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: Picks up directly from the preceding chapter. Bear with me as we deal with these two discussing some issues in their own "I have trouble communicating" ways. Picture two people who have no promising past history, who barely know each other, suddenly stuck in a car for hours, after effectively cutting off almost all ties with the rest of the world. Things will pick up next chapter.

Author's second note: Quotes from season three are used in this chapter.

Dedicated to: Helenluvsboo, Cavemenftw, alexiarrose, ginar369, omslagspapper, kerry220, mike13z50, and Jinxgirl. You guys rock!

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

Part IV

Pathways

Faith was startled into momentary feelings of agreement and even appreciation at his sudden declaration. But people can say anything. It's what they do that counts. Saying and doing with this guy seemed pretty consistent- starting now. Not from before.

"Okay then." Faith nodded, crossing her arms. "I'm with you on that."

Wesley nodded firmly, slowly, several times, as though he was still trying to understand what he'd just said, and if he really meant it. In this case, yes.

"Um." Faith fumbled with a bag of trail mix he'd purchased for her. High protein, healthy crap. Trying to help you get better. She wouldn't say it was her heart or any mushy shit like that, but something warmed slightly. "You- uh- you traveled much in the States?"

"No, I haven't." Wesley almost gave her a huge, "Thank you for talking to me like a decent human being!" smile, but quashed it. "I attended the Academy, and then University, and then was back at the Council for just a few months before they sent me here. To California. I'd been to New York once. My plane landed in Philadelphia for my connecting flight. Other than that..."

"So you have no idea where we're going? For real. Like, not even a state to state basic idea." She dragged the road map clumsily from his leg to hers. "How much longer do you want to keep driving?" See? This is me not being a total bitch. Willing to play nice when it's worth it. I'm pretty much dead in the water, so him driving, buying what we need, and footing my hotel bill- that's worth tossing him a crumb. Right?

Faith refused to admit that all those things she just listed- those were crumbs, more than crumbs, that he was tossing her.

"I- I honestly don't know." He realized. "I'd thought, until I was sure we weren't being followed, and now I'm fairly certain we're not."

"We're not just on a never ending road trip, are we? 'Cause if we are- I prefer Harleys." Faith was flipping through the atlas.

"I don't think so. I- suppose we would find someplace to settle down, eventually."

"Settle down?" Alarm bells went screaming through her head.

"No. Wrong words. Ah- come to rest?" He tried.

"Look, I tried having a home. I mean- a hometown." She hastily corrected. "I don't do that. I can't do that. Places go sour on me. Seems like six months is the max before-" Faith risked a sidelong glance at him, "things change in a bad way."

"I see." He watched her flipping through the index, turning back to consult some section in the middle. "A week or two, a month or two? Do you suppose places would 'change for the bad' that quickly?"

"I don't know." She lifted her shoulders carelessly. Hard to know what's 'bad' when you don't what you even think is bad anymore. And when she was better- she'd be gone. Or he would. Watcher-smatcher, Council, no Council, people didn't stick together. Not if she was part of the "together".

"Well..." Wesley put on his best cheerfully resolute face. "I only need to stop for a week, perhaps even less. I simply need some things shipped out to me. Books. Weaponry. Basic 'Watcher' supplies." Her face darkened at the words, and he hastily moved added, "A few clothes and any important papers I've left lying around the place. I told Giles, only what could comfortably fit in this car."

"Yeah. Good. Travel light."

How had the shield gone back up so quickly? Or should I just be grateful it comes down at all, even if it's only a second here or there? "Would there be... is there anything you left behind that you wanted?"

Some hibernating part of her psyche woke up, spiraled, unleashing something she'd purposefully not thought about, or been too busy to think about in all the turmoil of waking up from being almost dead, to find herself on the other side of about to die, and now running for her life.

"Yeah. There was something I wanted. I don't think you can send it." Faith muttered, half to herself, eyes becoming glassy and distant.

Wesley cocked his head. He didn't suppose the lease on her apartment was still good, he didn't even know if the apartment was still intact. Did a semi-mortal mayor with demonic ties to his power lose his assets upon failure to ascend? Who knows. Still, if the building was there, and new tenants hadn't moved in, he thought he might know someone willing to retrieve a few items. "Perhaps not. I'd like to try to get it for you, if it's something you need, or want. Would it fit in the car?"

Faith's eyes traveled to the rearview mirror, looking at the empty backseat. A transparent figure, a genial smiling face, politically proper suit and old-dude hair. A strangely polite but desperately evil person sprang from her imagination and filled a void she pretended didn't exist.

"That's my girl." Imaginary Wilkins beamed paternally on her. "You still have room for me, don't you, Pumpkin?"

"Faith? Would it fit in the backseat?"

"He would." Her eyes sparkled dangerously as they left her melancholy imagination and forced themselves back to the present. "If Buffy hadn't killed him."

Oh dear.

"How'd she do it anyway? How'd he die?"

"Like a demon. Roasting in his own hellfire." Wesley had no sympathy for the mayor- but he had sympathy for her. "And no, he wouldn't have fit in the backseat. Before graduation was even done, he'd changed. Pure demon. The size of a building. A giant, murderous snake, who killed a dozen helpless teenagers before we blew the school up- with him inside."

Faith's fists clenched and trembled. "You tryin' to piss me off?"

"He was evil, Faith. He wasn't human anymore, and he was slaughtering humans. You can be as 'pissed off' as you like. I'm quite angry myself, though with him, not anyone else."

Anger gave her strength, but not much. She did manage to sit up straighter in the seat, turn herself slightly to the side, so the chocolate fury in her eyes could scorch him, scare him. "You watch what you say, Wesley. You know, he might've been evil- but he was the only person I've ever met who- who knew how to treat people." Faith swallowed a hard, hot ball forming in her throat.

Wesley's mind whirled with the inaccuracy of that statement. Hadn't they all tried to befriend her, to help her, to - to tame her. "The only person who treated you as you wanted to be treated?"

"Stop that psychologist crap where you turn what I say into what you want me to say!"

"I was only trying to-"

"To get it? Well, you can't get it. Okay? Get that!" Another frantic panting and pushing and she was sitting with her back against the glass of the window, bracing her elbows on the seat back and the dashboard, ready to throw herself at him, not caring if she'd succeed, not caring if hurting him would wreck the car, hurting her, too. Just ready to unleash the rage bottled up in her.

Wesley began looking for a place to pull off, but they were on long stretches of interstate, nothing but other cars and concrete, no lay by in sight. "Faith, you need to-"

"You need to get it in your head that you 'good guys' are good 'cause you have it easy. You have someone there, holding your hand, taking care of you, helping you... it's easy to be perfect when life is perfect! And don't give me B's sob story over Angel, because that's - that's still someone in your corner when he's got it in his pants, and his soul isn't wandering around loose." Her breathing was accelerating, adrenaline coursing, in a pre-fight pattern. Brain activity spiked and delicate blood vessels that were still recovering swelled, made her dizzy, made the edges of her vision blur black. She ignored the warning signs, as she often did, and kept going, hitting with her words because her fists wouldn't do the job.

"What real life is, what the 'bad' life is? It's when you think you have to take care of yourself all the time- 'cause Mommy's gone, and Daddy's dead. Then you find out he's not dead, he just never came home 'cause he offed someone and he's doing his time. Mom doesn't give a damn if you're around or not. You look for someone to take care of you. Yeah. 'Cause they tell you you're little and you need that, but they take away everyone you ever knew." She wasn't crying, she was not crying. She was screaming. She was warning him.

"You think the next foster home will be better than the last- the first four or five times. But they never are. Maybe it's the other kids, maybe it's the 'parents'. It's always the guys, though. Not all of them want to touch you in a bad way, some of them are just jerks. Or maybe they just don't believe you can see vampires when you turn thirteen and so they lock you up, try to shrink your head. Put you in a hospital bed and the psych ward squad asks you a million questions and they all say it comes from wanting attention, wanting to live in a fantasy world because your life sucks." Faith laughed hysterically. "They're right! But adding vamps to the mix wouldn't make it better! What kind of effed up logic is that?"

"Not very good." He admitted stiffly and managed to move over a lane, one lane closer to the edge of the highway.

"So you get labeled crazy and dangerous. So you get attention, all the wrong kinds. You get bounced from place to place and you try to change yourself because obviously there's something wrong with you." For a moment Faith's tirade broke, as nagging voices whispered that indeed, something was wrong with her. She brushed them off. Maybe, maybe not. It doesn't matter, because I wasn't always that way. Life made me that way. You don't get to take off points for that, 'cause I didn't do it. "No matter what though- someone uses you. You learn to use them. And when you get used, or they do, things end, and you're back on your own, and you learn one really good, really hard lesson. Get used to relying on you. Me, myself, and I, pal."

He pulled into the shoulder, ignoring the "No stopping here" signs, and nodded. His heart and mind ached for this girl. How had her file sounded so simply dysfunctional and wild, and yet conveyed none of this pain, this passion, this struggle? Slayer's case files should be rewritten by the Watchers who serve with them, Wesley decided, as he turned off the car. He gave her his full attention.

She didn't expect that. For him to simply listen. He was the lecturing kind. The condemning kind. Or he had been.

"He didn't think there was anything wrong with me, y'know? He thought I was perfect. Just like I am. No labels. No demands. No 'I'll take care of you, Baby, but you gotta take care of me'," she laughed as she shook her head, eyes slowly focusing, "man, I even offered him that. He didn't want it. He just wanted me for what I'm good at, what I told him. When the Mayor needed someone to help take out you guys, I jumped at the chance." Fists unclenched, fingers danced nervously. "Just a job. Good boss. Revenge perks." She bit her lip. " Never figured he'd be the counting on type of guy, but he was. Until she killed him. Until you helped."

Wesley nodded. His part was minor, but he was proud, always would be proud, to have stood up against an insurmountable evil.

"I wake up and I'm more worried about being alive- and he's dead. He's rotting in hell. Maybe I was supposed to join him. Join both of my 'proud papas', the demon and the murderer. Apple doesn't fall from the tree, Wes." Rage left her as swiftly as it had come. It would be back. For right now she was simply struck with the thought that he was dead. All her family, and the Mayor, a sort of pseudo family, were dead. She should probably have been with them, a cosmic, karmic appointment with the eternal flames. "Apple doesn't fall far..."

"You're right." Wesley admitted in a low, gritty voice, hesitant and forced. Every word seemed to push him further down inside himself, yet he kept talking. "My father was- is- a very fine, upstanding man. Top of his class at Cambridge, and the Academy. Honest, reliable, thorough... He did ground breaking research into scroll restoration and he's an invaluable archivist and historian for the Council. He was made a board member when he was still in his early thirties, which is practically unheard of. Now, I, his only son, I was following in the same footsteps. Like father, like son indeed. Yet- I seemed thoroughly a failure to him."

"What now?" Faith, though she didn't like this share-a-thon, had to say something about that. "How could you not be daddy's favorite little stuck up snot?"

"I'm puzzled as well." He said drily. "But, there you have it. As good a father as a man could wish for- on paper. Lovely home, finest education money and connections could procure, a sense of family honor, tradition, and the little luxuries in life. Yet never once did I tell him some achievement that he didn't rush to tell me how worthless it was, or that I could surely have done better." He nodded at Faith's unbelieving expression. "My father was a man I could count on, unfailingly. Count on to belittle. To order. To mock, scoff, scorn, to take everything I did and say it wasn't good enough." Wesley sighed deeply. "He also said I should be removed from the Council. Even after exposing Travers, he said I wasn't fit to remain in my post. I'm an utter bloody failure."

Privately, Faith agreed to some of that. Guy's a total ass. But underneath- he has some brass ones. He's out here with me, which is more than the rest of the old farts do. Who's failing now?

"Funnily enough, he was always telling me to grow up, be a man. If I disobeyed, or broke something, and I-" Was caned. Sent to the study closet. Made to sit up all night translating passages to twelve different languages, "I was punished for it, I wasn't allowed to cry. 'Be a man', he'd say. Funny. He still treats me like such an ignorant, wayward child, and yet I don't think... No, I don't think I got much chance to be a boy."

"Doesn't sound like it." Faith heard a lot more in the pause he made than in the honest secrets he was sharing. "You know what's funny? When you're a girl, and they're beating on you? They wanna see you cry."

"But you don't, do you?" He knew the answer.

"No. Never." She stated coldly, eyes sliding away.

He didn't either. He'd been too rigid, too devoid of that which allows you to feel enough, to let tears be created. "You're a very strong woman. Inside and out."

Her pallid cheeks suddenly flamed, either pride, or a feverish spike, she wasn't sure. "Well, not the outside... not right now. But I will be again."

"There you are, then." Wesley gingerly turned the key in the ignition, starting the motor. "Shall I?"

Nothing was resolved. Nothing was better. Each merely knew more about the screwed up-ness of the other.

"There's nothing else to do." Faith went back to a more conventional position in the passenger seat. He revved up, signaled, and made his way back into traffic.


"I still hate her. I'm not some good guy. Don't get yourself confused." Faith spent the next stretch of the car ride not talking to him. After the rush of anger wore off, the horror of opening up to, well, anyone, haunted her. The more they know about you, the more power they have. Best to make him aware that he shouldn't get too cocky. She might have just did a total drunken blurt minus the drunken part, but they weren't buddies.

"Pardon?" Wesley swung his head to look at her, thoroughly startled. They'd been riding along in companionable silence. A trouble shared is a trouble halved, his grandmother used to say. Bearing one another's burdens. Sharing one another's woes.

Apparently not.

"Buffy. Giles. All of them. They might be the universe's favorite people, but not mine."

"You can feel however you'd like, but all of them only ever tried to be helpful." He knew it was a mistake, that placating her, calmly, slowly, working with her, that would be the best course of action. But he'd just lived through the most harrowing, soul-changing event of his life with, and for, those people. He would be honest about them. "They're flawed, they're imperfect, and yes, quite annoying at times. But they-"

"They tried to 'reach out to me', I know the 'We tried to help her, but she's beyond help' shtick. Heard it a lot."

He paused. "Why then?"

"Do I need a reason?" Faith let out a bark of harsh laughter.

"If you don't have one, I'll make guesses." He replied truthfully. "I assume it's because she killed one demon in particular. Someone you loved."

"I didn't love him!" Faith shouted. It was true. She didn't love him, hadn't loved him. Didn't love anyone or anything outside of herself, outside of her control, really. And honestly, not even then.

"That's good. I don't think it's a good idea to love-"

"A demon? Didn't you say B was all over the undead lately?" Faith had heard snippets of the B and Bad Boy story from him during the last couple days, and she was prepared to ream him for his hypocrisy.

Wesley continued unperturbed. "I don't think it wise to love someone who only loves you provisionally. With conditions."

"Psh, Suit, that's whack. Everyone makes conditions. B 'loves' Spike as long as he doesn't eat the locals. She loved Angel as long as he was in his sad puppy costume." Faith scoffed.

"Buffy loves Spike. She would have to stop him from killing innocents, if he began to do so. But should he do so, she would still love him. She would simply not be able to allow it."

"Which leads to her playing Juliet in the vamp version of Shakespeare." Faith mimed staking something and slitting her throat.

"You don't know them, what they've become. They don't know you. Sometimes there are conditions. Sometimes people change because they wish to do so, condition not required, or notwithstanding. The type of love I'm talking about is where someone agrees to give you things, treat you a certain way, because you do what they say."

Faith let her hair fall over her face, suddenly reflective, not wanting to show it.

Everyone acts like that. "Whatever."

Wesley gave up on discussion, and left her alone with her thoughts.


Past

His voice, warm and lilting, as he showed her around her new apartment. "No Slayer of mine is gonna live in a fleabag hotel. That place has a very unsavory reputation. There are immoral liaisons going on there."

He said "mine". Like he owned me.

She remembered jumping on the bed, a new, beautiful, clean bed, that was just hers-

" Oh, hey, hey, hey! Shoes! Shoes!" A scolding fatherly voice. Standing in the doorway of her new bedroom.

Payment was probably expected. She sidled up to him, oozing sex and seduction. "Thanks, Sugar Daddy."

"Now, Faith, I don't find that sort of thing amusing. I'm a family man."

He hadn't wanted that. Nine out of ten times- who was she kidding, ten out of ten times with her, that was what a guy wanted. Not him. She liked him for that, right then, right there. The posh place, the security, the not asking for anything-

He didn't ask. He ordered with a kindly smile. "Now, let's kill your little friend."


Present

"Faith!" Wesley heard a low, heated curse from the bent form.

"Just a muscle spasm." Faith lied easily.

"We'll find a place to take a walk. I know you don't want to, but-"

"No. Walks are good. Let's find a place." She said hastily, anything to shut him up, give her some peace, time to think her thoughts... even though she didn't want to think them.


Past

"Hmm. You know what I wish? I wish you'd pull your hair back. I know, I know, fashion's not exactly my thing, but, gosh darn it, you know, you've got such a nice face. I can't understand why you hide it."

He didn't want sex. When he talked to her, said little compliments, showed little concerns- just because he must really like her.

He gave her milk and cookies. It was so Saturday afternoon snack time. Instantly brought back pangs of longing for a normal life, like her school friends had. Bike rides, snack time, shopping- she never had that.

"There you go. Now, first you load up on calcium. Then find this demon, kill the heck out of him, and bring the books to me."

" And if Buffy gets to him first?"

"Oh, well. Frankly I don't like to think about that. I like good, positive, up thoughts. If you fail me in that way... Well, you know, replacing Mr. Trick was chore enough."


Present

Another groan, this one louder, sharper.

"I'm pulling over. Are you in pain? Is it your stomach?"

"No. I mean, yeah. Yeah, you were right, solid food's a bitch after the liquid diet." Faith waved him on, "I'll be fine until the next gas station or wherever."

"I'll get you a - smoothie? Smoothie is the healthy one, milkshakes are just ice cream, right?"

"Right."


Past

He stood beside her. His hand was on her back, and her eyes were sealed. "Alright, you can open them up now."

A box was on the desk in front of her. A gift. For her. "Fab. What's the occasion?"

"Faith! As if I need a reason to show you my affection. Or appreciation for running a small errand at the airport."

"Airport? What's next? Gonna want me to help a buddy of yours move a sofa?"

" This isn't a free ride, young lady. You know, I'm beginning to think that somebody's getting a little spoiled. Maybe I should take this back."

"Sorry... Sir."

"That's my girl."


Present

"Holy shit."

"What?"

"Just- thinking." Thinking I was duped. No, 'cause you have to be fooled to be duped, and he didn't fool me. I fooled me. So that's just stupid.

"Damn. Damn. I don't believe I did it again." Maybe I'm doing it now. Same act, different actors.

"Should we go to the hospital?" Wesley zoomed off one of the Route 80 exits, growing more alarmed. She needs proper care. Slayer's are not impervious to illness and accident- simply more resistant, and quicker to heal.

"No!" Faith looked at him, eyes wide. "No more hospitals, no more!"

"Alright, alright, just take it easy. Oh, look, there's a welcome center, and it has a footpath. We'll ease out that muscle spasm. Now tell me. What was it that happened again? Is it in the upper or lower leg? Or your back?"

Faith ran her hands through her thick, barely brushed hair. "It's not the muscles. It's the stupidity. Dammit!"

"I'm sorry, what are we-?" He was lost.

"He didn't play me- I just let myself go along with the playing. The Mayor. He was one of those 'with expectations' kinda guys. Like all the guys... like everyone. He never really wanted me. Just what I could do." She shook her head at her own folly. "I even warned B. I told her, when she was goin' on at me about some 'understanding people' crap. I told her, 'It doesn't matter what kind of vibe you get off a person. 'Cause nine times out of ten, the face they're showing you is not the real one.'." Faith jabbed her finger into her knee between word, emphasizing her anger. "He used me, I used him. He didn't want me."

Wesley nodded, searching for the comforting words, but not too comforting. His mouth couldn't seem to filter his thoughts sufficiently, so he stalled with a quick, "Right." and exited the car, came to her side and opened the door. Faith used her slowly returning upper body strength to pull herself forward and onto his shoulder. He guided her knees out and she stood, wobbling, leaning heavily on him.

"Easy... easy..." He was a living crutch, moving with her, slowly, steadily, ignoring the pallor on her face, and the dullness in her eyes as he led her towards the long concrete path lined with small trees.

"I think you're wise to see that he- that he wanted something in exchange for all he gave you." Wesley murmured, eyes on her feet, matching his stride to hers, short and hobbling.

"I wanted something from him, so- no big." Faith squared her shoulders and made for the nearest bench, her legs already complaining.

"I think you were wrong though."

"Oh God. Look, if we do this, can you save my ass without so much talk? Once I'm not cooped up in a car, gotta tell you- I'm not real big on conversation."

He ignored her with a slight grunt. She was heavy, almost dead weight from the hips down. "You said he didn't want you. I am sure that he did."

"What makes you the expert, huh?" Faith crashed to a seat, rubbing her numb, tingling calves.

He sat down beside her, slightly winded from half-carrying her. "Because anyone would have wanted you with them. How could anyone not want you on their team? We all did. We wanted you on ours." Wesley told her with such simple sincerity that it disarmed her.

For a split second. Remember that thing about conditions? He can't have it both ways. "If it was your way." Faith pointed out angrily. "Buffy's way. Council's way, Watcher's way... I am not your good girl, America's sweetheart cheerleader, who follows the rules!"

Good Lord, you bear your soul, you confess you want her, you admire her gifts, you offer support without pity, and what do you get? An argument at the very least. "Buffy would hardly be what we'd call rule-abiding." Wesley felt compelled to mention.

"I'm not her!" Faith spat.

He spat back. "Then show me who you are!"


No one spoke after that, not for the next hundred miles.

Please. Please, just say something. I'd beg if I hadn't spent enough of my life groveling... Wesley rubbed his forehead, rapidly creasing in this past month.

How do you explain you take it back, that you shouldn't have said it, that it's hypocritical to ask that of her, when you couldn't answer the same question? Wesley lowered his visor. The afternoon sun beat on his brow and glinted on his glasses. He took them off and squinted ahead. He decided he'd have to get used to flying blind, as long as he was with her.

Faith rolled down the window let her hair blow back across guarded, faraway eyes. The same challenge rolled around and around in her mind. Show him who I am? How do I explain I haven't figured that out?

How do I tell him that even if I had an answer, I wouldn't give it to him? 'Cause if they see you for who you are, they can hurt you for who you are- not just the person you let them see?


Her olive branch came later, as the sun set, and his eyes sagged. "Find a hotel? We're beat."

"Next exit in twenty miles."

"Hey. I looked at the map. Found some random place in Nebraska. You up for living in a cornfield for a week until you get your stuff?"

He smothered a sudden relieved smile. "I think that sounds suitable."


He helped her up the stairs that evening, because there were no rooms available on the ground floor of the small, two story motor lodge. She leaned on him until she got into the room, and then tried a step on her own.

Damn. Faith grabbed blindly for something to hold onto.

Yet again he caught her before she fell.

"I know you don't see it, but you're getting better." Wesley encouraged, pushing a chair under her unstable legs once he had her upright again.

"You're a little ball of sunshine, Wes." She grunted. "Big on the support."

"Well, I try." He took her snideness as a compliment. It made her groan, but he didn't care. God knew he'd stifled his own share of groans in the last few days.

"You can stop trying anytime now." Faith said nonchalantly.

It would be far simpler. Safer. Another potential waited for him, if he chose. Out in Blackpool. Home to England. Probably home to a Council desk job, if he requested it. "No. I'm afraid I can't stop." He gave her a stiff smile.

"Believe me- you can. I have that effect on people." Faith's smile wasn't stiff, it was almost proud, a swagger with lips instead of hips.

"Perhaps you do. As for me, I was certainly taught, even bred, to be cold, unsupportive, unemotional." Wesley rummaged in the bedside table, pulled out a local take out menu and the television remote. He paused, looking contemplatively at the ugly mass-produced artwork above her head as if having an epiphany. "You know, my father placed conditions on me since birth. I've obeyed them, lived up to them, many times even exceeded them. One thinks to oneself, I'll do this, I'll reach that, and then he'll be proud of me. Then he'll love me."

Faith looked openly horrified. Please don't do the 'Daddy never loved me' speech... please, please, please...

Even if I totally get where you're coming from.

He shook himself out of his speculation, hot under his polo collar. "Or not. In my case, it's always been 'or not.' He's never said it. We British gentlemen don't get soppy, you know." Wesley fussed with his glasses and coughed. "Still. He might've told me at least once in the last twenty seven years."

Faith's voice broke the calm, loud and confused. "Is this the part where you want a hug or something? Because I don't hug. Ever."

"No." He grinned crookedly. "This the part where you understand why I will be stubborn and refuse to stop being supportive. No matter what. Father like son may be where I started, but come all the furies of hell- it will not be where I end." He dropped the menu and remote hastily in her lap, and backed away. "You don't have to end up there, either, Faith. We don't have to be anything they tried to 'make us'." He concluded quietly.

It was a good thought. A hopeful thought. Something like a fighting spirit sputtered inside her. We'll show them, it whispered.

She watched him moving around the little room, like he had the night before, carefully, routinely setting things up for her, out for her, like it was nothing, like he didn't mind doing it.

She watched him move, and marveled- in a freaked out way- that she now knew there was something more than a textbook inside that man. She could hear his words, echoing, encouraging that feeble fight left inside of her.

I'm giving you a choice- either you lay here and waste away to nothing, or you trust someone for once in your life and we give each other a second chance to be the Watcher and Slayer no one thought we could be. That no one thinks we can be- not even us. You lay here and die- or we show the world who we really are.

Faith began to nod to herself, to his words in her head. He's right. Who cares what we're supposed to be, what are parents were? I never did what anyone told me before, I'm not gonna start now. Be who I want. If he wants to be who he wants, next to me, it's not a big deal. For now.

"Do you know what you want?" Wesley asked, back towards her.

Faith coughed. It was hard to say. "I- I think I'm whoever the hell I want. And I think I want to keep it that way. And I think your old man's hardcore stupid if he thinks you fail all the time. You survived me for a couple days, that's gotta be some kind of record."

Wesley turned, surprise and pleasure on his face, hastily replaced with a look of awkward discomfort. "I meant on the menu. For dinner."

"Oh. Oh! Uh- chicken. Chicken is fine." Faith's face mirrored his, before the always cool and confident facade came down.

"About what you said-"

"Save it. Just save it, Wes." She half-warned, half-pleaded.

He listened. "Chicken it is."


The day ended better than it had begun. It ended better than the night before. Wesley, exhausted, and punch drunk from verbal sparring all day, risked being pleased with himself.

This is Watcherhood. This is true Watcher-Slayer bonding. This is what a Watcher's life should truly be, developing that close knit pact and trust with his Slayer.

"I think we've made great strides." Wesley smiled sleepily, helping her back from her nightly rituals, towards the bed. "Wouldn't you say? I feel we've grown." He said with a touch of the old pomposity.

Faith rolled her eyes. "Yeah, okay."

He could feel a research paper about the true roles of a Watcher coming on. He'd call it something catchy. Beyond the Books- Watcher and Slayer Bonding. They'd call it the Wyndham-Pryce method someday. He supposed they ought to call it the Giles-Wyndham-Pryce method. Or perhaps the Summers-Lehane method?

He stopped his inner rambling to look at his charge, who seemed decidedly not enthused. He turned his slightly skewed smile to her. "We're finding out so much. Aren't we?"

Faith sank onto the edge of the bed and smiled crookedly. "Sure." She nodded sarcastically. "Today I found out we both have major daddy issues."

He deflated. Not what he'd hoped for, but accurate. Sadly. "True."

"Night."

Research papers crumpled and thoughts of Council-awe vanished. It didn't really matter. She matters.

Faith waited for him to drag it out, waited for the rehash, something. It didn't come.

He looked around once more, made sure she had everything, and he'd already helped her get ready for bed. "Goodnight, Faith. Shout if you need me." He hesitated. Maybe he should say something more. She most certainly should.

Neither did.

"Sleep well." He nodded, and shut the door behind him.

She waited until her keen senses heard shutting doors and running water in the room beside hers before she closed her eyes, letting out an exhausted sigh. "You too, Wes." She flicked off the bedside lamp.

In the dark there was some soft rustling, and then a harsh, if somewhat drowsy exclamation. "If I ever meet his dad- I'm totally kicking his ass."


To be continued...