Summary: Buffy, Angel, and their friends are forced to join forces to deal with a menace, and Buffy's observations of Wesley cause her to come to an unexpected conclusion.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for themes and language.

Time Frame: Starting three weeks after "The Body." (spoiler warning, everyone).

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me ( to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.


Part I

Buffy tensed as she remained crouched behind the pile of crates near the warehouse. They had been waiting for over an hour to hear signs that the adepts were arriving, and had so far heard nothing. . .Buffy turned and looked over her shoulder, spotting Angel, Gunn, and Wesley in their hiding place and wondering whether Cordelia's vision had been a false alarm.

It had certainly been a bit unsettling to hear from Angel again so soon after the occasion of Joyce's funeral had brought him back to Sunnydale for the first time in over a year. By now, Buffy had been put up to speed on Angel's recent difficulties, and it had taken more than a little grit on her part to give him a hug when he showed up at her doorstep, rather than surrender to the impulse to knock him on his ass with a right cross and shout at him, "What in the hell were you thinking?"

Wesley had explained that the Brotherhood of Uthon, a long established society of evil sorcerers, intended to summon Hartuk the Destroyer, an extremely large and dangerous demon. When Buffy-not wanting to have a fight she could avoid right then-asked why they couldn't simply take out the adepts and stop the summoning that way, Wesley explained that Hartuk was due to manifest somewhere on Earth in the next couple of years, with the exact place of manifestation unknown. By allowing the adepts to summon Hartuk, dealing with them, then dismissing the demon themselves, the threat would be dealt with for the conceivable future.

Buffy had nodded, wishing that Giles and Xander weren't off doing other things, though Giles at least had Dawn with him. . .one less thing for her to worry about at that moment. They had rested for the day, then Cordelia had stayed with Willow and Tara while Buffy, Angel, Gunn, and Wesley had staked out the warehouse, weapons ready.

Buffy glanced over at the others again, and noticed Wesley's grim expression and alert posture. She shook her head: it still took some getting used to. During the time he had been her Watcher, Wesley had seemed, well, incompetent in combat, and perpetually nervous when the threat of violence arose. His craven behavior during the Balthazar incident still colored her view of him, though seeing him overcome being tortured by Faith to help them drive off the Council of Watchers' assassination team had impressed her greatly. She saw him shift position slightly and wince, and she remembered that he had been shot in the abdomen not long ago, and that he was only now mostly recovered. Buffy shook her head again. * Wesley's a lot braver than he used to be. . .but with that wound I hope he doesn't get hurt or slow us down * Frowning, she turned back towards the warehouse doors, hoping that this would all be over soon.

* * * * *

Buffy ducked under an axe stroke and threw an uppercut that shattered the jaw of the sorcerer who had just attacked her and sent him flying back fifteen feet into a crumpled heap. Buffy glanced contemptuously at her fallen foe. * Just because I can't kill you doesn't mean that the thought of you eating through a straw for the next six months isn't really neat * Dismissing the thought, she turned and attacked one of the two adepts harrying Gunn.

The sorcerers had arrived about an hour before, and Buffy and the others had little trouble incapacitating the guards they left and waiting in the shadows while the sorcerers summoned Hartuk the Destroyer. At length, the ritual was complete, and Hartuk-who was twelve feet tall and seemed to have armor thicker than the average tank-appeared in the middle of the pentagram, helpless to leave unless the magic design was broken or if the summoners agreed to release it. . .for a price. The head adept was about to make such a demand when Buffy, Angel and Gunn ran out and began attacking the other adepts. The ritual had depleted their magic, and they could only defend themselves by physical means. Considering most of them rarely fought at all, this was not good for them.

Gunn and Buffy finished off their opponents and turned to where Angel was holding off three adepts. As they went to help him, Buffy glanced over and saw that Wesley was standing quietly with a light mace in his hand, two adepts lying crumpled at his feet. He nodded at her and she smiled back. * Not bad, Wesley * She turned back to Angel, and the three fighters quickly finished off the adepts, including the head adept, who muttered a curse as he slumped into unconsciousness.

Buffy grinned ferally, then commented, "Nice execution, there. . .now we cast that spell, send big and ugly packing, and we've got no more worries-" There was a noise behind them, and they all turned to see that one of the adepts had struggled back to consciousness long enough to toss a dagger in the direction of the pentagram. The blade had skidded along the floor and stopped after a moment. . .but it was blocking a part of the design, causing the huge demon to laugh out loud as it stepped forward.

Buffy stared, then began: "Oh-"

"-shit." Gunn concluded. They looked at each other, then grabbed axes and followed Angel, who had already charged up and begun hacking at Hartuk, who seemed more amused than threatened. The demon seemed to be toying with Angel and Gunn, throwing lazy claw attacks at them that they were barely managing to avoid, and the demon lord completely ignored Buffy as she moved in close and summoned all of her strength to bury the axe in the demon's groin area. . .

. . .only to see the blade bounce. Hartuk laughed again, and Buffy directed her most vicious glare up at the amused demon. * We are so screwed *

Abruptly, Buffy heard a hissing sound, and a crossbow bolt zipped about two feet over her head and buried itself into a spot that roughly corresponded to where the stomach would be: Buffy noted that the place in question looked like a blue star-shaped birthmark about two inches across. Hartuk roared in agony, then dropped to its knees for a moment before falling prone to the ground. Angel, Buffy and Gunn stared as the demon lord began keening, then burst into flames as its soul went howling back to Hell.

As one, they turned back to where Wesley was standing with a crossbow in his hands and a visibly relieved look on his face. The former Watcher sighed and commented, "I had hoped that it wouldn't come to that. . .but I'm glad the books were correct."

Buffy was grateful when Gunn asked the obvious question: "Excuse me? Since when was that part of our playbook for this gig?"

Wesley frowned, then replied, "The books said that Hartuk could be slain by a crossbow bolt enchanted by witches with certain abilities if it struck that spot on its torso. . .fortunately, Willow and Tara both qualified, and they enchanted the bolt before we left."

Angel nodded, and commented, "Good thinking, Wesley. . .but why didn't you just shoot Hartuk as he stood in the pentagram in the first place?"

"I only had one enchanted bolt. . .and though I am a rather good shot, I think you'll agree that was a rather difficult target for me to hit." Wesley's reply was dry and to the point, and the others nodded before he continued, "In any event, if I had missed, the bolt would have broken the circle, and Hartuk would have been free before the adepts had all been subdued. . .that would have been unfortunate."

There was more nodding, and Gunn summed it up for all of them when he commented, "All right, I see your point. . .you did good. . .but next time, let us know you have an ace in the hole, all right? Thinking you're about to be demon chow kind of sucks, you know?" Angel laughed, and they all walked out together, knowing that the sorcerers would limp out of Sunnydale rather than force another confrontation any time soon. Wesley took one last look back, then limped out of the warehouse, not seeing the appraising look that Buffy was giving him.

* * * * *

Willow and Tara, who were waiting back at Giles apartment with Cordelia, had been pleased to hear that their efforts had helped the cause, and many hugs had been given and received before yawns from Gunn and Tara brought the celebration to a close. Angel nodded and commented, "Well, we'd better get back to the motel. . .a good night's rest before the drive back to L.A. would be nice."

Wesley nodded emphatically at Angel's comment, then winced as he stood. Buffy raised an eyebrow, then commented, "Wesley got banged up a little before he saved all of our asses tonight, and a night on a motel bed isn't going to do him any good. . .there's an extra bed at my house. . .how about dropping him off with me tonight?"

Wesley's eyes widened in surprise, and Angel frowned and nodded, "Good idea, Buffy. . .Wesley's been hurting the last couple of months, and sleeping in a crappy bed is something I'd just as soon spare him. . .thanks."

Buffy smiled at her former love and nodded, and everyone else took the offer as a generous courtesy on Buffy's part. . .except Cordelia, who leveled a suspicious glance at Buffy and took the first chance she had to drag Angel off into a corner and hiss, "Angel. . .don't you think it's a little weird. . .Buffy offering to put Wesley up for the night?"

Angel frowned at Cordelia, then replied, "Buffy's just worried about him. . .he's been hurting lately, and he picked up some bruises in the fight tonight. . .she just wants to make sure he gets some decent rest tonight. . .what's wrong with that?"

Cordelia snorted at the naivete of her former boss, then retorted, "Hello! Buffy's kind of vulnerable right now, what with Joyce having died less than a month back, Riley's oh so poignant departure still in the recent past, and not to mention a certain family member of yours declaring himself her eternal love. . .? Hard to imagine Buffy being more stressed than she is now, and her being alone with a rather cute guy who just saved her ass. . .can you say 'Spontaneous Hot Sex Moment'?"

Angel stared at Cordelia, then began laughing softly, visibly restraining himself to keep from laughing loud enough to bring everyone in the house rushing over to see what the problem was. Cordelia stared daggers at him until he composed himself and managed to reply, "I'm sorry, Cordelia. . .I'm not running Wesley down. . .God knows he's shown that desirable women can find him attractive. . .but Buffy? She's still got a lot of issues with him, and she's never truly fallen for anyone who couldn't clear out your average biker bar by himself. . .including your ex, who has saved her ass on multiple occasions. I'm sorry, but I just don't see it." He looked over at his English friend and smiled just a little before concluding, "Besides, Wesley is an honorable man. . .he wouldn't take advantage of Buffy when she was vulnerable like that."

Cordelia smiled involuntarily, then sobered and replied, "Probably not. . .but I wouldn't lean on that hope too hard, Angel. . .Wesley's a good guy, but he's still a guy. . .and you should know better than anyone that guys can slip."

Angel winced, then looked over at Buffy, who outwardly looked normal. * I hope you're wrong, Cordelia. . .because I can't see that leading to anything good * Dismissing the matter from his mind, he sipped at his wine, waiting for the others to get their things together for departure.

* * * * *

Wesley followed Buffy into the house, then turned to his left and shuddered involuntarily: he had heard the whole story of how Buffy had found Joyce dead, and of the horrid aftermath. Wesley had never met Joyce Summers, but he respected the job she had done in raising Buffy, and he had heard enough stories to make it clear that she had strong streaks of bravery and dedication that she had passed down to both of her daughters.

Oblivious of Wesley's musings, Buffy turned back to him and commented, "I'm staying in Mo-. . .the master bedroom." Wesley caught her slip and saw the flash of pain cross her face before she composed herself and continued, "So you get to sleep in my room. . .hope all of the girly stuff in there isn't a problem for you."

Wesley smiled wanly and replied, "Buffy, for a good night's rest in a soft bed, I could put up with far more than a few items of 'girly stuff', believe me." He looked at her and quietly added, "Buffy, thank you again for your generosity."

Buffy smiled back at him, and Wesley was surprised to see her blush slightly as she replied, "All part of the service for you hero types. . .would you like some tea before you turn in?"

Wesley frowned, then responded, "I'm not really in the mood for tea. . .you wouldn't happen to have any brandy, would you? A bad habit I picked up from Virginia. . .it helps me sleep."

Buffy smiled and nodded, commenting, "There are worse habits to pick up. . .go on upstairs and I'll bring it up to you."

Wesley smiled and nodded back, adding, "Thank you, Buffy," before heading up the stairs and entering Buffy's room. He sat in one of the chairs near the bed, and was looking at the various parts of the room with a look of visible fascination on his face when Buffy walked in carrying a bottle of brandy and two glasses. She smiled at his expression and commented, "It's just a room, Wesley. . .hardly worth getting all caught up in."

Wesley blinked, then turned to Buffy and replied, "Sorry. . .it's just that I've heard so much about the things that have happened in this room over the years. . .it's hard not to think about it."

"It's a little less fascinating when you have to live it, Wesley." Buffy's voice sounded bitter, and Wesley flinched. Buffy saw the reaction and realized the tone she had used and immediately added, "God, Wesley. . .I didn't mean to bite your head off like that. . .you didn't mean any harm by it."

Wesley shook his head and replied, "No, Buffy. . .that was thoughtless of me." He looked at her calmly and added, "Buffy. . .you have done so much as the Slayer, lived such a fascinating life. . .that it is easy to forget that you are a human being with feelings and doubts just like the rest of us, even with tragedies like the one that brought us together recently to remind me of it. I've added to your pain in the past through my inexperience and. . .ineptitude, and I regret doing so again by thoughtlessness."

Buffy sat in the chair across from Wesley and smiled at him, commenting, "You didn't look very inexperienced or inept out there tonight, Wesley." Wesley smiled, acknowledging the compliment as Buffy continued, "As for the other stuff. . .water under the bridge. You've been doing a good job looking out for Angel and Cordelia, and I like Gunn too. . .they're lucky to have you." She shook her head and commented, "If the man sitting in this room with me was the one who showed up in Sunnydale two years ago, I would have had a hell of a time justifying freezing him out. . .I still might have done it, but I would have been wrong, my loyalty to Giles aside. I'm sorry everything went the way it did. . .but you clearly benefited from it, and I'm glad for you."

Wesley was silent for a long moment, visibly overcome by Buffy's words. Searching for a way to regain his composure with some dignity, his eyes fell on the contents of Buffy's hands. He raised an eyebrow and commented, "You brought two glasses."

Buffy smiled shyly and replied, "Yeah. . .I'm still a little wound up from the whole nearly getting squished by a demon thing, and if you need brandy to get to sleep, it seemed to me that you probably aren't quite ready to drop off yet. . .and you won't be going back to L.A. until tomorrow evening, anyway. . .will you sit up and talk with me while the brandy kicks in? It's been a long time since I just sat down and talked to a friend, without the subject being insane goddesses, or obsessed vampires, or crap like that in general. . .would I be imposing on you?"

Wesley smiled genuinely at Buffy and responded, "Of course you wouldn't be imposing. . .I could do with talking about something other than the line of duty for once, too." He reached for the brandy, asking, "Shall I pour?"

. . .to be continued

As always, comments are welcomed and desired