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Chapter Nine:

Setting---The Hyperion Hotel, same night

Faith was aware of voices, floating just above consciousness. They grounded her and lifted her upwards, toward the light that seemed determined to shine in her eyes.

"I think she's waking up." A kind voice that sounded a bit familiar pierced her eardrums and she flickered her eyes, suddenly aware of the fact that she had a body. A body that ached in all the places she knew weren't supposed to ache. What had happened?

"What happened?" Faith asked, tongue thick and sticking to the roof of her mouth. She drew a painful breath, feeling like her lungs were full of water.

Then, before anyone could answer, she remembered. Remembered everything that had happened back at the warehouse. Bile rose and she let it. She leaned over the edge of the soft couch she was laid out on and ejected everything in her stomach.

Someone held her hair back. Someone else attempted to put a trash can under her. That someone also got splattered.

When she was finished, her stomach spasming and her nose burning, she lay back, tears threatening to spill once more. She took a steadying breath and then looked up at the crowd around her.

The pregnant blonde was holding a washcloth, biting her lip and staring worriedly at her. She'd been the one holding her hair back. Anne, she remembered, was her name. Her husband, Gunn, snatched the washcloth from her hands and wiped the vomit from his arm. Faith could see beyond the two of them and recognized the green demon. The girl in his arms, she didn't know.

"Where's Wesley?" Her voice sounded so timid, especially to her own ears.

"I, um...we don't know." Anne said, reaching out and tucking a strand of hair behind Faith's ears. For some reason, the gesture left her with a lump in her throat. It was a simple gesture, really, but something about it was comforting. It almost reminded her of her mother. Back when her mother was still sober enough to recognize her.

"I just paged him. He should be here soon." Gunn said, picking up the soiled trashcan and walking away. Faith watched him go, wondering if she should trust him. After all, Wesley trusted him; he trusted all of them.

"He's all dim!" The strange girl with the long brown hair said loudly, trying to get out of Lorne's grip. He restrained her, speaking softly in her ear, his hands cupping her face and his one gleaming eye kind.

"Who?" Faith started, not sure if she was asking who the girl was, or who was dim. The girl saw Faith's eyes on her and she burst out of Lorne's grip.

"He's all dim and he's not at fault. I saw him and you have to find him! I saw you!" The girl said, falling to her knees, paying no attention to the fact that she was kneeling in a puddle of puke. "She's not dead and you're okay, you're okay and not dead, not dead at all!"

"Fred, have to calm down." Lorne said, reaching for her again. She waved him off, grabbing ahold of Faith's hand.

"Who?" Faith asked again, this time specific in her meaning.

"Wesley." Fred spoke the name with awe. Faith's heart leapt and then crashed to the earth.

"What about him, Fred?" Anne asked, glancing over at Gunn, who was walking back into the room.

"He's...he's all dim. That's what I saw."

"What does dim mean?" Gunn asked gently, standing behind his wife.

"I thinks it means that I'm particularly dumb, Charles."

Faith's head snapped around and she looked at the door. Wesley was standing in the doorway of the hotel, one arm draped over the shoulders of a short Hispanic man dressed in white robes. Again, her heart leapt and this time, it stayed in the air, caught on the sight of his face.

"What happened to you, bro?" Gunn was the first of them to move and he helped the man in white walk Wes over to the couch opposite Faith. He sank down on it and Faith could almost hear his bones creaking. How the hell had he aged so fast in the space of twenty-four hours?

"What I had to." A weary smile was sent in Charles's direction and the black man's expression hardened.

"So, you're the shaman he's been going to, huh?" He directed his anger in the stranger's direction. The shaman nodded his head, eyes ashamed under the harsh glare of Gunn's eyes. "Why are you letting him do this to himself?"

"Why are you?"

"Don't give me that question-with-a-question crap, I want an answer!" Gunn's voice rose and Faith's head throbbed.

"Charles! Leave Julio alone. I made him." Wesley interrupted with as much force as he could muster in his tired voice. Faith's heart jolted as she looked at the dogged hand he lifted to his wipe at his face; it was paper-thin and spiderwebbed by blue-green veins that she shouldn't have been able to see.

"I don't care what you did, the man's a professional, he should know better." Gunn protested, glaring Julio down. The shaman shrank beneath his gaze and then nodded his head.

"I will leave now. You are safe here Mr. Wyndham-Pryce. Do not come back to me until you are fully rested, if at all." With that, Julio spun on his heel and stalked out of the hotel.

Wesley watched him go, then dropped his head wearily. Silence was long and then Wesley broke it. "What are you doing here, Faith?"

The question seemed strange, coming on the heels of all the drama; Faith had wondered if he had even noticed her presence in the room. Then, she remembered the thing that had made her come running back here, looking for help; his help.

And now she was breathless in the face of telling him what had happened. The blue, blue eyes he turned to her were bleak and stood out against the whiteness of his skin. He had his own problems, he didn't need hers. Didn't need the baggage she was carrying around or the murderess that was bound to turn his close-knit family against her. She wanted these people to like her, for reasons unknown to her.

" doesn't matter." She found herself saying, the night's events jammed back behind her teeth and swallowed with a swirl of her tongue. A thick, knotted sensation spread in her belly, but it was familiar; it brought her back to the old days. The ones she'd hoped to never repeat.

Wesley studied her face, his eyes lingering on the vomit still across her lips and the pool on the floor. "Yes it does. Don't keep things from me.

"Oh, that....I um....I just...."

"You're a bad liar, Faith. But I don't have the strength to drag it out of you right now." Wes said and Faith suddenly felt he was distant, lost in his own thoughts. Her heart ached to be within those thoughts, but she knew she wasn't at the moment.

"She's not dead!" Fred piped up suddenly and all eyes turned to her once more.

"Who?" Anne asked, finally letting her curiosity get the better of her. Fred looked relieved that someone was listening to her.

"Faith." Came the reply and before anyone could say anything, she added. "Faith'll tell you."

All eyes turned on Faith. The Slayer closed her eyes and steadied herself, mentally cursing at the strange girl with the weird name. So much for not complicating their lives.

Her eyes locked on Wesley, the world melted away as she started in on the night's events, feeling as if she might vomit all over again. Mercifully, she was empty everywhere that counted.


Setting---A warehouse in
Compton, same night

"So, you wanna tell me where Justine put those documents or shall I snap your neck like I did your friend over there?" Angelus's breath smelled of blood and the recruit-no more than fifteen years old--trembled in his hands.

"I don't know what you're talking about. Please, please let me go!" The boy said, tears forming in his eyes and a slow trickle of piss showing on his pants. Angelus wrinkled his nose at the foul smell and snapped the boy's neck with a twist of his wrist.

"So, where's my next victim?" He grinned at the downed Hunter's all in various wounded states.

"This one looks like he's all full of knowledge!" Cordelia called, dragging a tall black man up by his short, curly hair. "And what's your name, little boy?"

"Fuck you, bitch!" He said and Angelus clucked his tongue at him.

"I wouldn't call her that, she hates that." He informed the Hunter, kicking a random person in the face as he passed by.

"My fucking apologies." The man said, eyes hard on Angelus's face. Angelus was impressed; not many could meet his cold yellow glare.

"I think you know what we're after, little boy, and we're not going stop until we know what all's in that head of yours. What did Justine tell you?"

"Don't tell her anything, Tor!" Someone on the ground shouted; Cordelia immediately made a mental note to rip that person's throat out.

"Tor, is it? Second-in-command, Tor?" Cordelia asked, yanking on the scalp beneath her fingers once more.

"Yeah, what of it?" Tor spat back, throat exposed in a way that didn't make him comfortable in the least.

"Well, then you're the one to talk to, next to Dead Dora down there on the floor." Angelus gestured in the direction of Justine's body on the ground. "So spill, or I'll spill your guts out all over the pretty floor here."

"Fuck you!"

"Wrong answer!"

Twenty minutes later, Tor resembled a broken doll, arms akimbo, blood burbling out of the corner of his lips. He had a few minutes left to live if he had that. The things the commander had known had long since tumbled from his lips. There was just one more thing they needed.

"So where are those documents?"

"Second floorboard in the office, upstairs." The reply was a wheeze really and then....nothing. Angelus threw his head down into the dust and stood, a smile on his bloodied lips.

"That's was some mighty fine torturing you did there Cor, I'm impressed and that's something coming from me."

Cordelia nearly beamed at him, clothing immaculate despite the deep stains on her clothing. "Not so bad yourself."

"Yeah, I thought so too." He gestured at the dead bodies surrounding them. "I guess we've got our henchmen back."

"And our copy of the prophecy."

"So, where were you when I was having all the fun?" Angelus asked her, kicking at a random body.

"Cleaning up the stragglers. Where did Faith go?"

"Where do you think?"
Angelus rolled his eyes and Cordelia frowned.

"You think she's going to be a problem?"

"She hasn't been yet. She's been a great help, on the whole." Angelus said distractedly, picking a bit of flesh out of his teeth with his pinky. Cordelia grimaced and then turned back toward Justine's fallen form.

Her eyes widened.

She was gone.


Setting---The Hyperion Hotel, same night

"You don't believe her." Lorne said, standing just inside Wesley's office door. The ex-Watcher sat down heavily in his chair and rubbed at his temples. He felt sick to his stomach and felt waves nausea wash over him a moment before he popped a pain-killer into his mouth.

"Do you?" He turned glassy eyes to the aura-reader's face.

"No. She's hiding something and whatever it is, it's not good."

"It never is." Wesley said glumly, his hands trembling. The night was catching up with him quickly and he was exhausted beyond belief. He grimaced and peered past Lorne, eyeing the girl sitting on the couch next to Anne. His heart lurched, settled somewhere in his throat and then got washed backward with a deep sigh.

"What's all this?" Gunn asked, settling down in the seat last occupied by Lilah Morgan. Wesley flinched at the memory of her, her scent still lingering in the spaces he had once prayed she'd never be again.

Another pill shooed her away.

"Nyazian scrolls courtesy of Wolfram & Hart."

"Is that what Lilah was here for? To try and give you a job again? I hope you told her to shove it." Gunn snorted and picked through the piles of papers.

"On the contrary; I took the job."

Gunn's mouth dropped open. "WHAT?"

"Well, there were reasons, obviously." Wesley seemed a little light-headed now that the medicine was taking effect on him. Slowly, speech slurred slightly, he told them what Lilah had told him, flashing the scrolls like a visual aide.

"Ah, that's what Angelus and Cordelia were doing when Faith found them. I'd been wondering that." Gunn nodded his head. "So we're joining up with Wolfram & Hart? Glad you just decided that for all of us."

"Well, it's more of a 'me' thing, Charles. It's always about, me, me." A strange giggle escaped his lips and Gunn stared at him.

"You've got issues Wesley." Gunn's voice was stony as he looked him up and down.

"Indeed, I do." He ran a hand through his white-streaked hair.

"Why did you go YET again?" Gunn asked him. Concern wrinkled his forehead and he steepled his fingers in front of his face.

"I don't know if that's your business, Charles." Wesley said petulantly, adjusting his glasses on the bridge of his nose and eyeing his two friends.

"I know why." Lorne said darkly and rubbed his chin with a long finger.

"Then share with the class, cuz I'm not getting why the man would attempt suicide." Gunn said and then saw the anger flash in Wesley's eyes.

"He's afraid of failure."

"Failing who?"

"The world." Wesley answered gruffly, feeling slightly on trial before his two best friends.

"I can understand that, but damn Wes...." Gunn's voice trailed off and Wesley looked down at his trembling hands.

"I know, Charles. But I don't want to talk about it right now. I did something stupid, well worth it, but stupid. I'll deal. I've got work to do and...things...."

"This prophecy that you're so afraid of for one?" Gunn's eyebrows drew up.

"Yes...and other things."

"Faith?" Gunn smirked at him questioningly.

Wesley just stared at him and then looked past him to the girl on the couch, suddenly feeling very sick to his stomach. As soon as Lilah left he'd stared at the scrolls, laid out on his desk, mocking him. The smell was the same, the parchment slightly different in places where someone had decided to highlight passages--in yellow. The past flooded back to him, of the same desk, the same scroll, the same dreadful feeling in his stomach.

And then, he'd been gone, running out the door because he suddenly had the whole world on his shoulders once more. He couldn't do it. Would rather die for a good cause than let the world down. But here he was, still alive and kicking himself because of what he'd tried to do.

The whole world did rest on his shoulders and had many times before, and that was how it had to be. According to Lilah, he was the best and the world depended on his skill. Despite his failures of the past, he couldn't fail now. And no matter how much he wanted to crawl into a bottle of whiskey, he was going to meet it with a brave face. Here he was nearly killing himself because he was afraid, when the girl out there was slowly wrapping herself up in lies. AGAIN.

His eyes still roved Faith's face and she suddenly felt his gaze on her. She turned, staring into his office, face pale and scared. She had a familiar look on her face, one he knew all too well.

"She's lying to me." Wesley murmured, suddenly feeling sick because he wanted to believe she wasn't. Wanted to believe she trusted him, even though she had no reason to.

"I thought we covered that." Gunn said and Wesley broke eye contact with the Slayer in the other room.

"You thought she was lying?" Wes's eyebrow rose as he stared at his best friend.



"So what are we going to do?"

"Nothing, for now. If she wants me to believe she just came running back here because she didn't like Justine's policies, then that's fine. If I know her, the truth'll leak out." Wesley answered Lorne's question wearily, pushing the bottle away from himself. He felt sick and not just from the shock to his system. "Later, I'll talk to her. Alone."

Gunn and Lorne exchanged looks, but stopped when they noticed Wesley slumping over in his chair. He was out like a light. A very pale, sick looking light.

"This isn't good...." Gunn said, staring at the waxy version of Wesley.

"Understatement, hot chocolate." Was Lorne's only answer as he stood and glared worriedly at his boss. This was not good at all.

Chapter 10