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: Sirius 120, Cavemenftw, alexiarrose, ginar369, omslagspapper, and Illusera, Jewel74, Alkeni, Kerry220, Austexfan, and my anonymous guest reviewers. Thank you for the support!

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

Part IX

Neutral

It was a strange week, a week in limbo.

Yet more paperwork arrived. He filled it out like a man possessed, eager to get it back, eager to earn money instead of spending what he'd "borrowed" from his credit lines.

She moved around more and more on her own, strong enough to stand, weak enough to need a wall or a chair to clutch within arm's length at all times.

Wesley had to run and "buy things", a cell phone, a laptop, and other things that plainly terrified him.

"It's no good. It's a flawed idea. This software is incredibly specific, it can't be compatible with most computers, and even if I do save the work to disks, most computers won't read the bloody things." Wesley crashed back on the worn couch, and ripped off his glasses. He ran tensed hands down his unshaven face.

"You get any sleep last night, Cowboy?" Faith was sitting on the opposite end of the sofa, and gave him an amused look, a half-smirk that masked the sudden fear she felt in her stomach. What's that mean, if this job "won't work"?

See? This is why you don't depend on people. They can let you down. She watched him shake his head in answer to her question, and that gnawing sensation in her middle doubled. You also start to care if they look like shit and they're struggling.

"Don't worry. I'll make something work, somehow." He broke the silence she was trying to fill with kind, reassuring words. It took her too long to think of any, and he'd rescued her yet again.

I need to get my rescuing on, Faith thought as she watched him stare bleakly at the wall, lost in his troubles.

Holy crap. Dude. I just had a good guy thought. I should tell him. It'd make him happy.

She coughed. Awkwardness of the extreme variety, trying to find a way to tell someone something you yourself didn't really believe. "Maybe I'll save some rich old Nebraska lady and she'll do the gratitude in the form of a check thing."

She was right. He was happy. "You- you're thinking of -"

"I'm not making any promises, but I can't sit on my ass forever." Faith shrugged. "Speaking of my ass- it's getting numb. Wanna watch me try to climb stairs? It's a hoot and a half."

He rose, seeming to leave his woes behind him. "It'd be so much easier if you'd use the railings."

"That's cheating." She let him steady her as she found her feet.

"Using your resources." He corrected, and they exchanged a wry smile.

"What's that from? The Bookworm's Guide to Breaking Rules?"

"No, but I quite like the title." And I quite like that idea. Using my resources.


"You did enough."

"One more flight."

"If you stop now, I'll walk you to the pub. I mean, bar."

"Okay." Faith stopped at the landing and collapsed, hands on knees. "I never thought walking could make me wanna hurl so bad... Man. I feel like my guts are in a blender. and after having a knife twisted around in there- I mean it."

"Lovely imagery." Wesley murmured, wincing. "It's a matter of your exertion levels afflicting the muscles in your abdomen, contracting and -"

"Wes! Shut it. Contracting muscles and junk doesn't help the hurlage stop." Faith groaned and rubbed her thighs.

"In simple terms- you've done enough. Your muscles are telling you so." Wesley concluded, and gently eased her up when she gestured for his hand. "You look slightly green."

"I feel 'slightly green'. No bar. Can you get me a tallboy to go?"

"I'll walk you home and go back out and get one. I need to use the bar's pay phone to activate my cell phone and put minutes on it- I hate these strange terms- and I have a few other calls to make."

Faith frowned. Suspicion reared its ever present head. He was still speaking, however.

"I think you should try the hot shower and rub your legs down as vigorously as you can manage with that aloe oil I purchased. I would also suggest your lower torso, if you're having muscle pain there as well. I'll make my calls and leave you to that."

Suspicion was temporarily shelved in favor of baiting him, seeing if she could make him twitch. Though she no longer thought he was looking to get laid as part of their arrangement, she would be offended if he didn't at least get a little flustered around a hot chick. Which I am. When I'm not green. "Whatsa matter, Wes? You don't want to catch the show? Guys pay a lot of money to watch babes slathering on oil, and you could get it for free." She teased, coy look in her eye.

She'd made slightly risque comments to him before, which he always replied to with the utmost dry, factual remarks he could think of. He never teased her in return, afraid it would be mistaken for something serious, wounding their tenuous "trust". "I thought I had strict instructions to keep my hands and eyes away from anything you might 'show', free or not?" He countered.

Look who's growing balls. "I don't think it's your kind of entertainment. You like classy brunettes, like that Chase bitch."

Wesley did blush. He'd made a fool of himself over her, and it was mutual- until a week or so before graduation, when he'd suddenly lost interest in anything but trying to outsmart Travers, and Cordelia had her own tasks to attend to in order to make the graduation plan run smoothly. It wasn't even genuine, a mere infatuation, with someone young and beautiful looking up to me, respecting me. And let's be honest, she preferred the accent and the manners, not the man. I don't even like that man, that- that hollow thing I was. "I don't think I've 'liked' anyone in years." He admitted softly, to himself.

"Shocker." She stole a look at him. Then stared at the pavement under her own carefully treading feet. "I get it." Hurts too much. Takes too much trust, too much time, just too much.

He doubted she did, but could well believe she'd experienced the same things, whatever the reason. They walked the rest of the way home, two strangers suddenly sharing the same space.


"Giles?"

"Wesley! I thought I'd heard the last of you for some time to come!"

"Well, I thought you had, too, only - I have a few problems that I need assistance with."

Instantly fearing the worst, Giles was quick to offer, "What can I do?"

"It's not you I need, I'm afraid." Wesley looked around the bar. No one paid him any attention. Faith's can of beer was pushed to the back of the small metal ledge, and a pen, a small "pay as you go" cell phone, its forty page instruction manual, and an empty shot glass were cluttered around his elbows as he leaned close to the wall and whispered. "It's Willow."

Giles' startled expression nearly dislodged his glasses. "Dear Lord. You're not casting spells are you?"

"Computer software."

"Even worse."

"Do you think she would call me back? I have a new number. Well, I will once I use this- confirmation code- blast it!" Wesley's booklet and start up instructions fluttered to the ground as he tried to find the information.

"No need. She and Xander are here, spending their last few weeks of summer freedom bothering me instead of their parents. Wait a moment."

Willow's hesitant voice came on the line in a few seconds. "Wesley? Are you okay?"

"Oh, I'm very well, Willow. I'm simply having a bit of a technological problem, and I was hoping you might be able to assist me?"


"Okay, then that should let you get to administrator permissions, you override, and tell it to accept the disk, or install the software. Once you're done, you just delete the program or eject the disk. Easy."

"For you, perhaps. Dozens of languages, but computer illiterate..." Wesley had been writing feverishly for ten minutes as Willow explained the "easy" way Wesley could hack any public use computer long enough to do something simple as installing a non-viral software program, or reading a certain type of disk. "Willow, you're a godsend."

"Thanks!" She said in her perky voice. "You do have email and stuff, right? Or you won't be able to send the disk's documents anywhere."

"They've given me an account. I can access it on a 'web server'?" He sounded thoroughly puzzled.

She giggled. "You'll get the hang of it. But- how are you gonna get paid now that you can do the work?"

"They'll put money into my account, direct deposit, and I can still withdraw it. I've got a temporary address for now- and I suppose I can get a post office box somewhere." It dawned on him that no one would write to him. He'd get a few monthly statements. They could pile up for all he cared.

An empty man- with an empty life.

"Okay. You can call me again if you get stuck. I know a lot of tips for getting around the simple stuff like that. You'll give Giles your new number, right?"

"It might be safer for him if he didn't have it, actually."

Giles' voice suddenly inserted itself in the conversation. "Don't be noble, Wesley, give me the number and then I really have to hang up. Xander's trying to cook. We may have to evacuate the flat."


He returned to the flat, sweating can in hand, plastic bag full of papers and technological gibberish over his arm. "One 'tallboy'. As requested." He put it in front of her.

Faith painfully sat up on the couch. She was sprawled, watching reruns of Laverne and Shirley, and trying to pretend her body wasn't on fire. "Thanks."

"Now, give me a minute to get something prepared. You don't want alcohol on an empty stomach after all. I'll make some of my world famous spaghetti in a -" He was stopped short by the metallic and carbonated hiss of the metal tab opening. "Faith!"

She drained half of it in one long swallow. "Ahhhh. I needed that." Faith wiped her mouth on her wrist and sighed contentedly. Then belched. "Oops."

"You do things like that on purpose." He sighed in resignation, and went into the kitchen.

"You just gettin' that?" She called after him.


He was surprised to see her in the doorway of the tiny kitchenette, and from the grimace on her face, he suspected she was regretting it as well. "Dinner in about five minutes. Hardly gourmet, but at least it's not from the microwave this time." He stirred the pasta in its gloopy orange-red sauce in a small pot on the stove.

"It's food. All good."

"You never tell me what things you want to eat. Aside from beer, I know that." He muttered the last phrase.

"Yeah, but that's just until I stop bitching about walking. I won't need a liquid motivator after that, right?" She crushed the can in her fist and chucked it into the trash.

"You're avoiding the topic."

"What topic? Food? I eat what you nuke, I'm good." Faith shrugged.

"I see." Heaven forbid I try to make things nice for us. For that matter, she's right, to hell with the food, it'd be nice to have a dinner with actual dinner conversation.

They rarely talked when they ate. She watched television or stared at her plate, he had been absorbed in papers and forwarded post.

Don't try to make things "homey". You had meals fit for the lower rungs of royalty. I don't recall a pleasant word of conversation ever occurring at our table unless a guest was there, and we had our "company manners" on display.

Perhaps that's what you're looking for here, that thing you've been missing, grew up not realizing you lacked. Wesley watched her stumble off, black tee rolled high to show a tattoo on a slowly filling muscle, black jeans that hung loose on her hips over unlaced boots.

Stop looking, he advised himself harshly. You're not going to find anything there. Not beyond painfully earned respect- if that.

It was another silent meal.


You know what's weird about him? Faith pretended to be interested in the television, but she didn't really give two shits about the local news, as long as she wasn't on it. When she turned on the television, she did it so she wouldn't have to talk with him, to get any closer. Already told him too damn much, and he knows too damn much, even when I don't say anything.

When they weren't engaged in an activity, she was fairly sullen and silent. But just because she didn't speak to him, didn't mean she wasn't watching him. Which is why she had just realized something.

He really isn't like that bastard in Sunnydale anymore, with his stopwatch and his prissy, whiney voice. He was right. He's changing into that guy he wants to be. Or at least someone different. Man, I hope this isn't what he wants to be, or his life sucks.

The man never stopped working. He was always hunched over something, running some errand, or taking care of her. She hated that last part. But she was pretty damned impressed with his drive when she thought about it. Works that ass off to start a whole new, way more crappy, way harder life. When he talks to me, he still uses those Head Boy manners- most of the time. If Head Boy grew up and got some, that is. She often replayed things he'd said to her in her mind. Dogged encouragements, promises that almost sounded like threats when she was at her most stubborn and doubtful, persuasions, and honesty.

So he's becoming that guy. Gonna show the world who he really is, gonna figure it out for himself.

What am I doing? Got anything figured out yet?

If you wanna change, what's it look like?

She hated question she couldn't answer, hated them most when she was the one asking.

"I'm bailing." Faith abruptly pushed herself up from the couch, forcing her legs to carry her down the hall without waiting for his customary call of "Goodnight, Faith."


He stared after her. "Goodnight, then..." He murmured, and put his head down on the new laptop he was struggling to understand. What in the world did I do now?


Chrysalis

"Faith? Faith?" Wesley's voice woke her early in the morning, soft and insistent outside her door.

"We on fire?" Faith blearily sat up, pushing tangled raven-highlighted locks back from her blinking eyes.

"I'd hardly have knocked if we were!" Wesley said with minor indignation.

"I still think you might have." Faith tried to stand, and her spine, forced to work harder every day, buckled and refused to support the action this time. "Shit. Shit shit shit."

"Faith? What was that?"

"You'd better come in. I'm not getting up yet." Can't get up yet. I'd rather him think I'm lazy than weak.

"Yes, well I didn't want to wake you, but I've got everything filled out that goes back to my uncle's estate solicitor, and I should have my first text for translation awaiting in email attachment form- I think I understand what that is-" he frowned for a moment, "so I'm off to find the library and run to the post office."

"Peace out." Faith slumped back, not because she wanted to, but because the pain in her back was worsening.

"Well, I -"

"Wes, I get it. You're not gonna ditch me unless I kill someone. Take the damn car." Faith glared at him, not entirely believing the words she'd just spoken, but sure enough to put even money on them.

He was stunned, he was moved. However, she hated when he showed it, so he blinked rapidly and smiled slightly. "I appreciate the vote of confidence." I think that's the first time she's ever said it so plainly. That she- she trusts I'll come back. She trusts something about me. On a deeper level.

"Okay..." He was just standing there, almost staring through her. "You wanna do the appreciation elsewhere, or what? Kinda in skivvies here." Plain white underwear he couldn't see, braless under a black tank top she'd made him buy this last week. Who knew these prairie towns were so damn hot?

"Hm? Oh. No, I was only going to say that the money from my uncle's will should be put in my London bank account via a wire transfer, and I can access those funds from anywhere with my account card." Faith was looking at him with squinted eyes. "Faith?"

"Trying to figure out why I need to know this?" She tried to look indifferent, but she knew the answer. How about because this guy is sharing EVERYTHING with you? He doesn't want much back either. Except that intangible stuff that's hard to give.

"Everything should go fine, with both the estate and the papers for my new job, but just in case- I think it'd be best to have an established address they can ship further documents to, if needed."

Stay another week? Three weeks. In one place. Not a good way to avoid being recognized. Faith groaned. "Don't they have faxes in merry old England?"

"Yes, but there are certain documents that require original signatures. Everything has been posted back that needs to be, but if it should get lost, and they need me to submit another set of documents..."

"When will you get the all clear?" Faith asked after a few seconds.

"I would hope no more than seven days. I have been shipping with the highest priority and security the postal service provides." And it costs a packet. I'm going to be translating until Christmas just to make up postage. "After this week- we can leave. We can stay in any city that has public computers with internet connections, any place that has an ATM. Although- we'll have to stay in the next town for awhile as well."

"Huh? Now why? I thought you said email-"

"My VISA renewal process. I'll need a physical address to receive the card when it comes. After that I- well, I think I'll ask Mr. Giles if he would procure a post office box in Sunnydale in my name. Not that I'll get much mail." Because who would write me? Now that I'm the black sheep of the family, resigned from the Council, on the run- He coughed and ended that train of thought. "Nonetheless. Every month or so he can check it and if it's urgent he can call and let me know. Run of the mill bills and things he can discard or forward to whatever address we're using at the time."

Pain or not, now Faith rose into a sitting position, hair hanging over furious eyes. "They can call you? He has your number?"

Bother. "Yes. I had to call to-"

"You called them before you had the phone!"

"I called them after as well." Wesley sighed and admitted. "I needed help from Willow to learn how one 'hacks' a computer system to make it accept the language software."

"They already knew- know- whatever, where we are, and now we're sitting here for another week, and they can get in touch with you, whenever they want?" Anger bubbled over, irrational and scared. "Screw this." She held up her hands in a gesture that meant, "I'm done."

"Now, listen!"

"No!" She pushed off the bed, not caring what she was wearing, not caring for the terrible pain in her muscles. "I don't want to be some Midwest Branch of the Scooby Gang! I don't want to be 'Slayer East'. I don't know what the hell you were thinking, but one day you could barely trust them, now you're like, let's be pen pals?" Faith ranted.

"I don't expect any such thing, from you or them! I needed a few things to help me start a new career and a new life. I'm the one who got you out of that town and kept you away from it, from anyone after you, so obviously I'm aware of the dangers! But I can't very well teleport so I have to use the phone!" His own frustration came out, his voice raising ever so slightly, coming out harder and faster, not louder. "People have to have some form of contact information, Faith." How did this go, yet again, so badly, so quickly? A simple request, that's all I made.

"I never did." Faith spat. "After I ran away, before the Watcher people found me- I didn't. After my Watcher died-" She swallowed suddenly, "I didn't."

"You lied, cheated, and stole what you wanted."

"I killed too, did you forget that one?" She asked sarcastically.

"That wasn't what you wanted." Wesley slammed the door as she began shoving past him, trapping her in the room.

Fire flashed in her eyes. "Oh. Big boy wants to play? You think you've got the advantage because-"

She thinks that I want to fight her now? Dear God. Dear God, how do I fail so abjectly? Words wouldn't come, actions wouldn't manifest. He simply sat, cross legged on the floor, no warning at all, as if his legs were the ones no longer working.

Faith staggered, and fell back to the edge of the bed, staring at the man on her floor, head down, eyes fiercely burning the floor. Genuinely scared for a split second that something had happened to him, once she realized he was okay, she was more furious. Furious at him, furious at herself for hesitating, for maybe- caring. Or something. "Get up."

"I don't wish to get up just now." He said softly.

"Then I'll go."

"I'd like you to stay." He requested, not looking at her.

Well what the fuck do I now? Faith shook her head and made a tiny noise in the back of her throat which spoke volumes of frustration. I only know how to leave and to fight.

He doesn't know anything.

Wesley risked a glance at her. She hadn't moved yet. "I should have told you I wanted to call Willow to ask for help before I did so."

"Damn straight you should've." She growled.

"I didn't like to burden you. You were so exhausted the other day."

"Burden me? Burden me? Dude, I'm the fucking Great Wall of China and you're carrying me around- sometimes for real- on your shoulders."

"You're not my burden. You're my chance." He shook his head. She's unaware of how precious that is, and I've never been able to show her. How could I, when I'm still finding the value of it? "I am afraid I'm failing you. Or that I will. I know how you survived in the past, and given the circumstances, I'm amazed at how well you did. But I don't want to survive like that, with hurting and stealing. Maybe with some necessary deceptions and some secretiveness, but not- not like that. You see-" he looked up at her with a smile that was so sadly hopeful, "I'm going to be different. I'm willing to do whatever it takes, but I want it to be a different I'd respect."

She heard the truth in that, and it struck home, in spite of all the armor she had inside. "You and respect again."

"Is it so bad to want something you've never had, but watched everyone around you get?" He demanded suddenly.

Oh man. Her list of those things- it was so long and so painful, she tried to never, ever think of it. "No. That's not wrong."

He sighed deeply, before daring to reach up and let his hand float over hers, not daring to touch, but almost, before he drew it back to his side. "I'm making the best plans I can, and even if they're horribly amateurish to a survival veteran such as yourself, and even if they fail- I won't let anyone hurt you. Not if I could help it. I know you're stronger than me, but for some reason you still worry that I have some- some power that'll cause you pain."

"Not afraid of anyone." She mumbled, refusing to meet his eyes, and seriously about to bolt, as his words kept striking closer and closer to the hurts she buried.

"Good. Then try to believe I'm doing all I can, the best I can-"

I know. I watch you do it. It doesn't look half bad either.

"-and if it really bothers you that much to periodically check in with the Sunnydale community, I suppose I could stop."

So you'd make his life harder. That sat wrong with her. Why the hell do I care if I make his life miserable? He picked this, he picked me, I didn't ask for his help.

He just... gives it to me anyway.

She gave something back, under a barrage of venom and glares. "I think you might be an idiot to keep in touch with anyone from that place. But whatever. If they catch me, they catch you, too, and I won't be going down alone. If they catch me, if they sic Buffy on me- I'll kill her. I don't- want to." She admitted, feeling her stomach churn, "I just don't want anything anything to chase me now."

Her threats sent a cascade of ice down his spine, but he didn't show it. He nodded, standing up and nodding as he put his hand on the doorknob. He understood the violent impulse, the hunted animal savagely attacking when cornered. There was so much of the wild in her eyes when she dared to show it. Wild and scared, but still something so- beautiful. "I understand."

He opened the door and stepped through it.

Thank God that's done, Faith thought, letting out a deep sigh and shudder.

Only it wasn't. "I can't believe- well, no I can believe but I wish I didn't have to- that you think I'd let them hurt you."

"Not like you can stop some people, Wes!" She shouted back. In a much softer voice, she chanted, "Shut up, shut up, shut up..."

He didn't. "No, but I wouldn't 'let' it happen!"

"I take it back, geez, just please go! Go harass some old lady librarian, I was wrong, okay? I didn't mean to say that about you."

In the apartment, all noises seemed to stop, his footsteps, her breathing, his shuffling of papers, struck by what she'd admitted.

I can't do this emotion crap. "I'm getting in the shower, so haul ass." Faith attempted to end the conversation.

It would have been his preference to end it as well, but he couldn't let her go on thinking certain things were true."You were wrong about one other thing."

"Only one? Record for me." Faith grumbled and slid herself shakily to the doorway, watching his back as he prepared to leave.

"You said I wouldn't leave you, unless you killed someone." He turned just then, and for once, neither one could escape the other's eyes. Gazes locked. "I wanted to tell you. Not even then. Oh, I don't support it, I pray you never do, I hope I can-" He broke off, unable to adequately explain that in spite of honor and morality- she was the exception. he wouldn't let her continue harming people, but should she, he'd be by her side through whatever the fallout was. He looked over his shoulder and shook his once. "I wouldn't leave. Not even then. "


First crack...

She must've stood in the shower forever, washing his words off, and washing the invisible stains off of herself. When she was done, she rolled herself up in the cheap, nearly threadbare white towels that the place came with, and dragged herself to the kitchen. There was a stack of twenties with a note by the single box of cereal.

The leasing office opens at nine. Would you give this to them for the next week's rent?

"Why doesn't he do this himself? Doesn't he know he's taking a huge crappy gamble, letting me get my hands on this much cash?" Faith counted it out. There'd be five left over after she paid. If she paid. Dammit. "He should do this himself."

She poured her cereal and put the cash reluctantly back on the piece of paper- this time catching a glimpse of ink on the back. She flipped the note over.

I didn't do it myself because I plan to work until the library closes, or I break the computer. Whichever comes first. I'll bring home dinner.

Also, it will ensure you walk a little today, instead of watching the television nonstop.

"I'm seriously going to hurt him." Faith crumpled it up angrily, annoyed and amused that he knew her so well.


She did the stretches and the exercises he taught her, and she watched the tube when she felt like it. She got hungry and rummaged around the cabinets and made a mental note that even if food was food, and she didn't care about it as long as she had some, the dude had to start buying something munchable, not just this canned meal crap.

"I can buy some with the change if I want. I can make it to the store.

You could make it a lot farther. You've got almost two hundred in your pocket. Did he take the car? She peeked out the window. He had. Dammit.

Well, twenty buys a bus ticket to someplace far enough away. Hell, twenty buys you into a poker game, and even if you lose, you just follow the winner out, rough him up, take the money, and you're starting to look at "financial independence".

Faith ran the scenario out of habit more than anything. She neglected the dozen flaws in the plan, the weakness, her inability to rough anyone up, the fact that she didn't want to.

Don't know what I'm supposed to become- but something I could respect... That's the game plan, Wes?

It's working for him. Works and plans, fails and tries. He's kinda okay. If he took the pansy out of his ass, he might make a fighter someday. He does keep getting back up even after they knock him down.


She stumbled down to pay the rent, came back up with five bucks and fifty what-ifs.

Maybe he shouldn't trust me, but he does. Same here. A little. Shoved a box of weapons right at me, and didn't run screaming. That's gotta be a start.

Bored and thinking nostalgically of the times past when she could have simply run an hour without too much effort, of when weaponry meant she was about to make demons cry and want their mommies, she sat down in front of the boxes Wes had stacked in the corner of the small living room.

She gave a wistful moan at the sight of that much hardware as she opened the first box. "Yeah, baby. Oooh, you feel so good. I missed you." Faith crooned to the first stake she took out, this one obviously never used, so smooth, and sharp, and perfect. And it fit just perfectly in the palm of her hand too. Her fingers wrapped around it with a sigh."You were made for dusting, not polishing. Don't worry. Someday soon." She set it down and went to drool over that perfect crossbow she'd seen last time, though she was careful to avoid the arrows.

Faith took out and admired every weapon in the first box. Wesley was going to get some case or chest, some innocent looking thing to conceal in their car, a traveling, almost undetectable arsenal stash. Once they had money.

"Until then- it's play time."

Faith worked her way through one box, oohing and ahhing, miming some attacks, realizing how horribly rusty she was, and then moving onto the next box.

She immediately realized she shouldn't have. This was his personal stuff. Papers. Letters A suit. "He took the other clothes. I guess he figures we're not living the suit lifestyle right now." Faith mused, lifting it out just enough to feel the silk tie that came with it. Putting it back down guiltily, she quickly closed the box, and pushed it away.

It rattled faintly.

Faith hadn't read the letters, just pawed his tie, no big deal. A girl can lust for a little soft texture, right? But what the heck did he have that rattled?

Please tell me I didn't break something...

Faith lifted out a delicate blue willow china teacup, and moved the suit jacket to reveal its mate. Moved it further to reveal a whole damn High Tea, just add crumpets and water.

Why didn't he take this stuff out? Cups. Silver spoons. Sugar bowl. Tea kettle. She lifted out the electric one. He's always bitching about tea.

But he never buys any. He never has a cup. But he does literally have one. She turned the cup over gently. Maybe he was afraid I'd break it. He knows my style after all. Maybe he thinks suits and the good china aren't important right now. I'd have to agree with him.

There was a note stuffed into the bone white interior. From the way it was still neatly and tightly creased, Faith figured Wesley had never bothered to open it. Maybe he'd never even examined the cups, just pushed them aside. Part of his old life. Part she shouldn't be bothering. She felt like a snoop, but that wasn't the worst thing she'd been. After a moment of guilt and curiosity battling it out, she opened it up, long stalled curiosity winning.

You can fight the world's battles and all the demons you want, and still have time for tea.

R.G.

Faith had to smile. Pretty decent of Giles to do. Looking out for Brit Jr. Giles was kinda the cute, young Watcher back then. Wes is even younger. And I guess cuter. I don't know. Weird thought.

She read it a second time, more carefully. You can fight the world's battles and all the demons you want, and still have time for tea.


"Teabags? Do you got any? Like the kind- British guys like?" Faith demanded at the counter of the pharmacy.

Two old gals just stared at her. "Am I not speaking English?" Faith spat.

"Honey- maybe you better sit down."

"Don't need to- okay, maybe." She sank into the ugly plastic chair someone stuck under her behind.

She'd walked. Alone. Without falling. In ninety-six-fucking-degree heat. All made up too, with her hair brushed- mostly- and she had made it to the nearest store to possibly have tea, the pharmacy.

"Get her some water."

"I don't need water. Need tea." Faith panted, waving a water bottle away- then changing her mind and drinking greedily.

"Slow down... slow down... Girl, why you in those heavy denims? You know the good Lord turned on the furnace today!" One woman admonished, fanning her with a store circular.

"Look, don't fashion advise me, just steer me to the teabags. Please tell me you have some."

"We have a couple kinds by the coffee."

"I'll take it. What kind do British people like?"

"I don't know. Dee Dee?"

"I don't rightly know either." The other agreed.

Faith groaned and heaved herself up. "I'll get plain. Is plain a tea flavor?"

"No, Honey."

"Shit." She unevenly staggered off.

"Too bad that pretty English boy wasn't here today." Dee Dee said, watching Faith narrowly miss a display of coffee filters.

"He hasn't been in for a few days. Hope he's okay."

"I don't know. Worried me. Body oil, make up, and first aid kits..."


Black tea. Orange tea. Black Orange Pekoe tea. Where the crap is the one labeled English tea? Faith swatted viciously at the boxes- and lost her balance, careening into a row of greeting cards. Great. I can't be a bitch until I'm better.

"Sweetie, you look like you're having some trouble."

The dynamic duo was back. Faith rolled her eyes. "I am. Look, I have this guy, he's English, he's all tight assed and stuff, but- he would totally do you a solid, like brushing your hair and buying your lipstick, getting all bloody with you when you hurt yourself-"

The clerks exchanged a sudden enlightened glance Faith didn't understand. Her sentence temporarily derailed as one peered at her. Closely. "Personal space much?" Faith craned her neck back and away.

"Is that cherry sin?"

"Huh? Oh yeah." She absently touched her lips. "Right, back to this guy. So even though he's annoying and stuff, I want him to have his cup of tea. What do I buy? I've got five bucks, and also, he has one of those teapots that plugs into the wall. Do you put the teabags in it with the water and wait to boil?"

"Here. Get him this."

Faith took the box held in a gnarled hand. "English Breakfast Tea. Well, that helps. Is it okay for afternoons too? 'Cause he usually joneses for it in the afternoon, not the morning."

"Honey- that's a good man. And he'd drink your tea any time of the day."

For some reason Faith felt herself blush. "Whatever. Ring me up."


"I didn't blow up any computers, I didn't get arrested for hacking- oh, I actually 'hacked!'." Wesley burst into the flat after six, in a whirlwind of self-praise, ebullient with his success at the library, and carrying a red striped bucket. "I now have a disk with the textbook on it, and I've begun the actual translation. Now all I have to do is finish six hundred pages, then do it again in another language. Also, I've brought fried chicken."

Which he very nearly dropped.

"Hi." Faith didn't move. She was too tired.

"What in the world-"

"Tea. Plug in the water and you have tea. With real cups. Real spoons. Real milk. No sugar." She gestured to the table.

"I don't take sugar." Wesley said in a stunned voice, looking around. She'd laid the table for one, the cup, the saucer, a box of tea between the kettle and the creamer. "I- uh- How lovely." He gave a surprised titter.

"Thanks." Faith smiled, and then scowled. "If you'd pick up tea at the store, I wouldn't have had to walk down there like a drunk with wooden legs."

"You walked to -"

"You didn't think the tea fairy magically zapped it in here, did you?"

"Thank you." He murmured genuinely, walking over in a daze. He absently put the bucket of chicken in front of her and reverently clicked the on switch for the kettle.

"You're welcome, Wes." She laughed, trying not to, unable to help it. She felt something alien, and she suspected it was happiness. But seriously, he looked like she'd given him a million dollars instead of a three dollar box of tea bags. To make someone so simply, obviously happy- it was weird. But nice weird. "So. Sit already."

"One minute." He rushed past her, to the corner where the boxes were kept. Ah-ha. He knew there had been a second cup, saucer, and spoon. He also found the neatly folded note from Giles, opened it, read it, and gave Faith an appreciative glance which she didn't see as her chair was facing away from him.

"C'mon, the chicken is going to get cold." Faith urged.

"Patience!" He dashed past again, to the kitchen, where he rinsed the second setting, and then set it gently in front of her.

"Won't you join me?"

Faith suddenly looked very young, very uncertain, almost embarrassed. I'm not all proper. And he knows that. I'm not gonna turn into some fancy, fluffy Buffy. "I don't do tea." She said with a nonchalant shrug.

"Ah." He nodded, trying not to care over such a small thing after such a kind gesture.

Faith softened. The guy still looks so fricking happy. Can't wipe that smile off his face. "Hey." She lost her contrived disinterest and ventured a grin. "Is it some sin against the tea world if you drink a coke out of this thing?" Faith held up the soda he'd brought home and the cup.

Horrifically bad manners. Generations of Pryces and Wyndhams flinching in the immortal coil. Wesley's smile stretched even farther. He didn't care in the slightest. "Not at all."


To be continued...