Wesley said, "Perhaps you should have stayed at the office. You still don't look so good."
He wasn't just saying that. I knew exactly what he meant. I'd got something of a shock myself when I'd got up that morning and looked in the mirror, to discover the bruises that had developed to their full extent during the night. My demon healing could only do so much.
I'd staked a lot of vampires, and Spike had been one of the toughest I'd ever faced. I was less than happy knowing he was still around somewhere, probably plotting revenge. And, irritatingly enough, Spike probably wouldn't even be feeling any of the mementos of our encounter by now.
"I want to see them leave," I said darkly, under my breath.
He nodded and sighed, following my gaze to the three figures. They were currently engaged in a steadily mounting argument with an airport employee, over next to the malfunctioning vending machine which had eaten Collins' cash but failed to deliver anything in return.
Faith was eating a chocolate bar as she watched them with increasing annoyance while the seconds ticked past and the three showed no sign of peeling off to go and catch their imminent flight.
If they delayed much longer, they were going to miss it. Something the three of us would prefer to avoid at all costs.
The thin thread of Faith's patience finally snapped, and she irritably walked over to the vending machine. She delivered a hefty kick to it, so hard the heavy hunk of junk actually rocked from side to side. It spat out a can of soda, settling the debate.
She returned, chomping aggressively on the chocolate, and from her expression I knew she'd rather be kicking her frustration out of the Special Ops Team themselves.
"How long now 'til we can lose the Stooges?" she growled, casting an expression of absolute disgust back at Collins, Weatherby and Smith. I had the feeling that if she'd had to work with them for much longer, someone - possibly several someones - would've ended up hospitalised.
"Three minutes less than when you last asked," Wesley told her, with an unusual degree of patience. A day spent in the company of the Watchers' Council guys had made Wes and Faith allies, at least temporarily.
I suppose she was getting a taster of the fact that her assigned Watcher could have been considerably worse. As for Wesley, he seemed to have some kind of defensive pride thing going on, like he wasn't going to argue with 'his' Slayer in front of these guys.
"Crap. Is that all?" She crossed her arms and continued to scowl at the three men in concentrated hatred.
Her right wrist was encased in a light splint. Slayer healing or no, the damage Spike had caused was going to take a few days to repair itself. The muscles and tendons were all stretched out of shape, the wrist liable to pop out of joint again. It had taken a considerable amount of persuasion on the part of myself and Wesley to get her to wear the damned thing.
Events since we'd seen off Spike had been frustrating in the extreme. The Special Ops Team had crashed in the office that night, drinking my beer and generally making the place untidy. And I'd thought Faith was bad...
I'd spent most of the last twenty-four hours praying not to sneeze, while Wesley's Good Little Watcher mask had hardly slipped once - and Faith, in an unusual show of restraint, had kept her biting comments to herself or muttered them, under her breath, to me or Wesley.
The usual argumentative chaos of our working relationship was a happy holiday by comparison.
When they'd started talking about staying in the office with us for a few weeks, to give us the help we 'so obviously needed' to see off Spike if he returned, Wesley had employed honey-tongued diplomacy and a truly astonishing show of manipulative skill to finally coerce them into returning to England this afternoon.
Overall, the guys had made it clear they weren't impressed with our operation, and however much it was going to be a relief to be rid of the smug bastards, I was somewhat concerned about the potential trouble their reports back to the Council could cause us.
We badly needed a victory in the next few weeks, I mused. Pray for a vision. But not for a few days yet. Easier to fight evil when just standing up doesn't make you dizzy.
Faith noticed me looking at her and, draping an arm over my shoulders, held up the remainder of the chocolate bar. "Wanna share?"
I didn't particularly but, uncomfortably reminded of the conversation I'd had with Spike, I nodded just to see if she would. She stuck the lot in her mouth. Smirking, she then planted her mouth on mine. The result was messy, but not unpleasant. Even if I did have the distinct feeling she was only doing it to annoy the Special Ops Team, who were walking back to rejoin us. She pulled her lips away as they drew near. I wiped my mouth. She didn't bother.
"Well, I guess we've finally found some more annoying gooseberries than the cri - uh, Wesley here," Faith drawled, just loud enough for them to catch.
I found her hands were abruptly and none-too-subtly all over me. I chased them around, trying to catch and restrain them, finding the setting a little too public for just how frisky she was getting. "Hey!" I hissed into her ear. She broke my grip and very nearly my wrist too, and what she did next made me jump. I slapped her wrist and tried to even out my breathing again.
"Spoilsport," she hissed back.
Wesley, looking thoroughly humiliated at being associated with us as a couple of passers-by made lewd or disgusted comments about the display, stared in fascination at some point on the ceiling.
Weatherby and his pals just leered, amused by the show. They'd stopped a few feet from us while Collins checked their luggage. I wondered how they got their private armoury through customs. Probably some sort of spellcraft. Either that or the Watchers' Council's influence. Not that I'd ever seen Wesley employ said influence to any degree...
I gave up wondering. Faith was making it kind of difficult to think straight.
"Bye, bye," she said, waving pointedly at the Stooges. "Don't you people have a plane to catch?"
Weatherby sneered at her. "That smart mouth of yours didn't appear to be doing you much good when we came in yesterday. Another minute and boyfriend here would've been a corpse."
Collins took up where he left off. "And you not long after, by the look of things, Slayer. Take care of that wrist, won't you? Not to mention that charming overconfidence. Can anyone say 'next'?" He snapped his fingers in front of her nose.
Abruptly grateful for our proximity, I curled an arm tight around Faith's waist. While outwardly a gesture of affection, the move actually disguised the effort it took to hold her back from a lunge which would probably have ended in her stabbing out the guy's eyes with her fingernails.
Quite possibly to be followed by the sharp retorts of his companions' guns - and she unfortunately lacked our new pal Spike's capacity to recover from multiple bullet wounds.
Faith was obviously furious, but she managed to curb her impulsive reaction. Her fingers closed around mine as she stopped struggling.
I was proud of her reserve.
I joined her in glowering at the Special Ops Team. We both could've done without having to be bailed out by these assholes.
Although actually, there was a part of my brain still guiltily a little pleased she was getting to experience what it felt like for me, a lot of the time, with her around.
Faith wasn't used to being bailed out by anyone. I didn't want to try and imagine what had been going through her mind these past twenty-four hours. Still... perhaps she'd learn something from it. I hadn't yet figured out whether her unusually subdued behaviour was a good sign for the future or not.
Smith said, "Slayer's right. Time to board."
"We'll be seeing you, then," Weatherby's tone was neutral, but he still managed to make it sound like a threat. "Pity about the demon. Still, save the next one for us, eh? The Council can always use interesting new study specimens." I winced. "Goodbye Wesley."
Looking exceedingly uncomfortable, Wesley voiced polite, goodbyes, following whatever Watchers' Council decorum there was for these sorts of occasions. Playing the Good Little Watcher again - except I didn't imagine 'lie like a weasel', as Faith had put it, was in any of his manuals.
He was telling that lie for me. Betraying the organisation that seemed to be everything in his life, for my sake. I stayed very quiet throughout those final exchanges.
Until the Special Ops Team walked away from us and vanished among the airport crowds.
"Really, Doyle," Wesley said, peering up at me with concern as I balanced tenuously on the chair, hammering a cross to the panel above the door. "I realise you're somewhat upset, but this display of paranoia is rather excessive..."
"Yeah. Right. And you're not the one who isn't human enough to keep the vampires out. Pass me up another nail, will you?"
"Look, I may not know precisely what Spike said to you. But I heard enough before I left to hazard a guess, and..."
"Another nail, Wesley. Please."
He handed one up as requested, sighing. I carefully placed the nail and continued hammering.
It made me cringe to think of all that time I'd spent relying on the protection of a humanity which had never been there. All those times I could have died, because I was vulnerable and never knew it. But then, I'd always been hunting the vampires, before... A lone Dark Avenger, as Spike might have put it, in that sarcastic Cockney sneer. They hadn't come looking for me.
Anyway, I was going to make damned sure it never happened again.
The only bright point I could think of was that at least it hadn't occurred to the Special Ops Team to question how Spike had been able to get into my apartment.
"How many more of these are you intending to place?" Wesley asked. Out of the corner of my eye I could see him poking wearily through the contents of the box. A cross spilled over the edge and thudded to the floor. He shifted, trying to get the leverage to lean down and pick it up, hampered by cast and crutches. After a moment, he gave in and straightened again. "Well? How many?"
I swung the hammer in time with my words, punctuating aggressively. "As many... as bloody necessary... to cover every... single... possible... way in." I hit my thumb, breaking my rhythm, and cursed. I stopped hammering and climbed down off the chair. Stood back to survey my work. "And then some more, just to be absolutely bloody certain."
I picked up the box and studied the rest of the apartment. "That sewer grate, next."
Wesley sighed and rolled his eyes. He hesitated, but then ventured, "They're not so reliable, you know, that a vampire is incapable of passing them. It wouldn't prevent a really determined fiend from entering. Burn, yes. Slow down, perhaps..."
It wasn't what I wanted to hear, and it wasn't as if I didn't know all of that anyway. I snapped, "Well, what the hell am I supposed to do, when the only other alternative is 'nothing'?"
He shook his head, obviously able to offer only negatives, but limped over to help me haul up the sewer grate and stood on hand to help while I tacked the cross to its underside. After a moment, I apologised for snapping at him.
As I stood and wiped my hands off on my shirt, he said slowly, "I have no conception of how something like this must feel... but, believe me when I say it does not matter to me how much of you is demon."
I raised my eyebrows, the memory of last week still all too fresh. He flushed and stammered, "Well, it was something of a shock discovery, yes, but... You've proven your good intentions to me more than adequately, then and since. It's regrettable that I dare not try convince my fellows at the Council to share my understanding. Being that there is too much danger they would not... understand." He sighed.
He looked kind of worn and hollow and hopeless. Understandable enough. He'd gone up against his Council, however subtle and well-meaning his treachery, and his loyalties had been shaken.
I could've done without the pep-talk, actually. I didn't particularly want to care and share. But I couldn't just ignore him.
"Thanks, Wes," I said, awkwardly. "I realise what you did wasn't easy."
"I couldn't very well do anything else," he mumbled. "After all, I caused them to come here."
"And if you hadn't, those guys wouldn't have been on hand with the save and we might all be dead," I pointed out. "So, whatever the reasons for callin' them at the time, I reckon I'm kinda glad now that you did."
He smiled, unconvinced, and the door swung open, putting an end to the uncomfortable conversation.
Faith walked in with her arms full of aromatic bags of takeout. "Hey, my guys," she greeted. "Are we done smiting the evil walls yet? 'Cause if you're still busy I'll start without you. Probably won't be much dinner left by the time you get around to it, though." She grinned, setting out the packages on the table.
'To Hell with Spike,' I thought, shaking off the memory of his words. Something I'd been having to do far too often. Evil vampire or not, the guy had a whole lot of insight. 'I know that was a joke.'
Later, Wesley retreated up into the office to continue researching Spike in slightly less chaotic surroundings, leaving Faith and I to my trashed apartment.
I looked around the mess and decided I couldn't really be bothered with finishing the clean-up job right now. I went to dig out some whisky from the kitchen instead.
Faith had been sprawled on the couch when I left. Now, as I walked back through the door into the main body of the apartment, knocking back a large gulp from the bottle, I found her pacing restlessly.
"Seems a while since we had some alone-time," she said, her eyes avoiding meeting mine. She seemed awkward, and sorta nervous. Odd.
"Somethin' wrong?" I asked, reluctantly setting aside the whisky.
Spike had related to me, him with his crazy vamp girlfriend. His crazy vamp ex-girlfriend. That was not the most reassuring of things to recall, facing Faith now.
Abruptly, she met my gaze directly. There was something strange in her eyes, something at odds with the customary aggression of her body language. "Aw, shit, I guess what I've been waiting to say is, you saved my butt. I know I wasn't real nice to you the other day. Then you have to go and save me from Spike and all, so there's me feeling kind of stupid. Not to mention you almost dying. Then all that time, not being able to talk properly in front of those Council assholes, stewing over my own thoughts... I guess what I'm saying is I'm, uh, sorry I was so crap to you, Doyle. I, uh..."
She hesitated. I stared, all my nerves on edge waiting for whatever it was that would come next, not quite believing this was happening.
"I need you," she said finally, her voice a rasp, barely more than a whisper.
Astonished, and knowing I ought to say something of comparative significance, I opened my mouth. And stopped. All the things I'd not dared voice because I knew she'd have turned around and laughed at me rushed through my mind. I had to pick one, and quickly, before I missed the opportunity I'd never imagined I'd have...
That was when she shrugged off her leather top over her head, "C'mon, Doyle," she said enthusiastically, "I've been hornier than hell ever since I lost that fight. Got to work off some of that steam, now the cripple's finally out the way and the Stooges have gone home."
I gaped, spluttered incoherently for a moment, then resignedly forced a smile.
It wasn't as if I could complain, really.
Still... for a minute there, it had been nice to think that maybe, just maybe, there was something more staring back at me from those dark-smudged eyes.
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