Oh, and I'm storing these in my memories, for anyone who may be interested in reading from the beginning or who might miss a part. Just to make it easier for you...
She has him drop her off at the tiny mall before they do anything else.
“Are you certain you don’t wish me to join you?” he asks from his perch on the motorcycle.
“Are you certain you want to be with me when I pick out new underwear?” she replies, mimicking his accent playfully. “Besides, I’ll only be an hour or so. You can pick me up back here and we can finally go get those pancakes.” Her grin widens, her good mood spreading. “They’re not just for breakfast any more, you know.”
She waves to him as he pulls away from the walk, and then turns to step jauntily through the mall doors. Considering where she’d been just a few hours earlier, it doesn’t seem right that her head is currently in such a shiny, happy place, but she doesn’t question it. Too much time has been wasted languishing in the dark, and for the next two days, she is going to do everything in her power to forget about it, to live a life where smiles are her primary facial function and the company she keeps makes her feel good about herself instead of an empty shell unworthy of feeling anything real beyond pain.
Who’d’ve thought that company would be Wesley Wyndam-Pryce? Will wonders never cease…
So she bounces around the shops, picking and choosing what she’s going to need with a careless abandon. A pair of jeans here, a sweater there. She splurges and buys a bra and panties set at Victoria’s Secret instead of hitting the lingerie department at JCPenney’s, only because she can. Not like anyone can call her on it, and though it will hardly get the play it might’ve if Oz had still been around---stop that! Oz thoughts bad!---she likes the decadence, adores the sense of freedom it gives her.
She lingers at Victoria’s Secret longer than necessary, fingers caressing the various silks and satins of the sleepwear, looking over the tamer cotton items before leaving with her purchases. Splurging is one thing. Being downright extravagant is another. No reason she can’t just sleep in her t-shirt for the next two nights. Although maybe I should buy some shorts. Just to be on the safe side.
All too soon, she is done, but when she glances at her watch, it betrays her by announcing just how little time she has taken. Fifteen minutes before Wesley shows up. What can I possibly do for another fifteen minutes?
When she passes the small café on her way to the exit, though, the scent of coffee makes her pause, and Willow turns her head to glance through the glass at the menu posted on the wall.
And she knows she shouldn’t, but Buffy isn’t there to stop her, and Xander isn’t there to nag her, and isn’t this weekend supposed to be about a break from my life? So she goes inside, hesitates, and then steps boldly up to the counter, the order slipping from her lips with surprising ease, her mouth salivating in anticipation even before she has the paper cup in her hands. She sips, then swallows, then gulps, and before she realizes it, it’s gone, and all she is left with is the long green straw with the whipped cream clinging to its plastic rim as she pulls it out of the cup to suck at its bottom.
Caffeinated goodness. And she sighs, because life doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, especially when icy chocolatey coffee is coursing through your veins.
She waits in the sunshine, her feet swinging beneath her on the bench, peering up and down the parking lot as she waits for Wesley to arrive. He’s late, and this surprises her because he seems like the last person to suffer from chronic tardiness. In fact, he seems like someone who’d be the exact opposite, and begins to worry that something might be dreadfully wrong, that maybe he’s gotten attacked or something in the time they’ve been separated---oh, it could be vampires! Except that would be ridiculous because hello, daytime, and enough sunshine to make George Hamilton think it was too much---but it could be something else, something just as dangerous, and wouldn’t that be awful because---.
Oh. Nope. There he is. Worrying for nothing. Gotta stop that.
Her smile is huge as the motorcycle pulls up to the curb, but as she approaches the bike with her few bags, it falters when he flips up his visor and she sees the bleak expression in his eyes. “What’s wrong?” she blurts out before she can even think not to.
He pauses. “How would you feel if we didn’t do pancakes?” he queries as he reaches for her bags.
“Why?” Her arms seem too light without her purchases, and her eyes widen as the possible answer springs to mind. “Is the demon back?”
He visibly starts, and then shakes his head. “No, no, just…I thought…Perhaps it might be nice to…”
He is obviously having difficulty in trying to explain himself, unable to meet her eyes, and she rests a hand on his arm when he is done stowing her bags, assuring him that whatever he wants is fine by her. This seems to satisfy him, if only momentarily, but before she can swing her leg over to join him on the motorcycle, he is reaching for something unseen, straightening and holding out a brightly colored helmet.
“Yours,” he explains. “Because your safety is paramount, of course.”
Her eyes gleam in delight as she traces the rainbow decoration. Safety is good. And pretty is better. “Thanks.” Smiling as widely as she can. She wants him to know how much she likes it. Is he actually blushing?
“You needed one, and it…reminded me of you.”
Quickly, she slips it on, but as she struggles with the chin strap, he reaches up and helps her, lean fingers strong and capable, eyes looking everywhere but into hers. Her head feels heavy when it’s done, which is weird because just seconds earlier it had felt way too floaty, and she bobbles it back and forth in experiment as she tests the weight. Catching his amused smile, she returns his grin before throwing her arms around him impulsively in a hug.
“Thanks,” she repeats.
He has twisted in his seat to help her so when she embraces Wesley, she finds herself pressed against his chest, lean and hard and wow, demonhunting must be a really good workout. The helmets make it kind of awkward, but she compensates by turning her head to rest it on his shoulder, her breath rapid, her heartbeat thumping inside her ribcage. Must be the caffeine, she rationalizes. It can’t be the fact that he smells amazing, or feels like…
But then she hears him wince and realizes she is squeezing him too hard, yanking away in apology as she looks guiltily at his injured arm.
“It’s quite all right. But…we should really be going.”
So she slides onto the motorcycle behind him, wrapping her arms carefully around his waist, feeling the muscles flex as he turns the bike into the parking lot. Within seconds, her body is humming along to the rhythm of the road, vibrating with the engine and forcing her to tighten her hold every time he takes a corner. Gotta tell Buffy about the wonders of riding a motorcycle, she thinks, and then chastises herself because of course she can’t, not after having promised Wesley she wouldn’t say anything about him to the gang back in Sunnydale, though why she still has no idea. Maybe he’ll tell her before the weekend is out because with as much as she’s shared with him, she can’t imagine that his reason could be any worse.
It takes ten minutes of winding through the city streets for her to realize that things are looking familiar, landmarks popping into her vision through her visor that seem like she should know them. And she wonders just what it is he has in mind instead of pancakes, especially when the bike seems to be slowing, pondering its next move like a hunter on the prowl.
Only then does she see the club in the distance.
Only then does the shaking begin to overtake her body, eyes too wide as she stares at the building, as if it houses some unseen terror. Which, of course, it does, in the shape of an Oz-like spectre, looming around her in her failure, but explaining that to her rational mind? Not going to happen.
“No, no, no, no, no, no,” she finds herself chanting, breathing almost, as if the repetition of the single word will ward away the inevitable. Because inevitable it seems, especially when the bike slows even more, almost crawling up to the entrance of the club. She doesn’t want to be so quiet in her refutation. She wants to scream, and shout, and damn it, I had my closure, I don’t need this right now, please don’t do this to me, though why she would think that this is any deliberate action on Wesley’s part, she has no idea.
So when they turn off before the club, away from the edifice and the memories and the pain of rejection, it is all Willow can do not to cry in relief, tightening her hold around his waist as her head rests in the hollow between his shoulder blades. Thumping and thudding and crashing inside her chest, her heart slowly returns to its more normal beat, and silently she vows to lay off the mochacchinos forever---stupid caffeine, it’s all the coffee’s fault---ignoring the passing scenery as it blurs into oblivion around her.
When he finally stops at a small diner on the outskirts of town, her body has returned to normal, though peeling herself away from him is the last thing she wants to do. “Willow,” she hears him say, and his voice is quiet and gentle, stroking away the last of the nerves running rife along her skin. She waits for more, but it doesn’t come. Only the true tempo of his touch, his leather-covered hands tucking hers into his in a tender reassurance that shouldn’t rock her sense of stability so profoundly, making her question and forget all in the same breath.
“I thought…you didn’t want pancakes,” she manages to say.
He rises then, pulling her with him, and works the straps of her helmet without answering. It’s when their heads are both uncovered, blue eyes boring into hers, that he finally responds. “I changed my mind,” he says, and twining his fingers with hers, leads her into the restaurant.
Her insistence on getting the shopping out of the way is the last thing Wesley expects. “Are you certain you don’t wish me to join you?” he asks for what seems like the hundredth time since leaving the hotel.
His body is ready to get off the bike and follow her inside, watching her stand there with that huge smile on her face, the one that has been ever-present since their mutual admissions about wishing to spend more time together, the one that makes him want to smile back as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
“Are you certain you want to be with me when I pick out new underwear?” she jokes with him, and he is grateful that the visor hides his fast flush from her gaze, images of a semi-clad Willow modelling potential purchases parading before his mind’s eye and waking his body yet again to her presence. Her next words are almost lost, something about meeting up in an hour and pancakes and she’s beautiful when she smiles, and he’s pulling away from the curb before he completely loses it, grinning unseen when he catches her wave out of the corner of his eye.
It’s going to be a good weekend. Most definitely.
An hour gives him plenty of time to accomplish what he wishes, so he takes his time riding through the town’s streets, angling himself closer and closer to the motorcycle shop as he appreciates the sunshine beating down on him. Without realizing it, he finds himself on the same road he’d seen Willow waiting for Oz the previous evening, and is about to turn away when he spots a familiar van parked in front of the club.
He frowns. It can’t be.
But then there’s the diminutive form coming around from the rear of the vehicle, hair dyed a venomous black now but unmistakably still him, keys jangling from his hand as he approaches the passenger side door.
And he knows he shouldn’t, that it’s not his place, but he pulls over anyway, parking right in front of the van and climbing off the motorcycle with a grim determination…though what he’s determined to do, Wesley really has no idea.
Oz frowns, freezing in his place as he watches the other man approach, relaxing only when the helmet comes off and reveals the Englishman’s face. “Small world,” he comments.
“Yes. Quite.” When he stops on the walk, he maintains a cool composure as he silently appraises the teenager, not even flinching when Oz’s demeanor changes, his head tilting as he sniffs at the air, his frown returning.
“You smell like Willow.”
Of course, I smell like Willow, he wants to shout. Someone had to be there when you shattered her hope.
“She’s hurt. Is she OK?”
The last is asked like rapidfire, and there is no denying the concern that is now clouding Oz’s face, his feet closing the gap between them in his worry. “She’s all right,” Wes quickly assures. In spite of what has transpired between them, he always rather liked the young man. A sharp mind, intuitive, unflappable. All redeeming qualities, he’s always thought, even if it did come wrapped up in a werewolf package. It’s only the recent events that have changed his perspective. He has learned that cowardice infuriates him, and the type that Oz exhibited the previous night ranks among the worst possible kinds.
“There was a vampire attack last night,” he further explains. “After…” You broke her heart, you spineless prat. “…she left the club.”
“Oh.” He relaxes. “But she’s OK now.”
If you can call what you’ve done to her, OK.
“Yes.” He stands there awkwardly, wondering yet again what he thought might accomplish by stopping. It is hardly his place to intervene more than he already has, and yet the urge to thrash the smaller man curls his muscles in tension. He shouldn’t, though. Violence is not the answer to everything. “She’s still in town,” he says instead. “I think…she deserves an explanation for last night, don’t you?”
Oz visibly deflates, turning away and shuffling back to his van. Wesley follows after, both afraid that he is going to leave again and hoping that he will. “Yeah,” Oz concedes. “Probably. But I…can’t.” The keys jingle as he slides them into the lock, opening the door and pulling out a box of paraphernalia.
“Can’t, or won’t?”
The challenge doesn’t stop him from heading toward the club. “I can’t be around Willow right now. Not until I get some answers. Some control.” He stops at the door and looks back. “I can’t risk hurting her even more than I have. I love her too much for that.” His eyes are cheerless as they lock with Wesley’s. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell her you saw me. As soon as I get this gear taken care of, I’m leaving anyway. It’s…better this way.”
And he doesn’t know what to say to that, except to exchange polite goodbyes and walk back to his bike, returning to the road with a rote in his muscles that does nothing to attenuate his mind. She should know. She deserves to know. Over, and over, and over again, even as he’s buying the helmet for her, and even as he’s scolding himself on the way back to the mall for not standing up to Oz when he had the chance. Take responsibility for your actions, he should’ve said. Be a man. Men don’t run from their responsibilities. They face them.
Which is ironic because isn’t that what he’s doing by refusing to go back to Sunnydale?
No. Not the same thing. He’s atoning for his mistakes as a Watcher. He’s proving that he is a man by taking the mantle of demonhunter. There’s a difference between him and Oz.
There has to be.
It is these thoughts that are rolling around inside his brain as he pulls up to the curb, her broad smile only cementing his decision. When he flips the visor on his helmet, though, it cuts into his chest when he sees her pleasure fade, her worried query as to what is wrong guilting him into silence.
She deserves to know, he repeats to himself. “How would you feel if we didn’t do pancakes?” Take her bags. Don’t look at her eyes. Don’t let her see what you know.
“Why? Is the demon back?”
He is shocked at what seems to be the eerie appropriateness of her question---how can she tell?---and then realizes she’s referring to the Jwa’hra and not to Oz. “No, no,” he says, and relaxes slightly. “Just…” But he can’t bring himself to say the words. “I thought…” And that’s not really any better. “Perhaps it might be nice to…”
He hates himself for being so inept at this, for not having the fortitude to just say it like he sees it. When she touches him, saying, “Whatever you want is fine,” he is grateful for the momentary respite, even if he can’t fully appreciate how lovely her fingers feel on his arm.
Pulling out the helmet he’s bought for her, he holds it out in offering, smiling when she is so obviously pleased and surprised by it, stammering some inanity about her needing one, and then watching as she struggles to get it strapped on. His fingers are on hers in a flash, guiding and finishing the job, and when it’s done and she’s testing its feel, he can’t help but smile at the delighted innocence radiating from her, his pleasure expounding when she astonishes him with a hug.
And it takes all his control not to let that satisfaction bleed through when he hugs her back, his resolve weakening when she drops her head to his shoulder and sighs, even more so when he imagines he can feel her pulse racing against him. It would be so simple to turn it into something more, he realizes, and savors the sensation of her small breasts pressing into his chest, the tiny breaths fluttering down his back. Only the sharp stab of pain down his arm keeps him rooted in the moment, but his wince does the last thing he actually wants at the moment. It makes her pull away.
“Sorry,” she apologizes, but he is quick to assure her he is fine.
The mood for him is crushed, though, and he turns away with the sad determination to do what he knows he must. Even with her arms around his waist, even with the promise of freedom from the bike beneath him, Wesley understands that he owes it to her to see the truth, to force Oz to confront what he doesn’t wish to, and so he plans his trajectory toward the club, his route circuitous as he more than once changes his mind and then back again, slower and slower, until they’re on the proper street and his target looms in the distance.
She deserves to know.
Except…he can feel her trembling, her arms practically vibrating around his waist, tightening and clinging as if that will quell the quivering. She’s scared; he can practically smell it coming off of her, but it’s not until he hears her tiny voice, like a whisper in his ear, that he makes his decision.
“No, no, no, no, no, no…”
And he’s not going to do that to her, he refuses to be the reason she cries any more, he can’t, not when she so obviously doesn’t want what going to the club will provide. So he turns before she can spot the van he knows is still parked there, and wends his way out of town, gaining as much distance and buying as much time for her as he can manage before stopping at what looks like a reasonable place to eat.
Sustenance. That’s what she needs.
She isn’t moving, not even when he parks the motorcycle. Not even when his hands drop to hers at his waist, just holding them as he understands she needs to be held at the moment. “Willow,” he breathes, and fears that his voice gives too much away, that just uttering her name is enough to betray just how reliant on her he has become. It’s not natural, and these are extenuating circumstances---he’d be a fool to not see that---but it’s still there, it’s still real, and he is both exhilarated and terrified at the possibility it presents. Run, he wants to tell her. Run before it’s too late. Before I fail you, too.
But she doesn’t. She stays. And she says, “I thought you didn’t want pancakes.”
He doesn’t care about the pancakes. He only cares that she’s still there, and more than ever, he realizes that he has to relish every moment of this weekend they have together before she really is gone. Pulling her to her feet, he frees her from her helmet before seeing to his own. “I changed my mind,” Wesley says when he can finally see her eyes, and taking a deep breath, risks what only hours ago he would never have dared.
He takes her hand, lacing her fingers through his, and as he starts walking for the restaurant, his heart quickens when she tightens the grip instead of pulling away.