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For the first time in his (second go round at) life, Wesley had missed the fine print somewhere. He remembered reading about heroes not getting to retire. He learned about that when he signed up for the Watcher's Council, and they weren't even technically the heroes, just the marginal backup for them. He was pretty sure that dying was practically a requirement of professional heroism, and yet there Wesley was, alive and camped out in post-Demon Night of Terror LA with a hundred some twenty-something women (girls) who called themselves an Army of Slayers.

Wesley could describe the feeling of steel sliding easily through his skin, past muscle and sinew into organs that most humans thought of as essential. He wasn't making that up. He certainly wasn't making up asking Illyria to lie to him, he hated being lied to, even when it was honesty that had caused so much of the pain in his life. Better an honest pain than one caused by deceit.

He thought his current state of being (alive, as it were) was due to Miss Would-You-Like-Me-To-Lie-To-You herself but when he asked, all she said was, "Your death was not pleasing to me."

It wasn't an answer, because he was the one who'd held the weapon that bled blue matter through her, weakening her to where it didn't matter what she wanted. Wesley wondered what (who) she still knew but then thought that perhaps her answer was answer enough. Honesty was good, but omission could sometimes be better.

Oddly, it was Spike who offered the most comforting words, likely completely by accident. Spike who smiled and asked, "Odd to be back, yeah?" but not in a way that suggested he was waiting for an answer. He knew.

Spike also said, "She was a right PMS-y thing without you," but Wesley ignored that part. It smacked of responsibility. With Faith no more than a possible 50 meters away on most days, Gunn still delirious, and Illyria watching him with eyes that he would call worried if he thought things were that simple, responsibility wasn't something he wanted to think about any more than strictly necessary.

Spike didn't seem to mind that Wesley was ignoring him for the most part. Wesley figured this was probably due to him being the lesser of the evils in Spike's mind. Angel got on Spike's nerves and Gunn wasn't due company for anyone and for some reason, Spike had evidently decided that his avoiding Buffy was best for everyone.

In a moment of weakness, even knowing every cautionary tale about curiosity (it was his Achilles Heel, Wesley knew, but everyone had to have one), Wesley asked, "Why don't you seek her out?"

Spike hadn't said word one about Buffy since Wesley woke up with a headache and a bit of déjà vu and not much else as the side effects of having been recently dead. He didn't even pause before answering, "There's only one fight I can't afford to lose, mate."

Buffy, despite her protests of mistrust and her casual romances, had come when Angel asked. Immediately. Via Willow express, even, if Wesley understood correctly. Angel was spending a lot of time with her when he wasn't waiting for Gunn to wake up. Wesley, who once watched Gunn walk away with Fred, nodded.

He could feel Illyria's eyes on him.

*

Cleaning up from whatever Wolfram & Hart decided to spew out was tedious. Pockets of demons who got the notion to run and hide until a better opportunity presented itself would pop up night after night and sometimes even during the broad daylight. Wesley was working overtime to provide accurate intel as to what all the creatures were and how to find their soft white underbelly, such as it was.

They were all tired, all intent on their own part to play, so Wesley was surprised that Spike even noticed, "You need sleep, mate."

Wesley didn't even glance up. "We all do."

"We weren't all dead," was Spike's opinion on that matter. It was actually quite valid, but Wesley didn't feel up to making him aware of that. He'd only preen.

Things went silent for so long that when Spike said, "If you stop, it won't catch up to you. She won't let it," Wesley had long thought him somewhere else.

"I'm surprised that you can't see how my continued indebtedness to her might be a thing of some worry on my personal front."

Spike snorted at that. "We're all indebted to each other at some level, even the ones we really don’t want to admit to. There are worse things to have fallen into that debt for. Even worse people. She's completely bloody loony, but the bird's got soul, I tell you. You should've seen her fight."

Wesley could imagine. Even in the cavernous expanse between life and death, images of her were there, interspersed with Fred. He knew the difference, but he had begun to question its importance. He suspected she had as well.

"'Sides which, I've always felt that the crazy ones keep things interesting."

Spike had been in love with Drusilla and Buffy. This point of view was not extraordinarily unexpected, now that he'd voiced it.

Wesley swallowed. "I must keep you quite well-entertained."

Spike said, "I'm not much known for staying in places that don't provide me with a good reason to."

It wasn't a direct response at all, and Wesley was struck by the sense that there was something that Spike wasn't saying, not at all a usual pattern for a man (vampire) who generally acted before breathing, let alone thinking. Spike said things constantly that, given two seconds thought, would probably never have left his mouth. Either Spike had learned caution in the weeks since Wesley's "awakening," or there were some secrets that even Spike knew better than to scatter to the wind.

The matter sparked Wesley's interest and he wanted to pursue it but there were demons to study and report back about and, "The sooner you leave me to this, the more chance there'll be of time to sleep."

Spike asked, "In that case, anything new and fresh I can go off and kill?"

*

Wesley woke up with the definitive sensation of being watched. "Illyria?"

"The Blond One put something in your drink. I was making sure I would not have to kill him for it."

Wesley recognized the faint aftertaste of pharmaceuticals. The ache of exhaustion had left his frame so he asked, "How long was I asleep?"

"Forty-six hours."

Telling time was a relatively new talent of Illyria's. For quite a while the system that humans had formed to understand linear progress was beyond her grasp conceptually, if not intellectually. Having figured it out, she had made a point of her knowledge for days on end. Wesley said, "Is everyone still alive?"

"One of the children is no longer on this plane."

Illyria called all the Slayers, minus Buffy and Faith, children. Wesley shut his eyes for a moment. He didn’t like to think of them that way. It meant that somewhere they had a mother or a father or maybe just a guardian. Someone who laid claim to them and would mourn their passing. To distract himself, he asked, "Gunn?"

"Still asleep. They say he has awakened from the coma."

Which was only slightly less than they'd been able to say of Wesley for the last couple of days, so he nodded. "Well. Good."

"I did not like your being unconscious for so long. What did the Blond One give you?"

"Something to make me sleep. Why did you not just ask him yourself?"

Illyria jerked her head to where he couldn't see. "It seemed likely he would perceive it as a weakness."

If Illyria really was the one to bring him back, or at least do everything in her power to accomplish that aim, Wesley sensed all her cards were currently on the table in that regard, but he went easy on her. After all, he owed her his life. "Possible. Or possible he would have answered you and gone about his business. Spike isn't much concerned with other people." Disregarding Buffy and Angel and Dawn, but those were whole other stories that Illyria, of all people, certainly did not need to hear. "I should get back."

"The Witch has been handling the work of both of you."

Wesley wondered if he could get Spike to slip her something later as a twisted thank you. Then again, Willow let Wesley close enough to touch on a regular basis, he could probably manage a little bit of skin-permeable drugging, if they had anything on hand. He made a mental note to check the situation out. "They most likely need you as well."

Illyria's eyes returned to his, haughty. "It was significant that I keep watch."

Wesley nodded. "The sentiment is appreciated."

There was a hint of suspicion under the plated arrogance before she turned and left, ready to go fight the good fight or any other that was offered her, really. Wesley picked up and headed toward his own corner of the fracas.

*

Spike disappeared after a fight. He wasn't dead. One of the girls…Chrissy? Kirstin? Cassandra? Wesley could remember the names of all sorts of demons with nearly identical features, but give him three blondes permanently attached to stakes and he was lost. Anyway, one of them reported seeing Spike walk away after the fact and he even went so far as to call in, but as for showing up again, nothing.

Wesley figured it wasn't his problem and that all told, Spike was a big boy. Which didn’t explain why he couldn't settle his urge to get up and look despite the completely engrossing text on Sugari demons he had in front of him.

Dawn and he had managed to get Willow down for some rest, so it was just the two of them, and that didn’t really give Wesley the time to go gallivanting off. He was still mentally repeating this when Dawn asked, "How long do you guys usually wait when he goes off like this?"

Wesley looked up but she was still reading. "Like this?"

That got her attention. "Like when he wants to be found by somebody."

"I don’t understand."

Dawn spread her fingers against the table. It was plastic and had been through its fair share, so her fingers scrabbled over the rough surface. "Buffy was always going after him. Granted, mostly I think she just needed to get away and he was already gone, so it was a timing thing, but…he wanted to be found. By her."

"She's not going to follow this time." Wesley was surprised to find that he felt no malicious victory in that. He wondered when Spike became something compatible to a friend.

Dawn returned to her reading. "Fortunate, as I don't think he's waiting for her."

Wesley started a sentence for the third time. "Angel's not going either."

Dawn muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, "Willow said you were smart."

"What am I missing, O Esteemed One?" Wesley pulled out his driest tone, the one he only recently remembered using on Angel regularly when he was being used as an adjunct to the team, rather than a part of it.

"Think it over," Dawn spat back. He'd seen her play it cool, but generally only around people whose opinion she actually cared about. She'd never really gotten past her first impression of him (or the one planted in her brain) and even now it was taking some work for her to accept that he might be of use.

This fact made it hard for Wesley to envision Dawn trying to help him out, but that was the only easy option here and when given a choice Wesley had always embraced the principle of Occam's Razor. Wesley swallowed. "Have any idea where he might have gone?"

"Somewhere you'd be able to find him," Dawn said.

Wesley pushed the book across the table. "I think I might've found something."

She turned it around so she could read it. "Good, because I haven't. Get."

He got.

*

Wesley ended up at the hotel, because it was the last place he could think of that Spike might expect to be found. He wasn’t entirely sure how Spike would have known where the Hyperion was, but he’d searched everywhere else, and Wesley wasn’t one to give up before checking the slightly (to wildly) ridiculous.

Spike was leaning against a pillar, looking a bit battered and rather unaffected by it. The only thing that seemed to be a real problem was his impatience. “Took you long enough.”

“You forgot to mention you’d be waiting.”

Spike said, “Sometimes it’s too much, to go back.”

“Sometimes it’s too much to leave,” Wesley said for his own part.

“I suppose from a human point of view that’s probably true.”

“You’re privy to the only thing separating our two species.”

“Probably at the beginning. Then a hundred years pass, two hundred, more, and it’s no longer true. Immortality is its own stamp of a lack of humanity, just a different type than the loss of a soul.”

The Watchers had files on William the Bloody. In it, there were poems from his pre-vampire days. Wesley said, “The years have been kind to your verbal gift.”

Spike raised an eyebrow. “Sod off.”

“I’ve been searching for hours, I’m only leaving with you.”

Spike frowned. “I took a cell. Playing by the rules for once.”

“And I was supposed to just divine that?”

Spike shrugged. “Put that way…”

“You sound like a blithering moron?” It felt nice to insult someone, even if it was someone who would allow it to slide like rain off a tarp.

“Says the man who spent his afternoon treasure hunting for the blithering moron.”

Or, Wesley reconsidered, fling it right back at him. “We’ve both got our cells. It’s not out of the question for us to…not return immediately.”

“Watch it, Pryce, you’re showing kindness to the person least deserving of it.”

“Probably a better idea than my previous behaviors.”

Spike didn’t say anything. “They won’t think of us being accessible any more than you did.”

Wesley inclined his head.

“We can go back.”

Wesley didn’t miss Spike’s use of the plural pronoun. He didn’t call attention to it either. “Sure.”

*

Wesley descended into a pit of D’reoli demons far behind Illyria. She hadn’t been real thrilled at the idea of his accompanying her. Angel had downright denied him permission.

Wesley had left while Angel was looking the other way. He needed to see the action resultant of his research again, even if he wasn't ready to take any part of it. There were some things that were best kept fresh in one's memories.

The assignment, as Wesley had suspected when he'd chosen to come along, presented nearly no challenge for her. Soon she was standing with bodies -- burnt and twisted and smoldering -- surrounding her. Wesley said, “Efficient,” with a certain displaced longing that caused Illyria to turn her head toward him and reply, “You have a dangerous amount of excess energy.”

Coming from a woman who considered recreational demon killing sprees to be a pre-breakfast exercise, this comment caused Wesley to rethink a lot of things. “I’ve perhaps been spending too much time in front of texts.” This had never been a problem before that Wesley could remember, but then, Wesley’d never been in new skin that he used to think of as old before. He’d never looked at Spike and thought, I wonder how much we actually know of each other. He’d never imagined looking at Illyria and not for a brief second seeing Fred first. He still saw her, of course, but it was more of an underlying knowledge that the body next to him hadn’t always housed the same soul it did now.

Wesley knew that nothing he wanted to stay the same would, but it had not previously occurred to him that the things he wanted to change just might as well. Here he was though, and nothing, good or bad, was the same.

Wesley picked his way through the bodies, out of the D’reoli’s hideout. Illyria followed, evidently respecting his need to think through the current situation. As they were making their way back to the camp, she asked, “Have you engaged in intercourse with the Blond One?”

For a moment, Wesley was caught short, but Illyria was who she was, blunt and somewhere in between completely unaware and overly aware. He laughed. “No, is it your opinion that we should?”

“He clearly desires it.”

Wesley wasn’t so sure that was at all clear. Illyria could read things in a rather askew manner. “And me?”

“You require the touch of other beings more than you like to admit.”

Wesley pursed his lips. “Touch is not disconnected with other things, not when you know the other…person involved.”

“Are you looking for some other type?”

Wesley considered. Nothing came to mind as automatically attractive. Then again, neither did sleeping with Spike. Well, not necessarily. That one required a bit more thought. “Probably not.”

Illyria said softly, “If you decide against either, I present a third option, of course.”

Neither wanting nor needing to hurt her, he said, “Of course.”

Separation or no, there were some things his mind, old and new, would never accept.

*

Gunn woke up, which shifted the center of everyone’s focus for a bit and Wesley was almost surprised to find Spike waiting outside the temporary research center that Willow and Dawn had thrown together in their first days there. Spike said, “Whatever Blue’s been feeding you, it probably isn’t true.”

Wesley appreciated the way Spike had learned to leave himself outs. “It doesn’t necessarily change anything, so you can quit being concerned about my reaction.”

Spike nodded. “Thanks for that, mate.”

“I’m curious-“ Wesley was pretty sure there wasn’t anything he could really say to explain what he was wondering.

Spike tried answering anyway. “We have just enough in common.”

Wesley had indulged in relationships (let alone casual sex) for less, so he took that at face value. He put his hand in Spike’s waistband, but didn’t pull. “I won’t be dishonest about this. Not with you or with them.”

Spike didn’t move. “Haven’t got any reason to argue. Don’t think they’ll kick up much fuss anyway. She might, but she’s not much room to say anything, so.”

“If it gets to be about her, it’s over,” Wesley warned.

“Some things will always be about her.” Spike moved slightly closer, but he wasn’t giving in, just communicating physically. It was awkward, it made Wesley remember that Spike was only used to doing this with his fists. Wesley didn’t flinch.

“Not always.” Wesley hadn’t lived for centuries, but he knew that. The expanse of too cold skin underneath his knuckles wasn’t about Fred. Maybe everything else was, but this wasn’t. And if this wasn’t, there would be other things that weren’t eventually. The truth of this was as logical as one of her equations, one where she hadn’t figured out the final answer, and Wesley held to it with fingers as steady as the ones holding Spike where he was. Spike wasn’t running.

“Maybe not for you. Even Buffy was sometimes about Dru for me. Just the way I am. I loved without a soul. That should tell you something.”

Wesley had carefully never considered the paradox that was presented in those case files regarding Spike and Drusilla. There were some things that, given the chance, it was just easiest to ignore. “Was it different?”

“Dru and Buffy were different. They wanted…well, they wanted something beside me, but what they wanted of me, the thing they could have, it was completely disparate.”

“They wanted something else, Spike, nothing you did was ever going to change that. There was no difference, just an alternate façade.” Wesley felt oddly cruel at pointing that out. It wasn’t something he enjoyed.

Spike smiled wryly. “And would you not take what you could get if it was something you needed to survive?”

Wesley ducked his head. “Yes, well, been there, done that.”

“Then forgive me a little and bugger me senseless, would you?”

Wesley laughed. “You seem to think I’m interested in doing all the work.”

“I imagine I could pitch in a bit.”

From Spike, Wesley figured that was as good as he was going to get. Illyria was right about one thing. He needed to be touched.

*

Spike wasn't there when Wesley woke up, a fact that Wesley was sickeningly grateful for. His need for contact could only take so much satisfaction. Wesley pulled himself from bed, washed up, and headed to the research tent.

Willow was already up and buried behind several texts weighing more than her overall body mass. Wesley greeted her with a small smile. "I miss anything?"

"Gossip-wise or important-wise?"

Wesley shrugged and settled at the table across from her. He was feeling indulgent and she had the look of someone who needed to talk.

She tilted her head. "Spike must be one hell of a good lay."

Wesley, who heard of Willow's rather spectacular trip to the Dark and back but was not around for it, is still sometimes surprised when the shy bookworm that he remembers opens her mouth and sounds more like…someone who’s lived a bit too much. It would be too much work to deny what she already knows. She didn't come to this information first hand and Wesley would have to shut things down from the top up. Some part of him wished he cared that much. "Oh?"

"He's sort of become the go-to guy for all severely stressed out Rogue Demon Hunters. Or not so Rogue. The Slayer type. But she was kind of Rogue, wasn't she? What with the Watchers and all, so yeah, Rogue."

"I like to think I'm a pretty good lay myself."

Willow grinned. "He did look pretty satisfied this morning."

Wesley stopped himself at the last minute before asking for details. Instead he asked, "That the only thing on the gossip mill this morning?"

"Other than the ongoing Buffy-Angel drama, yes. Personally, I'm keeping an eye on the Illyria-Xander situation, but that may be oddly wishful thinking on my part."

Wesley didn't bother hiding his surprise. "Illyria and Xander?"

"You think she just left you alone with nobody else to go and poke at?"

Now that she mentioned it, it did seem a bit unlikely. Illyria wasn't comfortable enough with this world to navigate it by herself. With Gunn down for a time and Wesley needing some space so far as she would be able to discern, it wasn't surprising that she had gone and found someone else to help her along.

"Xander's good with ex-demon-like-thingies."

Wesley rubbed at the back of his neck. "She isn't a thingie."

Willow's, "You knew what I meant," didn't contain a hint of apology. "Anyway, she'll be safe with him, and he likes being needed, especially now, the eye's given him a bit of a complex, so, like I said, oddly wishful thinking."

Wesley was still processing all of this when Dawn came and sat down beside him. "So, news?"

Willow filled them in on the important stuff.

*

Wesley had been hesitant at first, wary of providing too much temptation, but Spike was brilliant at head and positively obsessed with it and after awhile it became his way of saying, "Hi honey, how was your day?" to Wesley.

Wesley always responded with a long, slow fuck, because Wesley preferred things slow when he had the choice. He wasn't getting much satisfaction in that area anywhere else. It was his way of answering, "Not terrible, yours?"

If things were terrible, if someone had died, or Illyria had discovered some new philosophical quibble that Xander just wasn't up to handling, or Spike had caught Angel and Buffy making the beast with two backs while trying to find a cup of coffee, well, then the routine changed a bit.

Then Wesley would allow Spike to pin his arms over his head and bite at his lips as they kissed and drink for just a bit, just until Wesley was dizzy and flirting with something he no longer found attractive. Then he would push Spike away, stumble to the bed and wait until Spike had followed to fall asleep.

Wesley knew that when they did that they were breaking the rules. If they slept together after having fucked, that was one thing, but drinking wasn't fucking, despite the similarities. The drinking itself broke some rule that Wesley couldn't articulate the way he could the sleeping together one. Sleep was intimate, far more intimate than sex.

Neither of them pointed this out, even though Wesley could feel Spike's awareness of it in the tensing of his hands around Wesley's wrists, the brief second of hesitation that always occurred right before his teeth sank delicately into the soft inside of Wesley's mouth. If they didn't talk about it, they didn't have to face what they were doing. If they didn't face it, they didn't have to stop.

Illyria had been the only one to call Wesley on it, even though Angel had to know. Angel would smell Wesley's blood in Spike. Illyria said, "It took considerable lengths for me to restore your blood flow. This is your method of repayment?"

Wesley thought about apologizing. "Have you ever tried it?"

"Having myself drained?"

"Not drained." Wesley felt around for the right word. "Tasted."

"No more or less than I have thought about other experiences humans seem to find pleasurable."

Wesley wondered if he should tell her the two didn't always go hand in hand. "It's not about death, Illyria."

"It does not seem to be about life, either."

"The concepts you're speaking of aren't one dimensional. There's space for things between."

"You're relating emotion to the tangible." Illyria's eyes flickered with disdain.

Wesley smiled. It was small, but uncontrollable. "My human mind needs the metaphorical to wrap itself around certain concepts."

If Illyria had been one to grunt, that was how Wesley would have described her response.

*

Wesley stayed on top of Spike, in Spike, while he asked, "What did Buffy say?"

He'd noticed the two of them speaking earlier that afternoon, and they didn't seem to be yelling at each other, which was what had differentiated the situation from previous times.

Spike bucked up slightly but then ceased struggling. "Not really your business."

"I'm still asking."

"She said I was good for you." Spike spat it out, like bile or curdled blood, as though it were meant to hurt Wesley.

"You are good for me."

"Fuck off, Pryce."

Wesley ran his hands over the length of Spike's arms. "You give me something to go home to. Someone."

"I'm not bloody June Cleaver."

Wesley laughed at the sudden image of Spike in an apron and not much else. "And I'm no man of the house."

Spike shrugged Wesley off in a sort of physical request that Wesley was willing to respond to. "That your dad speaking?"

"I'm not really thrilled by the idea of talking about him given the circumstances." Wesley gestured to their mutual nudity.

"We could be wearing three piece suits and you wouldn't be thrilled. And I'll take that as a yes."

"Well, honestly, do you like talking about your mum?"

"No, but that's because I was the bloody idiot who turned her and then still expected her to be mum dearest. Our situations are somewhat different."

"Parentally induced psychoses are largely without rhyme or reason."

"Mm." Spike pulled a sheet over them.

"Cold?" Wesley asked, a bit perplexed. Spike was rarely ever cold.

"No, but you looked to be a bit."

Wesley didn't say anything, just pulled the sheet more firmly over himself.

"It felt like she was mocking me. I don't remember being good enough for anyone in her estimation."

"Maybe she just didn't know you could be. Perhaps not being good for her equated into something larger in her head." Wesley wasn't going to be the first to point it out, but Buffy could be considerably self-centered when she wanted to be. "Maybe she never knew anything about you."

"I think it may be more that she never knew the important things," Spike said, sounding like defeat personified.

Wesley wasn't sure he knew those things either, so he rolled over onto Spike. "Did she think I was good for you?"

"She didn't- I'm not sure that's something she thought about."

"She should've."

Spike closed his eyes. "You are."

*

"Do you ever miss Cordy?"

Xander looked at Wesley. "Not your usual conversation opener, but I'll grant you ten for style."

Wesley acknowledged the point with a tilt of his head. "I miss her."

"I don’t think I ever knew the Cordy you miss. If you're asking if I miss the first girl I ever fell in love with, then yes. I've missed her for a long time."

"She had an ability to put things in perspective that I've yet to find in anyone else. Surprising, given her formative sense of the world, but… There was so much waiting in her."

"Isn't there always, in the ones we lose?" Xander's eyes were dark, the lines around his mouth tighter than the moment previous.

"I was sorry to hear about your- About Anya."

"I'm not using Illyria as a replacement, if that's your concern."

Wesley thought he was the last person to talk about using Illyria as a replacement for anything. "No, not really."

"She's a bit," Xander gestured ineffectually with his hands, "lost. I feel that."

"Misery loves company?"

"That's a falsehood, you know. Misery only loves a certain type of company, the kind that wants to listen and enable said misery."

Wesley raised an eyebrow. "I hardly think of her as an enabler." Or a listener, but she listened when he was least expecting it, so he could understand where Xander was coming from so far as that went.

"She's willing to explore misery. It puts it in a different light than we're used to seeing it in. It's a good change. For me. So maybe I am using her."

There was only so far Wesley was willing to go to protect her. "You'd know if she wasn't getting what she needed out of the situation."

Xander grinned and intoned Illyria's semi-flat, semi-intrigued lilt, "Your petty mortal issues are beneath me."

Wesley chuckled. "Cordy was nicer about putting things in perspective."

Xander snorted. "Maybe when you knew her."

Wesley saw blue in the corner of his eye, but the familiar urge to run wasn't strong enough to pull him away.

*

"Patrol with me," Spike said.

It'd been a while since Wesley had taken part in that half of the research/kill dichotomy, currently running pretty much everyone in the camp's life. It'd been since he'd felt a demon's blade reach inside of him and slither along, splitting organs and rending tissue. "No, not tonight."

"Tonight," Spike said.

"Spike, there are at least twenty restless girls if not more waiting desperately for a partner and an assignment, go bother someone else."

"I don't want a restless girl, mate." Spike planted himself in front of Wesley. "Look, if you don’t want to fight once we get there, fine, I'll cover. This moping in your books isn't fixing anything, though."

"That moping has saved several lives," Wesley said, lowering the temperature in his eyes and his voice just enough to let Spike know he meant business.

Spike only shrugged. "I meant it wasn't fixing you any. We all know you're good at what you do."

"This is not really your place."

Something flickered in Spike's eyes. "Isn't it?"

Wesley had to tamp down on the urge to push at him and run away, the urge to say things that were unforgivable, the urge to find some way -- any way -- to end this. "When I'm ready, I will go."

"You'll never be ready. I know. Humans do this. They sink into their fear like a bloody blanket and let themselves curl up, all comfy."

"I suppose being immortal has its advantages, a certain freedom from fear not being the least among them."

"If you think you can find an insult for me that I haven't already used on myself you're less clever than I had come to believe. But truly, insult away, just get yourself a weapon and follow."

Wesley stepped back slightly. "Spike."

"It's not that big a deal. Honestly, it isn't. Just go grab something. Crossbow, sword, bloody magnum if that's what'll make you feel safe."

Wesley locked eyes with Spike, but Spike was a vampire, and didn't need to blink. Wesley made his way to the weapons chest, grabbed as many as he felt he could reasonably carry and access, fitted them to the most convenient spots on his person and turned. "All right."

Spike nodded and turned to leave. Wesley caught up to match his step. "Stay by me."

Spike's fingers, swaying as he walked, brushed Wesley's.

*

Mostly, Wesley'd hung back, waited for most of the action to take place before he charged and pitched in a bit with what could only be thought of as the clean up. Spike caught his eye at one point and grinned before finishing off something larger and hairier than himself.

When they were done, when Wesley had picked up his feet and stepped over body after once-evil body, Spike dragged them back to the camp, pushed off Wesley's weapons and clothes and said, "Let me, let me."

Wesley hadn't known what he was agreeing to and hadn't cared. Spike was fervent and Wesley needed something, who was he to say that what Spike planned might not be it?

Spike took him with long, smooth strokes, more hurried than Wesley would have preferred, but there was always later. Spike plunged against Wesley's prostate and sunk his teeth into the back of Wesley's neck all at once, and Wesley wondered if the light that flashed behind his eyes was any of the deities he had so long forsaken.

When it was over, Spike tugged Wesley away from the mess on the floor, into the bed, mercifully close. Spike laid on top of him, oddly warm. Wesley thought the warmth should be familiar, it was his warmth technically, after all. Familiar or no, it was comforting, as comforting as Spike's voice in his ear, "You still know how to take care of those wankers."

Wesley still knew everything he had always known, (and some things that he'd been exempt from knowing for a short while,) he just wasn't feeling so brash in his use of that knowledge. Through the haze of blood-loss and forced warmth, certain information formed itself into useful patterns. "You wanted…remind yourself how I fought." Because otherwise, the body under Spike might have been as male as a Greek sculpture, but there was room for mistake as to whom he was thrusting into.

"You needed to fight," Spike said, but he didn't deny the accusation either.

"Not about her," Wesley reminded him.

"Working to make it that way, mate. What are you doing, other than avoiding the smurfette?"

Wesley frowned. "Not avoiding."

"Then what?"

Wesley didn't know how to explain that things would mutate given enough time and enough space. He thought Spike should know that. He thought Spike probably did, it just worked in different terms for someone who lived with the possibility of forever. "Letting things change."

"Change?"

"Letting her…find what she needs."

"And you?"

Wesley considered the question. "Getting used to this."

Spike shifted ever so slightly. "Why?"

Wesley fought the Sleep Demon tugging at him fiercely. "Because it's comfortable. Real. Nice."

Spike choked. Wesley gave into the pull.

*

Spike was there when Wesley woke up which broke yet another rule. Perhaps it was the last one to be broken, or perhaps just one in a series, but it was enough to make Wesley think before saying, "Good morning." He still said it.

Spike seemed equally cautious about his, "Same."

Wesley's, "Breakfast?" came easier.

Spike stood. Wesley said, "Is that a no?"

"I'm going to see if I can get the Bit to make us pancakes. When she doesn't burn them, they're really good. I think I'd better go on my own, though."

Wesley couldn't argue with that. He suspected that Spike mostly wanted Dawn to feel in the loop, so that she would still cut his pancakes into tiny shapes every time she made them. The shapes were always amusing in and of themselves, but Wesley got the sense it was the care taken that made them so significant to Spike. Not that Wesley could find fault in that. "I'll find you in a few."

"Give me at least twenty."

"Sure."

Spike pulled a set of clothes that Wesley hadn't known he was keeping there from a pile of Wesley's shirts and pants. He pulled them on, stepped into and laced his boots, and left. Wesley, for his part, grabbed the nearest pair of pants, slipped into them, and went to go find some cold water and soap.

He returned successful and clean. He put on a fresh pair of pants and a shirt and wandered out to find out if Spike's efforts had gone as well. As he approached the area of the camp that everyone pretty much considered Dawn's corner, he smelled breakfast baking and hoped for the best.

Spike saw him coming and motioned for him to get closer. Wesley came and sat down next to Spike, who was watching the process of batter being firmed up into eatable goods intently. Across from them, Dawn said, "'Morning, Wesley. Heard the errand went well last night."

Wesley said, "Pretty easy, really. We were right about that."

Dawn scooped three pancakes off the griddle and onto a plate, which she handed to Wesley. They weren't cut into shapes, but they were served hot and first. Wesley could read in between lines as well as he could interpret demon languages. He said, "Thanks. Smells fantastic."

She returned to minding the ones that were still keeping. "Huh. Hope they taste as good."

They were light, with a soft buttermilk tang that Wesley quite liked. She had put just enough brown sugar in to make the syrup thoroughly optional. A good thing, seeing as how they didn’t have any immediately available.

She slipped the spatula under Spike's pancakes and rescued them from the fire. Once on the plate, she worked at them for a bit before handing them over. Spike laughed when he saw them. "Yenta."

Dawn shrugged and started to eat the pancakes she'd made for herself. Spike took a bite out of one of his hearts.

*


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile