Title: One, and One, and Two Together
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Summary: Epiphanies happen at the oddest times. 1800 words.
Spoilers: Angel/B:tVS, set during the S4/S7 finales, and after; AU.
Notes: 24 Days of Ficmas 2011, Day 10: for avamclean. Prompt was the summary, with Wes/Buffy.
"Flames wouldn't be eternal if they actually consumed anything," Lilah had said, a compassion in her gaze that Wesley had seldom seen while she was alive. "But it means something that you tried."
It means something that you tried: the statement still echoed in his thoughts hours later, as he waited for the others in the brightly lit façade of the Wolfram and Hart lobby. That you tried: the story of his life, almost succeeding. It means something: as Angel had once said, 'If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.' Affirmation. Apology. Even affection. And yet...
It was Lilah speaking; everything she did always had more than one motivation, wheels within wheels and layers beneath layers. Not always for the benefit of the firm- sometimes for her benefit alone- but undoubtedly present. Half the enjoyment of their relationship had come from their extended mind games, interlocking their wits as completely as their bodies. He'd met few women who could match him so thoroughly. And there, in the heart of Wolfram and Hart's influence, as she offered his team their futures on a silver platter...
What had Angel Investigations done since its founding, but try to oppose what her employers stood for? And yet there they stood, freshly minted destroyers of world peace, welcomed into its glossy embrace: Flames wouldn't be eternal, if.
He took one step back, staring into the efficient, soulless heart of the machinery of hell, and felt a shudder work its way up from his bones. What were they doing there? What were any of them doing there? He watched as Lorne walked into the room from another of the deep halls, singing; Fred smiled in relief as she crossed the room to greet their green-skinned friend; and Gunn stepped out of an elevator, wearing a cool mantle of power like a borrowed cloak.
He took another step back, revulsion knotting in the pit of his stomach as the three drifted together, seeking affirmation of one another's choices. Taking the transaction- signing their souls away- at face value. And perhaps it did seem like a lesser evil, like possibility, after the shadow of Jasmine.
And yet: it means something that you tried. Past tense. No new trying expected in future.
He turned away, putting one foot in front of the other, picking up speed as he walked. The others were too engrossed to notice; but that was just as well. They'd all been too caught up in their own concerns to notice his turmoil a year earlier; it seemed only fitting that he exit their lives under a similar cloud. He'd miss them. But he could not stay one moment longer, not with Lilah's warning endlessly repeating in his mind, scraping against his spirit like fingernails down a chalkboard.
He met eyes with only one person on his way out: Angel, battered and bloody as he walked into the building, a surety in his carriage that told Wesley he'd already made his decision as well. Angel looked strangely unsurprised to see him, offering a wry, bitter smile and an acknowledging nod before walking past him to rejoin the rest of the team. One last betrayal, for surely Angel must know better- or one last offer of trust, leaving Wesley on the outside to pull them out if someone must?
He rubbed his hands up his arms, beset by a sudden chill, and walked faster. In either case, his time in Los Angeles was over. L.A. was Angel's town, and Wolfram and Hart's; Wesley could defy either one individually, but unified? Better to fall back, and piece together a Plan B from some other location.
The question was- where would that be?
He returned to his apartment, stared idly around at his possessions, then packed a single bag, threw a leg over his motorcycle, and headed north. There was one person yet that Wesley owed some responsibility to, and he'd sent her to Sunnydale to face the Scooby Gang without additional support. It was apocalypse season there, at the moment. Perhaps another pair of hands would be welcome.
Of all the open seats on the bus after the last battle, Buffy picked the one next to the only person who'd made no claim on her. Maybe, once upon a time, she'd owed him an apology for her attitude; maybe, once upon a time, he'd owed her one too. There was a lot of water under that bridge, though, and he'd saved Anya's and Andrew's lives when that crowd of Ubervamps had escaped past the seal.
"So where to, now?" she asked him, wearily leaning her cheek against the leather of the seat back as she curled up facing him. "Back to Los Angeles?"
Wes stared back at her, eyes dark and shadowed with something heavier than just an afternoon spent fighting for survival. "I think not," he said, though he softened the clipped words with a slight, rueful curve of mouth. "There's no place for me there any longer; though I suppose that's been true for considerably longer than I'd like to admit."
The words resonated deep, in the part of Buffy's spirit that had been frozen ever since the rest of the Scoobies had kicked her out of her own home. His accent was different from Spike's- whose loss was still burning like the flames that had licked around her fingers, a bright, white pain she was saving for a cry-fest later- but there was something still almost painfully familiar about it, or maybe in the words themselves. Understanding, or something like it: that feeling of not being alone. It made her want to lean into his non-demanding presence for comfort and shut off her brain until everything was all better.
Not that she would. She barely knew him, after all, and he was more Faith's Watcher than he'd ever been hers. She kind of got the impression he'd shove her away, anyway. But the mental image still tugged at her just a little, off-setting the exhaustion and loss filling the bus with a little wistful possibility.
It was easy to forget, the way he looked now, that Wes wasn't all that much older than she was. Maybe a decade, at most. He'd gone all stubbly since parting ways with the Tweedy and Hidebound and ditched the suits in favor of jeans and leather jackets. The firm, lean muscle, the new scars, and the weight of experience visible in his blue gaze had definitely aged him; probably by at least as much as she had in the same three and a half years. Did Buffy look as brittle to him as she felt, looking at the evidence of someone else's burning the candle at both ends?
"You could always come with us," she said. "We're going to need a lot of new Watchers, and I'm sure you could teach most of them a thing or two. You did good back there."
"Yes, well," he replied, turning to glance out the window. "I'm sure there was an element of luck involved."
The words hit Buffy in the face like an unexpected blow; for a second, Anya's words echoed in her ears again, agreement on the faces of everyone around her. That doesn't make you better than us. It makes you luckier than us. She took a sharp breath, then shook her head when he turned back to her, brow knitting in question.
"You that's not true," she said, offering him a crooked smile. "But I'll take it as an ixnay on the Watcher idea. How about a vacation instead? You could go somewhere sunshine-y, with masseuses and those little drinks with umbrellas and, and, I don't know, huge musty libraries or something. No vampires or demons unless you literally trip over them. How long has it been since the last time you took a break?"
Wes looked thoughtful, but a little bit like he was humoring her, too, and still as bleak under the surface as she was. "I'm not sure. Years, certainly. Perhaps the summer after I last left the Council? I went on something of a roadtrip, I believe is the term."
"Yeah, a demon-hunting roadtrip," she scoffed at him gently. "Please."
"As if your record is any better," he scoffed in return. "And it's not as though I was particularly effective at it. I might as well have simply embarked on a scenic trip from the start."
There were a lot of things Buffy could say to that: you should have seen the Scoobies when they started helping out, or I'm pretty sure my summer in Heaven qualifies. But her goal wasn't to drag the mood down further, or let him run himself down any more. She wasn't even sure why she cared so much, but it was too late now not to.
"Then maybe you should try it again," she said, "without any demons at all. High gas prices, cheap hotels, tacky souvenirs from all the famous spots in America you've never heard of. What's not to like?"
Wes' expression shifted indecipherably at that. "How about a bargain," he said, after a long, thoughtful moment. "I'll take that vacation, if you'll take one as well."
She bit her lip at that, thinking. Just gotta live like a person, Faith had told her, as they stood at the crater's edge overlooking the wreckage of the Hellmouth. Could she? Could she really do that? There was so much to do now, so many new Slayers to track down, and a Council to rebuild. She'd get sucked in if she stayed; she knew she would. But she wasn't sure she had much left to give.
"Got room on your bike?" she asked, wryly. "It's not like it'll take me very long to pack."
His chuckle was raw, but real, as the miles swept away behind them.
They sent a pair of postcards from the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
Buffy kissed him for the first time in its shadow, for no better reason than that the day was bright, she felt more light-hearted than she had in years, and Wes' arms looked lickable in the cheesy guest shop tee shirt she'd bought him. His mouth was warm, and firm, and shot fire down her nerves when he broke away to press his lips against her pulse-point; then transmuted fire to laughter when he made an ironic comment about the significance of the location.
It wasn't world-shattering: no choir singing from above, no fissures opening at their feet. Probably not even lasting; she'd have to be more in denial than she was not to know they were both still healing.
But it was what it was; and for the first time in seven years, she thought she was ready to accept that.