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Imposters In This Country

by Minim Calibre

"Buffy Summers?"

She didn't turn. Turning had given her away the last time. She must have flinched, or maybe halted a little, because the man didn't give up.

"Ms. Summers, it's important that I speak with you."

Buffy swallowed a sigh and turned around. The guy was tall, a bit on the skinny side, with overly-pomaded dark hair, glasses, and a suit so stuffy it could only mean one thing: new Watcher.

"Do you guys all come factory-equipped with tweed? Tell the Council they can bite me. I'm through."

She made it a few steps before he rushed in front of her and blocked her path.

"Ms. Summers, I realize that the loss of your previous Watcher was a difficult blow, however, as you are no doubt well aware, you have a sacred duty to uphold--one which you've been neglecting for several months."

Buffy counted backwards from ten to keep herself from hitting him. "What part of 'I'm through' didn't you understand?"

"This isn't some sort of game where you can just quit because you no longer feel like playing. This is life and death we're talking about." She could see the muscles in his jaw twitching as he ground out the words.

"Yeah. My life, and the death of everyone I care about. Like I said, I'm through."

She would have left, but his next words stopped her. "Because, of course, they're all so much safer on the Hellmouth with you scampering across the country and waitressing." He took in the look on her face and gave a tight smile. "The thought bothers you, as well it should. Arranging a flight won't take very much time; we can be back in Sunnydale by morning, and the Council will pretend this little interlude never happened."

"No."

He sputtered, and the smug expression left his face. "I beg your pardon?"

"You heard me: no. I'm not going back."

"Ms. Summers, are you aware of the methods the Council has for dealing with a rogue Slayer? I can assure you, if you aren't, you wouldn't like to find out." He still looked angry, but the words were cold and pleasant. She didn't like the sound of this.

"Is that a threat?"

The man sighed and took of his glasses to clean them. Buffy winced. Maybe it was something that you learned in Watcher training, or maybe it was just a weird English thing, but it reminded her too much of Giles for comfort.

"Ms. Summers--"

Buffy interrupted him. "Would you please quit with the Ms. Summers thing? My name is Buffy."

"Fine. Buffy. As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I'm not here to threaten you. I'm not your enemy; I'm just trying to make you see things in a reasonable light."

"By telling me what? That bad things will happen to me if I don't? Thanks, but no thanks." She turned her back to him and started to walk off again.

"Buffy--wait."

He suddenly sounded tired, frustrated, and at the end of his rope. Against her better judgment, she turned around. "What?"

"I'm sorry we appear to have gotten off on the wrong foot, and I'm sorry about your Mr. Giles, but the fact of the matter is, you're needed. You can't just run from who you are forever, you know."

He was right. She didn't want him to be, but he was right. Every town she'd tried to settle down in, she'd ended up leaving after the local nasties discovered her. She could try to leave her life as the Slayer behind, but it followed her like bad luck. She'd go back, but it had to be on her terms, and--annoying as he was--her new Watcher needed to know what he was in for before all Hellmouth broke lose.

"Fine. I'll go back, but we're driving, and we're taking the scenic route."

"Ms.... Buffy, time is of the essence here. We can't just meander across the country at your leisure."

"Have a lot of experience fighting demons and vampires? 'Cause, if so, feel free to let me know. If not, you're going to have to learn before we hit Sunnydale. That is, unless you really feel like becoming another body in my increasingly large pile of dead Watchers."

He glared at her, then tightened his lips into something that might have been a smile, but looked more like he'd just found a fly in his soup. "Fine. We'll do it your way for now."

"Great. Of course, it might be nice of you to tell me your name before we get started."

"Wesley Wyndam-Pryce."

"Yeergh. And I thought you couldn't get any more English than Rupert Giles. Speaking of, do you have anything to wear that's a little less... stiff and tweedy? Because you're going to look mighty conspicuous in that outfit."

And here she'd been thinking he couldn't possibly look any more uptight and offended. "What's wrong with what I'm wearing?"

"Well, for starters, first town we roll into, I don't care how sleazy the motel is: someone's bound to report you for transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes. Given my track record with the police, that's definitely not a good thing. Also? You're going to need something you can fight in." She looked down at the spit-polished oxfords peeking out from under the crisp cuffs of his pants. "Looks like you'll need shoes, too."

"You cannot be serious."

"Oh, I'm serious all right. We do this my way, or not at all. Clear?"

"Impressively so. I dare say you could give Lady Thatcher lessons in bullheadedness."

Secondhand stores provided him with a wardrobe that she figured no one would even look twice at. Wesley insisted on taking everything to a laundromat before wearing it, so Buffy gave him her address and went back home.

It wasn't much. Even her place in L.A. looked like a palace in comparison. She stared out the filthy, barred windows at the peeling paint of the place next door and realized just how sick of being on the run she really was. Seventeen, and the months she'd spent going from greasy spoon to greasy spoon, flophouse to flophouse made her feel like she was closer to forty. She didn't bother to pack--she'd never bothered to unpack.

She'd paid her rent in advance, so the impatient knock on her door could only belong to one person. Buffy sighed and went to answer it, leaving the chain in place in case she was wrong. She wasn't, although it took her half a second to recognize him.

He cleaned up well enough--well, actually, roughed up well enough if she was going for accuracy. Without the suit and pomade, Wesley was almost attractive. If he ever lost the petulant frown, she'd seriously consider striking the "almost".

"Satisfied?" Okay, so he'd have to lose the petulant tone, too.

"Well, it's definitely an improvement, Wesley. You could almost pass for human."

"Ha-ha. As I'm now apparently up to scratch, could we please be on our way?"

Eager as she was to get away from the place, she didn't want him to know it. "I dunno... did you think to bring weapons?"

"I've been flying all over the country following your trail. I think it's safe to assume that no, I did not bring any weapons with me, seeing as that's frowned on by most airlines. I suppose you did?"

"Couple of stakes, some Holy Water. It's enough for me to get by, but not enough for the two of us."

"Well, in that case, I do have plenty of weapons waiting in Sunnydale. We could always skip this charade of a road trip you seem to have planned and go back straight away."

Buffy gave him a terse smile. "You already know that's not going to happen. If you've got a way to get some weapons before we take off, do it. If you don't, we'll just have to make do. It wouldn't be the first time--for me at least."

"I assure you, our training covers improvisational weaponry. Besides, I'm not too keen on wasting any more time before leaving. If I find we need something during our travels, I'll simply acquire it at that time."

"Well, if you think you're up for it, we can get going. Here." She tossed him a map. "I've highlighted our route. It's mostly the places I hit on my way here. Nothing too rough, but it should be a good enough introduction to the wonderful world of slaying. One week in each town that's marked with a star."

He frowned at the map. "You do realize that the itinerary you've set will take us the better part of two months?"

"Yeah. Hopefully, it'll be enough time for you to learn the ropes."

He glowered at her. "Grab your things. Do you need me to carry anything?"

She hefted her duffle and smiled. "Nope. Everything I need's right here."


He drove like a bat out of hell, either through some desire to make it to Sunnydale as soon as possible, or as a by-product of their constant bickering. Buffy wasn't sure which it was, but she noticed he took corners recklessly when he was seething, so she made a mental note to keep her mouth shut unless they were on a straight section of the roadway.

"Turn here," she said about a hundred feet from an exit.

The town wasn't one of the ones she'd marked on the map, but she had a feeling about it. Besides, annoying Wesley was the only entertainment she had, and screwing with his inner schedule was the best way to do it.

She watched him struggle with the urge to say something nasty, enjoying the sight of that twitching jaw enough to giggle.

"Go to hell," he said quietly.

"Already have. Wasn't exactly my cup of tea." He shot her a filthy look and she relented. "Look, I know it's not on the tour program, but I think we'll find what we're looking for here."

"What? Was there perhaps a road sign I missed? Food, gas, lodging, vampires next right?"

"It's just a feeling. Find some place sleazy for us to stay, and I'll see if I can figure out where the undead would go to party around here."

"I presume that you'll wait on the latter until I've worked out the former? That is, unless you're planning on giving me the slip?" He was speaking softly, which she'd figured out over the course of the day meant he was one straw away from snapping.

"Of course. Besides, if I was going to give you the slip, I think I'd wait until we were somewhere a little more interesting."

In a town slightly smaller than Sunnydale, it didn't take long to find where the resident evils were hiding. A decaying industrial area with a large number of transient teens was the obvious place, and most vamps weren't much into subtle, especially if they had a ready source of food that could vanish without raising alarms. She made her way back to the motel and laid out the battle plan. They'd go in, she'd take out as many as she could, and Wesley would get any escapees as they made for the exit.

Unfortunately, the encounter with the nest did not go quite as planned. She managed to take them out, no thanks to Wesley. If this was any indication of how things were going to be, Buffy was sorely tempted to just give up and keep running. At this rate, she figured one or both of them would be dead long before they hit Sunnydale. If the vampires didn't get them, they'd kill each other.

"When I tell you it's time to fight, Wesley, it doesn't mean stand around watching me fight and looking like you're about to wet your pants," she growled, brushing dead vampire off her clothes.

"You didn't give me enough warning; you just shouted 'Stake him' in a dark room and expected me to know who and where. And I did not look like I was about to wet myself."

"Could have fooled me. You were scared stiff." She sighed and rubbed her temples. "Look, Wesley, this isn't a game, this isn't kid's stuff. This is life and death." She stopped as she realized she was echoing what he'd told her earlier. "And I know you know that, but you need to learn how to fight. Not just in theory, or in some lab, or however it is they train you, but for real. Hard and dirty and as fast as possible, or I'm leaving. I'm not going to have another death on my conscience."

He met her eyes and seemed to come to some sort of conclusion. "So teach me," he said.

She did a double take. He sounded almost... humble. No way she'd heard that right. "Come again?"

"I obviously haven't had your experience on the field of battle, and the Council simply isn't set up to simulate that sort of combat. Teach me."


He couldn't believe he was asking a teenaged girl to teach him how to fight, but needs must as the devil drives, and this one drove a hard bargain. Wesley was frankly at a loss as to how to deal with her. All of his training had lead him to expect someone obedient and malleable. Even on hearing, when he arrived in Sunnydale, that she'd decamped for parts unknown, he'd attributed it to grief. Surely when she was done mourning him, she'd come back like the dutiful warrior she was supposed to be. Reading Rupert Giles' diaries soon disabused him of that notion. It seemed his Slayer had something of a rebellious streak, if one could call something that wide a streak.

She gawked at him, mouth slightly open and brow furrowed. "What?"

It was the first expression he'd seen on her face other than mild disgust and annoyance. Stupefaction was, sadly, an improvement. "Teach me what I need to know in an actual combat scenario," he said.

He didn't care how much of his pride he'd have to choke down; he wasn't going to fail at this. He couldn't fail at this. There was simply too much at stake.

"You. Want me. To teach you?" Well, he couldn't say she didn't have a fine grasp of the obvious.

"That's about the sum of it, yes."

A foot intersecting with his hip was not what he'd been expecting as a response. He landed hard against the concrete floor.

"What the devil did you do that for?" He stood up and winced.

"This isn't something you can learn with books. Fight back."

From the corner of his eye, he saw her fist come flying towards him; he barely managed to dodge the blow. "Well, slight improvement," she taunted. "At least now I know you can duck."

She continued to hit, and he continued to move to avoid her fists and feet.

"Buffy, there's no sense in this whatso..." His hand shot out, grabbed her wrist mid-punch and twisted her arm behind her back. "...ever."

A quick movement got her out of the hold and him pinned. Her thighs tightened around his waist, and her hands around his wrists. She leaned forward until her mouth was nearly at his ear. "Remember, Wes, fear's a luxury you don't have. So's politeness. If something goes to hit you, hit back. Even if it's me."

Inappropriate thoughts were warring with irritation for dominance in Wesley's mind. The inappropriate faction had the advantage of surprise, but irritation was firmly entrenched. She smelled good, and felt better, but she was also insubordinate and unprofessional.

"Don't worry, I shall." Especially if it were her, though he refrained from adding that part.

She got off of him as quickly as she'd pinned him. "More lessons tomorrow, I'm beat. Also? Starved. Can we get something to eat?"

Much as he disliked the notion of another round of the unidentifiable, overcooked grey lumps that had passed for food in the restaurant they'd hit on their way into town, he had to admit that he was past ready for something to eat. He held out a small flame of hope that they would find an establishment that served something other than reconstituted slime and muck, but it was quickly extinguished by the very smell of the one diner that remained open past nine. He made a mental note to eat before going off hunting in the future.

He watched her from across the chipped formica table. Even under the harsh flicker of the fluorescent lights, Buffy Summers was an attractive young woman in the vulgar American way. Hair just this side of brassy, skin a faded gold. For someone whose only duty was fighting vampires and demons, she was wearing an awful lot of make-up. And he really shouldn't be thinking about any of this.

Damn her for being everything she shouldn't be. Wesley had survived his parents, he'd survived the English public school system, he'd survived studying to join the Council. He wasn't at all certain he was going to survive a cross-country drive with Buffy. Not intact, at any rate.


His reflexes were better than she'd expected. The attitude could still use a serious adjustment, but at least he wasn't completely hopeless. Well, assuming she could get him to stop thinking before acting, of course. If not... if not, there was still time for her to turn around and vanish again. She was getting to be good at it. Not as good as she would have liked, or else he wouldn't have found her, but she was better at it than she was at, say, French.

She stopped playing with her mashed potatoes and looked up at her Watcher. Who was, as the title suggested, watching her. He cleared his throat when he noticed her noticing him and started to fuss with his silverware.

"That's a fork, Wesley. You eat with it."

Startled, he fumbled and dropped it, then glowered at her. "One assumes the presence of food in that case."

"There's food. See?" She pointed her own fork at the mess on his plate. "Food. Sure, it looks like something a demon puked up, but underneath that gelatinous coating is some thing tasty and nutritious."

"You're quite certain of that, are you?"

"Well, I wouldn't stake my reputation on it, if that's what you mean, but it's as close as you're going to find to gourmet dining around here."

He declined to comment, choosing instead to pick up his fork and quietly eat the food on his plate. Buffy just sat back and enjoyed the incongruous sight of the carefully-handled silverware neatly slicing small mouthfuls of the congealed mess. She'd roughed up his look, but the mannerisms still gave him away; he stuck out like an over-bred sore thumb.

Weapons sparring proved that his weakness wasn't in technique. He obviously knew what to with the things in non-combat situations. Buffy decided to get him ready to fight by attacking him when he wasn't expecting it. It had worked well enough in the warehouse, and she wasn't willing to risk her neck or his in actual combat until she was certain he was prepared.

Besides, it was fun, in an immature, bratty sort of way.

It didn't take him long to catch on to what she was doing. By the time the second day of impromptu lessons rolled around, he was swatting away her improvised projectiles (balled-up socks, rolls of toilet paper, Gideon's Bible--really, anything handy) without bothering to look up from whatever he was doing, which was usually reading. By the end of the third day, he was adroitly avoiding her kicks and punches.

"Guess we're ready to put your new, improved self to the test," she said when she hadn't managed to get a blow to connect for a few hours. She was pulling her punches a little, but he seemed to be combat-ready.

"Oh, lovely."

"You don't sound too enthused about the prospect. I thought you'd be happy to go out and kill things."

"Ah, yes. The joy of the hunt, the thrill of the chase, the breathless anticipation with which I await an evening of high-risk demon bating."

"Think of it as a quiz. You've done all your homework like a good boy, now it's time to show off what you've learned."

"Is there any part of you that still remembers that I'm supposed to be instructing you, and not the other way around?" he groused.

She paused to consider the question half-seriously. "Nope, not really. If you're done complaining, grab a stake and let's head out."

The evening's slaying could have been better, but it could have been worse. He was still freezing up, but only at first, and not for long.


He really should have seen the damned thing coming.

At the very least, he should have been able to get out of the way before the vampire had been able to grab him. Perhaps he'd grown too cocky, too sure of his abilities and his reflexes. Pride goeth before a fall, but not by much. Wesley struggled to his feet, every inch of his body feeling bruised and rebruised where he'd hit first the metal railing of the staircase, and then most of the stairs after Buffy came to his rescue and the vampire had dropped him over the edge.

He ran back up the stairs in time to see her slammed against one of the jagged pieces of metal that protruded from the rails like rusted thorns. She kept fighting, not bothering to look down at the blood that was blossoming on her shirt; he couldn't look away. This was all his fault. He threw his stake without thinking, and found himself meeting shocked eyes through a fine mist of dust.

"Ton 80," he muttered in disbelief. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, mostly. That was some throw."

"You're bleeding."

She looked down and frowned. "So I am."

"It's filthy in here. We should get you cleaned up."

"Slayer healing, remember? It's no big deal." Buffy frowned. "I don't think the shirt's going to recover, though." She pointed at the bloodstain, shifting enough for him to see that the fabric was ripped from her shoulder all the way down to...

All the way down to her bra, really. He cleared his throat and tried to force himself to think of the matter at hand.

"You'll have to wait in the car while I get something to tend to the wound."

"Did you miss the part where I said 'Slayer healing'? Or maybe the part where we shouldn't be calling attention to ourselves?" she asked.

"And did you somehow mishear me when I told you it was filthy in here? Unless, of course, you relish the idea of infection and gangrene."

Buffy rolled her eyes, but at least she stopped arguing. They hobbled in silence to the car, his coat around her shoulders to cover the torn shirt. A quick stop at a grocery store provided him with the necessary items to clean the cut. It didn't seem to be deep enough for stitches, but he threw some butterfly bandages into the basket just in case.

The silence continued as he dabbed at the cut with a peroxide-soaked cotton ball. Wesley supposed he should say something, but he couldn't for the life of him think of what that something might be. Besides, it was hard to think at all with Buffy clad in just leggings and a bloodied bra. He wasn't certain which he felt the most guilt about: her getting wounded due to his error in judgment, or the fact that he was ogling her whilst nominally cleaning said wound.

"Wesley?"

"Hmm?"

She gently pushed his hand away. "I think it's clean enough. Thanks."

"I'm so sorry, I never should have allowed myself to become trapped like that. You wouldn't have been injured if I'd been thinking clearly."

Buffy shrugged and pulled a clean shirt over her head. "It happens. You misjudged, that's all. No big."

"No big? You could have been seriously injured."

"Kind of part of the job description, like the lighter side of the whole early death thing. Wes, it's just a scratch. Believe me, I've been through worse and come out peachy keen."

"For some reason, that fails to reassure me."

"I can't help you there. I'm going to bed now; don't stay up all night kicking yourself."


He understood, or at least he thought he did, why the Council didn't encourage Watchers to take to the field alongside their Slayers. There was a certain closeness that developed during battle, a camaraderie of equals, one which undermined the whole notion of the Watcher as the one in charge. After three weeks on the road, the line dividing Watcher from Slayer was pretty much blurred to the point of non-existence. It didn't bode well for his career with the Council, and he didn't much care.

"You're pretty quiet tonight. What's up?"

Buffy's voice broke into his musings and he looked up from his plate. "Nothing, I'm just thinking."

"About what? Ways to make diner food resemble something you'd actually want to eat? Trust me: I've worked in enough of the places to know it's not possible."

He smiled and pushed the plate away. "Something like that, I suppose." Wesley pulled out a wad of bills and tossed them on the table. "Let's get out of here, shall we?"

They drove in silence back to the latest in a series of cheap motels where the managers took his money and tossed them the keys no questions asked, their knowing leers suggesting they already had the answer figured. When luck was with them, the room had two beds. When it wasn't, they took turns on the floor. This motel was one of the unlucky ones, with just the one bed, a non-functional heater, and paper-thin walls. He'd be overjoyed to see the last of it come morning.

It was his night for the bed, and, weary to the bone, he was glad of it. It wasn't the most comfortable of beds--he was fairly certain he could feel the tip of each spring biting into his body--but it was luxury compared to the thin layer of shag carpet over a concrete slab he'd slept on the night before.

Half-asleep, he could hear Buffy banging on the heater as if brute force would fix it.

"Cold?" It had been a brisk night, and even the bed felt only slightly warmer than an icebox.

"Freezing," she muttered.

"There's more than enough room for the both of us, and that heater will work the day diner food starts to taste appealing. You might as well join me up here."

A moment later her felt the bed dip as she took him up on the offer.

"Thanks." Buffy surprised him with a quick hug, then rolled over to the far side of the bed.

Another possible reason for the Council to discourage Watcher/Slayer fraternization was springing readily to mind. As were, to put it one way, other things. He forced himself to breathe slowly and steadily until his heart rate went back to normal. Well, normal for around Buffy. He was all too aware of his attraction to her; it had been an unintended and un-asked for side effect of this little experiment of hers.

He awoke in the middle of the night to find Buffy pressed against him for warmth, one leg thrown across his thighs, her face nestled against his chest. Her body stiffened suddenly, a whimper escaping her lips as her fingers tightened in his shirt.

"Angel?"

He stroked her back until he felt her relax, her fingers loosening their grip and moving to caress his cheek. Wesley tried to make himself shift away or wake her, but she'd pulled herself closer, her mouth seeking his, and he couldn't do it. He savored the feel of her lips on his for a moment longer than he should have, then gently extricated himself from her embrace.

Subtle changes in her breathing told him she was awake. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Buffy, don't be."

"It's my fault, you know. Angel, Giles, Kendra, Ms. Calendar. They'd all be alive if it wasn't for me." Her voice was quiet, matter-of-fact. It was nothing more than he'd already gathered reading his predecessor's diary: the Slayer had slipped up, made a foolish decision, and compounded that with inaction.

Perhaps three weeks earlier, he'd have agreed with her, but three weeks earlier, all she'd been to him was a weapon that needed to be reined in. Now he wasn't certain what she was to him--though he knew it was more than she should be--however, he was certain that he couldn't hold her accountable for events that had not been hers to control.

Before he could think the better of it, he pulled her back against his side. "Unless you have prognosticative powers, there's no way you could have known how things would turn out."

"I should have been able to choose 'poorly' as an educated guess."

"I'm really no help at all, am I?" he said ruefully.

She inched closer, arms wrapping around him. "More than I deserve." The little breaths that accompanied the soft words raised gooseflesh as they hit his skin. "Cold?" she asked.

Wesley wanted to say yes, to lie, but her fingers were idly stroking his arm, and he couldn't manage to form the word. "Not exactly."

He could still feel her breath against his neck, as well as the warmth of her lips brushing against him so lightly that he didn't realize it was intentional until he felt them trace the hollow of his throat. The stroke of her fingertips on his arm grew bolder, more focused. He tried to concentrate on anything but the press of her body against his side and the motion of lips and hands on his skin, his body tense and unyielding, until her mouth moved from his throat to his ear and he let out an involuntary moan, the hand that had been resting on her back moving to caress the curve of her spine through the thin cotton of her nightshirt.

He could feel the heat of her skin through the worn fabric. He shouldn't be touching her, shouldn't let his hands slip beneath her shirt, but the need to feel the texture of her skin overwhelmed him. He explored the dips and swells of her body with slow, deliberate movements; his touch controlled, almost reverent. Her skin was so soft, so at odds with the hard tension of her muscles and the sharp bite of her bones. Terrible in the old sense, not the trite modern one--dread, wonder, and fear mixed together. He could feel her tremble and wondered if she noticed that he was shaking as well, fingertips stuttering over the underside of one small breast.

When they moved up to tease her nipple, she rolled onto her back, pulling him halfway on top of her. It was too much; she was too close, too warm, too yielding. His mind was screaming at him to pull away, to stop this nonsense, but he wasn't in any state to listen to it. Instead, he tugged the shirt over her head, and bent his head to taste her. Tasting wasn't far from touching; the word itself originated from the Latin for touch. With that, his brain withdrew any remaining objections.

A lingering hint of soap mixed with the fresh salt of sweat on her skin, and he felt the shallow quiver of her breathing against his lips. His mouth revisited that which his fingers had already explored while those fingers sought new territory beneath the elastic of her one remaining garment.

She was whimpering again, much differently than she had earlier. He slid up her body to kiss her into silence as his hand slid though the damp curls between her legs. Her body jerked and twisted under him, her hips lifting into the pressure of his touch until she shuddered and collapsed with a moan he muffled with his lips.

What in God's name was he doing?

He rolled off of her still-shaking form and forced himself to get out of the bed.

"Where are you going?" Her voice was dazed and breathy, and he wanted nothing more than to climb back into the bed and into her, but that way madness lay.

"I'm going to take a very long, very cold shower. It would seem to be the wisest course of action at the moment."

"You don't... you don't have to do that."

"On the contrary; I think I do."

"There's a box of condoms in my bag."

There wasn't any way he'd heard that correctly.

"I beg your pardon?"

"I keep them with me, just in case." She didn't explain any further than that, but he understood what she was omitting. Just in case she couldn't find work on the road. Just in case she had to do something drastic.

He was relieved to find the box still sealed even as he cursed himself for accepting her tacit invitation.


Well, that hadn't been planned. Or thought out. She could chalk it down to poor impulse control, but that wasn't the whole of it. He'd been there, warm, alive, willing, and she'd wanted to forget. And it had been... nice. Comforting. And a very bad idea. No sense forgetting that part.

On the plus side, it didn't look like he'd gone and turned into some sort of homicidal maniac on her during the night. Not that she could really tell for sure, seeing as he was still asleep. But he wasn't out actively planning an apocalypse or laying waste to her friends and family, so at least that part was an improvement.

Of course, it was possible he was saving that for when he woke up.

She'd have buried her head beneath a pillow, but they seemed to have wound up on the floor at some point during the night. Which made sense, considering so had he. Okay, maybe that wasn't such a good sign.

The clock told her there was only an hour until check-out, so she stuffed her worries and nervousness away while she stuffed her clothing back into the bag. They came rushing back when her fingers hit the open edge of a cardboard box. She swallowed, then covered it with the last of her shirts and zipped the bag shut. Right. Showering. She could handle showering.

He was awake when she got out, standing impatiently next to the bathroom door and studiously avoiding looking at her. Also not a good sign. She waited for him to say something, anything, but other than indicating with uncharacteristic monosyllables that it was time to go, he was quiet. It made everything else seem too loud, from the crunch of loose chunks of gravel under her feet to the thrum of the engine and the intermittent static of the radio.

This was so not good.

They rolled in to the next town only a little before midnight, but he insisted on going patrolling in spite of the late hour; it was the best fighting she'd ever seen from him. Nice to know that there was at least some kind of silver lining to go with the dark moody cloud. Dark, moody, still-not-talking-to-her-unless-forced-to cloud, in fact. But, one with new and improved killing skills and no, this was really, really not helping to improve her mood.

The less he said, the better he fought, and the worse she felt. As the week wore on, she found herself missing Willow more than ever. Missing her so much, in fact, that she'd taken to eyeing the phone, her fingers itching to tap out the familiar pattern of numbers that could, in theory at least, open a line of communication between her then and her now. Except she had no way of knowing if Willow's now had room for one sort-of-broken friends who'd skipped town without bothering to say goodbye. The Willow in Buffy's head obviously didn't--every time Buffy had tried talking to her (okay, practicing what she'd say on the off chance that she'd ever make the call), imaginary Willow just left her talking to herself.

She'd been doing a lot of that, too. Wesley didn't even raise an eyebrow when he caught her at it, so either she was better at covering than she thought, or he just didn't give a damn what she did with her non-fighting time.


Heaven help him if the Council ever learned exactly why it was taking him so long to return to Sunnydale, Slayer in tow. It was bad enough to have developed a friendship of sorts with her, but this latest wrinkle put him so far beyond the pale that he was put to the blush just thinking about it. One taste of that wicked little mouth of hers and he'd thrown deportment and detachment out the window. To be honest, they'd been sitting on the ledge for some time, just waiting for the slightest push.

A lifetime of having discipline and self-control drilled into him at every turn obviously hadn't been enough. And to think that there had been times when he considered it perhaps a touch excessive. Obviously, he didn't know himself as well as he'd thought. Or at all, really. He was starting to feel as much a foreigner in his own body as he felt in this Godforsaken country.

Wesley looked around the bar with its bright neon signs and sports posters, thinking wistfully of decent dartboards with proper rules and strong dark beer as he finished off another rum and Coke. He was fairly certain he didn't like rum and Coke, but it had seemed a good idea at the time. Besides, after three of them, the cloying sweetness was almost bearable.

He was flushed from the drink, a pleasant heat that started somewhere slightly above his stomach and spread languidly throughout his body to pool in his extremities. A nice, safe, sort of indulgence, comparatively speaking. One which had none of the attendant moral and ethical quandaries which were attached to that other sort of indulging.

Pity the alcohol didn't seem to be drowning his more prurient desires. Its warmth was positively frigid compared to that generated by her lips and hands. Perhaps if he drank enough to be physically incapable of acting on his urges, he'd be fine. Somehow, he doubted it. Making a complete ass of himself seemed a far more likely outcome.

Not that he was doing a bad job of it when he was sober. No, he'd almost perfected the art of caddish behavior. He hadn't especially needed additional reasons to dislike himself, but it hadn't stopped him from finding them.

There were things brewing in Sunnydale which demanded the attention of the Slayer, but instead of insisting they return straight away, he'd caved to her demands and Lord only knew how bad things would be by the time this little excursion of theirs was finished. Then somehow, he'd found himself in a position that further undermined his authority while proving a wanton abuse of the same.

Even his increasing reckless indifference to his duties couldn't excuse that sort of behavior. Wesley nursed his drink until last call; it was late enough that she ought to be asleep, which meant he could avoid dealing with the situation for yet another night. Thank heavens for small mercies.


There were plenty of things she'd missed during her stint on the road: her mom, her friends, her name, a comfortable bed with clean sheets and more than enough pillows, the southern California weather, and cable TV. There were things she wouldn't have missed, if she'd been able to leave them behind: jerks in positions of authority making her life miserable (managers at greasy spoons tended to be creepier, less humanitarian versions of Snyder), vampires and demons who just wanted to get a piece of the Slayer, memories of that last day in Sunnydale. Then there were the things she'd put so far behind her that she didn't even think about them one way or the other until she started on her way back home and they caught up with her with a vengeance.

Weird tensions, awkward moments, and monumentally poor decisions when it came to the opposite sex all seemed to have hurled themselves at her head at once. Which explained why she was sitting by herself on a motel bed at two in the morning, stomach tied in a thousand tiny knots, wondering how much longer she should wait before going and seeing if Wesley had gotten himself killed. He gone off on foot to take care of his unspecified errands at six; maybe she was paranoid, but eight hours was seemed just a bit excessive.

She'd given up on the idea of patrolling long before it became obvious that whatever he was doing was going to take most of the night. Unfortunately, that left her with a lot of time to think. Even worse, she was using it to do just that. Buffy was starting to wonder if it was something about her--sleep with her and go evil, the unadvertised Slayer special. Not that Wesley had gone evil, exactly. He just wasn't talking to her.

Her stomach unclenched when she heard the scrape of his key against the lock. It reknotted when he walked in, glasses off, clothing rumpled, and his movements a little bit too precise. She'd seen her mother like this once or twice before the divorce; it was enough to clue her in to the nature of his "errands".

"Way to set an example, Wes."

"I'm sorry," he said slowly and politely. "Tell me, do you think it's better or worse than the one I set by fucking you?"

Maybe she shouldn't have been upset about him not talking. "Don't."

"Does it offend you, me calling a spade a spade? Or is it just that I mention it at all?" His tone remained polite, which somehow made the words coming out of his mouth sound even worse. "Perhaps you'd forgotten that only a couple of nights ago you somehow wound up naked and panting beneath me? Lord knows I've been trying to do so."

"Stop it. Please." She wasn't going to start crying, not in front of him, not now. Damn it. Damn him. "You really don't need to remind me of my shortcomings in that department."

"You've mistaken my meaning, Buffy."

"Really? Because I wasn't seeing a lot of room for interpretation in your desire to scrub the memory from your brain. "

"This has nothing to do with your abilities in the bedchamber or lack thereof."

"Fine. Then tell me what it does have to do with."

"Do you really think you want to know?"

She shrugged. "I think I deserve to know."

"Very well. I'm your Watcher, in case that fact had slipped your mind. It's a position of some authority, not that you've ever paid attention to that aspect of it. I shouldn't have touched you in the first place, and I certainly shouldn't have let things go as far as they did. Do you know what it's like, being confined to such close quarters with you? Seeing you, smelling you, when I remember what you feel like, what you taste like?"

He crossed the room and knelt in front of her, his arms resting on the mattress. "Have you any idea how hard it's been to keep from touching you again?"

Buffy shifted uncomfortably, trying to think of a response. One foot brushed against his hand and he captured it, rubbing his thumb over the arch. "See?" he murmured. "Give me an inch and I'll take the proverbial mile."

She closed her eyes; the slow pressure of his fingers was turning her limbs to jelly. The brush of his lips on the arch finished the job, and her eyes flew open on a gasp. "What will you take if I give you two inches?"

He lifted his head and met her gaze. "You."

It might have been because of the feel of his hands sliding up the inside of her legs, but that sounded fair enough. "Okay."

"You're a very bad influence," he said.

"So I've been told."

He grasped her hips and pulled her towards the edge of the bed. Hands and mouth roamed lightly over each leg in turn, tracing patterns on the soft flesh of her thighs. He nudged her legs a little farther apart, then the muted shock of his mouth pressing against her underwear rocked through her body.

She grabbed the bedspread, clinging to it for support while he tugged the underwear off. When he lowered his head again, she thought she was prepared; the wet-hot flicker of his tongue on naked flesh proved her wrong. Her hands released the bedding and moved up to tangle in his hair and press him closer. Teasing strokes reduced her to tiny mewling gasps and helpless shudders as a slow, heavy ache grew beneath them.

He broke from her, his breath coming in uneven gulps. "Where's your bag?"

Her bag? Oh, right. That bag. "Should be next to you, under the nightstand."

Reason tried to return while he rummaged through the bag for the stash of condoms. It fled again when, mission accomplished, he undressed and sat down next to her on the bed.

"Are you certain you want this?" he asked.

"Totally and completely without a doubt certain. You?"

He kissed the side of her neck before responding. "Oh, Lord yes."

A pause to pull off her shirt and tear open the foil packet, then he was inside her. She could taste the sharp salt of her body mingled with whatever he'd been drinking in his kisses. The hard, fast movements soothed and built the ache as she rose to meet them with frantic thrusts of her hips. His breathing quickened, and he slid a hand between them to caress her until the ache shattered and spiraled.


A pounding head, cottonmouth, and a nagging feeling that he'd done something he shouldn't have greeted him with the first rays of sunlight. Wesley looked over at the second bed: it hadn't been slept in. He looked at the other side of the bed he was in: he wasn't alone.

Damn.

He'd told himself it wasn't going to happen again. No matter how very tempted he was, it was still unethical, ill-advised, and a large number of other things, all of which added up to any entanglement with Buffy equaling something very bad indeed. And so, naturally, he'd gone and gotten himself stinking drunk and thrown all self-control and restraint out the window.

A ripped square of foil sitting on the nightstand caught the morning light. Well, thank heaven for small mercies. Things could have been slightly worse. Bits of memory were starting to surface, but the whole evening hadn't quite come into focus.

For instance, he wasn't quite certain how they'd gotten from on top of the bed to under the linens. He had some vague recollection of making a complete ass of himself, then a fever-dream memory of the act, but no idea how one had lead to the other.

Careful not to disturb her, he got out of the bed and stumbled to the bathroom. The sight in the mirror made him grimace; bloodshot eyes stared back at him from within sickly purple circles, and a series of red teeth marks marred his neck and shoulders.

He brushed the taste of the previous night's excesses from his mouth, then crawled into the shower to do the same for his body. She was up when he came back, sitting cross-legged on the bed in a position that seemed like it should be familiar, her gaze wary. He was far too aware that he was clad in just a towel.

"Unless you have a particular attachment to this location, I would like to leave here a few days ahead of schedule," he heard himself say.

Buffy watched him for a moment, then shrugged. "Sure, I'll go shower and we can take off." She grabbed some clothing and left the room.

He dressed as quickly as he could, not bothering to dry off completely before throwing on his clothes. By the time she was done with her morning ablations, he'd taken their bags to the car and settled their bill. It seemed best that they get back on the road, and hopefully, back on track as soon as possible.

By the middle of the day, he was questioning the wisdom of that decision.

America was vast. Beyond vast, really. Large to the point of vulgarity. It wasn't without its interesting parts, but they tended to be clustered together, and getting to them involved making one's way through an awful lot of nothing in particular. In short, America was a country that could have used a good editor.

Buffy was napping in the passenger seat, having given in to the nearly-hypnotic motion of the car some miles back; he rather wished he could join her. His attempt to avoid discussing or even thinking about the night before had backfired on him. With her asleep, he couldn't keep his mind occupied enough to keep from straying back to it.

Two similar occurrences with markedly dissimilar inceptions did not constitute a pattern, even if they did constitute a problem. No matter how idiotic his behavior, he was intelligent enough to realize that--if she gave any indication of willingness--he'd throw caution out like so much rubbish and repeat that idiocy. It wasn't a pattern yet, but certainly appeared to be headed in that direction.

Which reminded him that Buffy was holding the map.

He drove until he spotted a pull-out, then stopped the car; she didn't wake up. The map was under her right hand, and it didn't look like there was an easy way to extract it without disturbing her. Thin autumn sunlight caught the strands of hair that clung to lips slightly parted in sleep, turning them to sharp, bright filaments that he wanted to brush away, if only to see if they'd burn or cut. Rationally, he knew they'd do neither, but he wasn't feeling especially rational.

As it turned out, they were soft and slightly damp from her mouth. Buffy woke with a start at his touch and squinted against the glare.

"Why are we stopped?" She blinked a couple of times and looked around. "Is there some sort of invisible landmark I'm not seeing or something?"

"No, I needed the map."

"Last I checked, the map wasn't on my face."

He felt himself flush. "No, it was, and still is, underneath your hand. If you'd be so kind as to give it to me?"

He held out his hand, but the map was not forthcoming. "Buffy, the map?"

"What happens now?"

He withdrew his hand and answered with a quiet, "I don't know."


Everything was too loud again; she was pretty certain she could hear the blood rushing through her veins. She wanted to think she hadn't been this stupid back in Sunnydale, but considering how things had played out, that seemed like wishful thinking.

"Well, that makes two of us, but I'm not the one who's been going all Jekyll and Hyde."

"I took advantage of you. Twice." He sounded so earnest and sincere that Buffy wanted to slap him.

"No, you didn't." She watched him take it in, a frown creasing his brow while he tried to figure out how to respond. "I'm not a child, Wes. Believe it or not, I'm capable of making my own decisions. How do you think I've been able to survive on my own?"

"Poorly, if your room was any indication." It looked like being petty and supercilious was his chosen method of dealing. Fine. At least he'd picked a mood.

"It wasn't a luxury suite at the Ritz, but it was a roof over my head, one I paid for with money I earned honestly."

His frown deepened. "Buffy, just hand me the damned map."

As much as she was hating the whole conversation, she wasn't going to let him drop the subject. "Not until I have some idea what happens next, because I'm really not loving this whole road trip from hell, now with bonus mood swings and digs at my ability to cope, even if it was my idea in the first place."

"It isn't you."

"So you keep saying, and yet--call me crazy--it sure seems to be me from where I'm standing."

"I dimly recall explaining this to you last night, and you're not standing, you're sitting."

"From where I'm sitting, then. And explained what? The part where you're my Watcher, blah blah, position of authority, blah blah. Yes, fine. I get it. But you're wrong. When and if we hit Sunnydale, then yeah, you're technically in charge, but last time I checked, in transit, we do things my way, so the authority thing doesn't really hold much water."

"Buffy--"

"One minute you're making up excuses to touch me, the next you're being a complete prick. Well, which is it going to be? Make up your mind, Wesley." She was tired, frustrated, and damned if she was going to deal with his issues for another couple of thousand miles. There were enough of her own to keep her company, and she didn't have room for extras.

"It isn't that simple."

"Actually, it is."

"Whatever happened between us was wrong on so very many levels that I can't believe we're even attempting to have a conversation about it."

"Are you a 200-plus year old vampire who decides destroying the world's a fun game as soon as something makes him happy? No? Didn't think so, so don't talk to me about wrong. Been there, done that, and this isn't even on the radar. Angel kind of ruined the curve."

"I was unaware that wrong was something one measured on a curve." Wesley sounded more tired than angry, and more amused than grim. It was a slight improvement.

"Learn something new every day."

"This ends when we get to Sunnydale."

She tossed him the map. "I know."

"You're insufferable."

"That too."


Some nights it was the excitement of the kill. It didn't matter where they were; once the danger had passed, she'd tackle him, claw at his clothes until she hit hot, flushed skin, and ride him until they were both exhausted and embarrassed.

Then there were nights like this; nights where the fear and horror left her too tense to enjoy herself, yet left her so empty and needy that she was willing to try just about anything for comfort. These nights were marked by sloppy, off-center kisses, and punctuated by the groan of the mattress and the harsh rhythm of his breath. She felt cold and removed from herself, and clung to the heat and the closeness of him just to keep from freezing.

After the act, she feigned sleep, not wanting to deal with the questions she knew he wanted to ask. She figured he was aware she was faking slumber--even with her eyes shut tight, she could tell he was looking at her. Occasionally, a pause in his breathing made it seem like he was about to say something, but every time he just settled for pulling her closer.

It made everything better and worse all at once, lifting the crushing weight of her left-over guilt and replacing it with a lighter, fresher version of the same. Which, if she forced herself to think about it, was fairly depressing. Buffy opened her eyes.

"Sorry."

He played with her hair for a while before responding, his fingers combing through the post-sex mess of it with a gentle intimacy that had been notably absent in their bedsport. "You shouldn't be. Does it help?"

"Some."

"Then don't apologize."

"Is it enough?" She wasn't sure why, what, or even who she was asking. For that matter, she wasn't sure she wanted to hear the answer, despite her sudden certainty that whatever it was, she needed to hear it.

"It has to be, doesn't it?"


He waited until he heard her breathing soften and slow before getting out of the bed; he'd be back before she woke--she panicked if she found herself alone in the mornings--but he needed to distance himself physically if he was going to be able to think. For what felt like the thousandth time, he told himself that it had to stop. He'd found any number of reasons and excuses to continue the sexual aspect of their relationship in the three weeks since its unexpected inception, but they'd be back in California within a fortnight.

He'd discuss it with her tomorrow, or perhaps the day after. Or perhaps never. He grabbed a book and headed to the bathroom, where he sat down, back against the door, and tried to focus on how to end things as his eyes scanned the pages, hoping perhaps to find answers hidden in blurred print on cheap pulp. It wasn't really reading, more some modernized form of divination without the messiness of entrails.

It also wasn't working; if anything, it was giving him a headache. He closed the book with more care than it deserved and stared at the worn vinyl of the floor instead. It was no help, either, but at least he didn't have to pretend it made any sense.

Try as he might, he couldn't escape his unease about the situation, unease that was moving rapidly towards trepidation for all that it was a directionless anxiety. He made a mental list of the various reasons why he needed to end this sooner rather than later; it was quite a long list, with every reason pointing to an insurmountable problem.

Perhaps she was correct when she told him she wasn't a child, but that didn't mean that the gap in their ages just vanished. He wondered if he'd have thought it so large when he was her age, but as it was, he was in the first flush of feeling old, and while seventeen for him wasn't as distant as it often seemed, it was still far enough in the past to make him uncomfortable.

He hoped to God her family and friends would take her back in without a fuss. If everything went according to plan, they would, but he no longer expected any plan involving Buffy to run smoothly. It was blindingly obvious how much she missed them, even if she never talked about them. He could feel their unspoken presence when she pulled him close and used him to fill whatever void it was she felt. If he was going to painfully, brutally honest with himself, if it were enough, as he'd told her, it wouldn't be for much longer. Best to break things off now, before doing so became too painful to contemplate.

Unless, of course, the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach meant it was already too late. It was a familiar sensation, one he most often associated with the realization that he'd just done something incredibly idiotic with the best of intentions. Ignoring the protests of limbs left too long in one position, he got up and went back to bed.

Buffy was tossing and turning, the sheets tangled about her legs like seaweed. He should have known it would be another bad night. Cursing under his breath, he shook her awake.

"Nightmares again?"

"You could say that."

He straightened out the sheets before pulling her snug against him. "What was it this time? Angel?"

Her head shook against his chest. "No, Giles. And strangely, Drusilla. Thanks for waking me, Wes. I'm glad you're here."

Because she needed it, he lied. "So am I."

If there was a best to be made of an untenable situation, he was going to have to make it, at least until she was back where she belonged. Idly, he wondered if one was really making a sacrifice if one enjoyed parts of it a little too much.


She was getting used to radical post-coital personality changes, really she was. Still, broody or flat-out evil were a little more in keeping with her expectations. She wasn't sure she could handle chipper.

"What gives?"

"Hmm?" Wesley looked up from the western novel he was reading--he'd been collecting them from laundromats for some reason, though she couldn't quite see him as the Louis L'Amour type--with a raised brow.

"You. You were both pleasant and chatty at breakfast, remained that way at lunch, and I haven't detected any stern looks or obvious brooding. It's starting to scare me."

"Perhaps you simply wore me down. I'm certain when we reach Sunnydale, I'll return to giving you stern looks and fretting about your behavior. However, until then, I think the wisest course of action is to conserve my energy. Tell me, in your escapades on the road, did you happen to procure any sort of identification?"

"Sure. One for each place I tried to stay."

"I don't suppose any of it lists your age as over twenty-one?"

"Most of it does, why?"

"As we get closer to our destination, it makes sense that I begin training you, rather than the other way around. I thought we could start tonight."

"Right. Because encouraging underage drinking is all part of the Council's grand plan to defeat evil."

He laughed. She hadn't heard him laugh before; it was kind of nice. "Actually, I was thinking we could work on your precision and strategy with a nice round or two of darts."

"Darts?"

"Yes. It's a fascinating game; I'm quite certain you'll enjoy it."

She wasn't sure she believed him, but she was willing to give it a shot. At the very least, it would be a break from actually going out and killing things.

Her ID was accepted without question, but she decided against pushing her luck and ordering a beer.

"This isn't archery, Buffy. Here you'll need to combine your innate skill with strategy, keep track of where you stand in relation to your opponent, and learn to take the smallest advantage. It's all about skill, strategy, and preparation."

Buffy looked at the dartboard, then back at Wesley. "Are we doing this to train me, or to entertain you?"

"Perhaps a little of each."

"Figured."

She listened with half an ear as he explained the rules and variations on rules (as well as the history behind them and some completely unnecessary comparisons between the U.S. style of play and the apparently noble and proper English game). He was somehow managing to be both more enthusiastic and more relaxed than she'd ever seen him. It was almost charming, and if she wasn't careful, she was going to find herself liking him way more than was good for her. Of course, at this point, it was sort of a case of barn door, horse.

He stood behind her as she practiced throwing darts, his arm guiding hers forward.

"Release."

The whispered word tickled her ear. She let the dart fly; it landed just to the left of where she'd been aiming.

"You know, if you'd let me toss it without help, I would have made that shot."

"Where's the fun in that?"

He kissed her ear and her knees buckled. Unfair, especially as they were in a public place where she couldn't tackle him. He'd pay. The next throw, she pressed her body into his, enjoying the sharp intake of his breath and the feel of him stiffening against the small of her back. He traced the back of her hand with his fingertips and buried his face in her hair.

"Perhaps," he murmured unsteadily, "you've learned quite enough strategy for one night."

"I think I'm just getting started." She tossed the dart and grinned when it hit the narrow band she'd been aiming for. "Afraid I'll beat you?"

"Not in the least."

She lost the first game, but took the next two. They barely made it back to the motel with their clothing intact.

"This may not," he lifted his head from her stomach long enough to mutter, "have been one of my brighter plans."

She pushed his head back down and laughed. "I don't know, I think it was brilliant."


In less than two days, she'd be back home. One more night, and then a long drive down the coast, and she'd have to face everything she'd left behind. She wasn't ready. Buffy fought the urge to curl up into a ball and shut down totally. They'd pulled off the 101 to stretch their legs, and she wasn't sure she could make it back to the car.

"I can't do this." She couldn't keep a note of panic from creeping into her voice.

"Yes, you can, Buffy."

"No, I can't. I can't go back there."

"We've been over this before. You're needed in Sunnydale."

"What if there's nothing left for me when I get back? I took off, remember? My mother told me not to come home if I went off to fight Angel, and last time I was on campus, I had an army of cops chasing me, so it's not as if they'll just let me back into school, no questions asked."

"Actually, that's exactly what they're going to do."

"Excuse me?"

His eyes were on her, but he wasn't really looking at her as he spoke, rattling off information in a cold, detached way that left her feeling even more scared. "You were given the opportunity to study abroad for the last several months, at an institute of some renown. Unfortunately, your beginning dates overlapped with the last portion of your school year, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one which you couldn't afford to pass up. You will begin classes at Sunnydale High after the Christmas holiday. At the same time, the temporary replacement for Mr. Giles will be returning to England, and I shall take up my duties as the full-time librarian."

"Has this been the plan all along?"

"Yes."

She felt herself go numb. "And you didn't think to tell me this before now because?"

"It wasn't important that you know until it was certain that you'd be returning to Sunnydale."

"Wasn't important? This is my life you're talking about. Does my mother know any of this? Did anyone bother to clue her in?"

"She knows enough to ensure that your return will go smoothly."

"I can't believe this. You thought I'd be just fine with you arranging my life behind my back? That it was somehow okay?"

"You would rather we'd left you a dropout and a fugitive?"

"No, I would rather have had a choice."

"You don't. You haven't since you were called. I thought you understood that."

"You think I don't have a choice?" She was startled to realize she was yelling. "Well, that's where you're wrong. At this point, nothing you can say is going to make me go back."

"My, and isn't that just a lovely example of the sort of immature behavior that lead to my decision to withhold that information from you in the first place."

She'd forgotten how nasty he could be. "Let me get something straight: I'm too immature to be trusted with my own decisions, but not too immature for you to sleep with? I'm not sure I want to know what that says about you."

"Buffy--"

"Don't! Don't come near me, don't say anything. I trusted you."

He grabbed hold of her arm with surprising strength. "Wesley, unless you want a broken arm, let go of me."

"Not until we've talked, Buffy. I told you at the outset that the Council will have you back one way or another. You aren't the only one without a choice."

They stared at each other for a minute before she spoke. "What are you saying?"

"Simply put, it would be in your best interest to return to Sunnydale willingly."

"I thought you told me back in Chicago that you weren't threatening me, but this sounds a hell of a lot like a threat."

"It's a reality. The Council takes its responsibility very seriously, and if they think your Watcher can't control you, they'll take matters into their own hands."

"Then we're in trouble, because you can't control me."

"No, I can't, but I'd rather for both our sakes that the Council didn't know that." He finally let go of her arm and started walking back to the car.

"What's happening that's so important? Major badness has hit Sunnydale before, and the Council never bothered to go all hard-nosed about it."

He turned, the moonlight throwing his face into sharp relief. "I don't know. I suppose we'll find out when we get there."

"I can't." Her legs wouldn't hold her, so she sat on the ground instead, not caring that it was cold and wet. She couldn't really feel it, anyway. She couldn't really feel much of anything anymore.

Eyes closed, she listened to the sound of the waves crashing against the beach. It was nice, peaceful, unthreatening. Flashes of dreams with Angel standing on a different beach, glowing in the sunlight and accusing her, flashes of Giles, his face blue-white and slack as Drusilla drained him... the world at stake and nothing Buffy could do to save him, of her mother's tight-lipped stare as she left. That was what waited for her back home.

"I can't do it. Please don't make me do it."

She heard his footsteps squishing against the damp sand, heard the rustle of his clothes as he knelt beside her. Gentle fingers brushed tears she hadn't known she was shedding off her cheeks before he took her into his arms.

"You have to, you know that."

"Can't we just take off in the other direction? Go somewhere else, disappear?"

"Earn our living through hustling darts games, change our names, and pretend there's no such thing as vampires or demons?" He pulled her closer and kissed the edge of her jaw. "It's a lovely thought, but the Council would find us, and there'd be hell to pay."

She turned her face until their lips met. There was an urgency to his caresses she hadn't noticed before, a desperation that broke through her numbness. Hard pebbles pressed into her back, and the night air was cold against the skin on her legs when he pulled her skirt to her waist. He didn't bother to undress, he just pushed his pants partway down and sheathed himself before thrusting into her.

Wrapping her legs around his hips, she drove him deeper, each thrust pushing her harder against the ground. She took a perverse pleasure in the scrape of the sand on her skin and the scratch of stubble against her neck, and in the noise of the waves mingled with their harsh breathing.

Afterwards, they lay there, limbs tangled together while they tried to catch their breath and make some sense of what they'd done.

"Sorry," he said.

"For this?"

His mouth sought hers again before answering. "No, for not telling you everything that had been arranged."

"You should be. But, it's done. Just don't do it again."

"So, you've changed your mind about running off again?"

"For the moment. Besides, I'm sick of running. If it's that bad, I should be there, even if it turns out that no one wants me back."

She extracted herself from his embrace and straightened her clothing, wincing as she brushed sand off her thighs. From the feel of it, she'd rubbed herself raw in spots.

"Does it hurt?"

"Some. Sand, as it turns out, isn't the best surface to have sex on, no matter what you might think from old movies."

"I meant, does it hurt to think they might not welcome you back?"

"Yeah, but I'll have to get past it." She gave the beach one last look before turning and walking to the car. "Let's get going; it's time I went home."


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