Running For Our Lives

                           

 

 

Chapter 21: Ranting and Reasoning

Randy Curtis had seen a lot of things in his day, including an honest-to-God geek show at the carnival. He'd seen some weird things there, a wolfman, a bearded woman and a pickled punk to name his personal favorites. But that wolfman was nothing compared to what he was looking at now.

It was mottled red and huge. His eyes trailed over the veined wings and beak, the short, powerful legs and the slit of one glittering golden eye. Brown blood splattered its tough hide and was crusted at the edges of the various wounds on its body. Two swords were buried in its-no, her, Randy noted as he saw the breasts-middle. Whatever it was, it wasn't human and it was a damn sight freakier than that geek show back in Abilene.

His gun in his hands, Randy hopped down from the cab of his semi and approached her, boots scuffing along the ground and his eyes casting about the deserted rest stop. He squinted through the scope of the rifle and lined up her head, wondering if it was alive or not. Whatever it was, it stank to high heaven, making his eyes water so that he had to wipe his eyes with the back of his sleeve before lining it up in his sights again.

Approaching slowly, he extended the barrel of the rifle and jabbed it at the leg flung over the side of the crushed car. That manly part of him that was still thinking mourned the loss of the car below her; the thing had obviously been cherry before meeting its end. The muscle under the end of the gun was limp, soft and unmoving and Randy sighed in relief.

Whatever it was, it was dead. Randy, lowered his rifle and gulped, wondering what the hell it was and how much would the Feds pay for the damned thing.

"Whatever the hell you are, you ugly little bitch, you're gonna make me rich." He said, smiling crookedly and rubbing at his bearded chin with one fist. Money and thoughts of fame were swimming in his head when he saw something moving and his head jerked up.

Two seconds later, his head was jerked off its perch and cracked between two powerful jaws, glittering golden eyes flashing as the demon attacked.

Orin watched the body fall to the ground, blood fountaining from the stump of its neck. She chewed once, bone splintering in her scarred beak and bits of pulpy matter and juices squirting down her parched throat. A swallow and she attacked the twitching body, splitting the human's belly open and plunging her head inside.

A sound, a horrified cough, and she looked up, a high pitched squeal ready on her lips. Another human ran from her, back to his vehicle and out of her line of sight before she could muster enough strength to follow. She went back to her kill and let her mind narrow on her target once more.

A meal to give her energy and she'd be back on her trail. A searing pain shot through her stomach, spiderwebbing out from both wounds. She looked down at her middle and blinked stupidly at the twin swords buried in her chest. With a high, painful keen, she pulled them both out and let them clatter the ground. Blood flowed freely from the wounds and she wavered on her clawed feet.

No, she could not let herself die, not yet. She would continue until she had nothing left to give and even now she felt stronger, the taste of human in her throat and her belly full. Another mouthful and she launched herself up in the air, talons slicing the wind in half and her golden eyes glittering with rage.

She caught the Slayer's scent on the breeze and followed it toward Los Angeles.

*****

"How is she?" Wesley asked as soon as the nurse came into view. The plump woman, full of patience, placed her hand on his shoulder and steered him toward the waiting room once more.

"The doctor says she's fine. You can see her in a few minutes. Until then, sit down and relax, or you'll pop those stitches." She said in a soothing voice and then turned on her heel and went back to her station behind the front desk.

Wesley sighed and turned back to the waiting room, his eyes squinting in the too-bright lights and his hands twitching. Cordelia looked up at him as he walked in front of her, knees drawn up and her chin resting on her hands. She eyed the stitch on Wesley's chin and the bandage on his temple. His face was bruised and his hands were still slightly bloody from the fight. Cordelia shook her head and wondered just how much the man was going to be able to take before there wasn't anyplace on him that wasn't scarred.

"You look like shit." She commented, eyebrows drawn up in concern, but a spark of anger in her voice.

"Well, it's been an interesting week." Wesley said, glancing over at her as he collapsed heavily in the plastic chair, muscles groaning in pain. He flinched and rolled his shoulders, hoping to ease the tension in them.

Cordelia's mind wandered back to the ride to the hospital and she frowned. They hadn't been able to get anything out of either of them, Faith being all comatose and Wesley hovering over her like a mother hen with its last egg. A million questions she'd had before the chase had only been more frustrated as she'd watched them. Now, Angel had gone to call the others and had left them alone for the first time and she wanted answers.

"Looks like it. So....what's up with you and Faith?" She turned her eyes on him and he could see there wasn't any teasing in them. Better tell her the truth or he had a feeling she'd know he wasn't being honest to her. Damn.

"Honestly? I don't know. We....she's so alone in the world. She needed me and I...I needed her." He rubbed his stubbled chin and his eyes went far away for a moment as he remembered her smile.

"Uh? That's not what I meant." Cordelia said, eyes slightly wide and the corners of her mouth twitching slightly. "I meant, why the hell did you two take off and not tell us?"

"Oh." Wesley muttered, mouth set in a grim line for a moment before he answered the Seer. "It was none of your business, frankly. Angel had other worries and let's face it, I wasn't one of them."

Cordelia stared at him for a moment and then she moved closer to him, voice quiet. "Wesley? Can I ask you a question?"

"Yes?"

"Is your head up your ass for the warmth?!" Cordy shouted, teeth gritted in anger.

"What?" He looked over at her and saw the anger, saw the hurt in her eyes. "I..."

"Listen up, cuz I'm going to have a rant and I'd hate to repeat myself. Angel and I went after Faith because we thought she killed you. Do you know how...how hurt we were? I was ready to kill Faith for what she did--thought she did. Then we found out you weren't dead and I was still worried to death that she was hurting you or doing what she did last time. We followed you to the Grand fucking Canyon because it was our business. OUR business, Wesley. We're family, no matter what we do to each other, we're family. Which is the very reason Angel hasn't ripped your head off for doing what you did. Not to mention this thing with Faith!"

"Cordy..." He started to say, sagging in the plastic chair, her words sinking in.

"Still ranting here!" She growled and continued, throwing him a quelling glare. "The very least you could have done would have been to call! Tell us what the fuck was going on and asked for help with the Five or whoever! You're a frighteningly intelligent man, Wes, but sometimes you can be such a dumbass. You'd think you'd have learned not to keep secrets from us by now, but noooo! You have to go all road trippy with insane-o Slayer in there and don't even get me started on how fucked up that is!"

She threw up her hands and drew in a deep lungful of air, then stared at him. He blinked stupidly and ran a distracted hand over the scar on his throat. "You're right. I was being a prat and I endangered you and Angel. And Faith. I failed again, big surprise."

"You didn't fail; we're all still alive aren't we?" She offered, her anger draining down her spine now that her diatribe was over. "You just messed up a little." He nodded, lost in his own thoughts for a moment or two before he spoke again.

"Angel?"

"Still pissed and not likely to let you forget that fact. But he knows you didn't mean to do what you did, although this little fiasco probably hasn't instilled much faith for you in him."

"Probably not. Do you think I could....try to make things right?"

"Why don't you ask him yourself? I'm through playing the middle man." She gestured to the doorway behind Wesley, where Angel had been standing the entire time. His brooding features were cast into shadow as he stood there, watching the two people closest to him talk.

"No one was picking up when I called the hotel." Angel said in a stilted voice, his mouth set in a grim line. Cordelia got up and frowned, chewing her lip as she thought.

"You don't think they went after us, do you?" She asked, running a hand through her unwashed hair.

"Don't know. Maybe they're all asleep....you want to try them again?" Angel said, his eyes connecting with hers and asking her without words to leave the two of them alone. She nodded and squeezed past him, her hand pressing briefly in his palm as she went.

"Angel... Wesley started, but Angel's gaze stopped him in mid-sentence.

"Don't. There is nothing you can say that can make this okay. You lied to me. You didn't trust me. You betrayed me. And you endangered her life and yours." Angel spat, eyes flashing.

"I know. I..."

"You made a mistake. Several mistakes." Angel fisted his hands at his side, glaring at him before his gaze softened. "But you're only human and I know that. For what it's worth I'm not going to kill you and I'm not going to fire you. We're not okay on any terms. But we're family, like Cordy said and....and if you help me get my son back, then we'll think about making things right."

"Of course." Wesley said, his gaze falling on his shoes in a gesture of obedience he had picked up from his childhood. He swallowed hard as his father's voice echoed in his mind, sounding strangely like Angel to his ears.

"How is she?" Angel asked, tone lighter as he gestured to the doorway. Wesley looked up and frowned, his eyes clouded with shame for a moment before he sighed heavily.

"The nurse said she was fine. Maybe I should..." He started to say as the doctor peaked his head into the room.

"Hi! I'm Dr. Klause. Which one of you is a Mr. Angel?" He asked, kind brown eyes smiling, his voice taking on that soothing quality most doctors over-abused. Angel raised his hand a bit, brow furrowed as he looked at the doctor. "Faith wanted to see you. Follow me.
"

"Could I..?" Wesley asked, swallowing hard and watching as the doctor turned to him.

"She told me not to let you in. I'm sorry; you'll have to stay here." With that, he turned on his heel and gestured for Angel to follow him.

Wesley's heart sank to his knees and he collapsed in the plastic chair once more. She wanted to see Angel and not him. Jealously reared its ugly head and breathed down his neck, making his skin prickle with anger. He clenched his jaw and fought the urge not to run after him and knock his smug head off his shoulders. Instead, he put his hands in his head and concentrated on things that had nothing to do with her and him.

That tactic lasted about five seconds before visions of her in his arms flooded his mind. He squared his shoulders and resolved to see her, no matter what.

*****

"Hey."
Faith said as soon as he entered the room. She was standing, the side of her head bandaged and the blood cleaned off her face where it had been caked on her skin.

"Hi." Angel responded, standing somewhat awkwardly in the doorway, his weight shifting from foot to foot.

"Good catch." She commented, turning an appraising eye on him as she pulled on a black combat boot.

"Thanks. Uh...why did you want to see me?" Angel asked, his eyes slightly wide as he took in her battered appearance. She stopped in mid-pull and smiled at him.

"Never one to beat around the bush."

"Always one to beat the bush to death.
What's going on Faith?" He frowned at her, wishing he could read her as well as he used to. She had changed, no doubt about it and in ways he didn't quite grasp.

"I need you to tell Wesley I'm sorry."

"Sorry? Why?"

"Sorry for...getting him into this. And sorry that I'm leaving."

"Leaving? What do you mean?" Angel grabbed her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes.

"I...the Five--Two--are still after me and I don't want....I couldn't handle it if he got hurt again."

"And where are you going to go?" Angel prompted, eyes boring into hers.

"Dunno. I've been to Vegas and the
Grand Canyon; I think I'll see what Disneyland is like!" She retorted sarcastically and ripping herself out of his grip.

"You can't outrun them, you know that!" Angel reached for her again, wrists crushed in his hands.

"I do know that, Angel. But at least they won't be anywhere near him." She shook her head, face paling as she remembered the thing behind Wesley's eyes.

"You leave and he'll follow you, I can already tell you that. All you're going to do is get yourself killed and that's going to hurt him more than even he knows. Stay and we'll all fight together." Angel shook her, trying to hammer sense into that brain behind her brown eyes.

"And get you all killed too? Do you want Cordy to get killed because of me? Could you stand it if she was in the line of fire because someone was after you? Wouldn't you run away to keep her safe?" Faith hit a nerve and she knew it as she saw the realization blossoming in his eyes.

"He even tried it and I'd kill him for being an idiot." Cordelia's voice was soft, but dripping with anger as she stepped into the room. "And you, Miss I'm-a-Slayer-everything-I-do-is-right, I don't like you much, big surprise. But Wesley does and you need our help. You're staying and that's that."

"She always this bossy?" Faith asked Angel, glancing over at the tall vampire, his eyes soft as he looked at his Seer.

"I wouldn't have her any other way." He said, a ghost of a smile haunting his features. "So you'll stay?"

"She damn well better." Wesley said in a growl, his tall frame blocking out the light from the hallway. Hurt was flashing in his eyes as he looked at Faith, and only Faith; she flinched as she met the hurt in those eyes.

"Uh...we'll just..." Cordelia grabbed Angel by the arm and pulled him into the hallway, leaving the two of them alone. Silence stretched as they each reached for something to say.

"How's your head?" Wesley finally asked, stepping close to her and brushing his fingertips along her forehead.

"Doc says I'm okay and that I heal quickly. At least I didn't end up in a coma this time." She smiled again, capturing his hand in her own and holding onto it. "You?"

"
Never better. You were leaving?" She flinched at his bluntness and looked down at their linked hands, a lump forming in her throat.

"Yeah."

"Why?"
One word, so full of hurt that it was like needles in her skin. She took a deep breath and looked back up into her Watcher's eyes, wishing she could drown in the ocean of him.

"Because I didn't want you to get hurt. Because I was scared...."

"Of what?"

"Us."
The word hung heavy in the air and she felt his hand tighten around hers.

"You don't have to be afraid. At least not of me. I'm not going anywhere and neither are you, love." He said forcefully, wrapping his free arm around her waist. She smiled and looked up at him.

"Why do you call me that?"

"What?"

"Love."

"
It feels right, I guess."

"Yeah, I guess it does." She mumbled, her lips touching his for a brief moment before something large and red crashed through the window and knocked them both into the wall.

Chapter 22

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