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 II

Wesley sat and listened to Buffy as she talked about her recent classroom experiences, sipping on his second glass of brandy and watching her in fascinated silence. When he had worked with her in Sunnydale, he had become all too familiar with how Buffy's eyes broadcast her emotions; unfortunately, the emotion he had seen there was almost always anger or contempt, which had hurt him more than he had ever admitted to anyone, even Angel. This was a different experience: Buffy's eyes shone with curiosity, fascination, and even amusement, and Wesley could feel the warm emotions washing over him like a temperate evening breeze, relaxing him even more than the brandy was doing. He leaned forward slightly in his seat, then grunted in pain as a certain group of muscles in his upper back decided to remind him just how thoroughly he had abused them earlier that night.

Buffy was on her feet and at his side in an instant, calling out in a worried tone, "Wesley! Are you all right. . .is it your wound?"

Wesley winced and shook his head, replying, "No. . .that's pretty much completely healed. . .the wonders of modern medicine." He smiled wanly, then continued, "Unfortunately, the period of convalescence it required has left me somewhat out of condition, and swinging that mace about seems to have strained some muscles in my back and shoulders. . .I just need some rest."

Buffy visibly exhaled, looking relieved, then frowned and responded, "What you need is a good back rub. . .I know better than most people how annoying tweaked back muscles can be." She stepped behind Wesley's chair and ordered, "Lean forward a little, Wesley."

Wesley was surprised, but obeyed the instruction, wincing again as the muscles protested. He felt Buffy lean forward and dig her extremely strong fingers into the offending muscles. He gasped, then sighed as the Slayer's pointed attack on the problem areas produced very welcome results. As relaxed as he was becoming, Wesley's mind was still working, and a small voice in the back of his head whispered * She's never been this close to you before *

Wesley frowned at the random traitorous thought, then realized that it was true. Buffy was leaning in very close to him: he could feel the heat of her body, and the subtle scent she was wearing tickled his nostrils. Wesley felt himself relax even more from the pleasant stimuli. . .then tensed up abruptly as he realized the way his thoughts were going. * Shame on you. . .Buffy invites you into her home, treats you with compassion and generosity, and this is how you thank her. . . *

Caught up in his shame, Wesley was startled when Buffy chuckled and commented, "Well, this isn't working. . .you're more tense than ever. . .hardly a compliment to my formerly magic hands, Wesley." Wesley flushed, but Buffy failed to comment on it as she continued, "I guess we'll have to attack this problem from a different angle."

Wesley blinked in confusion as Buffy stepped from behind him, then climbed onto his chair from the front, straddling his hips while kneeling and reaching over behind him to continue to massage his back and shoulders as she whispered, "There. . .that's right. . .much better way to attack the problem."

If the moments before had been distracting, this was sheer torture. Buffy was leaning directly over Wesley's right shoulder as she kneaded the muscles in his back and shoulders with little apparent effort, and where his awareness of her heat and scent had been subtle before, they were now overwhelming. Her breasts were now brushing slightly against his chest, increasing the incendiary nature of the moment. Wesley felt sweat trickle down his brow and his back, and it took every ounce of grit within him to swallow hard and comment in a strangled tone, "Ah, Buffy. . .I'm not sure how this. . .position helps you deal with my tense muscles."

Buffy leaned back, and Wesley could see a glint of mischief in her eyes as she seemed to ponder the question, then replied, "You know. . .I don't think it really does." Wesley blinked again in confusion as Buffy directed a predatory smile at him and added, "Though it is really the best position to do this from." She rocked back slightly, resting her posterior on his upper thighs, then pulled him down into a ferocious kiss.

Wesley's thoughts were in utter chaos, and for fully twenty seconds he didn't give a damn. Buffy had apparently learned a thing or two about kissing over the years, and Virginia had taught him a thing or two about the practice during the time they had been together. Their mouths remained locked while each pulled the other into a tight embrace. It was only after they broke apart for a moment and stared into each other's eyes for a long, heated moment that Wesley's instincts kicked in: his first impulse was to shove Buffy away from him in complete panic, but he knew deep down that treating her in that way would be one of the few unforgivable things he could do in that moment. He froze, but Buffy saw the raw, primal terror in his eyes and threw herself away from him as if she had been burned. Wesley stared as she began babbling, "Omigod, Wesley. . .I forgot. . .Faith. . .I'm reminding you of her and what she did to you. . .God, how could I have been so thoughtless. . .I' m so sor-"

"Buffy!" The look of naked guilt on Buffy's face brought Wesley to his senses, and his own sudden guilt gave him the further composure he needed to calm himself and call out, "Buffy. . .look at me."

Buffy complied, her eyes visibly tearing up as she looked at Wesley as he locked eyes with her-proper form would have involved standing up and placing his hands on her shoulders, but certain involuntary physical responses had temporarily rendered that an extremely bad idea-and continued, "Buffy. . .I would never associate what Faith did to me with you under any circumstances. . .even in the days when I know you held me in contempt, I never had any cause to believe that you would commit a breach of morality that remotely approached what Faith proved herself capable of. Even now, when I know that she's struggling to redeem herself, I would be terrified to be in a room alone with her. . .Buffy, I'd trust you with my life without regret or hesitation, and I can't ever conceive of feeling differently."

Buffy closed her eyes momentarily, silently accepting Wesley's compliment and implied reassurance, and when she opened her eyes her expression had changed from guilt to open curiosity as she asked, "So what was the problem, then? I'm not the world's greatest expert with this kind of thing, but it sure seemed like you were kissing back there for a little bit." She blinked, then assumed a vulnerable look as she asked, "Don't you find me attractive, Wesley?"

Wesley blinked, then caught the glint of mischief that had reappeared in her eyes. He relaxed, realizing that an honest reply was unlikely to traumatize her, then retorted, "Buffy. . .you were sitting in my lap. . .you know damned well what the answer to that question is." Buffy flushed, though she also smiled softly, and Wesley continued, "That isn't the issue. . .the problem is that I believed that I was about to do something that you would find unforgivable. . .and that did terrify me, Buffy."

Buffy walked towards Wesley, who tensed momentarily before Buffy sat down in the chair across from him and sighed before responding, "Wesley. . .I'm an adult, and I certainly behaved in a way that was pretty much guaranteed to produce the reaction you had. I've been with three men in my life, and every time was because I wanted to be with him, later unpleasantness aside. I wouldn't have done what I did if I didn't want to sleep with you, Wesley. . .whatever my other faults, I'm not a tease."

"I never said that you were, Buffy," replied Wesley, speaking more confidently as the emotional tension of the moment faded a bit. "However, I do think that the stress of recent events may have caused you to react in a way that is completely out of character for you and that might cause you to do something that you'd regret later." He blinked, then looked at Buffy intently as he asked, "Buffy. . .answer me truthfully: before tonight, did even ever entertain even the most fleeting thought about me as a potential romantic prospect?"

Buffy hesitated, then squirmed in her seat for several seconds before giving Wesley a dirty look and muttering, "All right. .. I haven't. . .except for wondering what Cordelia saw in you and having to admit that you were rather easy on the eyes." Wesley smiled slightly at Buffy's grudging admission as she continued, "But so what? I can't suddenly realize something like that? I am the Slayer, Wesley. . .intuition is part of the package, you know."

Wesley frowned, then replied, "Intuition is a marvelous tool, Buffy, but it is not foolproof, particularly since it can be hard for you to objectively reason out where it has taken you." He paused, thinking of how best to word his suspicions, then continued, "Buffy. . .I suspect your sudden attraction to me is your way of acting out an attraction you have for someone else."

Buffy blinked, hard, and Wesley drew back ever so slightly as the anger he was so familiar with flared up in her eyes. She glared at him, then replied, "It always comes back to Giles, doesn't it? You wouldn't believe the gossip I had to put up with back at Sunnydale High. . .you spend time with an older man, and suddenly he's a pervert and I'm a slut. Well, listen up. . .I have never been attracted to Giles: he's a wonderful man, and I'd be really dead a dozen times over if he hadn't come through for me over the years, but I don't want to have sex with him. . .period. He's been more of a father to me than that bastard gallivanting around Europe ever was." She exhaled sharply, then reacted as Wesley seemed about to say something: "And if you even think about saying you think of me as a daughter, I'll-"

"Please, Buffy. . .it would be best for my peace of mind if you didn't finish that sentence." Wesley's voice sounded pained, and Buffy blinked and went silent as Wesley continued, "I was about to say that I'm sure Giles wouldn't be offended by your comments, and that while it would be presumptuous of me to say that I looked upon you as a daughter, it was my honor to work with you, both in the past and tonight, and that I would be further honored if you someday thought of me as just another one of your friends who helps you, as you do Willow and Xander." Buffy blinked, then smiled as Wesley continued, "However, it was not Giles I was speaking of."

Buffy frowned in puzzlement, then visibly began mulling over a list of names in her head. Wesley tensed as she flinched, then glared at him with more intensity than she had the moment before. Wesley squirmed as Buffy whispered in a dangerous tone: "Wesley. . .it would be best if you didn't utter the name that I think you're thinking of."

Wesley straightened in his seat and met Buffy's glare without flinching as he replied, "I'm sorry, Buffy. . .but I owe it to you to tell you what I'm thinking, and if you believe you need to respond in a punitive manner to my candor, so be it." He paused, then continued, "Buffy. . .there was a time less than two years ago when, if given the choice between trusting me and trusting Spike, you would have swallowed hard and chosen Spike. . .isn't that true?"

Buffy blinked, then looked away from Wesley as she whispered, "That's pretty harsh, Wesley."

Wesley felt a pang of guilt at Buffy's reaction, but he pressed on, "It's true though, isn't it Buffy?"

Buffy was silent for a moment, then looked up and commented, "Well. . .I wasn't worried that you might show up and kill me and my friends in our sleep. . .but other than that, yeah." She visibly regained her composure and snapped, "So what? That was then and this is now."

Wesley nodded, then elaborated, "So. . .I'm someone who you held in utmost contempt in times past, who you saw as a threat to your well being and to that of those you love. Thanks to later events, you feel differently now, and have decided I am now to be considered a friend and an ally. . .and, as of tonight, someone you have romantic interest in. . .Buffy, do I have to say it?"

A look of revulsion crossed Buffy's face, and she got to her feet and began pacing. Wesley waited in silence for a moment until Buffy turned back to him and snapped, "Excuse me. . .I don't know why I have to keep saying this. . .I'm not attracted to Spike! He's evil, he just KIDNAPPED me and chained me up not so long ago, and I don't know how many ways I have to say this. . .I don't want him!"

"I'm not saying you want to be with him, Buffy. . .at least as things stand. . .that just shows you have common sense." Wesley's tone was calm, and Buffy visibly relaxed as Wesley continued, "But I know you've read Shakespeare. . .does 'the lady doth protesteth too much' ring a bell?" He saw the anger flaring up in her eyes again and pressed on: "Buffy, you wouldn't be quite this upset if there was absolutely nothing there. . .if there was, your reaction would have been laughter or simple contempt. . .not this level of anger. Buffy. . .evil is seductive: that's one of the reasons it keeps popping up regardless of our best efforts to eliminate it. From all reports, Spike is physically very attractive and can be quite charming. . .it's only natural that on some level you would be attracted to him, even as you were appalled and disgusted by it."

Buffy shuddered, then asked, "All right. . .assuming that I buy this crap, what does that have to do with me trying to seduce you tonight?"

Wesley sighed, then responded, "Buffy. . .I suspect that in the back of your mind somewhere, I'm a safe alternative to Spike. I'm 'reformed' in your eyes, you trust me not to betray you, and you find me at least somewhat attractive in the abstract. . .which makes me a rather acceptable alternative to Spike with all of his baggage at a time when you're feeling alone and vulnerable, and in need of something to chase the bad feelings away."

Buffy blinked, then walked over and sat down again. Wesley waited for several seconds, then Buffy looked up at him and quietly asked, "Would that be so bad? We're both unattached, we're friends. . .would a night together, and maybe more nights in the future, be such a terrible thing for us? I've tried the committed relationship thing, and it hasn't really worked out for me. . .maybe I need a change."

Wesley looked at her, then shrugged slightly as he replied, "Maybe you do, Buffy. . .but not tonight, and not for these reasons." He frowned, then asked her, "Buffy. . .Spike has claimed that he can change-"

Buffy's tone was harsh and dismissive: "He can't. . .he won't."

"But what if he does, Buffy? This is Sunnydale. . .stranger things have happened." Wesley's tone was implacable, and Buffy was drawn involuntarily to listen as he continued, "Suppose he somehow manages to come through with that one grand gesture that convinces you once and for all that he has changed, at a time when you're feeling as vulnerable as you are tonight or even more so? Buffy, I don't want to be a precedent for future behavior that I know you'd regret. . .if I owe you any residual duty from my time as your Watcher, I owe you this."

Buffy frowned at him, then looked into his eyes and asked, "And if I feel the same about you when I wake up tomorrow, or next week, or next month. . .should I just write it off as repressed Spike-lust and forget about it?"

Wesley flushed slightly, but he gathered himself and replied, "In that case, I'd be willing to concede that I am-in the vernacular of your country-'full of it', and I would certainly be most interested in further discussions of this topic, preferably over dinner by soft candlelight and accompanied by champagne and flowers." He smiled softly at the glint in Buffy's eyes and concluded, "But we will have to wait and see about that. . .I frankly doubt that I could be so fortunate. In the meantime. . .friends?"

Buffy stood up, then walked over to Wesley and kissed him very softly on the lips before stepping back and replying, "Always." She turned and called out, "Good night, Wesley," closing the door behind her.

Wesley looked at the closed door for several minutes in silence before sighing. * The price of honor * He laughed self-deprecatingly and reached for the bottle of brandy that Buffy had left behind. . .it would take a little more help than usual for him to sleep soundly this night.

* * * * *

They were chatting quietly over tea in the living room when the knock came at the door. Buffy answered it, and Angel, Cordelia and Gunn greeted Buffy and walked in. Wesley had risen to meet his friends and co-workers, and Cordelia immediately noticed that Wesley looked far more relaxed and at ease than she could remember him being since he broke up with Virginia. She shot a look at Angel, who glanced over at Wesley and noticed that his friend did seem a bit more upbeat than before. Cordelia and Angel looked at each other, Cordelia's eyes shouting "See!", while Angel's looked confused.

Buffy picked up on the by-play immediately and asked, "What's with you two?"

Angel blinked, then looked uncomfortable as he began, "Well-"

"Did you and Wesley do it together?" Never one for tact, Cordelia's concern and curiosity produced a predictable result that caused Angel to blink and Gunn to shake his head and comment, "You do say what's on your mind, don't you?"

"It's her way." Buffy's reply was sardonic in tone, but the amused glint in her eyes softened the comment somewhat as she continued, "But she's way off. . .Wesley and I are just friends. . .good friends." She turned to her former Watcher and invited, "Isn't that right, Wesley?"

"Absolutely." Wesley was relieved, though subliminally disappointed, at the firmness of Buffy's response. He walked over next to Buffy and continued, "Buffy, thank you for your hospitality."

The Slayer walked over and grasped Wesley's hand as she leaned up and kissed him tenderly on the cheek, replying, "Thank you for keeping me company last night." She released his hand, and Cordelia noted the subtle flush that appeared on his cheeks as he nodded to the others and headed out the door. She looked suspiciously at Buffy as the others thanked Buffy and followed Wesley, and she shook her head as she turned to leave, knowing that something out of the ordinary had gone on in that house in the last day, but that she probably would never know what it was.

Buffy stood at the door and watched them drive off into the darkness. Her life was as uncertain as ever, but Wesley had given her a lot to think about. With that thought, she went inside and closed the door, thoughts of romance and duty temporarily sublimated to a waiting English paper.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired