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Seared With Scars

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Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~Kahlil Gibran

 

Wesley sometimes wonders if he’s not afraid because he has no memories. There are no past phobias or hang-ups, and no traumatic memories beyond waking up in a hospital alone.

 

On the other hand, it’s possible that he’s not afraid because he’s already died once—in a manner of speaking. The man he’d been before is gone, anyway, whatever Spike and the others seem to think.

 

Right now, though, struggling for breath and with spots dancing in his vision, Wesley is definitely afraid. As strange as his life is, Wesley doesn’t want to lose it.

 

“Wesley!” Spike calls. “Wes, where are you?”

 

He tries to get enough air to call back and the tentacle around his neck tightens further.

 

There aren’t any easy days here, Wesley knows that, but today promises to be one of the worst he’s had since waking up in this brave new world.

 

~~~~~

 

“So, Spike tells me you’re ready to get back out in the field,” Faith says.

 

Wesley’s in the office, paging through one of the books. He’s more comfortable here, away from the others. They all know each other; they have jokes and a shared history, and Wesley is acutely aware of the fact that he doesn’t when he’s around them.

 

One-on-one, it’s a little easier to deal with.

 

He sets the book aside to focus on her. “I am.”

 

Faith gives him a sharp look. “You know that no one’s going to think any less of you if you want to take a little longer to recover, or if you wanted to leave.”

 

“Where would I go?” Wesley asks, honestly puzzled. “This is apparently what I do, or what I did. Even if I had other skills, I don’t remember them. This job seems important, and I’d like to help.”

 

Faith shrugs. “In that case, you mind partnering up with Spike? The other Slayers are still a little nervous around him.”

 

“Of course I don’t mind,” Wesley says immediately.

 

“Great, thanks, Wes,” Faith replies. “We’re planning on heading out here in a couple of hours.”

 

Spike slouches into the office shortly thereafter. “I hear you got stuck with me.”

 

“I didn’t get ‘stuck’ with you,” Wesley replies evenly, not looking up from his book. “I would prefer your company.”

 

“I thought you and Min were getting along all right,” Spike objects.

 

Wesley smiles reflectively. “I get along well enough with all of the Slayers, but I prefer not to go out in a pack, and you know Faith would never allow me to go out with a single Slayer.”

 

“That’s not a reflection on you, mate,” Spike says. “Faith and Buffy lost a lot of Slayers, and there’s safety in numbers.”

 

Wesley raises an eyebrow. “What does that say about her letting you and me go alone?”

 

“It says that we can take care of ourselves,” Spike says. “Told her as much after our sparring sessions.” Spike stretches out on the couch and closes his eyes. “Wake me up when we’re ready to go.”

 

Spike has been spending the bulk of his time either in Wesley’s office or in the room he’d claimed as his own. Mostly, Wesley thinks, it’s because Buffy avoids both Wesley and the office like the plague.

 

Near as Wesley can tell, there’s some bad blood between he and Buffy—or there had been—and Buffy’s off-balance, knowing he doesn’t remember. Her solution is avoiding Wesley as much as possible, and by spending time with Wesley, Spike avoids her, too.

 

Their drama is not my drama, Wesley reminds himself.

 

They gather in the lobby as the sun descends, and Buffy takes the lead. “We’re splitting up into three groups tonight,” she announces. “Faith’s group will head west to clear out that pocket of demons we scouted last night. My group will go south to do the same. Spike, Wes, I need you two to go here.” She points to a place on the map spread out on the floor. “Our recon indicates that the building is inhabited, but we don’t know what it is or how to kill it. It’s been stationary so far, which is why it hasn’t been a priority.”

 

Spike opens his mouth, but Wesley steps on his foot. Whatever Spike is thinking, it’s not going to go over well. He’s pretty sure Spike still harbors some hope that they’ll get back together, or that Buffy will have a change of heart.

 

Or maybe that she’ll wake up one day and realize she’s in love with him after all. That’s going to be a lot easier if Spike doesn’t antagonize her.

 

Spike gives him a disgruntled look, but he shuts his mouth without saying anything.

 

Buffy glances at them, then away again. “I want you two to be careful. If it’s not something you can handle on your own, leave it and get help.”

 

“We’ll be fine,” Spike insists, his chin jutting out pugnaciously.

 

“Just don’t get yourself killed again,” Buffy snaps.

 

Spike smirks. “I knew you cared.”

 

Wesley meets Min’s eyes, and she mouths, “Their drama, not our drama.”

 

He covers his mouth to hide his smile.

 

“Let’s go,” Buffy announces, not responding to that.

 

Spike flips the ax he selected from the weapons closet as they leave the hotel. “What do you think, mate? Think she might change her mind about me?”

 

“I’m not going to respond to that,” Wesley says primly. “I have no desire to get in the middle of your drama.”

 

“You’ve been listening to Min,” Spike says.

 

Wesley shrugs. “It’s good advice. Also, I don’t think Buffy likes me much.”

 

“She doesn’t know you,” Spike points out. “And that would be true even if you did have your memories.”

 

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Wesley asks.

 

“It’s not supposed to make you feel anything.” Spike puts the ax on his shoulder. “Other than to point out that the people who do know you seem to like you just fine.”

 

Wesley glances up at the office building, grateful for the change of topic. “This is the place.”

 

“Recon from the Slayers indicates we should start in the basement,” Spike says. “So, let’s see what we can find.”

 

~~~~~

 

We shouldn’t have split up, Wesley thinks as he begins to lose consciousness.

 

And then suddenly he’s on the floor, the pressure around his neck abruptly gone, and he gasps for air.

 

He hears a shout above him, but Wesley’s still trying to breathe, and he doesn’t—can’t—look up to see what’s going on.

 

There’s snarling, and a wet, squelching sound, and then Spike wraps a hand around Wesley’s upper arm, hauling him to his feet. “Come on,” Spike says grimly. “We need to get you back to the hotel.”

 

“I’m fine,” he says, or tries to, since it comes out as a croak.

 

“Yeah, you sound fine,” Spike replies grimly. “Real fine.”

 

“Not your fault,” Wesley manages.

 

Spike sighs. “Yeah, I know. Hazards of the job and all that. I doubt we have any ice, but maybe a cold compress.”

 

“Thanks,” Wesley says, hoping Spike can hear his sincerity.

 

Spike shrugs. “I’ve got your back.”

 

Wesley shudders when he thinks about just how close he’d come to dying, and the feel of the tentacle around his neck, and he really wishes he couldn’t remember what “eldritch” meant. Because that’s the only word he can think of to describe how it felt.

 

At least this time, he hadn’t been alone. That’s something to be thankful for.

 

The hotel is empty when they arrive, a single LED lamp glowing in the center of the lobby, and Spike puts Wesley on the couch in the office. “Let me see what I can find.”

 

He disappears, and Wesley tips his head back, prodding his bruised neck gently. He’s going to be black and blue for a while, on top of the scar across his throat.

 

Wesley thinks that at this rate, he’ll be one mass of scars by the time he finally meets his end.

 

Spike returns with a cold, damp cloth. “Sorry we don’t have any ice.”

 

Wesley hitches a shoulder and drapes the cloth over his bruised neck.

 

Spike perches on the edge of the desk. “So, I have to ask: did you see your life flash before your eyes? Because if so, that had to have been a quick show.”

 

Wesley glares and flips Spike off.

 

Spike smirks. “Want a drink?”

 

“What do you think?” he croaks.

 

Spike pulls out the dwindling bottle of scotch and says, “We should probably make a supply run soon.”

 

“That’d be nice,” Wesley says, feeling the burn of the alcohol as he sips.

 

Spike sits down next to him. “You sure you’re okay?”

 

Wesley cocks an eyebrow. “Didn’t know you cared.”

 

“Hey, we Brits have to stick together,” Spike replies, and takes another sip.

 

And Wesley feels the horror of the day drain away.