Too Close For Comfort

(Many thanks to Eloise and Yasminke for beta reading this.)


The knock at his motel door was a surprise. Unprecedented, even. Wesley set his book down, adjusted his tie, and took the three short steps needed to take him from table to door.

As Giles was the only one in Sunnydale who knew where he was staying -not that he’d made a secret of it; it was simply that no one else seemed to care – he expected to see his predecessor waiting on the other side, hopefully with some good news about a breakthrough in their research into the Mayor’s plans, though Wesley doubted Giles would be as eager to share good news as to deliver bad. God, Buffy! Was she – Worry, and a sharp stab of panic at the thought of losing the second Slayer in his largely titular care, made his hand tremble as he reached for the handle and opened the door.

Faith, her face a pale oval in the dimly-lit corridor, smiled at him with a fraction of her usual sass. “Hey, Wes,” she said. “Got a minute?”

The worry left him, but the panic didn’t – not quite. The bruises she’d left on Xander’s neck had faded, and he seemed to have recovered from his ordeal, but Wesley had found himself remembering the short, but bloody, list of Watchers who’d been killed by their Slayers and wondering if his name would be added to it. “For you? No.”

Wesley began to close the door, but she pushed past him with a brutally effective shove and he changed his mind. Faith’s defection was something he’d felt the sting of very keenly, and if there was a chance, no matter how small, that she had changed her mind, he wouldn’t turn his back.

Besides, offering Faith a target like that wouldn’t be wise.

He let her step over the threshold uninvited, just to be sure she could, and then barred her way with his arm. “I think that’s far enough.”

Her dark eyes glanced down at his hand, flat against the wall and there was a shadow of amusement in them. “Might want to move that, Wes. Or learn to jerk off with your other hand.”

“I already do,” he said. “I like to be flexible.”

That surprised a laugh out of her. “You loosening up now you’re not my Watcher, Wes?”

“I’m still your Watcher,” he said. “That hasn’t changed, nor will it.”

“You really believe that, don’t you?” she whispered, peering up at him.

Wesley nodded and then winced as she slammed the edge of her hand against his wrist, leaving it numb. He let it fall to his side, denying himself the comfort of nursing it against his chest to teach himself to be more cautious. A Slayer’s speed was never to be taken lightly, nor her strength, but he’d still cherished a foolish notion that –

“No, Wes. You’re not off limits. No one is. Better change the way you think, if you want to survive.”

“How did you know –?”

“What?”

She tilted her head to the side, as if she was waiting for something. He shook his head, dismissing his bewilderment. “Nothing. Why are you here?”

“Cutting right to the chase? Not like you.” She walked past him and sat on his bed, bouncing up and down experimentally. “This bed’s so fucking hard, your ass must be black and blue. If I’d known this was the best you rated, I wouldn’t have felt so bad about the dump I was in.”

He floundered as the unreality of the situation hit home. It’d been less than a week since Buffy’s life – and Angel’s soul – had been endangered by her, and she was sitting on his bed discussing the near legendary frugality of the Council?

“I could afford something a little better,” he said, “but my salary isn’t large, and I’m...trying to...”

“Save up for a bike,” she said. “Got the leathers ready and you try them on when you’ve been made to feel lower than a worm’s belly by B. and Giles. And, yeah, you don’t always take them off when you go to bed, if you get my drift. I know.”

He tried to make up for his involuntary step back by keeping his voice steady as he said, “You can’t have known that. No one – ” Embarrassment was swamped by sudden enlightenment and she clapped her hands together in ironic applause. “How did this happen?”

“The mind reading deal? Demon. Bumped into a pair of them in the park beating up on a kid and, fuck knows why, I took them on...” She swallowed, avoiding his questioning look. “Missed the thrill of the kill, you know?”

“You’re still a Slayer,” he said, shrugging. “Your instincts are to deal with evil when you find it.”

“Guess you missed the memo, Wes. I am evil now, remember? Anyway, only got one.” She held out her hand, showing him a rough, reddened patch. “Bled on me. Clawed me up a bit, too. Woke up all insightful girl and it’s fucking freaking me out

The last word was a vehement snarl and Wesley flinched. “You have a reason for associating the two events?”

She shook her head. “Don’t need fancy books to work that one out, Wes. These demons weren’t your normal ones. No mouths, see?”

“Ah, of course!” Wesley said, appreciating the point she made at once and feeling a glimmer of surprise at her insight. “Ergo, an alternative means of communication such as telepathy. Yes, that makes sense...and the power was transferred to you when its blood entered your body through the cut. Not unheard of, though rare.”

He received a sullen shrug in reply. “Beats me, but I’m guessing I’m like, infected now, or something, right?”

“Well, that’s an unduly pessimistic way of looking at it,” Wesley said. “If you can read minds, that’s a gift many would consider a blessing –”

Her eyes wide with anger and fear, he had her hands around his throat before he’d finished talking. He’d barely registered her movement from the bed before the pressure from her clenching, clawing hands began to build and the blood thrummed loudly in his ears

Forcing himself to stay calm, he raised his hands slowly and circled her wrists with his fingers , tugging at them without trying to free himself, signalling the discomfort she had to be aware of. Speech, other than what he was sure would be a most undignified gurgle, was beyond him, and he was far from clear on how much of his thoughts she was able to read, so he settled for trying to project a general sense of reassurance and apology.

Her hands slid away and she said with a soft intensity, “Don’t ever tell me I should be grateful for this, Wesley, or I’ll kill you. It sucks, O.K? It’s ruined everything.”

“Very well,” Wesley said, touching his neck gingerly and wincing. “It’s a curse. I’m still a little unsure as to why I’m your chosen confidante. What do you want me to do? Research a cure?”

“Well, yeah,” she said. “What? Did you think I came here to fuck–”

“No!” Wesley said sharply, raising his hand to halt her. “Faith, you’ve come here to ask for a favour. In return I’ll ask for the respect you’ve never seen fit to give me. Don’t – don’t say that.”

She was close enough to touch, close enough that he could smell peach shower gel and a rich, expensive perfume he was willing to bet was shoplifted.

“No. I didn’t steal it,” she said, mouth twisting as if she’d bitten into something sour. “He gave it to me.” She stepped back, eyes darting to the door, poised for flight as if whatever impulse had brought her to him had worn off.

“Suppose I make you a drink,” Wesley suggested. “You look in need of something.”

The offer of hospitality had her eying him suspiciously but as he truly did have no other motive than keeping her with him a little longer, he returned her gaze calmly, trusting that she’d pick up on his lack of hostility. And, surprisingly, he had none. Perhaps it was the novelty of being considered useful, but he found himself wanting to help her.

“Sure,” she said eventually. “What you got? Oh, fuck, no, not tea. Get real!”

Wesley pursed his lips and then shrugged. “I’ll give you alcohol if you give me answers – and stop finishing my sentences. It’s most disconcerting.”

“But you believe I’m doing it?”

She gave him a look he’d have classed as pleading on any other face and he nodded. “I’m willing to accept it as a viable hypothesis, whilst reserving the right to say you didn’t fool me one bit, if this turns out to be another ploy.”

That got him rewarded with a faint smile. “You’d been this funny when we met, I might’ve stuck around.”

He allowed himself to picture Quentin Travers’ face if he suggested witty repartee be added to the training course, possibly between basic first aid and crossbow practice, and her smile grew wider as she shared his amusement. Which was enough to end it. Walking over to the small collection of bottles on a table, he poured them both a generous measure of vodka and thinned it with coke for her and tonic for himself. They ended up sitting on the bed, eying each other with a curiosity tinged with wariness.

“Right,” Wesley said after a moment. “I’ll need your best description of the creature, and it might help if you could give me a brief summary of how your condition developed.”

“Big. No mouth. Sort of blue...it was a fucking demon, all right? After a while, they all look the same. And my condition kicked in the next day. Woke up and there was all this...noise in my head when I walked past anyone. Like I’ve got a radio jammed between my ears, you know? Took me a while to work out what’d happened and when I did –” She took an unwisely large gulp of her drink and choked. “Shit, Wes, you trying to get me drunk?”

He drained his and raised an eyebrow. “Why would I want to do that?” he asked, keeping his voice bland.

She snorted. “Don’t need to be a fucking mind reader to know the answer to that one, do I?”

“I think you do, Faith.”

He waited and watched her blink as she focused on him, eyes intent. “Wes, you – shit, that’s so fucking dumb!”

“I’ve never been anything else, really” he said, knowing honesty, uncompromising and absolute, was the only way to deal with this. “But I don’t think not wanting to be a member of a group that includes such shining lights as Xander Harris is particularly stupid, do you?’

“No, but you want me. Can tell, always could. You trained with me, remember? Always so careful not to get close, but you’d shake in your shiny shoes if I brushed up against you. So why -?”

“You’re very desirable from a physical point of view,” he said, remembering every one of those ‘accidental’ bumps and the effect they’d had on him. “I can’t imagine many men who wouldn’t want you. But I think you deserve a man who sees more than that in you. You are the Slayer, Faith. You’re not, nor have you ever been, a slut and I’m not sure why you think of yourself that way.”

“Hey, I’m the one with the insight tonight. You can just button it, O.K?” She gave him a sidelong glance and then nodded, as if she’d reached a decision. “You gonna help me then, Wes?”

“No,” he said. “Not yet. I want more.”

She’d got her top half way off before he’d had time to take more than one shocked, shuddering breath and then he was standing up and stepping back. “No! Faith, no. Please get dressed again and if you make one more attempt to cloud my judgment or use your body as an inducement, I’ll –”

“Spank me?” Sultry voice, pouting lips, ice-cold eyes.

Wesley deliberately let the image of her across his knee, bare backside red, face tear stained and flushed, fill his mind, as devoid of sexual connotations as he could make it. He wasn’t entirely successful. “Ask that you leave.” He paused and added. “You know I mean it, so, please. Spare us both the embarrassment.”

She sneered at him, wriggling back into her tight top, smoothing it down with hands he could’ve sworn were trembling. “Right. Because getting fucked isn’t on the menu for you, is it, Wes? Too dedicated to the cause. I’ve fucked priests who were easier to seduce than you; is it part of your Watcher training, or something?”

“Why wouldn’t he help you, Faith? The Mayor?”

She stilled, frozen in place, and then surged forward, heading for the door. His hand shot out and clamped around her wrist. “Tell me and I’ll help you. I promise and I don’t give my word lightly.” He spoke quickly, urgently, willing her to believe him, and felt her relax, if only slightly. She sat down again, wrenching her hand free, and tucked a leg under her, feigning calm.

“He would have. I didn’t ask.”

Wesley saw her shoulders round and curve as she leaned forward, fingers worrying at a hole in the bedspread. “And that was because -? For heaven’s sake, Faith, I wish you’d stop making me chip this out of you, word by word!”

“Not so much fun when you’re not the one doing the talking, huh? Fine; you want the Campbell’s condensed version, it goes like this; I went straight to him once I’d got it figured. Burst in on him doing one of his little rituals. Got him pissed off so he started in on one of his lectures; didn’t give me a chance to explain. I –” She looked up at Wesley, chewing on her lip nervously. “Listen, him and me – it’s not a sex thing; you get that right? We’re not fucking.”

Wesley shuddered. “I never even thought of that. I wish you hadn’t mentioned it.”

“Squeamish, aren’t you? Some girls go for the father figure, you know.”

He shrugged. “In his case, that would have to be the great grandfather type, surely? And it’s not his age that troubles me.”

“What then?”

Her eyes were bright with curiosity but he wasn’t going to be led away from the central issue.

“It’s irrelevant as you’re not in that kind of a relationship. Go on. You interrupted him; he was annoyed, and then, I assume, you read him and discovered something that troubled you? You already knew he was over a century old, has bargained his soul away, thinks nothing of sacrificing babies, is evil through and through.” He allowed a trace of sarcasm to creep into his voice. “I’m dying to know what tipped the balance, I really am.”

Her fist slammed hard against his jaw, sending him to his back on the floor, Faith straddling him. She really wasn’t the best person to taunt, he thought dizzily. Her fist hovered again and then she sighed and sat back.

Which meant she was snug against his body and if she stayed there for much longer...

“Get off me,” he said, striving to sound calm and starting to struggle up.

Her eyes were lit up with an amusement that he was far from sharing. “Make me,” she taunted. She slipped fever-hot hands around his wrists and pulled his hands up over his head, pinning them, leaning forward so his vision filled with soft curved flesh. As she kissed him, with a lingering pressure of berry-sweet lips, he allowed himself a moment to wish...

“Fuck, Wes!” She wriggled off him, pouting. “Can’t you even fantasise properly? Supposed to be thinking about me naked, fucking your brains out, not me back in harness, all repentant and shit.”

Wesley permitted himself a smile. “Am I damaging your self-esteem? I do apologise.” He glanced down. “I have an erection,” he offered in amends. “It’s simply that, as a Watcher who’s making a miserable showing of his first assignment, success at that is all I can think about right now. Were I less troubled by my failings, and were you not my Slayer, I’d –” He frowned. “Well, actually, I’m not sure we have much in common, but finding out if there was a point of contact would be interesting.”

“Most men only care about one point of –”

He rolled his eyes and cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Must you leap upon every chance to place a smutty interpretation on my words?” He got to his feet and brushed off stray pieces of carpet fluff. “And that’s twice you’ve responded with aggression. Might I suggest you stop? Because that last demonstration has exhausted my patience.”

“Oh.” She sounded almost nonplussed for a moment, then rallied. “You promised to help me.”

“I did. I can’t if I’m unconscious, hospitalised, or dead. And might I remind you that technically, you’re no longer someone I should be helping? I don’t imagine Mr Giles will be best pleased with me.”

“He wouldn’t be pleased with you no matter what you did,” Faith pointed out. “You’re his replacement. Nothing personal, because fuck knows you two are peas in a pod and all, but he’s never gonna be best buds with you. You’re his replacement.”

“I know,” Wesley said with a sigh. “I never realised how – never thought how he’d react. Foolish of me to hope we might become colleagues, let alone friends.”

“Yeah. It was. Giles is a nice guy – no that isn’t ‘pitifully inadequate’ Wes! Fuck. He’s tough, yes, but he’s kinda sweet, y’know. But you’re a kick in the teeth from Mother England.” She looked up at him with a smirk. “Want me to find him and see what he really thinks about you?”

It was astonishing how tempting that idea was, and she saw it; a triumphant smile flitting over her face. “No. For one thing, he’d not let you near him. You came close to killing Buffy, remember.”

“Guess you don’t care so much about that, seeing as B. never gave you the time of day?”

“I’ve accepted the reality of her unswerving loyalty to him, but she is still my responsibility, as are you, and I certainly don’t dislike her.” Wesley rubbed at an aching spot on his jaw. “I’m just a little less inclined to play favourites as you both despise me equally.”

“Sucks to be you.”

The indifference hid nothing but more indifference as far as he could tell and that made it easy to snap back, “I can assure you that should your condition remain as it is, you might well wish yourself in my shoes.”

She peered down at them. “Never gonna happen, Wes. More of a size six, you know?”

“Tell me what happened in the Mayor’s office,” Wes said tiredly. “Really, Faith, you do wander terribly.”

She drummed her fingers against a jeans –clad knee. “He’s got this plan,” she said abruptly. “Big plan, been waiting for it for like, forever, you know? If she hadn’t been six feet under – fuck, I hope she is, ‘cos she’s sure as hell dead – he’d have sacrificed his wife in a heartbeat if he had to. So, I never thought I was safe exactly, but he’s kinda big with the caring so I got...”

“You started to feel safe,” Wesley said, pity stirring, only to sleep again as he tallied her misdeeds.

“Safe. Right.” She laughed, hollow as a blown egg. “He said I’d be at his right-hand side. Said he’d introduce me to a nice boy, assuming any were left. Kinda left out the bit where he was going to eat me for a nice jolt of Slayer power. Loves me though. Oh, yeah. That came over really clear. Just...it’s going to be temporary.”

“I’m so –”

“Yeah. I know. Sorry for me. Save it.” She stood up. “So are you going to get this fucking demon shit out of me? Because I don’t like it, Wes. Don’t like it one bit.”

***

Wesley pushed open the door and walked into the dark library. “You understand that I shan’t be hiding what I’m doing from Mr Giles, should he arrive.”

“Why don’t you call him Rupert? He calls you Wesley.”

He blinked at her in surprise. “It’s...he’s older. It’s a sign of respect, I suppose. Were we friends, it might be different, but as it is...”

“Older? Fuck, Wes, that only goes for kids.” She grinned. “You’re older than me; d’you want me to call you Mr Wyndam-Pryce?”

She drew out his name in an exaggerated English drawl and he couldn’t help snickering at the absurdity of the notion. She gave him an approving pat on the arm. “Hey, I made you laugh. Just racking up the first time evers, aren’t we?”

He smiled at her, admiring her resilience. The walk over had been ...stressful. Faith had jerked her head around after walking past a crowd of teenaged boys, who had been openly crude in their comments and, he supposed, even more so in their minds. He’d gripped her arm tightly as anger darkened her face and hissed a command to ignore them – and received a look he couldn’t interpret.

“You think I’m bothered because they want to fuck me?” she’d asked. “I’d be more upset if they didn’t.”

“Then why did you look like that?”

She’d stared at him until he got it. “Ah. It wasn’t you they were being rude about, was it? I see.” Odd how humiliated he’d felt.

“They thought I looked like a whore and you were my meal-ticket,” she’d said, sounding awkward. “And they were laughing because they thought I’d eat you alive. I mean; the suit? The attitude? You scream virgin, Wes.”

“Well, I’m not,” he’d said tightly. “And I’d be grateful if we changed the subject.”

She’d opened her mouth but he’d silenced her with a glare. “Faith. Don’t pry, don’t poke inside my mind. Just...don’t.”

“It’s not prying,” she’d said, face vulnerable and looking as exposed as he felt. “You’re fucking screaming it at me, Wes. And, fine, I can pretend I’m deaf, but you’re never going to forget that I know all about Sarah and how you came like two minutes after she –”

His hand had smacked against her face and because that was impossible - Slayer reflexes and the advance knowledge the telepathy gave meant he stood no chance of ever getting past her guard – he’d had to accept that she’d let him hit her.

“I’m so sorry,” he’d said, and meant every word.

“Yeah. I was unpopular before; now I’m – what?” She peered at him. “Typhoid Mary? Who’s she? Never mind.”

She’d ground the heels of her hands against her temples as they walked along. “Shit, Wes, it’s getting noisy in here.”

The street was quiet and he’d frowned. “I don’t see anyone?”

She’d nodded at the houses. “I can hear the people in there. Faint, buzzing away...static fuzz...”

He’d hurried them along to the deserted school after that, sliding his arm under her elbow as he noticed her growing weaker, feeling her lean against him gratefully and then glare at him as he reflected that he’d thought her incapable of gratitude.

In the end, it took an hour, no more, to find the demon (Brek’ntha), to discover the prognosis (swiftly approaching madness) and to research the cure - a potion made from the heart of the other demon, who was, hopefully, still in Sunnydale.

In that hour Wesley realised, with a small pang, that he wasn’t going to be able to save the day alone. A demon that Faith at full strength had had trouble killing was beyond him to track and slay – and Faith was crouched in the corner of the library, moaning, arms wrapped around her head.

“Faith? Faith...you have to come with me,” Wesley said, kneeling beside her. “I’m going to take you –” He hesitated, considered his options, and then said firmly, “To Angel.”

She roused enough to lift her head and he watched tears rise and spill down her pale cheeks. “Won’t help me. Not now.”

Her tears were warm and he smeared them over her face as he tried to brush them away; failing, because more kept coming. “He’ll help you,” Wesley said. “I won’t give him a choice.”

***

“I’m not going to do it, Wesley.”

Angel didn’t trouble to lower his voice but Faith was past noticing. The discovery that she couldn’t read Angel had been a relief, but Wesley knew that she was being bombarded with his thoughts and, although Angel’s house was isolated, those of any passer-by. It was too much for her already and getting worse with every passing minute.

“You bloody well are,” Wesley hissed. “You tried to save her once and I messed it up. Yes; I admit it, and I’m sorry. I know her recent actions have been indefensible, but I’m not prepared to watch her go insane. She’s still my Slayer.”

Angel folded his arms across his chest. “And just how do you plan to force me to hunt this thing? Going to follow behind me, prodding me with a stake?”

“I could threaten you, but it would be rather –”

“Amusing.”

Wesley decided that he’d had his fill of people finishing his sentences for him.“Quite. So I shan’t do that. I will, however, warn you that should Faith suffer the full consequences, I will kill you.”

“Thought we’d agreed you can’t touch me?”

“No. We’ve agreed hand to hand combat right here, right now, would end with me damaged and you unscathed. I was planning something from a distance, in daylight. I’m rather good with a gun and a crossbow. Both could prove quite effective; the one in slowing you down, the other in finishing you off. You do have vulnerabilities, Angel.” Wesley gave him a supercilious smile, making it as irritating as possible. “Oh, I’m sorry. Am I supposed to be too scared of you to realise that?”

He was getting rather tired of people grabbing him, Wesley thought, as Angel’s large fist gathered up a handful of his shirt, his knuckles digging in painfully.

“Wesley, I never figured you for suicidal. Stupid, shortsighted, yes, but not –”

Faith moaned, her head moving restlessly against the cushion, her eyes squeezed shut.

“You’re wasting our time.”

Angel studied her for a long moment, let go of Wesley and strode towards the door. “Fine. I’ll do it. But she’s lost to you, Wesley. If you’ve got any ideas about her being redeemable, forget them.”

Wesley went to Faith and covered her with a blanket and, though it didn’t seem to make a difference any longer, retreated to a distance. As Angel couldn’t read minds it was worth trying a lie. “I harbour no expectations,” Wesley said without taking his eyes off Faith.

Angel snorted and left, with one last glance at Faith and one last glare at Wesley.

***

Angel had returned and helped him coax Faith into drinking a viscous, bright blue fluid that smelled revolting. Then, after she’d recovered enough to sit up, snarl at them both and leave, given him ice for the bruise her fist had left on his face as he tried to stop her going - and offered a mute, grudging sympathy. Wesley had met it with restrained gratitude and a determination to repay the favour, without having the faintest idea how.


He’d gone straight to Giles and confessed. That got him a lecture that was as scathing and cutting as any he’d ever endured, but he blinked in surprise as Giles finished with, “Oh, I’d have done exactly the same, Wesley, so stop looking at me with wounded eyes. I simply can’t fathom why you went to Angel, rather than me. Or don’t you consider me capable, given my lack of official status?”

There had been enough – hurt?- in the last words to make Wesley gape at him, finally appreciating the depth of Giles’ anger at being replaced, at being labelled a failure and, for the first time, sharing it. Lecture over, Giles had relaxed his guard, as if, by being reckless, foolhardy and sentimental, Wesley had passed a test of sorts.

Buffy told him she wasn’t speaking to either him or Angel, but he had a feeling she’d forgive them both in time. Well, Angel anyway.

And Faith had been nowhere to be found: not in her motel room; not in the apartment Willow had tracked her to; not at the Bronze; not at the bars.

Wesley spent the rest of the day, and most of the evening, searching for her, before giving up and trudging home.

“You’re a real party animal, Wes,” Faith said, smiling at him from the bed as he closed the door. “Was beginning to think you were never coming home, or if you did, maybe you’d have company.”

“Sorry to have kept you waiting,” he said, forcing back an entirely foolish surge of pleasure at seeing her and then remembering that as long as he kept his emotions off his face, he didn’t have to any more.

“Nah, it’s O.K. Kept myself busy.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask how, but I’m sure you’ll tell me. Right after you apologise for my black eye, perhaps?”

“You were trying to stop me going. If I’d stayed, I was two seconds away from throwing up at the sight of you. I think I made the right call, don’t you?”

He walked to his desk and tidied it needlessly to hide his expression from her. “I don’t think I’ve ever inspired actual nausea, though I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I made someone sick.”

“Yeah. And I bet you believed them, like you believe I was gonna hurl because you’re ugly or something, not because I felt so fucking guilty –” She came over to him, eyes fierce. “I’ll get to apologising for this,” she said, fingers tracing the bruised skin high on his cheekbone, “but I was going to kick off with ‘sorry for the mind rape’ you know?”

He leaned into her touch, not much, just a little, enough that it started to hurt instead of feeling good. He needed that reminder of what intimacy with her would bring. “From where I was standing, it felt more as if I were attacking you,” he said. “As if every stray thought was a blow, every fantasy an insult, every – well. You get the picture. Faith, you were entirely free of blame, I assure you.”

“What happened to me; yeah, not my fault. Coming to you for help when I knew what would happen? Gotta say that looks like premeditated.” She glanced away, swallowed and met his eyes. “You didn’t want to fuck me, Wes, but God, it would’ve been like shaking hands compared to what I did to you. Just you. Angel was all closed off, and apart from that bastard Wilkins I wasn’t with anyone else long enough to matter, but you...you were with me for hours. Even when I was losing it, even when I was totally out of it, you were there. There’s nothing I don’t know about you.” Her voice was a low, frantic gabble now, her hands curled around his arms, bruisingly tight. “Nothing. Don’t you get it, Wes? I saw you; saw you naked, saw you open, saw everything.” She threw back her head and laughed. “Shit, you’ve got an imagination! Saw everything you’ve dreamed of doing to me, every twisted little kink that keeps you awake at night, all the guilt and shame because you fucking blew it, with me, with Buffy. All the despair, all the hate...all the loneliness.” Her voice had dropped to a whisper and her eyes were wide and dark.

He didn’t look away. “I imagine you did. I’m sorry you had to experience that. My inadequacies couldn’t have been entertaining.”

“You knew it would happen,” she said accusingly.

“I – yes. Yes, I did.” He shrugged helplessly. “Someone had to stay with you. You’d already read me. It made sense to confine your...exposure to one person. If you’d come out of this unable to be around the others, well, that wouldn’t really be a good thing would it? I, on the other hand, am easily avoided. I’ll be leaving as soon as the Council sends out a replacement – though I’ll do all in my power to push for the reinstatement of Mr – of Rupert.”

“You’re going?” Her voice was flat, the emotion of a few minutes earlier drained from it. “I’ve just told you I know everything there is to know about you and you’re going?”

“I don’t understand.” He didn’t. Not at all.

Faith sighed. “Wesley, I’m going to make your dreams come true. Least I can do seeing as you saved my life.”

“There’s really no need – wait.” He raised an eyebrow. “Are we talking about the one with the compliant, obedient, well behaved Slayer who turns up to train on time and calls me, ‘sir’, or the ones that feature you naked and saying ‘more, please’ a lot?”

“Pick one.”

He smiled at her. “I already did, remember.”

She gave him an appraising look. “Bet I can change your mind.”

He tried to keep his face expressionless, but the images of Faith doing her best – worst?- as she tried to persuade him to indulge in any one of the, admittedly lurid, fantasies she’d culled from his mind were too vivid for him to repress a smile for long. She gave him an impish grin and he said firmly, “I think if you did it in any way that involved your Slayer powers – or tickling - it’d be cheating. I’m not saying you should try, but if you did, might I suggest you be a little more subtle?”

The look she gave him made him wish that he could read her mind. “Spoilsport.”



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