Running For Our Lives

                           

 

 

Chapter IV: Dues Paid

"Wesley?" Faith repeated, split lip trembling as she tried to make sense of what she was seeing. The nights of walking by the old office, hoping...but this was real and she didn't know what to say. "What are doing here?"

"I...uh...I'm here to rescue you." He answered lamely, his eyes flitting around in their sockets as if he was trying think of something to say to her.

"Well in that case, can you get off of me? Kinda bleeding here." She said, wincing as his weight on top of her seemed to suddenly get heavier. A wave of nausea choked her throat and she bit it back with force.

"Oh. Of course." He said, immediately rolling off of her, blood staining the front of his shirt and making the soft cotton material stick to his stomach. He stood, somewhat wearily, and offered her a hand up. She took it and struggled to her feet, feeling pain lacing through her muscles and to the many wounds on her person.

"Dear God, what happened to you?" Came the startled statement from Wes. He colored as she glanced sharply up at him, quelling anything else he wanted to add.

"Just a good night's slay is all. Can't come out unscathed every time, but I'm fine. " She answered, weaving a bit and pitching forward as she felt lightheadedness take her. He caught her shoulders in his hands and shook her a little. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed against him, all thought escaping into darkness.

Wesley caught her and scooped her up in his arms, more than a little fear threading around his heart as the rogue Slayer's head rolled limply against his shoulder. Flashes of that night in her possession came to him and he shook his head. That was a long time ago and she was sick then. That still did nothing to ease the fear as he looked into her dirty, bloody face.

"Now what?" He asked to no one in particular, a great weight settling across his shoulders as she moaned, teeth gritted against the pain he knew she was feeling. He sighed and staggered to his forgotten motorcycle. The Chopper had crashed into the brick wall when he had jumped off of it and now the wheels were still moving, the engine humming with life. "Shit." He muttered, wondering how he was going to lift the bike and hold the Slayer at the same time.

Faith solved the problem herself, her voice exhausted but coherent as she regained her consciousness. "Put me down."

He did what he was told, setting her gently on her feet, where she swayed, eyes focusing and unfocusing in the dim light. He left her there and picked up the bike from where it had fallen. Righted, he straddled it and beckoned for her to hop on, patting the space in front of him. Normally he would have her ride on the back, but he didn't trust her to keep her seat in her weakened state.

"No...I'm fine. I have to go home..." She protested, blinking in the darkness, trying to clear the haze from her eyes. The world was suddenly spinning and she felt like she was going to be sick. Once more she pitched forward, catching herself on the handlebars.

"Get on. Now." Wesley said forcefully, eyeing her over the top of his glasses. She looked him up and down and then sighed wearily, giving up the ghost of protestation.

Hesitantly, she sat down, groaning as she swung her leg over the handles. She found the footholds and settled back against his chest, her head slung to the side so he could see enough to steer. He revved the bike and they took off, escaping the alley and darting out into the lighted street.

She passed out once more before they had gone a block, her body slack against him as he struggled to hold her up and steer at the same time. As they passed Dodger Stadium, he suddenly realized he didn't know where the hell he was going. He didn't know where she lived or if there was some place to go to. The hospital seemed like a good idea, but he knew they'd ask too many questions and from what he could see, none of the injuries on her body were life-threatening. At least not for a Slayer.

He thought about taking her back to Angel Investigations, but that thought was quickly thrown out. He didn't think they'd be likely to listen to any explanation he'd have to offer. Or hers for that matter; the blood was a clean giveaway that she wasn't on the straight and narrow. And besides...once she'd see Angel, she'd just cower under his shadow and worship at his feet. Wesley scowled and decided that they definitely were NOT going back to the hotel.

Lorne's words replayed themselves in his ears and he wondered aloud at the meaning. "She needs me." He said softly into her hair, the scent he knew so well filling his nostrils and making him smile despite his reservations.

With a shoulder wrenching turn, he steered the bike back toward his apartment.

****

The Next Day

Light streamed into the room and struck the face of the battered, bruised woman on the couch. She moaned, eyes flicking back and forth beneath eyelids smudged with kohl. A dream gripped her mind and she fought against memories that couldn't hurt her.

Faces she knew and loved and hated swam before her; Buffy, Angel, her first Watcher, her mother, Xander, Allan Finch, Willow and the Mayor all laughed at her from high above and threw stones at her already bruised body. Suddenly there was someone standing in front of her, someone she knew. He blocked the stones and took the damage to himself rather than let her be beaten anymore. He turned his head, vociferate screams filled with pain as she saw his face.

"Wesley!" She screamed aloud, sitting bolt upright on a strange couch. Her wild eyes looked frantically around the room and she realized she didn't know the place. But she knew the unshaven, blood stained man sitting in chair opposite the couch, his lantern jaw set and his blue eyes boring holes in her. One wasted thumb was pressed to his lips, an ink-stained fingernail between his teeth. "Wes?"

"You're awake." He said simply, a weary edge to his voice. He shifted position and peered at her through thick eyelashes, his hand lowered to clench at the arms of the chair, knuckles bone white. "I was worried."

"Oh." She said, shaking her hair from her face. She grimaced as she ran a hand through it, encountering more gunk and grunge than she wanted to think about.

"You were having a nightmare." Another statement in a tense voice. She glanced up at him and winced at the open concern in his eyes.

"Yeah. I was." She shrugged and felt the pull of a bandage on her neck. She raised one bruised, dirty hand to the wound and winced at the stab of pain that shot through her. She looked over at him again and noticed the blood stained shirt and the dirty, haggard look of him. "Geez Wes, you look like shit."

"I could say the same about you." He replied immediately, one eyebrow arching as he looked her up and down. "So, are you going to tell me what the hell you were doing in that alley?"

"Don't you mean, when the hell did you get out of prison?"
She said, a bitter twist to her lips.

"That too, if you don't mind." He answered, head tilting as he pierced her with his eyes.

"Itís a long story."

"I've got the time and I could use a little enlightenment." He told her, scooting off the chair and falling to his knees in front of her. "You talk and I'll clean you up."

She opened her mouth to protest, but he lifted her ragged shirt before she could make a sound. An uncharacteristic blush found a home just below her ears and she forced down the flutter in her stomach at his touch. She ignored him and launched into her tale, her voice as impassive as she could make it. She told him of the parole, the job, Rob, the apartment and everything else she could think of.

"And the slaying? When did you start that again?" He asked, not looking up from the work he was doing, daubing medicine on one of the slashes on her flat stomach. His fingers brushed against the mound of one breast and he swallowed hard, willing his eyes not to follow the trail of his hands. If she noticed the touch, she didn't say anything.

"Oh, that. About three weeks ago. Kinda fell into it, ya know? The first time it was just necessary for survival. The next time, I was hoping for it. And after that I craved it like some kind of drug. Its like I got it in my system again and I wanted it more and more until I couldn't stop if I wanted to. And then I got caught in a nest and that's when you found me." She finished up, thinking perhaps she'd said more than she'd meant to.

"I know how that goes." He said after a pregnant pause, looking up from his work and meeting her eyes. "Why didn't you tell anyone you were out?"

"Well I didn't want to bother you, what with the wicked hatred and all." She answered, shrugging her shoulders, the skin under his hands quivering as she moved. A beat and then, "I'm sorry, Wesley. For what I did."

Wesley sat back onto his heels and regarded her coolly. His tongue darted out and licked at the cracked, dry skin of his lips. "I know you are."

"I won't blame you if you hate me." She said quietly, a softness coming to her features.

"Neither would I." He replied, eyebrows furrowed as he registered the unmasked hurt flickering in her eyes. "But I know all too well what forgiveness means and I can't blame you for what you did. You know now that you were wrong and that's all I can ask for. Itís in the past." He stood wearily and looked down at her, lower lip worried between his teeth.

"Wes...I..." She started to say, but he cut her off.

"Your dues are paid. Forget about it." A faint smile haunted his features and he turned his back to her.

"Thank you." She said, standing shakily to her feet. A night of rest had already given her the strength the fight had sapped from her back, but she was still healing. "For saving me and for the totally unexpected non-hatred and forgiving." She laughed airily, her swollen lips stretched into a grin.

He turned back to her and the smile that had haunted him spreading across his face. "Hungry?" He asked unexpectedly, blue eyes wide with the question.

"Always am after a good slay. Or don't you remember?" She asked, stretching wide and feeling muscles popping and stretching from their slumber.

"I do, actually." He answered, turning his back to her and padding his way into the spartan kitchen connected to the living room.

"Swanky place Wes. I dig the cluttered Watcher look." She gestured to the piles of books and notepads that were strewn about the room.

"Well, I didn't know I would have company. I would have cleaned up if I'd...known." Wesley said, turning around and shoving his hands into the deep pockets of his pants.

"I'd hate to ask, but...can I mooch a shower off you? I feel wicked gross." She said, scratching at a healing scrape on her elbow.

"Of course. Itís right in there." He said, gesturing to the door opposite the kitchen. As she walked off, he turned back to the fridge and wondered what the hell he was going to feed her. He opened the icebox and cursed under his breath at the bareness of his shelves. How long had those eggs been in there? Wes shuddered to think.

Faith edged past Wesley's bed, noticing how much room it took up. She smiled, letting a nasty little thought linger in her mind before she entered the bathroom. Either someone got some a lot, or they wished they did. She wondered which scenario was the case.

The bathroom was as cluttered as the rest of the house and just as interesting. Wet towels were crumpled on the floor, the bathmat soiled with water. A hairbrush that hadn't been cleaned in ages was lying on the sink, along with a toothbrush and a big wad of used floss. Magazines were stacked up next to the toilet and she smirked as she saw a Playboy peeking out from between two issues of Science Weekly. The second scenario.

With a wrinkled nose, she cleaned it all up and shook her head. "Man, Wes, you're a slob." She said as she looked through the piles of dirty clothing for a clean towel. She finally found one that looked halfway decent and she stood, her eyes meeting the mirror. Her reflection stared back at her and she grimaced.

A black eye was making itself known on the left side of her face, which so dirty she was having a hard time seeing it. Her hair was clumped and bloody, of which she already knew, but there was a large cut on her scalp, and some moo-goo gai pan noodles clinging to a few strands, a souvenir of her stay in the Dumpster. She made a face and turned back to the shower.

The water was warmer than the water at her hovel and she felt herself relaxing in the scalding curtain, skin turning pink in minutes. Aching muscles lost tension as she stood there; her ankle, still tender as she put weight on it, slowly strengthened in the rejuvenating steam. The cuts and unbandaged wounds were fully washed clean of rusty flakes of blood as she stood there. She finally opened one eye and peered at the little wrack of shampoo and smiled as she read the titles.

"Lilac Herbal Extract, eh? You're such a stud, Wes." She flipped the top and smelled it, lilac swirling around her nostrils. She squirted some on her hair and scrubbed so hard that the cut on her head throbbed in time to veins below the scalp. She rinsed her hair, feeling better already, and did the same with the bar of soap she found. Suds dripped off her body, taking with it the dirt of the night before and the smell of garbage. Finally, after scrubbing herself in every possible nook, not to mention the crannies, she stepped out into the swirling, warm air of Wes's bathroom and wrapped the towel around her body.

"Shit." She muttered, staring morosely down at the bloody, pungent and ripped clothing on the floor. She loathed the thought of crawling back into them when she was so clean. She thought for a moment, chewing on her lip as she shivered in the rapidly cooling air.

Finally, she crossed the little tiled room and cracked open the door enough so that she could peer out into the dark confines of Wesley's bedroom. Her eyes widened as she saw Wesley standing inside the room. His back to her, she watched as he slipped his shirt over his head, the muscles of his back as sleek as a cat. Her breath caught in her throat as he moved, a hardness and toughness about him that she had never noticed back in Sunnydale. When the hell had the man gotten so fuckable?

The dream, the one she'd been having for months while in the limbo that was prison, came back to her full force. The thought of him, the dream him, had always been something she thought she made up. The prison psychiatrist had told her that she had put a face she wanted to trust on her ideal man and that it meant nothing. She had believed that back then and dismissed the dreams as some Freudian freak show. But now...staring at him through the cracks of his own bathroom, she was struck by just how much he resembled the dream. And it aroused her, making her blush as she watched him, feeling more than a bit voyeuristic.

"You can come on out of there." Wesley suddenly said, not turning around to look at her. She started a bit and stepped back from the door, heart hammering in her chest. A moment later, she stepped out into the cold air of the bedroom, clutching the towel around her with shaking knuckles. "You can wear those."

She followed his finger to the clothing on the bed and smiled. "Thanks." She said, snatching the carefully laid out pile and darting back into the bathroom as quick as she could. Safely back in the little room, she sagged against the door and willed the fluttering in her belly to go away. Without hesitating, she pulled on the drawstring sweats and the large button-down shirt. Both were too big on her and the shirt fell over her hands, but it was roomy and it smelled a bit like him. She shrugged her shoulders and stepped out of the bathroom once more.

Wesley was facing her now and she tried not to stare at the newly yummy shirtlessness of him. "I made some eggs and some waffles. You can start on them while I wash up." He said, smiling kindly as he stepped past her, the back of her knees hitting the side of the bed. She eyed him for a moment and then spoke what was on her mind.

"Shave while you're in there. The Grizzly Adams thing is so not working for you." He turned back to her and smiled a wide smile. He winked at her, a glint in his eyes.

The door closed behind him and the shower was immediately heard on the other side. Faith watched the white wood of the door for a moment and then padded her way back into the kitchen/living room. A plate piled high with eggs and two blueberry waffles greeted her from the wooden table and she suddenly realized she was starving. She dived in immediately, savoring the taste as she waited for him to reappear. As she ate, her eyes lighted on a notepad atop the table. She picked it up, eyes going wide.

Wes was tired beyond the word. A long night spent bloody and worried about his---no, the Slayer, had left him feeling a bit flustered. Although their conversation in the living room had been filled with all the things he'd managed to work through last night. In the light of reality, he knew he just couldn't hate her, even though anyone else not currently wearing his shoes might be inclined too. He just didn't have it in him anymore.

What he did have was a confusing assortment of emotions and thoughts that were slowly planning on driving him crazy. Not the least of those emotions was the intense physical reaction he was having to her nearness. The sight of her in a towel, reflected in the surface of the mirror on his dresser, was more than enough; add that in to the sight of her panties strewn casually on the floor and it was almost too much. He bit down the feeling with a growl and stepped into the shower. Then he thought about the fact that she was wearing his pants minus those lacy panties.

He turned the cold on full blast and searched for a razor.

*****

Faith looked up from the notepad when Wesley walked in, her breakfast forgotten as she poured over page after page of carefully written notes and words that made her breath stop in her throat. He was staring at her, a tight blue sweater stretched across his shoulders and a pair of grey slacks covering his legs.

"What are you reading?" He asked, swallowing hard, his eyes penetrating as he sat down next to her. She noticed he'd shaved for her and she smiled widely.

"Your notes. So Angel has a son, eh?" She answered, meeting his harsh eyes. "How'd that happen? Who's Darla?"

"Kind of a long story."

"Kinda have the time."

So he launched into the tale and she stared at him, fingers picking at her eggs in a way that forcibly reminded him of Fred. He ignored the pang in his stomach and concentrated on telling her everything. When he told her how Connor had been taken, she was quiet and her eyes left his.
"So that's why your neck looks like someone decided hack you up for the fun of it. Want me to kill the bitch?" She asked, taking a bite of her waffle, her tongue flicking out to lick away the little drip of syrup on her wrist. Wes shook his head and answered in a weary voice.

"Don't bother. Justine had her reasons and I don't blame her for her displaced loyalty. Even if I would like to see her rotting in some festering hole in the wall." He chuckled slightly, hand tracing the puckered scar at his throat. Faith smiled up at him; the smile faded as something occurred to her.

"He blames you doesn't he?"

"Yes, I suppose he does. Can you blame him?"

"No, but jeez man, your dues are paid. I mean, you almost died; how sorry can you be?"

"You sound like Cordelia." He answered, taking a bite out of his cold eggs.

"Fuck, I take it all back then." She chortled, leaning back in the chair, the smile reclaiming her features. "How is she? Still with the visions?"

"Yes actually. And she's well...she's part demon." He answered, relaying the interesting effects of the transformation, including the wall-burn incident of the night before.

"Wow, I'm wicked impressed. Don't know if I would do all that for the man I loved though." She answered, nodding her head and running a casual hand through her damp hair.

"What? Oh, Cordelia and Angel? They're not...they're not in love." Wes said with about as much confidence as a baby taking his first steps.

"Yeah, cuz you sound real convinced there, Chachi. I may not know much, but I do know how love works. Which kinda surprises me because I thought Angel and Buffy were the forever kind of love. I guess she moved on and so did he." A shadow passed her features as she remembered the night with Riley, a bitter taste in her mouth. She hastily changed the subject. "You crushing on anyone?"

He colored and waved his hand. "Where would I find the time, what with the backstabbing and betrayal?" His tone was a bit more bitter than he meant it to be, and she nodded, catching the far away look in his eyes.

"She's not good enough for you anyway." She said, looking him soberly in the eyes.

"I'm afraid she's too good actually." He said with a nervous laugh, a wry smile wrenching his lips. "Anyway she's happy and that's all I care about."

"You love her?" She found herself asking before she could stop herself. She wasn't upset that she'd asked it though, she truly wanted to know.

"Thought I did..." Suddenly the phone rang, cutting off his thoughts. Wes leapt for the phone before the answering machine could pick it up. "Hello?"

"Wes? Jeez...I was worried when you didn't come back from that patrol last night. Are okay?" Cordelia said in a rush; he heard Fred's breathy voice in the background ask, "Is he there!!??"

"I'm fine Cordelia. Tell Fred I'm okay." A muffled relay of his message and then Cordelia was back on the line. Wesley turned his back on Faith and walked into his bedroom for privacy. Faith watched him go, fear gripping her heart; she stood, unsure of what to do.

"Thank God! Did you save that girl? Why was did she need you?" Cordelia's voice was thick was interest and Wesley wondered how much he ought to tell her.

"I helped her and now she's okay. She just needed some advice only I could give her, I guess. You know how that goes." He said noncommittally. Thank God Cordelia didn't press the issue as she went on.

"Good. And I know it was meant for you, but that didn't mean you had go off all half-cocked and without backup, no matter how much Lorne insisted you didn't need it."

"I...had some backup. And everything went fine. I'm a little bruised up though, so I won't be coming into the office today."

"I was just about to tell you not to come in. You need a day off and all you do here is sit in your little corner and brood anyway, so just stay at home. Eat some cereal, watch some cartoons, have a good time, which I know you won't." She told him, perky, pesky voice chirping at him from the other end of the phone.

"I'll try. See you tomorrow." He said in a dry voice and then hung up before she could add anything else to her diatribe. Silence filled the room as he walked back into the kitchen.

Her chair was empty, the plate of half-eaten eggs sitting forlornly on the table. He looked around and noticed that her boots were gone too, the door to the apartment standing wide open.

"Fuck!" He muttered under his breath and ran to the door, head ducking out of the little hallway to the stairs. Nothing. She was gone. He closed the door to his apartment and kicked at the coffee table, sending magazines flying, rage seething in his chest.

He wondered if he'd ever see her again. Lorne's words came back to haunt him and he sighed heavily, wearily sinking down onto the couch that she had occupied during the impossibly long night.

Lorne had said she needed him, and he needed her just as badly; Wes didn't stop to wonder for what. She'd be back.

Chapter 5

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