Title: Remember How to Breathe
Author: Darling_Effect
Spoilers/Setting: Takes place ATS post-Lineage.
Disclaimer: Written solely for fun not profit. Please do not sue!
Summary: Wes/Faith in San Francisco
Notes: Written for stumbelina for lyrajane’s Hometown Ficathon. stumbelina's request: Faith and/or Wes, Domestic detail, meaning mundane local colour - supermarkets or buses or local TV, that sort of thing. Place: San Francisco. Title from the Scala song of the same name; Tones On Tail’s "Go!" is the song referenced at the beginning Thanks to lovesbitca and mellowtron for insightful comments and much-needed cheerleading. I mean it when I say I couldn't have finished this damn thing without you.
Feedback: darling_effect @ livejournal.com

 

Remember How To Breathe

Wes doesn’t really know how long he’s been watching Faith. He’s lost track of time in the dark with the pounding music and haze of cigarette smoke. The whiskey is going down all too easily and he nods at the waitress for another shot. There’s no shortage of alluring creatures whirling past him in a blur but his eyes are trained solely on her.

He didn’t expect to find her here, and yet, part of him isn’t surprised. Watcherly intuition? Bollocks. Just your run-of-the-mill coincidence. He could pause to reflect on how really fucking funny fate is but he’s had enough whiskey that he doesn’t even care.

He’d left L.A. in a rush. Had to get away. He’d driven all night —meandered up the coastal highway and dark, twisty back roads to get to his destination. It was somehow essential that the only sounds he heard were of the ocean, the quiet thrum of the car’s motor, and Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 on endless repeat. He doesn’t want to think about what went down in L.A., or of the conversation that plays over and over in his mind:

"I will kill you for it. Please believe me."

"Oh, I believe you. I was raised by you, after all."

Most of all, he doesn’t want to remember how good it felt to pull the trigger.

***

He arrived in San Francisco late that afternoon, with the whole city enveloped in the thin golden light of dusk and the evening’s first sign of thick fog rolling in over the Golden Gate. Checked in to a cheap motor lodge on the outskirts of the Tenderloin under the name Phillip Marlow. He stashed his bag in the room and went right back out again. Didn’t want to risk the car in SoMA so he hailed a cab. Gave the cab driver the address and got a gruff "You sure about that?"

"Is a gratuity mandatory or optional in this city?"

The cabbie didn’t say another word.

Part of him expected the club to have a Studio 54-esque velvet rope exclusivity. But it was just the opposite —he was ushered in without fanfare.

So that’s where he finds himself, amidst the loud and the ugly and the sensory overload. He’s not out there in the fray but poised rather uncomfortably and self-consciously on the periphery. The crush of nearly unclothed bodies —and their heedless Dionysian rush towards intoxication and self-destruction— is both seductive and repulsive. He finds his own ambivalence disappointingly typical and galling.

Plus ça change.

He downs the shot in one gulp.

A whippet-hipped boy in velvet and vinyl with a tattoo of Kali on his bicep and a fine dusting of glitter from head-to-toe sidles over to the table. He cocks his PVC-clad hip in his quarry’s direction and gives him a long appraising stare.

Wes doesn’t wait for a line or an introduction. "Not interested" is his terse reply.

With the boy’s catty "Riiight" echoing in his ears, he turns his gaze back to Faith, who’s doing a slow bump-and-grind with a Manic Panick’ed raccoon-eyed girl to some dour Batcave drivel he remembers from his mercifully brief flirtation with Goth back in sixth-form.

"Your whole world could change,
If only you just broke through
So let’s smash through
Through the fear of being real,
Through the fear of being really you…"

Faith shimmers under the lights.

He watches.

***

At some point everything slows to a drunken blur and the endless thump thump thump of canned beats starts to get to him. Too many bodies in one room. Too hot, needs fresh air. But he can’t get it together enough to remember where the exit is. Locator spell? Christ, he can barely remember his own name. Which is a mercy, come to think of it. Perhaps he should have dropped crumbs on the way in.

Damn. He’s lost track of Faith. He scans the frenetic crowd. Spots her in a corner by the bar. She’s a still point in the center of chaos, lit by a single red spotlight. The boy with the Kali tattoo brings her a drink, which she sets on the bar. She shoots him the come-hither and drags him out onto the dance floor. Almost immediately they’re joined by another boy who looks like he stepped out of an Etruscan mural —he’s tall and elegant, with curly dark hair and olive skin. Faith sticks out her tongue, as though she’s taking communion, and he places something upon it —it’s too small to make out in the dim light. She responds by pulling him close like she’s got a secret to tell him and they lean into one another to kiss. Kali Tattoo doesn’t like being on the outs of this and wraps his arms around both of them, and they’re all three of them linked together, doing this slow, sensuous dance that’s completely out of step with the vulgar, loud music pulsing all around them.

It’s kind-of heartbreaking how beautiful they are.

Wes just stands there, unmoving. He doesn’t want it to end but knows he should be getting the fuck out of there, now. He turns and starts to fumble his way down the poorly-lit hallway he desperately hopes leads to the alley when something grabs him by the collar and slams him up against the wall.

"How long have you been watching me, you creepy fuck? Answer me, godammit!"

Her righteous anger is a sight to behold. The full force of it sends a thrill through him. He wants her disdain, her rage —deserves it even. He’s surprised when she lets go of him and takes a step back.

"Holy shit. Wes. I didn’t see— in the dark I— Christ."

She slumps back against the wall exhaustedly.

"This is so not a good time." She laughs, but there’s no mirth behind it. She looks small and tired. She’s rubbing her palms idly against her thigh, restlessly, and when she catches herself doing it she grabs Wes’ arm.

"I think I need to get out of here, Wes. Right fucking now." Her grip is fast on his arm.

"What about—"

"Who cares? They were more into each other anyway."

They stumble out onto Folsom, and even at this ungodly hour it’s teeming with drunks and tweakers and beautiful women who aren’t really women at all.

"You have some idea where we’re going?" Faith doesn’t answer. She’s not looking …all there. She’s staring with rapt fascination after the lingering traceries of the car lights.

Wes isn’t feeling all there, himself, but he manages to hail the next passing cab. He hurls Faith in and practically collapses on top of her. He momentarily ignores the cabbie’s curt "Where to?" in order to open the window as far as it will go. He gulps down the fresh air, trying to stave off nausea.

They’re speeding up Market, and it’s just about as deserted as it ever gets. The night is unusually clear, and Wes is almost surprised to see a sliver of moon and pale stars and the blinking red lights of the radio tower that presides over Twin Peaks. The air is cool and clean and it’s a beautiful night.

A 24-hour Safeway looms close on the left and Faith suddenly snaps out of whatever it is and yelps, "Pull over! Right here!"

The cabbie dutifully burns rubber and Wes suddenly finds himself in the middle of the bright fluorescent neon Hell that is an American supermarket, waiting for Faith to make the vitally important choice between Korean fruit jellies and another seemingly indistinguishable Asian candy. She looks at him pleadingly like she’s waiting for him to make the call, and he finds himself peering furtively over to the liquor aisle and thinking that sobering up is simply not an option. His head feels about to split open and there’s only one logical solution to that: blessed Kentucky bourbon.

Back in the cab, Faith seems to have remembered a destination point —Divisadero and Sutter. That’s when she starts emptying her Emily Strange backpack. A veritable storehouse of confectionery oddities comes tumbling out —more Korean jellies, peanut taffies, some weird Japanese gum called BlackBlack. Something else spills out —an envelope— and Faith snatches it up.

She dangles the tiny glassine pouch at him. "Better living through chemistry, Wes? C’mon, even you can’t be that uptight all the time."

He grabs the envelope from her and tosses it out the window.

Righteous anger Faith is back. "What the fuck is your fucking problem?"

He takes a swig of bourbon and gives her a slow, glacial smile. "You want to find out?" There’s a kind of provocation in his voice.

She’s not going to lose this game of one-upmanship, that’s for sure. But the Ecstasy is finally taking hold and, no thanks to the Ambiguously Gay Duo back there, she’s horny as hell.

She laughs. "So long as there isn’t any talking involved."

That’s hardly a tall order —it’s not as though they have any misty-colored memories to linger nostalgically over.

She doesn’t want to think about the last time she was this close to him, and how different it was. All that self-hatred and violation and anger between them. It’s better like this, better to just move on. It’s what she’s been doing her whole life. He could learn a thing or two from her.

She’s feverish for connection, can’t stand the thought of not touching him.

He surprises her by kissing her first.

She’s shocked, just a little, but then he slides his tongue into her mouth and she can taste the sharp tang of bourbon and feel the tension evaporating.

***

It’s a wonder they manage to pay the cab driver and stumble down the stairs to Faith’s ratty little basement apartment. The light is burned out and they pause there in the dark, and she’s marveling at how right this feels. But she doesn’t linger on it because the breathless speed of her thoughts is not conducive to coherence. His hand finds its way under her T-shirt and his thumb grazes her nipple, and she moans softly. His lips brush against her neck and that’s making her shiver and his fingers have found their way between her legs. She can feel the tendons in his arm flex as he scissors his fingers against her clit.

For a moment she forgets her surroundings. She’s been reduced to a creature of pure sensation —nearly an abstraction. Nothing else between the two of them matters, only the now of skin on skin and ragged, shallow breaths and muscle and want.

Wes had palmed her keys from the backpack overflow back in the taxi, and through some small miracle he opens the door in the dark and they make it inside without parting. She pulls her T-shirt up off her head and flings it onto the floor. No slow reveal is necessary —they’ve sped right past coy seduction. She’s unbuttoning his shirt and he takes a small indrawn breath when her hand reaches for his belt buckle.

From there inertia takes over and they fall onto her bed, clothing strewn messily in their wake. Her hands are restless, greedy, insistent —unbuttoned and undone he is beautiful and she wants to know every inch of him, even the fading scars that stand out on his pale skin. She runs the tip of her finger tenderly along the jagged scar on his neck and he flinches. She starts to draw her hand away but he holds it there and she can feel the faint flutter of his heart.

When she touches him she wants him to feel what it’s like, how everything is augmented: the scrape of his fingers against her neck as he pushes the hair back off her sweat-slick skin; their coolness as they slide inside of her, the sharpness of her own arousal. She’s newly fascinated by the process of her own breathing and when she kisses him she’s desperate to breathe that life back into him. "Please please please…" she whispers into his ear, clinging to something she didn’t know she needed.

He’s so delicate with her, and part of her wants to scream at him that she won’t break, <i>she can take it</i>. But the other part of her wants this, wants everything slow and languid.

No one’s ever been delicate with her.

It’s almost too much.

With her head thrown back she looks like St. Teresa in ecstasy.

***

They’re woken by the cruel early morning sun streaming in through the thin curtains.

"Fuck, turn it off," Faith mumbles, covering her eyes and struggling to untangle herself from the twisted-up sheets. She finally succeeds and kicks them angrily onto the floor, leaving Wes bare-ass naked.

He doesn’t move, just mumbles into the pillow. "I’d protest but I think Pallas Athene is trying to force her way out of my skull."

"What the fuck are you talking about?"

"Nothing." He still hasn’t moved. "Coffee?"

"Somewhere." Her mouth has the feel of cottonwool and full sentences are still eluding her.

"Good. I’ll make us some."

He pulls on his rumpled shirt and pants and shuffles into her tiny galley kitchen. She hears the clink of drawers and utensils and god, just the smell of coffee — even crappy coffee— is enough to revive her. Almost.

He brings it to her in bed. And, Christ, even massively hung over he makes a damn fine cup of coffee. He sits down next to her and clinks his coffee mug with hers. She tries to smile gratefully, but it comes out as more of a wince.

He looks dreadfully tired. Older. She can tell —even when he’s away from L.A. he’s not really away.

"You look like shit, Wes. And coming from me that really means something." She takes a long sip of her already-cooling coffee.

"I could definitely say the same of you." She even gets a smile out of him.

Faith smirks. "Aw, aren’t we meet cute. So, the burning question of the dawn’s early light is: why aren’t you prowling LA instead of pulling this Peeping Tom bullshit which, while deeply creepy, apparently gets you laid?"

"I killed my father." His tone doesn’t waver when he says it. It’s brusque, businesslike. But there’s so much else behind it —a lifetime of guilt and recrimination, of never measuring up.

"Oh. Jesus." That’s so not what she expected him to say. She’s pretty much ready for just about anything —demon possession, apocalyptic hellfire, Satan spawn—but that.

"At least, I thought I killed him. It was really this robot disguised by a very clever glamour. But I really believed it, and worse still —I wanted him dead. I gained some satisfaction out of that. Satisfaction. Can you imagine? Like it was a job well done. Christ."

"All your guilt’s gonna get you an early grave, Wes. Let it go. It’s not worth it. You didn’t know." She places her hand over Wes’ and holds it there. There aren’t any words for what she wants to say.

She lights a cigarette and for a moment they just sit, awkwardly, small talk of any kind not being their strong suit. Faith breaks the quiet: "What happened between us —you think it’s going to happen again?" There’s possibility in her voice.

"You tell me."

"I mean, you’re probably still all hung up on pale, virginal girls. You were just slumming with me, admit it."

"Don’t fucking mention—"

"Yeah, I know. Don’t get your knickers in a twist." She laughs. He doesn’t. "Chill the fuck out, Wes. I’m not going to judge you for it. Hell, I’ve still got my little jones for rough trade, so I think we’re just about even."

"It’s a peculiar sort of solace we have to offer one another, isn’t it, Faith?"

She doesn’t answer him. For the first time the silence between them is companionable. Smoke from her half-lit cigarette curls upward and hangs suspended in the air, a question mark between them.

The End