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: Helenluvsboo, Cavemenftw, alexiarrose, ginar369, omslagspapper, kerry,220, jewel74, Sirius120, mike13z50, Jinxgirl, Naomi, and Kathryn Merlin. Thank you helping me with your support as I write these characters for the first time!
Nothing of Buffy belongs to me, except my sincere admiration. However, this story is all mine.
Faith watched the horizon, the side of the road, all flashing by, anything not to watch him.
He risked glances at her every now and then. She was awake this time, not drifting in and out of sleep as she had been during their first long journey.
How is it that two people who couldn't be in the same room without threats or orders flying only a few months ago, are now stuck in six feet of space, with no one but each other for conversation?
Or utter silence, as it turns out.
"Would you like to stop soon?" Wesley asked as they passed yet another in a string of seemingly endless highway signs.
"That sign said 'Next Exit Forty Miles'. Unless you step on it- there's no 'soon'." Faith said carelessly through pale, pouted lips.
Wesley's grip tightened, and his foot pressed down firmly- and didn't let up.
Faith's eyes widened and she went to push herself up, brace herself as the speedometer climbed- but she couldn't. The car accelerated and Wesley made a frustrated noise so low that an ordinary passenger wouldn't have heard it. He narrowly passed another car that was doing the speed limit, sending Faith slamming sideways into the door.
Faith gasped. He cursed softly, "Damn it all!", and slowed, reaching over to help her center herself.
"Shit, Dude." She laughed once, half amused, half worried. "Forget what side of the road you're on?"
He winced in his head, and a little bit in the shoulders. "I'm sorry. That was childish."
It flowed easily, suddenly. "Don't be sorry. Childish is okay." Her head lolled back, eyes closing.
He looked over at her. Without the dark eye make up, the black cherry lipstick, she actually seemed far from youthful, far from childish. So young, and so old. How very absurd we are. Everyone called me a mere boy among learned men, green, untried- and I came to her full of age old wisdom ready to impart...That went so very well.
"I don't think I was ever much of a child." Wesley mused aloud.
"I didn't figure." Faith snorted. "Were you born in a suit?"
"I had tweed nappies." He smirked.
Faith's eyes opened. "Did you just make a joke?"
"Did I?" He was openly incredulous.
"Could be the head injury talkin'." She admitted.
"Let's hope not." He looked at her worriedly.
"You can stop doing that. That thing. Where you look at me like I'll break."
You've been broken. But that would earn him a punch in the face or, in her state, she might just pitch sideways and head butt him. "I'll see if I can manage it." He said stiffly.
Faith wanted to kick him, but she couldn't. Two seconds of him loosening up, and now he's back to Mr. Stick. I don't need that. Don't need it, never needed it. "Yeah, well... I got scraped up all the time. I'm a Slayer. I'm gonna be fine. Not like anyone ever cared if I got hurt. No one has to care now."
He gave her a long sideways look. "And if someone does?"
She didn't look at him at all. "They'll wise up. Pretty damn quick, too."
He fixed his eyes back on the road. I don't suppose anything I've ever offered up was good enough. Disapproving father, teachers who pushed, his best efforts, a father's indifferent attitude. Later, a slayer, not one, but two, openly mocking. A colleague, openly hostile.
Wesley swallowed. Why should I be surprised it's not good enough for her?
He stopped when they hit the next exit, out of sheer "in a car for hours" claustrophobia, sure she must be feeling it worse, having less movement in her own body, not just surroundings. "I'll take you around the place for a walk."
He'll take me? Like I'm an arthritic old granny? "I'm fine." She lied. "Get gas and whatever." She pointedly went back to staring out the window.
He came back to the car in a few minutes, tossing something into her lap.
"Okay... I give." Faith held up the object and looked at him.
"If you won't exercise your leg muscles, at least you can begin strengthening your hands." He took it from her fingers and squeezed. "It's one of those- what do you call them? Stress toys?"
Faith took it back. A round green ball with "I Love Nevada" written on the side, and a smiling alien playing a slot machine. "Stress ball. Squeeze ball. Cute."
"It will help." He said firmly. "Now- squeeze the silly little thing, it was overpriced." He took out his other purchases, some snacks and a thick United States road atlas, and arranged the one in his lap, and the others between them.
Faith squeezed. Her finger muscles ached instantly. "Holy crap, am I outta shape!"
"You're not out of shape, your muscles have simply- gone into hibernation. This should help your hands and arms wake back up. The flexor and tensor muscles-" He began speaking, in a starchy "I am full of knowledge" voice that Faith tuned out.
She didn't realize that he'd stopped talking for several seconds. "Uh. Sure. Wow. You know a lot about - stuff."
He nearly preened- then stopped. "Watchers take anatomy courses. We learn to treat wounds and train the body." He said simply, and started the car, drove a few feet, then stopped it with a jerk.
"Problem?" Faith asked as she pitched forward a few inches.
"Yes... hang on..." He rustled through the atlas, looked up at the highway signs looming offside the rest stop, rustled and flipped again, back at the highway sign, then squinting down at the map.
"Wes! What the the hell?" Faith finally burst out impatiently.
"I'm trying to find where we are so I'll know how to get where we're going!" He picked up the atlas and folded back a page.
"I thought you didn't have a place in mind."
"I don't." He shook his head slightly, frowning at the sea of tiny red lines.
Faith's arm made a lunging flail, knocking the atlas back into his lap.
"I say!" I'm beginning to wish she was immobile again...
"Hey, squeezy toy works." Faith smiled snarkily. "If you don't have a place in mind, just drive."
He considered. He picked the book up, he put it back down, then shook his head firmly. "No. I can't do that. I don't care where but I need... something to aim for." He flipped to the back and held it out to her. "Here. Just pick a town."
Faith stared at the index. "I don't know these places!"
"Nor do I, and it doesn't really matter. Just point!"
She jabbed. "Felton, Kansas."
"Fine, Felton, Kansas. I-"
"I don't want to go to Kansas. I've seen the Wizard of Oz." She jabbed again. "Fairville, Colorado. No. No, see that's like Sunny-" She stopped speaking abruptly. Nice places, with nice names, weren't so nice. Nowhere is nice for miserable little dupes like me. Even a Hellmouth when I'm bad, or happy 'Sunnydale' when I' m good. It's all a crapshoot.
"Faith, I-" His eyes softened and he gently reached for the atlas.
A horn blared long and loud, making him jump and her thrash her head to the side to look at her mirror.
"Buddy, you're blocking the diesel, let's go!" A man leaning out of the cab of a truck impatiently thumped the horn again, waving Wesley on.
Wesley looked around the place he'd unthinkingly stopped the car. "I am? Oh, I am! My apologies, Sir!" He shouted back and waved politely
Faith flipped the driver off out of her window.
"Hey! You wanna make something of this?" The driver caught the gesture.
"Very funny. You wanna-"
Faith hissed, "Drive, Wes."
"What?" Wesley hadn't seen what she did. He now saw her hand retract through the open window.
"Drive, now!" Faith yelled.
Wesley glanced back at the truck behind him- at the line of trucks behind him! He saw cab doors opening down the line. "Oh dear." He jammed the car into drive, and peeled from the rest stop, "Oh dear. Oh dear..."
The car careened back onto the highway, with Wesley sweating and staring in the rearview mirror. "Why did you do that?" He demanded in a gasp.
"I don't put up with crap like that, okay?"
"I was in the wrong!" Wesley exclaimed. "And he wouldn't have gotten so upset if you hadn't - made gestures at him." He rebuked stiffly.
"No one messes with me." Faith maintained hotly.
He shook his head, eyes rolling to heaven as he decided not to answer and point out the flaws in that logic and this situation. "Well, now I've no idea where we're going." He sniped crossly.
"You didn't have any idea twenty minutes ago either, and it didn't matter."
"You didn't like not having a plan!" He paused. "That sounded wrong. Just a moment-"
Faith rolled her eyes now. Eff the grammar. "No- I don't like playing in your sandbox, where you make all the plans!" Not strictly true. His plans would have matched hers- get the hell away, stay alive. She didn't like being forced to follow someone else's plans, in general, forced to obey a rule she didn't make, forced to let someone else make your choices. Powerless.
Wesley spluttered. Was everything he attempted with her doomed to be so terribly wrong footed? "It wasn't going to be my plan, your plan, much of a plan at all! I asked you to pick a town, nothing more than a random selection. That was all I wanted."
"You- oh my God, man, you-" Faith broke off, too frustrated to explain. Her arm lifted- more easily each time- and pointed to the signs over the highway. "You want a direction? Head east, okay?"
He swerved into the eastbound lane, earning a chorus of squeals and horns. Accelerating once again to clear the lane he'd just thrown himself into, he watched the road divide. The west seemed literally cut off, swallowed up by concrete dividers. Everything fell away, flattened out in front.
He sighed and drove.
Ten minutes, thirty minutes, an hour- Faith discovered she really didn't like having no one to talk to, not if someone was available. She used to be such a loner.
Another thing the Scooby gang ruined for me. Big, tough, badass- but I'm such a people person, the voice in her head became sarcastically sugary at the allowed herself a humorless, mocking smile.
Wesley relaxed- sort of. Temporarily, at least. "You know, I never knew what it felt like just to drive, not having to be someplace, no directions." He mused reflectively.
Faith stared, trying not to show her relief that there was something to break the silence. "Never woulda guessed." She said dryly.
"I'm very methodical." He mirrored a smile she'd had a moment ago, being honest with yourself, and wishing you weren't.
"You'll get used to it." She leaned back as best she could, and worked the little stress ball in her weak hands.
"I'm an expert. Been doing this since I was ten. Just going where - I go." Where they put me. Told me to. Made me. The ball's seams swelled suddenly, knuckles went white.
He scanned his brain, going over the mental dossier he had on this slayer- then threw it out. It's words and facts. Soulless. Not really her. "What happened then?"
"They put me in foster care. Mom's drinking was too much for the neighbors to ignore anymore. Well, for school to ignore."
He wanted to express sympathy- but had the idea showing pity earned him a stress ball to the right temple at high speeds.
Faith hated talking about her life. But she hated thinking about it pointlessly inside her head even more. Unable to halt it, she spoke, hands kneading and twisting. "Guess that's one reason I'm not too big on book smarts. They acted like I couldn't take care of myself. That's major stupidity." She snorted, and her eyes sparked. "Mom was passed out most of the time, Dad was gone- damn, I was the head of that house. Well- crummy apartment. I took care of everything. They didn't need to come in there!"
Wesley's compassion over ruled his self preservation. "Surely they were only concerned for a child?"
"Child nothing! If they were concerned they would have helped her, kept us together, not just shipped me off." She swallowed sudden bitter salt rising in the back of her throat. Tears. Her mom hadn't cared when she left. She hugged that bottle of booze to her chest- not me. They couldn't pry that out of her hands, but her only child? Nah.
Something niggled in his brain. Wasn't her father deceased? Did she mean gone as in dead, or gone as in absent? "Your father wasn't an option?"
"They don't like kids in prison." Faith uttered a choked sound that might've been a laugh. "I thought he was dead. I mean- Mom said he was. Then somebody at social services said he was locked up and 'not a viable placement option'. Everyone told me different things. Someone said he killed a guy in a bar fight. Someone said he robbed a Gas'N'Go, blew the manager's face off. Who knows? Some kind of murderer." The lips that were betraying her with all this sharing betrayed her again with a small, tensed quiver. "Like father like daughter, huh?"
"God I hope not." Wesley whispered vehemently.
Faith was offended, shocked. This was a good guy! Good guys tear up when you share the sob story! "Screw you then, you probably already knew that. Knew he died, knew she died, too. Buried in the state cemetery where they put you if you can't pay for a fancy box."
"Oh, no. No!" Wesley reached for her hand and instead rerouted his errant touch to adjust a mirror. "No, not your father. Though that is terrible and I am truly sorry, whether you care for my sympathy or not." He swallowed. "No. I was thinking of something else. Go on."
Faith raised her eyebrow. "More about me being a murderer?"
His fingers tightened on the wheel. "If you wish."
She considered. "Yeah. I wish. You saved me from psycho nurse lady. You're doing this big rescue, keeping me off the menu for the hit men, if there are any left." She gave him an appraising look. "You do all this- and you never mentioned the part where I killed people." Her lips pursed and quirked. "Slip your mind? It wasn't just one accident. I killed two humans. I coulda killed more."
Wesley's narrow lips pressed together, moistening them as they'd gone dry. "We've all done things we wish we hadn't. Wouldn't do again... Done for reasons we didn't dream could ever happen. Events that set things in motion..."
"Not everyone commits murder."
Wesley licked his lips again. In his mind he saw a sudden flash of tweed waistcoat and rolled white sleeve, a sword through the heart of the Mayor. Not an ordinary human, but still human. Giles stabbed him cleanly, to kill, when he threatened Buffy.
If that nurse had been holding on a gun on Faith, and I'd had one in my hand... would I have pulled the trigger?
I might have wounded, not killed her.
I just as easily might have.
Wesley shook his head. There was defense of the innocent, and then there was turning to the darkness and acting as one of its arms.
"I think what happened was terrible. What you did- when you knowingly took an innocent life, whatever the reasons around it, I think it was horrible. Robbing a human of life when it's no threat to you, Faith, that is where human and demon meet."
Faith knew that. She knew it, and she'd felt it when she'd accidentally killed that man, the deputy mayor. It didn't have to be on purpose, it was just the action that opened the door. It made her begin to see what others always said. She was a bad seed, had bad blood. So she wasn't a demon. You can't beat 'em, not all the time. Some nights, maybe you join 'em.
It was easy to join, much easier than she'd thought it would be. Darkness came in, got comfy, battled around with the light sometimes, but evil had its own pretty perks. Hate and evil aren't so hard to live with once you stop worrying about what your friends think. When you stop wishing you were something else and just give in. When you stop trying.
Now, admit it or not, she was trying again, caring again, and his words stung. True or not, they stung.
"So I'm part demon, or as good as?"
"Not at all. It is just that you've killed, and you've seen that darkness."
"So... why save me then?"
"It's one thing you've done. Only one." She's saved hundreds. She has. Every vampire or demon she killed saved all its future victims.
"And if it's just one little boo boo, you do what? You can just forget about it?" Faith challenged. C'mon Straight-Laced, end this game, realize what you've got in the car, realize you can't hack this. You're one of the good ones. You can't overlook it. No way in hell you just "forget about it".
The car slowed in a band of traffic, and Wesley tore his eyes from the road, startled to see hers watching. He gave her a very long, solemn look, before he spoke in a soft, unshaken voice. "No. I won't forget it. But it's something that is part of you. My duty is not simply to the part that is 'good', and 'obedient'."
Faith's eyebrows kissed her hairline in surprise. "You sure about that?"
"Very." He was sure of that. A Watcher's duty is to his Slayer. The end.
She was less certain. "I might be kinda fuzzy, with the cracked skull and stuff, but I seem to remember that's not how it went down. I don't know what the hell kind of partying happened when I was doing my Sleeping Beauty thing, I know things changed- but I am damn sure 'My duty is to the bad, not just the good' is not what the Council told you to say. Or do. Whatever." She hated being played with, and this- this was a long, sick game. Anger churned around in her, making her already delicate system throb and pulse. "I might buy the fact you don't want me to die, but you standing with me, instead of your precious teapot and scone society? No way. You love that Council, you're Mister Council. I thought you were their golden boy."
Wesley could have torn his hair out. Or hers. How often did he have to say it, explain it, show it, prove it?
As often as it takes.
A prim inner voice piped up, "Why are you so surprised she doubts you? Didn't you all but lick their boots? Didn't you grow up, worshiping that entire body of elite, secretly powerful men and women? Didn't your father tell you from infancy you would be a Watcher or nothing? Or, through some patriarchal slip up- a Watcher, and still nothing?
You craved every accolade, Head Boy, appointed to an active Slayer, then two!
Everything you ever wanted."
Everything Father ever wanted. Never seemed too happy when he got it, though.
Faith felt smug being right, as he obviously was silenced, not knowing what to say to her accusations. She also felt empty. This had been a new guy in a familiar face. Which is why you get kicked when you're down, if you're stupid enough to trust people.
Wesley's internal struggle kept going, a thousand thoughts in a few seconds, but too long to be a natural pause in the conversation.
New leadership or not, it didn't change the lessons they drilled into their young men and women, leaving them to experience the harsh realities and lessons that could only be learned on the bloodied field.
Your Slayer is your first priority. Your first duty. Everything is second.
Wesley finally answered her with simple steel in his tone. "Fuck the Council."
To be continued...