Title: Bitter Chill
Author: amyb
Rating: NC-17
Spoilers/Setting: Vaguely through Angel Season 4
Disclaimer: The characters used within are the property of Mutant Enemy, Twentieth Century Fox, and of course Joss Whedon.
Summary: When you know what you are, but are afraid of what you know you can be, where can you turn? Who will be your anchor as you try to find yourself? Another game of episodic fill-in-the-blanks.
Notes: Special thanks to Selene for her beautiful artwork for this story. As always, huge thanks to alwaysjbj for her excellent beta work and unbelievable support. Passages in italics are description of scenes in canon; the quotations in these passages come from the AtS season 4 episode Release.

 

Bitter Chill

“Stay here.”

Faith stood frozen, numb, exhausted, more broken than ever he’d seen her; her blood dripped to the bare wood, and it seemed as though it might well be her very life ebbing away as he watched. Though he tried to resist, tried to school his features into neutrality, he couldn’t keep the concern from his face as he brought her the icepack, held it to her jaw until she took it from him. She looked so damn young like this, seemed not the hardened murderer he’d built up in his mind but rather the woman/child with which he’d been confronted in Sunnydale.

Moving behind her, the better to conceal his worry, Wesley ghosted his hands over her shoulders as he quickly checked her over, wincing at the blood and gouges that decorated her clothing. “I’ll get bandages,” he murmured, more to himself than to her as he moved towards the first aid supplies he kept in his bedroom. So many nights he’d needed them there, so many nights he’d ached too badly to reach more than one destination, so many nights he’d chosen bed and left wounds untended; one too many of such nights, and the supplies had migrated from the bath as a result.

“No drama. I’m good.” The words were bravado—the blood covering her put the lie to them more than eloquently—but the set of her jaw as he turned to face her was such that he was certain she would never admit the extent of the damage.

Nevertheless, he was quite certain that his disbelief imbued both his expression and his words as he stared at her. “You were nearly killed.”

Her flinch, the rapid blinking and shifting of her eyes, told him that he should’ve allowed that phrase to remain unspoken, should have allowed it to remain the elephant in the room. “Could use a shower,” she responded, still rooted to the spot in which he’d stopped her earlier, studiously averting her gaze.

“Of course,” Wesley answered, gesturing towards the room with an outstretched arm, chastising himself internally for not having thought of making the offer himself. She turned to follow in his footsteps, and the words escaped before he could stop them. “Faith, are you sure you’re okay?”

“Little sticky,” she muttered self-consciously as she slowly, carefully ambled by him, each step measured and designed to deliver a minimum of impact to her beaten body. There was no swagger in her, not anymore—she was simply, obviously attempting to stay upright. He took the icepack as she slipped it into his hand and stood, stock-still, watching her as she walked away from him.

She looked… defeated, far more so than he’d seen her since the night she’d broken down in the alley, since she’d begged Angel to kill her. Whatever fire had burned inside her seemed to have gone out, and he worried for their fates—and hers— should it not rekindle quickly. Shrugging out of his jacket, he claimed the scotch decanter from the corner of his desk, staring into the amber liquid as he propped himself in its place on the wooden surface.

~*~*~*

He hadn’t meant to be there.

He’d meant only to take her a towel, to make certain that there was nothing else she needed; although she’d spurned his attempts at doctoring her wounds, he had seen the way she moved, the agony implicit in each slow, carefully measured step. He’d heard her muffled groans with every jostle of the car, watched her grit her teeth as she faced the stairs to his third-floor walkup. And although she’d accepted the ice he’d handed her, more out of shock than out of any real conscious choice, she had refused his implicit offer of a seat, as well as his explicit offer of aid. She didn’t want care from him, that much was abundantly clear; though it had to have hurt her, she had shrugged off his hands as though she’d merely suffered a scratch. Whether her uneasiness around him, her flinch from his eyes and his touch were simply because of the walls that were so much a part of her, because of her own shame or doubt or confusion, or because of his harsh words years before, he couldn’t have said. As he watched her shuffle into the bathroom, as he removed his jacket and sought comfort in drink, as he started for the linen closet to get sheets and a pillow to convert the couch into his bed for the evening, however, he knew it didn’t matter; her reserve aside, she had been injured doing as he bade her, and as such she deserved care.

So here he stood, towel and first aid materials in one hand, the other poised to deliver a knock to the door to make her aware of his presence, and he was frozen. Completely unsure as to why he was willing to—why he needed to—offer her help when she wanted nothing from him. He couldn’t make the necessary movement to complete his contact with the door, couldn’t take a step either forward or away; he was rooted to the spot, history having reared its head. Walking through that door would make everything real, would mean that he was making an actual gesture. Getting her out of jail had been a means to an end, supplying her with clothing a means of avoiding detection, providing her with lodging a courtesy extended in return for her assistance; to enter that room, to give her towels and bandages, to risk having her see again the concern he knew he couldn’t hide—that made him too much like a Watcher, meant he saw her too much as a person, though he’d vowed he’d left both perspectives behind years before.

The truth of the matter, however, was far more complicated; until the Connor debacle, Faith had counted as both his greatest regret and his most significant failure, and in the aftermath of that nightmare she still managed a very close second. He told himself consciously that he’d tried, that he’d done everything, that he’d not given up until all hope was lost, but deep down he knew that he’d given up early on, hadn’t been equipped to try hard enough, and that both he and Faith would forever pay the price. She had been too damaged, he too inexperienced, and the combination lethal. The guilt he felt over her darkness had in no small way informed every decision, every action, he had made or taken in the intervening time. Too often he found himself certain that her descent into darkness began his own, her feelings of rage and confusion and futility feeding his, his frustration leading him to give up on her and her rage at being forsaken leading her away from her calling. Their insecurities, their failings seemed to twine into a vicious loop, threaded inextricably together to the extent that he wondered abstractly if her fate had been sealed the day he had been named her Watcher.

He heard the water begin to run, followed quickly by the distinctive hiss of the shower being cut on and, after a pause that he imagined was due to a rather tentative entry into the enclosure, the interruption in the sound when her body displaced the droplets as they streamed inexorably from showerhead to basin. His foot nudged forward, realizing far faster than his mind that he could relieve himself of his burden and still avoid seeing her if he entered quickly and quietly enough. His hand fell to the knob, turning it slowly, carefully, easing the door forward until he had created a small slit between door and frame, small enough to allow him to verify that she was, indeed, shielded from view. Now certain that he could avoid her, he edged the door further open.

His right side was firmly ensconced in the doorframe when he heard the first shattering of ceramic; where the first had stunned him into resuming his stillness, the second harsh chorus of tile raining onto the porcelain of the tub sent him into overdrive. He was fully inside the room within seconds, heart pounding as he tried, rather ineffectively, to lay his burdens neatly on the rim of the sink. Mocking himself silently for his priggishness in such a moment, he simply pushed the items forward, watching them slide into the sink almost in time with the scream that ripped from Faith’s throat and the blows she rained anew on the shower enclosure.

Wesley recognized that scream, the rage and frustration implicit in the sound. How many nights had he vented the same impotent fury as he wandered, bereft, in the wake of his dismissal from the Watcher’s Council; as he struggled for a solution to the false prophecy; as he felt so acutely the loss of his friends and the ache of their hatred in the wake of his abduction of Connor; as he struggled to make a place for himself amongst them yet again. The recognition, the fellow-feeling, bound him to her, obliged him to help, and he propelled his feet towards the curtain, all regard and concern for propriety or guilt or regret or artifice gone.

It was decidedly strange, he thought abstractly, that what caught his attention wasn’t the damage to the wall, wasn’t the pile of shattered ceramic in the bathtub, wasn’t even the attractive and very naked young woman in the shower; rather, his eyes caught and held to the contrast of the blood against Faith’s skin, the sluggish trail of crimson slowly becoming pink and near-invisible as it diluted and rushed towards the drain. “Christ, Faith,” he murmured, not even aware he’d voiced the words, stunned at the extent of the damage. It was worse than he’d believed—nearly worse than he could imagine—and he felt, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, that he’d failed this girl too often, too severely. For a single, horrific moment, he could see every wrong she’d suffered, at his hands and numerous others, writ large on her flesh, and the recognition was overwhelming.

Widened eyes met his when he finally tore his gaze from her wounds and focused on her face; she didn’t, however, seemed shocked by his presence, and he wasn’t entirely certain that she knew he was there at all. Her eyes were simply lost, unfocused, some strange mixture of horror and fear and frenzy filling their depths. He was more than transfixed by the abyss they represented, having seen that look before in her unguarded moments as she’d tortured him. She was moorless, perhaps as much now as she had been then, and he was left to wonder yet again what had happened while they’d been separated in the warehouse to take her from confidence to such utter devastation.

Her hands were on him, tugging him towards her before he’d even registered her movement, and he automatically stepped over the edge and into the shower. It was the sharp sting of the water, a brutal, scalding rain, that snapped him from the spell under which her eyes held him. Realizing where he was, he moved to take a step back, bringing his hands up to hers where they were fisted in the collar of his shirt.

“Faith,” he said quietly, attempting to pry her fingers loose from the material. She looked up at him, and he was at least reassured that she saw him, that she recognized him, if not the details of their situation. “Faith, I need you to let go,” he urged, tone still low and even. Her fingers relaxed for an instant, her arms losing some of their tension as she took a slight step backwards.

“Oh,” she murmured; although she didn’t let him go completely, she did allow his hands to work their way beneath hers. Her eyes never left his face, and he tried valiantly to meet her stare; he was, however, finally becoming uncomfortably aware of the fact that she was naked, and so very close. Her fingers closed around his hands just as tightly as they had around his shirt moments before, and he scrambled for mental distance and control even as his body began to respond to the raw need of the gesture. Clearly, she wanted him to act as her anchor; he couldn’t, wouldn’t, however, allow himself to respond—not when she was injured, not when hell itself surrounded them, not when, in his heart of hearts, he was still the girl’s Watcher, she still his ward. Not when she needed him, and he could perhaps avoid failing her. Not when he had the chance to atone.

His internal battle was still raging when he felt her lips against his, the contact tentative for only a brief second before becoming aggressive, desperate. Her hands released his, sliding up around his neck, holding him to her as she teased his mouth open with her tongue. Making a sound somewhere between a groan and a plea, he reached forward and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her flush against him as roughly as he dared as he returned her kiss, lost in the sensation of being needed, of being desired, no matter what the reasoning behind the urge.

They tore apart, eyes meeting and holding as chests rose and fell rapidly in pursuit of breath. “Faith…” he began, voice barely above a whisper yet still echoing in the stall. This was his one chance to back away, to step out, make his excuses and leave her there, to leave whatever this interaction was becoming behind him; as his muscles tensed, preparing for just such a departure, the forsaken expression on her face stopped him. Closing his eyes, resigning himself to seeing this through and, in all likelihood, adding it to the endless list of ways in which he’d failed those who needed him, he forced himself to relax against the damaged wall.

That same desolate look greeted him when he opened his eyes again, and a small, idealistic part of him longed to ask what was wrong, needed to fix her somehow; the far more world-weary and experienced man he’d become, however, knew that such repair would be impossible, that the only comfort he could offer would be that for which she had already wordlessly asked.

Faith’s fingers busied themselves with his shirt; she attempted briefly to force the buttons free of the sodden material before giving up and ripping it open, shoving it back over his shoulders, his own movements completing its removal. The fastenings of his jeans fared little better, and in a matter of instants torn denim and cotton boxers were being forced over his hips and down his legs by small, powerful hands. Boots were toed off, thrown over the side of the tub to join her bloodied and ruined clothing, joined soon after by his own destroyed items.

The frenzy with which she pressed herself against him, the hunger with which she plundered his mouth, took him by surprise yet again; his own response, however, stunned him even more. He was achingly hard, more than ready for her, meeting her questing tongue with increasingly aggressive parries of his own, his arms banding unyieldingly around her. Need met need, the undercurrent from one fueling the actions and reactions of the other, and he realized that this outcome had been a foregone conclusion since he’d laid eyes on her—in Sunnydale, in Cordelia’s apartment, in the prison, in the warehouse.

Faith smiled slightly as she broke the kiss, stepping backwards and pulling him along, back into the shower spray. “Always knew it, Wes… some part of you wanted me. Even back in the day, you wanted in.”

“That’s not true,” he responded, even as he followed, eyes and hands hungry for her; denied the truth of her words, even as he pinned her against the wall, bringing a hand to cup one full breast as his lips trailed hungrily down her throat.

Her husky laugh told him that she was no more fooled by his denial than was his own body, and she arched into his touch as she gasped quietly. “Whatever you say, Watcher man,” she murmured—whether derisively or not, he truly couldn’t say.

“Don’t call me that,” he shot back angrily, hand fisting warningly in her hair.

Faith merely met his furious gaze, raising a brow as she smirked. “Looks like both of us want to leave it behind. Wanna be somebody else with me, Wes?”

He froze, hands stilling on their path down her body, the air between them charged with tension far more than sexual. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying…” she murmured seductively, one hand sliding down his torso in a long, torturous caress before wrapping around his erection, “let it all go. Let go of whatever’s fucked you up… let go of what makes me a murderer… let go of Watcher and Slayer and destiny and vampires. Pretend we’re more than… less than… hell, just other than…” Her words were accompanied by slow, steady strokes of his cock, the rhythm hypnotic in and of itself.

“Just for a while,” he answered, lips a breath apart from hers; his hand trailed down her stomach, long fingers parting dark curls before administering teasing caresses to the tight little bundle of nerves that greeted his touch. He gloried in the low groan that tore from her throat, the heat and wetness that echoed the desire that imbued the sounds she was making.

“That’s the trick,” she responded, arching her hips, closing the distance between them. Transfixed by her expression, he slid first one finger, then two, inside her, his thumb never leaving her clit; he sank into the kiss into which she drew him, countered her desire with his own.

Wes eased his fingers from her depths, rewarded with a small regretful whimper that seemed out of place coming from her; his hands slid around her hips to cup her ass, and slowly, carefully, he lifted her. She arched again, shifting seamlessly to support her back against the tile as she wrapped her legs around his waist; another breathless kiss, another heated look were shared as he positioned himself against her.

Her voice, loud in the silence, seemed a tangible thing, thickened by emotions he couldn’t even begin to name. “Make me somebody else, Wesley.”

Well beyond the ability to do anything but comply, he thrust up while guiding her towards him cautiously, mindful of her injuries; she, however, defied his efforts at gentleness and slammed down, crying out when her pelvis met his. Their eyes locked as they froze for an instant, she needing the moment to adjust to a contact she’d been without for years, he gritting his teeth and mentally reciting Latin declensions as he fought to maintain a control seriously endangered by the heat and tightness he’d encountered.

A brief, terse nod from Faith, the pressure of her nails in his shoulders told him she’d had all the time she needed, and he took a deep, steadying breath as he withdrew slowly, only to slam back forward. Her eyes widened, and she gave him a wicked grin as she tightened her walls around him. “Didn’t… know you had it in you, Wes,” she gasped appreciatively, rocking against him, meeting his thrusts with force of her own.

“Don’t know a lot about me, Faith,” he gritted in response, hands tightening on her hips. “All the changes you see, and you never stopped to think that perhaps I’m more than the man you knew?” he asked, each bitter word punctuated by a sharp upwards stroke, the question and the contact leaving her gasping.

“Knew you were… had to be. If I can be, why not you, too? We’re more than this,” she answered, voice wavering, eyes lost and unfocused. “I’m more than this.”

Wesley stilled, anger defused by the sudden change in her expression as wantonness was replaced by dejection and something very like fear. “Faith?” he asked gently, one hand cupping her chin and turning her to face him. “I’m afraid I don’t…”

She shook her head sharply and attempted to buck against him, to rock, to force him to resume movement, but she hadn’t counted on his determination. “It’s nothing,” she argued, struggling against his grip.

“It’s not nothing,” he answered, voice low and more forceful than she’d expected, judging by the look on her face. “Tell me what you’re talking about.”

Rolling her eyes, Faith looked at him warily. “You won’t start again ‘til I talk, will you?” At the answering shake of his head, she snorted derisively and said, “Fine. It was the Beast, ok? Had a whole big spiel about how this is all I am, that I’m too damn weak to kill him, that I’m nothing special, the power won’t last, insert evil villain speech blah blah. Same shit as always. Now move it, Wes.” He loosened his grip on her enough that her shifting this time proved fruitful, yielding a long, slow circle of her hips against his that had him groaning.

“That’s what this is about?” he asked, resuming motion with short, shallow thrusts, forcing her to pay attention by denying her the entirety of what she wanted, giving her only enough to keep her abandoned, craving more.

“Are you my therapist now, Wes? Wanna fix poor little lost Faithy?” she asked snidely, tightening her inner muscles around him almost painfully on his next forward pass, holding him inside her.

“Can’t fix you,” he gritted in response. “Don’t know if anybody can. But I’m not the man for it, Faith.” He withdrew, slid forward again, his strokes into her deepening, growing sharper. “Now tell me… what he said… that rang true.”

“None of it,” she answered, gasping as a particularly forceful plunge slammed her against the wall, aggravating wounds that were just beginning to heal.

“Really, now? Is that why you’re fucking me? Because everything’s so normal and right?” he asked conversationally, smile tense and slightly menacing as he grasped a handful of long hair and tugged, pulling her head back harshly. “Is that why you want to be somebody else, Faith? Afraid you’re all you’ll ever be?”

“Fuck you.”

“In progress. Now… answer… me.”

“Knew a long time ago that I was all I’d ever be, Wes; you told me yourself, I was a piece of shit. Started feelin’ like I was better than that in the joint, but now…”

“Now?” Another sharp forward stroke, another impact of her upper body against the wall. Forcing, keeping her attention with pleasure, with pain, with any combination of the two that would keep her talking, that would keep her from retreating inside her own insecurities, that would keep her in the now, where she was so urgently needed.

“It’s not enough—none of it is enough. I’m more than just a Slayer. More than just the one girl jive. I have to be. There has to be more to me… I have to be stronger…” Faith turned her head, evading his eyes, focusing instead on the joining of their bodies, on the steady slide of his cock inside her, on the rhythm of her hips.

“Stronger than who?”

“Than me,” she murmured brokenly, fingers digging into his shoulders as she arched frantically against him. “I have to be stronger than me… have to be more than a killer. More than a Slayer. More than just death on legs. Tell me I’m more than that, Wesley. Make me be more… please… I need to be more.”

He’d never realized… all the thought that he’d given her fall, that he’d tried not to give Faith herself, for these past years and he’d never realized what it must mean to be both a murderer and a Slayer. To lose track of where the mission ended and the depravity began. To know you needed the detachment, the brutality, the sheer strength and force of will… and to be desperate not to lose yourself within it all. All this time… for all he’d hated her, feared her, she’d hated and feared herself more.

The sudden understanding, the pain of the realization, broke something within him, something hard and brittle that had held him aloof from her since he’d first seen her in Sunnydale, when she had been little more than a frightened, blustering child. He did want to fix her, although he knew that he couldn’t; giving her what she was pleading for, letting her escape it all for a moment, didn’t seem enough, but it was what he could give.

Meeting her eyes, he whispered, “I know that you’re more, Faith,” as he claimed her mouth and surged into her, slow steady strokes replacing the punishing ones of moments before, newly gentle hands finger-combing long tresses and caressing bruised flesh before moving to cup full breasts. His mouth trailed down her neck, still hungry but no longer ravenous, soft nips and licks urging pleading whimpers from her throat. Whoever, whatever she wanted to be, he wanted her to feel appreciated, considered—he wanted her to feel that she mattered as more than a Slayer, a killer, an implement of one power or another. He wanted to see her, and to let her know that he saw her, as a woman—no more, no less.

“Please…” she begged, hands in his hair, holding him to her.

She gave a choked sob as his lips closed over one erect nipple, bucking into his touch as she began to glide her hips almost frantically in an ardent attempt to speed his movements. He refused the silent urgings, his even rhythm building them both into a slow burn that had her murmuring insensibly as he teased a path across her chest to claim the other nipple.

“Wes…”

The word was little more than a husky whisper, fraught with yearning, with barely contained control. He raised his head, their eyes meeting and holding for a long silent minute as he drove into her harder, faster, taking them both to the edge. He tried to show her, to let her see… and then she gave a heady gasp, her eyes widening as he felt her tightening around him; his own control slipped, and he crushed his lips to hers in a hurried, hungry kiss.

“Let go, Faith. Just let it all go… be whoever you need to be.”

His words prefaced by mere instants a nearly primal scream, a sound that he was certain that he’d never heard before—that he was proud to have caused. Faith’s head fell forward, into the crook of his neck, the tightening of her arms and legs around him nearly crushing as she shuddered through her orgasm. Brought over by her body, by the sheer magnitude of her response, he let himself go, his last quick, deep thrusts of release draining him physically and emotionally. It hadn’t been much, but he’d given her all he had… he had to hope that a moment’s escape had been enough.

Slowly reality began to set in; water that had been scalding as it struck them was now barely tepid, and Wesley realized as he lowered Faith to her feet that the debris from her earlier rage had blocked the drain, leaving them standing in ankle-deep water. They stood, awkward silence raging, until the stillness became too much.

“The water’s gotten cold, I’m afraid,” he said, kicking himself mentally for the utter pointlessness of the observation, given that she was standing under the spray.

“It’s fine… had worse,” she answered, giving him a half-smile as she reached for one of the bottles on the lone shelf.

“Of course. Well, then… I’ll be…” Wesley faltered, gesturing towards the shower curtain and the bathroom beyond.

“Okay.”

Faith’s eyes were closed, head tilted back as she shampooed her hair, and he felt strangely like a voyeur as he watched her. Shaking himself mentally, he pulled the curtain and stepped out, pulling his towel from the bar and preparing to leave.

“Wes.”

Her voice startled him, and he froze, turning to look at her over his shoulder, brow raised in silent inquiry.

“Thank you.”

They weren’t words he’d expected, and didn’t look to be words that had been easy to say. He nodded, then gestured to the sink. “I’ve left you a towel… and there are clothes for you… they’re on the bed, if you’d like to dress there.”

“Will do.”

The curtain snapped closed again, and Wesley turned towards the door, utterly unsure as to what would, or should, come next.

~*~*~*

Wesley dressed quickly so as to be out of the bedroom when she left the bath. Once back in the living room, he busied himself with repacking the weapons bag, refusing to think of what had just happened, what implications the act could hold if either of them allowed it to do so. Deciding simply to take his cues from her, he focused unflinchingly on the task before him.

“Squeaky clean. Let’s blow.” Dressed in the all-black ensemble he’d left for her, her armor firmly back in place as she strode into the room, Faith looked again like both the killer he had feared and the reckless, brave warrior he’d come to know in the twenty-four hours since he’d retrieved her from the prison; it seemed as though she’d found her equilibrium again. A glance from him seemed to trigger something, some small chink in the bravado that she wore so casually, and a look of something he couldn’t identify passed quickly through her eyes before they hardened yet again. “Right. Uh, sorry ‘bout your bathroom. Come on, let’s do it.”

She wasn’t going to mention it again—wasn’t going to say a word. But then again, what could be said? What had been shared but frantic comfort, a desperate connection in an attempt to both establish and escape life and identity? Rising slowly, he held her gaze. “I’m not worried about the bathroom… although I’m fairly sure my security deposit’s a complete loss. I need to know you’re in the game, Faith—all the way.” He watched her carefully, measuringly, needing a response, not quite sure what response he wanted.

Her sigh didn’t surprise him, nor did the dark look that she gave him as she leaned forward to shoulder the weapons bag. Whatever door had been opened between them, whatever connection may have been… it was closed by the look in her eyes, by the offense she took at his question, by the unspoken implication that he should know that—comfort aside—she was deeply invested in this game. That in every possible way, she was this game, both good and evil, as well as the balance between. “Five by five, boss.”

Watching her leave, preparing to follow, Wesley wasn’t sure whether or not she was telling the truth—whether or not he ever would be. A moment of openness, of transparency had been his, but that moment had passed, and she was as much a cipher now as ever before, her guards carefully, unflinchingly up. Taking a deep breath, he crossed to the door, locking it before walking down the stairs in her wake.

There was nothing else to be done. Armed with the insights he’d gained, he would have to do simply what he’d been born and trained to do: ask for her best, take it, and face the consequences when, all too inevitably, they came. He would send her out to fight; he would worry, and hope, and fear; he would wait, and he would watch.