TITLE: Journey of a Thousand Miles

AUTHOR: Wicked Raygun

E-MAIL: wicked_raygun@yahoo.com

SUMMARY: No matter what, there's always a choice.

RATING: PG-13. And that's a worse case scenario. Believe me, there's nothing here that even approaches offensive.

SPOILERS: General spoilers for seasons 1 through 7, I guess. But nothing particularly specific. In fact, one might say I was really vague.

DISCLAIMOR: I refuse to believe this is necessary. Does anyone here actually believe I own this stuff in any way? Well. To the folks who do own a piece of the Buffster and/or her friends and enemies, I mean you no harm. I'm simply borrowing your toys to put on a little puppet show. I promise to bring them all back in near-mint condition. Even Spike.

FEEDBACK: Everyone needs a little love. It makes the world go round and writers post faster. Just remember that the next time you want to know what happened to Nonsense.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: I think this is a one shot. I'm not sure. It certainly stands up well as one anyway. At least, that's what I think. I guess it all depends on the feedback. No promises either way though.

AUTHOR'S NOTES 2: Also, for those who are interested in some of my other work, including Hero Complex, and Nonsense, it can be found here:



And here:



That's my brand spanking new website, created by the wonderful and talented Joanne W. and was the coolest Christmas gift ever! Please, go to her site, read her fine work and leave many reviews for her as well.



AUTHOR'S NOTES 3: This is un-beta'd because I'm having a hell of a time accessing my yahoo e-mail account, and couldn't send it out to my usual beta goddess. All mistakes are mine.

Now, onto the show.
~~~~~~***~~~~~~
He opened the door, and there she was, sitting at a table, drinking coffee by herself. He blinked.

Slayers often tended to be beautiful woman from what he understood, but this one was a bit more breathtaking than he would have expected. Lovely face, attractive body with a slim, short build giving an illusion of fragility, but with powerful eyes that gave her an aura of intense inner strength. She was worn though. Tired. Whatever innocence she had seemed to be long gone, which was understandable, of course. Slayers led a hard existence. Still, that innocence was something he needed in a woman. It sort of balanced him out, he felt. So, in short, while she was easy on the eyes, she wasn't his type.

Which was probably a very good thing, he mused. The one and only time he'd ever pursued anything with one of his assignments. Well, that had ended badly for all involved.

To anyone else it might have seemed odd, or even arrogant that he would assume so much from looking at a person for only a few seconds, but to him, it was his nature, his skill. A gift, or sometimes curse, that he used to accomplish his assignments. He sometimes wondered if he had been chosen for this work because of this ability to judge a person's character within seconds, or whether he was born with this ability because he was chosen for this kind of work.

It was probably some mixture of both, really. The Higher Ups seemed to work that way. There just always seemed to be some double meaning or purpose for everything.

Still, she was the key to this assignment, if he'd judged things correctly, and he was going to need her help; although, one look at her gave him the impression that she wasn't going to give in easily.

Oh, good, he thought sarcastically, because he really needed the challenge.

He frowned, shook his head, sighed and then took a deep breath. Well, time to get this mission started.

He walked over to her table, moved back a chair and sat down. Nice, simple, direct.

"Uh, hi," she said warily, looking a little tense. She was assuming he was trying to pick her up. Probably got that a lot, and frankly despite his original assessment of her, he kind of wished he was. But still, duty first.

"Hi," he answered back, while laying his interlaced hands on the table. Definitely no point in preamble, he thought again as he looked at her. "Let me start off by saying I'm not hitting on you, my name is Bradley, I'm very much human, I know you're the Slayer, and I have a message for you from up there," he said as he pointed upward to the sky, and ostensibly, to heaven. That was the best way to handle this type of thing with someone like her. Be direct and get to the point quick.

It was safer that way.

"Oh?" she questioned in a threatening tone of voice while narrowing her eyes. Yep, he was right. She was definitely the violent and impatient type.

"Yeah. Can we go somewhere else? There's going to be a lot of talking, and I'd rather give this message to you in a more private setting. Don't want to scare the hell out of the locals too much."

"Right," she sneered sarcastically, "I'm just gonna follow you to a nice, secluded place where you and your demon buddies can spring a trap on me."

Bradley resisted the temptation to roll his eyes. Showing too much attitude would get him all kinds of killed with this woman.

"We can go wherever you want. It just has to be a place with few witnesses because I'm getting the impression that, after I tell you what's up, there's going to be a lot of yelling on your part."

"Yelling?"

"It's one of those destiny things, so, yeah, there's almost always yelling."

"Oh, good, destiny," Buffy said with a resigned sigh. "That's always a fun word in my life."

Bradley smirked in an odd sign of commiseration. "Believe me when I say that I so know what you mean."
~~~~~~***~~~~~~
She didn't come out of the coffee shop because she trusted him, he knew. No, her almost casual, resigned acceptance was the effect of years of dealing with the "weird stuff," as he liked to call it. She was confident that, if it hit the fan, she could kick his ass; which, if half the things he'd heard about slayers were true, was not a mistaken assumption in the least.

Still, she didn't trust him, which made him a little wary of where exactly she was taking him. Not that he really thought she'd kill him, but it wouldn't have been the first time that one of his assignments got him into trouble of the near fatal kind. He still resisted the urge to ask her though.

"So what should I call you?" he asked bravely instead.

The Slayer turned to him, suspicious. Apparently, if she thought he didn't know her name, then she sure wasn't going to give it to him.

"I mean, I know your name is Buffy Summers, but do I call you Miss Summers, or are we on a first name basis?"

Buffy sighed, annoyed, but overall not looking overly surprised that he knew her name. "Buffy will be fine," she gritted out. Then she quirked an eyebrow in curiosity. "And what was your name again? I kind of forgot," she said almost sheepishly, but not really. She still didn't trust him.

He smiled. "Bradley. And don't worry about it. I said it kinda fast because I was worried that you'd mutilate me."

She looked mildly annoyed at that, but didn't comment on it. After some more walking, she spoke again. "That's a weird name. Bradley," she said, her face contorting in confusion.

Bradley wanted to remark on the irony of a woman named Buffy talking about "weird" names, but once again imminent bodily harm was an issue, so, instead, he said, "Actually, it's my last name."

"And what's your first name?"

"I'd rather not mention it. Let's just say my folks were yuppies, and leave it at that."

"Ah." With a name like Buffy, she could certainly sympathize.

The somewhat normality of the conversation was starting to get to her. That would obviously lead to even more annoyance and bodily harm, he thought. Best to move on to business again.

"We're pretty much alone now. Would you like me to start?"

The Slayer turned to him and then pointed somewhere off to her right. There was a park there with some benches. Good, he thought. It would be best if they were sitting down.

A short walk later with nothing else being said, and they were there, sitting on opposite sides of the bench, with Buffy looking expectantly at Bradley.

"Okay," Bradley began, "I'm basically an errand boy for the Higher Ups, and when I say 'higher,' I mean 'higher,' " he emphasized with a hand pointing upwards again. "Now, normally, I'm supposed to be very discreet about my assignments, but given the special circumstances about this particular job. well, I'm going to be sorta, kinda breaking a few rules."

Buffy seemed interested in what he was telling her so far, but was still wary and suspicious. At least she was letting him say what he needed to.

"You see, a lot of people make the mistake of assuming that destiny means that their path is set in stone, that whatever actions they take have been pre-determined zillions of years ago and are therefore unchangeable. We all play our part and that's it. Well, that's basically bull.

"You see, no matter who or what you are, you have choices. Even players like you and me, Buffy, we get a choice. Granted, it often doesn't feel that way because there's so much that's not in our control, but, still, we have the choice.

"Those random things that aren't in our control are the consequences of the choices made by other people. It's a chain, you see. One person does something that affects another, and he in turn reacts to that and does something that affects someone else, and so on, and so on. Kind of like Mouse Trap. But the chain isn't a straight line, it interweaves, moving in and out of itself, consequences yielding consequences yielding consequences for zillions of years."

Bradley looked thoughtful for a moment before continuing with, "I guess, in a way, you can say that it's all very chaotic, but there is a method to the madness." He turned back to look at Buffy and saw that she was riveted by what he was saying. She didn't even look like she'd mind if he took his time to explain. well, everything. Not that he knew everything, but there was probably a lot that he knew that she probably didn't.

"There's no real plan. up there," Bradley continued pointing up to the sky up there. "But. possible futures can be foreseen, and. well, some things just shouldn't happen. So while the Higher Ups are all about free will, they aren't above nudging humanity into the paths they should take."

"So we really don't have any control over our lives," Buffy said sadly.

"No, you're not listening. There's still always a choice, and no amount of nudging can change that. Destiny's just where you end up, not how you get there. The stuff in the middle: your thoughts, feelings, actions. Those are yours. And nothing can take that away from you."

Bradley looked down for a second, reminiscing for a moment about the path he had chosen with all its hardships, remembering the pain and loneliness of it all, but then he thought, too, of the good he had done, the people he had helped and smiled grimly. Maybe the Higher Ups nudged him here to help himself as well?

They always did seem to have more than one reason to do what they did, he thought with a widening grin.

Bradley sighed and looked up at Buffy again.

"You see, my path. is to help people get on their path. Or at least, the path that they should take. I'm pretty much the guy they get to do the nudging. And this is where you come in."

Buffy looked down for a moment, then raised back up to meet his gaze almost immediately, and Bradley could see the fires of defiance in her eyes and had to consciously remind himself not to quake in fear. After all, the Slayer wasn't a murderer.

"You'll have to excuse me if I don't feel like being nudged at the moment, so just cut to the chase and tell me what new evil's coming to town, so I can stop it."

"No new evil. At least, not coming here. Besides, your fight's over. This isn't about you. It's about your friend Xander."

Immediately, Buffy's demeanor changed to one of worry. "Xander? Why? What's wrong?"

"Nothing. yet. But, he has to go."

"Go?" Buffy asked quietly, looking like a small child. A drastic changed from the fiery woman Bradley saw only a few seconds ago.

"Yeah. He's needed. I'm here to nudge him onto his path. You see, he's going to get a job offer to work in San Francisco, and no matter what, he HAS to go." Bradley emphasized. "It's important. There are some people there that are really going to need his help."

"No!" Buffy screamed as she stood to her feet. "I won't let you!"

She stood there a moment, shaking angrily and looking on the verge of losing it.

"Ever since I became the Slayer all I've done is watch as people I cared about were taken away from me. But no more, you hear me? I won't go through this again. So you can tell whoever the hell's in charge that they're not taking him too!"

Her reaction was not an unexpected one for Bradley. Still, that did nothing to lessen his discomfort from her glare and flaring nostrils. He did his best to keep himself under control because he knew he was walking on this ice at this point. One misstep would lead to his ruin.

Not to mention hurt like hell.

"Listen," he began calmly, "I understand-"

"No!" she interrupted. "You don't understand anything! Xander's a good person," she said with her voice breaking and unshed tears gathering in her eyes. "He doesn't deserve this. Being the Slayer, I've sacrificed so much. You can't put him through that."

She looked so very old when she said those words that Bradley wanted to hate himself for having to put this on her as well.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Bradley said slowly, being unsure as how to continue with her. "But I can guarantee you this. His life won't be yours, no matter what his choices. And life is always hard; you can't shield him from that."

"I can sure try," Buffy said determinedly.

"That you can. It's your choice."

There was a long silence, while each collected their thoughts and absorbed what had been said, until Bradley continued.

"The Higher Ups. They never do anything without their reasons. If they want Xander to be in San Francisco, then there's a very good reason for it. Probably several.

"I don't know what his role's going to be, or even what it should be. That's up to him. I can't tell you if he's going to be a champion for mankind, or some great leader, or. Or even if he's just going to be that guy who says the right thing at the right time. It could be as simple as saving one person or even just being there for them. But then again."

"It might not," Buffy finished for him.

"Right."

"But it's important?" Buffy stated as much as asked.

"Yeah."

"Why him?" she asked finally.

"Why any of us?" Bradley asked rhetorically. "I don't pretend to know the mysteries of the cosmos, Buffy. Best I can give you is because maybe it needs to be."

"That's not much," Buffy said after a long pause.

"Tell me about it," he said with a slight smile. "It's not easy being the eternal bearer of bad news."

Buffy sat down and once again looked very old.

Silence reigned, once again, as Buffy absorbed everything. Bradley decided to allow her this time because he knew the hardest part of this discussion had yet to happen.

"Why are you telling me all this?" Buffy asked with more composure than before. Bradley had been right. She was strong.

"I'm a very good judge of character and I've talked to Xander; and there's just no way he'd leave, unless." His eyes met hers. "Unless you asked him to."

"What?" Buffy asked stunned.

"He doesn't have the confidence to. handle things on his own. He's capable, he just doesn't trust himself. And you're like his security blanket. Any trouble, go get Buffy. It just doesn't occur to him to handle things on his own. People are going to have to depend on him, but before all that he has to learn to depend on himself. And that won't happen as long as he stays here.

"And more than all that. He doesn't want to leave you. He made a promise with himself to stay with you until. the end. It doesn't matter to him what happens; he just. He won't leave you because he'd feel like he was betraying you. The guy's loyal to a fault. He couldn't live with himself."

"So, you see, it has to be you. You have to tell him that you think he should go. Take the job, go to San Francisco, make something of himself. Hell, tell him that you just want to know that he got off the Hellmouth, that by him leaving, you'll sleep better. Just. get him on that train, and away from here."

"I can't do that," Buffy said emotionally.

"Why?"

"Because I love him!"

Bradley sat back stunned.

"I can't be the one who ruins his life," Buffy said. "He's done so much for me. Sacrificed too much already. He, more than anyone I know, deserves a good life. A career, a family. someone who loves him," she finished slowly.

"Please don't do this!" she begged with tears in her eyes. "Not to Xander. Whatever it is he has to do, I'll do it, I swear. Please," she whispered.

"I'm sorry, Buffy. But this has to be. And more importantly, right now, it has to be you. You have to let him go."

"No," she answered.

"Buffy." Bradley began.

"No. You said that no matter what we have choice. Well, I'm making mine. I won't do this," she said fiercely through gritted teeth and tears. "And if you try to take him. I'll kill you," she said quite seriously.

"I'm not trying to hurt him."

"Bull! We both now that Xander could be killed doing this."

"He could also be killed walking across the street, or, more likely, helping you. Your life's a dangerous one, and since he's decided to stay here, so is his."

Buffy opened her mouth again, but Bradley interrupted her.

"He's meant for more than this, Buffy!" he said passionately with a grand sweep of his arms indicating everything around them. "And if he doesn't go, all bets are off! They don't send people like me unless it's important! And I mean end-of-the-world important!"

"You said you didn't know what was going to happen," Buffy said fiercely.

"Your right I did. And it's true. I have no idea what he's supposed to do, or what's going to happen if he goes. But I do know what could happen if he doesn't. And I'm talking major death and suffering. The kind that makes you hope for the end of the world."

"You don't know that for sure," Buffy said desperately.

"Yes, I do. In my heart, I do," Bradley pleaded passionately. "And if you'd look inside yourself, so do you.

"The journey of a thousand miles, Buffy," he continued, "begins with one step. And this time, you have to be the one to take that step. You say you love him, and I believe you, but if you don't let him go, then your love is selfish and wrong because people are going to die. Could you live with that?"

Buffy looked down. "This isn't fair."

"Sadly, few things are," Bradley commiserated. Buffy was quiet for a long time, and Bradley figured that there wasn't anymore that he could do right now, so he got up to leave.

"Wait," she said, her voice cracking. Bradley turned to her and waited for her to continue.

"I'll do it," she said finally. "Just tell me how."
~~~~~~***~~~~~~
Bradley walked away from the construction site with a paycheck in his hands. It wasn't much, but it was at least enough to get him to wherever he needed to go next, wherever that might be.

He thought about saying goodbye to Xander, but decided against it. Normally, he would stay to make sure his assignment was fully completed, but he just couldn't this time.

After all, over the many lunchtime conversations that they'd had in his attempts to nudge him toward leaving Sunnydale or at least to think about it, Bradley had gotten to genuinely like the man. He didn't want to look at his face knowing that later that day his best friend, his hero, was going to break his heart; especially, since he had put said best friend and hero through hell to convince her to do so.

All that was really left for him was to wait for his next vision, telling him where to go and who to help. So it was with a lot of trepidation that he took each step, knowing that at any moment he could be overwhelmed with powerful images. But then he heard a familiar voice.

"Hey, Dexter."

"Hey, Whistler," Bradley said with annoyance upon hearing the thick Brooklyn accent saying his given name. The demon always did like using his first name.

Bradley turned to see the short, oddly dressed balance demon leaning on a telephone pole, looking to all the world like he was just some middle aged man with a fedora fetish. None who saw him for the first time would ever assume that he was anywhere near as powerful as he truly was. Whistler was not usually a welcome sight in his life because it more often than not meant that the Higher Ups were unhappy with him. But right now, he didn't care. This had been a really difficult assignment that had left a bad taste in his mouth.

"Why didn't they tell me, Whistler? Hell, why didn't you tell me?" Bradley asked aggressively.

"Tell you what, kid?"

"That she loves him. That was really unfair. I never would have-"

"Yes, you would have," Whistler interrupted. "Had to be done. And you know that."

Bradley sighed as his anger deflated. He was just too tired to be angry right now. "Yeah, probably. It's just. they way she looked when she said she loved him." Bradley sighed again. "She's been through too much already. And I don't think she even realizes what she really meant when she said. that," Bradley finished quietly.

Whistler looked to the sky and then back to Bradley with sympathy. "Love is the ultimate variable, Bradley. The one thing the Powers can't control. Even if they sometimes wish they could. If it's any consolation, it's been over seven years. If anything were going to happen, it should have by now."

"Sorry," Whistler added once he saw that his words hadn't really helped him.

"No it's okay," Bradley said finally. "But gee whiz, Whistler, you sounded almost human there," he joked, shrugging away his guilt for a moment. "Next thing you know you might start to have genuine compassion for your fellow man."

Whistler made a mock face of disgust. "Don't say that, Dexter. It wounds me deeply."
Bradley smiled a little. "I'm sorry I got snippy with you there, Whistler," he said honestly. "It's just been a really long couple days."

"Ah, It's okay, Dexter. I just came to let you know that for once the Powers ain't pissed at you, despite what you're probably assuming. Besides," Whistler said with a wide smile that made Bradley feel uncomfortable, "I'm going to get my revenge in about." Whistler looked at his watch. "Three. two."

And then Bradley was overwhelmed with powerful images, detailing his next assignment. He lost his balance and fell.

When he came to, the world was spinning and Whistler was gone. Bradley grimaced in annoyance.

"Wise ass balance demon," he muttered as he grabbed his head.

The visions didn't really hurt, but they were hell on his coordination. After a while to gather his balance, he stood and made his way to his car. As he did so, he pulled out a notepad and pen that he always kept with him so he could write down everything he felt was important about the vision.

When he finished, he looked at a name, and sighed.

"Amy Madison. I hope you like San Francisco."
******The*End******