Title: Life’s Hard
Pairing: Buffy Summers/Michael Westen
Disclaimer: Burn Notice and all related characters are copyright Matt Nix, Fox Television Studios & The USA Network. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all related characters are copyright Joss Whedon and ME. No infringement intended.
Synopsis: Michael knew getting into an asset’s bed was one thing, an easy thing, but getting into their heart was something else entirely.
Becoming emotionally involved with an asset is a lot like mixing naphthenic and palmitic acids. Sure there’s a big explosion, at first, but eventually you realize that the fire just doesn’t stop burning.
It’ll burn you, or your asset, until there’s nothing left but ashes and any good operative knows to choose themselves above all others.
This isn’t about love. It’s about securing the intel you need to do your job. The job is what matters. Not the smell of her hair or the look in her eyes when she sees you across the room.
Life’s hard. Deal with it.
She knew her way around Rome and its night life. Which clubs were in and which weren’t and she tended to aim straight in the middle of that group when she wanted to unwind without the added hassle of a crowded dance floor or the possibility of running into something not so nice in a dark alley. Michael knew this. He counted on it as he set himself up along the far end of the bar with a quick exit down the hall and past the women’s lavatory at his back, the entrance to the establishment at his front and a very dirty, half-drunk, martini at his elbow.
Blue eyes narrowed as they surveyed the couples huddled together, legs and arms intertwined, in shadowed booths as the DJ kept the few on the dance floor moving to a steady house beat. His gaze turned toward the black and white checkered linoleum lining the dance floor and Michael brought his martini up and around as she entered—his soon to be newest acquisition—Buffy Summers.
A foot rose from the floor to hook the edge of his loafer on the stool’s footrest as he leaned back and shifted to give himself a better vantage point as she made her way to the bar. She paused, toned and tanned arms coming up to rest against the polished plastic as glossed lips spread into a smile causing the lines to gather around her eyes and the woman manning the bar set to work making the blonde a drink of vodka and syrupy juices. He waited until the oversized lotus was floating in her wide-rimmed glass before signaling the bartender and finishing his own drink.
He felt, more then saw, her turn her focus to him and he ignored her, for the moment, as the pretty brunette reached for the metal shaker to refill his glass. His gaze slid from the quick handed bartender to the blonde sipping her drink and watching the small mass of humanity on the dance floor. Her head turned, gaze assessing the width of his shoulders first before moving up to his features and, almost as an afterthought, she lifted her chin to meet his gaze and her eyes widened, a blush staining her cheeks when she realized he was watching her in return.
The fingers holding the thin stem of her glass tightened before she lifted a shoulder and her glass in a small salute before turning to the bar and away from him. Michael’s mouth curved upward at the corners as he accepted his martini, motioning the bartender to add it to his tab and rose from his stool to make his way towards Buffy Summers—pleased she’d initiated first contact and more than willing to take complete advantage of it.
He placed his drink beside hers and she turned, tilting her head back so that she was looking up at his face with a question in her eyes and he offered a simple, “Hello.”
Her gaze dipped to her drink and back to him before she stated, just as simply, “Hey.”
Michael’s smile spread wider into a grin. “Oh thank God! You speak English.” She laughed, he noted that it was slightly forced and switched tactics, “This is my first trip to Rome.”
The lotus filled glass rose and she sipped at her drink again before inclining her head to him. “You’ll enjoy it.”
“You’ve been here before?”
She took another sip before clarifying, “I live here.”
He accepted her statement with a nod and lifted his glass, caught the wooden pick that held his three olives afloat and pinned it to the rim as he took a drink. He kept his tone light, conversational as he lowered his martini back to the bar and asked, “You wouldn’t happen to know of a decent sushi bar would you?”
This time her laughter wasn’t forced and she turned fully towards him as she prompted, “You’re in Italy and you want to know where to find decent Japanese?”
A shrug lifted his shoulder as he set his glass down before giving Buffy his full attention. “What can I say? I have small obsession with eel.”
Green eyes widened and her smile followed suit. “I love eel!”
Michael’s head cocked, chin dipping as he leaned slightly forward and used more intel he’d gathered from her dossier to aid him in gaining another asset. “It’s the sauce that makes it worthwhile.”
“I know,” she instantly agreed with a nod before tilting her head back and offering, “Wanna grab a booth and talk sashimi?”
“I’d like that.”
His smile was slow and sure as he nodded before taking the lead and heading toward the back of the bar. He waited at the edge of an open booth and motioned Buffy to take a seat before him. She sent him a slightly considering look as she slid onto the cushioned bench and he followed her, taking up the opposite side of the curved booth. She set her lotus drink down before offering her hand across the table and stating, “I’m Buffy.”
He took her hand, felt the calluses that told him better then any file that she was a field agent, and held onto it a moment longer then necessary as he looked into her eyes and lied, “I’m David.”
“Well, David, what brings you to Rome? Business or pleasure?”
His head inclined as he slowly released her hand and watched her wrap graceful fingers around the stem of her glass and bring it once more to her mouth. Michael shifted, eased back and absently toyed with the bottom of his own glass as he prompted, “It can’t be both?” with slow smile.
“It can,” she nodded, placing her glass back on the table and her smile turned slightly promising. “Do you mix both often?”
They slipped into casual conversation and Michael order two more rounds of drinks, ensuring the contents of his own glass never slipped past halfway as he listened to the trivial details about her life and family. Details he was already more then aware of, but feigned interest in as Buffy grew more relaxed and involved in both the conversation and him. He watched her finish her third drink, the effects of the alcohol bringing on a slight flush to her cheeks and throat as she began to sway slightly to the music, her fingers keeping in tempo to the beat on the tabletop as she asked him more in-depth questions about his own family.
Holding up a finger, and hoping to distract her from another inquiry about his misspent youth, he pulled his cell phone from the silk-lined pockets of his slacks and sent a quick text to the DJ before offering her an apologetic smile. “Sorry, work related.”
She nodded and opened her mouth to reiterate her previous question when the music eased its way towards silence and a line appeared between her brows as she, and everyone else in the club, turned toward the DJ booth. The silence lasted for a full three seconds before a very loud and soulful, “Well,” filled the club and the Isley Brothers brought the dance floor back to life with a remix of, “You Make Me Wanna Shout.”
Buffy turned back to Michael, eyes wide and before she could utter a single word he was already at the edge of the booth and asking her, “Dance with me?”
The rapid bobbing of her head had him laughing as he took her hand and guided her through the throng of warm bodies so that were at the center. He knew getting into an asset’s bed was one thing, an easy thing, but getting into their heart was something else entirely.
Light pierced through Buffy’s eyelids and she turned, flinging an arm up and across her face as a dull ache spread from the back of her head forward. The pressure building on her forehead forced Buffy to turn her head and blink, a line appearing between her brows at the unfamiliar nightstand next to her and the bottle of water with two aspirins sitting cattycorner to it. She rolled onto her side and snuggled deeper into the down comforter as she continued to frown at her confusion inducing surroundings even as she closed her eyes and let the warm pillow welcome her back.
Green eyes opened, wide and slightly frantic as she sprung up at the waist and the comforter fell to pool around her. A hand rose to press against her forehead and she took a moment to simply breath as her stomach rebelled at the sudden movement. Blindly she reached for the water bottle and broke the seal before taking a few quick sips that did nothing to alleviate her cottonmouth. She kept a hand pressed to her forehead in an attempt to keep her brain in place and slowly lifted her head to look around the artfully decorated hotel room and winced, muttering, “Damn, damn, damn-ity, damn.”
She pushed the comforter further from her and snagged the aspirin as she rose from the bed before turning and frowning at the fact that she’d been alone in it and was currently wearing a man’s button up shirt. Popping the aspirin she turned, padding barefoot across the thick carpet toward the small living area attached to the room, vaguely remembering—with a blush that made her head pound harder—raining random kisses across a smirking mouth while entering the suite the night before.
Her mouth tightened with the memory as she reached the couch that separated the two rooms and paused, looked over the back of it and the frown twisting her mouth loosened into a smile. She looked down at David laying supine with his knees bent and resting against the back of the couch so that all of his lean frame could fit on it. Her head inclined and she took another sip of water as she watched him sleep a moment before he tensed, body going ridged.
Blue eyes opened into slits and he assessed her and the room with one quick glance before a smile lightened the hard line of his mouth and he sat forward, his bare chest only a little distracting, as he offered, voice sleep-roughed, “Good morning.”
Her chin dipped as she arched a brow. “Morning.”
“I see you found the water,” he sent a pointed look toward the bottle in her hand as he rose from the couch and took a moment to stretch, distracting Buffy and she missed his next question. He noticed her blank look and another, wider smile spread his mouth before he prompted, “Did you find the aspirin?”
“I did indeed-y.”
He moved around the couch, toward her as he offered, “I was thinking shower and room service.”
Buffy toyed with the bottle in her hands as she tilted her chin up, head falling back so she could meet his gaze as he smiled down at her. Her voice was hesitant as she questioned, “David, we didn’t…” she trailed off and tucked her bottom lip between her teeth, suddenly unsure and blushing.
A hand rose, knuckles skimming her cheek and bring Buffy’s averted gaze back to David as his smile softened. “No, we didn’t.”
“But…” another frown tightened her brows as Buffy stated, “I wanted to.” She flinched realizing belated how that sounded and corrected, “I mean I think I wanted to.”
“I know I did.” Her eyes widened with David’s quiet confirmation even as he explained, “But you were drunk.”
Buffy swallowed and stepped forward, invading David’s personal spaces and her gaze traveled over the slight shadowing of beard that had appeared overnight before stating, “I’m not drunk now.”
Warm hands came up to cup the back of her arms and pull her forward, against his chest as his chin dipped, head turning so that his mouth hovered over hers. “No, you’re not,” was breathed against her lips and Buffy jerked back, nearly stumbling and she couldn’t ignore the instant and confused frown marring his features.
Quickly and frantically she explained, “I need five minutes,” at his arched brow she amended, “Teeth need to be brushed and face washed and yes, I’m a girl dammit! Stop laughing at me!” She glared at the slight up and down movement of his shoulders—his nicely shaped and well defined shoulders—what was she talking about again?
“I think I’m more than aware that you’re a woman, Buffy.”
She blinked, refocused. “Right, of course you are,” even as she was taking another step back from him she prompted, “So five minutes is cool?” He nodded and some of the tightness in her chest eased as she stated, voice urgent, “Hold that thought then!”
A blush worked its way up her throat to darken her cheeks, but at the moment Buffy was less than caring as David’s oh so masculine laughter followed her into the bathroom.
Even the most skilled operative loses focus sometimes—no one is on point twenty-four/seven—but there’s a limit to what most are willing to do to develop an asset. The trick is to know when to cut out, when to cut your losses and perform a tactical retreat.
It’s impossible not to become attached on some levels, but once you find yourself missing the sound of their laughter and the taste of their skin it’s time to ease off. It’s time to regroup and give them the chance to miss you.
Some people consider that harsh. I call it practical.