SUMMARY: Set immediately after Oz has left Willow in S4. Willow takes a chance and goes after Oz in a vain attempt to try and reconcile, only to run into a rogue demon hunter who isn't willing to see her hurt any more.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: If you're a regular reader of mine, you might be expecting Spuffy. Unfortunately, you won't find it here. This was an endeavor of mine to satisfy my desire for a Wesley/Willow fic; nobody else was writing it, so I did it myself.
STORY NOTES: Written for the Winter of Wes event over at Livejournal. It is already complete, and I will be posting this in increments over the next few days.
This is something new to her. This being tired. Not even three consecutive all-nighters for finals in high school had ever made her this tired. And it's not like she isn't sleeping. She is. Just too much. Because in her dreams is the only place she can still see him.
She doesn't think about him standing outside his van the day he left. And she doesn't dwell on the way his naked body was curled around that bitch Veruca. Not much, anyway. Instead, Willow likes to remember the other times, the not-so-unpleasant, I'm-not-going-to-break-your-heart kind of times. In high school. When things were simpler. When she wasn't always alone. When it was her and Oz, and the world had order again, and the sun when it rose didn't laugh in mockery at pain that belonged in deep, dark corners.
So when she overhears Devon talking about driving up the coast to see him at some club he's playing at---filling in for a friend, he says, which makes her want to laugh and scream what about me, I was his friend too, and so much more---she does something she's never done before. She buys a bus ticket to the town Oz is in, and then lies to Buffy and the others and all her teachers, telling them she has to go to a funeral out of town and will be gone for a few days.
Nobody questions her. Nobody ever does. Goody goody Willow tell a fib? Unheard of. Willow doesn't ever do anything wrong. Willow is always the good girl. Shares her toys. Plays nice with others. Turns her homework in on time with all the extra credit, and prays that at least her elders will like her for something. Except she usually likes doing the extra credit, so maybe that last isn't such an anomaly. Just weird. That's her. Weird girl Willow.
Oddly enough, she doesn't sleep on the bus, although it leaves Sunnydale at an obscene hour of the morning. Too excited. She just wants to see him, to make sure he's OK, to be able to fill some of the holes in her heart that his leaving created. Just a look. That's all she wants.
And if he decides after seeing her that he made the biggest mistake of his life by leaving, then all the better.
She goes to the club first, and sees the poster for the band that's playing, and imagines Oz's face over the blurred image of the guitarist that's plastered there. For a moment, she's tempted to just camp out in front of the building and wait for it to open, but then decides that that seems stalkery. Better to be casual.
Oh, I just happened to be in town…
You're playing here? What a coinky-dink! I was just passing through…
Hi, I miss you. Please come home.
The hours are passed wandering along streets she doesn't recognize, looking into shop windows selling cheap plastic toys and overpriced souvenirs, listening to what sounds like the hundredth motorcycle roar past on the street. The air is salty, and it leaves her skin tingling as the minutes tick closer to the time when she can go back to the club. At one point, she actually tilts her head back, closes her eyes, and gulps at the sensations, drinking down the fortitude she imagines it's giving her, before realizing that people are staring at her, leaving her to scurry along the sidewalk with her chin tucked back into her chest.
Staring is not good. Staring means they see her. And seeing her means they're judging, and she already knows how that turns out. Because it always turns out the same. Not good.
There is already a crowd outside waiting to get in when she gets there, and like a good little Willow, she waits at the end of the line, smiling even when the Goth girl in front of her allows three of her friends to cut in. It only pushes her further back in waiting, but she doesn't care. She can be patient. After all, she's going to see Oz again. That is really all that matters.
Except something happens before she can make it to the doors. The crowd is starting to break apart, and she can hear grumbling about fickle musicians and something about a guitarist. Only then does she push her way to the front, and waits patiently as the bouncer laughs at some joke a busty blonde is making, waving her past without a stamp when it's obvious she's not even eighteen.
"Did something happen with the band?" she asks breathlessly.
"Not playing," is his brusque reply. He's back to business now, barely flicking a glance over her, the knit cap pulled down low over her cropped hair, long sweater over Oz's favorite skirt.
"How come?" She has to fight to keep his attention.
"The sub they got for the guitarists bolted," he explains. "Packed everything into his van and took off. Something about a girl."
Her faint thank you isn't even heard as she stumbles away, the hot rush of tears prickling her eyes. Something about a girl. A girl meaning her. Obviously, Oz had run because he'd seen her. Walking around the town all day like she owned the place. How stupid was she? Of course, she'd been seen, and her surprise had been blown out of the water. Except if he'd run at the mere possibility that she might show up in the club, who would the surprise really have been for?
She walks and walks and walks, and when she finally looks up, she realizes for the first time that it's dark outside and she has absolutely no idea where she is. Shadows of long buildings stripe the concrete before her, alternating in shades of grey and black, encasing her in rising fear as her head jerks around to try and get her bearings. Buffy would kill her if she knew she'd wandered off alone at night, she thinks. And then Giles would be right there to do his own kind of killing, and then Xander would try and make her laugh about how stupid she was by cracking some dumb joke. And they would be right.
Because foolish doesn't even begin to describe how she is feeling at the moment. Foolish for thinking Oz would take one look at her and decide he'd made a huge mistake and come home. Foolish for wishing she could go back to the way things were, even if she only actually admitted that somewhere deep inside her heart. And foolish for being in a strange place at nighttime.
Without a weapon.
And what looked like to be a vampire coming out of an alley in front of her.
She can't even scream. Somehow the connection that vampires really did exist outside of Sunnydale never made it through her head, leaving her rooted to her spot as the demon approaches, golden eyes glinting, closely cropped red hair making him look like some ghoulish Richie Cunningham. It's only when he smiles, baring his fangs, that she can turn and flee, but the pounding of her feet ceases almost immediately when he tackles her to the sidewalk, ripping her tights and scraping her knees so that life returns with a vengeance to her stunned body.
Even she can smell her blood as she struggles against his strength. It's a losing battle, she knows, and the irony that she's going to die in some unknown place, at the hands of a vamp that Buffy could've easily dusted back in Sunnydale if she'd only done the sensible thing and stayed, doesn't escape her. She is bracing herself for the bite when she hears the motorcycle roar out of nowhere, the swift gait of boots across cement whispering in welcome as they approach.
The weight on her back is suddenly gone, and Willow sneezes as the dust settles around her head, blinking once, then twice as it clings to her lashes. Before she can roll over, gentle hands are under her armpits, pulling her into a sitting position and helping her to lean against the nearby building. Gentle but strong, she notes, and looks up to see the black of his leathers darker than the sky as he crouches at her side.
"Are you all right?" he asks.
It strikes her immediately that she knows his voice, and frowns, reaching up to tap at the helmet visor that still hides his face. He pushes it up, disclosing the bright blue eyes that look upon her with worry, and she wonders where his glasses are.
"OK, Wesley and leather? Not a combination I would've thought I'd live to see," she jokes.
His smile tells her he understands she's fine, and he straightens, holding out his hand to help her to her feet. "You're a long way from home," he says.
"So are you. And on a motorcycle."
He glances back at the bike and she swears he's blushing under his helmet. "It's easier for transportation," he explains. "It allows me my freedom."
"To do what?"
His chest swells in assumed pride. "I'm a rogue demon hunter now."
"You hunt rogue demons?"
"No, I'm the rogue."
Wesley and rogue, another word combination she never thought she'd hear.
When she takes a step, Willow winces at the pain in her knees, feeling the scrabble of tiny rocks and sediment imbedded into her flesh.
"You should get cleaned up," Wesley says. "Where are you staying?"
She hasn't thought that far ahead. Somehow, in the fantasy she'd created, Oz was going to see her and take her back to wherever he was spending the night. And that realization sends the events of the night crashing back into her shoulders, making the tears return to blind her eyes.
He notices and nods as if he understands. "I have a hotel room. You can get cleaned up there. Get some rest before going back to Sunnydale in the morning."
She can only reciprocate his nod. As she follows behind him, she sees the awkward gait of his step, the cautious way he throws his leg over the seat. Maybe he was hurt, she thinks. Out loud, she says, "Maybe I should be the one to ask if you're all right," and points to his legs when he looks confused.
"Ah. No. It's…the trousers. They…chafe." He shakes his head as he flips his visor back down. "My apologies for not having an extra helmet. I don't normally carry passengers."
"It's no big," she says, climbing on behind him. There is a moment of hesitation as she wonders what's she's supposed to do, but the scent of leather as it hits her nose is comforting, reminding her of Buffy and of home and of all things safe. Willow sighs as she puts her arms around his waist. "Thank you for the save-age," she murmurs, and closes her eyes against the dark as the bike roars to life beneath her legs, whisking them away from the vampire dust that is now scattering on the ocean breeze.
And she's tired again.
Another town, another demon, and did he ever think he'd end up in this part of California again? Part of him debates whether he should ride the few extra miles down the motorway to Sunnydale and drop in to say hello to Rupert, but somehow, he fancies his presence would not be a welcome one. No, better to just find the Jwa'hra demon and be done with it. He has a job to do. That is what's important.
So, when he sees her strolling along the streets downtown, Wesley's first thought is that it was his musings about the Hellmouth that had forced his brain to conjure the image of one of its inhabitants. It's only when she stops on one particularly sun-laden corner and tilts her head back, opening and closing her mouth as if she is swallowing down the very sky, that he knows he isn't seeing things. It really is Willow. But why she is here and not there remains a mystery.
She seems older than he remembers, but then realizes the shadows under her eyes make it appear so. She must be studying too hard, he thinks, and feels an unexpected swell of pride at her scholarship. He's always appreciated that about her. The only one of her group to understand the value of the written word, and the power of knowledge when it came to the battle between good and evil. Plus, fearless. He remembers the fray at graduation, and smiles at the memory.
When his contact tells him the Jwa'hra has left town already, he knows he should follow the trail as quickly as possible. Trails have a tendency to vanish if you ignore them, and this particular demon is one he's been hunting for quite a while. He has a score to settle. But as he's heading back to his hotel to gather his few things, he spots that knit cap again, only this time it is standing outside a club, waiting in some line to go in.
Ah. Now he understands. She is there to have fun. That would explain her earlier mood. It must be some sort of vacation.
What he doesn't understand is why is she alone. Back in Sunnydale, she was never alone. There was always the Slayer, or Rupert, or young Xander Harris. It is obvious that she isn't even waiting for someone to arrive, allowing a group of raucous young people to push her farther back from the entrance, and his decision to stay and watch her---just to make sure she's all right, he tells himself---seems ordained. It's only a matter of minutes, he reasons. Just until she goes inside to safety, or someone comes up to join her.
Except it doesn't happen. She grows confused when the queue starts to break apart, skirting the crowds to approach the bouncer. Wesley can't hear the words that are exchanged, but the slumping of her shoulders, the crooked turn of her body as she walks away from the building and all the people, tells him enough. Behind his visor, he frowns, eyes following her hunched form. She is headed toward the darker part of town. Alone. And she isn't watching where she's going. He really has no choice but to follow.
More than once, he asks why he just doesn't stop and let her know he's there, convince her to go back to civilization and the warm bosom of her friends. But he already knows what will happen. She will laugh. Scorn him as ridiculous, just as the Slayer did. Just as Faith did. Hell, just as Rupert did. She won't do it with words, of course. Not gentle Willow. No, her contempt would be in the expression of her eyes, and though he considers himself stronger now, not the same Wesley Wyndam-Pryce who first descended upon the Hellmouth all bluster and vinegar, he is still not certain that it won't break him in two. Or more. Most likely, more.
Only when the vamp appears from nowhere, tackling her to the ground, does he gun the engine to close the gap. He can't even see her slight form under the hulk of the demon, and a suddenly anxious Wesley rushes forward, stake in hand, to plunge it directly into the creature's back.
She stops moving immediately, lying there amidst the dust until it makes her sneeze in a high-pitched squeak, and only then can he bring himself to touch her, scooping her under the arms to help her lean against the brick wall.
"Are you all right?" he asks, eyes searching the tender slope of her neck for any puncture wounds. His relief is palpable when he sees it is blemish-free. Except for the freckles. Did he know she had freckles before?
Willow frowns. Instead of answering, she reached up and taps on his visor with her index finger, almost as if she is asking entrance. When he pushes it up, he is surprised when she smiles. It looks genuine. Beaming, even in the midnight. And she makes a joke about him and leather being an unlikely combination, but it doesn't sound in the slightest bit mean.
"You're a long way from home," he says as he helps her to her feet. If she's smiling like that, she must be all right, he decides.
"So are you. And on a motorcycle."
He swears she's laughing at him now---perhaps my estimation was correct after all---and squirms in discomfort as he looks back at his bike, mumbling something about transportation and his freedom.
"To do what?" she asks.
Now this he can be proud of. "I'm a rogue demon hunter," he boasts with pleasure.
His pride deflates. "No, I'm the rogue," he emphasizes. Why does no one ever understand that? He is distracted when he hears her wince, and notices for the first time the blood oozing from her scraped knees. "You should get cleaned up. Where are you staying?"
And then there it is again, that slumping, only now Wes is close enough to see the tears shining in her eyes. Something must have gone terribly wrong, he thinks, and makes the offer to allow her the use of his hotel room before he can even consider otherwise. Though her tears didn't disappear, it is obvious that she is grateful when she nods and follows him to the bike. And perhaps again, he is wrong about her. Maybe she won't be derisive. Even her comment about his soreness seems to be tinged in concern.
"Ah. No. It's…the trousers." How he must sound like an absolute prat having to admit this. "They…chafe."
But she doesn't laugh. She accepts him at face value and climbs on, hesitating only a moment before sliding slender arms around his waist. He is surprised at how good it feels to not be alone on the bike, and mentally berates himself for not having a spare helmet to ensure her safety. Just have to be more careful, he thinks. It wouldn't do to save the girl and then have her get hurt as I'm getting her away.
He almost misses her thank you. Wes doesn't reply, concentrating instead on coaxing the motorcycle back to life and guiding it back onto the street. Behind the visor, he smiles unseen.
And for the first time in weeks, feels awake again.