Feeling decidedly groggy, Wesley slowly drifted awake, opening his eyes with effort. The room was light, but his vision was still blurry from sleep, making the objects in the room waver like a mirage in a desert. Letting out a deep sigh, he allowed his heavy eyelids to drop, only vaguely aware of the sound of running water coming from the on-suite bathroom as he dozed off again.
The next time he emerged into consciousness however, the ex-watcher’s senses were significantly more alert. Using the heel of his hands against the mattress, he manoeuvred himself into a seated position against the pillows, grimacing slightly from the exertion. His muscles were stiff and the cuts on his torso throbbed painfully; nevertheless, he was pleased to discover that there had been a marked improvement in his mobility since the previous day.
Faith stood framed in the doorway of the bathroom, pulling a brush through her long mane of hair, the dark strands still wet from her shower. She was dressed in a plum-coloured vest top and a pair of low-slung black sweatpants, her bare toes peeking out from beneath the hem. Her injuries from the Orb’s fight with Angel were all but gone, thanks to her accelerated healing abilities.
“Hey yourself,” Wesley returned her bright greeting. “How are you doing?”
“Shouldn’t I be asking you that question?” the slayer replied, her lips curling up into a wry smile at his query.
“I think it probably applies to both of us.”
Coming into the room, Faith acknowledged Wesley’s quiet statement with a brief nod of her head. “I’m doing okay,” she said. “Better, I think. I feel a fraction more like me today.”
“Did you get some sleep?”
“Yeah – compared to a hospital bed, that armchair is the height of luxury, I can tell you. Angel and C woke me up an hour ago though.”
Wesley glanced at the small clock on the bedside table. “They were up early.”
“I think Angel was the one who was up,” Faith said sardonically, her warm brown eyes sparkling with mischief.
It took a few moments for Wesley to cotton on to what the slayer meant, but then her meaning sunk in and his blue eyes widened comically. “The walls are supposed to be sound-proofed,” he remarked absently.
Faith laughed. “Yeah well, I guess my slayer hearing kind of overcame that.”
“Don’t look at me like that,” she added defensively, when her watcher shot her a steady look, a faint hint of reproof shining in his gaze. “It’s not like I had a glass up against the wall, or anything. It’s hardly my fault that C’s got one serious set of lungs on her, now is it?”
Wesley chuckled despite himself, shaking his head at the slayer’s audaciousness. “You’re incorrigible,” he said, his hand going protectively to his ribs in reaction to the slight pain the laughter caused him.
The dark-haired young woman grinned unrepentantly. “I try my best – one prissy, goody-too-shoes slayer is quite enough, don’t you think?”
“Don’t get me wrong – I love B, but she can be terribly proper sometimes. She agonises over the burden of being a slayer to such a degree, that she forgets to live her life. She needs to learn how to lighten up a little.”
“Whereas you’re so laid back, you’re practically horizontal,” Wesley commented dryly.
“Best way to be, Wes old boy, best way to be. I’m sure C would agree with me on that, right about now.”
“And on that highly inappropriate note, I think it’s about time we changed the subject,” Wesley interjected decisively, his face colouring in embarrassed discomfiture.
With an exaggerated sigh, Faith rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. “You’re no fun,” she griped good-naturedly, pursing her lips into a faux pout.
“So I’ve been told on countless occasions – mostly by you, if I recall correctly.” Wesley replied, pulling back the covers and awkwardly swinging his pyjama-clad legs over the edge of the mattress.
The brunette slayer immediately moved to bar his path. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“To the bathroom to take a shower, if you don’t mind,” the Englishman replied, placing his bare feet flat on the floor and pushing his battered body into an upright position. “And after that, I thought I’d get dressed and go downstairs.”
“You need to stay in bed,” Faith insisted, shaking her head with agitated concern.
“If I do that, I’m going to seize up completely. Don’t worry; I’m not planning on running a marathon, I just need to move around a bit, that’s all.”
The worried slayer wasn’t entirely convinced, but she reluctantly gave way and hooked her hand under his left elbow, supporting him as he slowly shuffled across the bedroom carpet towards the bathroom.
“Can you get me some clean clothes from the closet please?” Wesley asked, when they reached their destination. “Something casual and comfortable if possible.”
“I didn’t know you did casual,” Faith commented with a smile. “Isn’t that against the watcher’s code, or something?”
“You’d be surprised at what’s contained in the ‘watcher’s code’,” came the acerbic response. “Besides, officially, I’m no longer a watcher anyway.”
“You abandoning me to another stuffy Brit, Wes?”
Faith’s eyes darkened with anxiety, her question only half in jest. After everything that had happened, she couldn’t exactly blame him if he didn’t want to be around her.
“No, not at all. It’s just I broke a lot of rules to…”
“Yes – so I decided to resign before the watcher’s council gave me the proverbial push.”
“Well, I’m hardly the poster child for slayers, am I? I reckon I can handle working with a renegade watcher – if you still want to, that is.”
“You were chosen for a reason, Faith,” Wesley quietly informed her, ignoring her attack of insecurity over the level of his commitment.
“I’m a mistake though, aren’t I?” the brunette replied, looking down at her feet. “B’s the true slayer, not me.”
“Excuse me, but that’s utterly preposterous! Who told you that?”
Faith snapped her eyes up to the indignant look on Wesley’s face, surprised by the vehemence in his tone. “Nobody directly – it’s just something that’s inferred in various people’s attitude towards me, I guess.”
“Faith – there is a long line of potential slayers throughout the world, all ready to be called should the current one meet an untimely death. Just because Buffy didn’t stay dead, doesn’t mean you – or Kendra for that matter – are second best. You are all true slayers – the only ‘mistake’ is that two of you were inadvertently called at once. Don’t let anyone ever tell you any different.”
The slayer stared him, a myriad of differing emotions crossing her expressive face, while her eyes grew round and suspiciously liquid. When the battle with Styjasimok and the Orb had forced into her mystical coma, Faith had only just been getting used to the idea that she now had people in her life that genuinely cared about her. True friends, the kind that would support her through thick and thin, were an unknown entity to the slayer before then.
Clearing her throat, she dropped her gaze and blinked back the salty tears that threatened to fall, then, in an attempt to cover up her embarrassingly emotional reaction, turned towards the closet to get Wesley his clean clothes.
“Umm – casual, right? So what have we got here that fits the bill?” she said, tugging open the closet doors and surveying the neatly hung garments within.
Leaving the slayer to her thoughts, Wesley retrieved his toiletries from the bottom shelf of the bathroom cabinet, and moved towards the shower, holding them clutched in his crooked arms.
“You… err…need any help?” Faith’s voice sounded awkwardly from the doorway.
Wesley suppressed an amused smile at her sudden gaucheness. “No – I’m all right thank you. Getting into a bath-tub might be a feat of engineering right now, but a walk-in shower stall, I think I can handle.”
“Okay – I’ll leave these here then,” she replied, depositing the pile of clothes on the countertop by the sink. “Just holler if you need anything, ‘kay?”
With that, the slayer stepped back out into the bedroom and pulled the bathroom door shut behind her, leaving Wesley to continue his morning ablutions in private.
Riley sat down in the chair near the bed and pulled on his training shoes, tying the laces with an army-issue double-knot. Rising to his feet, he lifted his arms above his head and worked out the kinks in his shoulders and back, preparing his muscles for the early morning run he intended to take.
The soldier was used to a morning wake-up call at around five am, followed by at least an hour’s exercise before breakfast. This routine had been broken by the last few day’s events though, and he was, consequently, agitated and on edge. Itching to give his restless body a proper workout, Riley was eager to get outside into the fresh air, primarily to run, but also to take the opportunity to empty his mind of all extraneous thought as he did so.
After cracking his knuckles and giving his muscular legs a shake, he perched on the edge of the mattress next to his sleeping girlfriend. Buffy lay sprawled on her front, her right cheek resting on the pillow that she held snugly in her embrace, and her blonde hair was fanned out over her face and bare forearm. She showed no sign of waking just yet, her breathing deep and even in nature.
Riley tucked her wealth of flaxen hair behind her ear, and bent to press a tender kiss on her upturned lips. He then made his way over to the bedroom door and, with one last look over his shoulder at the slumbering slayer, left the room, closing the door with a soft click.
Three quarters of an hour later, Faith and Wesley finally made it downstairs for breakfast, where they came to a pause in the kitchen doorway, observing the scene within.
Cordelia stood with her back to the counter and her arms about Angel’s waist, the tips of her fingers resting on the top of his pants-covered ass. The vampire’s fingers were threaded through her hair, and they exchanging kiss upon soft kiss, their eyes closed and their bodies pressed close together.
“Put him down girl – you don’t know where he’s been.”
The embracing couple broke apart at the interruption, and Cordelia glanced over at the impudent slayer in mild annoyance. “I know exactly where he’s been,” she declared without thinking.
“Yeah, so does half of LA,” Faith shot back immediately. “You need a volume control, C.”
Cordelia’s cheeks flamed with mortification, but Angel laughed at the slayer’s satirical comment.
“You two want eggs and toast?” he asked, turning back to the breakfast that he’d been preparing, before his seer had snuck up and ensnared him in her warm embrace.
“Sounds good,” Wesley said, as he sat down at the square wooden table in the centre of the room. “I’m surprisingly hungry, to tell you the truth.”
While Cordelia up-ended a carton of orange juice into a jug and placed it in the centre of the table, Angel cracked several eggs into a glass mixing bowl, and popped some extra slices of bread into the toaster. The seer then poured her friends some freshly brewed coffee, and put a mug of pig’s blood into the microwave to warm, while the industrious vampire began to cook up the eggs over the stovetop.
“What?” she demanded, when she finally sat down opposite Faith.
“My, my – aren’t we just the soul of domesticity?” the dark-haired slayer drawled teasingly.
“Yeah – so?” Cordelia replied, a soft gentle smile gracing her lips. “Beats breakfast prepared by the paid help and eaten alone, believe me.”
Faith inclined her head in silent agreement, then wrapped her hands around her mug of coffee and took a sip of the hot drink, breathing in its invigorating aroma as she drank.
Once he was satisfied that the eggs were sufficiently scrambled, Angel shut off the flame under the pan, and deposited it on the table, together with a plate piled high with toast. The microwave pinged, and he went to retrieve his liquid nourishment from the small oven, while the others enthusiastically helped themselves to the food. Joining them at the table, the vampire smiled at the way they were all practically inhaling their breakfast.
“Hungry guys?” he asked, raising his eyebrows as he lifted his cup of warmed blood to his lips.
“Hospital food is not exactly what you’d term edible,” Wesley explained, buttering a slice of toast and pouring himself some orange juice.
“I guess I’ve not really eaten much these last couple of days,” Faith admitted around a large mouthful of eggs.
“I kind of worked up an appetite earlier,” Cordelia chimed in last of all, her hazel orbs twinkling playfully at her boyfriend, despite the rosy blush colouring her cheeks.
Angel’s face split into a Cheshire-cat grin at her words, and he reached out under the table to give her knee an affectionate squeeze. Running his hand up the length of her toned thigh, he savoured the velvety feel of her soft skin, his exploring fingers stopping just shy of where her exposed flesh met the edge of her short denim skirt.
Cordelia shot him a look that said ‘if you go any higher, buddy, you’re gonna get a slap,’ so the vampire dutifully left his hand where it was – albeit with a certain amount of reluctance.
“So what happens now?” the seer asked, looking questionably at her companions. “Are you two going back to Sunnydale with Buffy and the Scoobies?”
“Err… I don’t know,” Faith replied, the very idea filling her with a sense of dread. “I guess that’s Wesley’s decision.”
Three pairs of inquisitive eyes immediately swung towards the ex-watcher, who paused with his fork halfway to his mouth, feeling like a deer caught in headlights. He set his cutlery back down on his plate and briefly considered the options, his forehead creased in thought.
“I don’t think it takes two slayers to guard the Hellmouth,” he began slowly. “Buffy, Giles, and the others seem to have that under control. I figure we would be more use here, helping you with Angel Investigations. That’s if you want our assistance, of course.”
“I think that’s a given,” Angel said. “I’m not sure what the watcher’s council will think about one of their slayers aiding a vampire though. Don’t think that’d go down too well.”
“That’s because they can’t see past their own blind prejudice to look at the big picture. We’ll be far more effective fighting the good fight with you and Cordelia here in LA, than we would be playing second fiddle in Sunnydale. I’m game if Faith is.”
“Do I get paid?” the slayer asked cheekily.
“I think I can run to some sort of salary – just don’t expect too much, okay?”
“Hey, anything’s better than the big fat zip I get from the watcher’s council. I don’t how they expect you to be a slayer and hold down a normal job. I mean – hello? Do those guys actually live in the real world?”
“So we’re agreed then?”
“That we’re going to tell the council to stick their orders where the sun don’t shine? Yeah, I’m definitely up for that. Count me in.”
“I guess that means the Fang Gang’s back in business,” Cordelia declared with a smile.
She raised her glass of orange juice in a mock toast, and the others clinked their respective mugs and glasses against it to seal the deal, before tucking back into their morning meal.
“Does anyone know if there is a suitable place to train here?” Wesley asked conversationally, helping himself to another spoonful of eggs.
“You could use the attic if you push back some of the old furniture stored up there,” was Cordelia’s immediate response.
“And exactly how do you know that Caritas has an attic?” Angel pointedly asked his girlfriend, despite already knowing the answer. Miss Chase was far too inquisitive for her own good in his humble opinion.
“Well – duh! How do you think? I went snooping, of course!”
“I’d never have guessed.” the vampire remarked, his voice heavy with sarcasm and a knowing smile tugging at the corners of his lips.
Cordelia pulled a face and stuck her tongue out at him in return, prompting a now grinning Angel to drop an affectionate kiss on the end of her crinkled up nose.
“Guess that means vacation time’s over then,” Faith said, casting a sly sidelong glance at Wesley. “I’d forgotten how much of a slave-driver you were, Mr Wyndam-Pryce.”
“Faith, you’ve been out of commission for a long time. You need to start training regularly in order to get back to peak fitness. What’s more, you and Angel ought to determine the most effective way of fighting alongside each other. It should work pretty well actually – by design, a slayer’s strengths are geared towards a vampire’s weaknesses. Not that Angel’s an ordinary vampire in that respect though.”
“No – I’ve watched you fight – your technique is subtly different to other vampires’. I don’t really know for sure why. Maybe it’s because you fight with a conscience, or, alternatively, it could be because you have a specific role to play in the grand scheme of things.”
“You mean along the lines of ‘in every generation, there’s a chosen one…’?” Faith asked, crooking her fingers into quotation marks and lowering her voice for dramatic effect.
“Exactly,” Wesley mused, half to himself and half to his interested audience. “You can be almost certain that the Powers That Be have singled Angel out for a reason – a vampire with a soul is not a normal occurrence. I’ll look into it – it will be fascinating to research something other than slayer mythology for a change.”
Slightly uncomfortable with the topic of conversation, Angel drank the last few drops of his breakfast and moved towards the sink to wash out the blood-encrusted mug. Once clean, he set the cup upside down on the drainer and filled a small glass with water to rinse out his mouth.
As he spat the tainted liquid into the sink and washed it down the drain with a steady stream of water from the faucet, Cordelia came up behind him and placed a hand between his shoulder blades.
“You okay?” she asked, her body-heat pleasantly warming his skin through the fabric of his shirt.
“Yeah – it’s just… a slayer is a force for good, so it makes sense that there are prophecies surrounding them. But me? I’ve plumbed the depths of evil in my time; I can’t see how anything foretold about me can be good.”
“You’re setting that to rights now though, Angel.”
“Yes, but atoning for the suffering I’ve caused is *my* reason for doing this. The Powers are probably just accepting my penance because they think I can be useful to them.”
“I think there’s more to it than that,” Faith’s voice sounded from behind them. “The Orb kept going on about your prophesied reputation.”
“Mr Pivotal-Figure-in-the-Apocalypse – that’s what it called you,” Wesley remembered. “Did you get any clue on what that meant?” he asked of his slayer.
“No – I only scratched the surface of the Orb’s subconscious. It was so depraved… I just couldn’t…” Faith faltered, shivering at the unpleasant memory, her eyes darkening with re-awakened torment. “I’m sorry, I can’t… I’m sorry.”
Wesley reached out to squeeze the slayer’s shaking fingers. “Don’t worry about it, it’s not important,” he reassured her, mentally chastising himself for letting his innate curiosity get the better of him.
Faith nodded, swallowing hard and trying to regain control over her tumultuous emotions. “One day at a time, huh?” she said, looking over at Angel as she repeated his prior advice to her.
The vampire sat down in the chair opposite and curled a sympathetic hand around her forearm. “One day at a time,” he softly concurred.
“Whoa! Way to kill the upbeat mood or what?” Faith blew her breath out from between pursed lips and squared her shoulders, running her fingers through her wavy mane of dark hair.
“So – you up for a training session? I could do with keeping myself occupied to be honest. If I sit around doing nothing, I’m gonna dwell on things too much.”
“Sure,” Angel promptly agreed, but then flickered a wary glance at his girlfriend. “Just give me an hour or so, okay? There’s something I need to do first.”
“It can wait,” Cordelia said, placing a restraining hand on his arm.
“But I promised.”
“I know, but a few more hours won’t make a great deal of difference. Go and kick ass with Faith – it’ll put you in the right frame of mind, at least.”
“I was aiming for a mature and sensible discussion actually.”
“Hah! You wish!”
“Okay, so what’s with the cryptic?” Faith enquired, interrupting their puzzling conversation.
“I have to talk to Buffy,” Angel told the baffled slayer.
“Oh,” Faith said, non the wiser. Then it dawned on her. “Oh, I see. Damn! Hasn’t she given up yet?”
“Unfortunately not,” the vampire replied with a rueful shake of his head. “Willow said she’d talk to her, but I promised Cordy last night, that I’d deal with the situation myself.”
“Cus *someone* took his own sweet time to tell me what was going on,” the seer interjected.
“I thought we sorted all that out earlier,” Angel said, turning back to his girlfriend with a worried frown.
“We did. I was just teasing. Don’t go all broody face.”
“As long as you’re sure?”
“Angel! I’m sure, okay?” Cordelia leaned forward and cupped the vampire’s troubled face in her palms, setting his mind at rest with a brief, but heartfelt kiss.
“You’re a big dumbass, you know that?” she murmured, smoothing out the worry lines marring his brow with the tips of her fingers, before bestowing a second kiss on his – too inviting – lips.
“Go on – go flex your manly boob muscles,” she said, giving him a light shove in the direction of the door.
With a quirky half bow, Angel lifted her hand and kissed the backs of her fingers in an old-fashioned courtly gesture.
“Whatever you say, m’lady,” he said, a faint Irish burr inadvertently creeping into his voice.
Turning her slender arm over, he pressed his cool lips to the pulse point on her wrist, then released her hand and followed Faith out of the room.
Buffy had woken that morning to find a note from Riley on the dresser. It informed her that he had gone out for a run, and told her not to wait for him before going down to breakfast.
Relieved that the unpleasant task of breaking up with him had been put off for a bit longer, she set about making the most of her physical assets – with the express purpose of catching her ex-boyfriend’s eye. Although fully intending to do the right thing by her current beau before making her move, she saw no harm in reminding Angel of what he was missing in the mean time.
Performing a 360° twirl in front of the mirror, the petite slayer checked out her reflection one last time, and nodded in satisfaction at what she saw echoed back at her in the glass. She was dressed to kill in form-fitting, chocolate brown pants and a pale pink halter-neck – the flimsy blouse virtually backless, save for the tie fastening at the nape of her neck and the thin band of material running across the middle of her toned back.
She had drawn her blonde tresses back off her face into a high ponytail, but softened the rather severe style with a few wispy curls left loose to frame her pretty face. A pair of straw-coloured sandals, with a chunky two-inch heel, completed the look.
Humming a happy tune to herself, Buffy made her way downstairs with a distinct spring in her step. She poked her head round the kitchen door, but found the small room empty, so continued on down the hallway in search of some sign of life.
Drawn by the low hum of voices and the clinking sound of glass, she entered the bar area, where she found Wesley, Cordelia and Willow seated around a circular table, talking quietly amongst themselves. Lorne, dressed in a flamboyant gold robe, was stacking tumblers of varying size onto the glass shelf unit behind the counter, but Angel, Faith, and Riley were nowhere to be seen.
“Where’s Angel?” she asked, blurting out the first thought that entered her head, disappointed by the vampire’s absence.
“Hello Buffy, nice to see you again too.”
Suitably reprimanded, the slayer turned her blue-eyed gaze on her former watcher with an apologetic shrug of her shoulders. “Sorry Wesley – I just hoping to talk to Angel, that’s all. How are you?”
“Not too bad – a bit battered and bruised, but I’ll survive.”
“Kudos with the magical mojo to rescue Faith, by the way – Giles was kind of impressed.”
“Thanks – I think.”
“So, where are they? Angel and Faith, I mean”
“Upstairs in the attic room – training.”
“Cool – I’ll go and join them then.”
“I’d rather you didn’t, if you don’t mind.”
“Faith is struggling to come to terms with everything that she did under the Orb’s influence. Given his background, I think Angel is the most qualified to help her deal with that, don’t you?”
“I guess so,” Buffy agreed. “We need to be careful that she doesn’t get too dependant on him though.”
“What?” the blonde slayer snapped irritably, turning towards Cordelia, who had snorted in derision at her last comment.
“Nothing – I didn’t say *anything*” the seer replied, forcibly reigning in the desire to give her rival what for. She had promised Angel that she would hold her tongue until he’d had a chance to speak to his ex.
Buffy said something in response, but Cordelia didn’t hear her because her ears were suddenly filled with a hollow rushing sound. Alerted by his empathic ability, Lorne’s head whipped round, his scarlet eyes widening in alarm.
The Host’s sharp warning came too late however, and the vision hit with such power that it catapulted the seer backwards out of her chair. Crashing into the table behind her, she slumped to the floor, her body thrashing violently as the agonising images assaulted her brain.
“Quick – get something under her head before she hurts herself!” Wesley instructed, struggling to get to his feet.
Willow mumbled something under her breath, her right palm held rigidly outwards, and Cordelia’s convulsing body levitated half a metre or so off the ground. With the heels of her hands pressed to her temples, the young seer sobbed, her muscles going into painful spasm as her premonition reached its climax.
“Is that a vision?” Willow asked, horror-struck.
“Yes,” Wesley replied. “But the last one was no where near as bad as this.”
Cordelia eventually calmed, and the witch gently lowered her into a chair, next to the alarmed Wesley.
“Cordelia?” he asked softly, leaning forward and running a soothing hand up and down her arm.
Weeping in anguish, the seer buried her face in his shoulder, her shaking fingers clutching desperately at his shirt, as incoherent mumblings fell from her lips in a constant litany of distress.
“Oh God! Oh God! Poor baby, poor little baby.”
His blue eyes darkening with increasing concern, Wesley rocked Cordelia’s trembling form in his arms and stroked his fingers through her hair, trying his best to comfort her. Raising his head, he looked over at Buffy. “Go get Angel.”
“Buffy! Just do as I say.”
“Now – god dammit!” he barked, when she still hesitated.
The ex-watcher’s voice was harsh and commanding, and the slayer jumped, stunned at the abrasive tone. Shocked into submission, she quickly turned on her heel and left the room, going in search of the souled vampire.
Wesley turned his attention back to an almost hysterical Cordelia, feeling utterly helpless in his inability to console her.
“Poor baby, poor little baby, no, no, no!”