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“Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within heals your sick self,
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility;
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen”

--“Of Pain”

He had only been home from the hospital for a few days the first time she called.

He sat and apathetically watched the phone ring. He told himself that he wasn’t answering the phone because it was still too painful to talk (which was true, as far as it went), but that wasn’t why he refused to pick up the ringing instrument. The truth was that he was far too immersed in his own misery to care about whoever might be on the other end of that line. Angel, Gunn, and Fred (oh, God! Fred) had damned him eternally for the Connor fuckup, and he was lonely. Whoever was on the phone could go to hell with him.

You've reached Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Please leave a message after the tone.

Wesley listened to his own voice on the machine and heard the voice of a stranger. He felt odd listening to it, as if he were eavesdropping on neighboring diners at a restaurant. He wondered whether he would feel as disconnected from the caller as he did from himself. It was a shock when he didn’t, because it was the last person on earth he expected to ever call him.

Hi. Um, I don’t know if you remember me, but this is Buffy. Buffy Summers. One of your old Slayers. Uh, look. I know that I was horrible to you back in Sunnydale and that you have no reason to care, but I sort of need to talk to you. Please. I don’t have any right to ask, but please call me back.

She gave her number, and then there was a long pause. Wesley wondered why she didn’t hang up the phone, but then she began speaking again, babbling even more than she had before:

Wesley, please don’t tell Angel I called. I know that he’s your boss and everything, or you’re his boss, or something… Okay, I’m not sure who’s in charge of who (or is that whom?), but please don’t tell him in any case. I mean, it really doesn’t concern Angel anyway, so he doesn’t need to know. And I don’t want him to know. Not yet. It’s personal, and I—

The machine cut off the message rather abruptly, and Wes wondered whether she would call back, and whether he would answer the phone this time if she did. His first inclination was to say, “No fucking way.” His memories of Sunnydale and the blond Slayer were hardly pleasant. She and Faith had been his first failures. Although the pain of those failures was far less than his agony from subsequent mistakes, the humiliation went deeper. Mr. Giles’ contempt and Buffy’s dismissal still burned. Why the hell should he talk to her?

And yet…

And yet, she had sounded so desperate. So nervous, so alone. So very much like him. He wondered whether she still had all of her wonderful friends, the self-proclaimed Scooby Gang. He wondered whether she took taxis home from hospitals, because none of her friends would drive her. He wondered whether anyone had slit her throat.

He was tempted to call her and find out the answers to these questions, but not sufficiently so as to actually do it. A more serious temptation was to pick up the phone if she called back… except she didn’t. At least not that day.

 

“A voice cannot carry the tongue and the lips that gave it wings. Alone must it seek the ether.
And alone and without his nest shall the eagle fly across the sun.”

--“The Coming of the Ship”

Hi, Wes. This is Buffy again. Listen, I don’t know if you didn’t get my last message, or if you just haven’t had a chance to call me back, but I really need to talk to you. Please, call me. And oh! Don’t call me from work, okay? I don’t want Angel to know. Thanks. Bye.

*~*~*

Um, hello, Wes. It’s me again. Buffy. I know that you have no reason to talk to me, but I really need to talk to you. And I can’t tell you what it’s about, because I just can’t do this over an answering machine. So please, please call me back. I’d really appreciate it. Bye.

*~*~*

Hello, Mr. Windam-Pryce. It’s Buffy again. You know, Buffy Summers, from Sunnydale? I guess you don’t want to talk to me, and I understand that. I do. But if you change your mind, I’d still love to hear from you. And if you don’t, well, I guess I understand that too.

 

“A seeker of silences am I, and what treasure have I found in silences that I may dispense with confidence?”

--“The Coming of the Ship”

It was the last message that did him in. It wasn’t that she sounded desperate or pathetic (though she did). It was that she called him Mr. Wyndam-Price. She had never called him that before, and it didn’t suit her. When he had been her Watcher, he had been affronted that she didn’t call him by his last name; now that he held no authority of any kind over her, it killed him to hear that from her. She was the Slayer. She should bow down to no one, not even him. Especially not him.

When he went to the hospital the next morning, he brought with him a note that he handed to his nurse as soon as he was shown to an examination room. She nodded briskly, and then dialed.

“Ms. Summers?” Wesley studied the nurse’s face while she waited for the person on the other end of the line to confirm or deny that identification. He wondered whether he could hear Buffy’s voice through studying the nurse. Given her bloated face, he rather doubted it. “My name is Ernestine Wells. I am Mr. Wyndam-Price’s nurse.” Pause. “No, I’m afraid that he isn’t well. He suffered severe damage to his neck recently, and his trachea is badly injured.” Another pause. “Yes, he should make a full recovery in time, but for the moment he finds it very difficult to speak. And that is why I’m calling.” Longer pause this time. Wes wondered what she was saying, whether it was sympathetic towards him, or mocking. “Ms. Summers! If you would please permit me! Mr. Wyndam-Price gave me a message and asked me to read it to you. If you would just let me--” A short pause. “That’s quite alright, dear. Now, his message says: Buffy. I am quite willing to converse with you, but I am unable do it over the phone, as speech is difficult for me. You will have to come here, to LA. Let me know when I am may expect you.”

It wasn’t particularly nice of him to demand that she come to Los Angeles, and he knew it. She had her friends, her sister, and all of Sunnydale depending upon her presence up north. She probably had classes and a boyfriend, and perhaps even a job. He had no connections of any kind, personal or professional. She had a plethora of things tying her to Sunnydale, making it difficult for her to get away; he had nothing to keep him here other than his pride. But that was a heavy anchor. If she wanted to talk to him, then she would come here and do it on his terms. Yes, it was petty, but he no longer gave a shit. Actually, he rather enjoyed being petty.

The nurse tapped him on the shoulder, to pull him out of his daydream. “Would Saturday afternoon be alright with you, Mr. Wyndam-Price?” Wesley nodded. The nurse listened for another moment and then added, “She’ll call and let you know the exact time to expect her. She needs to check out the bus schedule first.”

Shit. She didn’t have a car? He liked being petty, but he was too new at it to go this far yet. Wesley couldn’t permit her to take a four-hour bus drive to dance attendance upon him, not when he had a motorcycle. It just wasn’t in him. He quickly jotted down a note and passed it to Nurse Wells.

“Never mind, dear. Mr. Wyndam-Price says that he’ll come up there. Expect him around 11:00 tonight.” A short pause this time. “Alright, Ms. Summers. I’ll tell him. Good bye, dear.” The nurse hung up the phone and turned towards him. “Your lady friend said that that would be fine. She’ll have a room made up for you, though she won’t be there herself. She added that if you want to find her, she’ll be on the clock, whatever that means. “

Wesley nodded. He had a rather good idea.

 

” How shall I go in peace and without sorrow?
Nay, not without a wound in the spirit shall I leave this city.
Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness;
And who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?”

--“The Coming of the Ship”

Wesley idled away the day, counting the hours until he could leave for Sunnydale. He was surprised by his restlessness, but a moment’s reflection told him why he was so uneasy in his own skin. He had stopped believing the fairy tales that he had been feeding himself for the last month or so. He had finally woken up.

Ever since his release from the hospital, Wesley had been telling himself that he was well out of his old life. He was tired of working insane hours, sick of being taken for granted by his friends, and thoroughly fed up with having his strings pulled like some bloody puppet. Better by far to stay in his apartment (licking his wounds) looking out for his own welfare than to be out getting shot and having his throat slit. Oh, he was willing to face a little danger for the sake of the greater good, but it was asking too much for him to continually risk his life for people who didn’t give a shit about his. Or so he had been telling himself; now that somebody wanted him again, however, he realized just how wrong he had been.

He was addicted to the fight against evil, and craved the heady feeling of being useful. The only thing that could truly keep him away from The Good Fight was exclusion. Buffy’s messages had suggested that she needed his help, needed him. Unless the calls were a cruel prank, Buffy wanted to put him back in the game. And God, did he want to be there.

Wesley spent that long day fighting his urge to run off to Sunnydale immediately. He may have been anxious to end his isolation, but that didn’t mean that he was would crawl towards a woman who had already humiliated him. His experiences at Angel Investigation had taught him that it was not good to make yourself too available, no matter how badly one wanted to help.

So Wesley spent his day sorting mail that had been ignored for too long, paying bills, cleaning his flat, and writing explanatory letters. He didn’t know if Buffy would ask him about the Connor situation, and he wasn’t certain that he cared about her opinion if she did, but he wanted to have his side of the sordid mess prepared just in case. Besides, it helped to kill the time.

Around 4:00, he realized that he couldn’t remain in his cramped apartment a moment longer. He hadn’t planned to leave until after dinner, but he had run out of invented chores that would justify his continued presence here in LA. If he left now, he would get caught up in rush-hour traffic. Wesley thought that the claustrophobia of a congested onramp couldn’t possibly be worse than the stifling feeling of his own flat. Stagnation was his only enemy at the moment. Who cared if he made good time on his way to Sunnydale, the important thing was for him to move. He would leave now and eat dinner at a restaurant along the way.

Wesley arrived at the Summers’ house shortly after 9:00. As always, a few hours on his motorcycle had calmed him, and he found himself looking forward to his meeting with Buffy with a subdued excitement. When the door opened, a sullen Willow and an edgy Dawn waved him in. The redhead immediately ushered him upstairs, and showed him to a distinctly feminine room. “You’ll be staying here, in Dawnie’s room. She’ll bunk with me while you’re here.” Willow scowled at that, and Dawn flashed a quick and nervous grin. Wesley sensed some tension between the two, and it made him rather uncomfortable. He gave a mental shrug. It wasn’t as if he cared enough to get involved in any case.

Wesley took out a small dry erase board. This will be fine, thank you. Could you please tell me which cemetery Buffy intends to patrol tonight? He turned the board around, so both girls could see it.

“Oh, she’s still at work,” Dawn said, speaking for the first time since his arrival. “She gets off at 10:00 though. I think she said she was going to Restfield first tonight, so you could catch her there. She should be there by 10:30 or so.”

So an hour and a half with these two. Lovely. I’d like to clean up from the road first, if you don’t mind. Perhaps take a shower?

“A shower? Oh yeah, sure, no problem. Buffy made me do laundry, so you’ll have clean towels and everything. All we have is girly shampoo, but that’s probably okay because I’m sure you have your own.” Dawn took a breath, and noticed both adults looking at her oddly. She blushed, and muttered, “I’ll just go get the towels. Be right back.”

After the girl left, Willow turned a baleful stare upon him. Without preamble, she grated out, “So. You’re going to do it, huh?”

Wesley made his face as bland and emotionless as he could. Do what? Buffy just said that she needed to see me.

Willow lost some of her hostility, and regarded him with a speculative gaze. “She hasn’t asked you yet, has she? When she does, come talk with me.” Wesley raised an ironic eyebrow, and she blushed. “Or come write with me, or whatever. In any case, I don’t approve of Buffy’s idea, and I’d like to tell you why.”

Wesley was a bit irritated with the girl’s presumption, but he wouldn’t have said anything even if it had been physically possible for him to do so. He was saved the necessity of answering in any case when Dawn burst in with an armload of towels. Wesley wondered how long she envisioned him staying.

He began to develop a suspicion about the nature of Buffy’s proposal.

 

“You have been told also that life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.
And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,
And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,
And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love;”

--“On Work”

Wesley showered quickly, got directions to Restfield cemetery, and headed out. He arrived shortly before ten and immediately began sweeping for vampires. If he could shorten Buffy’s patrol, perhaps she might get to the point sooner. And if his suspicions were correct, it wouldn’t hurt for him to prove himself to her by staking a few vampires on his own.

He hadn’t been patrolling for very long before he encountered three vampires. During his previous tenure on the Hellmouth, he would have fallen apart at such odds. (In all honesty, there was a good chance that he might even have wet himself.) But the years had toughened him, and he staked the vampires quickly and efficiently. When the dust cleared, he realized he wasn’t alone.

Buffy had arrived at some point during the fight, but had simply stood back and watched. Wesley studied her curiously, barely recognizing this woman as the girl he had met three years earlier. She was much thinner than she had been before, and her hair was shorter. She wasn’t as pretty as she had been, but somehow that just made her more attractive to him. She had a hardness to her now that she hadn’t possessed before, and a cynical air. Like him, life had changed her, and not for the better. Just as he had when he listened to her voice over his answering machine, Wesley felt an odd sort of empathy with her. He sternly reminded himself that her loyalties lie elsewhere, and that he would be unwise to identify with her too closely. He was only partially successful.

Buffy approached him with an unreadable look upon her face. “Way to go, Wes! I was going to step in, but I could tell that you had things under control.” He supposed that he should be annoyed at that, but it actually pleased him that she had trusted him to handle the demons on his own.

He gave her a small, tight smile and turned on his heel. Buffy grabbed him by his arm, and roughly spun him around. “Where are you going? I thought that you came up to Sunnydale to hear me out!”

Wesley snatched his arm back so that he could mime writing. Buffy appeared mystified by this, but didn’t object when he turned around again and started walking. When he got to his motorcycle, he picked up the dry erase board that he had left there. He held it up towards his companion, and noticed that she was blushing slightly. “Oh. Yeah. I guess that makes sense, that you would need that to talk. I’ve used one of those myself, in fact.” Wesley didn’t have a clue what she meant by that, and didn’t really care. There was, in fact, only thing he cared to learn about Buffy. Still, there were niceties to consider.

I did your patrol for you. Should we go elsewhere to talk? I believe I remember the location of a bar or two.

“A bar? Like drinking?” Buffy shook her head emphatically. “Thanks, but no thanks. Me and alcohol? Not a good combination. Besides, I kinda like being in the cemetery. Things are… clearer when I’m here. It’s easier to think.”

Fair enough. Are things clear enough for you to explain my presence here?

“Nice and direct, aren’t you?” Buffy gave him a wry grin, and Wesley wondered how long she would take to answer him. “Wes, I need your help.” Wesley glared at her, and she blushed. “Yeah, I guess you do need a bit more info than that. See, the thing is… I’m screwing up. I’m screwing everything up, all the time, and I need help.”

Wesley was astonished by this display of candor, but carefully schooled his expression to hide it. That doesn’t tell me where I come into things.

“I need you to be my Watcher,” she answered simply.

Ah, there it was. Wesley had actually suspected that this might be the purpose of his visit, but now that it was out there, he was totally unprepared. And it still didn’t make sense. What about Mr. Giles?

“What about him?” she asked indifferently. “He’s gone. But I’m still here, still fighting the baddies. And I still need a Watcher.”

Gone. What did that mean? The look on Buffy’s face--sad, lost, and enraged all at once—told him everything. What it didn’t tell him was why she was pretending to be so callous about her loss. When did he die?

Her face hardened at that. “Oh, he didn’t die,” she spat angrily. “He just split. Left. Back to England. I hope Old Bitey bites him in the ass.”

Bitey? Ah, she meant Blighty. Wesley barked out a laugh for the first time in months, and then wished he hadn’t. His trachea was still far too tender for laughter. He blinked away the tears of pain and then sobered. Buffy’s murderous glare reminded him that this wasn’t a laughing matter in any case. Are you telling me that Rupert Giles (he underlined the man’s name, certain that he had misunderstood) was irresponsible enough to leave the Slayer, alone and without guidance, on top of an active Hellmouth?

“It wasn’t like that,” Buffy said quickly. “He wasn’t just blowing me off! He, he said… He felt that I was leaning on him too much, that I wasn’t ‘being all that I could be.’ He—“

Wesley zoned out the remainder of Buffy’s babbled defense; she had already answered his question. When he had been here before, Buffy and the others had “circled the wagons” around the older man. Wesley was an outsider, and “the Scoobies” were loyal to their own. Buffy was defending Mr. Giles to him, so clearly the other man had fucked up in some fashion. Perhaps it was the latest trend for ex-Watchers…

That still didn’t explain what the hell that man had been thinking of when he left. Wesley shuddered to think about the implications of a Slayer left to her own devices. With her strength and awesome responsibilities, it would be very easy for Buffy to become alienated from the people around her. What would she become without a Watcher around to ground her? It was not unheard of for a Slayer to develop a god-complex, even in the company of her Watcher; in the absence of any authority, it was a virtual certainty.

Besides, there was the fate of the world to think about. If Rupert Giles had left her all alone here, who would help her formulate strategies and find the answers that the Slayer needed? True, Willow’s presence at Buffy’s house indicated that she still had her little support system to help with research, but those children hardly counted as an adequate replacement for an Oxford-educated Watcher. They may have spent six years battling evil, but they hadn’t had the same schooling and training that he and Mr. Giles had received. They hadn’t spent years putting their lives on hold, doing nothing but learning dozens of languages and memorizing demonic texts. Besides, they were extremely young and had their own lives to lead, their own concerns. It wasn’t fair to ask them to fulfill duties for which they hadn’t been trained.

When Wesley zoned back in, he discovered that Buffy was still babbling. He interrupted her with a quiet croak. It was the first time he had spoken outside of speech therapy sessions since his little run-in with Justine, and he knew that it would hurt to speak, but this was too important to leave to an impermanent dry-erase board. Some words just needed to be said aloud, or they floated away into nothingness. “It doesn’t matter, Buffy. I’m your Watcher now. Let’s go get some coffee.”

*~*~*

 

“Verily all things move within your being in constant half embrace,
The desired and the dreaded, the repugnant and the cherished, the pursued and that which you would escape,
These things move within you as lights and shadows in pairs that cling.
And when the shadow fades and is no more, the light that lingers becomes a shadow to another light.”

--“Of Freedom”

They went to an all-night diner to discuss logistics. Buffy worried about taking him away from Angel Investigations, so Wesley handed her the letters he had written earlier in the day. She read them silently while he watched her. Buffy’s face gave nothing away, and Wesley wondered whether he would ever learn to read her as well as Mr. Giles had. Before she reached the end of the letters, he began to suspect that he would. Her face may have been impassive, but her posture indicated understanding and acceptance. And that was just what she gave him.

“So, a baddie tricked you into doing something horrible and your friends hate you for it. I get that.” Wesley finally caught an expression flitting across Buffy’s face. It was one of inestimable sadness. “I totally get that.”

Do you now?

“Yeah. See this demon made me think…” Buffy’s morose look suddenly disappeared, and her face turned blank once more. “I don’t want to talk about that. Let’s talk about how we’re going to work this instead.”

It won’t work at all if we keep secrets from each other.

Buffy stared at him, and Wesley wondered if he had pushed her too hard, too fast. Not that it mattered in any case. He hadn’t been given anything yet, so he still had nothing to lose. Wesley sensed that this was a critical moment, however; if Buffy opened up to him now, there would be no going back. Despite the lack of expression on her face, Wesley somehow knew that Buffy felt the importance of the moment as well.

Suddenly, Buffy gave in. Oh, she didn’t cry, or break down, or make any dramatic gesture of any kind, but something about her body language abruptly shifted. And in that moment, in that very second, Wesley stopped being Buffy’s Watcher in name only and became her Watcher in fact.

“See, it’s like all I know how to make is indifferent bread, and I’m choking people with it.” Wesley raised an eyebrow in confusion, and Buffy blushed. “It’s something I read before I had to leave college. A poem. I like poetry.” She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. What I meant was, I can’t seem to care about anything, and people are getting hurt, or I’m the one hurting them, and things have gotten so much worse since Giles left, and they’re getting messier by the day, and I really need a Watcher around to tell me when I’m screwing up and when I need to start over and bake a brand new loaf of bread.”

Wesley knew that Slayers had a higher lung capacity than other human beings, but he was still impressed by her ability to get all that out with one breathe. But she wasn’t done, far from it. Buffy talked for hours, spilling forth the state of her life as if she were lancing a boil. She told him about being ripped out of heaven, confided to him about how much she hated her friends and resented her sister, and about the guilt that was tearing her apart. She told him about the three pathetic little men that she couldn’t seem to defeat, and admitted that the only reason they weren’t already in jail was that she was having a difficult time giving a damn. Her apathy had driven away her Watcher and was alienating her from her friends, and God, Wes, was there really a point to it all if she was never allowed to rest? And what if she really did kill somebody next time? And what if she killed somebody and didn’t care?

The diner was noisy, even at this time of night, but Wesley effortlessly tuned it all out. He focused on Buffy while she focused on her inner pain, and the rest of the world ceased to exist altogether. He sensed that she wasn’t telling him everything, that there was still some part of her life that she wasn’t ready to discuss yet, but he was unconcerned about that missing piece. They became partners over bitter coffee and stale donuts, and Wesley found himself trusting that partnership. Whatever Buffy was leaving out was either unimportant, or would be hashed out at another time.

It was nearly 2:00 in the morning when Buffy finally stopped talking, her voice almost as scratchy as his own. “I’m a creature of the night, but I’m beat. Why don’t we go home, and we’ll talk some more tomorrow.”

I’d rather finish up tonight, so I can start searching for an apartment tomorrow.

“Why? You’re welcome to stay in Dawn’s room for as long as you like.”

Wesley gave her a tight, humorless smile. Am I? I rather received the impression that Willow wasn’t best pleased to have me at the house.

Buffy shrugged. “Okay, you’re right. Willow is being pissy about having to share her room with Dawn, but so what? It’s my house, and she can’t find rent as low as mine anywhere else. She can deal.”

Wesley doubted that Willow’s “pissiness,” as Buffy termed it, was entirely due to the living situation, but he decided not to press the issue. Instead he asked, How much do I owe you for living expenses?

“I’ll let you know after I manage to get you a salary. Or maybe I’ll just write to Giles and tell him to give his Watcher salary to you.” Buffy frowned. “Of course, I don’t know if that’s enough for you to live on or not. Giles always had something else,… except when he didn’t have anything at all. How much do Watchers get paid anyway?”

A salary? It hadn’t occurred to him that he might receive remuneration for Watching Buffy, but he couldn’t deny that it would be welcome. Though come to think of it… Mr. Giles wasn’t getting a salary. He was fired.

Buffy smirked. “Quentin and I came to an understanding a year ago. Giles was put back on the payroll then, and it was retroactive.”

Are you intending to write Travers and tell him that I’m your Watcher now? Wesley actually knew the answer to this question, but he wanted to see how Buffy handled it. He needed to know where he fit into her life, and this was as good a time as any to find out.

As he expected, Buffy shook her head. She must have sensed his disappointment, because she hastened to explain. “Look, Wes. The Council doesn’t understand what goes on here, and that’s just the way I like it. Bad things happen when they start butting their noses in. In fact, I’d rather they know as little about me as possible. This isn’t a deal breaker, but I gotta tell ya, it would make me real happy if you felt the same way.”

And your reluctance to write Travers has nothing to do with Mr. Giles?

“Okay,” Buffy admitted. “You’re right. This is mostly about me not trusting the Council, but it is also partly about Giles. I don’t know if he told them he was leaving or not, and I don’t want to be the one to tattle on him if he didn’t.”

It was what he expected, but Wesley still didn’t like it. Where do I fit in, Buffy? It’s clear that Mr. Giles still has your loyalty.

“Of course he does,” Buffy said simply. “He’s a Scooby.” To Wesley’s shock, Buffy reached across the table and took his hand. She did it awkwardly, as if she was no longer used to simple human contact, and he was oddly touched by the effort she was making with him. “But Wes, if you agree to stay in Sunnydale, you’ll be a Scooby too. And I’ll back you with Angel, the Council, or anyone else. We all will.”

Wesley stared down at their hands for a moment, and then brought his gaze up to Buffy’s face. Embarrassed, she started to remove her hand, but he trapped it with his other one. He peered as deeply into her eyes as he could as he croaked out, “Do you mean that, Buffy?”

Buffy gave him an intense look and placed her free hand on top of the others on the table. “Yeah, Wes. I do.”

Awed by what she was offering him, all Wesley could do was smile. To his delight, she smiled back.

 

“You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?”

--“Of Death”

It had been almost a month since Wesley had had a need to wake up before noon. He would have wagered money that he couldn’t get up after just five hours of sleep, but when Buffy yelled at Dawn to get ready for school he realized that he was slept out. Actually, he suspected that he had slept himself out a weeks ago and just hadn’t noticed until now.

Wesley got dressed quickly, and hurried downstairs, hoping to beat the girls to the kitchen. If Buffy was going to put him up for an indefinite amount of time, the least he could do was earn his keep. When he came downstairs, he found Willow already up and making coffee. He waved a greeting at her.

“Hey, Wes. Did Buffy talk to you last night?” He nodded, and her eyes narrowed. “So, are you going to do it? Are you going to be her Watcher?” He nodded again, and she scowled. “You shouldn’t. It’s wrong.”

He pulled out his board. Why? She had another Watcher before Mr. Giles.

“Yeah,” she admitted, “but Buffy still needed a Watcher after Merrick died. She had barely turned sixteen back then. She doesn’t need one now.”

I doubt that very much. She is still just one girl in all the world. She needs help.

“She has help,” Willow insisted hotly. “We help! A Watcher is just… redundant.”

Wesley scowled. Where did you get an idea like that?

“Giles,” she answered shortly. “Giles said she doesn’t need a Watcher any more, and he should know, seeing as he’s her Watcher and all.”

Ah. So this was the source of Willow’s hostility. She felt that he was undermining Mr. Giles’ wishes by being here. Well, fuck her; he didn’t really care about what Mr. Giles wanted. The man had relinquished all rights to control his Slayer when he left the Hellmouth. Still, Wesley knew that he would eventually regret it if he alienated Buffy’s best friend, and thus worded his answer as neutrally as possible. I don’t believe that. A Slayer always needs her Watcher. Buffy recognizes this.

“Yeah, but not to watch her kid sister, or cut her lawn, or pay her bills, or take care of her hangover, or any of the other stuff that Buffy had Giles doing for her.” Willow abandoned the coffee maker and concentrated upon him. “She’ll ask the same sort of stuff of you, you know. She won’t mean to, at least not at first, but she will. And then Giles’ leaving will be for nothing.”

If that’s what she wants, then that’s what I’ll do.

Willow stared at him in scorn. “Are you really that desperate to have a Slayer again?”

He hadn’t expect Willow to understand, but Wesley was still annoyed at her snide tone. Traditionally, Slayers have lived with their Watchers so that they wouldn’t have to deal with the necessities of living. It has always been a Watcher’s duty to free his Slayer from other concerns so that she can concentrate upon keeping the world safe from the powers of darkness. Wesley snatched the board back as soon as Willow finished reading, and held his hand up to prevent her from speaking while he erased what he had written and continued the rest of his thought. Mr. Giles was not released from this obligation just because their initial relationship was different from the traditional model. If Buffy needs help in her personal life in order to facilitate her Slaying, then she shall have it.

Willow glared at him, furious. Wesley stared back impassively, curious to see if the redhead had a stereotypical temper. “You make it sound like Giles didn’t want to help Buffy because he was lazy or thought Buffy was using him or something. That is as far from the truth as it’s possible to get! He never minded doing things for her, he worried that it wasn’t good for her. He said that she was weakening herself by depending on him too much. He wants her to be a strong person, and not just a strong fighter.”

Are you telling me that Mr. Giles made Buffy’s personal growth more important than the well-being and safety of the world as a whole?

“NO,” Willow yelled, very angry now. “How could you think something like that?”

“I think that Quentin Travers was very wise to fire Giles.”

Willow stared at him, shocked at the subject change, or perhaps just at the sound of his ruined voice. She then flounced out of the room in a rage, not even waiting for the coffee to finish brewing.

Wesley shrugged and began making breakfast.

 

“The wind blows, and restless are the sails;
Even the rudder begs direction;
Yet quietly my captain awaits my silence.”

--“The Farewell”

Wesley offered to take Dawn to school on his motorcycle, much to the teenager’s delight. He came back to find Buffy in sweatpants, apparently waiting for him to return and train with her. Well, no time like the present. Where do you normally train?

“At the Magic Box.” Buffy made no move to leave, however. Instead, she went to the living room and sat down, gesturing for Wesley to follow her. “But I wanted to talk to you first.” He nodded at her to continue, and she gave him a brief grin. “I talked to Willow while you were gone. She thinks that you don’t care about me, at least not the same way Giles does.”

Wesley blinked, and considered the various responses he might give. He finally decided to simply give Buffy the unvarnished truth. She’s right. I don’t.

Now it was Buffy’s turn to blink in surprise. “Well, I guess I gotta give you points for honesty. So, are you honest enough to tell me how we’re going to work together if I’m always wondering if you’ve got my back or not?”

You can trust me to Watch you. Always. And I’ll do a better job than Mr. Giles did.

“No way,” she declared fiercely. Wesley shrugged, and Buffy gave him a skeptical look. “You say that you don’t care about me, but I can still trust you? Care to explain to me how that works?”

Based upon our conversation from last night, my discussion with Willow this morning, and my own recollections, I would say that you are Rupert Giles’ main preoccupation in life. Not the Slayer, but you, Buffy Summers. Would you say this is correct?

“I… guess. Yeah, that’s probably right.”

Wesley nodded. He was glad to know that he hadn’t misunderstood the situation. And if a conflict were to arise, between what is best for Buffy Summers and what is best for the Slayer, which would he choose?

“That’s a dumb question. They’re the same!”

Are they? If that were true, he would still be here right now, running the Slayer’s life for her so that she would never have to think about anything other than battling evil. He left to give Buffy Summers the freedom she needs to mature, but it is the Slayer who is suffering for that choice.

“So you agree with Willow, that Giles really left for my own good?” Wesley nodded, and she looked thoughtful for a moment. “And you think that it’s a bad thing for the world, even if it’s good for me?” Wesley nodded again. “So Giles thinks I’m more important than the rest of the world? Huh. But I guess that explains why he told me about Dawn instead of just killing her…” Wesley jerked his head up in surprise, causing Buffy to give him a humorless smile. “Don’t worry about it. It’s an old fight. Done with, now.”

I’ll want to know about that later. For now, here is my pledge. You can trust me to do whatever is necessary to keep you alive and continue fighting the powers of darkness.

“You’re talking about Slayer Me, right? What about Me Me?”

Wesley decided that honesty had served him well before, and he should continue in the same vein. I don’t give a fuck about Buffy Summers. Except so far as her well-being benefits The Slayer. The only thing I care about is killing demons and staking vampires.

“So, a partnership with no emotional ties at all? That’s what you’re saying?” Wesley nodded at that, and Buffy looked thoughtful. “So I could ask you anything, anything at all, and you wouldn’t take it personally?”

I’m not a machine. I do still have feelings. But I will try to do everything in my power to keep my emotions away from our relationship.

“What if I told you that I needed sex, just sex, without the usual emotional confusion?”

Wesley grinned. Don’t we all?

Buffy didn’t grin back. “I’m serious. I’ve been screwing… someone. I started it because I didn’t care about him and I didn’t believe him when he said he cared about me. I didn’t think that either of us would get hurt.” Buffy shrugged wryly. “Basically, I just didn’t think. But the truth is that he cares about me way more than he should, and I’m starting to feel guilty about using him.” Buffy gave him an anguished look, and Wesley wondered whether she might break down in tears. “This relationship, it’s bad for… this guy, and it’s killing me. It has to stop. But I sort of need the sex. Slaying does funny things to a body, and it’s been worse since I was brought back. I need…”

You need a physical relationship to ground you, without an emotional connection to tie you down.

“That’s right. That’s it exactly!”

You don’t want to sleep with strangers, but everyone you know is emotionally vested in you already. Buffy nodded, careful to maintain eye contact with him while he erased his board, and Wesley realized that he knew exactly where this was going. And you want to know if a man who doesn’t give a fuck about you would be willing to give you a fuck.

Buffy smiled. It wasn’t a flirtatious smile, or a happy one. It was the grin that a predator wears just before he snaps the neck of his prey. Oddly enough, it didn’t frighten or disturb him. Wesley rather liked it, in fact. Just as he liked the sound of her threatening and non-seductive growl when she asked, “So, Wes, would you?”

Wesley didn’t bother answering her. Instead, he dug his hands into her short blond hair and kissed her hard. There was no tenderness in that kiss, and that was the way he liked it. Listening to Buffy’s groan, he guessed that was the way she liked it as well.

Although they never made it to the Magic Box that day, Wesley was quite satisfied with their initial training session. He was especially pleased to note that his Slayer had excellent stamina.

 

“Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you.
It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.
But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn.”

--“The Farewell”

Dawn got her bedroom back that night, and Willow became reconciled to Wesley’s presence in the house now that she was no longer put out by it. On some level, Willow was even grateful towards Wesley, because his place in the Slayer’s bed grounded Buffy. The Slayer became less angry and spent more time at home, and eventually began to regain her pre-death personality. And if Buffy wasn’t in love with Wesley, at least she didn’t hate herself for being with him, and that was an improvement.

Wesley wasn’t in love with Buffy either—hell, he didn’t even particularly like her—but he didn’t dislike her, and that was better than he might have hoped for before he came to Sunnydale. Wesley knew himself far too well, understood his usual patterns. He had a tendency to fall into casual or even self-destructive sex when he was depressed, and he had not doubt that he would have begun a relationship that would have destroyed the last of his self-esteem if he had stayed in Los Angeles. He had contentment here, with Buffy, and it was enough for both of them.

Actually, they had more than contentment; they had successes. And heartbreaks. And some truly amazing sex.

As Watcher and Slayer, Wesley and Buffy made a good team. They were able to put a stop to the nerds harassing her soon after his arrival, which also put the fear of the Slayer back into the local demon population. They were celebrating their victory when a call came from LA. Fred (oh God, Fred!) had died, and Gunn blamed him. His former friend was convinced that Wesley could have saved Fred if he had been around. As if he should have sat in his apartment, alone and idle, until Angel found a use for him.

Screw that. He was doing good things here in Sunnydale, Fighting the Good Fight again, and not even Fred’s life was worth what he had gained from becoming Buffy’s Watcher. He was useful, and appreciated, and these were things that he needed more than oxygen. And if a bit of himself died with Fred, that didn’t change the fact that a part of him had been born when he took up this destiny. It was a fair trade.

And if Wesley sometimes suspected that Buffy still missed Giles, that she regretted the fact that she never found the same physical attraction for Giles that she felt for him, Wesley didn’t mind. He had a good life now, a life with a purpose, and it didn’t matter if it was his by default just so long as it was his.

And if Wesley sometimes gloried in the fact that he was sleeping with the love of Angel’s (un)life, and that this fact must be killing the vampire, well, that was alright too. Wesley was almost certain that Buffy knew of his conflicted feelings towards his former employer, and that she didn’t mind. As far as she was concerned, Angel’s loss was her gain.

He broke their most important unspoken rule once, and asked her if she was happy. She told him that her bread was still indifferent and she was still hungry, but at least she wasn’t starving any more. He had no idea what she meant by that, but that was alright as well.

Neither one of them was dying any longer, and surely that was almost as good as living.

 

THE END

“If you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.”

--“On Work”