liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
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Ishmael Sings of the White Whale (Pt. 2)

Part 3, the final part, will be up in an hour or two. Then, I will be staying away from my computer to enjoy this thing called a long weekend.

Someone should've told hernewshoes that I only pretty much write epics, hunh?

 

Continued from here

She makes a beeline right back to her lair. Wes, for once, is mercifully silent as he ghosts in her wake.

She bursts through the door shouting Angel’s name. Right. Plan B. A crappy Plan B, but it just might work.

The vague idea that theoretical demons need to be Slayed and that Faith has her hands full on her nightly patrols ain’t working. Now that she’s got names of real people Angel knows who need saving, it just might kick him in the nuts. Well, probably not Xander so much since there’s no love lost there. But he fucking owes Willow big-time since she souled him not once, but twice. Maybe dangling a needy Willow paired with a needy Buffy might shake him just enough.

She suspects that this plan is doomed to fail as spectacularly as Plan A, but she’s grasping at straws.

One, two, three spins around the office tell her that Angel is absent. It’s a temporary absence. No way Angel would leave his piles of books and scribbles behind. She plops on the bed and waits.

“Perhaps he’s gone out on a patrol of the streets?” Wes tentatively offers. Faith can tell by the sound of his voice that Wes doesn’t really believe it either. “Perhaps he heard someone was in trouble and left to help?”

“Dude, he could hear a nuclear explosion right outside our front door and he wouldn’t budge,” Faith says dispiritedly.

“And yet he’s not here.”

“No-fucking-duh.”

The witty repartee is interrupted by the sound of someone entering the outer office. Faith’s off the bed like a shot and nearly runs over a burdened Angel. “The hell?” she demands when she takes in the pile of books he’s lugging, all of them looking as old and as musty as the collection he already has.

“I needed the additional references,” Angel says apologetically. “I had run into a dead end…”

“You’re walking right into a fucking dead end,” Faith says numbly. The sight of the books makes the calling cards in her back pocket overheat like they’re about to brand her ass with one big, fat scarlet rectangle. “Where did you get the money for the books?”

“I’m borrowing them…”

Faith reaches out and slaps the pile from his hands, scatting the books in a wide spread over the desks and industrial carpet. “You mean you fucking stole them!”

“I didn’t steal them,” Angel insists angrily as he bends to pick up the books. “I’ll return them after I get the information…”

Faith reaches out and hauls Angel upright. “When will that be? Hunh? When? When Gabriel gives his horn a big blow?” She gives him a shake. “Look at you. Fucking look at you. You’re fucking stealing. You. These aren’t goddamned rats in an alley you happened to find.”

“Faith…”

She can’t take it. She throws her hands up. “If you get caught…maaaan. They’ll arrest your ass. Hell, you might be being followed right now. If they get you they just might get me. And jail? I ain’t going back. No way, no how. I’ll jump off a fucking building first. And you? You will be dust when Mr. Sun comes a pokin’ through the bars. Fucking think! Why aren’t you fucking thinking?!”

A pair of sturdy arms engulfs her and she realizes that her breath is hitching. She’s not crying because her tear ducts never did work right in that regard. All she can feel is this rising panic that Angel is taking such goddamned stupid chances over books. Books aren’t what keep either one of them fed. Books don’t keep out the killing sunlight. Hell, you can’t even rip the pages out of the books and use the paper to wipe your ass. In the list of necessities both of ’em need to get by, books don’t even make an appearance.

“I’m not going to get caught,” Angel says gently into her hair. “I’m not going anywhere. I won’t abandon you like that. I’d never do that to you.”

It’s too much to take in. First the news from England and now Angel promising something she can’t comprehend.

“Shhhhhh. Don’t cry.”

She’s crying? How the hell did that happen?

She pulls away and with a shaky finger brushes under her right eye to feel the betrayal. She stares dumbly at her hand, trying to piece this together. Angel simply touches her hand and brings her fingers up to his mouth in a kiss. Somehow his lips transfer to her forehead, then to her cheek, before settling on her lips.

***

The thing she remembers most about that first time is how Angel was not warm. He wasn’t cold, but he wasn’t warm. She remembers the taste of his mouth: not pleasant, but not unpleasant. Slimier than the usual guy, maybe, with tongues wrestling and jostling as they slid around each other.

She remembers how quickly he went from not warm to warm; how his mouth went from metallic and cool to hot and inviting.

She doesn’t want to think that somehow he was leeching off her heat.

She remembers the tactile sensation of hands, skin-on-skin, and the brush of his hair across her exposed breasts.

She can sometimes still feel the cooling trail of kisses down the length of her body and remember how surprised she was that his cheeks were so smooth between her thighs. How fingers and tongue knew just how to work so her toes scrunched, her fists clenched, her back arched, and all her muscles locked.

But when they moved together—the feel of him drilling right to the core of her; the murmured desperate nonsense words; the feel of him unloading all his sorrow, destroyed dreams, and lost hopes inside her—he felt very much like any other guy.

Except for this part: he didn’t breathe. He gasped and groaned and moaned, but there was no sense that any air was involved in the process.

She remembers how quickly he cooled when he rolled off her and how what he left behind felt a little wrong somehow. It was too thick and too tacky against her skin. What was left inside felt more like a weight that would stay put instead of leak out onto the sheets.

She remembers shivering against his not-warmness even as he pulled her to him in that bed.

The hell of it is this: there were times that came after when she felt like she’d never feel that warm again.

***

Faith wakes with a start. What the fuck did I just do?

There’s no sign of Angel…maybe Angelus, which is her cue to jump bare-ass naked out of the bed and start looking for something she can turn into a stake.

“He’s not Angelus.”

“Jesus Wes!” she jumps and spins around, her breasts swinging without a bra to hold them in place.

“He’s not Angelus,” Wes repeats.

“Oh.” She’s really not sure how to take the news. On the one hand, good, because she won’t have to deal the idea that she might have to stake a monster with a friend’s face because there ain’t no way to get his soul back without Willow. On the other hand…

Well, she knew she wasn’t exactly B, didn’t she?

Without another word, she hunts for her clothes, stubbornly refusing to pick up her pace and pretend to be embarrassed. If Wes were anything resembling polite he’d let her dress without watching her. Then again he pretty much stood and watched there while she sucked and fucked her way to getting those calling cards. He probably was jacking off in a corner while she took a test spin on his precious Angel.

Bastard.

“What were you trying to prove back there?” Wes asks as she throws the clothes she finds on the bed. “Do you really think sex is the way to…”

Wes is interrupted by Angel’s appearance. The vampire is bearing a nighttime breakfast of Hostess and powdered milk. “I’m not Angelus,” he quickly explains as he places the packages on the dick desk.

“Yeah, I figured, since I seem to remember Angelus wasn’t a breakfast food kinda guy.” She’s still standing around naked, which is a little surreal. Usually when the deed is done they leave, she leaves, or if they’re Robin, there’s something resembling an attempt at deep conversation. Having a rational conversation while your pubes are exposed and the other person is dressed is strange even for her.

Angel sighs and drops in a chair, but Faith notices that his eyes are hungrily crawling over her body like he wants to do her again. Despite the fact that he wasn’t happy enough to lose it over her, she likes this honest display of want even though he’s already had. She leans against the wall, spreading her legs just a little as she crosses her arms under her breasts. The room is cool enough that she can feel her nipples goose pimple slightly.

Yeah. She’s fucking preening; teasing Angel and maybe even Wes. What of it?

Angel shakes his head as if he’s just given himself a mental slap for looking at Faith like a piece of willing meat. “It’s not you. It’s me.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about. I ain’t got no complaints. Ain’t like you drooped in the clinch, right? Plus, I got off, what? Five times to your one? You’re the one who should be bitching, not me.” She sounds defensive to her own ears. Jesus. Can’t she just drop the shields for five fucking seconds?

Angel gives her a tight smile. She doesn’t fool him for a second. “About the happiness thing and still having my soul. Faith, I’m trying to say it’s not you. I know it’s not you. What we did…it felt good. As good as anything can be these days, I mean. And I don’t regret it, but I don’t think I can ever…what I mean is…”

“You sound pretty sure that the big O ain’t gonna cost you the big one,” Faith comments.

Angel huffs a sigh and admits to something shocking, “I actually was having sex with…well…someone before I lost…I mean I was in an intimate relationship, physically intimate anyway, and I didn’t even feel a tug.”

“Nina,” Wes remarks. When Faith looks at him, he quickly ads, “Most likely Nina, although I’m rather surprised he chanced it. I’ll explain later.”

Angel’s studying his hands now. “The fact is that perfect moment of happiness is out of reach for me now. Looking back, I’m not sure that just having sex, even with someone I care about like with you, has been enough since Doyle died.”

Well, she’s not buying that shit. “Hello? You do remember why Wes broke me outta jail, right?”

“Did Wes tell you how they managed?” Angel looks at her, pleading for her to understand. “They needed an illusion spell to do it. In order for me to loose my soul, everything had to go 100 percent right. I had to have everyone around me happy, too. That means Wes and I, we…well we had to become friends again. Connor needed to love me. Wes and Gunn had to bury the hatchet. And then I had to not only get Cordelia back, but make love to her.”

“Extraordinary,” Wes remarks with a touch of wonder. “I didn’t know.”

“You mean you had to be the absolute hero and everything had to get solved for you to even come close to losing your soul,” Faith interrupts.

Angel’s mouth tics, although Faith’s not sure if it’s to stop from crying or to stop from smiling. “I don’t think I’ll be able to achieve that perfect happiness again because…”

“I know,” Faith stops him before he can again go through the list of things he lost. She slowly walks over to him, feeling about three inches tall because of her jealousy act. Wes is right. Calling Buffy was a big mistake on more than one level. B will never, ever understand this. But she does. She gets it.

When she reaches Angel, she stops and pulls the still-seated vampire into a hug. After a hesitant beat, Angel’s arms drift to her waist and he wraps his arms around her torso.

He holds her so tightly that she can barely breathe.

***

“If you’re hoping love is the answer, I think it’s time for a new tactic.”

“It’s not a tactic, Wes.” Faith takes a running start and jumps the gaps between buildings. She lands with a grunt as the weight in the backpack shifts. “And it ain’t love. I think.”

When she looks up, she’s not surprised to see Wes is standing right in front of her.

“Look, I can understand the…the comfort aspect…”

“No one said you have to fucking stand there and watch.”

“I’m not…”

“Wes? Yes. You. Have. More than once. Now maybe not all the time…”

“Can’t possibly watch the two of you go at it all the time,” Wes huffs. “During the daytime you two are constantly humping away. I’ve come to believe the sheets constantly undulate even when the two of you aren’t under them.”

“Girl’s got needs, Wes,” Faith says maliciously. “Too bad you can’t join in on the fun, right? Wouldn’t you want a piece of this?” She hooks a thumb in her belt loop and lets a hand rest right over her crotch. “Oh, wait. I forgot. You want to be me so Angel can stick it to you.”

“That’s uncalled for!”

“And you constantly fucking nagging me is uncalled for,” Faith spits as she walks across the roof.

“It’s just I can’t believe you’re encouraging him even further in this madness.”

“So you think now that I’ve got him by the balls, I should kick him to the couch until he cooperates?”

“I’m not entirely sure who has whom by the balls in this situation,” Wes sourly rejoins.

With an irritated sigh, Faith turns around and faces her Jiminy Cricket. “Baby steps. He cares about me, Wes.”

“He’s always cared about you,” Wes replies shortly.

“Listen. Just try, for once in your life, to fucking listen to me,” Faith snaps back. “He cares about me and I care about him.” The look of doubt on Wes’s face makes Faith angry. “I really do. He gave a crap about me long after everyone else decided I was shit that needed to be flushed, including you. So don’t you ever fucking doubt I care about Angel.”

Wes’s eyes narrow in anger, but he doesn’t interrupt.

“Thing is, sooner or later, he’s gonna wanna help the one he cares about, right?” Faith lowers her voice to a reasonable tone. “I’m out here fighting my ass off and sooner or later he’s gonna come with.”

“You’re not fighting now. Right now you’re picking up books for him,” Wes angrily points out.

“Look, I gotta give a little on this, right? Show him that I’m willing to help him and give him the benefit of the doubt,” Faith responds. “Then, when I start asking him for help, he can’t exactly kick me to the curb. Why? Because I’ve been a good little Slayer and lent him a hand when he needed it. Give-and-take, Wes. Simple.”

“Since when do you know anything about give-and-take,” Wes growls.

“Still the same ol’, Wes.” Faith can feel the disappointment in her cheeks as she turns away. “You just don’t wanna believe I know shit or that I actually fucking give a shit about other people.”

“Do you?” Wes asks with a nasty edge. “Seems to me that all you know how to do is run away when the going gets tough. And when it gets tough with Angel, and you know it will, I just wonder where you’ll run to next.”

Faith spins around ready to tell Wes to go to hell and to fuck himself on the way there when a scream stops her. “Where’d that come from?” she snaps.

“The alley we just jumped over it sounds like,” Wes urgently replies.

Faith’s off and running back the way she came. She stops short of the ledge to look down into the darkness. Sure enough, something fang-y has cornered a couple. “Awww, fuck,” Faith mutters as she begins to desperately pace the roof to look for a fire escape. She finds one, but it puts her behind the couple and in front of the vampire.

“Faith, you best hurry,” Wes urges.

“Get down there. Let me know if there’s something I need to watch out for, like more bloodsucking dweebs.” As Wes blips off the roof, Faith swings onto the fire escape and races for the bottom. Her boots clatter on the metal as she scrambles and swings down the stairs as fast as she can. When she judges that she’s close enough to the ground to guarantee an on-your-feet landing, she vaults over the fire escape railing.

“He’s just the one.” Wes sounds relieved.

“Thanks,” Faith mutters as she pulls a stake out of her sleeve.

It’s a very short fight. Vampire-breath charges her, she charges him, her arm swings, he blocks, she fakes a punch, he ducks, and then she slams the stake home to the rousing applause of a dust shower.

She turns to assure the couple that she just scared a mugger off, but her voice freezes in her throat when she gets a look at them.

They’re just standing there. Normally in a situation like this people would be cowering against the wall or angrily demanding an explanation. Instead, they look at her like they know exactly what just went down.

“A most excellent display,” a male voice says behind her.

She spins around and sees a man in a business suit bearing a briefcase. She tosses Wes a questioning look. He shrugs in return.

“Now, don’t be alarmed,” the man assures her as he confidently approaches. When he stops, he snaps open his briefcase and presents her with a sheet of paper.

“What the hell is this?” she asks.

“A waiver against suing,” the man responds as if this was the most natural thing in the world. When Faith continues to stare dumbly at him, he quickly apologizes. “I’m sorry. My manners. Here’s a pen.”

“A pen,” Faith deadpans.

“For you to sign the waiver,” the man patiently explains.

“Don’t sign it!” Wes shouts. “He’s Wolfram & Hart!”

“Oh, dear. Is Mr. Wyndham-Price falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater?” the guy asks.

Faith takes a step back as Wes yelps in surprise.

The man sighs and rolls his eyes. “Yes, I do indeed represent Wolfram & Hart and these,” he waves at the couple, “are the bait, if you will.”

Oh, fuck! Trap! Faith wildly looks around for hidden attackers.

“Now, please…Faith, is it? We’re not going to attack you,” the man sounds reassuringly bored. “That was our last administration. We certainly don’t go hunting for demons or Slayers under the new regime.”

“What the fuck do you want?” Faith grits, her eyes still scanning the shadows. She doesn’t dare make a run for it because she’s willing to bet there’s a SWAT team waiting for her somewhere close by.

“Just to sign this waiver promising you won’t sue for any injuries or damages sustained during this operation.” He holds the pen and paper out in one hand. “This won’t bite. You don’t even have to promise your soul or anything like that. If it was something more, shall we say, heavy-duty we’d need you to sign in blood and we’re certainly not asking you to do that. Simple pen and ink, my dear.”

“What do you want?”

The guy sighs. “For you to sign the waiver.”

Faith wrinkles her nose and decides to go for broke. “Fuck you.”

The probably-lawyer shakes his head with disappointment as paper and pen disappear in the briefcase. “Not surprising, I suppose. Well, I fear I’ll just have to chance it then.”

Faith backs away as the couple skitter around to her left so that they eventually end up behind the guy in the suit. “This is about Angel and his big plans, isn’t it? You guys fucking know what he’s up to.”

“Faith!” Wes hisses.

“This is not at all about Angel,” the man smoothly assures her. “What Angel does is of little interest to us.”

“Really,” Faith deadpans.

“Angel can feel free to hunt down the Senior Partners,” the man waves his hand in an effete manner. “Frankly it’s disappointing. We expected so much better from him.” He shrugs. “Oh, well. Perhaps we did back the wrong horse after all.”

“You bastards are going fall someday,” Wes growls.

“Now, now, Mr. Wyndham-Price,” the guys responds without looking at the ghostly Watcher. “I know you didn’t leave the firm under the best of circumstances, but rudeness is unnecessary. And may I add that the way you left was overkill. A simple letter of resignation would have sufficed.”

“Let’s get out of here Wes,” Faith says.

“Well, perhaps next time,” the man says cheerfully as he turns to leave. “I look forward to seeing you again…” He stops and turns to look at her, eyebrows creasing in confusion. “Ahh, yes. Faith. Amazing how your name keeps slipping my mind. Do watch your back. Coming back to California after your prison escape was not your wisest move.” He smiles innocently. “But then, I do recall your dossier showed that you could be quite unpredictable.”

“I’m not worried,” Faith insists as her stomach clenches. Maybe that SWAT team is the LAPD just waiting to bag an escaped con.

“Please. We have no interest in turning you over to the state.” He pauses a moment before adding, “Unless you cause one of our clients grief. Then I fear the gloves will have to come off.”

Faith manages to keep standing strong until assface and company leave the alley. The second he’s out of sight, she scrambles up the fire escape, muttering, “Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit,” until she lands on the roof.

Angel’s fucking on to something. He must be on to something. Otherwise why would those bastards from Wolfram & Hart corner her just so they could try to laugh it off in her face?

“Unless they’re trying to reinforce the idea that Angel should remain distracted by his hunt for the Senior Partners so they can pull off whatever nefarious plans they’ve got waiting in their files,” Wes says. “Or maybe they were simply trying to scare you into leaving the state.”

“Stop it!” Faith hates the edge of hysteria to her voice. She’s wigged out by the fact that Wes just pulled his mind-reading shit again. She’s wigged by the appearance of a real, live Wolfram & Hart employee. She’s wigged by the fact that they were trying to get her to sign something.

She’s most especially wigged by the fact that they know what Angel is doing.

Which just lends a whole lot more credence to Angel’s paranoid idea that Wolfram & Hart is everywhere and everywhen. If they know about Wes, they probably fucking know everything.

Are they safe? Are they even close to safe? Has someone been following her? Maybe they really are responsible for everything. Maybe they even can reach to England and are responsible for tempting Andrew to betray the Council, and zonking Willow, and hunting Xander because, hey, that would make sense since it would be enough drama to keep Buffy well away from Angel. For all she knows some of those books Angel’s got could be a plant to send him off in the wrong direction. Maybe, just maybe, there really aren’t more demons hanging around. Maybe they’ve been sending them after her so she could be all convinced that things are getting worse, which would give her fuel to believe that Angel is barking up the wrong tree with this Senior Partners horseshit.

No. Not horseshit. Maybe it ain’t horseshit at all.

“You’re panicking,” Wes calmly says. “Between this incident and Angel’s constant talking about the power of Wolfram & Hart, you’re not thinking clearly.”

“How do I know you’re on the up-and-up?” Faith feels stupid for not asking the obvious question sooner. “For all I know, you could be the First because it could appear as dead people and you are most definitely dead.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Wes frowns at her. “I highly doubt that the First…”

“You weren’t there Wes or whoever the hell you are.” Faith backs away from him. “The First can come on so honey-sweet and when you least expected it…”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Wes throws up his arms, “you said yourself that you hadn’t seen or heard from the First since the Sunnydale Hellmouth closed. Furthermore, you’ve been complaining that I’ve been driving you too hard.”

“Yeah. Why are you, hunh?” Faith asks. “Why are you so ready to toss out the idea that Angel’s being an idiot?”

“I never called Angel an…”

“That’s it. I’m done.” Faith cuts him off. “I’m taking a closer look at this Senior Partners sh—I mean stuff. I think it’s time I made up my own fucking mind instead of letting everyone yammer at me about what’s right and what’s wrong around here. I am done taking you at your word.”

“Faith!” Wes yells.

Faith spins on her heel and stalks away.

Wes keeps yelling her name over and over. She can even hear the desperation in his voice.

***

The days bleed into each other.

There’s research time and then there’s sex time. The demarcation is pretty clear. Research time starts when the sun sets. When the books come out, it’s business only. Sex time starts when the sun rises. When the books close, it’s time to play.

Research time includes going to get books. Sometimes it’s from skeevy dealers with back rooms hidden behind curtains. Sometimes it’s smuggling a book out of a library. Sometimes it’s breaking into someone’s house to borrow a book.


Research time involves reading. It involves raising questions. It involves testing assumptions. It involves sketching out ideas on endless pieces of paper. It involves finding answers. More, it involves weighing contradictory answers against each other, trying to determine which answer is the right answer.

Research time is hard. Faith’s head usually starts to hurt somewhere during the early morning hours, but she keeps pushing. She keeps trying to understand. Sometimes she swears she can almost see a pattern. Sometimes it looks random.

Sex time is more fun, but in its own way hard. Sex time depends an awful lot on how research time has gone. If research time has been good, the sex time can last almost all day. It involves tender touches, words of endearment, experimentation, whispers, and sighs. It can be gentle with just the right touch of rough. Sex time when research time is good always takes place on soft surfaces with soft mouths.

But when research time is not good, the sex can be brutal. They hit and scratch against each other, screeching frustration in a mix of pleasure-pain. If research time is not good, sex time takes place on hard surfaces, at painful angles, with growls and wordless grunts and it’s over too soon. There’s always a little blood when research time is not good. Sometimes it’s his; sometimes it’s hers.

Faith is okay with all of it. Variety is good, and if you can get it in one package it’s even better. Angel is all about variety.

She’s pretty sure she slept at some point, although she’s not entirely sure when. And even if she managed to close her eyes, couldn’t’ve been more than an hour or two at a time. She knows she ate, but she knows it wasn’t enough. Her bones are more bone-y and her clothes are hanging looser. She’s pretty sure she’s lost a cup size. She’s really not sure on the showering because her hair is limp and the strands are starting to separate.

Through it all Wes stands in a corner and glares at her, the glass in his eyeglasses glinting angrily at her every move. He refuses to leave her alone. He follows her around, steadfastly watching her and Angel go at it. He even follows her into the bathroom whenever she takes a piss.

But he doesn’t say anything. Not one word.

***

“See? See?”

No, she can’t fucking see. But that’s because she doesn’t read Latin.

“Look. See this here?”

She can’t fucking see that, either. But that’s because she doesn’t read…is that Chinese or Russian? She ain’t fucking sure. It’s one of those languages that don’t use proper letters.

“We’re getting close. I can feel it,” Angel nods. He stares down at the book. “Who’d think that Wolfram & Hart had so much power in World War II Greece?”

Faith slams the book shut. Her headache is out of control tonight. It’s been slowly building over the past two days until she’s ready to scream from the pain.

Angel looks at her with sympathy. “I think you need a break,” he says gently.

“No. I’m good. Really,” Faith insists. “It’s just you keep showing me books written in languages I know shit-all about. I’m barely understanding the books written in fucking English.”

He places a hand on her upper arm and tenderly rubs as if that’s the spot that’s causing her pain. “When was the last time you got out?”

“Fuck all if I know.”

“Six weeks,” Wes answers for her.

Faith shoots Wes a glare. He gives her the silent treatment and the first thing he can say is six weeks? He fucking should be apologizing. That should be the first fucking thing out of his mouth.

Angel kneels in front of her. “Take the night off. Go and hunt.”

“I’m…”

“Fine. Yes, you said.” Angel frowns at her, worried eyes studying her face. “But you’ve been cooped up here for so long that I feel guilty. You should be outside getting some fresh air.”

“Come with?” she asks.

He chuckles. “I don’t need fresh air as much.” He plants a tender kiss on her forehead. Research time must really be going well, better than usual, Faith figures. He adds, “Have some fun and don’t come back until you do.”

She mentally debates with herself, but the pounding behind her eyes is enough to convince her. “I won’t do anything you wouldn’t do. And if I do? I promise to take pictures.”

“Yes!” Wes cheers.

Angel flashes her a smile and waves her off.

***

Her night off is more like a working vacation. There seem to be vampires everywhere she looks. If she didn’t know better, she’d think someone was breeding them in a lab.

It doesn’t help that she’s not up to snuff. She’s still staking them, but she’s gotta work harder for the privilege.

To no one’s surprise, Wes isn’t helping.

“Call Buffy.”

“Fuck. Off.”

“Call. Buffy. You said you would.”

“What’s with call B? You said it was a bad idea. And guess what? You were right.”

“Faith…” Wes grits his teeth and starts again. “I know you’ve decided to throw in with Angel.”

“Please, break my heart why dontchya.” Faith rolls her eyes and starts to walk away.

“Sooner or later Buffy’s going to come looking for you and him,” Wes says as he trots after her. “You promised you’d call her in three weeks and almost two months has gone by.”

“Well that tells you something.”

“Tells me what, exactly?”

Faith stops and looks at Wes. “That tells you that if B gave a flying shit, she’d already be here. I shouldn’t have to call to tell her to get her ass on a plane. She shouldda been here the second the dust-up happened with Wolfram & Hart.”

“If I recall, Andrew was feeding them lies about…”

Faith turns to walk away again. “She shouldn’t’ve listened to fucking Andrew. She should’ve done some checking around herself.”

“Faith, you have to give her one more chance.” Wes is desperately whining.

“She don’t deserve it.”

“You got one more chance.”

Faith stops and clenches her fists. He’s doing it to her again.

“Everyone deserves a second chance. You should know that more than anyone.”

Faith turns around, feeling the rage running along her spine. “This is the last time, Wes.”

“Last time?” The son of a bitch has the nerve to look confused.

“This is the last fucking time you play me by playing that fucking card.”

“What card?” Wes asks with frustration.

“Oooooh, Faith-y’s a bad little girl. Faith-y’s been so misguided. Faith-y’s got to kiss my fucking ass for the rest of my fucking death because she screwed me over and messed my life up.” Faith pokes at him, but her finger goes right through his chest. “Forget it. You fucked yourself up, buddy. I ain’t taking the fall for all the shit that’s happened to you in your goddamn life. Yeah, I screwed up and screwed you over. Whatever you did after that is on your own goddamn head.”

Wes stands firm in the face of her verbal assault. She’s got to give him that much.

“Point taken,” he finally says with a whisper. “But please, one more try. Give her one more chance.”

“Why?”

“Angel needs help. You need help,” Wes says with a hint of desperation showing. “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately? Haven’t you noticed that you’re not as strong tonight? You haven’t been taking care of yourself and you need to do that. I don’t want to see you hurt because…” His voice trails off with the unspoken sentiment.

Faith uncomfortably looks everywhere but at him and resists the urge to go find a window so she can take a closer look at herself. She knows the reflection isn’t going to be pretty.

It’s that realization more than anything that forces her to agree. “Fine. I’ll call B. But this is the last time I try. She’s got one strike. If she strikes out tonight, I ain’t going for a third.”

“Fair enough,” Wes nods.

It takes a few blocks and a vampire staking to find a phone that’s reasonably isolated from casual foot traffic. Her heart momentarily stops as she pats her jacket pockets down for the phone number. She doesn’t remember throwing it away, but she doesn’t remember keeping it. When she pulls out a crumbled piece of paper, she breathes a sigh of relief. As she dials she mutters, “Here goes nothin’.”

There’s the expected clicks and whirs and the operator interruption. She gives up the number and the fact it’s a collect call to the voice at the other end. One threshold crossed, she lets the series of burping rings wash over her while Wes impatiently taps his foot. She’s just about ready to hang up when someone finally picks up at the other end. Before the person can identify himself or herself she barks in irritation, “I need to speak to Buffy. It’s Faith.”

She hears the phone fumble and a female go through the ritual of “yes-I-accept-this-incredibly-expensive-collect-call-so-please-get-your-operator-voice-off-the-line-so-we-can-talk.” Once that’s over, the female voice calls out without any further niceties, “It’s Faaaaaaith.”

There’s more fumbling, the sounds of a muffled argument, and then the line is clear. “Faith?”

It takes Faith a few moments to identify the croaking, raw voice. “B? That you?”

“They’re dead.”

“Who? Who’s dead?”

The sound of a strangled, muffled sob traverses the phone line and zips right down Faith’s spine.

“Xander and Willow…oh god.”

She freezes at the news, not understanding why the world seems to have stopped as she clutches the handset and huddles closer to Ma Bell’s avatar on earth. She looks at Wes, but he’s no help there. Jesus. He doesn’t even look the least bit curious about the news. Even though Wes would probably tell her that she was getting off track, she decides she’s damn well gonna make the time.

“What happened?” she asks, not sure she really wants the details.

“A week ago,” Faith imagines Buffy rallying even as the other woman’s tongue trips. “Actually, we officially got the news about Xander three days ago, but we knew a week ago.”

“How?”

There’s a shuddering indrawn breath somewhere in England telling Faith that Buffy is slowly bleeding to death inside. “We thought Willow was getting a little…a little…better. She seemed…well, not exactly with us but more with us and then…” There’s a sob-cough in the voice. “She wakes up in the middle of the night a week ago screaming that Xander was dead.”

“You didn’t take her seriously, did you?” Faith feels something go cold inside. She can almost picture what happened next and she needs to hear it.

“We thought it was just a nightmare. I mean, we tried to keep the news about what happened in Sudan away from her, but keeping a secret around here…” There’s a bitter laugh. “We couldn’t be sure she didn’t hear something. We told her it was just a nightmare and that Xander would be back in a couple of days to prove she was wrong. But she insisted…”

“Let me guess: you kept telling her and telling her that everything is hunky-dory and you thought she bought it.” Jesus. Why the hell is she so angry?

“It’s my fault,” Buffy whispers. “All my fault. I should’ve stayed with her.”

“What happened?”

“Next morning we found her and…she used bed sheets, Faith. We left her alone and…she’d been dead for hours.”

Buffy crumbles at the other end of the line. It’s a sound that strikes right to the core of her. Buffy does not crumble. Buffy never crumbles. Stumbles, yeah, sure. Everyone stumbles. But this sound is the sound of someone who ain’t getting back up again.

There’s a muffled movement at the other end, as if the phone’s been handed off to someone else.

“Faith?”

“Giles,” Faith acknowledges.

There’s a moment of embarrassed silence. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

The simple question is the thing that nearly tips her over the edge. With everything else going on in Giles’s world, he bothered to ask about her. “Get to that in a sec. How are you doing?”

“Not too terribly well, I’m afraid,” Giles allows. Faith can almost picture that famous British reserve pounding his personal feelings into the ground using a clenched fist. “Our operatives have already retrieved Xander’s body. What they left behind is barely recognizable as human. They’re bringing him home as we speak. The people who did this left it displayed in one of the villages with a high presence of foreign charity and U.N. workers.”

“Sort of a ‘this could happen to you if you mess with us,’” Faith fills in the blanks. “Tell me something: Did he succeed?”

“He succeeded in getting the prisoners to safety, yes.” Faith can hear the pride lurking behind Giles’s voice. “The girls, their families, and assorted people that were with them are here. The Council’s filing for refugee status even as we speak.”

“Tell me the truth, Jeeves. You’d sell ’em all down the river to get Xander and Willow back.”

Their names, finally spoken out loud on a dirty corner in L.A., get a reaction from Wes. He steps back and blinks quickly as if he were fending off an attack from the tear ducts.

Giles lowers his voice and admits, “In a heartbeat.”

“Fucking Andrew. I hope you slagged his pansy ass in one of your dungeons.”

“Andrew’s long gone. Disappeared right after your first call, in fact,” Giles says. “Even so, we can’t pin Xander’s and Willow’s deaths on him.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” She can feel brightly burning anger at the little shit stain grow. “He’s been lying all the way down the line and selling you guys out to god knows who…”

“Faith, Xander was killed by men. Evil men, perhaps, but men with no supernatural agenda. Just a greed for control, land, oil, and drugs. Willow was killed by her own hand. Although we can perhaps blame Andrew for what happened to her mind, I can only indirectly blame her death on him.”

Giles sounds so reasonable that Faith wants to scream at him. He should be out for blood. He should want Andrew’s head on a pike. He should…

Do what, exactly?

“We’ll get Andrew. Don’t you worry about that. There’s so much damage he’s done to all of us. Much as I would like to lay the bodies of Xander and Willow at his feet, they don’t belong on his butcher’s bill.” Giles’s voice is now hard with anger and Faith figures that Andrew better watch his back. She doesn’t figure Giles will kill him. No. Watcher-man is gonna find something much worse to punish the little prick.

“Hit him one for me, Jeeves,” Faith says, mostly because she doesn’t know what else to say.

“Now, I’m almost certain you didn’t call to get the latest news.” Giles slips into business mode. “What can I do for you?”

“It’s not for me,” Faith replies. “It’s for Angel.” She crosses her fingers and hopes like hell that Giles is willing to help.

A long sigh winds through the receiver. “Yet another person Andrew injured during his time here.”

“I guess B told ya the deal, hunh?” she chokes out.

“Did Angel tell you that he called me seeking help for one his compatriots? He asked for Willow and, well, I told him to get stuffed in the rudest manner possible.”

Faith swallows and looks at Wes. “He mentioned something about that, yeah.”

“The reason why I turned him down cold was because of Andrew. Let’s just say that…ah…Andrew’s field report may have been slightly harder on Angel’s activities than they deserved.”

“He was head of Wolfram & Hart at the time.” She doesn’t know why she’s even trying to make Giles feel better about this decision, especially since Fred wound up dead in the deal. But, Jesus, if Andrew was messing with everyone then…well…Giles was probably making the right decision based on lies fed to him by someone he thought he could trust.

“Let’s just say it was a much darker picture than simply being head of Wolfram & Hart.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Faith equivocates. “Look, Angel’s trying to take down the Senior Partners. That’s pretty much his focus these days.”

There’s a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line.

“Now, he’s not asking for help. He needs information, as much as you got on these bastards.”

“Talk about more than you can chew…” Giles mutters.

“I dunno. He seems to think he’s close.”

“I’ll set some trainees on it,” Giles agrees. “Is there some place where I can send information?”

“Yeah. There’s a drop box. And Giles? He can’t know it’s from you guys.”

There’s a pause. “He doesn’t even know you’re calling, does he?”

“He’d be furious if he did.” Then again maybe not if the Council sends information that gets him even a fraction of a fraction of an inch closer to the Senior Partners. Hell, Angel would probably trade his soul for a single shot at them. “If you got a front or something…”

“Done and done,” Giles agrees. There’s another pause at the other end of the line. “Faith, not to sound like a selfish old man, but we truly need you.”

Faith closes her eyes and bites her lip. Everyone seems to fucking need her these days. First Wes with his need to find Angel. Then Angel with his need to get even with the Senior Partners. B because she’s overwhelmed by loss. Now Giles because he needs…what?

She doesn’t even want to think about this right now. This phone call has overloaded all her circuits. She can’t even begin to deal. “I can’t. Angel kind of needs me more.”

“I understand.” And Faith can see he does. “Should you change your mind…and even if you don’t…”

“I’ll keep in touch.” She’s not sure if she means it, but Giles needs to hear it. No harm no foul saying it. She then gives Giles the drop box address, offers a final condolence, and hangs up with a soft goodbye.

“Xander and Willow?” Wes asks as Faith turns out of the phone kiosk and lands on her back against the brick wall.

“Dead.” Suddenly the news crashes in on her and she slides down to the ground. “Dead, dead.”

“I am sorry.”

“Don’t look at me. I barely knew them. They had their noses firmly up B’s ass. Not exactly my friends that I lost, right?” She feels a stab in her gut. Why she doesn’t quite know. Sure, she knew them, but she didn’t know them. They were Buffy-appendages and nothing more. Except in the wake of their deaths they seem somehow more than that. She’s not exactly sorry that she didn’t get to know them better, but she’s sorry they’re dead.

“Hey, Wes? You figure there’s a heaven?”

“There are heavenly dimensions, just like there are hell dimensions,” Wes says carefully.

“Think they made it?”

Wes’s eyebrows crawl up his forehead. “I suppose.”

“Think you could find out?” She’s not sure why this is important to her, but it is. “You know, maybe get on the ghost-to-ghost network and ask?”

“Faith,” Wes’s voice sounds so gentle that she knows he’s about to let her down easy, “there’s no way for me to find out unless I go there myself. And if I go, I won’t be able to come back.”

“Lemme guess: one way trip?”

He spreads his hands, palms upward, as if asking to her please understand. “It’s more a matter of not wanting to come back.”

Faith blinks uncomprehendingly at him.

“The pull, Faith.” Wes clears his throat. “It’s so strong. It’s a promise. It’s hope. It’s rest and the knowledge that you won’t have to wake up the next day and start fighting again. Xander and Willow have fought the darkness for years. Dying the way they did, I could hardly blame them if they sunk into it with relief that only souls can feel.”

“But you resisted.”

“It wasn’t easy,” Wes allows, “I had to.”

“Why?” she explodes. “Because you’re so fucking selfless? But you figure Willow and Xander are just selfish enough that they’d hop-skip-and-jump into the big happy ever after? That it?”

“Why are you so angry?”

“I’m not angry,” Faith gets to her feet. “I’m fucking sick and tired of you being the goddamn martyr around here. You had a tough fucking life. I get it. But guess what? Lots of people have tough fucking lives and they don’t nail themselves to crosses because, boo-hoo, they’re such big shits that the world can’t possibly survive without them.”

“I’m just answering your questions.” Wes sounds hurt and confused.

“Yeah, St. Wesley of the Roses,” Faith snaps. “How he suffers for our sins.”

“Faith! It’s not…you don’t understand!” Wes yells.

“Paint me a picture, big man.”

“It’s just that there’s nothing for me there. Very few friends. No family I’d care to claim. No Fred. Her soul was gone, Faith.” The heartbreak in Wes’s voice freezes her and all she can do is watch his face crumble into pain. “Illyria destroyed it. Used it as fuel for her resurrection. All that Fred was, all she ever would be, was obliterated. That left only my obligations here. I resisted because this tether is stronger than that pull.”

Faith studies him a moment before asking, “Do you still feel it? That pull?”

He closes his eyes and admits. “It’s always there in the back of my soul. It’s faded slightly, but I still feel it.”

“So you stick around because you figure Angel needs you,” Faith says slowly. “What happens if you forget the pull? Are you stuck here no matter what?”

Wes merely gives her an unreadable look and Faith knows that the thought has crossed his mind and it worries him.

“Well, aren’t we a pair?” she finally asks. “Look at us. Fucking sad sacks the two of us. We’re sticking with Angel because we wanna help him do whatever and he can’t even fucking see either one of us when we stand right under his goddamned nose.”

***

Things that aren’t said define the next month.

Faith has never told him about chatting up B. After the first failed conversation, she decided it wasn’t important. After the second failed conversation, she decided it was very important, but she didn’t know how to tell him.

She doesn’t volunteer an explanation when he retrieves the first unexpected package from the drop box. She notices Giles didn’t exactly strain his brain to come up with something fancy for his fake company: ‘Information Search Services Ltd.’ Jesus, the stench of tweed is so strong with that bland name that it’s a wonder Angel can’t smell it. She doesn’t tell him that the sheaves of paper that spill out of the envelopes that show up once a week are a down payment on the debt of Giles’s guilt. She doesn’t tell him that Buffy may be broken. She doesn’t tell him that B’s lost almost as brutally has he has.

She should, but the words remain stuck in her throat. She’s afraid he’d be furious if he knew she’d been trying to get him ‘help’ behind his back when he fully believes that there’s nothing wrong with dedicating his life to hunting down the Senior Partners. But she’s even more afraid that he won’t care, that he’ll be so focused on the fact that new information is flowing in from a reasonably reliable source that the raft of bad news trapped in her chest will fall on deaf ears.

She desperately needs to think. Thinking has never been her thing. She’s an expert at going with the gut, rolling with the punches, keeping her head just above shit-stained water. Doing some serious thinking is something completely new.

She’s stepped back from the research time. Not completely. Just a little. She tries to split the nights. Some nights she gets her Slay on; some nights she’s cracking the books. The difference is she’s aware of these tugs all telling her to do contradictory things. When her headaches start in the early morning hours, she wants to run into the fresh air and work off some frustrated energy. When she’s dusting up the town, she wants to run back to Angel’s side and bury herself in his mission.

She doesn’t know what she fucking wants.

She doesn’t know who she should blame for this. She wants to blame needy B with her never-ending trauma and her uncanny ability to yank people around her into shitstorms. Heh. Uncanny. As in Uncanny X-Men. Yeah. B’s got her own little mutant power right there.

Maybe she should point at Giles’s voice reaching through the phone, asking how she is, telling her she’s needed and wanted, and promising to help her even if it means helping Angel.

Hell, why not just go right at Willow and Xander. They’re dead. They probably don’t give a shit if they get blamed. But them dying, especially the way they did, sits uncomfortably in the pit of her stomach. It’s stupid. It’s not like she could’ve done jack about it if she stuck it out and stuck around the little Scoobies. Watching their backs was B’s job, not hers.

Or maybe it’s Angel with his never-ending desperate need for her to be here, to help, to hold, to cherish, and maybe in some small way to love. He needs her, damn it. He’s the only guy, living or undead, who’s ever told her that he needs her and just her because she is who she is.

Maybe she could just blame Wes for dragging her into this mess in the first place with his constant wheedling and needling.

Part of the problem with this whole thinking thing, Faith decides, is sooner or later she’s going to have to take a good long look in the mirror and put the blame on stupid herself.

Then there’s the other thing that’s not said. It’s there in Angel’s eyes every time she blows off research to hunt and every time she insists that she needs to get the full eight hours of snooze time. It’s an awful unspoken question she can’t answer: I’m losing you, aren’t I?

She recognizes that look. She missed it the first time around with Robin because she couldn’t comprehend someone looking at her like that. Funny, now that she thinks about it. Robin knew before she did that she was shit-scared and ready to run when everyone started making plans for the future. Everyone was talking, everyone was choosing, everyone but her. While people talked around her, they never noticed that she never mentioned a future.

She wonders if Robin missed her when she left. She wonders how long he missed her, assuming he missed her at all.


One thing she does know: he wasn’t at all surprised. Probably none of them—not Buffy, not her little buddies, not the new Slayers, not even Giles—were exactly shocked when they woke up one day and she was gone.

But she ain’t leaving Angel. She wishes she could answer that unasked question. She wishes she could volunteer why she’s taking two steps back. All she can do is try to reassure him through a million touches and a hundred kisses that two steps is a far cry from halfway around the world.

But they don’t talk about it. She knows he can’t bear to ask the question out loud.

And she can’t bring herself to tell him the truth.

 

Continued here

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