Hollow Heart

by Jane Davitt and Bit

Part One


Many thanks to Darling Effect for beta reading.


"I'd like a word with you, Giles."

Wesley sounds calm, measured, like he's just popped into the Council offices to give Giles a brief summary of his trip to Prague, but there's a subtle bite to his words that has the other man lifting his head from the stack of papers he'd been reading and giving him a quizzical look.

If he didn't know better Wes would swear that there was a slight flush to Giles' cheeks as he gestures towards the empty chair. But then again, he does know better.

Giles has adapted so well to his current position as head of the Council. Too well. The tailored suits, the expensive haircut; what Giles adopted as a uniform of sorts has begun to define him.

It takes very little effort to hear the echo of Quentin Travers in Giles' voice these days and Wesley shivers every time he does.

"Sit down, Wesley."

Wes stays standing, hand curled hard around the doorknob. "Oh, this won't take long," he demurs. "I just wondered if there was a good reason why my Slayer has been locked up in that well-appointed cell on the lower ground floor?"

Typically, Giles bites down on the oldest bone of contention first. "Your Slayer, Wesley? I have to say when I supervised the strip search before her  --  incarceration, I failed to see the label that said 'Property of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.'" Giles smiles thinly, the pen he's holding catching the light from the desk lamp as he twists it between his fingers. "Although I have to say that you're more than welcome to her, the way she's been behaving. She's never been officially assigned to you, you know that." An eyebrow lifts. "And now the point's moot, wouldn't you say?"

It takes every last scrap of his reserve not to flinch from all the well-placed barbs in Giles' little speech. Though he's still stuck on the corrosive vision of the supercilious bastard in front of him daring to have Faith strip-searched and staying in the room while it happened.

"No, I wouldn't, Rupert." It's a cheap shot but it gives Wes no small sense of satisfaction. "Faith's been an exemplary example to the other girls and I fail to see what could have transpired in a week that you've had to have her locked up."

"Because you fail to see so very much when it comes to her," Giles says, his voice even. "The way that a commendable enthusiasm for Slaying has become a reckless, self-destructive, self-indulgent drive -- I could even go so far as to call it an addiction -- for instance."

Giles stands and moves around the desk, leaning back against it with his arms folded. "She got in a fight with Buffy, Wesley. Again. The night you left, in fact. Excusable, barely, were it not for the fact that this time she took it to gutter-level and hurt Buffy." Giles smiles coldly. "My Slayer."

Wes does sit down now. Taking time to pull out the chair, cross his legs and fold his arms. Taking time to measure Giles' words and see the different permutations of the truth that rest behind them.

"It's regrettable that Miss Summers was injured," he says blandly. "I trust there was no permanent damage."

"Considering that Faith saw fit to break a chair over her head, she's recovered well." If Giles wasn't watching him so closely, he'd give in to the temptation to shut his eyes and sigh. "As I said, Faith is reckless, self-destructive and it pains me more than I can tell you, Wesley, when I have to arrive at the conclusion that she hasn't – she can't be – rehabilitated."

"They're Slayers, Giles," Wesley says impatiently. "They play hard; they fight hard. You know that."

Or at least you would if your Slayer weren't terminally incapable of relaxing enough to get the stick  --  No. He aborts that thought; even feels a faint flicker of guilt, until he remembers Faith's current situation. Buffy is to be allowed her moods, her depression, is she? Allowed to become peevish, querulous, demanding? Allowed to have Giles scrambling to appease her in the name of two dead exes she thinks Giles should've saved?

Wesley's convinced that the answer to each and every one of those questions should be a resounding and unequivocal, 'no'.

"Faith can't operate within reasonable boundaries," Giles intones in his most stentorian voice, holding up his hand to silence Wesley who opens his mouth to argue the point vociferously. "I know that she manages to behave herself, more or less, when you're around but don't you see, Wesley? Your new rapprochement is founded on mutual guilt and contrition. It's hardly… healthy."

He's sick of Giles continually passing judgement on Faith and himself and not allowing Wesley the same privilege when it comes to the petulant push and pull of his own relationship with Buffy.

"If she behaves when I'm here, then it seems to me that the answer's quite simple," he tells Giles. "You stop sending me off on pointless, time-consuming missions to hold the hands of Watchers with no backbone and I stay close to Faith." He flushes slightly at the sardonic look that flashes over Giles' face and adds a little hurriedly, "Let me tell you about Prague and then we can go and get Faith. I'll see that she apologises for any untoward behaviour and we can --"

"No." Giles straightens and goes to sit back down, reaching for his pen again. "I want your report in writing and on my desk by tomorrow -- at ten perhaps, as I'm sure you're a little tired -- and Faith is going to remain where she is until I'm satisfied that she's more than temporarily contrite."

"So she's been locked up for a week because she won't say sorry to Buffy?" He doesn't even bother to tamp down the anger that's clipping out his words. "Tell me something, Rupert. Has Buffy apologised to Faith?"

Giles' eyes darken. "Why on earth should Buffy apologise when Faith smashed a chair over her head, leaving her concussed?"

Wesley leans back in the chair, rubs his fingers against his pounding temples and wonders when Giles became as obtuse as his father or Quentin Travers or the rest of the old guard. "Giles," he tries to soften his voice, "we both know that while Faith is never going to be a paragon of virtue, she's been making huge strides in controlling her temper. Unless she's been goaded beyond all measure."

There's some guilt in Giles' eyes at that and Wesley grabs at it, clutches it tight, and uses it to bash some sense into Giles' head.

"Buffy did something, didn't she?" he asks, as certain of it as he is that the sun rises, vampires suck, and God is an Englishman. "Did something, said something  --  oh, you know she bloody well did!"

"That's beside the point," Giles says, back in control of himself again. "No matter what the provocation, it's disgraceful if one of the oldest Slayers can't control herself any better than that."

Wesley's had enough. He stands and glares at Giles. "I agree. I suggest you place Buffy in the holding room next to Faith until she's learned to curb her vicious tongue and her spiteful impulses. Because my -- because Faith's not the only one suffering because of them, and if you weren't so desperate to appease the sulky little bitch, you'd admit that."

"That's completely unwarranted," Giles bites out, almost choking on his fury. "Buffy does not concern you and I will not allow you to -- "

"I want to see Faith immediately as it seems that getting her side of the story was woefully low on anyone's list of priorities." Wes moves briskly towards the door.

Giles can still move fast for a superannuated pen pusher and he's in Wes' face, hand clutching his arm, before he's even stepped into the corridor. "You can see her in the morning, when you've had time to calm down and write your report."

They're both breathing heavily and Wes wonders idly just how much Giles is drinking these days as he smells the rich, redolent aroma of whisky with his every exhalation.

"Now, Giles. I'll see her now. And if I have to hurt someone doing it, well, the mood I'm in right now, I rather think that would be a bonus not a deterrent."

And it's not until Giles' eyes widen at the threat that's more of a promise than a bluff that Wesley realises how he sounds, how he looks, and it hits home just how much he's changed.

Enough to make Giles back off, even if it's just a short step. Well, isn't that nice?

"Very well." Giles grinds down on the words of surrender as if they're chunks of frozen lemon juice, his face twisting. "Five minutes, no more."

As holding cells go, it's quite ritzy, Wesley thinks, as he peers through the spy hole in the door. There's even some grey institutional carpeting and a picture of a sunset hung on the wall. Faith is sitting on the metal bed, two pillows propped up behind her, looking like she's in some deep Zen-like trance.

She must sense that he's there because she lifts her head from silent contemplation of the torn knee of her jeans and by the time he's in the room she's managed to paint on a smile. He'd give it a shaky three out of ten.

"Hey, Wes," she rasps. "Did you get me some absinthe?"

Her mouth snaps shut as she catches sight of the grim, forbidding lines of his face. "I'd start by telling you how deeply disappointed I am in you but that would be the understatement of the year."

Faith's eyes flash and she takes an angry intake of breath. "B's been riding my ass for months, you know that. And I ain't apologising for shit So if that's all you came here for then you can walk right out again."

"In four minutes, I will be," he tells her, "so let's not waste my time, shall we?" He walks over to the bed and stands beside her, willing his knees to lock because he wants nothing more than to sink down on the bed and trace the skin exposed by that hole in her jeans with a careful, gentle finger.

And he can't do that. Not when they're being watched.

"What does he want you to do? Tell me. He must have said something, made your release ride on some condition or other?"

His voice is pitched low, for her ears only and he sees the spark of interest in her bored, angry eyes as she realises that he's moved from castigating her to being conspiratorial.

She leans back on her elbows, impatiently shaking her hair out of her eyes. "He wants me to say sorry to B, which is never gonna happen," she says, her voice urgent and low. Then she bites down on her bottom lip so viciously it turns white. "Fuck, Wes! He wants to fit my training wheels again just 'cause I won't play nice with B's little posse of super-Slayers. Wants to take my girls away and give 'em to someone else so I told him to go fuck himself."

"I imagine that went down well," Wes comments dryly and she gives him a rueful grin in acknowledgement. "And how are you holding up? Did Buffy hurt you before you smashed the chair over her head, which by the way, I'm furious about?"

"Bitch deserved it."

"Faith…" he begins reproachfully but she shakes her head, inches nearer to him, then thinks better of it.

"Bust my nose but she didn't really get a chance to put the hurt on. Said plenty though. Really went to town on me never changing and how you can put the Slayer into a girl but you can never take the slut out. Good times. And the food here sucks and I'm dying for a pee and, like, a cigarette or ten. Don't suppose you've got one on you, Wes?" She gives him that sly Faith smile but there are shadows under her eyes and she seems smaller, more diminished than she was before he went away.

"No. And you know I don't like you smoking."

She shrugs, looking tired. Faith not arguing is a warning sign he doesn't plan to ignore. Buffy broke her nose? He quells his anger. It won't help them.

"I'm sure you could fake a reasonably convincing apology," he says tentatively. "Enough to get you out of here and then we can deal with the rest of it." He frowns down at her. "Did I mention how much I dislike seeing my Slayer humiliated like this? How it's a reflection on me?"

"Oh, it's all about you, is it?" she murmurs, lying back. "Been taking lessons from Buffy too, have you?"

"Insulting me won't get you anywhere," he says dryly, and they share a grin that's hidden from the silent watcher -- Watcher, even -- at the door.

She purses her lips and blows him a kiss that makes him smile. They've already wasted so much time. Four minutes here. Two years there. Then she gives a shrug. "Guess I could have my fingers crossed behind my back or something. And maybe ear plugs so I don't have to hear the latest version of what a great, big loser I am."

"I think the ear plugs may be non-negotiable," he says lightly to hide the waves of fury that almost rock him off his feet. He's still not used to feeling so protective of her. Of Faith.

"I know I shouldn't have done it, Wes," she says suddenly, her voice sounding rusty. "Been real good at walking away but she… I know she's hurting but she's gotta stop taking it out on everyone else, y'know?"

He nods. His own sympathy for Buffy has been rubbed bare because, damn it, she's not the only one grieving. He knows only too well what Angel meant to Faith -- when the wind's easterly an old wound in his shoulder twinges, just in case he's ever in danger of forgetting who was the only person Faith trusted with her life -- and death.

And that's not even taking into consideration his own feelings over the death of his friends in a rain-drenched alley. He should have been there. Shouldn't have left them, driven out of L.A. by guilt and duty.

"It's difficult, I know," he says, managing to be sympathetic and diplomatic when he wants to grab Faith, hustle her out of here and the hell with protocol, official channels and Giles' bone-deep disapproval. "Faith -- please. Just leave this with me. I promise I'll sort it out." He breathes in, the copper-tang of anger still acrid in his mouth. "Preferably without breaking any more bones, but I won't rule it out as a last resort."

She chuckles, with no rich sparkle of amusement to light up the sound. He misses her laughing properly and wonders when she stopped having fun doing what she does, being what she is. "Way to go, Wes. Better watch it though; might end up in here with me."

Their eyes meet and it's as if they're both contemplating that and not disliking the idea as much as they should.

"I have to go now," he says, just as there's an impatient, imperative rap on the door. "Is there anything -- beside cigarettes -- that you need?"

She beckons him closer with one crooked finger and as the door opens, he drops the pen that he's just taken out of his pocket and squats down to pick it up as she whispers fiercely in his ear.

"Could really use that swank meal you promised me." Her breath hits the side of his face like a caress. "Promised to wine and dine me and do things properly. Do me properly. Haven't ever even kissed me, Wes. So, yeah, that's what I need."

And this time when she smiles, equal parts wistful and wicked, it lights up her face.

"Well, I'll see what I can do," he says blandly, standing up and ghosting his fingers against the edge of the torn denim as he straightens. "Why don't you work on that apology and I'll be back tomorrow morning. With Buffy."

Faith pulls a face. "And smokes. Going to need a few lungfuls of nicotine before I'm ready for round… well, round whatever number we're on."

He's being ushered out of the room by the pimple-faced son of someone he went to school with, but he looks over his shoulder in time to see her slump back on the bed, shoulders drooping, as the door slams shut behind him.

Wesley's torn between going to find Giles to continue their discussion, if it merits that friendly a label, and going home to shower, change, and yes, in the interests of keeping Giles at least marginally less annoyed with him, writing up his report.

Home wins, if only because, as Faith reminded him, he stopped off at the duty free shop and there's a rather interesting single malt waiting for him. Although the mood he's in, anything would do. He just wants the burn and the oblivion.

And unlike Giles, he's not reduced to needing that every night in order to sleep.

He takes care of the routine of unpacking and settles down to write his report, blessing the joys of cut and paste and find and replace as he doctors an old trip report -- Toulouse as a matter of fact -- to suit Prague.

No one ever reads them anyway. He goes, he soothes, he settles down a nervous Watcher, an insecure Slayer. Holds their hands on a patrol or two, passes on some worldly wisdom. Yes, they're fast, yes, they're scary, but look, see; dust. It can be done.

They're vampires. They can die.

And he sees the two he knew the best, skeletons silhouetted against raindrops before they crumble and mix with the earth.

The whisky stops burning far too fast tonight and he dreams of Faith and blood and wakes up sweating, his heartbeat loud in his ears.




It's a beautiful morning. Not a cloud in the deep blue sky as Wesley cuts across Regents Park to get to Council HQ and stops off to exchange his usual morning greeting with Mr. Patel in the newsagents as he buys The Times, a packet of Marlboro Lights (which will make Faith curl her top lip in disdain) and assorted chocolate bars. She has a disgustingly sweet tooth and he's not above bribery to get her to toe the party line. Especially this morning.

But when he gets into the offices with his little horde of goodies, Giles proves absolutely intractable on the subject of face time with his Slayer.

"Faith's probably eating breakfast and I don't like to disturb… er the domestic staff," he mutters vaguely, settling down his own mug of tea on the table when Wesley hunts him down in the canteen. "Shall we go over your report?"

Giles is trying to be conciliatory: plying Wesley with offers of digestive biscuits and praising the dry prose stylings of his lacklustre report but there's a coiled stillness about him and even he can't quite hide his repeated glances at the clock on the wall opposite.

"I'm sorry, Giles, am I keeping you from something?" Wesley asks dryly.

Giles hesitates and then shrugs, looking wary and just a little defensive. "No. It's simply that as it happens Buffy expressed a wish to see Faith and I imagine she's with her right now."

Wesley stares at him, waiting for more, showing Giles the blank expression that tends to encourage speech. Giles isn't easily intimidated, as he knows, but there's enough -- guilt? -- to make this a special occasion evidently because Giles isn't meeting his eyes as he carries on talking, his words a little hurried.

"I thought it was an encouraging sign," Giles says, revealing the depth of his self-delusion. "And I'm sure you'll agree that if the two of them can come to an understanding, it'll be better all around."

"Indeed," Wesley says agreeably, wondering just how stupid Giles thinks he is.

"Well, then." Giles flashes him a brief, meaningless smile. "Best to leave them to it?"

"Oh, of course," Wesley agrees. "Leave Buffy to it." He stands up and leans over the canteen table, his palms flat against the Formica and the scattered sheets of his report. "This would be the Buffy who broke Faith's nose, would it? That Buffy?" He can feel his fury waiting to rise and spill over, drenching Giles in a corrosive flood of bitterness because this is just not fair. Not to Faith, not to him, and he's had enough. "How long has she been in there with her?"

Giles flinches back before he has time to check the movement, almost knocking over his cup of cooling tea and trying to ignore the interested looks from the last stragglers coming in for breakfast.

"There's simply no need to over-react like this, Wesley."

"You thought it was best to leave them to it? Or did Buffy? Tell me, Giles, do you ever say no to her?" His voice is scornful and he's not even waiting to hear Giles' reply because he already knows the answer. "I'd better go and make sure that they haven't succeeded in killing each other."

Giles is at his elbow as he takes the stairs down to the basement. "She's been through a lot recently," he says so quietly that Wesley has to strain to hear him.

Wes comes to a halt as they reach a half landing. "We've all been through a lot recently," he echoes. "Lost people we loved. Lost people we worked with side by side, every day for years. Buffy doesn't have the monopoly on grief, Giles."

There's a faint nod in acknowledgement and then they hear voices, raised and angry, though at least voices would suggest that they're both still breathing, and both Giles and he sigh in unison and start heading down the stairs again.

The door to Faith's room is closed, but not locked. Wesley pushes it open and goes in, Giles one step behind him.

"-- ever yours! If he felt sorry for you, that's not the same as loving you!"

Buffy's blocking his view of Faith and Wesley steps to the side slightly. "Buffy? I think that's enough," he says. "I need to speak with Faith, so can you --"

She whirls around, her lips tight with anger. "I'm not done here, Wesley."

He stares at Faith, taking in the trickle of blood at her lip first because it's blood, and that's always an attention-grabber, isn't it? From there, his gaze goes to her eyes, hazy and too dark, the pupils dilated. Drugged? He meets her look and tries to smile reassuringly. She shifts on the bed and there's a clatter of metal that he links with the position of her arms a second later.

Cuffed, her wrists behind her, to the headboard.

They really weren't taking any chances, were they? He feels a brief, incongruous pride that they appreciate her potential to be dangerous, but it's lost in his disgust. "You've chained her up, drugged her?" It takes every last ounce of strength he possesses to turn down the volume. "That's a little melodramatic, not to mention cowardly, wouldn't you say?"

"S'OK, Wes," Faith slurs, giving him a lopsided smile when he takes an angry step forward. "I'm OK."

"I'm glad you're OK," Buffy snaps venomously and Wes' gaze shifts to her and he wonders for the thousandth time how that pink-cheeked, golden haired girl who made his life an utter misery a lifetime ago in Sunnydale could have turned into this haunted woman, face pinched into a discontent expression which was fast becoming permanent. "Really pleased for you, Faith. Bet you're five by five."

Faith grunts and looks confused. "Just saying B, Angel wouldn't have wanted this…

It's the worst possible thing to say at the worst possible moment and Giles' despairing look is a perfect match for his own as Buffy whirls around. "You don't know what Angel would have wanted!' Her voice is so shrill that Wes winces but she's moving forward propelled by her own hurt and indignation. "You're not fit to say his name."

"Angel, Angel, Angel, Angel, Angel…" Faith intones in this metronomic chant, one eyebrow cocked, and she doesn't even flinch when Buffy's hand comes arcing towards her face.

Giles does though. Flinches and steps forward, but Wesley's moving far faster than Giles. Not fast enough to halt a Slayer's strike, but quickly enough that when Faith's head rocks back, a scarlet handprint painted bright on her cheek, he can grab Buffy's wrist on the upstroke.

"I wouldn't do that again," he says, squeezing it viciously tight and taking a dark pleasure in her shudder of pain.

Buffy's hand twists in his and she's free a moment later. There's a pause as she stares at him and he waits, wanting her to strike at him, something that's still high on the no-no list, even in a Council run by Rupert Giles.

"Buffy -- " The warning note is plain in Giles' voice and he's disappointed when Buffy relaxes, shooting him a dark look, no more.

"Deal with this, Giles," she snaps out. "Because I'm done playing nice."

"Excuse me?" Wesley says incredulously. "You just struck a Slayer. A bound, drugged Slayer." He slants his eyes over to Giles. "And I'm still waiting for an explanation for that decision."

"You already know why," Giles says steadily. "Faith's uncontrollable and I'm not inclined to risk any more injuries to Buffy. I wanted them to talk, but under conditions that would militate against any  --  unpleasantness."

"On a scale of one to ten, how well do you think you succeeded?" Wesley asks.

Giles' eyes go to Buffy and he sighs, shaking his head. "Buffy, I think that you should leave now."

Buffy stares at him and then shrugs. "Whatever." She shoots a glare at Faith and turns towards the door.

"If she doesn't apologise, I'm laying a formal complaint," Wesley says quietly. It's been a while but he knows how it works in this place and there's a lot to be done with the pen.

Even if he ends up stabbing it through someone's bloody eye.

"Not going to happen, Wes." Faith's voice is slow and resigned. She nods at Giles. "Look at him."

And Wes looks at him, really looks at him, and Giles meets his stare without hiding anything. So all Wes can see before him is a man teetering on the brink.

Giles shakes his head as if to clear the fog and the spell is lifted. He tightens his mouth, lifts his chin and summons up a flinty smile from God knows where.

"If she won't apologise," he flicks a dismissive hand in the direction of Faith who's sitting there with red marks and a resigned look on her face, "then she can bloody well stay here until she does."  

He slams the door so hard behind him that the little room shakes and Wesley doesn't care who's watching anymore. He crosses over to Faith and it's so wrong that he's never kissed her before this moment when he's crouching down and pressing his lips to the angry marks that Buffy's fingers have left.

She moves her face away, her eyes cloudy, and he stays very still, fighting hurt, and then her head turns and she kisses him on the mouth, a little choked sound caught in her throat that might be a sob, and he hears metal on metal as she fights the cuffs trying to free her hands to touch him.

"Shh -- " he murmurs against her mouth, even though she isn't saying anything, just fastening her mouth onto his and giving him quick, desperate, hungry kisses as if she's been drowning, locked in darkness and he's air and sunlight and moonlight and brightness.

It's possible, Wesley thinks, that he's not getting enough sleep.

He strokes the tousled mess of her hair back off her face and gives her his best smile. The convincing one.

"I brought you chocolate," he offers. "And cigarettes."

It's a measure of the depths of his utter uselessness that he's starting out with the best he has to offer.

"Don't want them," she mumbles searching out his mouth again, straining against her bonds. "You're a bastard, Wes, made me miss you when you weren't here. That wasn't fair."

He cradles her face in his hands so she can't get away, not that she's doing anything but wriggling to get closer to him, and plants feverish kisses across the planes of her cheekbones, the sweep of her brow, her eyelids as they flutter closed.

"I'll get you out of here," he promises against the skin of her neck, which he never realised was so soft that it might actually be his downfall. "We'll go away. I'll take you away. Anywhere you want to go."

"Sweet…" she mumbles indistinctly and she yawns, fighting sleep. Then: "Sorry. Fucked everything up."

"I'm sure it's nothing that can't be unfucked, as it were," Wesley says and he wonders if it sounds as unconvincing to Faith as it does to himself, but she gives a contented little grunt and rests his head against his shoulder.

He holds her while she sleeps, listening for the sound of footsteps outside the door, and wishing he wasn't grateful to Giles for drugging her so he can absent mindedly smooth the inch of skin behind her right ear without being relentlessly mocked for turning back into a  --  what would Faith call it? Yes, a wuss.

When Giles appears in the door and says quietly, "We have to talk," it's jarring enough that the face he turns towards him wears a scowl. "Now," Giles adds, keeping his gaze averted from Faith.

Wesley stands reluctantly and leaves with a backward glance at Faith that he's loath to end.

Giles' office is quiet, isolated from the traffic outside by triple glazing, and he doesn't make the mistake of retreating behind his desk, but gestures Wesley to two easy chairs placed in front of a low, narrow window overlooking a garden square.

"I could get tea?" Giles offers.

Wesley shakes his head. Hard to remember that he'd once admired this man, strove to emulate him, craved his approval. The loss of that mild hero-worship is something else to be chalked up to Buffy's account.

"Why did you come to me, Wesley?"

"To you?" Wesley shakes his head again, meeting Giles' eyes. "To here, Giles, not to you. And I came because I'd been told I wasn't wanted."

"By a simulacrum," Giles point out. "Although, from what you told me, a damn convincing one."

"The fact that my father -- the real one -- strongly advised against my reinstatement, makes that a technicality, wouldn't you say?"

"He -- either version -- was wrong," Giles tells him. "You're needed here. I need you."

"Well, you'll forgive me for not noticing." He takes the bite out of his words with a half-hearted smile and Giles tries to chuckle – doesn't quite succeed.

"Lord, what a mess," he sighs, rubbing the furrowed line between his eyebrows. "I… I'm under no illusions about Buffy's part in our little Slayergate incident, Wesley, but there are factors that you don't understand."

Wesley has dreamt of this moment. The great, omnipotent Rupert Giles confessing, confiding in him. And he always thought that when it finally happened, he'd feel vindicated, he'd be conciliatory and just a little bit condescending. Instead, he feels something approaching sympathy, enough that he stretches out a hand and pats the older man awkwardly on the arm.

"I think I understand a little too well," he says softly. "Certainly I can see why Buffy's behaving the way she is, because she's lost two men that she loved very much and…." He struggles to finish the sentence without using the words 'bitch', 'spiteful' or 'and if she ever touches Faith again she'll be looking at the business end of my biggest gun.'

"And she blames me, Wesley," Giles finished for him.  "If I had liked Angel more. If I'd disliked Spike less. If I hadn't had such a prejudiced view of Wolfram & Hart, I'd have tried to help them. If, if, if, if… she's desperately unhappy, you know."

"I know, and she's doing her best to spread it around." Wesley squares his jaw. "Letting Buffy take her pain out on Faith; it's not fair, Giles."

Giles is staring out of the window at the chalk-bright afternoon, the sun hitting the planes and angles of his face, showing lines around his mouth and eyes that are deepening, hair greying. "It's ironic really, isn't it?"

"What is?" Wesley asks curiously.

Giles smiles without humour. "That you've found your Slayer again and I'm on the verge of losing mine. I won't let that happen, Wesley. I don't care how high the price is, I can't bear to lose her again."

"'Again'?" Wesley questions. "You mean when she died? I can see how that would have been terrible --"

"No. Not then." Giles is still looking out of the window but he takes a quick, shallow breath and twists around in his chair, his knee brushing against Wesley's, an oddly intimate contact that neither of them makes any move to break. "That's something I was prepared for. Even expecting. No. You know I  --  connived with Robin to have Spike killed."

"He did mention it once. Or twice," Wesley says, his mouth quirking as he recalls Spike's decidedly colourful rendition of the incident. "If it helps, I think he'd forgiven you."

If only because Spike admired a double cross and had had the satisfaction of knowing that for once he'd out-witted Giles, but Wesley doesn't go into details.

Giles snorts, sounding more like himself. "I couldn't give a toss if he did, or if he didn't." The crudity seems out of place in this elegantly appointed office, but as Wesley knows it's not entirely atypical of the man. "I did what was needed and if in light of subsequent events -- " His voice trails off to silence, and his gaze drops to his lap where his hands are gripped tightly together. "Listen to me. I could talk like that for an hour. Justifying myself, my actions, but she -- she wasn't listening then, and she wouldn't listen now." His head tips back and Wesley sees the desolation on his face. "She -- that night -- she closed her door in my face, Wesley. Once before I felt that separation, that distance between us."

"The Cruciamentum," Wesley says. It's not a question. Even now, years later, he can remember the chill he felt when his tutor told the class of would-be Watchers about that test. It seemed then, and does now, arrant stupidity at best, loathsome betrayal at worst. There is no way he can ever imagine himself administering it to a Slayer. Not even Buffy.

"Oh, yes -- " Giles says, his voice harder now, the moment of sympathy between them not fading as much as ending with the irrevocability of a popped soap bubble. "Faith will survive this, Wesley. It's a few days in a fairly comfortable room; she's spent years in prison, which, lest either of you forget, is where she should be right now." Giles smiles coldly. "I don't think that her parole board would reduce her term because of her world-saving exploits, do you? Unfair, but to the world, she's a fugitive. An escaped murderer." He leans closer, his breath warm on Wesley's face. "Is that not a problem for you? The blood on her hands? Or is it the attraction?"

"You don't know what you're talking about, Giles." His voice sounds like ice-cubes cracking in a glass.

And Giles thinks he's snatched back the upper hand because he has the audacity to smirk. "Don't I? Are you going to deny that there's an untoward closeness between you and Faith that is anathema to this organization?"

For just one second Wesley thinks that every blood vessel he possesses is rushing to his head, staining his cheeks and then he processes what he's just heard and starts to laugh.

"I fail to see what's so amusing, Wesley," Giles snaps waspishly but he's rubbing the tears away with the pads of his thumbs and snickering too hard to speak.

Wesley staggers to his feet and takes a few shuddering breaths so he can get himself under control and deliver his parting shot with some degree of coherence. "Before you start throwing accusations of untoward closeness at my Slayer and me, then I suggest you re-examine your own relationship with Miss Summers," he bites out, not even bothering to close the door on Giles' stupefied expression.

He leaves the office building, because he can't stay in there, tethered to his desk, but can't bring himself to go home for hours, circling around the centre of London, walking into shops and out again, staring at the people passing him by when he sinks onto a bench, his thoughts in chaos.

Thinking is, he decides eventually, one of the most exhausting activities possible. His head is aching, vicious little throbs of pain darting behind his eyes as he stands and begins to walk home, and he's still not come up with an argument persuasive enough to secure Faith's release from her durance vile.

Somehow he thinks it's not quite vile enough for Buffy's liking; she'd most likely prefer a rat-infested dungeon with a few scraps of straw on the floor and Faith manacled to the wet stone walls. The absurdity of the image drags a chuckle from him -- which has the woman walking past him edging to the side because sane people don't usually stalk along muttering and chuckling to themselves after all.

His flat is cool and empty. The freezer yields a chicken korma he can microwave into a semblance of edibility and the fridge a beer. The food smells good enough for him to realise that he's starving and when he's scraped up the last grain of sauce-soaked rice, he feels better.

Trying not to dwell on the disturbing thought that Faith's food might well have been drugged again, he showers, the hot water coursing over him and giving him a space of time in which he's safe, alone, private, his hand travelling over flesh that's hardening out of habit, his harsh gasps lost in the rush of water. When he finds that he can't come without thinking of Faith, the memory of her kisses all it takes to have him clenching his jaw, his cock jerking out a solitary, inadequate release, he starts to laugh quietly at himself.

Anathema. Right. They can kill them young but they're not allowed to fuck them? Or is the sin in loving them? Somehow he can't see him asking Giles to clarify that point.

He's stretched out on the sofa, a second beer bottle in his hand, a book he's reading without comprehension in his lap, when there's a knock at the door that sounds more like a body hitting it than a fist.

There's another thud and he's hurrying to the door, more worried about the distinct possibility that the door might come off its hinges than who's on the other side.

Then again…

"Hey, Wes, long time no see," Faith drawls, fist still in the air when he snatches open the door. "This a bad time?"

Her eyes are clear but wary as they skitter past him, then over his shoulder into the shadowy confines of the flat that she's never been invited into before. His guts twist when he realises that she still doesn't trust him – not that he's ever given her a reason to – and that she's half expecting a dozen suited Watchers to rush out of his bathroom and tazer her into submission.

They stare at each other for a few seconds and he feels like she's a frightened woodland animal who might get startled if he makes any sudden movements. And that would be a frightened woodland animal with a vicious right hook but he slowly gestures with his beer bottle towards the empty room behind him.

"Would you like to come in, Faith?"

She sidles past him, steps over the threshold, and looks around uncertainly. "Well, you got a spare bed for a wanted fugitive?"

"I --" Whatever he's about to say with the image of Faith in his bed -- spare, or otherwise -- is mercifully lost because right then, with suspicious synchronicity, the phone rings and her eyes widen.

"Shit."

"Stay." His order is backed up by a pleading look that anchors her in place more surely than the hand he clamps around her wrist. "Please, Faith."

He walks with her attached to him over to the phone and picks it up.

"Wyndam-Pryce."

His voice is toneless and unemotional, but he's still staring at Faith with a world of urgency in his eyes, feeling her strain against a grip she could break without trying, all her effort channeled toward holding still, even though she's practically vibrating with panic.

"Wesley."

It's Giles. Of course it's Giles.

"Giles, I take it this isn't a social call."

Faith twitches at the sound of Giles' name and he can feel the tension in her bones as he tightens his hold around her silly, delicate wrist.

"Of course it's not," Giles snaps, irritation emanating down the line.  "Faith's escaped as I'm sure you know."

She's biting her lip now, though her gaze is fixed on him, defiant, not wavering, not even blinking.

"And of course she'd come straight to the first place that you'd look for her," Wesley drawls, stroking the divot where wrist meets palm. "Don't be bloody ridiculous, Giles."

Her sudden smile knocks him into the middle of next week, so he can't remember his own name or listen to Giles' increasingly fractious questions. ""I'll make some calls. She can't have gone far. She was rather close with what's her name? Little Asian girl… Parminder, was it?"

There's a muffled thud and he hears Giles talking to someone. "Parminder's on leave.  She's with her family in Birmingham."

Faith's rolling her eyes at him now, hand over her mouth to mask the relieved giggles.

"You sound remarkably calm, Wesley, for a man whose Slayer has knocked out two Watchers and disappeared."

"Do I sound calm, Giles? I rather thought that I was hanging on to my temper by the thinnest of threads at the thought that my Slayer, my drugged, beaten and half-incapacitated Slayer, is missing and you're not doing anything to actually ensure that she's safe."

"Wesley…"

"I'm going out to look for her. I'll speak to you presently, Giles," he finishes with an angry little sigh then hangs up in time to get eight and half stone of Slayer hurling herself at him.

"You rock," she says, attacking him with kisses and squirming against him in a way guaranteed to make his body forget that incident in the shower ever happened. "Say it again."

"What?" he asks, knowing damn well, his arms around her even though she stiffens slightly in his embrace.

At least she's also in the ideal position to stamp down rather hard on his bare foot.

"My Slayer," he says through his teeth. "My bloody annoying, unpredictably violent, untruthful, mistrustful Slayer. Do that again and I'll put my Slayer over my knee and let her arse meet my hand, understand me?"

God, she has dimples when she smiles. How can he never have noticed them?

He gets them over to the couch, trying not to limp and then changing his mind and exaggerating it just to get a gurgle of laughter from her. She's giddy and excited and he hates to do it but he has to know --

"Faith? Why did you do that? It's going to make it so much harder to persuade Giles to release you when you're --"

"Already out?" A little of the light seeps out of her face and he sees the tiredness there. "He wasn't going to, Wes. Ever. Couldn't -- couldn't hack that. Not again. Not prison after being out all this time, getting used to being part of it all again."

He lets her prise the bottle of beer out of his hand and curl up in the corner of the sofa. "I don't think Giles would have let things escalate that far."

Faith takes a long swig. "Yeah, well that goes to show how out of the loop you are, Wes. Got nothing to do with Giles. B wants it, B gets it and she wanted me back in the Big House in an orange boiler suit, yo."

Wesley stretches out his legs so he can touch her, because she's not behind bars, not locked away from him, just drinking his beer and that sad look is back in her eyes.

"Couldn't do it, Wes. Not gonna be locked up again. Fuck redemption, y'know…" She turns her head and he wonders if she's going to cry but when she turns back to him, she's dry-eyed and determined. "I took it, Wes, like the bad little Slayer I was but it was hell. Every night, my blood would itch because I was in there and I…" She grimaces with self-loathing. "I needed to kill."

"You needed to slay," he corrects her mildly, snagging the bottle before she can drink it all. "And I think everybody but Buffy can see your transformation."

"Buffy, Buffy, Buffy… I feel like Jan in The Brady Bunch – don't worry, Wes, it's a pop culture ref, don't expect you to get it," she smirks and he smirks back because she's ragging him so things can't be that bad. "Had her in my face all day. She thinks that me doing a Martha will prove Giles' devotion or, like, she can have all the Angel grief to herself. I'm a little foggy on the fine print."

Somewhat belatedly he realises that they shouldn't be doing this. "Faith -- this isn't a solution. Coming here, I mean; the escape's a fait accompli, no matter how ill-advised --"

This time she pinches him, choosing a rather tender patch of skin on his belly. "Talk English!"

"I was!"

She looks unbearably smug and impossibly endearing. "Wasn't. 'Fait accompli': that's French, right? French for 'done deal'."

He licks his finger and chalks her up a point on an imaginary board. "Fair enough, but it doesn't change the fact that sooner rather than later, Giles is going to come here. He doesn't trust me." He thinks about that and amends it slightly. "He knows me."

Faith shrugs and sits up straight, locking her hands behind her neck and stretching. He'd suspect her of doing it to showcase breasts that are eye-catchingly rounded were it not for the pop of realigning vertebrae.

Hours in cuffs, hands behind you, can have consequences other than the scuff of skin at the wrist.

"I'll go. Wouldn't want Giles to have to scold you for being his terribly naughty little boy."

Her mimicry is so over-the-top as to be laughable but the dig is sharp enough to make his lips tighten instead. She sees him like that, does she? Giles' protégé?

"We'll go," he corrects her. "And soon."

"How soon?" she demands. And before he's even got time to think about schedules and exit strategies, she's in his arms again, mouth pressed against his as her tongue paints a white hot line across his lips.

He's not a saint. He's just a man, just a sucker with a hard-on, which she's rubbing her belly against as she tries to kiss him properly.

He turns his head. "Faith, no…"

"You don't want me?"

He never thought that Faith could look like a puppy with a month to live but she's doing a bloody good impersonation of one. "I want you," he breathes and for one fleeting second he pulls her hand down to his aching cock, before entwining his fingers with hers. "But I'm going to wine and dine you first, that was the deal."

"Could do the wining and dining after the fact," she offers, trying to yank her hand free and now it's his turn to pinch the soft skin above her hip, so she yelps for effect.

"Wining and dining first," Wesley says firmly. "But first you're going to have a shower while I pack and then we're going to get the hell out of Dodge."

She snorts at his ersatz American accent, and then jumps off the couch. "You going to scrub my back for me then?"

He nudges her with his foot. "Stop being a tease, Faith and try not to wreak havoc in my bathroom this time, please."

She leaves the bathroom door open, but mercifully has enough consideration for the floor to close the shower door tightly. When he goes into the bathroom to retrieve the wash bag he keeps packed and ready to go, he catches a glimpse of her behind the glass door, pale body indistinct in the steam.

He's seen her close to naked before when he's dressed her wounds, but that was business and she was bleeding; it's a very different situation when she's soap-slicked and humming something that he couldn't identify if both their lives depended on it.

He could strip and slide in behind her and get an appreciative murmur and Faith's best impression of a mermaid. His hand curves as if it's already cupping the weight of a breast or supporting her neck as he kisses her upturned face, eyes closed against the spray.

Knowing he could, knowing he will, someday, sometime, soon, is all that gives him the willpower to exit silently, although he knows damn well that she knows that he's there.

By the time she emerges, pink-cheeked, damp towel scrubbing at her hair, there's a case packed of clothes, books and sundries -- which translates as 'weapons' mostly -- and his coat is on.

He throws her a baseball cap and smiles as she studies it incredulously. "Just until we get to the car," he says.

"We going to some swanky restaurant, Wes?" She glances down at her T-shirt and black jeans, a battered leather jacket not doing much to dress them up.

"No, but I'm glad that you reminded me."

He heads for the kitchen and emerges with a bottle of wine and a corkscrew, handing them to her. "Here. If we run into a problem, do exhaust all other possibilities before hitting someone over the head with it; it's older than you."

"And that's good?" she asks, studying the label as if she's looking for a sell-by date.

"Yes," he says briefly.

"You haven't said where we're going."

He pauses, with his hand on the doorknob. "Does it matter?"

She twirls the corkscrew and gives him a jaunty grin. "Not really."

He turns away too slowly to miss the way the smile vanishes when she thinks that he's not looking at her.



The street is abandoned when he ushers her out of the house. No Council goons in unmarked cars, just a disinterested cat who pauses briefly from washing its paws to stare at them as Wesley unlocks the passenger door.

The sky is darkening; tinges of dark blue mix with streaks of vivid pink. "Looks like it's going to be another beautiful day tomorrow," he says nonsensically as he climbs in next to Faith who looks suitably unimpressed.

"Don't talk about the weather, Wes, too much of a cliché, y'know?" she says, adjusting her baseball cap in the mirror as he starts the engine. "Gonna tell me where we're going?"

Wesley shakes his head. "No, it's a surprise," he says teasingly, pulling away from the kerb, but his smile is wiped clean when she slumps down in the seat.

"Don't like surprises. They always suck."

"Always?"

"Always," she repeats emphatically, then sighs. "Think my post-freedom high's wearing off." He's inclined to agree. The tension is coming off her in rolling waves, like she's trapped in her own skin and can't claw free.

Wesley slows to take a corner. "I have chocolate in the black holdall," he offers lamely. "And when we clear the city, I'll let you smoke if you promise to keep the window open."

She doesn't even wait for them to get down the road before she's tearing the cellophane off the cigarettes and snaking one out of the packet. "Don't even," she snaps as he's about to tell her to at least open the bloody window and they settle into an uncomfortable silence as they head down the Great North Way.

The road north is fairly clear, although there are the usual roadworks around Birmingham. Faith's asleep by then, and when Wesley's cell begins to ring she mutters and twitches and snuggles her face against the seat. He lets it ring and when it stops he tugs it out of his pocket and turns it off.

He knows it was Giles.

When the need to pee, stretch his legs, and fill up the car with petrol coincide with a service station he pulls over and shakes her awake.

"Faith."

She wakes with a struggle and a snarl, her eyes wild until she sees his face.

"Shit." Taking a deep breath she glances around at the forecourt, deserted apart from a caravanette that's seen better days, and visibly relaxes. "Thought we were in trouble."

"No," he tells her. "I'm fairly certain the worst we'll have to deal with is some truly execrable coffee and you can avoid that if you want to go back to sleep."

She gets out and he follows her, both of them breathing in air that, for all the petrol fumes, is a good deal fresher than London air.

"Smells weird," Faith decides. She frowns, staring across the slip road that leads back to the M6. "Are they cows?"

He shrugs, ignoring the insistent message from his bladder, and starts to refuel the car, caution dictating that they be ready to leave in a hurry if needs be. "Do they have four legs and go 'moo'? If so, then, yes, there's a good chance that they are."

She stick her tongue out at him, her face an odd shade of orange under the forecourt lights. "I'm going to pee."

"Thank you for sharing."

"And when I get back, you can tell me where the hell we're going, Wes," floats back to him as she walks away.

Their knees bump together under the table as he watches her devour a plate of sausage, chips and beans, which if his cheese roll is anything to go by, tastes of cardboard.

Wesley likes a girl with a healthy appetite but the way Faith eats, one arm curled protectively around her plate as if she expects it to be snatched away from her, other hand constantly in motion as she shovels forkload after forkload into her mouth, barely pausing to chew and swallow, is more anthropological than erotic. There's absolutely nothing to be gained from pointing out that she wouldn't be so hungry all the time if she actually bothered to taste her food; instead he just pushes the bowl of apple crumble to her as soon as she raises her head.

"Custard is weird," she remarks sagely, spoon poised like a heat-seeking missile. "So, Wes, gonna tell me where we're headed?"

He takes a sip of weak, lukewarm tea – he hadn't been able to face the coffee. "North. About as far north as we can go without falling off the edge."

"Don't go all cryptic on me, Wes."

"Don't talk with your mouth full, Faith." She looks at her spoon and then at him like she's contemplating flicking his smirking face with custard. "I wouldn't if I were you. My wrath would be quite considerable."

"Promises, promises," she mumbles under her breath then reaches under the table to pat his knee in a curiously clumsy gesture. "Thanks, Wes."

"For what?" He has a pretty shrewd idea of what, but she just vaguely waves her spoon around again.

"Y'know, this. Might not have noticed but I'm lousy at speeches, leave that to B and the others. But I wanted to say thanks. You're pretty fucking cool, Wes, unless you're planning on going way north just so you can drop me off the edge."

"Tempting, but I'll pass," he says, striving to keep his voice even because it's been a long time since anyone approved of him and he's oddly shaken by it when it comes from Faith. "We're going to a small cottage, in a glen --"

"In a fucking what?"

"That belongs to my great aunt," he says, ploughing over her interruption, "who is currently in a nursing home in Edinburgh and unlikely to be well enough to either give or withhold her consent to us using it."

"You're going to break and enter a little old lady's house?" Faith asks, not bothering to lower her voice. "A sick little old lady?"

"I know where the key is, I'm her favourite nephew because she loathes my father as much as -- It's not breaking in."

"And then what?"

"Good question," Wesley admits. "I don't know. I just think that distance is required and they'll be watching the airports and such so I didn't want to risk leaving the country."

"Thought you said we were going to Scotland" she says with a frown puckering her forehead as she scrapes up the last of the gelatinous, bright-yellow custard and licks the spoon clean. "Won't they get us at the border or something?"

"Please tell me that you're joking?"

"Huh?"

"There's no -- oh, never mind."

She stands up and bumps her hip against his teasingly as they head for the door. "Gotcha."

"I knew that you were joking."

"Did not."

He stops himself before making the obvious retort and she crows with laughter that only stops when he point-blank refuses to let her drive for a while.

Faith's a surprisingly good travel companion. They have a slight altercation over the radio but finally come to an agreement on Radio Four because they're doing a reading Of Under Milkwood and she finds the lilting Welsh accents pant-wettingly funny, or so she claims.

And when the lights on the motorway all seem to blend together in a never-ending stream of phosphorescence that makes him want to close his eyes, she starts talking. He concentrates on her husky drawl telling him about the final game in the Stockton Correctional Institution's Baseball Tournament and manages to keep the car going without ploughing into the hard shoulder.

"Could let me drive," she suggests when dawn starts creeping in over the horizon and he's cold and clammy with tiredness.

"Why don't I just steer into the central reservation and have done with it?" he replies. "Do you even have a license?"

"Well, no but I've got mad skillz…"

"Which are likely to have us pulled over by the first police car we pass as you're breezing down the slow lane at a cool 100 miles per mile," he finishes succinctly and she huffs in outrage.

"You look like you're about to pass out, Wes and I need to pee again. And food would be good. Bacon, eggs and really strong coffee."

"Look, we're about to cross over into Scotland and then we'll stop," he promises. "At the first service station we come to. Now, what happened after Big Sue got sent off for throwing the bat at Barbara's head?"

"This a gas, food, lodging kinda service station?" she asks and he takes his eyes off the road long enough to give her a quizzical look because sometimes he doesn't understand a word she says? "Beds, Wes, this place does it have beds? 'Cause you're looking beat and I don't want to be the first Slayer who gets it in a five car pile up."

"They -- some do. For the lorry drivers," he says reluctantly. "We really should keep going though."

With a sense of timing that's cosmic in its aptness, they drive past a roadside hoarding telling them that tiredness kills and he sighs into the meaningful silence and ten minutes later pulls into the Glenside Motel.

When he's dealt with getting them one of the small rooms -- he isn't prepared to let Faith out of his sight for long no matter what her motives for wanting them to share a room -- he nods over at the restaurant nearby. "It's open around the clock, if you want to get something to eat."

She gives him a speculative look and then shakes her head. "You need to sleep, Wesley."

It's not so much a need as a necessity. He's blinking and having problems opening his eyes again when he does it and her voice sounds far away as if she's a mile down the road and shouting. For someone who used to work with a vampire and manage on fairly little sleep he's not doing very well as staying alert these days. Worry, on top of jet lag, combined with the journey -- he's dead on his feet.

"You could be right," he agrees. He holds out the key. "Open up and I'll get the cases."

The room's hideous and he doesn't care. He heads for the bathroom, takes care of the basics, which doesn't include anything as frivolous as brushing his teeth and walks past Faith to the bed. He manages to kick off his shoes, but there's something very complicated about his belt which defeats his fumbling fingers.

Faith appears in front of him, pushes him back onto the bed and strips him with a brisk efficiency, stopping at his shorts.

"Thank you," he manages to mumble and then he's relaxing, with the bed unsteady beneath him like a bumpy road, and the distant hum of the motorway singing him to sleep.

Wesley is woken up after five hours of deep, dreamless sleep by Faith's elbow digging him hard in the ribs. He comes to with a curse, which he bites back when he realises that she's still asleep, huddled into a fidgeting, muttering ball next to him. Of course, she still has those bloody drugs coursing through her system.

He's never seen anyone slumber so restlessly. She's constantly in motion, shifting from her left side to her right and then sprawling on her back, hands curled into fists, and he can see the sorrow in the shifting features of her face. Then there are the words, mumbled into the pillow, muttered into the still of the room. Snatches of conversation, only fragments audible: "Don't care… bad…sorry… sorry… sorry."

It's horrible and fascinating in equal measure and he can't bear to watch it any longer. He really doesn't fancy suffering grievous bodily harm if he attempts to wake her up so he inches off the bed and disappears into the bathroom where the lukewarm dribble of a shower gets him mostly clean.

Faith has liberated his side of the bed but doesn't stir when he gets dressed. It's only when he returns half an hour later with a cup of surprisingly good coffee and the requested bacon and eggs in a Styrofoam container that she opens one eye.

"Go 'way…" she hisses, rolling over so he has to talk to one sleek shoulder. Usually she's relentlessly perky in the morning, or afternoon to be more accurate.

"Faith," he says softly, hand hovering an inch above her arm. "You need to get up now."

In reply, she yanks hold of the pillow and pulls it over her head.

His hand is still hovering, which is tiring. It falls a crucial inch or two and because she gives a huffy, grumpy, snuggle-deeper right then, it lands on her bare back.

Discovering that he's been sleeping next to a naked Faith -- there's a pair of what he's very sure Faith doesn't call knickers on the floor, red, skimpy and inside-out -- has a salutary effect on him, clearing away the residue of fatigue and leaving him breathing shallowly as his body reacts predictably to what it sees as a missed opportunity.

Her skin's soft enough that he can't help stroking it and she squirms again, sending the sheet sliding down to pool at her waist, and mutters something he doesn't pay attention to because it doesn't sound like 'stop' or 'go away'.

Her hair is a tangled mess across her shoulders, pinned in place by the pillow, and he slides his hand under it, gathering it into his hand and scooping it to the side so that he can see the nape of her neck. Even in the dim light of the curtained room, he can see that the skin's paler there, and he can't resist brushing his fingers over it to see if it's any softer.

A little, perhaps. He presses his mouth against it and he can smell her warm skin, the fragrance of his own soap still clinging to it, so that she smells familiar, smells like his.

His tongue tastes her and she sighs and holds very still. It's all the permission he needs and it's so unlike her to be quiescent that he can pretend she's asleep without needing to try very hard. If she was awake, she'd have rolled over by now, wrapped her arms around him, dragged him down into her heat and hunger.

She's asleep. Has to be. And he has to wake her --

He's hard but that doesn't matter. This isn't lovemaking, this isn't sex. This is him waking his Slayer, gently, kindly, considerately, dragging the pads of his fingers down the inward curve of her spine and watching her shoulder blades shift as she arches an inch off the bed.

The sheet halts his downward progress and he runs a single finger along the edge of it, his nail leaving a faint line on her skin that fades as he makes it, like a ripple on water.

He moves his hand down, to where the sheet dips between her spread thighs, and picks up a pinch of fabric.

One tug, slow and strong, and the sheet slithers down to her knees.

Goosebumps ghost across her skin as it's exposed to the air but she doesn't move, even when he kisses the crease where the sheet meets skin, his lips traveling up the back of her thighs, tongue gliding over muscle and skin. He presses a messy, wet kiss to the L-shaped scar halfway up her right leg, then gives in to the urge to bite down hard on it.

Her face is still buried in the pillow but he can see the rapid rise and fall of her shoulders as she takes deep breaths. His mouth can't reach any higher, can't taste her, which is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, but it can wait. Instead he shifts on the bed so he's sitting next to her again and places a resolute hand on the heart-breakingly soft skin of her inner thigh: plump and full of promise.

Faith's the kind of girl who calls a spade a spade. Or used to. But her boundaries are less defined after months of having the goalposts shifted by the Council until they're no longer even on the playing field. So he has to be sure. Has to be certain. Has to know that she wants this. Wants him.

"Gorgeous," he breathes, reaching down to run his fingers gently over the high water curve of her arse, even as he strokes his aching cock with his other hand. "I know you're asleep but could you possibly spread your legs a little bit more, Faith?"

And there's the faintest sound that might be a giggle or might be a snore but she shifts that pretty rump of hers higher in the air and slowly parts her thighs.

He has to clench his hand momentarily into a fist to keep from plunging his fingers into the wetness waiting for them but the self-denial's worth it for the sound she sighs as he caresses the exposed skin of her inner thigh. It's redolent with anticipation and expectation and it's enough to make his cock jerk hard, a prickle of heat chasing over him.

He's not sure which of them he's tormenting the most as his fingers skirt the shadowy folds of her cunt, his mouth parted as if they're under his tongue, painting his lips with her scent, her arousal. Not sure about anything but that he wants to feel her come on his fingers, squeezing them tight.

With a whimper that catches in his throat, he gives in and rests his hand lightly against the soaked heat, feeling her press up against his palm with a lazy tilt of her hips.

When they fuck, she's going to kill him, Wesley thinks, dizzy from lust and need.

And her cunt is a siren luring him onto the rocks and he can't resist its call any longer. The angle's all wrong but he'll suffer a broken wrist just to get inside her and as he slowly pushes two fingers deep, she's silky wet and tight and his eyes cross as she clamps down and hisses between her teeth.

His thumb searches and finds that insistent little nub that throbs approvingly when he rubs it, worries at it, while Faith's hips do this slow shimmy. He keeps his movements slow and deliberate, not rushing because he wants the memories of these moments imprinted in his mind for all eternity; the smell and sight and, good God, the feel of her.

It feels like she's sucking on his fingers, getting them messy, caressing them with her cunt and as his fingers skitter against the smooth walls, he says a silent prayer of thanks to Lilah, and gently presses against the tiny bump he's found.

"Fuck!" They say it together as she clenches tight around him, fucking herself on his fingers, all pretence at sleep abandoned as she raises herself up on her elbows so she can arch her back and stick out that miraculous arse ready for the tiny, fierce bite he gives it.

When she comes, she gives this guttural groan which is the exact same sound she makes when she kills something. He keeps his fingers inside her cunt, intoxicated by every tiny tremble and tremor, then pulls them out and sucks them into his mouth as she shifts and then rolls over.

Her eyes are bright and hot as she stares at his fingers. Wesley takes them out of his mouth and runs his tongue over his lips without thinking.

"You gonna wake me up like that often, Wes?" she asks him, her voice an octave lower. Her nipples are tight and hard and he reaches out and rubs his thumb across one just to watch the slow sway of her high, heavy breast as she sucks in a swift breath.

"No."

She pouts and he relents as he always does when that particular expression crosses her face. "I have a suspicion that your boredom threshold is rather low, Faith and I'd hate to be predictable. Variations on that general theme, though; that's entirely possible."

"Unless I wake up first," she says slyly, her gaze falling to the clear outline of his cock through his trousers.

He grins at her, feeling unexpectedly, profoundly happy. "Eat your breakfast," he says. "We need to get back on the road."




They stop off in Carlisle to buy provisions and Faith new clothes, using a Wolfram & Hart company credit card that Wesley is pretty certain never got cancelled. It certainly beeps away merrily as the sales assistant in Topshop sweeps a mound of dark coloured clothing into carrier bags and Faith throws an assortment of brightly coloured underwear on top.

"Hey, no peeking," she grins when he eyes a lacy, pink bra with interest. "You wanna see my frillies, then you have to buy me dinner, mister."

The salesgirl's eyes almost pop out of her head and as Wesley leans forward to tap in his pin number his arm settles easily around Faith's waist.

"As I recall I saw a lot more than that just from buying you breakfast," he tells her smugly and she rolls her eyes and smirks.

"Don't know what you're on, Wes. I was asleep the whole time."

But when they get back in the car and head in the direction of the M8, she settles back in the seat with a contented little sigh, so different from the tight bundle of nerves she'd been a few hours before.

By the time he's snapped at her for getting them lost for the third time in an hour, necessitating driving over a cattle grid that shakes his fillings loose, and a herd of Highland cattle that merited 'cute' the first time and now has them both sighing heavily, her lips are tightening again.

"Wes, is this country even inhabited? Because it's been, like, hours since we saw a human being."

"You have the map book open at the wrong page," he discovers after pulling over to the side of the road when they pass a signpost informing them that Clannoch is six miles away. "I don't bloody believe it."

He's well able to ignore the pout this time but the muttered, 'sorry' three miles later has his hand reaching out to take hers until the ruts in the road put their reconciliation on ice.

"Seriously, Wes," she says, glancing around at misty-topped mountains and heather, "this place is freaking me out. It's empty."

"Good," he says. "This way, if someone comes near us, they'll stand out, won't they?"

"We can't stay here for ever," she says.

"I know," he admits as he turns into the narrow lane leading to the cottage, nestled against a pine forest. "But it'll give us a little time to think."

"Never been my strong point, Wes."

He thinks about some of the decisions he's made rationally, logically and carefully, and finds himself sharing her pessimism.

The house key's just where it's supposed to be, though, and he's fairly certain that the dead mouse in the kitchen sink isn't an omen.

He spends the next hour doing all sorts of useless tasks such as switching on the back-up generator, getting the fridge to work and unpacking, while Faith wanders aimlessly around the small cottage and has a minor meltdown. Helpfully, she provides a running commentary, just in case he was in doubt that she was "freaking the fuck out."

"There's no TV," she exclaims in a horrified voice as he takes the perishables out of the cool box and makes a mental note to go to the shop in the nearest village, which is six miles as the crow flies, to buy ear plugs. "And, like, no stereo or a microwave and it smells kinda funky too. Reckon that mouse wasn't an only child, Wes."

"I'm terribly sorry about the lack of facilities, but my aunt doesn't really feel the need to catch up with the latest episode of Desperate Housewives," he bites out as he unpacks the last of the milk and shuts the fridge door.

His most sarcastic voice doesn't even register. "She doesn't know what she's missing. Man! Thought prison was bad, gonna go stir crazy here."

"Nonsense, there's plenty of things to do," he insists stoutly.

Faith whirls around from where she's been contemplating his aunt's bookcases with a sceptical expression and plants her hands on her hips. "Yeah? Like what?"

Like losing themselves in each other. Fucking her in the long grass outside so all he can smell for hours afterwards is sex and heather.  "Well, we can do some hiking and there's a beautiful cove a couple of miles away where we can swim," he substitutes rather lamely because from the petulant look on her face she seems to have rather gone off the idea of wining and dining and making love, if she can't watch America's Next Top Model  afterwards.

There's a short, loaded pause as she processes that and then she grins. "Am I being a brat?"

"A little," he says cautiously.

The smile vanishes. "Wish you'd left me at B's mercy?"

"No."

He's definite enough about that to make her face soften and she takes three quick steps and does that thing where one minute he's standing up and the next he's fighting to keep his footing because she's swarming all over him, arms tight, hands wandering, mouth hot and frantic. "Was so fucking scary, Wes. Should've seen her -- "

He unwinds her arms and leads her over to the couch, settling them down with her on his lap. "Suppose you tell me about that?"

She's been remarkably reticent on what prompted her to escape, even when the long hours of driving had provided dozens of opportunities to talk.

"I don't want to."

"Nevertheless."

It's the sort of voice his father used to use on him and he hates that it can come out of his mouth weighed down with just as much inflexibility and resolve.

"You said that Buffy was trying to persuade Giles to have you returned to prison?"

She bites down on her lip. "Yeah. Guess sisterly solidarity only stretches so far these days, you know?"

"He wouldn't have done that." Wesley's not quite sure why he believes that -- for all the certainty he puts behind his voice, he can't know it, not really, not given Giles' current state of mind.

She slides off his lap with an apologetic grimace because they both know that she's not the kind of girl who likes to snuggle but then she stretches out the length of the couch, resting her head on his leg, which works surprisingly well too.

"You keep going away," she says, seemingly apropos nothing. "And you don't see B and Giles together as much as me, Wes. Girl's got a jones to push everyone away because she's mainlining on guilt and grief and all that other fun stuff."

"And you're adamant that Giles will do anything to remain in Buffy's life?" he asks, cautiously smoothing the ends of her hair.

Faith turns her head so she can look up at him. "Giles and me… we get on OK most of the time, that gets B's mad on, too and, like, I never fucked him but me and Angel… don't need to tell you this, Wes, but he was there for me when I had no one, when I couldn't go on, didn't fucking want to and…" She tails off.

"And we deserve the right to grieve him too," Wesley says heavily. "I think about him at the oddest times. When I'm doing translations or opening a bottle of red wine…"

"Can't even look at a donut anymore," Faith chimes in and gives him a lopsided smile, which makes his heart skip a beat.

"I'm sorry I wasn't a better Watcher for you, Faith." He's about to launch into an impassioned speech he's been rehearsing for at least 18 months detailing all the ways he failed her but she reaches up and clamps her hand over his mouth.

"Yeah and I'm sorry I was a sad sack of shit Slayer so we're even, right? 'Cause where we are now, it means we don't have to be all big with the apologies. I know and you do too, so just save it."

It's oddly hard to agree to that, even though he's no more inclined to emotional speeches than she is. Perhaps it's because, deep-down, he really does feel that she's owed an apology and, which is the motive he suspects for most acts of contrition, it'll make him feel better. He settles for biting the hand across his mouth which gets him a chuckle and leans back.

"I still want to know what happened. Exactly. Giles was --  not himself, I agree, but he knows as well as I do that prison isn't the place for you."

"Got a jury in California that'd beg to differ, Wes."

He curls a lock of her hair around his finger, studying the sheen on it. "You needed that time to reflect. You proved that you were capable of thinking about someone other than yourself both by going to prison and breaking out." He tugs gently on her hair. "You don't need to do it again, Faith. You've changed."

"Lot of girls have changed," Faith murmurs. "Don't need me when there's a shit-load of Slayers out there."

"I shan't dignify that with a response," he tells her. "Except to say that all Slayers aren't created equal, and that was true even before Willow's spell. You're special, Faith. You and Buffy both, which is why you don't get on, I expect, except in times of crisis. We really need an apocalypse, don't we? It's been far too quiet recently."

"She hates me," she says, her voice low, ignoring his admittedly weak attempt at humour. "Really fucking hates me and that - fuck, Wes, it hurts, you know? Thought we were over that."

"Really, it would have been better if we'd stayed in the States," he muses out loud and she twists her lips in a gesture he can't interpret.

"'Cept there was that whole me being an escaped convict thing," she points out finally. Then sighs. "It's easier for B to hate me and blame me for how fucking miserable she is, then dealing with how she turned her back on Angel when he needed her. And yesterday, she kept coming in and she wanted to know what happened when we did the Jedi mind swap and I wouldn't tell her 'cause it's private and it's all just flashes anyway. Then she got madder and the drugs were wearing off and I lost it again."

"Though there were no handy chairs," Wesley ventures and she unconsciously rubs her fingers against the chafe marks on her wrists where she was chained.

"Didn't need a chair," she mutters. "Hurt her worst than the chair ever did just by opening my big, fat, stupid mouth."

Her beautiful, pouting mouth is currently clamped shut again and he risks moving his hands so he can gently knead her shoulders and as he works on a particularly spectacular knot, it's like he's found the right key to unlock the final door.

"Told her about the strip search and how Giles just stood there the whole time staring at me with his hard-on almost busting out of his trousers." She smiles thinly. "Shut her up for all of five seconds at least. And now you know why she wants me back on the chain gang 'cause even if she doesn't want Giles, then she sure as shit doesn't want anyone else to have him."

He's fighting off too many emotions to be able to speak for a moment. When he does, his voice is thick with anger.

"Giles is going to apologise to you for that, Faith. I promise you he will."

She shrugs. "Hey, didn't bother me, Wes. I'm naked and he wasn't hard, I'd start to feel insulted, you know?"

"The circumstances --"

"Kinda kinky, yeah. You saying you didn't know Giles gets off on that?"

"On what?"

She's relaxing now, a small, smug smile in place, as if knowing something he doesn't is making her happy. "Compared to some of the freaks I've hooked up with he's vanilla, but, yeah, I'm thinking he's got hidden depths." Her smile turns secret, knowing. "So what would it have done for you, Wes? Watching two guards peel me out of my duds, hands in all sorts of places, me bent over, legs spread and --"

"Stop it," he says, struggling to his feet, outrage and revulsion washing over him. "God, Faith. I'm going to fucking hurt him for this."

"Hurt him." She purses her lips, rolling onto her stomach and staring at him. "Most men would say 'kill him' and not mean it, but you don't go for the empty threats, do you?" She shakes her head. "You got really scary, Wes. That down to me, as well?"

"I don't think so."

"Kinda hope not."

He stares out at the sunset from the cloudy glass in the front door. "Would you like to go for a walk?"

"Where to?"

"I don't think it matters."

She stands up in one easy, fluid movement and walks over to him. "Always matters where you're going, Wes." She wrinkles up her nose. "Okay, that was close to fortune-cookie wisdom."

"Verging on it," he concedes, opening the door. "Very well. There's a cave in the forest where I used to keep an assortment of the stuff boys generally keep hidden --"

"Porn? Cigarettes?"

"A slingshot and some mildly violent comics actually." He shrugs. "I was only nine."

"Wes, aged nine," she muses, as they amble down the garden path. "Bet you were all kinds of cute. Big, blue eyes and sorta gangly and…"

"I was not cute," he protests but Faith just reaches up and pinches his stubbly cheek.

"Aw, you're being pretty cute right now, Wes," she laughs and he's wondering what Faith, aged nine was like. Small for her age, permanently skinned knees and the same sad, dark eyes that she still has.

"If you persist in pursuing this line of enquiry I won't share the bottle of wine or the chocolate I've bought," is all he says and he manages to keep his voice light, considering that he's still inwardly seething about Giles running his perverted eyes over Faith bent and spread over a table. And he's still not sure what's making him the angriest? Giles daring to look at what he's only had shadowy glimpses of, or that his cock is still half hard from the thought of that little tableau.

"It smells weird here," she says over her shoulder and throwing in an insouciant little wriggle of her hips that he's sure is deliberate. "Like, earthy or something."

"I believe that would be called fresh air, just a theory you understand."

Faith gives another bathwater gurgle then concentrates on negotiating the last few steps down a little gulch that leads to the cave where he used to while away the long summer afternoons. "Cool," she says approvingly, as he spreads out the rug he brought with them on the gravelly ground. She's already delving in the rucksack. "Wine," she says, pulling out the bottle, and then grabbing handfuls of chocolate bars. "Dine." She arches an eyebrow at him as he sprawls out next to her and the silence is deliciously loaded before she throws the corkscrew at him.

As ever, there's something about drinking out of doors that has each swallow going straight to his head. The gathering shadows make the edge of the clearing indistinct and mysterious and it's warm but a little late in the year for midges, thank God.

They drink, and if the chocolate makes the wine taste a little less than perfect, it's worth it for the chance to lick slowly at her lips, cleaning them until the only sweetness left comes from her.

"This is all kinds of romantic," she sighs, propping herself up on an elbow and letting the ends of her hair tickle his face. "You going to fuck me now, Wes?"

"Would you like me to?" he asks.

She shrugs and collapses on top of him, squirming gently and reaching down to caress his burgeoning erection. "Wouldn't suck."

"I suppose it wouldn't," he says gently. "But I think I'll wait until you're rested and not feeling grateful, if you don't mind."

She stiffens on top of him. "Excuse me?" She says it the exact same way that people say, 'Fuck off.' "You think I want to fuck you because I'm grateful?"

"That's not what I meant, Faith," he sighs. "I simply…"

But she's already scrambling off him, kneeing him so viciously in the groin that he doubts it's an accident.

"You think I just wanted some mercy hump?" she shouts, face red with rage. "Well, fuck you!"

And that was rather the matter in hand, so to speak, but Faith is already turning on her heel and racing up the track; and by the time he's managed to stagger to his feet and press his hand to his crotch which is now throbbing for all the wrong reasons, she's already a small, very pissed off, black-clad figure in the distance.

He takes his time going back to the cottage. Truth be told, he's dragging his heels because he doesn't know how to deal with her fury. He never did.

The lights are all blazing when he crests the top of the hill, the door wide open and he breaks into a run, terrified of what he might find. A dozen Council wetworkers, Buffy wielding that bloody scythe or… Faith flinging her clothes into a holdall.

"What are you doing?" he asks tiredly, putting his own bag down on one of the kitchen chairs.

"What the fuck does it look like?" she snarls. "Not staying here with you, Wes. Don't want you scared to go to sleep case you think that I'm going to jump your unwilling bones. Asshole!"

"They wouldn't be unwilling," he says softly.

"Yeah, right."

Anger lends him the strength to rise above the ache in his balls and the panic at what might happen to her if she heads out into the descending night.

"Excuse me for not wanting to be added to the list of people who've taken advantage of you!"

For a moment he thinks he's got through to her but the indecision on her face hardens to anger again and he sighs. "Faith, I've wanted to fuck you since the moment we met. You're beautiful. You've featured in many fantasies and been responsible for many solitary moments of pleasure. Happier now?"

"You jerk off over me?"

He keeps his face expressionless with an effort. "On occasion."

"Huh."

"More of an 'uhnn' really," he says diffidently.

When she starts to laugh he feels the tight bands of tension around his chest ease a little.

But she's still eyeing him warily, even as she drops the holdall on the floor. "Is that what you think then, Wes? That I'm some poor little victim that people kick around?"

She rests her hands on the back of the sofa and he risks a step towards her before something desperate in her eyes makes him halt. "I think you're a victim of circumstance," he says carefully and she makes a small, indistinct sound.

"I guess that's fancy Wes speak for loser," she says without rancour and glances around the small sitting room. "Don't suppose you brought the rest of the wine back?"

He hands her the half full bottle of wine and settles down on the sofa next to her to watch her drink it with the single minded purpose of someone who craves oblivion.

And it would work if, bless her, she wasn't the happiest drunk he's ever come across. By the time she's got to the bottom of the bottle, her legs are hooked over the arm of the couch and she's giggling feebly about how she heard an owl on the way back to the cottage " --  and, honest to God, Wes, thought I was going to pee my pants."

She's the most infuriating, maddening, irritating, utterly bewitching woman in the world, he thinks as she gives him a cross-eyed look and one of those fearsome pouts because he's not prostrate with mirth.

"So you're telling me that you're not cut out to be a twitcher, then?" he murmurs, doing a bit of deft twitching himself as he takes the bottle from her just before it slides through her fingers and crashes to the floor.

"What the hell is a --?"

"Bird watcher," he says blandly. "I'm not saying the, ah, panty-wetting wouldn't occur if they saw something rare, but I suspect they'd view your reaction with some amusement."

He's sounding stuffier by the moment and he knows he's retreating into the Wesley she first met, buttoned-up tight and starched-stiff. Reminding himself that he's dangerous, sexy and knows at least seven things to do to her nipples that would have her whimpering, he leans over and kisses her.

She blinks up at him. "That doesn't count as taking advantage of me?"

"I'm trusting that you're too drunk to remember it in the morning," he says solemnly.

"Wouldn't forget a kiss from you, Wes," she says and takes his breath away because she sounds as if she means it.

"Faith --"

"Kinda like to have more to remember than a kiss and a finger fuck though."

"I suppose that could be arranged," he says.

"What changed your mind?"

Her eyelashes drift closed slowly and she's asleep before he can answer, which is just as well.

It must be a combination of the drugs still in her bloodstream, the fresh air and the best part of a bottle of wine, Wesley thinks as he tucks the blanket around her, enjoying the gentle flutter of her eyelashes in time with her deep, even breaths.

He's not in the least bit tired, after sleeping for most of the morning and some of the afternoon. Instead, he nabs a glass of Scotch from his aunt's drinks cabinet and an Agatha Christie that he doesn't remember reading and tiptoes upstairs to have a long, decadent bath.

The hot water convinces him that he's relaxed; the tension of the last few days ebbing away but when he's standing in front of the bedroom window watching the moon high up in the night sky and thinking about the girl sprawled out on the sofa downstairs, immediately he's taut with worry and want and all things in between.

He's pretending that he might go to sleep soon when he hears her quiet tread on the stairs, then the bathroom door opening. There's a rubber shower head that attaches to the bath taps and he can hear the patter of water against the enamel and he's so far from dropping off now as he imagines her naked in the next room, imagines what would happen if he got out of  bed and went to her.

But then he doesn't have to imagine because the bedroom door is opened just a crack and she's in the room, naked flesh ghostly pale in the moonlight, creeping towards the bed because he's lying there with his eyes shut and his mind full and she must think he's asleep. She pulls back the sheet and slips in next to him, and he's holding his breath as she lets out a breathy sigh and plants a delicate kiss against his shoulder blade.

"Sweet dreams, Wes," he hears her whisper and then she's doing the unthinkable; turning away from him and settling down to go to sleep.

'They'd be sweeter if they weren't dreams," he says, which is more the sort of thing he wishes he'd said later, when he's re-writing a conversation, so he's left feeling rather proud of himself.

There's a pause and then she turns back and he can smell mint and Faith and wine and she's achingly close and managing not to touch him.

"Wes? Did I ask you something just before I passed out?"

"I think -- yes, yes, you did."

Her hand emerges from the darkness, visible once it clears the sheets, and her fingers stroke down the side of his face. "Tell me then."

"What changed my mind? You did." It's easy to be honest in the dark, he finds. "I'm sorry if my scruples --"

"Wes?" Her lips find the corner of his mouth and start to kiss across it. "Forget it. Doesn't matter. We're both --" She gives a complex full-body shrug that somehow finishes with her pressed up against him, her hand on his hip and stroking down. "Jittery." Her hand moves a crucial few inches and it's on his arse. "Fucked-up."

"Yes -- " he says thoughtfully, filling his palm with the soft weight of her breast and flicking his thumb across her nipple and finding it hard and waiting. "Want to unwind?"

"Want to fuck," she says emphatically. "We on the same page yet, Wes?"


Part Two

Part Three

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