauty."

"You don't usually talk like that, Wes."

"I've never had a 'date' with you before."

In the silence, she knew he was letting her have the option to correct the term, or take it back altogether. She didn't.

"We should go to Central Park."

"Not without more weapons. And don't forget, I still have to present tomorrow."

"So another time?"

"Absolutely. While I'm working the conference tomorrow, do you want to work on the housing arrangements?"

"Just give me some cash."

"No shopping sprees!" He teased.

"Not even at the magic store you're gonna send me to?"

He considered. "I'll make a list."


"Wes, I can't pronounce half of this stuff." Faith looked at his list the next morning.

"Now, look, don't pay more than fifty for an orb, or more than two hundred total. I have no idea how much rent is going to be." He tied his tie. "And if possible, please don't order the entire room service menu. Remember, we have to check out by eleven tomorrow."

"R- r guy-ez? Ragouyes? Wes, what the hell is that, and how do I say it?"

"There's some large 'last night' do on tonight. I'll put in an appearance but then I've been invite to that ex-pat pub."

"Yeah, dance, drinking, got it. Is this some sort of cheese?"

Wesley sighed.

She sighed.

"You're not listening!" He urged impatiently, in unison with her irritated demand of,

"Dude, pay attention!"

"I am! It's not a cheese! I would send you to a cheese shop for cheese, not an Occultist." He looked at where she was jabbing the paper. "That's a type of Norwegian powdered herb used to make a sort of protective asphidity bag."

She looked at him, one eyebrow slowly creeping. "You speaking Norwegian now?"

Wesley exhaled his frustrations. "Just give the man the list. He'll help you. I'll leave it up to you and your finesse and diabolical charm to discuss any potential housing arrangements."

"Right. Oh, hey, am I supposed to show up to this dinner thing?"

"I... would love it if you did, but-"

"I think I could get you fired real fast." Faith shook her head. "We don't have a set cover story. Like how we met. I mean, you saving me from a deranged nurse is real romantic and all, but..."

"You think it's romantic?" Wesley asked quickly.

"Joking." Mostly. Now when I think about it- him and me now, not him and me then, it's pretty romantic. Him rushing in. I like that in this guy. It's kind of cute to watch him go from mild mannered mama's boy to the Bond badass. "We'd have to work on that, and I don't think you have time right now."

Wesley looked at the clock and hurriedly slid on his jacket. "You're right."

"See you tonight?" She called over her shoulder as she bent

"Yes. Later than normal." He reminded her.

"Mhm. Bye."


"Where's your wife?" Yvette batted her lashes with false sweetness. "I heard she arrived."

"She has appointments in the city." Wesley replied with stiff politeness. There were a few other spouses at the conference as well, but they were rarely seen, perhaps a glimpse at an occasional meal.

"Will she be joining us for the dinner?"

"I'm afraid not. I'm only stopping in for a bit, to say goodbye." Wesley said cheerfully. "Several of the local ex-pats have invited me to a pub. Nice to get a reminder of home."

He found his glance drifting towards the elevators. Home is never actually that far away...


Faith hung up the phone. It didn't even ring, it simply went straight to a mechanical voice and a beep. She paced. She went down to the banquet room, walked the whole hotel, and nothing. Nothing!


"Aaaaaand it's all down to Wyndham-Pryce and Stephenson, Stephenson and W.-Pryce, one left to each and Stephenson, it's your go."

"That prize is mine." Stephenson chuckled good-naturedly.

Wesley smiled. "Very likely."

"Cool, this one, doesn't turn a hair." Someone praised Wesley and passed him another half.

"Cool's not what's needed, got to be on fire to get the cup." Stephenson finished his own pint and stepped up to the line.

"Ah, you can have the cup, Stephenson, I would rather have the money." Wesley's sally earned him another burst of laughter. He felt rather warm and happy. Out on his own, quite well-liked, in a casual way, proper beer that he could swallow without gagging, and very possibly a victory in the offing.

"Ooh, a very hard score to beat. Just missed the triple twenty, leaving him out of the ton eighty!" The pub's self-appointed referee announced as Stephenson's last shot stuck the board. "Good luck to the newcomer."

"Did you know..." Wesley quickly finished his drink and stepped up, "that the first darts were originally just shortened crossbow bolts?" He found the dartboard now resembled a vampire's chest in his mind's eye. Not just any vampire. One that moved. One that had Faith by the throat. Just a tiny, pinpoint of space to sink shot to the heart and not injure her.

"Shortened crossbow bolts? What's that got to do with anything? Givin' a bit of a history lesson?" Stephenson laughed.

"Doesn't really matter." Wesley muttered and finished finalizing his aim. Wesley released the dart, arm pulled back differently than anyone else would throw, eyes narrowed, jaw tight, whole body tense. Like the shot really, truly mattered. Life or death, instead of a silly pub trophy.

"The ONE-EIGHTY! THE ONE-EIGHTY!" The pub announcer fairly shrieked and Wesley blinked, body relaxing, everything back to normal now, the board just a board, the game only a game.

He seemed to return to reality with a bit of a jarring sensation. "Goodness. I really have to be going... Oh, all right, just one more..."


"Finally!" She hugged him when he finally came in at quarter to two in the morning, one of the few times she'd ever done that- hug him. Just to hug. I think maybe only hug number three for this guy. He's not gonna make it to number four if he doesn't have a really, really good reason. "Don't scare me like that! Where the hell were you?"

Wesley made a very undignified yip as his ribs suddenly seemed to telescope in his chest, her grip thinning his already thin torso. "What's wrong? Why are you scared?"

"Because it's late! It's really late, and you weren't in the hotel, and you were out there by yourself and your fucking phone is off!"

Wesley shook his head, "Shall we go into all the times you're out well past two? Three, even? And I've no idea where in the world you've gotten to or where you're working?"

"I didn't know where you were either! The swanky hotel dinner was cleaned up hours ago."

"I told you! The pub with the local translators." Wesley frowned.

Faith's angry retort died, replaced by puzzlement, then sheepishness. "Oh. You said that?"

"I said that." He repeated gently.

"Well... I'm the Slayer. So you don't have to have the same level of freak out." She tossed her hair and crossed her arms over her tightly pulled tank top, straining over defiantly thrust breasts.

"You're you. I have to worry far more." He disagreed. "Be that as it may, I went to dinner, then I went to the pub, and now I'm back in one piece."

"Not to sound like the pissy little whiner you used to be, but phone? On?"

"Oh, dammit." Wesley now looked as embarrassed as she had a moment ago. "There was a darts match at the pub. You don't want your mobile to ring in the midst of someone's shot, it's terribly bad form."

"Oh, rather, I say, old man." Faith mocked, but looked less annoyed, relaxing as he settled into the room, the night suddenly normal again. "You played darts for three hours?"

He grinned a Cheshire smile. "I didn't intend to play for so long, but I didn't get eliminated until the last round. I suppose training with you has improved my aim." He dropped a little gold cup from his pocket, and a fifty dollar bill on the table. "I'm sorry I've worried you."

"It's all good." Faith picked up the money and gave him an appraising stare. "If only there were dart hustlers."

"Dart sharks?" He handed her the little cup as well, but she didn't take it, tucking it back into his pocket. "Now, how was your day? Where are we moving tomorrow? Ooh, and did you get everything on my list?"

"I got everything on your list, and got a good tip from the guy. How do you feel about taking over a lease?"

"Well, I don't know." Wesley seemed surprised. "Just a month to month? Is that doable?"

"It is once we do a little exorcism and someone actually human can live there again, pay week by week. By we, I mean you, and by little, I mean tiny walk up a couple stops from Penn Station that's infested with the uncrossed over creepies." She smiled charmingly. "We get it for cheap for as long as we want, and he threw in a case of holy water."

Wesley sighed, then looked at her suspiciously. "How'd you get so much out of him?"

Faith put her hands on her hips and practiced looking indignant. "Don't talk to a married woman that way."

"So sorry. Dear." He followed her to her room as she swayed off, still quietly skeptical.

Faith flopped on her bed and let out a long breath, nerves settling. Finally. Getting soft. So soft. Gonna be a bubbly little airhead who cries when she sees dead squirrels on the road.

"Good night. I'll wake you up in time for us to get ready to check out." Wesley murmured from the doorway, pulling her door closed softly.


"Wes!"

He poked his head around the bathroom door, toothbrush protruding, shirt off, showing the smaller square of gauze and the healing skin around it. "What?"

A pause.

"Faith? Did you call?"

"Yeah. That apartment..."

He rinsed and spat, and came to lean against her door. "Please tell me it's only supernatural pests. Not rats." He pleaded in a tired voice, head starting to throb achingly. "Please not rats."

She laughed at his worry, smiling in the dark. I'm still the tough one. Most of the time. "Don't be a baby."

"Oh dear. I hate the way they have those bald tails. If they only had furry tails they wouldn't seem like such an aberration." Wesley moaned.

The door opened. "Aberration? Vamps you don't freak about, but let a big mouse have a bald behind and you turn into a scaredy cat?"

He considered. "Yes. To an extent."

"The place isn't filled with rats, at least not that the guy mentioned." Faith looked up at him. "I just wanted you to know. I didn't get information the way I... used to." Her eyes flirted with contact, then slid away. You're smart, Wes. You can figure out why.

He could indeed. But she wouldn't like me to mention it. "I'm sure you were shrewd."

"Shrew?" She pretended to be offended.

"Yes, that, too." He kidded, and bowed his head once. "Thank you." For taking care of yourself.

"Welcome."


The more things change

Two days and one exorcism later...

"Are you heading to the kitchen?"

"Yeah."

"Will you plug in the kettle?"

"Only if you tell me where the hell you put the bottle opener when you unpacked!" Faith called, head stuck in the fridge.

"I bought you cans." Wesley replied absently.

"I got a six pack of bottles the other night."

"It's in the first aid kit."

"The bottle opener?"

"What else are we talking about?" He closed his journal, tucking a pen in between the pages he'd just concluded writing, pages that were for their eyes.

She stalked past him, heading to the minuscule bathroom in the flat, to the first aid supplies, and apparently, the bar tending gear. "You're slacking, man."

"You're reading, Faith." He stopped her with a book tantalizingly dangled before her. Dear God. She really is. And loving it. Loving what I write about her. About us. And I let her see it. Inside my head.

Well, why not? She lives there already.

Faith skimmed the new entry, eyes lighting up. Then she snapped it closed and stared down at him as he sat in the battered chair by the open window. "You should wear baggy pants the next couple days."

"I don't believe I own any." Wesley was confused by the sudden suggestion.

"Better buy some. You're finally starting to relax." She retrieved her bottle opener. "Any day now, that stake is gonna fall right out of your-"

"And you haven't changed a bit- at least not in certain areas." He sighed. She sighed. "We lead very unusual lives." He shared the obvious, yet suddenly profound conclusion with her, the one he'd shared so many times before.

"Well, duh." She smacked the back of his head lightly on her way back to the kitchen.

But it feels right now.

She came back with her beer, he went out for his tea, and then they sat, ankles crossing casually together under the table, smiles shared as heads bent, over the newspaper, over his computer.

His hand reached for a pen and touched her fingers. They stayed. Casually crossing as well, no one saying anything.

Feels right now. "Hrm. Is this all-"

"Shut up, Wes." Faith forced herself to look engrossed in the obits page and refused to meet his eyes. A minute passed. "Yeah. It is."