I've managed to scribble out a few more words on the W/W stuff, and please, when I say this section is rough, I'm actually cringing here debating if I should just wait until morning and redo it before putting it up. But I won't. It's going up now because I really have to work on Rook tomorrow in between trying to tend to my family, and seeing as this is just to make me feel better about these two, I'm just going to stop worrying about it...
In the end, they leave the motorcycle at the hotel.
“Don’t think I’m not going with you,” the new arrival says. “And if we’re doing the three Musketeers gig, no way can we take your bike. We’ll just toss everything in the back of my pick-up. Not your girlfriend, of course,” he adds, grinning at Willow. She smiles back, but not before flushing, her gaze darting to Wes and then to the mussed beds. OK, funny the first time, she thinks. Not so funny the second. At least we’re both dressed, though, and why doesn’t Wesley correct him?
He just nods, only cursorily meeting her eyes as he grabs his clothes and disappears into the bathroom, leaving her alone to smile too wide and to fidget too noticeably. “I’m Willow, by the way,” she offers.
“Manny. You must have some serious mojo if English is working with you. I thought he was pretty much the lone wolf.”
“Oh, my mojo’s more on the small potatoes end of the scale,” she rushes to assure. She’s beginning to regret mentioning the counterspells. Memorizing them and actually being able to do them are two entirely different things, and what if she can’t do it? Or what if she remembers them wrong? She could end up getting Wesley killed, which would hardly be fair since he did the exact opposite for her just the previous night.
So, OK, don’t let it happen that way. Just be extra careful. Say the words and help him out. Balance the score sheet, and everything will be hunky-dory.
Except it’s more than just the words, and her regret blossoms into terror as she remembers the other, wishing fervently that her mouth would listen to her brain just once and not get her in over her head when there’s no way she can swim to safety, let alone take anyone along with her. She is hovering outside the bathroom, rigid and red and clawing her chewed-down nails into her palms, when he emerges, his hair damp from having wet it in the shower.
He immediately stiffens. “What’s wrong?” he asks, and he steps so close to her that she irrationally wonders if he’s going to touch her.
“Ingredients,” she blurts. “I forgot about the ingredients for the spells.” She gnaws at her lip, disappointment quivering her thin frame. Nothing ever goes right, she realizes. Nothing she ever wants to work goes in her favor.
He asks her if she knows the list, and when she nods in the affirmative, the tension in his body eases, a small smile canting his lips. He looks to Manny. “Get my weapons bag out to the truck. We’ll be right out.”
She hovers and waits until they’re alone, not understanding why he suddenly seems so confident again. He pays her no heed, running a comb quickly through his hair, not speaking again until he has picked up his shoes from the corner and is perched on the edge of the bed.
“The leather satchel,” he instructs. “My supplies are in there.”
And even before she reaches it, Willow is chastising herself for doubting. Taking away his title doesn’t change who he is. Of course he’s prepared. Would I expect any less from Giles? Except Giles would’ve taken more charge, and been the first to remember such an important thing as ingredients, reminding her in his indirect way that she was still young and inexperienced and maybe should consider leaving off the really important work until she was better equipped. Perhaps even Wesley would’ve done the same thing, once upon a time. But not now.
Now, he only sits in silence, nodding in agreement as she pulls the items she will need from his bag, letting her take the reins as if it is something she was always meant to do.
And it shocks her how good it feels to be trusted so.
Her back is to him, her hand only just emerging with the last of what they’ll need when she feels him standing behind her. He is warm, and solid, and the fresh, clean smell of him evokes vague memories of crying against his chest that make her tongue prickle. When she realizes she is waiting for him to reach out to her, the prospect of being wrapped in the sanctuary he extends tempering the contagion of wanting to do something about the demon, her face screws up in embarrassment at her own expectancy.
It’s Wesley, she reminds herself. And he was only interested in making you feel better. Didn’t Oz running teach you anything?
The shattering thoughts distract her, her hope ebbing further when no touch is forthcoming.
See? Told you so.
“I…appreciate your help in this,” he says, and she can feel his words like a warm breath on the back of her neck as she looks down at the items before her. “It truly wasn’t necessary.”
“That’s what friends do, right?” she replies as perky as she can manage. She slaps on her widest smile and steps to the side so that she can see him. And distance. Mustn’t forget distance.
His response is merely to smile and nod, but his eyes seem darker, further away than if they’d been masked by his spectacles. She watches for a moment while he begins placing the items into the plastic bag he has brought over for the job, and then takes a hesitant step forward, her hand fluttering to a rest on his forearm.
“I know you’re probably going to get sick of me saying it,” she says. She doesn’t wait for him to look at her; she’ll lose her nerve if she doesn’t keep going. Somehow, things seem different by the light of day, although oddly enough, he doesn’t. “Last night…you didn’t have to…but, it was so nice, and I just wanted to say thank you.”
He smiles, and she wonders if he’s going to pull away, if her touch is too forward. She still hasn’t figured out what exactly is enough with him, without being too pushy or too American. But he doesn’t move, even goes so far as to lightly brush his fingertips against the back of her hand. “You said that last night on the motorcycle,” he says gently, “so it’s hardly necessary to repeat it here.”
Last night? But she didn’t… “Oh! No. I meant…my dream.” She colors at his misunderstanding. “The…holding, when I was all sobby from the nightmare. Thank you for that.” And the next is asked before she can stop herself. “It wasn’t weird for you, was it?”
“Weird?” He shakes his head. “No. Definitely not…weird.”
Her relief surprises her, and it takes her a full minute to realize that her hand is still on his arm, though neither of them are speaking. With the flash of a smile, she pulls away and finishes gathering the ingredients for the spell, comfortable now in the bloom of his presence. All’s well that ends well, she thinks.
Now, let’s just hope I don’t act accidentally blow us all up with my spell.
Even on their way to the docks, Willow isn’t flustered, squeezed into the seat between the two men, with Wesley’s thigh pressing against hers. Manny has country music blaring from the truck’s speakers, and every time he shifts, his hand manages to brush against her skirt-covered knee where it gets in the way of the gearstick, but not even that can shake her mood.
In a way, she has what she came for. It was supposed to be about getting some answers, finding a path for her future, and though her first assumption had been that that path would be one for two---her and Oz walking into the sunset, as corny as that sounded---what she has gained is just as powerful.
She has closure. By running, Oz made his choice perfectly clear, and while she wishes that it didn’t have to be that way, it gives her the answers she needs to put it behind her. It hurts---holy moly, does it ever hurt---but the pain seems different now. More…manageable. And she has no doubts that it is completely due to Wesley’s influence.
Well, and one heck of a nightmare. That pretty much makes her want to slam the door on the whole mess.
So she pays him back as best she can, following his instructions to the letter when they get to the dock, fumbling with the crossbow as he and Manny take the lead. Even when the Jwa’hra turns on them in the middle of its preparations, and her feet are trying to convince her to run in the opposite direction, Willow does exactly as Wesley tells her, chanting the spell that will dissolve its power while Manny sprinkles it with the necessary powders.
She only falters once, when it manages to snag Wes’ shirt sleeve with one of its horns, leaving a jagged crimson line in its wake. Panic for the Englishman chokes the words in her throat, but as she sees him fight back, his face even more grim as he lunges with the dagger he holds expertly in his hand, she trundles on, finishing the incantation and then stepping back when the demon seems to implode upon itself.
Manny is awash with grins, his laughter ringing along the sands, as he wades from the shallows back onto the beach. His congratulations roll over her, but Willow only half-hears, focusing instead on the sleeve Wesley is ripping from its seam in order to expose his injury. Before she can even reach him, he has knotted it around his arm, staunching the blood flow in a makeshift tourniquet, and then turning to her with a smile that explodes into the blue of his eyes.
“Well done,” he says.
It’s only two words, but for some reason, they make her beam, forgetting the dismay at seeing him hurt. “Not so bad yourself, mister,” she replies. Her stomach growls, and she realizes she hasn’t eaten anything in almost twenty-four hours. “Now, who wants pancakes?”
He disappears into the bathroom with his clothes as quickly as he dares. Out in the other room, he can hear Willow and Manny talking, but their words escape him. No matter. His head is awhirl with words of his own, questions without answers and images that are bewildering at best.
She didn’t have to offer to help. She could’ve just kept mute, and he would’ve attempted to stop the Jwa’hra using more mundane methods, and they would’ve parted ways as had been the original intention. Instead, she volunteered her assistance, with a girlish smile and a twinkle in her eye that made him feel his actual age rather than decades older, and all Wesley could wonder was why he’d gone alone on it for so long.
His body isn’t helping the matter, either. There’d been a respite, when business had distracted him from her presence, but all too quickly, he was back in the sticky strands of the web she was weaving, sinking into the emerald while her proximity leant a growing familiarity of fervor somewhere in the pit of his stomach. He is just lonely, he tries to reason, but suspects it’s more than that, that it’s the knowing and the not knowing combining to fascinate him, to baffle him really.
And he would be lying if he dared to deny the fact that for the first time in months, he was excited beyond belief.
He’s grabbed his lone pair of jeans---one advantage to not taking the bike, can’t handle the leather today---and a quick dunk of his head under the shower cools the flickers that are agitating his muscles. Deep breath. Control. You have a demon to stop. A job to do. Focus.
Right. Much better.
Until he opens the door.
And sees her standing there, red-faced and twitchy, eyes too large for her face. And he immediately stiffens.
“What’s wrong?” Before he realizes what he’s doing, he crosses the distance between them, glancing at Manny out of the corner of his eye. What did he say to her? What could he have done?
As he listens to her stutter over her fears regarding the spell, he can practically feel her quivering, his own body picking up her rhythms until he understands that she’s merely fallen victim to her insecurities again, relinquishing what control she’d regained. So he relaxes, dismissing Manny, and sets about to finish getting ready, allowing her the purview to compose herself.
“The leather satchel,” he says as he puts on his shoes. “My supplies are in there.”
He bites the inside of his cheek to refrain from smiling when she literally changes before him. Gone is irresolute Willow, and back is the woman who’d requested a crossbow. Or almost. She just lacks confidence, he muses, which is hardly surprising given her circumstances. And I’d be a fool to allow her not to see just how much stronger than that she is.
Her back is to him, and he has no more excuses, not for himself and not for her, and he rises, his feet carrying him to within inches of her frame, stopping before touching is possible. And his fingers are itching to reach out and trace the pale line of her neck again---too much time obsessing about vampires, I imagine---but he doesn’t, though it’s killing him to stay his hand.
“I…” What? Am glad you’re here? Wish you’d stay? “…appreciate your help in this.” Chicken. “It truly wasn’t necessary.”
“That’s what friends do, right?”
And then she’s moving away from him, taking away the temptation, and he doesn’t know if he’s grateful or disappointed. So he smiles, and nods---is this all I do around her? Where’s that expensive education when one needs it?---turning to the work at hand, placing the spell’s ingredients into the carrier bag he has brought over. When she touches his arm, it takes all his control not to jump, and why is she thanking me again?
He doesn’t care. He just looks down at her and risks lifting his own hand, stroking the fine bones along the back of hers as he says gently, “You said that last night on the motorcycle, so it’s hardly necessary to repeat it here.”
He feels foolish when she clarifies her gratitude, about to speak up and try to cover his ineptitude when she queries, “It wasn’t weird for you, was it?”
“Weird?” Hardly the word he’d use to describe it, so he shakes his head. “No. Definitely not…weird.” His mind is searching for another word to explain it, one that is safe to share without revealing too much of the havoc that is his head currently, when he feels her grip tighten for a second, a reminder that they are still touching. When he looks down, she gives him the most brilliant smile yet, beaming and genuine and he’s certain designed to break his heart, and pulls away, setting back to the work at hand.
Work. Yes. He has a demon to stop.
It’s his mantra as they take the rest of the supplies out to the truck, tossing them into the back as she slides into the cab. The fit is tight when he squeezes in, and she is pressed against him, leg to leg, thigh to thigh, bouncing into his shoulder every time Manny takes a turn too wide or hits a bump in the road. More than once, he sees the casual brush of his contact’s hand against her knee when he shifts gears, and files away a note to have words with him about it later, his mouth tight in determination.
That disgust actually makes it easier to concentrate. When they reach the docks, he barks orders to the other two, ensuring that Willow stays behind so that she can be protected from the worst of the fray. He is absorbed by the fight, listening to her voice begin the chanting, redoubling his efforts when the Jwa’hra turns against him.
This is one of the parts of demon hunting that he adores. Research and magic were all well and good when fighting against evil, but Wesley had learned at graduation, during the battle against the Mayor, just what a sense of power could be obtained by tackling the demons head on. Not that it is easy. Each prey offers a different challenge, and there is always the possibility that he won’t come out of it alive. And then there are the times when it goes horribly wrong, and he is left feeling weaker than when he started.
But the rush, the power, the sense of control. He loses himself in it with the Jwa’hra, ignoring the slice across his arm to fight back harder, listening to Willow continue behind him until it is done and the demon disappears.
His breathing is rushed, adrenaline crisping through his veins as he listens to Manny splash to the shore. Through the other man’s raucous banter, he becomes aware of the blood dripping down his arm, and the sting prompts Wes to tend to the wound quickly, all efficiency and business as he staunches the flow. When he looks up, he realizes that Willow is watching him intently, her eyes jumping from his face to his arm with what looks remarkably like worry. For me? he wonders. His smile is frank, automatic, and he says the first thing he feels surging within his pride.
The reward of her answering smile is all he needed, so hearing her lighthearted teasing in return makes him want to duck his head in an embarrassment of riches. He looks back up at her when she suggests breakfast, though, and meets her gaze.
“Pancakes sound lovely.”