WILLOW

Nobody asks questions. Willow is the kind of person that says something and people automatically believe her, because they look at that open face and those guileless eyes and they think it's impossible for her to deceive them. If only they knew. If only they'd seen what she'd seen. If only.

But they don't. Because nobody questions her story about the funeral. It's as she expected, as she'd wanted, but now, she almost wishes that somebody would think, "Hey! This seems like a brand new Willow! I wonder what happened at that funeral." But they don't.

So, nobody knows.

Except, she does. Willow knows. Willow will always know. And she's prepared to treasure the gift of that weekend that she's been granted, to remember how a man she'd thought one thing turned out to be another, and how he showed her how she didn't need to be chasing after something that wasn't really there because she was stronger than that. He held her close and coaxed her to open her eyes and showed her how good she could be all on her own.

She will always be grateful to Wesley for that.

There are times when she's walking through town or going to a class when she hears the dull roar of a motorcycle in the background. It never fails to make her head snap toward the sound, sometimes so hard that she thinks it just might be possible to give herself whiplash without ever being in a car accident, but it's never him. Occasionally, they look like him. It's amazing how many bikers wear black leather, a detail she'd never really processed before. But it's never him.

And it gets easier, just like he told her it would. She goes to her classes, and she aces her tests, and she wears her Scooby hat with pride even when sometimes the sight of a demon will thrust her back onto a beach and she'll see Wesley swinging his sword instead of Buffy swinging her fists. At those times, she has to force herself to step back from the fray, to take a deep breath, and remember where she is, before anybody can notice that she's gone pale or that her hands are shaking.

I miss you, Wesley.

It's a good kind of missing, though, not like with Oz. She wonders where his demon hunting is taking him, and once, she even hears Giles mention that Wesley showed up in LA at Angel's. She's so tempted to call Angel then and find out how Wes was, but she stomps on the urge with her best tennis shoes and instead says, "Oh?" Like it is a big surprise that the Watcher is even in the state.

Not everything is easy. The first night Xander drags her back to the Bronze, Willow has one of her old nightmares about Veruca and Oz, but this time when she wakes, there are no strong arms or soothing words to bring her down from it. There isn't even best friend Buffy to ask what's wrong, because she's recently discovered a certain Riley Finn and has left Willow to her own devices again. For a split second, she debates calling Giles, just to hear the accent because maybe that will help, but then decides that that's too much like a junkie saying they only need a little hit and puts the phone back down.

So, she turns down the occasional date, though she does agree to double with Buffy and Riley once---only once, never again, and geez, are all frat boys so shallow?---and focuses on her studies. Focuses on herself. It's hard and sometimes it hurts to see the other couples walking arm in arm, hand in hand, hip to hip, but ultimately, it's like the kind of hurt that happens with peeling off a bandage. One quick rip---which doesn't hurt, not really, more like a little sting---and then it's gone, and it's back to Willow's world of college and magic and grades and pushing herself too hard but understanding that now she's doing it for better reasons.

She breezes through all her finals. It's expected and almost a little disappointing, but she smiles anyway when Xander jokes about her giant brain and Buffy grouses about her own tiny one. She even agrees to go out with them for a celebratory semester's over night at the Bronze. I can do that now. It's just a place.

But that place is packed and though she is wearing her dancing shoes and the come-hither sweater Buffy made her put on, Willow's heart isn't in it. Her smiles feel forced, and everywhere she looks, people look happy, and in that particular moment, she's not.

"I'm tired," she excuses after an hour. "I'm just going to go home."

"You want me to come with?" Buffy asks, but the way she is leaning back against Riley says even louder, "Please don't make me leave right now."

A shake of her head and a quick reminder of how she has her mother's car so she'll be safe is all it takes for Willow to break free from those who seem so eager to celebrate. It's not that she begrudges them their liberty to do so, she thinks as she heads out to the parking lot. It's just that she doesn't have something of her own to celebrate.

She is halfway to the car when the distant roar of a motorcycle vibrates down her spine, and she turns her head automatically in its direction, fully expecting the sound to fade away as it always does. This time, however, is different, and it comes to life as it approaches the Bronze, a black shadow rolling into the lot. When it passes beneath a streetlight, she can see that its rider is long and lean, in blue jeans and boots, and she halts in her steps as a sense of déjà vu constricts her throat.

It only worsens when the motorcycle slows to a stop in front of her, and the driver turns off the engine before lifting the visor on his helmet.

"Hello, Willow," Wesley says.

And his smile is exactly the same.


WESLEY

It's surprising how quickly he settles back into his old routine. Perhaps it's the life and death nature of the business. He must stay focused on his task at hand, or risk not having a hand at all, or an eye, or even a life. After his weekend with Willow, that is no longer an acceptable option.

It doesn't mean he doesn't think of her. Every time he gets a moment to breathe---and isn't it ironic that just when he starts contemplating his future as a rogue demon hunter, he gains a bit of notoriety and gets inundated with work?---he allows himself a few stolen minutes to remember her laugh, how she tasted beneath his tongue, how she felt clinging to him on the back of his motorcycle. The recollections are stiff shots of the finest whiskey, sharp on the palette and then soothing in their fiery warmth, and he knows he could easily get intoxicated by them if he indulged in the reminiscences too often or too long. So, he savors them for the treats they are, and goes about his daily business with growing confidence.

One curious side effect from his encounter with Willow is the ease with which he talks to the opposite sex now. He does it rarely, but when he has the time and the desire for companionship is too strong to ignore, Wesley finds a bar that doesn't seem as seedy as the others and seeks out someone to converse with. The encounters are quite pleasant---and one or two continue beyond the walls of the establishment and back at whatever hotel he happens to be inhabiting at the time---but after the fourth in a northern Arizona town, he realizes that none of the women he speaks with have red hair. Somehow, to do so would seem like…betrayal. And the newfound understanding tarnishes his future endeavors slightly.

When his demon hunting returns him to California soil, specifically to Angel's new haunts in Los Angeles, Wesley debates passing on the job to avoid contact with any of the Sunnydale crew.

Stop being a sillyhead, he can hear Willow say. And it's enough for him to turn his front wheel in LA's direction, smiling all the way.

When he sees Cordelia, he is momentarily thrust back into the library, and his nearly adolescent infatuation with her beauty and enthusiasm. Her kiss startles him---Can she see the differences in me? Does it make me appear more worthy to her?---and has to admit being disappointed when her true purpose becomes known. I'd thought such an effect would be visible.

But the meeting goes much better than he expected, and the memories of Sunnydale are few and far between as they are too busy to really take note of anything nostalgic. There is only one incident that gets beneath his skin, when Angel goes into Wesley's bag for a weapon.

The vampire's hand hesitates, his heavy brow lowering even further as he imperceptibly leans forward and sniffs at the interior.

"You've been to Sunnydale?" he asks. Wesley's denial doesn't satisfy him, and he takes a deeper inhalation as if to prove him wrong. "Then why do I smell Willow?"

"I…" Damn it. I should've anticipated this. "…saw her." He doesn't know why he's so reluctant to talk about it. Perhaps it's because it feels like a gift that should only belong to him; if he shares, it will take away some of its specialness.

"But not in Sunnydale." Angel isn't going to let this go.

"No." So he briefly explains about running into her, leaving out as many details as he can and adhering to the story about Willow's family funeral. And though Angel doesn't ask any more questions, Wesley gets the distinct impression that he is more than aware of the full story, especially when he changes the subject to the reason he left Sunnydale.

"I thought it was for the best. For Buffy. But I miss her, every single day."

Angel isn't looking at anything but the way his short sword slices through the air, but Wesley doesn't have to see his eyes to know what the demon is implying. The question is past his lips before he can stop it.

"Yeah," Angel says softly. "If it was possible for me and Buffy to have a real future, I'd go back. I never would've left."

Those are the words Wesley takes with him when he leaves. There is an opportunity for him to stay on in Los Angeles, and it would mean continuing his work with positive results, but he can't bring himself to do it. Because there is something more compelling calling to him than the need to prove his worth. And it compels him all the way past the "Welcome to Sunnydale" sign.

He goes to her dorm first, but the silence of the campus speaks of its emptiness. Classes must be concluded for the term. If she's not there, then she must be home, but he has no idea where that might be. It was a detail that was never necessary for him to know before now. There is always Rupert's, but the hour is late and their first meeting will be awkward enough without having to introduce the discourtesy of such an unfortunate appointment.

He is almost at the hotel when the idea occurs to him, and he swings the motorcycle around, hearing the slight squeal of the tires against the road as the bike protests the sudden reversal. She's likely not there anyway, but if I don't look, I'll never know.

The prospect of going into such a youth-oriented establishment is not a pleasing one, but he steels himself for what he's going to have to do in order to find her. Closer, and closer, and closer still, and his pulse is racing with greyhound efficiency through his veins by the time he turns the corner to the Bronze's parking lot. It's just as much the potential of seeing her as it is…the dread that she will not be happy when she does.

It is purely by chance that he looks up as he turns into the lot, and he sees the lone figure crossing the cement toward a vehicle on the far end. Light from the streetlamps gives him a quick glimpse of the fiery hair---it's longer now, it suits her---and Wesley's heart jumps into his throat as he angles the motorcycle in her direction. He knows his luck in finding her so easily---fortune favors the brave, but that is not me, is it?---but he doesn't care, he just needs to see her, just needs to know if she does as he does, if she still carries the memory of that weekend inside her breast.

When he realizes she has stopped, that she's watching him approach---does she know? How could she know?---he can't help the smile reaching his lips. And he stops, and he takes his time to turn off the engine before lifting his visor to look at her unfettered.

"Hello, Willow." I've missed you. Have you missed me?

The coat she is hugging tight around her body falls open and he sees the swell of a breast above the sweater she wears beneath. Her breathing is rapid, her cheeks pink, and Wesley thinks she has never looked lovelier.

"Hi." Breathless. Hopeful. Inquisitive.

"You're alone?"

She gestures abstractly to the club behind her. "Big finals are over celebration inside, but I wasn't really in the mood. I was just going to go home."

"Oh." He can see the car keys dangling from her fingers so at least he is reassured that she wasn't doing something foolish. But my Willow is a smart one, and unless another musician has broken her heart---.

But she doesn't look broken.

She looks amazing.

"What're you doing here?" she asks, and he wishes that he'd chosen to do this during the day so he could better see her face.

"I came to see you." No point in lying. No point in lying to anyone any more.

"Oh." Now, it's disappointment. "So…you're just passing through town?"

"No." No more passing for me. I'm planting my feet and standing my ground. "I'd thought…I'd hoped…is Sunnydale in need of a rogue demon hunter these days?"

And she laughs. Laughs. Like she hasn't laughed in months, or at least since he last saw her. Relief and joy and hope all rolled up in one. And it unlocks the last door he'd been holding shut inside his heart.

"No more leather," she comments, more freely now, a step closer.

Yes, come closer, Willow. Let me touch you so that you'll know I'm real.

"I still have the bike, though." He reaches behind him and pulls the other from the hold he's kept it in since it was last worn. "And I still have your helmet."

When he holds it out, she takes it without hesitation, her fingers stroking the arc of the rainbow, making him undeniably jealous---likely for the first time---of a piece of headwear.

"Are you expected somewhere?" he asks.

She shakes her head, eyes luminous in the moonlight as she regards him now.

Looking pointedly up at the clear sky, Wes says, "It's probably the same view back at my hotel. And I do believe I owe you a night of star-gazing, don't I?"

"Just a night?" But she is teasing, and she is already slipping the helmet on over her head, and stepping closer to him so that he can feel her breath on his cheek for the first time in weeks. She tilts her chin, her eyes expectant, and Wesley fastens the straps into place as she wishes, letting his fingers drift over her cheek when he is done.

"I've missed you." It amazes him how good saying the words out loud makes him feel. It amazes him even more when he sees the smile curl her mouth, the shine come to her eyes. Could it be this simple? Do I merit such a response?

Yes.

"I've missed you, too," she says. Her lips brush across his, and then she's hopped onto the bike and pressed into his back, returning his balance when he hadn't even realized it was missing, just as if she'd never left. "Now let's go see some stars."

THE END