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As flame to smoke

by shrift

Beta by Minim Calibre, Nestra, and Shanola. Thanks, ladies.

Title borrowed from Shakespeare's Pericles: "One sin, I know, another doth provoke. / Murder's as near to lust as flame to smoke."


The first few times he sees Faith, he hears his father say "trollop" in the back of his mind. This is a Slayer, she who carries the fate of the world on her shoulders? Surely, they're all doomed.

He feels guilt and embarrassment, and he sternly reminds himself to be more open-minded.

The word isn't his, but he thinks it just the same. He'll recall this later with irony.


He doesn't remember much after Faith retaliates for his lucky punch to her face. It's the first time he has ever struck a woman in anger; he's quite certain that given the opportunity, he'd like to hit Faith again. Wesley isn't feeling any moral qualms about it right now, not when he's been rendered unconscious and transported against his will to some flat he presumes is still in Los Angeles. Not when Cordelia's fate is still unknown. Not when he wakes up as Faith ties him down.

Faith is laughing, her face so close that his eyes cross while looking at her. Faith's fist is in his hair, pulling his head back and baring his throat. "I could do anything to you right now," she says. "I could make you scream." She runs a fingernail from his temple down to his throat, and then her breath is hot on his ear. "I could make you die."

"Faith --"

Her hand claps over his mouth before he can say anything else, her nose wrinkling as though she'd ordered steak and instead received a platter of tofu. "You always were a wordy bastard, weren't you, Wesley?" She's gone and back again in moments, smiling as she forces his mouth open by punching him right under his ribs. He retches while Faith ties the gag and pats his cheek. "We'll save the screaming for later, love. Don't want the neighbors calling the cops and breaking up the party before we even get started."

Faith's fists are bludgeons, and she hits him like she's dancing. She twirls, and her heavy boot connects with his head. A blanket of white noise pushes over his eyes and ears, and then subsides into black, leaving him blind but still able to hear Faith breathe and punch.

He loses time.


Time is both ally and foe. It is hours before the sun will rise, giving Angel time aplenty to rescue him.

Faith, however, is tireless.

Blood pools under his skin, turning his flesh a mottled purple, tender and hot.


"Sharp," Faith says, climbing onto his lap. Her thighs are warm and hard against his hipbones, and she settles down with a lewd wriggle. She's invading his personal space, putting herself in such a place that he cannot look away. Should he close his eyes, her weight and scent will not fail to remind him where he is, nor will she fail to taunt him with the monster he helped her become. He closes his eyes anyway.

She really is quite adept at torture. To his shame, he believes he gave her cause to learn it.

"Hey, you falling asleep on me?" she says. Her breath is humid on his ear, her dark hair tickling the bruised side of his face. "Too soon in the relationship to lose interest, Wesley."

She slices the glass down his right arm, and blood wells out in a liquid push of warmth. The cut is deep. Too deep, he thinks, for his arm is already numbing. "Oops. My bad. I'm a little out of practice. That's what happens when you're in a coma, huh?"

He opens his eyes. Faith passes the glass to her left hand, and he notes that his blood matches the wet shade of her lipstick. She smiles, her teeth even and white, and she cuts him again. Piercing his shirt. Piercing his flesh. He can't help but notice that the smile reaches her eyes.

"Oh, wait. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?" she says, darting close enough to brush her lips over his gagged mouth. She leans back and grinds herself against his groin, watching him avidly. Her sexuality is both overpowering and brutally casual, and Wesley wonders if it occurs to her that this is sexual assault.

He's almost certain it doesn't, and he's not entirely sure why he desperately needs to believe that.

"I could do anything to you right now," Faith says. "And you want me to, don't you?"

His arousal takes him by surprise, but there's no time to feel embarrassment. His skin parts again and blood wells out, pain hot and bright. He works his jaw, and the gag drags at the sides of his mouth, chafing his lips. Wesley's tongue feels swollen and dry, throat convulsing as his gag reflex engages, the cotton between his teeth pulling all the moisture from his body.

He blinks and tries not to move. Blinks even though his eyelids feel as if they are coated in crushed glass.

He will not scream.

He will not let her make him scream.


Darkness is his friend, painless and far too brief.

It isn't a true friend; true friends are less fickle. At least, Wesley believes they must be less fickle, although he hasn't much first-hand experience at that sort of thing.

He isn't unconscious for long.


Wesley used to fear physical pain. The mere idea of it used to terrify him. When Balthazar threatened to pull off his kneecaps last year, he behaved cowardly, spilling all the information he knew while Giles smiled through a beating. He would have done anything to avoid getting hurt.

Pain meant punishment. Punishment meant failure. And failure was worse than death. His father taught him that.

Wesley hadn't understood then that emotional pain hurt worse, left deeper scar tissue, and never faded from memory. His father taught him that as well, but he didn't grasp the lesson until Sunnydale, where his inadequacies as a Watcher stood out in bold relief.

Pride goeth, as his father would say. Some days it seems as though his life is a chain of little failures, fumbled events stretching back to a locked cupboard under the stairs. His father's heart will never swell with pride at the thought of his son, and Wesley isn't sure he'll ever make peace with that.

He's used to failure and punishment, and now his best failure is standing right in front of him holding broken glass.

She bites his lower lip, untucks his shirt, and tangles the pain with pleasure as she slides her palm over his bloodied skin. "I've got a question for you, Wesley. Boxers? Or briefs?" Faith unzips his trousers and pushes her hand inside, straddling his left leg. "Boxers," she purrs. "Shoulda known."

Faith's palm is tacky with his blood, and she wraps her hand around him as she carves more shallow cuts into his body.

"You like this, Wesley?" she asks. Faith laughs when his body responds, mindlessly hardening to fill her hand. "Here's the question you should be asking yourself, old boy: is it the handjob that's got you all hot and bothered, or," she says, squeezing pulling on his erection as strongly and roughly as a man might, "does torture hit your kink?"

Wesley doesn't know the answer, but she doesn't seem to expect one. Faith's pupils are blown wide, and her hips move in a tight, grinding circle, leather creaking softly as she rubs herself against his hip. She stops slicing his skin and slides her arm around his neck, the shard of broken glass resting along his clavicle.

He feels the soft push of her breasts against his side. He feels his pulse beating in every laceration. His skin is damp, and he doesn't know whether it's from sweat or blood. Faith isn't gentle. It hurts. He thinks he wants it to hurt. No one has touched him like this in so long, and he can't --

Her breath hitches in her throat. Her head goes back, and she pushes hard against his hip one more time. Faith doesn't let him come.

Her body is heavy and pliant against him for a moment. When she sits back, her eyes are lazy, and she smiles like she's indulged in a bottle of wine on an empty stomach. Faith wipes her sticky hand on his shirt and zips up his trousers. She shifts on his lap when she moves to stand up and her breath hitches again, white teeth pressing a dent into her lower lip.

Wesley bites into his gag to keep from betraying himself, but Faith sees it anyway. She swings her other leg over his and settles herself on the cradle of his hips, propping her elbows on his shoulders and moving so very slowly.

He can smell her now, her sweat and arousal. Her body is heavy and warm under the leather. Pressure that's not enough, because she'll make sure of it. He knows that, and he hates her for it.

He wants to fuck her breathless, to feel her slick body clench around him again and again.

Wesley is happy for the gag; without it, he would be begging.

"Gettin' a little hot in here," Faith says, and hearing her rough voice doesn't help, because now Wesley knows what Faith sounds like during sex. "I thought I'd save that one for last."

Faith climbs off his lap. The loss of heat is immediate and startling; his skin prickles in reaction, and he feels his pulse in his groin like he's seated next to a timpanist.

The air conditioning starts with a whirring sound, and Faith keeps pushing buttons on the thermostat until she reaches the lowest setting. The film of sweat on his body quickly evaporates, the fine hair on his skin lifting in a vain effort to protect him from the cold.

Faith opens the window. The air is cool as it drifts inside, smelling of smog and petrol. She stretches and turns around, leaning against the windowsill. Her nipples have reacted to the change in temperature, pushing at the thin fabric of her shirt. She drags her hand between her breasts, hooking her thumb into a belt loop when she reaches her waist.

She stands still, and watches him watch her.


He is very cold, and the blood seeping from his wounds doesn't help.

Faith stares out the window, her face blank. Wesley isn't sure which is worse: the torture, or that she is capable of ignoring him so completely when his blood coats her hands.

Being ignored is usually easier to endure than this.


Warm blood trickles down his arm, his cold skin prickling and twitching from its heat. Blood collects at his waist like sweat in a sauna, soaking the cloth of his trousers; the cinch formed by his leather belt halts its downward progress. He shifts in the chair, and it creaks, ropes digging into his wrists.

The broken shard of glass glints on the windowsill. A horn honks on the street at the end of the alley and the wind carries it in, jarring and loud, through the open window.

The air conditioning shuts off, and the sudden cessation presses on his ears like high altitude, and then the tiny feet of insects scurry up his spine and he knows she's near.

"Wesley," she sings. Her tongue traces the shell of his ear, and he jerks away. She chuckles, her breath falling on his exposed nape. He clenches his jaw and holds himself still. "You're shivering," she whispers into his other ear. She nuzzles him for a moment, and then her teeth close over his earlobe. Hard. Almost breaking the skin. "Now the question is..." she says as he struggles away, "are you feelin' a little chilly, or do you just wanna crush my smokes real bad?"

She slides her palm down his shirt, avoiding the gleaming blood stains to hook her thumb in his belt; her fingers slide down his zipper to cup his groin. "Aww," she says, rubbing him with her palm. He's not aroused now. The blood in his body has been traveling elsewhere. "Is the honeymoon over already?"

Wesley holds himself still as Faith sucks a kiss onto his neck, her lips and tongue obscenely hot to the touch. Her mouth is wet, messy and sharp, stinging his skin. He wonders what she tastes on his throat, if his fear and pain lingers on her tongue like a pint of bitter. He leans toward her mouth for more.

"He won't be able to take me, you know," she says. Her lips tickle his neck. "Just in case you were getting your hopes up."

When she stands silently at his side without touching him, Wesley looks up. Faith is staring at him, and her eyes are like black buttons. Wesley recoils helplessly. It's the first time since he saw Faith walk out of Cordelia's bedroom that he believes she might actually kill him.

Wesley has never been this terrified before; facing a giant snake provoked an unreasoning kind of terror in him, true, but this is worse, because he knows exactly what Faith is capable of.

Faith's short attention span saves him from further indignity as she drifts toward the window. She picks up the shard of broken glass and sits on the sill, looking out into the alley.

If he survives this, Wesley is going to have scars.


Angel seems inclined to arrive fashionably late, and Faith has been pacing for more heartbeats than Wesley can count.

She stops and wheels, and her eyes are wild and vicious, like she has license to do him harm.

He doesn't tell her that she should have kidnapped Cordelia if she was in such a hurry.


Hot cooking oil spatters on his trousers. Wesley's putting up a brave front that might be convincing, but the thought of becoming a human torch is making him lightheaded and queasy. He feels his skin tightening from the heat of Faith's makeshift flamethrower, and a fine mist of cooking oil covers his face.

If she brings the flame too close, Wesley suspects that he'll ignite like a witch at the stake.

She tugs the gag from his mouth and tells him she wants to hear him scream. His throat is so parched he can barely say, "You never will."

He knows he'll scream if she tries burning him alive, but he doesn't expect her to leave him with any avenue of retreat. He's tired and angry. Everything hurts. His skin has the gritty overlay of a day spent preparing ashes for a Coprathian fire ritual, and he doesn't know how much longer he'll remain conscious. Blood loss. Dehydration. Too much longer, and he'll be urinating in his trousers or suffer kidney damage. He truly regrets finishing that last cup of coffee before leaving the office with Cordelia.

Wesley realizes that Faith's talking again, but she has already cut him down to size, and he doesn't care what else she has to say.

Angel kicks in the door. Wesley has a knife pressed to his neck, and he's never been more relieved to see a vampire in his entire life.

The relief won't last long. It never does.


Amidst the mayhem, he works himself free, the frayed edges of the ropes biting into his wrists like an angry lover.

Angel and Faith take no notice, fighting and striking and destroying. They tumble out a window.

Determined to end it, Wesley follows with a knife.


Angel has his arms around Faith, and he whispers soothing words into her wet hair. Wesley doesn't know how long he stands there before Angel finally notices and gets up from the ground, putting himself between Wesley and Faith. Wesley isn't offended by it even though he no longer has the knife in his hand, because he would have killed her without giving her a chance to redeem herself. He might do it yet.

Angel looks over his shoulder at Faith; she's sitting on the pavement, holding herself like she's broken. Her shoulders lurch. He thinks she's sobbing. "Listen, Wesley --"

"You don't want me to press charges," Wesley says. He doesn't look at Angel. He's watching the rain soak into his shirt; his blood leaves rusty streaks on the fabric.

"I think I can reach her this time," Angel says. "I can get her to listen, just not from a jail cell -- any jail cell."

"I'm not a Watcher anymore," Wesley says. He looks up at the building, his gaze snagging on the broken window several stories above them. Deep down, he knows why Angel is choosing Faith over him. Faith is in more danger than he is despite the battered state of his body.

He still feels betrayed. He doesn't want to understand. Wesley came to Los Angeles looking for a second chance as well, but he managed to do so without torturing anyone but himself.

If Angel tells him this is just Faith's cry for help, Wesley will stake him while he sleeps.

"Wesley?" Angel says.

"What." Exhaustion drags him down and his shoulder blades feel like he forgot to take out the clothes hanger when he put on his spine this morning.

Angel shifts uncomfortably. "Do you need a doctor?"

Wesley no longer has health insurance. His savings are meager, and there's not a chance that any hospital will admit him without contacting the proper authorities, even if it is the psychiatric ward for suspicions of self-mutilation. He doesn't have anywhere to go.

This isn't something new. The first cut was the deepest, and the rest will heal in their own time.

"Not today," he says.

He walks away, across the alley, up the stairs. Finds himself standing in the ruined flat and staring at the closet of a stranger. The shirts are silk in a rainbow of garish colors. He takes one and changes with considerable effort. He doesn't bother shutting the door behind him when he leaves.

Wesley can't call for a taxi while he's still in this neighborhood; doing so would only lead the police straight to Angel's door. It's tempting, but he won't stoop to something so petty.

He resigns himself to walking in the rain.


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