by Avalon (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Wesley/Fred, PG, 1/1
Posted: December 12, 2001
Please archive wherever appropriate. Any feedback is much appreciated.
SUMMARY: Fred visits Wesley after he is wounded during a fight.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: This ficlet is all part of the care and feeding of my beta reader, Linda, who's turned into a raving Wesley/Fred fan. Just part of the service...
DISCLAIMER: In some alternate dimension, Wesley, Spike, and Angel are all mine. And Giles. Don't forget Giles. And yes, it is a good and pleasant place (Numfar, do the happy dance!)
In the real world, I own a potted plant. :)
"Damn and blast it to hell!"
Wesley Wyndham-Price twisted around, trying to ease his shirt off with his other arm, but it was no good. He just couldn't seem to stretch far enough. Damn.
This was becoming ridiculous. Undressing shouldn't be this difficult. All he really wanted was a hot shower and a good meal -- in that order -- but it wasn't going to happen, at least not until he got his blasted clothing off.
Of course he had just gone one on one with a Gramsh demon. Well, three on one. But he had taken the brunt of it. Especially when the demon had decided that the best weapon at hand to throw at Angel and Gunn...was Wesley.
The ex-Watcher reached up again, trying to ease the shirt that had once been white and crisply starched away from his right shoulder. From the way that shoulder was working -- or rather not working -- he'd probably torn something more than his jacket when he'd landed on his associates. And it hurt. A lot. For a moment Wesley stilled, his head hanging forward, letting the pain roll over him in waves... wishing it would all just go away.
A soft voice and a knock at the door recalled him to the present.
Fred. Recognition, a brief moment of happiness at the thought of her...and then the familiar sense of anguish curling around his heart. Fred running for her life, terrorized. By him. Afraid. Of him. God. Wesley closed his eyes briefly, the pain inside eclipsing the agony in his shoulder.
"Wesley?" It was more insistent this time.
"Yes?" he said at last, careful to keep his voice even and controlled.
"I...can I come in?"
For a moment Wesley debated saying no, considered sending her away, but he couldn't do it. Even though it would be better for her if he could manage it, he couldn't lock her out. Not out of his home, his life...or his heart. But he should. He really should...
"Come in," he said instead, awkwardly pulling the shirt closed across his bare chest.
The door opened and Fred's head appeared around it. She smiled, a small uncertain smile as if she weren't entirely sure of her reception. And part of Wesley's spirit lifted at the sight.
The rest of him wanted to run and hide.
Or burst into tears again.
'I'm sorry,' he said to her silently, yet again. 'I'm so sorry.'
"Are you all right, Wesley?"
She came the rest of the way into the room then tilted her head to one side. "No, you're not," she said matter-of-factly.
No, I'm not, something inside him agreed. But he didn't say it out loud. Instead he straightened his shoulders -- well, shoulder -- and said in his most polite voice:
"Is there something I can do for you, Fred?" Just leave, he thought silently, desperately. Please just go...
For a brief moment, Wesley thought she was responding to his unvoiced plea. And then he didn't have time to think at all, because she was crossing the room toward him. And it took every last bit of strength he had not to back away. From Fred. From one small female who had somehow tied him in knots and left his piece of mind in tatters.
"You're hurt," she was saying, "Let me help."
Wesley turned away. "Thank you. But I'll be fine."
"Don't be silly. I heard about what the Gramsh demon did -- and did you know that's a province in Albania? Maybe that's where the demon came from. Do they have demons in Albania, do you think? Well, I guess they must. I mean, it's not all that far from Transylvania, geophysically speaking...but maybe Bram Stoker got it wrong..."
"Uh...Fred...what are you doing?"
Fred stilled, her fingers frozen in the process of pulling Wesley's shirt down his arms, and she gave him an apologetic look. "I know. I'm talking too much again. I can hear myself doing it and I tell myself I've got to stop, but it just keeps happening anyway and I'm not really sure why. Something to do with living in a cave I guess..."
Wesley's hand moved up to cover hers, for once not shying away from the contact. "Fred. What are you doing?" he asked again, gently.
"Oh." Pleased realization flickered over her face. "Taking your shirt off."
"Um. Yes. Why?"
She frowned, as if puzzled by the question. "Because you can't do it yourself?" Then she bent her head to her task again, muttering quietly to herself. "Man with a torn rotator cuff can't be expected to take his own shirt off..."
Fine. Sighing inwardly, Wesley gave in. The sooner she helped him the sooner she would leave. And it wasn't like he could get the damned thing off by himself anyway.
It only took a moment this time. Fred gave him a long pensive look then laid the shirt on the back of a nearby chair.
Wesley turned away, embarrased. "Ah, thank you. I can manage the rest myself." He held still, waiting for her to leave.
She didn't move. He glanced back at her.
There was a look of unhappiness on her face. And...were those tears gathering in the corners of her eyes? Alarm shot through Wesley as he hastily turned back, one hand making an aborted motion toward her before he quickly pulled it back.
"Fred? What's wrong?"
She was blinking rapidly, staring at his chest. For a long moment she did not move then she took a step closer and reached out towards his abdomen. Wesley sucked in his breath, somehow managing not to move as Fred lightly traced the long jagged scar running across his stomach with the tip of one finger.
"What...what happened?" she was saying.
Her touch was feather-light, so soft he could barely feel it, but it was still enough to send his heart racing and a jolt of...something...desire? despair?...surging through his being. Desperately the ex-Watcher fought to regain control of his emotions, trying to...
"A building I was in exploded," he said briefly.
"Uh huh. And that one?" Her touch moved to his side and he flinched. She paused but did not remove her hand.
"I was shot."
Fred took another step sideways. "And those?"
Wesley touched his right arm reflexively, even as the memory stabbed through him. "Ah...tortured by a rogue Slayer," he managed to say, evenly enough.
She paused for a long moment, as if absorbing that information, then went on, continuing her circuit. There were more, he knew. The marks of battles fought and lost. Some were light and thin, so faded they were barely there. Others though... His heart clenched.
At last Fred finished her exploration and came to a halt again in front of him. Wesley looked away, not wanting to meet her eyes, not wanting to see the pity...or worse yet, the tears, in them. He could probably cope with her pity. Just. But tears... Fred's tears...
"I'm sorry," he said softly, staring over her head at the far wall. "I didn't mean to upset you..."
"You think I'm upset?" There was a puzzled note to her voice.
He did look down then, giving her a cautious glance. "Well..."
Fred was shaking her head fiercely. "I'm not upset. Those are Galaren."
"Galaren. Marks of honour and courage received on the battlefield. Only heroes have Galaren, Wesley," she said simply.
He shook his head. "I'm not a hero."
"You are." And with no warning at all Fred abruptly moved forward and wrapped both arms tightly around him. "Yes, you are."
Wesley blinked, his world coming to a crashing halt as she leaned her head against his bare chest. How could she trust him like this? After what he had done to her? How?
For an endless moment he stood, frozen, almost afraid to breathe, but when the woman in his arms gave no indication that she was going to let go in the immediate future, Wesley slowly -- ever so slowly -- allowed his arms to move hesitantly around her. Ignoring the dull throb in his aching shoulder the ex-Watcher bend his head slightly, just enough to allow his chin to rest on the top of her head... and then he sighed. A long drawn-out, shuddering sigh.
Wesley had no illusions about himself, not really. Not anymore. Despite what Fred might think, he wasn't honourable or courageous. He had done stupid things, made countless mistakes, ruined lives even. He had been arrogant, weak, and foolish. Not to mention homicidal. And yet...somehow Fred still managed to believe in him, still thought he was a good man, despite everything.
But maybe -- maybe that was enough. The thought gave him pause. If one person could have such enduring faith in him, despite everything, maybe he could find a little faith in himself. Just a little.
Unconsciously, Wesley's arms tightened around Fred, and for the first time in a very long while, the anguish inside him receded a tiny bit. But it was enough. For now, it was enough. And for a moment he allowed himself to believe.
Maybe he really could be the hero she saw in him. Someday. Somehow.
After all, he already had the Galaren to prove it.