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, Lou, Illusera, AGriffinWriter, Skullmunkey, Sirius120, Sjwheelan, Naomi, Kitakana, This One Fool, Alkeni, and The-Darkness-Befalls.

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



New York City meant bustle. Wesley had ample work, and thousands of places to do it in, plenty of time left over to research and study, looking for signs pointing to places that would welcome a Slayer when they got tired of new York.

New York City meant hustle. Every dive needs a hot girl with sex in her smile to bring in patrons, and some of the dives are happy that the sexbomb turns bouncer and breaks up the fights and tosses out the rowdies. She earned her half in tips, and date nights happened every night in a city that never sleeps.

Underground stations were like vampire racetracks. Faith and Wesley quickly discovered that some lines let vamps travel from borough to borough, without ever seeing the sun. Some of them seemed to be paying homage to the site of a slayer killed thirty years ago.

Wesley would have loved to inform these fanged platinum blondes, with their punk rock mohawks and leathers that William the Bloody was now madly in love with a Slayer, willing to die for her, but the Watcher never got the chance. His own demoness came slewing in and slayed like she was starving for a kill, hungry and desperate for blood as the vampires she dispatched in graffitied tunnels.

When she'd been sated in her blood lust, there was always ice cream afterwards, both insisting on it, an unspoken buffer between the blood lust and the human lust that kept getting stronger.

Something has to cool us down, temporarily, Wesley thought, even though he didn't really believe it. By the time they'd eaten, the duo were snarking and sniping and walking home, hand in now ringless hand.

They found nests, the found darkness, they found human evil, and they found their normalcy.

Or at least the perfect veneer for now. Wesley let his lips brush against her temple as they walked home, cones in hand. She didn't seem to notice, she was too busy talking, a mile a minute, telling some graphic brawl she'd had at some point, wiping her lips on the back of her sleeve as she scarfed down three scoops of strawberry.

We could be any other mismatched couple, opposites attracting and all that, on our way back to our flat.

He smiled and laughed in all the right places, but his fantasy had too many holes in it. Now always ends, and turns into then.


"The summer solstice. There's something indicated. A raising, a calling, an arrival, ancient and malevolent, down in the Chesapeake. I don't know where or what precisely, but there are references to stealing the souls of children." He looked up with a thoughtful frown. "That makes some sort of sense I suppose. The shortest night, youngest souls, you see?"

"I see some sick bastard calling this up, and I'll be happy to send his soul on a one way ride to hell." Faith snarled.

"I'll be happy to help you. In fact- if I can get there in time, I may be able to simply counter cast, block a the invocation. I'm not really strong enough but-"

"You sealed up a split in the world." Faith reminded him, suddenly plopping down hard across from them. "The Magic Man, with the Magic Hands."

"I'd rather just be James Dean or John Wayne." He admitted, eyes becoming temporarily boyish and eager in her presence.

"Whatever you want, babe." She got out her steel and began sharpening her knives. "I'll help you. If I can."

"The girl who cut off Death's hand? You're invaluable."

"And I'm loving the new street tag. 'The girl who cut off Death's hand.' Wicked cool. Kinda long, but it could be a tattoo. Need something for the other arm." A black scrawl wound itself around the other bicep as she admired her blank arm. Wes. No, Dean. No, Rebel. Yeah, Rebel, it's what I call him, it's what I am.

Shit, what am I thinking? She snapped back to attention with an effort.

He smiled, but it slowly faded. "Then I suppose we need to leave by the end of the week."

Her face fell as well. Just for a second, before the hard set came back, and she nodded." Good. I don't like being this close to Boston anyway."

Wesley rose, earnestness and genuine ... anger, worry, something all churned up, passing over his face. "We can avoid the east coast completely. After this is done." He said, coming quite close to her.

"Aww, Rebel. Don't worry about it." Faith swiped her hand across his cheek, an affectionate pawing, meant to get the smile back on him. Instead her hand lingered. "Big girl. Can take care of myself now." But I don't leave. I don't wanna leave.

"I know that." Her hands seemed oddly cool for someone so heated. Soft for someone who battled with her fists each night. "You've always been capable of that. It was merely an offer."

Faith nodded, hand resting, eyes meeting. Since when do I make eye contact? Since when do I do honest, heart-on-my-sleeve shit? Since when do I leave the personal space rules?

Since Wes.

"I like what you offer."

It's as close to saying I like what we have, what you give me... all that you'll let yourself take, as I can get.

"Thank you." Wesley murmured without smiling. I could kiss her now, and it would be a real kiss. A kiss of romance, two people who "date", as well as live and work together. He stepped forward.

She stepped back. "What can I do?"

"Hm?" He almost lost his balance.

"Kid sucking demon approaching, what can I do? Where do we find the bastard?"

"I don't know, I have to do a little more research to pinpoint the location based on my maps of waterway ley lines."

Faith plopped herself in the rickety chair across from him. "Well, tell me how to read the damn map, then."

"You? Want to help research?" Wesley's eyebrows lifted. She helped at times. Almost never willingly, and almost never did she suggest it before he requested it.

She leaned back, popping a pretzel in her mouth, head swiveling to catch it as she gave him a sultry yet sarcastic stare. "Said so didn't I?"

"In a manner of speaking." His dormant rule-loving Council-whipped self rejoiced. I'm about to teach my Slayer some of the ancient magical arts and crypto-cartographic skills, truly what a Watcher should do.

Faith chewed another handful of pretzels, watching him practically hum with suppressed glee. "Move it. Limited time deal."

Wesley nodded hurriedly and threw open a book, shoving it in front of her, ignoring her protest as he confiscated the pretzels with a fussy comment about salt on three hundred year old originals

She groaned, "What part of limited time deal did you not get? Blink and you miss it." Faith snapped her fingers and tried to snatch her snack back.

"Hush now, and pay attention." He said primly, scooting his chair next to hers. He could feel her glare burning him for that. "Please let me explain how?" He corrected.

"That's better." Her head lightly rest against his arm for a moment, and her calf nudged under his as they began their work at the cramped table.

Wesley sighed silently. So many moments. Blink and you miss them. I'm glad I've kept my eyes open so much.

They crossed into New Jersey, and it was like New York was a dream they half-remembered upon waking.

"Get on 95."

"No, I want 13 South."

"We have to take 95 to get to US 13. The map says so."

"You gonna listen to me or the map?"


"I'll leave you in Jersey."

"Why does everyone say that like it's a bad thing? I thought it was a seaside resort."

"You thought a whole states was a... I can't deal, right now, Dude. Read your spell books, okay?" The death metal returned and Wesley was forced into silence.

Almost. His voice warned in a knowing wheedle,"You're going to be lost if you don't get on 95."

We're usually lucky. We usually get there in time. Before the worst happens. Wesley's thoughts mirrored Faith's but he couldn't know that. They were both silent, sitting in a stream of traffic outside a little town in Virginia, waiting for the hearse to pass.

I like it better when we're not too late. Faith clutched her knees as they watched the white vehicle, trimmed with blue balloons and little teddy bears, lead the river of cars, past what felt like acres of mourners, small tokens lining the street.

"I didn't miscalculate. I couldn't have. The solstice is a fixed point. I- I didn't..." Wesley whispered, guilt soaking through him.

"I know you didn't." She squeezed his knee instead of her own. He got there in time to save me from Nurse Hired Hit-Man, in time to stop those losers in Vegas from calling up the evil genie, in time to prevent Mr. Apocalypse Now from starting things up in Utah... He's got good timing.

He finally eased them across a street when the traffic broke, but everywhere they looked, the town was dead, stores closed, houses dark.

"Find a newsstand."

"Everything is closed up, man."

"A paper box then."

"Jordan Pauls, seven, will be laid to rest on the19th. His tragic passing comes after the deaths of Abigail Jones-McAfee, five, and Jennifer Teresa Spade, eight. The neighborhood has been shocked by three untimely deaths in the Ferris Hills community. The deaths have been ruled unrelated incidents, all bizarre accidents. The three children attended the same school and church and lived in the same neighborhood. Police and medical officials are working together to inform community members what steps they can take to increase child safety and ..." Wesley stopped reading.

Faith stabbed the seat beside her knee, hard, with an actual blade, and a volley of curses that left her breathless.

Wesley waited her out. "He's luring it."

"What?" She wasn't hearing, or seeing. Not words, not him. Everything was black and red, swirling.

"He or she, the one who wants to raise this being. This must be a way of luring it. Killing a child. Offering it a soul. Like bait."

"Why?" Her voice shook, not in sorrow, but in controlled rage. If Wesley touched her right now, she knew she'd snap, send him through the window.

"I presume the killer is not powerful enough to force the demon up alone, even on the solstice. It must need an incentive."

"Why d'you want kids' souls anyway?" Faith whispered. "They don't do anything... Even if a kid is a bad kid... Most of the time you're just doing what you think you have to do. You wish it was easier..."

Wesley lost his musing tone, his focus on the facts and the game plans. He looked at her.

Head bowed, whole body giving minute quivers, like the low grade tremors before the earthquake proper, knife clutched in both fists as they clasped hard between her knees.

The psychopath I'm in love with, that I let free, that I saved, yes, that's what everyone would think right now, watching her teeter on the edge of an explosion.

Because they don't know.

He thought of the case file on her, the record the Council had of Lehane, Faith. How it was so barren, and had been barely supplemented due to the untimely death of her first Watcher.

He saw the neat typeface in his mind's eye, as if overlaid on the brunette and blue huddle beside him.

Mother and father both deceased.

It explained nothing about how losing them both took away any link she had to something permanent. About how they were gone, even before they died. About why she can't trust, why she won't stay, why the fact that she has stayed with me, and does trust me, is a miracle.

Ward of the state of Massachusetts until age of maturity.

Ha. Like one simply becomes an age and suddenly they're mature. It explained nothing about the horrors of her foster care, nothing about the grim reality of life with an alcoholic parent that forced her into the system. Says nothing about a system ill-equipped to handle her, that she ran away from. Nothing about how when her Watcher finally found her, there was something like relief and a fresh start.

Watcher killed on duty, new replacement, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce.

Why didn't it even mention that Faith watched her die, killed in front of her, after only a few months on assignment? I know why it said nothing at all about how I was her new watcher, assigned, reports to follow. That she had to watch me ruin things as she spun out of control. Because I was too stupid to know, too blind to see it and I would have been too ashamed to write it down.

Wesley's voice cautiously filled the dangerous silence. "I used to think Slayers were so tremendously wonderful, Faith, because they fight for the innocent. Any innocent, really. I find you so much more wonderful because you fight for the innocent, but you also fight to save what couldn't be saved for you. You fight the battles no one fought for you, and you fight them harder than any other battle. That's something... that's something I really, truly love about you, Faith." Wesley whispered hoarsely.

The shaking slowed. Then stopped. Bowed head nodded.

"You get that?" Pale lips dared to ask.

"I do." For once, no additional words needed to explain.

"Love that about you, too." One hand on the knife, the other on his.

"It's not too late. Not for the rest."

Sides heaved, headed nodded again, then looked up, stone-faced ahead."Find a place. Let's get to work."

They had one and half to two days, nothing more to work with, and he hadn't stopped reading in six hours, her right next to him, reading along, but not comprehending half of what she saw.

"Ma-al Kel." Wesley said suddenly, straightening up.

"What's that mean?"

"It's a being, a demon, appearing in bits of folklore across countries, and time. Always near water, you see. Every country and culture has water. Sometimes as human, sometimes as a horse, but it's goal is the same. It takes souls, usually the very elderly, young children, or young adults. It rarely touches those past eighteen or under eighty." Wesley put the book in her lap and showed her the spectral creature, ancient illustrations showing it in demon, human, and horse form.

"What makes you think this is the one?" They were in an extended stay hotel room on the outskirts. She didn't want to stay in town one day longer, screw the money, screw his jobs, her tips, whatever. End this tonight or tomorrow morning, however it went down, and then leave.

"All three children had an accidental death, but with a little digging, it seems the accidents all involved water. One slipped on water spilled on stairs and suffered head injuries that turned into a coma she didn't wake from. One drowned in the bay, even though no one claims to know how she got out there. This last one, choked to death while drinking a glass of water at the summer block party his street throws every year."

Faith's eyes were no longer the warm, liquid mocha he loved, but were like malevolent onyx.

"So this Ma-al Kel, he's here already? Taking souls, killing these kids?" Her throat was tight with anger.

"I doubt it. These accidents- not his style, if one believes the accounts through the ages. But someone, somewhere in this town has been using what power they do have to send him an invitation."

"How do we figure that out? You got a spell?"

"I might, but first," Wesley reached out to her, pulling her from the pool of madness inside herself, "I thought we'd try things your way."

"My way?" Faith literally did a double take, head snapping back to look at him.

"On your feet, time to patrol."

A hunched form. Silvery haired and stooping along as she trotted unevenly down the street.

"I can't imagine it's her." Wesley whispered, shaking his head.

"She looks like she'd be next on the list. Eighty or a hundred." Faith remarked with a shake of her head.

"Probably just out late. We might actually want to follow her to make sure she gets home safely."

"Not too close." Faith agreed and they moved in the shadows.

In time the form turned down a walkway and they hung back, waiting to hear the door slam, waiting to make sure the elderly woman had gotten in without any trouble. They heard nothing for several minutes, and both exchanged a concerned frown as they began to move forward.

"Wait." Faith's keen ears detected the shuffling sound before he did.

The woman ambled more quickly, jerkily now, not from the door but from the yard, then across the walkway and across the street.

"Follow her." Wesley mouthed.

Faith shook her head and tugged him back the way their late night walker had just come.

"I want to see where she goes." Wesley protested in a whisper.

"I want to see where she went. I want to make sure she's not the one leaving these wet presents for kids." Faith's superior strength came into play and she hauled him rapidly away.

"We're going to get arrested. The people in this town have had so much to deal with already..." Wesley stood watch as Faith slid silently towards a pretty brick house, swing set in back, a lawn littered with balls and frisbees.

"Shh. Stay here." Faith ignored his anxious mumbling. All her senses were tuned to finding something out of trace, some sort of water where there shouldn't be any, some clue to whythe old woman would visit the house in the wee hours, then hightail it home.

Nice house. Nice family, too. I bet mom and dad tucked the kiddies in, kissed their cheeks, read a story. She stepped over a sandbox filled with Barbies and trucks, mentally added a brother and sister to the family she was creating in her head.

After ten fruitless minutes, she returned to Wesley. "Nothing. Not a drop, anywhere."

"Did you check windowsills?"

"Nothing forced."

Anything left on them?"

"No, nothing." Faith sounded frustrated. "Maybe she has Alzheimer's or something. Went to the wrong house." Only why would she go to the yard, not the door?

"Dear, I hope not, or I'll feel even worse about not following her to her home." Wesley moaned. "You checked the toys in the lawn?"

"Yeah, I-" Faith paused. "Check how? None of them were wet."

"Any that were water based?"

"Like what, a kiddie pool?"

"No, like a water pistol, a toy boat, a-"

"Little fishing pole?" Faith exclaimed, suddenly realizing something she'd seen out of the corner of her eye, half buried in the sandbox.

Wesley's jaw tightened. "Get it."

"Shouldn't we try to track her?"

"I'm more afraid of leaving this unfinished." Wesley flipped through books, fingers almost tearing the inion skin pages. "De-charm, de-enchant, ah. I'm not a witch, I don't think I can do this one."

"What exactly are you trying to do? We got the toy. And for all I know, I just stole some kid's Fischer-Price fav, nothing magic at all."

"Maybe, and if so, we'll return it. But if not- dammit, it says I need an egg for this." He started flipping pages again.

"Are we cooking or magicking? What's the what?"

"If this object is somehow cursed, performing a spell of revelation should show us. Then we know that there's a higher probability that something untoward is happening with that old woman sneaking into their yard at night, then leaving."

"Don't you want spells of revelation, not de-enchanting then?" Faith asked finally.

Wesley blinked. "Oh. I suppose so."

"Simple object, not what you seem, harken to this incantation, true form through glamour gleam, grant us your just revelation." Wesley commanded the toy, placed on the table between them.


"What is that? Dr. Seuss on crack?" Faith looked at him skeptically.

"I told you, I'm not a witch, I have skills, but not a true command of magic. Or, maybe it is just a simple toy, and we've unjustly suspected a senior citizen."

"And I've come down in the world," Faith shook her head and went to retrieve the object, "stealing toys from babies. I'll go - Whoa!"


At her touch, the small plastic rod suddenly seemed to unfurl, reel spinning, yards of simple white string flying.

"What did you do?" Faith dropped it, but the string was seemingly alive, seeking, small toy bobber flying, weighting the string on its course, which was to wrap around her neck.

Wesley's eyes bulged. In the space of a second the string had looped once across her throat, before her hand had even had time to put a buffer between her skin and the rope. He could already see it sinking in, choking her.

They both reacted, Faith struggling against it, finger grabbing, and he grabbed her hip, making her, even in the midst of this deadly turn of events, look shocked. He yanked her knife from its ever present location and sliced the line in half. Once separated from the toy, it seemed to give a twitch and limply fell away.

"What the hell?" Faith wheezed, rubbing her neck, feeling the deep indentation.

"The spell worked. It revealed its nature. When touched, the line would spring to life, strangling the child picking it up."

"It didn't hurt me before."

"You're not a child. It wasn't primed to react to an adult, that's not what would lure the Ma-al Kel. But if the spell of revelation worked, it would show its purpose." Wesley grimly handed her back the knife. "Are you injured?"

"Pissed. Can we go kick granny's ass now?"

"I don't think we can one hundred percent be sure it was her. We didn't see her leave it. That could have been there for days."

"What kid would leave this sticking in their sandbox for days and not at least bump into it?" Faith asked.

"Perhaps children who've been attending funerals of classmates." Wesley murmured sadly. "I think we should go trace her if we can, I just don't want you to 'kick grannies' without being completely sure."

"Sure now?" Faith picked herself up off the street corner, rubbing her tailbone. "I'm so gonna kick the crap out of her. First my neck, then my butt, this lady is a grade A pain."

Wesley was slower sitting up. The perimeter of one house packed a wallop, a magical one, like stepping on a a forced air land mine. One foot across the invisible boundary, and they were sent flying backwards a good ten feet, skidding across the sidewalk, halfway into the road. Fortunately, no cars were coming at this pre-dawn hour.

"I'd hate to be selling magazines around here." Faith helped him to his feet.

"She can't have this up continually. It'd cause too much speculation if people who stumbled into her yard constantly became airborne. Or landed in traffic." He adjusted his somewhat askew glasses. "It might just be on other magic users. Or out of towners. Or... it may just be for right now. She doesn't want anyone to get close enough to ask questions right now."

"Because she's killing kids, Wes." Faith seethed. "In my mind, you don't need to ask questions, except 'How do I notify the bitch's next of kin?' Maybe not even that."

Wesley winced. "I know you're angry, but this a human."

"You sure?"

He paused. "Well. No. Actually, I can't be sure."

"Then I hope it's a demon." Faith muttered darkly. "Can you break down whatever she's got up?"

Wesley considered. "With the right spell and some ingredients, maybe. But we may not have time, or success." He looked up at the sky and pulled on her sleeve gently, leading her back to the car parked at the end of the block.

"We can't just leave her there!" Faith dug in her heels.

"She's not going to set another trap until she figures out the one she already laid hasn't worked." He hissed in an undertone, dragging her forward a few steps. "And us still standing out here at daybreak is probably going to arouse suspicion."

Faith gave in, and hurried next to him to the car. "So? Plan?"

Wesley sighed. "The consequences of being with a woman of action..."

"What now?"

"I don't have a plan yet. But if she hopes to raise up the demon on the solstice, she probably assumes the fourth offering will be today, and she'll call on him tomorrow."


"By the end of the day, if no one has spread the news of another tragic death, and I'm sure someone would have- this is a small town and they're already hurting-"

"Bitch." Faith spat.

"Yes, bitch." Wesley agreed more complacently and continued. "All we can do is keep her under surveillance for the day until she makes a move, and then we have to try to prevent her from completing a raising ritual."

"How do you know she's not going to do it in her house?"

"I don't for sure, but she'd be unsuccessful. The Ma-al Kel always appears at a body of water. Her bathtub won't cut it."

Faith nodded. "Stake out?"

"I suppose we could call it that."

"I'm running out of battery." Wesley shut his computer.

"That's good. One more minute of you clicking and muttering in Chinese would have sent me over the edge." Faith growled.

"As if the static combined with the all metal, all the time station isn't driving me mad?" Wesley continued to consult a paper manuscript.

"It's not my fault this place has bad reception." She shrugged and turned the knob slightly each way. Iron Maiden and Megadeath faded in and out, mixed with the weather report for the greater bay area on one side, and country with the other. Faith moaned and stuck it back in the static-y middle.

"She could have left more traps." Faith mentioned after awhile.

"She could have."

"You want to go look?"

"Exactly how would I do that? 'Excuse me, madam, I'm a strange man and I'd like to see any areas where your child may be exposed to water? Also, have you thoroughly inspected their toy boxes for innocent looking toys that may be fatal in the hands of small children?'"

"Yeah. I don't think that'd work." And I don't think I could bail you out. Or that they'd let me visit you in the loony bin. She shuddered suddenly. She'd been in one herself. Wes wasn't meant to be in a place like that. "Stay here." She said suddenly.

"You could go. You're more stealthy. You're charming and a far more convincing liar. Besides, children like you. "

"No, they don't." She snorted.

"Of course they do. You're their guardian. I think children instinctively know when someone has a fondness for them. "

Momentarily flattered in the midst of the anger and sorrow she felt, she spared him a smile. "I can't go up and ask those questions anyway."

"These people wouldn't take kindly to it. I'm sure they've been asked more than their fair share of questions lately. People always are when odd deaths occur, especially three in a small town, all together, all children."

"Water demon worshipping bitch is gonna have a lot to answer for."



"I got you a ham and cheese."



"Sweet. She hasn't moved."

"The gas station attendant said I had to buy something to use the- hrm- facilities. I bought a soda. I now realize that might perpetuate the problem."

"I think cops pee into mayo jars or something when they're staked out." Faith drained her iced tea and prepared to make the same trek.

Wesley paled. "I can't urinate in public area- or in a car- or in front of you! This is not up for discussion." He spluttered, looking completely panicked. Faith shrugged and tried not to laugh out loud.

"Chill. I'm gonna go hit the place and I'll buy something your bladder won't mind, like gum or lottery tickets." Faith patted his shoulder and swung out of the car.

"One block."

"Two is less suspicious."

"I don't give tow shits about suspicious, I don't want to lose her."

They're small blocks. We're very unlikely to lose sight of her, even if we took a full lap." She stubbornly said nothing. "Two blocks. And we turn off the static for awhile. It's won't be sunset until a bit after eight."

"Thank. God. Sixteen hours in a car with you is never gonna make my list of really fun things to do."

"Really? As often as we've done just that?" He rolled his eyes and started the car.

"It helps when we have traffic to scream at and have something to argue over." She winked.

"We haven't had our quota yet? Heavens."

"Maybe we just... learned not to." Learned each other. To like each other. So I don't actually try to piss him off anymore.


"Ew. No."

"We have."


"We're arguing about whether or not we argue."

"That means it's time to go kill something." Faith said firmly, and he agreed.

"Only two more hours until dark..."

"And how long until she decides it's 'solstice-y' enough to make her person to demon phone call?"

"Ah. That is a point."

"It could be like six hours. Ten."

"You're deliberately torturing me."

"Maybe I'm just warming up." Faith answered with macabre humor.

"Well, don't practice on me any further. I'm sure I've got brain damage from your music."

"Your music induces comas, pal. This from the woman who was in one, so..."

He reached down and clicked the radio back on. I may love her dearly, in a variety of ways, but I can't take hours of silence broken by snide shouting matches. "We're listening to music. Not yours. Not mine. Just- whatever I land on, is that acceptable?"

Faith crossed her arms and laid her head back. "Fine, sure." Music, any music with words, really, was gonna be fine. Silence left too much time to think.

I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment's gone.

All my dreams, pass before my eyes, a curiosity.

They followed her in silence, her small blue compact car slowly traveling down the bay road as the sky finally turned dark.

Finally, Faith slashed the tension with an almost nonchalant, "You think we're battling her, or you think we're battling the big guy?"

"I don't know how far she is in her calling. Or if he indeed responded to the 'bait' she left him."

Poor, but factual, choice of words. She snarled, "Kids aren't 'bait'. What is wrong with this lady?"

"I don't know. I don't know what makes a person 'evil', evil enough to consort with demons, to give him someone else's life, to take it, to kill-" He stopped talking suddenly.

Faith knew why. Sounds like what I did.

"It wasn't the same." Wesley offered ineffectually, as he realized what he'd said.

"Yeah, it was."

"It wasn't the same for long." He tried to comfort, and was once again cast back to those first awkward days when he realized he wasn't born to be a supporter or a comforter, and she wasn't one to take kindly to either.

"Long enough." But short enough. The few months working with the mayor seemed like a bad, blurry dream of want and hurt, desperation, betrayal... Everything these months turned out to be the opposite of. Man, how does time do that?

Maybe not the time, but the person you're spending it with?

Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind

"You can't let your past actions determine your present ones. You know that what happened, happened, and all we can do is work to make sure something better happens because of it." Wesley told her earnestly.

"I'm not slipping." She growled.

"I know that!" He growled back and the car jounced over a side road covered with broken branches. "Dear God, this poor car..."

"She has to know we're following her now. We're the only two people who must have used this road since- ow, shit!- since the highway got put in." Faith clutched her head as she bounced it off the window.

"Seatbelt!" Wesley snapped.

"Won't help!" Faith resisted the urge to reach over and punch him in the knee for sounding like such a goody-goody right now.

"She must be too far in to care if we're following or not." The car slammed into a rut and then rocked out with a crash. Wesley wiped his forehead and cursed under his breath. "The suspension..."

"Would you stop worrying about the effing car? How am I gonna deal with this?"

How do I fight someone who might be sick like I was sick, evil like I was? Eaten up. Waiting to sell out. Hurt enough not to care what you hurt as long as you stay alive, as long as you get the power, and you really just. Don't. Care.

Or you're afraid to stop. Afraid what'll happen. Afraid the world was right along, and now you have to say it. Say I'm scum and I'm a quitter.

I never sold souls though. Just killed the bodies. Does that give me any kind of cosmic brownie points?

I'm not like that now. I got better. But I sure fought it...

Wesley didn't like the silence she seemed wrapped in, and he couldn't reply. He didn't have a hard, fast way of dealing with an evil human, one killing others with acts of black magic. He couldn't turn this lady over to the police. He couldn't let her kill others.

"Demons are so much easier." Wesley said to himself.

"Everything used to be easier." Faith whispered.

Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea

"Ease in. Headlights off." Faith muttered.

Wesley nodded. "I'm going to try to stop her."

Faith's head jerked away from its intense focus on the car stopping at the edge of the water. "You're what? Hey, I'm the Slayer!"

"You deal with supernatural beings, I'll deal with the human ones." Wesley began to exit the car.

Her hand stopped him, nearly crushing his wrist. "What's that mean? You're going to kill a human? So I don't have to?"

He said nothing.

"You're not like me."

"Well, you're not like that, either. And I won't let you go back to that. You've worked too hard, even if the reason is there, I-"

"You don't 'let' me do anything, Wes."

"And nor do you prevent me from doing anything!"

"I'll prevent your ass off, buddy." They grappled, heads bumping, shoulders bruising in confined spaces, two very stressed, determined people concerned about saving lives, particularly the life of the person beside them.

"Are you like me, Wes? You a murderer? Is that what you are now? It's worse than being a nothing, I can you tell you." She laughed bitterly in his face, holding him to the seat.

"I... am your Watcher. I am your... friend!" He found all the extra strength he had, and threw her back, the car horn blared, and she rolled to the floorboard of the passenger side, half in, half out of the seat, looking at him with stunned eyes. "I would be anything you need me to be." Even that. Even worse than nothing. He got out of the car, and then reached down, pulling her up.

She wouldn't let go of his hand. "Don't."

"I will do what I think must be done, like you do." He said grimly.

"Then think of something else!" Faith's nails scored his skin.

Blood on my hands. On her hands. Wesley paused, looking between the figure in the distance, and the woman in front of him.

"Please, Wes."

So sincerely, simply, and with utter trust that he could do it. She never says please unless she really needs it to happen, means it with all her heart.

He let out a brief, shaking breath, and commanded suddenly, shoulders stiffening.

"Get her to the ground and keep her there, we need to know what's she done. I can try a variation of the revelation spell I used on the toy." Wesley suddenly said, and they were both reset, running from car to shore, momentary violence and struggle forgotten. Not forgotten, forgiven, like anything bad between them had come to be forgiven.

All we do, crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see

Faith's pace slowed from steamroller to a gallop. The closer she got, the more doubts she felt. A hunched figure confronted her, standing her ground. Faith didn't even need to tackle her, the little old lady simply didn't run away.

"What are you doing out here this evening?" Wesley asked with a harsh grate in his voice.

"The same thing I think you two are." The voice was narrow and somewhat pleased with itself, as if enjoying a secret joke. "Enjoying this lovely warm night?"

"We're here to see what bitch has been killing kids." Faith spat.

She didn't seem shocked by the accusation. "Accidents happening in town. Shame." Clicking of tongue, shaking of head. "Oh, well. Accidents happen." A scrunched shrug with wizened shoulders.

"Accidents that you've arranged?" Wesley pressed.

Cloudy eyes suddenly gleamed in the moonlight, and the woman seemed to close her shawl more tightly across her chest. "Now, now. I'm only making a little barter, dearies. If you two want to-"

Now Faith tackled, and Wesley leaped back. Something fell from the old woman's hand, something she'd been reaching for under the guise of adjusting her clothes. Wesley retrieved it. A small skull, some sort of animal's, painted with rusty red symbols.

"A death's head. You don't intend to be stopped, do you?" He threw it down and crushed it under his heel, as Faith sat the struggling crone upright on the wet shore.

"That was mine! It took days to make!"

"And an animal sacrifice." Wesley said in disgust.

"What are you, a witch?" Faith sat her more firmly in place as she squirmed.

"I'm not speaking to you. You just wait. You'll be the next, both of you. The girl first, she's youngest." She replied in a singsong voice, revealing the madness under the innocent facade.

Wesley resisted the urge for physical violence. "Ma-al Kel isn't going to touch her. Or me. He takes the short souls- ones not long alive, ones not long to go."

"Ah, ah, and ones about to be lost." A knowing glance between the two. "Souls follow the hearts, lambkins."

Wesley colored, and Faith grimaced, then shook her in disgust. "That's just creepy." She turned her attention to Wesley. "Let's just- I don't know, if she's called this demon, let's hang up on him."

Wesley looked at the woman, saw her withered lips twitch, eyes move restlessly. "Have you called him? Is there time to stop him?" A frantic, single shake of the head, a gasped denial.

"Wait a minute, what's-" Faith looked at them both with confusion.

Wesley bent to look the newcomer more steadily in the eye. "You're not calling him. He's just coming here. That's it, isn't it?" The eyes locked on his, then darted away, a high-pitched humming starting.

"But- that codex or whatever." Faith watched Wesley's face take on a look of unpleasant realization.

"He's being raised, tonight, yes, by someone. Or for someone. But you didn't call him now. That's what you meant by barter. They weren't bait, they were-"

"Gifties. Trades."

"No." A beautiful, resonant voice, like waves rushing, made three heads turn. "Buy offs. But, Dorothy knows, Ma-al Kel wants what's his, and he'll get it, one way or another."

"That's a demon?" Faith looked at Wesley questioningly. "That has to be one of the most gorgeous guys I've ever seen. And I've seen a lot of guys."

The figure who seemed to appear out of moonlight and water laughed and bowed his head to her. "Thank you. You're pretty yourself."

Wesley frowned at the figure. Glistening coal black skin, wide chest and velvety voice, all combined to be - "A trick. An exterior that someone would fall in love with, would go willingly with."

"For the kids, it's the horse, for the wandering girls- it's Kel. The handsome devil. Literally." Laughter rippled from him again.

"Let me go. Let go!" The elderly female twisted her frail arms from Faith's grasp in an act of pure panic, but Faith easily caught her.

"Someone want to clue me in?" Faith snapped waspishly. "I'm cranky when I feel left out."

"This is true." Wesley muttered under his breath, hands slipping slowly to his pockets.

"Well, I met Dorothy on this very beach, sixty five years ago. Beautiful girl, every one in town chasing after her, but she wasn't happy. Wanted a man better than the small town hicks. Just ripe for the picking."

Faith could see the ugliness under the beauty now. The way the eyes mocked, the smile was too wide, the teeth a little pointed at the edge of curling lips.

"You tricked me!" Dorothy protested bitterly. "He promised to take me away from here, across the ocean, a place I couldn't even imagine."

"Technically all true." The wide smile shrank in a look of pretend sorrow. "She didn't want to come for a swim after all." Ma-al Kel shook his head regretfully. "Usually, I don't make deals, but I knew I had met such a rare treat that night. Only fifteen and already making deals the devil himself offers."

Dorothy set her crinkled jaw and shrugged. "He said he loved me. Said he'd give me the moon, said he'd die for me."

Wesley blinked. "You did?" He asked the demon.

"Not me. What was his name, sweetie? He was your boyfriend, not mine."

Faith's jaw popped open slightly. "You gave him your boyfriend?" Dorothy stubbornly remained silent, so the demon answered for her.

"A silly seventeen year old who was head over heels in love, mooning over the town beauty, saying all the things lovers do... she took them literally." He spread his hands carelessly. "I like to think I saved him a lifetime's of worth of trouble. Being in love with someone who'd sell his soul out from under him."

"I didn't have a choice! It was him or me!"

"Then there's a choice. That word 'or' in there, that means there was a choice." Faith hissed. "Then what happened?"

"Two for one. One then, one in sixty-five years time- we played a little game to get the number. Time's up. I want my second soul, Dorothy." The glittering eyes changed red in the moonlight.

"I gave you more! Three more. I can give you more, there were supposed to be more!" Dorothy skittered back, pushing against Faith.

"And they were delicious little offerings, but they're not you. I made a deal. I can't let you out of it. If I break one deal, people will think I break them all."

"People aren't really going to have much chance." Wesley's voice came unexpectedly at the end of the demon's threatening sentence.

Ma-al Kel looked down. He should have been watching the man, not his prey, not the beauty holding it.

While he'd been staring at them, the man had been circling subtly, laying a trap.

Dust in the wind, All we are is dust in the wind

The circle of white dust and leaves enclosed three figures, but the humans could leave any time. Wesley moved faster than the demon expected and threw another line of the powder across, cutting him off from the women.

All he did was laugh. "Salt?"

"Snareweed and sea salt. Snareweed to hold a demon."

"I'm not just any demon."

"Seawater that's been boiled until only the salt remained, scraped off an iron pan and blessed. It's water that's dried. You can't cross a dried river bed, or dried ocean." Wesley swallowed.

"You think that can hold me? One breath of wind, once the tide comes up, even ten minutes on this beach and the salt will dissolve, wet again. Snareweed singes, but it's worth it when you get a soul you've had your eye on for this long..."

Faith rose, and pushed her captive into Wesley's waiting arms. "Ten minutes, huh? I think I can do it in that. Wes? Silver, iron, fire, what do I use?"

Ma-al Kel suddenly saw Faith with fresh eyes. Sniffed at her. Let out a forked tongue and tasted the air surrounding her. "You know, you might do. Older, but your kind... not long to go. Step on in here with me, Slayer."

"Faith, wait." Wesley stepped forward, alarmed. Not long to go? How did he - well, of course, Slayers die young. But not my Slayer. Not my Slayer, because she's not a a Slayer, not only a Slayer, she's a person, she's Faith, and she's my Faith. "Faith, wait, I can-"

"Don't listen to him. He doesn't know anything." The eyes were rubies, the smile almost crocodilian.

Faith's head tilted. "He knows a lot, dude. More than you."

"Can't stop me, though. That's up to you. Step into the ring."

"I can't stop you, but I can slow you down." Wesley muttered something, reaching into his other pocket, a sparkling rain flying from his fist as he opened it.

"You can try to keep her, but she belongs to one of us in the-"

Don't hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky

"Whoa. Nice effect." Faith stared at the slightly blurred figure in the circle, mouth hung open in mid-sentence. "Did that happen before?"

"New Orleans. Utah." Wesley replied. "We're in different speeds, but not for long. Just to give you the edge."

"So I go in and kill him?"

"You can't. Once you enter the ring, you're moving in that speed, back to being locked in the battle he wants you in. Wait a minute, get ready to strike, soon as it dissipates. I wouldn't say it's exactly a 'fair' fight, but-"

"That works for me. Dude sucks up souls of kids and old people. That's not 'fair'."

"You can kill him?" A quavering, eager voice interjected. "Kill him and keep him from coming back?"

Wesley gave Dorothy a frustrated glance, then turned back to Faith. "Not permanently, no, but for quite some time. Years. The Ma-al Kel is an ancient water-based shapeshifting demon who is fueled by the life forces he steals, robs before their time, in the case of a child, or consumes what's already been stored, in the case of the older victims. Faith can't destroy that sort of thing permanently, not with what we have here."

"Try me." Faith growled.

"You can send him back to the waters under the earth- the lakes of fire." Wesley explained. "But eventually, he'll find his way back out. Years, even decades, Faith."

"This isn't final."

"But it isn't for nothing."

"Fine. So what do we do about her?" Faith spared their human evil a glare.

Dorothy stared back, unrepentant.

"We'll deal with that later." Wesley shook his head and concentrated on Faith. "Iron and fire."

"For Mr. Universe?"


"Damn, and I just don't have a lighter. Iron's covered." Faith retrieved a large, blackened blade from her hip. "And silver for back up?" She held up her personal favorite.

He nodded. "He'll be returning to our speed about..."

Faith tensed, ready to jump in.

"Chest, Faith, power center in the torso. Don't break the circle."

"Got it."

The air shimmered and the demon became sharper. Faith shuffled for a split second, and then dove. Like a film suddenly un-paused, the action was instant.

Wesley watched, walking near the edge of the ring, surveying two figures locked in immediate struggle.

Fighting in a tight space was something she was good at- when it actually was a tight space. When it was a matter of not crossing a perimeter, she found out she sucked at it. "Should have practiced this." She grunted aloud.

"Watch your feet, little one." Ma-al seized her hair and forced her arm back.

Wesley gasped as her heel skirted the sand ring, and cursed as the demon's black hand seemed to web and attach, grabbing onto the skin above her breasts. "You!" Wesley shouted and picked up a stone from the shoreline, lobbing it at the shapeshifter's head. Momentarily distracted, its hand left Faith's chest.

Faith breathed easier instantly, lost the feeling of darkness fluttering behind her eyes. "I don't do second base with demons I've just met." Faith spat and shoved.

"No!" Wesley's shout coincided with a wail from Dorothy, and Faith's body hitting the sand as she toppled over the enchanted circle.

"Troublemakers." Ma-al Kel's appearance grew more gruesome by the second. The jaw had lengthened, something equine but sharp-toothed about the once handsome face. He snapped at Faith, then crawled across her, slavering, heading for the witch.

"No! No, I- I want more time, more time."

"Time'sss up." He hissed, webbed hand reaching, forked tongue dancing.

"I need more time!"

"The ssssand in your hourglasss is gone. Any more time and you won't be worth a thing to me." Ma-al looked over his shoulder, as if expecting interference from the duo. He didn't get any, Wesley was hauling a temporarily woozy, weakened Faith to her feet, gathering her iron blade.

"Another five- another ten... I'll find you replacements. Children. Seventy, eighty, even ninety years of power you could have, for each." Dorothy pled, scooting back.

Ma-al seemed to hesitate. "No. A deal's a deal."

At that point Dorothy seemed to realize there wasn't going to be a way to barter or bribe herself free. "But if you kill me- those two, will kill you."

"Let them try. Not one has succeeded yet." He boasted, latching on.

Dorothy turned her gaze to Faith and Wesley. "Stop him! Don't just stand there, help me!"

Wesley began to move forward. Faith held him back, leaning on him, panting slightly. "Why? So I can kill you instead? So I can let you go kill more kids to buy this guy off?"

"Stop him! Stop..." A demonic hand latched, talons and flaps of skin sinking in, lighting oozing from underneath.

Wesley looked between Faith and the pair locked in a losing battle. "She's human." He protested faintly.

"We all pay for our crimes somehow, human or not."

"She was a scared teenager, living on borrowed time all this time. Haven't you and I made terrible choices and been glad of some help to get a new start?" Wesley pled eloquently.

Faith relented, knowing it was true. She pushed herself upright on slightly unsteady legs, and took a running leap onto the back of the demon, who unlatched from Dorothy's chest with a sickening squelch and a cry of anger.

Her iron blade stabbed him in the back, but it was a limited blow, thick cords of muscle keeping her from breaching the power center as she wished.

Ma-al winced and writhed, shaking her off, pursuing her as she scooted backwards. "I'll take you. Then her. The lover, lasst."

Not my lover. And hell no are you ever letting your sticky black duck hands on him. "No, because I'm going to kick your ass." Faith grunted, trying to worm her way free as he grabbed her ankle.

"I'll be back though. I'll be back, Dorothy, and even if you passss, your sssoul iss sstill Ma-al Kel'ss."

Dorothy looked at Wesley. "Can you break it?"

"The deal? No, only the demon can change the terms. But he's lying, if he's not there to collect your soul, he can't claim it. If we kill it, he'll be gone for a long time." Wesley answered absently, eyes kept on Faith, looking for an opportunity to assist.

"I want out of it."

"I'm afraid you have to talk to him, not me."

"Fine. I will. " Dorothy reached with surprising speed into Wesley's pocket and found what she hoped was there. Another vial of shattered orb, only this time, she doused it on the stunned Watcher, and hobbled toward the demon.

It slips away, all your money won't another minute buy

"Wes!" Faith saw what happened after the fact. Having him so close by, but trapped slightly out of sync gave her a horrible feeling, helpless and miserable, and enraged. "You! Who the hell's side are you on!?" She shouted as Dorothy stumbled forward.

"Terms! Terms for freedom, not more time. Anything, name it." Dorothy begged.

Ma-al stopped the fight, sending Faith hurtling to the beach with a sudden lash of powerful back legs. He reverted into the handsome man that had charmed a young girl years ago, and smiled.

"Nothing you can do."

"A soul- for each year you gave me."

"Sixty five souls." Ma-al mused. "Tempting."

"It's a bad deal." Faith interjected, rising slowly, earning surprised looks from both.

"Don't listen to her. Sixty five souls, full of life yet to have, all yours- far better than one miserable little life like mine." Dorothy fawned with a nervous laugh. Ma-al hesitated again, and his intended prey continued her gruesome sales pitch.

Faith was stunned. You save a person- and then they still-? She shook her head as if she could change this picture, but when she stopped, she still heard Dorothy describing the delights of sixty-five souls, freshly alive, then freshly offered, all traded in for hers.

Faith felt like she was outside of herself, knowing what she was about to do, but making decisions from some higher plane, just watching it happen. "No. It's a bad deal." Faith walked boldly forward- not to the demon but to the woman, and locked her arm around her neck before either could move. A silver flash glinted in the moonlight and rested on soft flesh. "See, if you let her go, make this deal to set her free- I'm going to kill her. Right now. And you're out her soul, and whatever else she promised, because I'm not going to let her get a chance to 'offer' you any more people."

Ma-al cocked his ebony head. "Slayers don't kill humans."

"This one kinda does." Faith whispered grimly. "If you think I'm gonna let her kill a bunch of kids for your sorry soul-sucking behind, you're out of your mind."

"I didn't travel all the way here to leave empty handed."

"So get what you paid for." Faith spun Dorothy into his grasp. "Sorry, lady. We all pay for our crimes somehow. You could have made your time better, after you made the deal. You stole it from kids instead. I'm no saint, but even I know that's not how it works if you want to be forgiven."

"I don't want forgiveness! I want to be free!" There was clawing and screaming, and Faith closed her eyes, wondering if Wesley could see in his time bubble, just what she'd let happen.

"Sometimes those two things go together." Faith swallowed hard, watched white light filling the black form in front of her, and threw herself on to him.

Wesley watched as if through badly distorted glass, a swap of bodies, a claiming of soul, and in the single moment of completion, her full on assault, straight into the creature's solar plexus, sending him into a thousand splashes of black water and soaring light.

Then she came over, hesitated, and stepped inside with him.

"Oh dear." Wesley felt her ripple into this slightly out of phase moment.

"It's done. I didn't know how long you'd be in your own little time zone. I didn't feel like waiting." Faith said as nonchalantly as she could.

"It doesn't last long." Wesley reassured. "We can move, you know. Just at a different rate of speed."

"Then lets move."


"Could you see what I - what happened?"


"I should have saved her. She was human. Was."

Wesley had a notion that wasn't possible, or Faith would have tried to do something different to prevent what happened. "You must not have had another option."

Faith shrugged with an almost bewildered expression. "I didn't have a lot of time, but yeah, I ran the plays in my head. I could kill the demon but if she made the deal, and that guy can eventually make another appearance, he's still gonna want to get paid so- I don't know. It was like, killing the demon now, still wouldn't stop the bat-shit crazy evil old lady, and she's the one handing out souls." His mouth opened, as if to quell the ramble, but it didn't work, she plowed on, faster still. "I mean, this was different, because when we catch a mugger or whatever I can beat the guy down and move on, but this- I knew what she was doing, and she said she didn't care about anything but being free. Not like we have proof. Not like cops believe in magic. Not like we could turn her in. We could have tied her up or locker her up ourselves, or something, but then wouldn't she just get found and get out anyway? Or die anyway?"


"I made the wrong call! Fuck it, Wes, I didn't know what call to make, but I should have saved her, not handed her over, even if I did want that bitch to pay." Her voice cracked. "Should have saved her, somehow..."

He pulled her into his arms, holding her tight as she pounded her fists weakly on his back, taking in huge lungfuls of air and berating herself. "Listen to me. Shhh, Listen. I'm going to tell you something I've learned, darling, shhh." He waited until she stilled slightly. "Sometimes, in order to be saved, you have to want to be saved."

Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind

Dust in the wind, everything is dust in the wind

"I wanna leave." She lay in bed beside him, bypassing her own for the comfort of a warm body next to hers, freshly showered, dull eyed, staring at the white ceiling of the hotel room.

"First thing." He promised. "Now, if you like, now that you're cleaned up a bit." She was silent, and he thought she was considering whether to leave now, or catch a few hours of sleep first. He was wrong.

"Wes... I think I - I think maybe I'm not doing this right." She whispered.

"Because you lost one innocent?"

"She wasn't innocent. Neither am I. And I'm never, ever gonna be better than what I fight." Eyes drifted to his. "I was evil, too."

He knew better than to argue with her now. "Evil isn't a permanent state of being for humans. Nor for demons, really, with a few exceptions. Look at all you've done."

"I did great things for a couple months, and then... in one night I tell a demon to go ahead and munch a senior citizen."

"Who was a dark witch, who took three innocent lives, and who may have planned to take more."

"Sixty five more." Faith said bitterly.

"Sixty five- Faith, you saved the lives of sixty five children from an unrepentant, disagreeable, thoroughly unpleasant old hag, and you feel like you're the one who's bad?"

"Yep. That's me."

He put his arm around her shoulders suddenly. "I know you won't believe me right now, but that just shows how good you are. That saving some isn't enough. You want to save all, even the ones, that really, by all accounts, don't deserve mercy. That's the heart of a hero."

She allowed herself a respite, let her head relax on the crook of his arm. Wes never lies to me. And he's agreeing with what I did, even to make me feel better. But no, 'cause he doesn't do that. If he says it, he means it.

We're the heroes now? God, what a joke. What a mess.

"I need a break from the hero thing." Faith grimaced.

"Then let's have one. It's summer. Summer means longer days, shorter nights, demons typically try to avoid the daylight. Even Buffy took summers off in LA."

"I didn't say the whole summer. I meant like- a week."

"Well, whatever it is you need, you should have. I shall endeavor to procure it for you, my lady." He doffed an imaginary cap with a corny but courtly gesture.

"Only you can get away with the shtick, man," She laughed, tiredly, from the depths of sore ribs. Then sighed. "You were on it with that stuff. Sacred seawater and weeds and all that. You always have that in your pockets?"

"I told you there were some of the best occult shops in New York City. I restocked."

"Dark horse."

"So the prophecy said."

Prophecies and magic spells and demons. Strange kind of world. World humans don't really last in, huh? "Hey. He said I don't have long. Slayers don't, y'know?"

The arm tightened. "I know. Hrm. We beat odds, you and I."

She nodded eventually. "True."

"Time on this earth is fleeting. All of it, relatively speaking. I think, Faith, that it isn't so much what time you have, but what you do with the time you have."

"I wasted twenty years."

"I wasted twenty seven."

"Gotta one up me, don't you?"

"The point is, we have time to make up for."

Silence. Thinking. "So don't give up?"

"That's right."

"Even if you feel like what you do doesn't matter?"

"That's right. Because it does matter. It matters terribly, at least to me. I count for something, don't I?"

Everything faded away. The bad and the good, the places, the baddies, the bars and beds and the world she shouldn't still be in, only one thing remained, no matter how she tried to shake it, to prove him wrong.

Stuck in her mind, steady. "You count for a lot."

He kissed the edge of her hairline lightly. "Don't quit. We're not quitters."

It cost her so much to say, but she said it. "I'm not gonna quit. I just want a vacation."

"Then we're going to take one."