Just a little one. No biggie. But damn it, these two kids won't let me leave them alone...The usual disclaimers. Very rough. Purely for my own satisfaction. :)
The first thing she notices is how warm she is. Cuddly, pressed against another body kind of warm. The kind of warm she’d been hoping for when she started out on this crazy trip.
Except Oz is little. And the body her arms are wrapped around is…not so little.
Slowly, her eyes blink open and she sees the blurry expanse of navy spreading out before her, feels the cotton soft against her cheek. She has a crick in her neck from the awkward half-sitting position in which she spent the latter half of the night, and carefully eases herself away from the other slumbering form, not horribly surprised when she lifts her gaze to see Wesley leaning against the headboard bolted to the wall.
Not so much a dream then, she thinks, and remembers the flashes of the nightmare as its serrated fingers crawl along beneath her skin, congealing her stomach in its familiar ice before the flush of how it ended swathes her back in heat. Just a dream. Not real.
Wesley mumbles in his sleep and shifts, his head slumping as his body readjusts to her absence.
Willow smiles. But this is real.
Carefully, she rolls off the far end of the bed, staying as silent as she can as she carries her clothes into the bathroom. No reason to wake him. Daylight is already obvious through the crack of the curtains, and she has plenty of time to walk to the bus station herself. Wes has done more than enough in her little adventure, she reasons; he deserves his rest. Time to put it all behind her and go back to Sunnydale and pretend the little debacle never happened.
She won’t forget, though. She doesn’t think she’ll ever forget.
Dropping her ruined tights in the garbage, she goes to the desk and looks for something to write him a note, to let him know she’s all right and not to worry. Nothing on top, which means opening the lone drawer, but as it squeaks in protest, her muscles freeze, her head jerking around to see if the amplified sound is enough to rouse Wesley.
It’s not. He doesn’t even move. He must really need his sleep, she thinks.
Sitting then, and scribbling her note, the pen scratching across the paper in her haste. It feels odd to thank someone for saving her life with just a few written words. Odd and remotely unfulfilling, considering how much he’d already done for her, even if he didn’t really know it. Crying on his shoulder---OK, against his chest really, but it’s all just words anyway, isn’t it?---had been more cathartic than weeks of venting at her friends, and she doesn’t really understand the why of it.
Maybe because he had no vested interest in cheering her up and was there anyway.
Maybe because he listened to her without judging, comprehending the need to just spill the emotions onto the floor and watch them run around the edges and seep into the cracks.
Maybe because it had come on the tail of both knowing Oz was really gone and getting attacked.
Maybe because of all of it.
She only has to sign her name now, and the urge to merely put a W is strong, lending an intimacy more conducive than the awkwardness of her full appellation. Her pen hovers over the paper, though, lethargic in its power to finish the missive, and she wonders why it is that goodbyes are always so hard for her.
“You’re already dressed.”
His voice startles her into dropping the pen, and she swivels in her seat as she leans over to pick it up, her cheeks flushed in embarrassment. He hasn’t really moved except to straighten where he’s leaning against the headboard, eyes open and bare of his glasses. His hair is mussed, and one side is flattened with the ends sticking straight up, but he is oblivious to his disarray.
“I didn’t want to wake you,” she says. “I was just writing a note.”
He nods as if he expected nothing less. “You’ll be hungry, I expect. If you wait, we can have breakfast before you go.”
“I’m fine.” She’s not. Her stomach is growling so loud, she’s sure he can tell that she’s lying. “Really.”
She doesn’t know what else to say because suddenly, the air is awkward and thick and she is feeling very much like a one-night stand sneaking out of the house before the guy can wake up and remind her that it really was just a one-night stand. Silly. It’s just Wesley. And he saved your life, remember?
Oh, she remembers. All too clearly. She remembers leather and dust and motorcycles and crying and nightmares about boyfriends who disappear and unexpected allies lending their support in the form of strong arms and capable shoulders. It’s just like Sunnydale, except not, and it’s the not that’s creating the k brand of that word in her stomach. Because she doesn’t really know what to think right now. Her next step was much easier before she had to look him in the eye and tell him she was leaving.
The knock at the door takes them both by surprise, and Wesley frowns when he rises from the bed to answer it. The lines in his brow deepen when the squirrelly man slips inside, babbling away so quickly that even Willow has problems keeping up with him.
Something about a demon, and doubling back, and a burial ground under the docks, and Wes doesn’t happen to know any really good Maluschna counterspells, does he?
And he’s changed yet again before her eyes, straightening and squaring and he even looks taller, how does he look taller, and as Willow watches, Wesley marches to one of the bags he’d brought in from the motorcycle the previous night, extracting an ancient book to begin thumbing through its pages. He’s not the Watcher from the rescue, and he’s not the Comforter from her dreams. This is the Demon Hunter he is striving to become, and she can’t help but feel a swell of wow creep up her neck, unexpected awe and envy at how he is trying to redefine himself, at how well he is succeeding, forcing her lips to curl into a smile.
“There’s nothing here,” she hears him mutter, and he closes the book with a solid thump that relays his displeasure. “Perhaps a different---.”
“But it’s gotta be Maluschna,” the visitor rushes. “You know that’s the only thing that works against his kind. And if you don’t stop it, there’ll be no telling how far he’s going to go.”
She knows that name, and the energy that’s now buzzing around the room is contagious, thrusting her back into the middle of the most heated Scooby meeting except with a plus because here there is no Buffy to drive the fists over thinking method that Willow often finds so frustrating. Her mouth is opening before she can even stop it, the words tumbling out almost as quickly as the new arrival’s.
“I know some Maluschna counterspells,” she says.
The first thing he notices is how cold he feels. Somehow, his mind registers that he had been warm, and that that warmth was now missing, and a grimace of irritation crosses his features as his eyelids flutter open.
Alone. He’s alone. And sitting in the most godforsaken position imaginable.
He remembers then, spying her hunched over form at the desk before glancing at the unmade bed to his side. Willow. Following her through the streets before saving her from the vampire attack, and then bringing her back here to tend to. Then…her nightmare. Now it all makes sense.
She has changed into her other clothes, that knit cap pulled low over her head, shoulders rounded as he listens to her writing away at something. Most likely, a note of departure, he reasons, especially since she is clearly dressed and ready to leave. He is oddly saddened at the thought of her sneaking out without saying goodbye, and feels slightly sullied at the thought of being used so.
Can’t truly be used if I offered, though. To think otherwise is hardly fair to her.
So, he watches her write in silence, heeding the stopping and starting and stopping again, the soft click of her teeth against the pen when she bites at the end of it to aid in her thinking. Watches, because that’s what he does. That’s what he’s always done. Or rather, that’s what he always did. It still surprises him that he manages to forget that sometimes.
It’s her last hesitation, the one that stretches into a minute, and then two, and then four nearing five, that prompts him to finally speak.
“You’re already dressed.” Stating the obvious because anything else could lead down paths he’s not sure she wishes to traverse.
He pulls himself into a straighter position against the headboard, wincing slightly at the ache across his shoulder blades but registering nothing on his face when his voice startles her into dropping her pen. She scrabbles to pick it up, and he sees the flush creep up her neck, shining her eyes, before she turns to look at him.
“I didn’t want to wake you. I was just writing a note.”
Polite and considerate Willow. It’s nice to know his instincts haven’t been wrong about her. He nods because he’s unsure what to say next, hoping it makes him appear wiser and more confident than he feels. He’d known all along how this was going to end, and the fact that it comes so abruptly shouldn’t leave him feeling so disappointed, but that’s what it is, a hard lump in the back of his throat as the realization that he will be on the road again today, alone, without the comfortable weight of a partner behind him, grips him in silence.
Food, he suddenly thinks. She has to eat.
And he’s like a drowning man desperate for a preserver as he makes the observation, suggesting she waits so that they can have breakfast together. It would only delay the inevitable, he knows. He’d gain an hour, two at best. But those would be minutes where he didn’t have to rely upon the voices of his memory to entertain him, the call of another demon down the road to distract him from the disquiet of his own failures.
Her quiet refusal shatters his hope, and his mind scrambles to find another reason for her not to just walk out of his hotel room. His desperation for her company annoys him, the neediness and desire for companionship countering everything he thought he’d been working for since leaving Sunnydale, but his brain doesn’t seem to want to listen to him, searching and refusing and searching some more to find an excuse for just a few more minutes.
The knock at the door jars him from his hunt, though. He frowns as he rises automatically to answer it, questioning just who it could be since only his local contact knows of his whereabouts, and surely that avenue was closed when he deliberately opted to aid Willow instead of pursuing the trail the previous evening.
But it is his contact, and he pushes his way inside the room without an invitation, babbling away about how it was all just a set-up, that the Jwa’hra circled back and was at that very moment staking out his altar underneath the dock so that he could cast the spell that would resurrect his slain brethren.
“We gotta do something,” Manny says. “I don’t suppose you have any good Maluschna counterspells hanging around here, do you?”
Everything else is forgotten as the opportunity to refocus his energies is presented. Wesley straightens and marches to his bag, extracting the one book that might actually be useful and thumbing through its pages. “There’s nothing here,” he mutters with disappointment, and closes the book with a sigh. He mustn’t give up, though, and says, “Perhaps there’s a different---.”
But Manny is cutting him off, reminding him unnecessarily that Maluschna spells are their only option before things get out of hand. He mustn’t let happen. He’s worked too hard to stop this revivification from occurring, and he’s not about to---.
“I know some Maluschna counterspells,” he hears Willow say unexpectedly behind him.
Manny shuts immediately up, and Wesley turns to look at her with a frown, his momentary forgetting of her presence erased by her few words. She blushes under their scrutiny and explains, “I did a bunch of work for Giles over the summer, and memorized some to keep myself from falling asleep on the job. I could probably write them down for you.”
The tension bracing his back lessens, and his eyes lock on hers, searching the guileless green for answers…deceit…anything, any reason for him to deny her. It’s a fruitless search, and instead, he wonders on just how much growing up she’s done since he left Sunnydale. Not Willow, and more, he muses.
Manny’s on the offer like a shot. “No time, no time,” he says. “You rogue demon hunters can just do it all up close and personal. Slap some clothes on, and let’s get rolling, English. Your girlfriend’s got you beat already.”
Wesley colors at his contact’s casual bandying of the term “girlfriend” and is about to argue otherwise when he notes the amused crinkle of Willow’s mouth. She is fighting back the laughter, and the shine in her eyes tells him that she’s all right with this, with getting lumped together with him like a prepaid package.
“You’ll need a weapon,” he says carefully. Am I reading you right? Please tell me that I am.
Willow rises to her feet. “Got any good crossbows handy?” she asks brightly.