So Many Little Things


Summary: After she gets kicked out of school and her parents get divorced, Buffy and her mom try to start again in New York City. When her new Watcher, Wesley, shows up, Buffy's chance at a normal life is gone, but an unlikely comradeship is forged. (Wishverse)
Rating: R
Story Notes: Without the luminous little_bit, this story would have moved into my "Permanently Stalled" folder after 4,500 words. And then again at 10,000 words. And several other places along the way. Bit encouraged, held my hand, nudged the plot into place, and was a great beta and a wonderful friend, as always. My love and gratitude to her. The poem quoted in chapter 5 is Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening," and the interpretation Wesley gave Buffy is only one of many possible readings. The full text of the poem can be found here:
Disclaimer: The characters used within are the property of Mutant Enemy, Twentieth Century Fox, and of course Joss Whedon. It's their sandbox, I'm just playing in it.

Chapter One: A New Life

March 1997 — New York City, New York

Ice glazed the narrow stone stairs leading up to Buffy's apartment building. Despite the dangerous sidewalk conditions and snow fluttering to the ground, she had a definite spring in her step as she headed down the stairs towards the street. She was a normal girl going to the mall on a Saturday morning. Same thing she'd done every weekend, before....

"It can be a new start for us, Buffy. For you and me. A new town, a new school, a new job." Her mother had so far made good on the promise she'd given her before they moved from L.A. to New York City. It was like that Hemery High hadn't even happened. They'd only been in the city a week, and adjusting to life without her father wasn't exactly a breeze. But she was a normal girl again, and that was all that mattered.

"Elizabeth Summers?"

She didn't have to turn around to know who the clipped voice belonged to. Well, not who it personally belonged to. But she couldn't think of any other British guy who would be waiting for her outside her apartment. Against her better judgement, she turned around.

"Buffy. Just Buffy."

"Oh, I see. My apologies, it's just that Buffy is usually an abbreviation or derivative of—"

"Well, not this time," she cut him off. "Listen, I know why you're here, and I'm sorry you had to travel all the way from merry old England for nothing, but I'm not interested."

"Not int...I don't understand." He thrust his chin out slightly. "You have a sacred duty," he said gravely.

"Listen, uh...I never caught your name."

She could swear he puffed his chest out slightly as he said, "Wesley Wyndam-Pryce."

"Wesley." Buffy nodded. "Got it. Like I was saying, I'm sorry if you were expecting me to drop to my knees and go, 'Oh, honorable master, you have come at last to guide me!' But it's not gonna happen. I'm through with the Slaying."

Wesley frowned. "Miss Summers, I realize there has been a great deal of...change, in your life recently, but you've been out of training for nearly a month, I don't feel we should waste any more...where are you going?"

Pulling her coat tighter against the wind, Buffy glanced over her shoulder. "I'm Bloomie's-bound. There's a sale on makeup. Come if you want, don't if you don't."

Wesley sighed and traipsed after his Slayer.

"What do you think of this shade?" Buffy studied her lips in the small mirror held up by a bored salesgirl.

"I believe it looks identical to the previous three, and you have yet to answer my question," Wesley said, drumming his fingers against the cool glass countertop.

"Yeah, I was hoping you'd forget you asked."

"Miss Summers, please, when will you be willing to re-commence training?"

"Here's the thing." She handed the lipstick back to the clerk and turned to Wesley. "I decided I'm through with Slaying. Nothing personal, you seem nice and all. Wound way too tight...but nice. But I did my part. I got rid of Lothos and a bunch of other nasties in LA. Without so much as a thank you from the Watchers, by the way." She started to walk along the length of the counter, admiring the other cosmetics in display cases. "My friends all stopped talking to me, but I kept going. I lost Merrick, but I kept going. I lost my boyfriend, the only guy I've actually cared about, because of this vamp stuff. But I kept going. Then I got kicked out of school and my parents decided I was crazy. Now I'm back in school, my mom has finally stopped wringing her hands every two seconds, and I can go back to being normal. I'm not gonna give up my life again."

"I'm sorry, but quitting isn't possible," Wesley said, nervously popping another licorice candy into his mouth.

Buffy picked up a silk scarf off the counter and ran it over her hands. "No offense, but it's not like you guys can force me to slay."

Wesley sighed. "I was hoping to avoid this, but Miss Summers — Buffy — if you refuse to acknowledge your duties...the Council will activate a new Slayer." His voice had dropped to a mumble by the last sentence as he intently studied the tiled floor.

"But I thought the only way for a new Slayer to be called is...oh." She dropped the scarf back onto the counter.

"I'm sorry." He awkwardly patted her on the shoulder. "If there was any other way...."

She steeled her shoulders and faced him. "I'll run."

"Others have."


"And...the Council has vast resources at their disposal."

"Oh." Buffy leaned against the counter and let her head loll back, fluorescent lights burning her eyes as she stared straight up. Then she sighed and shook her head. "I'm strong, right?"

"I'm not sure I follow. Do you mean emotionally, physically...."

"Physically. I'm strong."

Wesley nodded slowly. "Yes, I'd imagine you are. Though I must admit, you happen to be the first Slayer I've met."

"Right." She turned around to face him, resting her hands on the back of a makeup counter chair. "Well, if it comes down to them or me, I know which I'm choosing. So maybe you should remind your bosses how strong I am before they come looking for me."

Wesley was speechless as Buffy turned around and stalked out of the department store. When he looked at the chair she'd been holding onto, he noticed the metal back was bent in half.

Back at home, Buffy couldn't stop shaking. And she couldn't tell whether the cause was the cold, or the encounter with the Watcher. Her Watcher. The shaking didn't stop after running her hands under hot water for a few minutes, so she figured it was the latter. Stupid British guys, why couldn't they leave her alone? God, life was perfect before Merrick came up to her on the school staircase.

Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration, but still. Buffy padded into her bedroom and flopped onto the bed. She was just about to start flipping through an Entertainment Weekly when a box peeking out of the closet caught her eye. It wasn't one of the unpacked ones from the move; it was way too small. Curious, she went over to it and pulled the lid off. The smell hit her before the memories did. Sage, tobacco, tea, and horrible cologne. Merrick's stuff. She'd packed it up after he was killed and never looked at it again. It had hurt too much. It still hurt.

After he'd died, Buffy didn't think she could go on. If Pike hadn't been there for her, she might not have.

Now, Pike was gone, and Buffy just wanted to forget everything. Forget every little way she'd screwed up.

Pulling out an leather-bound notebook, Buffy went back to her bed and opened it up. Merrick's neat cursive was instantly recognizable.

The newest Slayer, Buffy Summers, is quite a disappointment. Untrained, unruly, reluctant. And I find myself at wit's end attempting to converse with her. One would think I was with a foreign Slayer — to say I only understand half of what she says would be an understatement.

Buffy flipped forward a few pages.

Training proceeds slowly. Miss Summers seems more adept at colour-coordination than the use of a compound bow. But she is trying, bless her heart.

And a few more pages.

Though her technique is erratic at best, the Slayer shows great ingenuity and heart. Buffy may not fit the Council's preferred mold of Slayer, but I've no doubt she'll do a great deal of good in the world.

Stupid. Wesley slammed a book onto his desk. He was incredibly stupid. All his years of training, and he hadn't even been able to convince his charge to accept her duty. The girl may fancy herself strong, but the Council was stronger. She would be hunted and put down like an animal, and his father would shake his head and comment on Wesley's failure.

And the girl, Buffy...she'd had such passion, such fire.... It didn't seem right to waste her life so quickly.

Is it really better to instead make her a soldier? Have her die early at the hands of a vampire instead of the hands of a wetworks team?

He shook his head. No, of course it was better. At least then she'd have done some good....

"I hear you're looking for a Slayer."

Wesley spun around, knocking over the large pile of books he'd just finished stacking.

"Miss Summers! How—"

Buffy leaned against the wall. "Your door was unlocked. And you're the only Wyndam-Pryce listed in New York City. Though it took me three tries to get the spelling right." She pulled a stake out of her pocket and tossed it to him. "So, you gonna start with the training, or what? Sacred duty, blah blah blah."

When she smiled at him, Wesley couldn't help but smile back.

Chapter Two: Just A Little Girl

March 1997

"The most important thing, of course, is to never take your eyes off your opponent. Now, you're going to come at me with a series" Wesley made a small kicking motion. "And a" Swatted at the air.

Buffy smirked. "They teach you those fancy fightin' terms in Sconesville?"

"Hmph. I may not know the precise terms, but I have gone through the requisite Watcher training, which includes a difficult physical regime. Now, if you'll be so kind."

"Got it. Make a few...." She kicked at the air and made a few halfhearted pawing motions.

As Wesley avoided Buffy's punches and kicks, things began making sense for him again. Yesterday, seeing Buffy look so defeated in the store, he'd almost forgotten what he'd spent the past ten years learning in Watcher's training — that the Slayer is a tool in the war against evil. He'd confused her with a scared little girl and, scared little girl though she may be, she was a soldier first and foremost. And the inevitable outcome of any war is that soldiers will die. Which is why the Watchers were taught to stay detached. Having let his mind wander, Wesley was taken by surprise when Buffy let out a roundhouse kick, and he went flying into the concrete wall of the downtown training room generously provided by the Council.

"Oops, sorry!" She ran over and helped him up. "I'm really, really, really sorry! Are you okay?"

Wesley picked up his glasses and shook his head. Just a soldier. Right.

April 1997

They'd been training for two weeks. It hadn't taken long for Buffy to get into the swing of things. Okay, she still wasn't happy about being Secret Identity Gal again. But Wesley sometimes made training fun. Sometimes. On days he forgot to put the giant stick in his butt. Anyway, he wasn't so bad, really. Almost cute, in a Pierce Brosnan-y way. Especially when he smiled.

So Buffy couldn't help but giggle when his apartment door swung open before she could knock, revealing Wesley with a small, black valise and a toothy grin.

"Well, Buffy...the time has come."

She raised an eyebrow. "The walrus said?"

"To speak of many things. Tonight, we cease our dry runs and move into the field. Tonight...we will slay actual vampires!"

He looked so excited. Buffy couldn't bring herself to remind him that she'd both been there, done that, and burned the tee-shirt that came with. She just smiled and followed him to the Bronx.

"Are you gonna wait out here?" she asked, looking up at the small, abandoned building he'd brought her to. She checked the spring on her crossbow before strapping it to her back and readying her stake.

"Certainly not! I wouldn't have you in your first combat situation in months completely alone if it weren't necessary, which it is not."

"Oh. Well, I mean, I feel ready to kick vamp ass if you want to stay out here...." Her first Watcher hadn't been in the best shape, but he'd held his own in fights. From the little Buffy had seen in training, she'd decided Wesley might be safer outside of the fray.

"Nonsense. Are you ready?" He pulled out his ax.

Buffy took a deep breath. "Let's go."

The first vampire came from behind them as they entered the building. Wesley let out a shriek as it pushed him aside and attacked Buffy, who turned around and easily staked him. She smiled — her body hadn't forgotten a thing. But she couldn't gloat long because there were two more vampires coming towards her, so she helped Wesley up and took another deep breath before launching herself at them.


Buffy helped Wesley into his dingy Christopher Street apartment and settled him into the overstuffed armchair by the door. As she returned from the kitchen with medical supplies, she had trouble suppressing a giggle.

"Must I even ask what you're laughing at?" he sighed as she started to clean the cut on his cheek.

"I'm sorry." She giggled again.

"Your regret is abundantly clear."

"Well, you kinda got whipped!"

"Yes, well, we can't all have Slayer strength, can we?" He shifted in the seat, trying to find a more comfortable position, off his sore ribs. "Nevertheless, for my first combat in uncontrolled circumstances, I'd say I fared rather well. Although perhaps I was overly ambitious in going to a nest on our first outing."

"Nah." Buffy handed him an ice pack for the plum bruise already spreading over his forehead. "We did fine. Dusted all but that gross vamp with the long blonde dreads. But maybe you should start letting me train you. I do have that Slayer strength and all."

"Now wait just a moment," Wesley scoffed. "I have fine fighting technique, and more importantly, I am your Watcher. I've so far given you some leeway because you've had a trying few months, but there is still protocol to adhere to, and that includes me training you."

"Lot of good it'll do you, me, or the Council if you get killed."

"There's no reason to assume the worst."

Buffy jammed the toe of her boot into the blue shag carpeting. "Merrick, my last Watcher, died. I had to watch him die."

Wesley ducked his head to avoid her hard stare at him.

Buffy crossed her arms. "I'm not going to watch you die. I don't care what you write in your journal, what you report back to the home planet, but you're gonna suck it up and let me help you, so that I don't have to watch someone I like die again. Got it?"

After several moments of silence, Wesley raised his head and met Buffy's eyes. "On one condition."


"Allow me to teach you Latin."

"Latin? Why would I—"

"A Slayer needs to know more than simple fighting techniques. Eventually, I'd like you to know assorted demon species, weaponry, rudimentary magic. But for now, I'll settle for Latin which will, in the very least, aid in your studying the aforementioned subjects." Wesley leaned back and waited for Buffy's answer.

"Okay, I'm in. Hey, I'd better go. Mom thinks I'm studying, so I can't be too late." Buffy grabbed her backpack and jacket, then bent down and pushed Wesley's hand from his forehead to look at it. "How you feeling?"

"Better, now." He smiled. "Be here tomorrow at four p.m.?"

Buffy nodded. "Four p.m."

Four p.m. came and went with no Buffy in sight. Wesley panicked as his mind went over the countless scenarios that added up to Buffy being dead. Buffy dead in a gutter, Buffy dead in a trash bin, Buffy dead on the subway tracks. His father's disapproving glare when he heard how his son had failed the Slayer. The door swinging open at six caused Wesley to drop the book he'd been absently staring at for the past several minutes. As soon as he realized Buffy had no visible injuries, his relief quickly dissolved into anger.

"Sorry I'm late," she smiled brightly, oblivious to Wesley's glowering, "I went to the mall with some girls from chemistry. I totally spazzed out and lost track of time."

"I had no way of reaching you to make sure you were safe! This is simply unacceptable," he said in clipped tones. "Your training must always be your primary concern over leisure activities. Besides which, I see no point in you forging bonds with classmates when the Slayer handbook clearly states that the Slayer is to remain as socially untethered as possible."

Buffy flopped into the armchair and rolled her eyes. "Hey, I agreed to play good Slayer for you. I train instead of cheerleading, I lie to my can't seriously expect me to be a social leper too."

"Which is why I reluctantly consented to allow you to remain in public school instead of the customary tutoring a Slayer receives." As Buffy glared at him, Wesley decided to try a different approach. He kneeled beside her, his hand on her knee, and spoke as gently as he knew how. "It's difficult enough to conceal your identity from your mother. Keeping it from the large social circle you'd undoubtedly accrue would be nearly impossible. And once people find out you're the Slayer, the demon population will find out, and you and everyone you care for will be in grave danger." Her expression softened somewhat, so he pressed on. "How often did you come close to getting hurt on patrol in LA? Would you be able to assure a friend's safety as well as your own?" Buffy shook her head. "So you understand that my intent is not to be cruel, but to keep you and any potential friends of yours safe?"

"Yeah. I get it." Buffy sighed. "But that doesn't make it any easier."

"I know."

The subway ride back to her apartment took an eternity. Every time Buffy saw a group of giggling girls, or a boyfriend and girlfriend snuggling, she cringed slightly. This sucks. This massively and completely sucks.

"Buffy, you're almost an hour late," her mom chided as Buffy shrugged off her coat.

"Sorry, got caught up in studying."

"Well, I think you're overworking yourself. You look run-down. Maybe this weekend you can find some classmates to go to the mall with?"

Buffy smiled wanly. "Yeah. Maybe. So how's work going at the Met?"

"Oh, Buffy, it's amazing! To be so close to all these unbelievable works of art!" Joyce handed Buffy a glass of orange juice and led her into their tiny living room. "The only real drawback is the amount of work compared to the gallery in California. In fact, speaking of run-down, I'm going to the doctor tomorrow to see if he can tell me why I've felt so tired lately."

"Oh, no, mom, are you okay?"

"I'm sure it's nothing," she waved her hand dismissively and smiled. "I'm more worried about you. But things will be better here, won't they? I mean, your new school hasn't called me or anything, so all the badness is behind us?"

Buffy shifted uncomfortably in her seat, but smiled at her mother. "No worries."

Chapter Three: Resident Aliens

May 1997

"You're not serious!" Wesley gaped in horror at the objects Buffy had laid on the table.

"I'm way serious. New York's not as bad as California, but you'll still croak in you insist on wearing tweed in the summer. Besides," she held the blue polo shirt up to him and smiled, "it totally goes with your eyes."

"That's all well and good, but we should be training right now. Not playing dress-up. Fashion is hardly relevant to vampire slaying. Besides, the Council has a strict dress code that must be adhered to."

Buffy crossed her arms. "First of all, fashion is always relevant. Second of all, you're the only Watcher in these parts, right?"


"Then no one's gonna know about your dress code. So what's the harm?"

He sighed dramatically and surveyed the offerings. Polo shirts, khaki shorts, chinos...his father would have a coronary if he saw his son wearing any of these blatantly American garments.

Wesley grinned.

Buffy handed him the shirt and pushed him towards his bathroom. Wesley well knew it was no use arguing with her, so he closed the door behind him and pulled off his tie. The crisp blue shirt was much cooler than his usual button-down silk shirts. He had to admit, it would make training more comfortable.

Wesley opened the door and stepped out. Buffy nodded approvingly and clapped. "See? Much better. Oh, but you need to put the collar down, like this."

When Buffy grabbed his collar and started fussing, Wesley squirmed. Americans were so prone to grabbing people. They had none of the personal boundaries most people back home had. Wesley was fairly sure he'd had more contact with other humans in the past three months than he'd experienced his entire childhood.

"Stop fussing! Jeez, I used to baby-sit for kids who were easier to dress," she chided with a wink.

"I don't suppose now would be a good time to broach the subject of more appropriate Slaying attire for you? Because I think you'll find you'd have more mobility and confidence in a pair of trainers and a track suit."

"Please." Buffy looked down at her short, pastel skirt and platform sandals. "If Slayers could fight vamps in corsets way back when, anything's possible."

June 1997

"Thanks," Buffy said to the vampire who'd thrown her into the Washington Square Park fountain. "I was feeling kinda warm."

The vampire snarled and dove towards her. Buffy ducked under the grimy water as he flew over her and slammed into one of the black nubs in the middle.

"Buffy, are you okay?" Wesley shouted as she popped up, gasping for air.

"Yeah, I'm fine, but...oh, crap, where's my sta—"

All the wind whooshed out of her as the vampire tackled her from behind, snapping at her neck. Stake, stake, where the hell's my stake?!

Slipping on the slick, mossy bottom of the fountain, Buffy kicked the vampire in the face and continued groping around for her stake. When the vampire grabbed her hair and pulled her head back, she got an idea.

Buffy pulled one of the chopsticks she'd used in her hair and twisted around, thrusting it into the vampire's heart with a grunt.

As the vampire exploded into ash, Buffy giggled and turned to Wesley. "Did you see that?"

He nodded. "Yes, I did."

"And what do you have to say for yourself?"

Wesley crossed his arms and glared.

"C'mon, you know I'm gonna make you say it."

Rolling his eyes, Wesley helped Buffy out of the fountain. "Fine, fine. I was wrong. Fashion is relevant to vampire slaying."

"Better believe it. Oh, hold still."

"What is it?" Wesley said, freezing up and subtly scanning the park. "More vampires?"

"No, no vampires. You just got a little...." Buffy stood on tiptoe, gripping Wesley's shoulder for balance. He remained motionless as she gingerly brushed some twigs out of his hair.

When Buffy finished, she wrung her hair out and said, "Good thing it's a warm night. Just remind me not to patrol near the river during the winter or anything."

They walked uptown towards Union Square in silence, enjoying the balmy air and amiable quiet that's only found at two in the morning in the city. They were about to head into the subway when Buffy stilled, motioning for Wesley to do the same.

"What? More foliage?" He raised his hands to his hair.

"Shh." Closing her eyes, she cocked her head slightly. "There? Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"That weird clicking. Past couple of days, I've been hearing it sometimes. It's like something's...following me."

They stood there on the top of the stairs for several minutes, scanning the park. A stray Hari Krishner aside, it seemed to be deserted.

"I'm sure it's nothing," Wesley said, pulling out a subway token. "This city often gives one the feeling of being watched."

"Yeah, I guess you're right." Buffy cast one more glance over her shoulder before following him down the stairs.

July 1997

Gingerly stretching his arms, Wesley let out a whoosh of air and looked at Buffy, who nodded approvingly.

"Color me impressed. You made it through patrol without shrieking once."

"I've never shrieked. I've...shouted. Perhaps. But I don't shriek."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Right. Anyway, come on, I'll grab my stuff from your apartment then head home. Go to bed."

"To bed?" Wesley checked his watch. "But it's only 8."

"I know." She shrugged. "Don't really have anything else to do. No homework, and mom's at the gallery until late. And it's not like I have some party to get to, or a girl's movie night or anything."

Wesley felt a pang of guilt. It was his fault Buffy wasn't off with some friends, wasn't it? No, not his fault. After all, he hadn't chosen her to be the Slayer. And it was a necessary evil. Still, maybe there was something he could do to help....

"Would you, erm, like to go see a movie?"

Buffy raised an eyebrow. "With you?"

"Oh, well, not if, I mean, if you'd rather," he stammered, blushing. Stupid. He wished her knew why this young girl always managed to make him revert right back to the awkward boy he'd been in boarding school.

Buffy smiled. "No, that sounds great!"

"Wonderful!" Wesley exclaimed. "I hear The Last Time I Committed Suicide received good notices."

Buffy laughed and skipped down the street, tugging Wesley behind her. "Nuh uh, we have to see My Best Friend's Wedding."

Wesley groaned, but found himself grinning slightly as he followed her.

August 1997

Buffy stood in Barnes and Noble, picking up a new Latin book for her studies, when someone tapped her on the shoulder.

"Oh, hey Becky."

Becky Gillam had been in Buffy's chemistry class. She was one of the few girls who'd been nice to Buffy her first few days at school. And Buffy had repaid her by pulling away and ignoring her during class, under Wesley's "don't get close to anyone" orders.

"So, my family is throwing this big old end-of-summer barbecue in the Hamptons this weekend. You wanna come?"

Buffy'd been hoping it would get easier to pull away from her classmates over time. It hadn't.

"Ah, um, I would love to, really, but I promised my mom I'd help her fix up the apartment a little."

"Oh, okay." The pretty brunette's face fell a little. "Well, hey, see you in school in a few weeks!"

"Yeah, see you," Buffy smiled.

When Becky was out of sight, Buffy sighed. Being the Chosen One sucked when it meant choosing freaking vampires over a social life.

September 1997

The sun had already set as Buffy and Wesley made their way down St. Mark's Place on the way home from a foreign film of Wesley's choosing. As Buffy daintily sidestepped a pile of books laid out for sale on the cracked sidewalk, she turned to Wesley.

"So how did you become a Watcher anyway? I got stuck fighting vamps, I can't imagine anyone actually volunteering for this."

He gently guided her around an incense stand billowing plumes of strawberry smoke into the humid air. "Well, my father was a Watcher, as was my grandfather, and my great-grandfather. I don't suppose I ever gave much thought to career options outside of the Council."

"Isn't destiny fun?" Buffy grinned.

"Indeed," he smiled back.

The giant black cube in Astor Place split the moon's light into twisted patterns that decorated the pavement. They silently admired the sight for a few seconds before a woman almost barreled into Wesley as she darted up the street, a man following close behind. No one in Astor Place seemed to think anything was unusual about the jogging couple, but one look at the man's grace and speed and Buffy was taking off after him. Wesley stopped only to get a stake from the holster he'd rigged to his boot before following. At 10th Street, the woman ducked into an abandoned building, the vampire following a few moments later. It occurred to Wesley that it was odd for the woman being pursued to not seek assistance from the many people crowding the sidewalks.

"Buffy, wait!"

His warning came too late and Buffy had already been swallowed by the decrepit building. Wesley fought the urge to run in immediately after and insure her safety — he'd do her no good getting injured or killed, she'd made that clear. So instead he crouched behind a dumpster and tried to come up with a plan.

Chapter Four: Prey for the Hunter

September 1997

Buffy's first indication that something was wrong was the thick brown netting that swooped down out of nowhere to pin her to the floor with a thud.

A chuckle drifted over from somewhere to her right. "You forget how young they are." Buffy raised her head to try and see where the voice was coming from. "Has it really been ten years since we managed to track down a Slayer?"

There, in the corner, she spotted him. She thought. Something was standing in the shadows, whapping a baseball bat against its leg. She tried to move, but the weights along the net pinned her against the floor, and she couldn't get enough leverage to push herself up. At least Wesley hadn't barreled in after her and gotten himself knocked out.

The creature in the corner stepped into the light and smiled at the vampires Buffy had followed in and the others milling around. It waved away the two vampires hovering over Buffy with his, hoof. Her stomach churned as he walked over to her and crouched down, bringing his disfigured face to hers. His rank breath was hot against her cheek.

"Had my eye on you back in LA. You'll make a fine pet, won't you? Quite worth the effort it took to track you down."

"You shoulda just called. Could have saved yourself a lot of trouble letting me kill you sooner," she spat.

He chuckled and cracked his baseball bat across the back of her head. "Big talk for someone who's in a net." He turned to two of his lackeys. "Pick her up. I want to look at her."

Buffy tried to break free when the vampires grabbed her, roughly hauling her up for inspection, but her head still swam from the blow.

Running a hoof down her face, he gave a twisted smile. "Yes, she is a pretty one. Looks stronger than that last one, too. Perhaps she'll last a bit longer. What's your name, pretty one?"

Probably shouldn't piss off the guy with the baseball bat. Play along. Stall until Wesley gets here. "Buffy."

"Buffy." Her name sounded dirty, coming from him. He nodded and said, "I'm Kakistos. But you will call me Master."

Oh, that's it. "Over your dead body," she said, dropping all her weight on the vampires holding her and twisting her body up, aiming a kick towards Kakistos's head. He caught her foot in midair, pinching it between his hooves. Kakistos snarled and started to twist her leg, but he suddenly laughed and batted her foot away.

"Feisty. The other one was too, and the one before her." He leered. "We have ways of fixing that."

Buffy spotted her stake where it had clattered to the floor. It was in reach, she just needed to wriggle away from the vamps holding onto her.

There was a sudden crashing sound behind Buffy as thousands of tiny glass shards sprinkled the building, followed by a rock thudding to the floor. The vampires tightened their grip on Buffy while Kakistos nodded to one of the minions closest to the door.

"Go see what that was."

Shaking the glass out of her hair, Buffy hoped Wesley wasn't doing something stupid, like...brushing the vampire dust off his shirt as he ran into the building, grinning at her?

"I think your training is paying off," he said.

Buffy grinned back and used the distraction to wrench her right arm free and send the vampire careening towards Wesley, who staked it before it could recover. Then she reared around and slugged her other captor in the face before diving for her stake.

"Kill him!" Kakistos screeched at the other two vampires. "But I want the Slayer alive!"

Thunk, poof, the closest vampire was dust. Buffy turned her attention to the two remaining vampires who were advancing towards Wesley.

Wesley closed one eye, squinted, brought his arm back then let it snap forward, sending his stake hurtling into the vampire.

As it crumbled into ash, Buffy let out a low whistle. "That's impressive, Wes."

He smiled. "I was the dart champion for four years running in the Watcher's Academy."

The remaining vampire shrieked and jumped on Wesley, but as Buffy went to help him Kakistos grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the ground.

"That will cost you, girl," he snarled, kicking her in the ribs and sending her flying backwards into a pile of debris.

Buffy grabbed the nearest object, a jagged piece of sheet metal, and jumped up. "That will cost me? Oh, that's an original threat." She spun the metal around in her hands and cocked her hip, shooting him a glance. "Not that I expected better from a vamp who was cross-bred with a goat."

When Kakistos was halfway to lunging at Buffy, she winged the sheet metal at him. His arm hit the ground with a wet thud, and Kakistos howled. Buffy sprinted past him, across the room, and skidded to a stop just in time to avoid knocking over the vampire who was attached to Wesley's neck. One quick thrust of the stake and the vampire was history. She caught Wesley just before he fell over and risked a glance back at Kakistos. He was lying on the floor, still howling and clutching the shoulder where his arm has been. It would be easy enough to finish him off, but Wesley needed to go to the hospital now. Worrying about a big bad vamp had already cost her one Watcher, so Buffy was already halfway down the street before she realized she'd made her decision.

Beeping. Wesley became aware of a dull beeping and something heavy on his chest. He opened his eyes and the pure white slowly gave way to spackling, marred by a large black fly crawling across. Bringing his head down replaced the spackled ceiling with the more appealing sight of honey blonde hair splayed across his torso and chest. The movement sent sharp pains ricocheting through his neck as the events of the previous night came rushing back to him. Buffy must have taken him to the hospital.

A sudden coughing fit overtook him, causing Buffy to spring off him in alarm. She relaxed — somewhat — when she realized where she was, and poured him a glass of water from the nearby table.

"You okay?"

Wesley nodded. "Yes, thank you," he rasped, gratefully accepting the proffered glass. He noticed Buffy chewing on her bottom lip and tried to smile more encouragingly. "Really, I'm fine. What about you?"

"I'm okay. Kakistos is still out there though."

"We'll find him. I'll send word to the Council tomorrow and have them fax me everything they have on him."

Buffy nodded. "Okay, good." She checked her watch. "Jeez, I haven't been home in two days. Mom...well, she probably didn't notice. Her work schedule is so wacky, I'm lucky if I see her a couple hours a week. But I should still check in, y'know?"

"Of course," Wesley smiled. Buffy bit her lip and continued to stand in one place, staring at him. "Is something the matter?"

"Well...I mean, you're all alone here, and it's not like you've got any family in town...."

"I'll be fine. Really. I'm fine, go."

"Okay." She reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing it lightly. "I'll come back in a couple hours."

"That's really not necessary—"

"No arguing, I'll be back." She grabbed her coat and left.

Wesley leaned back and stared at the ceiling. If Kakistos was still alive, then Buffy must have relinquished her chance to kill him in order to save Wesley. But it made no sense. Every book Wesley had ever read said Slayers operated almost purely out of instinct. Watchers knew going into battle that if it came down to saving their Watcher's life or killing a demon, Slayers would — and had — invariably chosen the kill. It was instinct, like breathing. Like Slayers, Field Watchers were expendable. An acceptable loss.

But Buffy...she could have killed Kakistos if she'd wanted to. Instead, she'd chosen to go against her instincts and save Wesley. Or perhaps saving him was her instinctual response? Either way, unorthodox or no, Buffy was certainly turning out to be a remarkable, unusual Slayer.

As Wesley drifted to sleep, he realized how thankful he was, to have the opportunity to work with someone like her.

Chapter Five: Hornet's Tails, Nails, and Third Rails

October 1997

Buffy surprised Wesley by showing up at his apartment for their first post-Kakistos patrol wearing trainers, black jogging trousers, and a simple, dark green fitted shirt. It was precisely the sort of outfit he'd been encouraging her to wear for nearly six months — her usual short skirts, high heels, and flimsy tops were impractical for combat and went against every single rule in the dress code section of the Slayer's Handbook. But he'd given up all hope of persuading her to change her mind when she'd used that hair accessory as an emergency stake.

As he opened his mouth to express his approval, Buffy held up a hand to silence him. "Not. A. Word." She stepped past him into his apartment and dropped her weapons bag on the floor. "And don't get too excited, this is strictly a patrol-only look. I almost twisted an ankle carrying you to the hospital, and New York is really not mini-skirt-friendly. Made me re-evaluate some of that fashion versus function stuff you always go on about. Besides," she shrugged, pulling at the bottom of the top, "it's not like I'm Miss Popular anymore, I don't really have to worry what the kids at school would think if they saw me like this."

"Buffy, I think you look wonderful." She raised an eyebrow. "Really! It's quite a, uh, classic look, simple lines and all. The green, erm, brings out your eyes," he finished limply.

"You're a sucky liar, but thanks for trying," she smiled.

He hadn't been lying at all, actually. Her hair hung loose, framing her face, and the muted outfit made her look older than her sixteen years.

When he realized he'd been staring at her just a tick too long, Wesley cleared his throat. "Yes, well, we'd best get a move on. We are on a bit of a timeline."

Buffy waited for the A train to finish zipping past before casting a glance over her shoulder. When the subway booth attendant was looking the other direction, she jumped onto the tracks, carefully avoiding the electrified third rail.

"C'mon, Wes, another train'll be here in, like, fifteen minutes."

"I've got it...why are you holding my foot?"

"Because you're this close to getting yourself fried crispy."

"Ah." Wesley dropped onto the rails beside Buffy and pulled the broadsword from under his jacket. "Do you sense anything?"

"Only a giant sense of disgust. Look at the stuff people throw down here! Is that a wig?"

"Possibly not," Wesley said.


"Shh, I hear someone coming."

Two girls, drunk and laughing, clattered through the turnstile and into the subway stop proper. Wesley put his finger to his lips and guided Buffy further into the subway tunnel. When they were far enough away from the stop, he turned on his torch.

"Now, the Council's sources said the vampire nest is between 23rd and 14th, so it should be...." A growl came from his left. "Somewhere around here."

"Wesley, look out!"

Using one of the steel girders as an anchor, Buffy kicked up and knocked the vampire to the ground. The vampire's hand brushed the third rail, but he only laughed and sprang back onto his feet. Wesley swung his sword and decapitated the vampire from behind.

"One down," Buffy said, as three more crawled out from the service tunnel.

"The blonde chick's mine," the tall, beefy vampire said, grinning.

"And their blonde chick is yours, Wes," Buffy said, launching herself towards the two male vampires.

The short female vampire was surprisingly quick, and before Wesley knew what was happening, his sword had skittered down the rails and he was dangling inches above the third rail. Not given much choice, Wesley took a risk and brought his legs up and over her, using his momentum to swing around and push her onto the rails instead. Before she could recover, Wesley had his sword in hand, and as soon as she was clear of the electrified rail, he lopped her head off.

Buffy had already dispatched the two vampires and was finishing up with one who'd shown up at the last minute. His heart was thudding, but Wesley had never felt better. None of the Watcher's books had managed to accurately describe the feeling that comes when you actually win a fight. The adrenaline, yes, but much more, something primal, something—

"Earth to Wesley!" Buffy waved her hand in front of his face and he blinked. "Yeesh, fine, zone out while I'm slaying," she grumped.

"Ah, sorry. Are we done here?"

"Yeah, we're good."

Wesley slung the sword over his shoulder and followed Buffy back towards the station. Buffy turned around, looked at Wesley, and laughed.

"Uh, you might wanna check the battle gear. For some reason, subway riders get nervous when people with swords climb up from the tracks."

Buffy groaned and slumped over the desk, burying her head in her arms.

"We-e-e-esle-e-ey!" she yelled, drawing his name out as long as she could.

From the other room, she heard two distinct crashes, followed by a muffled swear and hurried footsteps.

"What is it? Are you all right?"

Buffy turned her head and squinted at him. "You're being really loud. Can't you polish your swords later? I can't concentrate on my homework with all that noise."

Wesley crossed his arms. "Well, pardon me for making a racket in my own home. Which begs the question, why are you doing your studies in my apartment instead of your own or, heaven forbid, a library?"

"Ugh." She wrinkled her nose. "I hate libraries. Besides, I like it over here. But this homework is totally kicking my ass." Buffy sighed. "God, I suck at this stuff."

Putting aside the dagger he was holding, Wesley walked over and grabbed a milk crate to sit on. "Anything I can do to help?"

"Maybe. We have to analyze this poem." Buffy sat up with a stretch and pushed her book towards to him.

"Ah, 'Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.' Can't say I care for Frost — dreadfully cloying fellow, really — but it's a classic."

"Yeah, thrill a minute. Blah blah blah, it's snowing. Blah blah, my horse thinks I'm crazy. Blah, I need to sleep. Blah."

Wesley chuckled. "There's more to it than that. Just step back for a moment, look beyond words. Do you see anything else?"

Buffy leaned forward, letting the words flit through her mind. Darkest evening...downy flake...promises...miles to go before I sleep....



"I'm not sure. sounds like he wants to retire? Rest?"

"Good. You're getting warm. Here...." Wesley grabbed her hand in his, lightly running their fingers over the words. The goosebumps covering her arms seemed to say all her body heat had been drawn to her hand. "Notice the way the verses lull, then carry you forward." Buffy let his voice wash over her, softly rising and falling with the verse. "'The only other sound's the sweep, of easy wind and downy flake ....'"

She took a deep breath and finished the ending. "'The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.'" Buffy shook her head and smiled sadly. "I get it."

"You do."

"Yeah." She sighed. "Wow. It's about suicide, isn't it?"

Wesley nodded. "Yes. Or, well, that's one interpretation, at least. Mr. Frost has been known to vehemently deny it. But yes, the seduction of suicide."

"Wow," she repeated. "God, I feel so bad for this guy, now. To have nothing to live for like that...." They remained silent for a few minutes, just looking at the poem. Finally, Buffy cleared her throat. "Well, thanks for helping me with this. Sorry it got so depressing."

"Think nothing of it," Wesley smiled. "I know what will help."

"Ooh, Thai food?"

"Yes. And...."

"A movie?"

"Devil's Advocate!"

Buffy raised an eyebrow. "You sure you don't mean some weirdo foreign film? La Vaca Fromage Numero Trois?"

"And miss Al Pacino as Satan? Not on your life. Interested?"

"You kidding? Hello, Keanu Reeves!"

Wesley stood up, grabbed his coat, and headed to the door. Buffy looked back at the poem once more before following.

Chapter Six: Hyde and Seek

November 1997

"You look nice, honey, " Joyce said, leaning against the door of her daughter's bedroom.

"Thanks, mom." Buffy fluffed her hair and studied herself in the mirror. The black dress was a lot plainer than the clothes she usually favored, but she wanted to look different tonight. Not exactly grown up...exactly...but maybe classy, serious.

"You're going out?"

"Oh, yeah, I thought I told you? I'm going to see a play with a's okay, right?"

Joyce smiled. "It's fine. I'm glad you're finally making some new friends here. It seems like you've been so quiet since we left California."

Buffy shrugged. "New York's just different, took some adjusting. Oh, did dad call? He was supposed to call last weekend and tell me when I was flying back for Thanksgiving."

"Oh, sweetie." Joyce crossed the room and slid her arm across Buffy's shoulders. "I'm sorry, I've been so busy I forgot to tell you. Your father has to go to a business conference in Chicago, so we're gonna have to reschedule your trip."

Of course. Buffy blinked and turned back to the mirror, pursing her lips to apply a sheer red lipstick.

"I'll be right back, don't move," Joyce said, heading out of the room.

It wasn't like Buffy was surprised. Her dad was always busy. She wasn't neglected or anything, he'd just always shown that work came first. And now that she and her mom were all out of sight out of mind....

But Buffy wasn't gonna think about that tonight. Tonight was going to be fun, come hell or high water.

"Here," her mom said as she came back, "I have just the thing, close your eyes."

Buffy did as told and felt her hair being pushed aside as something cool settled around her neck.

"Okay, you can open them."

"Mom, they're beautiful," Buffy said, watching herself in the mirror as she ran her fingers over the delicate pearl necklace.

Kissing Buffy's forehead, Joyce hugged her and studied Buffy's reflection. "You're beautiful. They were your grandmother's. I figured they'd go with your dress."

"Thank you," Buffy smiled.

"Now, don't stay out too late."

"I won't. Are you okay?"

Her mom had suddenly grimaced and closed her eyes. Joyce waved her hand. "I'm fine, just a small headache."

"Oh jeez, and I think we're out of Tylenol. Do you want me to get some for you before I go?"

"No, no, you don't want to miss the curtain. It's nothing, I've just been working too hard at the museum lately."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure. I'll just lie down for a while. Wake me up when you get home, just so I know you're safe?"

"You got it." Buffy hugged her mom then turned around one last time to double-check her lipstick and fluff her hair again.

"So, what play are you and your friend going to see?"

"Jekyll and Hyde?" Wesley said, gazing up at the theatre marquee.

"Surprise!" Buffy grinned.

Wesley blushed. "It's a lovely birthday present, thank you. When you said you were taking me out, I'd assumed a restaurant or movie."

"Nah, that stuff's not good enough for birthdays. Besides, I figured you must love the theatre, being British and all."

He raised an eyebrow and chuckled. "Indeed, though I must admit it's been years since I've attended a musical."

"I've been in New York nine months and this'll be my first Broadway play. First play ever actually, not counting the time I played Glinda in The Wizard of Oz in junior high. And my dad used to take me to the Ice Capades every year for my birthday, before he got too busy."

"Then this certainly is a special night." Extending his arm out to her, Wesley carefully guided Buffy through the throng of theatregoers gathered outside the Plymouth Theatre. "You know, Robert Louis Stevenson based his book on a series of nightmares he'd had, but one Watcher I know wrote an impressive dissertation that asserted Stevenson had in fact been visited by either an incubus or a succubus."

"Really? Wow."

Though she was smiling politely, Buffy had developed that glazed-eye look Wesley had often seen in his peers and friends, given his tendency to ramble. He didn't mean to, really. It wasn't that Wesley expected everyone to be as enthusiastic over the lineage of the Kroglar demons as he was. It was more of a nervous habit, really; a stream of belittlement from his father could usually be stemmed by some display of intellectual prowess on Wesley's part.

Wesley waved over one of the teenagers selling souvenir programs.

"Eight dollars, sir."

"Wes, what are you doing?" Buffy said, reaching for her purse. "This is your birthday, I—"

He just gave her his No Arguments smile and handed her the program. Buffy beamed and pulled him into the theatre.

God, it was dreadful. The show had the feel of a Disney theme-park attraction, all the pomp and circumstance with no actual redeemable content. The lead actor mugged his way through scene after scene as Stevenson's wonderful, elaborate characters were reduced to soap opera caricatures. Though Americans liked to delude themselves, thinking they had the upper hand as far as films and television were concerned, at least there was no way they could possibly think their theatre fare came close to eclipsing London's West End.

He turned towards Buffy, hoping to catch her eye and share a grimace, as was customary when two people were both being subjected to something so torturous. Instead, he found her watching the stage in rapt attention, a slight smile on her lips as she unconsciously toyed with her necklace.

For the remainder of the show, Wesley kept stealing glances at his Slayer, finding himself able to actually enjoy the play through her delight. During the heroine's power ballad near the end of the show, he heard a small sniffle to his right and saw a few tears dampening Buffy's cheek. He discreetly withdrew a handkerchief from the pocket of his suit's jacket and pressed it into her hand; Buffy smiled gratefully, blotted her eyes, and turned her attention back to the stage.

After the cast had taken their final bows and left the stage, Wesley and Buffy made their way through the aisles and out the front door.

"Yikes, it got so cold out," Buffy said, shading her eyes from the glare of the marquis after so many hours in the dusky theatre.

"Here," Wesley said, removing his jacket.

"No, no, I wasn't fishing for...thanks," she said as he settled it around her shoulders. "I guess I'm still not used to this weather."

"Do you miss California?" he asked as they started to make their way through Times Square towards the subway station.

Buffy shrugged. "Sometimes. I mean, it wasn't fun my last few months there, with the slaying, and mom and dad fighting. But I miss...." Buffy cracked a wry smile. "Okay, there's no way this won't sound shallow, but I miss being head cheerleader, and popular, when my biggest problem was making sure my lipstick didn't clash with my eyeshadow."

"That's perfectly understandable," Wesley assured her. "The Council identifies most potential Slayers when they're young, and they're raised always preparing for and knowing their destiny. But there have been others like you, who lived ordinary lives before getting called. It was always a more difficult adjustment for them."

"But they do? Adjust?"

"They hadn't much choice, I suppose." Wesley dropped a token into the subway turnstile for Buffy, then another for himself. "For what it's worth, I believe you've adjusted admirably, and I've reported as much to the Council on several occasions."

"Really? That's so cool of you," Buffy said. "Oops, train's pulling up!"

She grabbed Wesley's hand and pulled him down the stairs behind her. They hit the platform just as the downtown 9 train's passengers began pushing out. An older gentleman stepped aside to let Buffy pass through the doors, then he winked at Wesley.

"Catch 'em while they're young, eh?" he chuckled.

"What?" Wesley said, blushing furiously as the doors started to slide closed. "She's not—"

The man was already gone and the doors were closed. Wesley sighed and turned around, crossing the car towards the pole Buffy was holding on to. Well, let him think what he wanted, Wesley knew nothing improper was transpiring between him and his Slayer. Still, it might not be a bad idea to omit some details from his official reports and journals. When he realized what he'd just thought, Wesley was caught between an inward laugh and a cringe; Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, breaking from official Watcher's protocol. His first field assignment was turning out to be quite a changing experience.

"Well? Was it a good birthday?" Buffy asked him.

Wesley smiled. "One of the best ever," he answered truthfully.

"I'm glad. Oh, here's my stop," she said as the train pulled up to 23rd.

"Do you want me to walk you home?"

"I think I'll be safe by myself," she laughed. "I'll come over for patrol tomorrow at ten. Happy birthday!" Buffy stood on her tiptoes and lightly brushed her lips against his cheek before waving and darting out of the subway car.

Wesley watched her go. Yes, I'll definitely be omitting some details from my reports.

Chapter Seven: Slay Belles Ring

December 1997

"No way you're backing out," Buffy said, ducking Wesley's punch. "Not optional."

"And how do you propose we explain it to your mother?" He blocked her roundhouse and used her momentum to spin her away from him. "Buffy, remember to let your opponent come to you."

She stumbled backwards, then quickly righted herself. "Already taken care of. I told her you were my math tutor."

"Math tutor? I...wait, there." He motioned for her to stop. "What you're doing now is perfect."


"Staying low. You'll be safer in a fight if you keep low to the ground. Good, now advance towards me...."

Buffy circled him, keeping her knees bent, and as soon as she had an opening, she aimed another kick towards his shoulder.

"Damn," he swore, shaking his hand after her foot had brushed his fingertips.

"Ooh, sorry, did I get you?"

"Yes, but it's fine, go on."

"Okay." Buffy feinted to the right, then, as Wesley went for an opening, she grabbed him around the waist and flipped him onto the mats. Pushing her hair out of her face, Buffy grinned and helped him to his feet. "So it's settled. You're coming to dinner on Christmas Eve."

"All right." Wesley brushed the dust off his shirt and tilted his head, looking at Buffy. "You are persistent, aren't you?"

"Part of my charm."

"I'll say." He coughed and abruptly headed towards the small table in the corner of the training room. "By the way, the Council's information on Kakistos arrived today."

"Finally!" Buffy toweled off her face and shoulders. "What took so long?"

"I haven't the slightest idea. I would have done the research myself, but I haven't gotten around to having my library shipped over yet."

Wesley left off the part where he hadn't brought his library with him in the first place because everyone had assured him that his assignment to the Slayer would be a temporary one, if Merrick's notes on the girl had been true. No one had expected her to survive her first month in New York under Wesley's care, as all her victories in Los Angeles seemed to have been pure luck. But Buffy had proven to be resilient, and quite innovative in her fighting style. As the weeks ticked by, Wesley grew more and more assured that Buffy and he had a long tenure ahead of them.

"Apparently," he continued, "Kakistos is an old vampire, older than most on record."

"And that's why he's all he-goat look?"

Wesley nodded. "And he has a reputation for hunting humans for sport, capturing some of them—"

"To keep as pets, I know." She wrapped her arms around herself and studied the floor. "It's what he wanted to do to me. He'd been tracking me a while, he said."

"Tracking you? You never told me about that!"

"I didn't want to worry you."

"Worry me? Buffy, you have to tell me these things!" Wesley could feel the anxiety surge through his body and begin to coat his words, but this was serious. "What if Kakistos is still looking for you?"

She shrugged and crossed her arms. "What if he is? I can just rip off his other arm. No big deal."

"It is so a 'big deal,' Buffy. You seem to forget that I am your Watcher, and as your Watcher I have certain responsibilities that must be met. I can't do my job properly if you're not going to behave responsibly and give your duties the weight and respect they need."

"God, Wes, don't blow a gasket. I'm sorry, I didn't know it was important."

Sitting down in the wicker chair by the desk, Wesley sighed. "And I'm sorry I yelled. But we have to be more conscientious to the Council's protocols. Until we know where Kakistos is, I don't want you going out socially after dark."

"Yeah, because I go out socially so much anyway," she snapped.

All the anger seemed to seep out of him in one instant. "Buffy," he began, but she put her hand up and shook her head.

"Don't. I gotta go. See you on Wednesday. Five o'clock sharp or mom'll get cranky."

Wesley watched her go, then he turned to the desk and laid the documents on Kakistos out in front of him. If the vampire really was after Buffy, there was no telling what amount of danger she could be in.

It was only six at night, and the last thing Buffy wanted to do was go home after leaving Wesley's. So she stayed on the train at 23rd, keeping her eyes on the station signs as they passed 34th and 42nd. At 50th, she impulsively sprang from her seat and darted out the door the second before it swooshed closed. Outside, the air was brutal, whipping between the buildings lining Broadway and creating a maelstrom up and down the street as debris and hats went flying. Buffy navigated her way through the pre-theatre crowd and darted across the street, heading towards 6th. Keeping close to the buildings as she walked down 50th cut down on some of the wind, but she was still shivering by the time she got to her destination.

She'd seen pictures of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, but this was her first time seeing it in person. It seemed so small, the people zooming around on the ice beneath it smaller still. As Buffy leaned against the railing that overlooked the skating rink, a powder-fine snow started to fall. It would have been a perfect, wonderful moment, if....

If Buffy wasn't the Slayer.

If she'd been just a girl, out with her friends during Christmas vacation, laughing as they fell onto the ice and stumbling to the café for a cup of cocoa to warm up before trying again. She'd dreamed of being a skater, once. Olympic medals and a world tour with Katarina Witt. Nowadays, Buffy's dreams were slightly less ambitious. A night on the town with friends— having friends — forgetting that vampires and demons even existed. Just for one night.

Wesley did his best, he really did. Sometimes, when he was more a friend than a Watcher, it was enough. It was enough and she was fine, because she knew what her destiny was and she had someone with her who understood and cared for her.

But those other times, the ones when Buffy walked past a group of kids her age and felt something hard and hungry inside, aching so much she thought it would swallow her whole...those times, all of Wesley's kind smiles and patience couldn't save her.

Then again, it wasn't his fault Buffy was a freak. He'd been chosen just as much as she'd been, he'd told her as much the night they'd fought Kakistos. And he'd been kind to her. Merrick had been a wonderful Watcher, but he'd never treated her like a friend. He didn't seem like the type who needed friends. Not like Wesley. Hell, sometimes it seemed like Wesley needed her just as much as she needed him.

And it really wasn't fair of Buffy to snap at him over things they couldn't control. Slayers didn't have friends, didn't date. It was just how it went. It wouldn't do anyone any good if Buffy alienated the closest thing she had to a friend. She would apologize to him first thing in the morning when she went for training.

As Buffy turned to leave, she felt a tug at the sleeve of her coat. She turned around, half-hoping to see Wesley, having him complete her perfect, wonderful moment in Rockefeller Center two days before Christmas as a light snow fell. She was greeted instead by a small, skinny man in mismatched clothes, clutching a semi-crumpled paper cup. He smiled and held the cup out, and Buffy reached into her coat and pulled out a dollar, dropping it into the cup.

"Bless you, miss. Have a Merry Christmas," he said, giving her a feeble smile before hobbling away.

"Merry Christmas," Buffy said. She gave one last glance at the rambunctious skaters in the rink before pulling her coat around her, turning, and heading home.

Chapter Eight : Legacy

January 1998

The bars of her cage were always slick with blood. Old blood, new blood. Hers, from when she'd cut her hands trying to shake the restraints loose. Theirs, from when she'd gotten lucky shots in when they entered the cage to feed or wash her. Not that Buffy got lucky shots in often, proven by the bruises on her wrists and ankles where they'd held her down and the constant ache between her legs where he'd rubbed her raw.


Buffy's heart hammered in her chest when the familiar clicking of the door echoed through the room. Kakistos was coming for her. Like he'd done every night since he'd killed Wesley and forced her to watch. Since he'd taken Buffy home to be his pet.

And there he was, in front of her cage. Lackeys already opening the door, holding her down as Kakistos walked up to her. He smiled coldly and said, "Honey, wake up."

Buffy thrashed against the vampires who held her down as Kakistos continued to leer. But as she watched, his face distorted and spread, a halo of light surrounding him. If she squinted, she could make out new shapes in the light. Ones she felt she hadn't seen in months. Buffy's eyes snapped open.


"Sweetie, were you having a bad dream?"

Her room. Sunlight. Not in a cage, in her bed. Sunlight filling her small white bedroom, bouncing off her vanity mirror, her Fiesta Queen trophy, and her mom's worried face.

Buffy forced a smile. "I'm fine, mom."

"Well, good, because I can't have my little girl unhappy on her birthday. Come out to the kitchen and I'll make you some waffles." Joyce smoothed Buffy's hair and headed out.

Rolling over, Buffy buried her face in her pillow, suppressing a shudder as she tried to blot out the awful, lingering images of the nightmare.

"I see," Wesley said, frowning. "And do you believe this was a prophetic dream?"

Buffy shrugged. "I can't tell. I dream about vampires a lot. Sometimes I dream about armies of them coming at me. But...this was really specific and really real. And they usually aren't."

"Oh my. Well, we'll just have to be careful," he said. Wesley smiled and reached across the diner's formica table, covering Buffy's hand with his. The Cheyenne, with its shiny red booths, Wild West decor, and atrocious food, was inexplicably Buffy's favorite restaurant. She often dragged him uptown after patrol for a cup of decaf and a plate of burnt fries. So when she'd called him earlier that evening sounding distraught, he immediately thought to have her meet him there. In the past almost-year, he'd heard Buffy sound annoyed, upset, angry, happy.... But never scared.

And she had good reason to be.

If this was a prophetic dream.... But surely inevitable events didn't warrant prophetic dreams. It would be useless, showing Slayers tragedies they couldn't stop, given time. There was no reason to think anything was set in stone. That Buffy would be captured and Wesley killed. They would simply have to be careful.

And in the meantime, Wesley withdrew a slim black box from his jacket pocket and placed it on the table, shyly sliding it across to her.

"What's this?" Buffy asked, grinning.

"I, ah, your mother mentioned your birthday over Christmas dinner...."

"And you remembered!"

Wesley ducked his head and blushed as Buffy picked the box up and snapped the lid back.

"Oh my god," she murmured.

"Do you like it?"

"Wesley, it's beautiful," she said, tracing the small gilt cross with her fingertip.

"Here." Wesley slid out of the booth and went to Buffy, lifting the cross out of the box. Buffy swept her hair aside and Wesley looped the chain around her neck. His fingers shook only slightly as they grazed the soft skin of her neck while he fumbled with the clasp. When it was finally shut, he sat back down in his side of the booth.

"Well," Buffy asked, extending her neck to best show off his present.

"Lovely," Wesley smiled.

This time, it was Buffy who blushed. When Wesley had been updating his journal earlier that day, it occurred to him that Buffy would be eighteen in a year. When he was assigned to be her Watcher, deep inside Wesley knew it was because no one expected her to live for more than a few months. Which was fine, of course. Wesley had only wanted to do his best and impress Mr. Travers, in hopes of eventually receiving a more long-term assignment.

Buffy turned out to be surprisingly resourceful under her flippant exterior. One month had become two, three, four, and Wesley found himself doing his best to guide this vibrant young woman. Guide her, but not grow attached.

Wesley clearly remembered his first day in the Watcher's Academy. An older Watcher walked in, placed his books on the desk, and said: "Ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by telling you: Slayers die."

Slayers die. The message came through, loud and clear. Do not get attached.

But that approach really only ever works in theory.

Should a Slayer live to see eighteen, she must to undergo a test of strength, the Cruciamentum. Wesley studied the Cruciamentum in his second year at the Academy — only a fourth of the Slayers survive. And a year from now, Wesley would be asked to betray Buffy, drug her and leave her to possibly die at the hands of a vampire or demon.

It made so much sense, in theory. The world would be better off for activating a new Slayer than continuing on with a weak one who had not developed the proper survival skills in at least a year of training and performing active Slayer duties. Even if Wesley wholeheartedly believed Buffy would survive to her eighteenth birthday and survive the Cruciamentum, for the very first time in his life, he was left with the feeling that maybe the Council was not always doing right by the Slayers.

More than anything, Wesley wished he could talk to another Watcher. One who'd had an active Slayer, had gone through what he was going through. But no one from London had rang in nearly two months. It was surprising, actually — there was only one active Slayer at a time, one would think the organization founded purely to train, assist, and supervise her would, frankly, show a little more interest. Yes, the Council also had a hand in controlling the magical community, and tracking down and identifying demons, and many other important functions. Still, Wesley couldn't help feeling slightly detached from the Council.

The Council who had told him not to get attached to the only person he'd had any sort of contact with for months, the girl who had carried him to the hospital when he was injured and remembered his birthday when his own father hadn't.

"Wes? Whatcha thinking about?" Buffy said, taking a sip of her soda and staring at him.

"Oh, um, I was just thinking, the Ice Capades will be in town this weekend. Would you like me to pick up some tickets? You mentioned once—"

"Oh my god," she giggled, reaching across the table to throw her arms around his neck. "You're, like, the best Watcher ever!"

Wesley hugged her back, tangling his hands in her hair and sighing. No, the best Watcher ever would have remembered to stay detached.

At least he had another year to think of something that would either make Buffy's, his, or the Council's lives easier.

Chapter Nine: Extermination

February 1998

"'The MTA is baffled by the abnormally large, aggressive rodents which have been terrorizing subway passengers for the past week, and while city officials are looking into it, many commuters are currently seeking other modes of transport.'" Wesley put the paper down and looked at Buffy.

" want me to go all exterminator on them? Because Buffy the Rat Slayer doesn't have the same ring."

He shook his head. "No,'s just, this sounds like more than a simple pestilence problem. There's a demon that can infect rodents. Make them vicious, blood-thirsty. It then feeds off the pain and terror they inflict. They're quite rare in America, but when they do show up, it can be quite troublesome."

"A demon, huh?" Buffy bit her lip and concentrated on getting the wood chips from the stake she was carving onto the newspaper Wesley had put down on the floor. The first time they'd carved stakes in his apartment, he'd spent an entire week complaining about splinters.

"Yes, it should be quite exciting."

Buffy snorted. "Only you would equate 'demon' with 'exciting.'"

"Well! It's not as if I've seen one outside of a book yet."

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

Opening another book, Wesley scribbled down a few notes. "Are you telling me you're not the least bit curious?"

She shrugged. "I guess. I mean, vampire, demon. Seen one, seen 'em all. So how do we find this thing?"

"According to this book, I'm going to have to scrye to locate him."

Buffy stopped what she was doing and smirked. "Really? I haven't seen you do that since our first couple patrols together. You want me to drop one of your books on your hand or something? Or rent Old Yeller again?"

"Scrye," Wesley said, glaring. "It's a form of rudimentary magic. You tie a crystal to a string, hold it over a map, concentrate on what you want to find, and the crystal drops on the location."

"Gotcha." She put down the knife and blew the loose chips off the stake. "So, I'll grab the weapons and you...scrye...for this...."

"Ockchar demon."

"Right. I just hope he isn't hiding in the subway tunnels. It took five washings to get the tunnel muck outta my clothes last time."

As Buffy and Wesley stepped out of the train at Columbus Circle, Buffy sighed. "I knew it. So I guess we'll wait for the people to clear, then I'll go down first—"

"Hm? Oh, no, we're going up," Wesley said, leading Buffy to the stairs.

"Oh! Good, that's much better than...oh shit, I t-talked to s-soon." A gust of icy wind shot down the stairs and Buffy shivered, tying her scarf and pulling on her mittens. "I c-can't believe it's colder uptown. How is t-that even p-possible?"

"I b-believe it's the t-taller buildings," Wesley chattered, scrunching his chin down into his jacket. "They c-concentrate the wind."

"I miss L.A."

"I miss London." Wesley helped Buffy across a patch of ice, then pulled out a map. "We have to go into the park."

"The demon's in Central Park?"

"The demon's in the carousel in Central Park."

"You're kidding."

"I wish I was. It makes sense, actually. Demons are often drawn to places of innocence, and youth."


They made their way through the deserted playground in silence, boots crunching on the snow underfoot. The sun was just starting to set, and the remaining rays made the snowy surfaces glow in orange and gold.

As Buffy and Wesley rounded the first baseball field, they heard a muffled "Hey!" coming from one of the benches.

"Erm, yes?" Wesley said, addressing the small, older black man ensconced in several ragged blankets.

"Mister, my name is Willy, the Central Park poet. Can Willy offer you and your fine young lady-friend some of his poetry today? Any contribution would be gratefully accepted," he said, thrusting a photocopied packet of poetry into Wesley's face.

Wesley glanced at Buffy, who raised her hands. "Don't look at me, I always leave my purse at home during patrols."

"Yes, and I my wallet." Turning back to Willy, Wesley shrugged apologetically. "I'm sorry, sir, the only thing I have on me is a tin of licorice—"

Willy's eyes lit up. "I'll take it!"

"Oh. Okay then." He fished the tin out of his jacket pocket and handed it to the poet. "There you go."

"Enjoy the poetry," Willy said, shooting them a nearly-toothless grin.

Buffy smiled and waved, then looped her arm in Wesley's as they continued down the path.

"That poor guy," she said, shaking her head.

"Well, it's heartening to see some drifters are still willing to sing for their supper, as it were. I wonder if his poetry is any good?" Wesley started to flip through the stapled pages, but Buffy tugged on his arm.

"No time to find out, we're here."

The carousel building was dark, the gate around it firmly chained closed. Buffy squinted at the sign. "Friedsam Memorial Carousel. Winter hours of operation, Monday through Friday: closed. Oh! That's lucky for us."

"Yes, though I don't know how we'll get in."

"We'll find a way," Buffy said, easily pulling the lock off and pushing the gate open.

Wesley shook his head and laughed. "Ladies first."

Buffy pulled an axe from under her jacket and went inside. "Jeez, closed carousels are just as creepy as they look in horror movies. So, how are we supposed to find this Charbroil demon?"

"Ockchar, and with this," he said, pulling a vented box from his jacket pocket. When he opened one end and tilted it towards the ground, a large gray rat hit the cement with a thud.

"Eew, you were carrying that thing in your pocket?"

"Would you have preferred I'd kept it in my trousers?" Wesley winked, then held his finger to his lips and crouched down, watching as the rat ran under the carousel.

Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy saw a flash of red dart out of the farthest corner of the small shed and dive under the carousel. A minute later, there was a screech and an impressively larger rat ambled out. It made a bee-line right for Buffy, who deftly brought her axe down and split it in half, sending the body flying towards the carousel and the head towards Wesley's feet.

He grimaced and gingerly dislodged the rat-head from his shoe. "I'd say we found our demon."

"Great. Now what?"

" slay while I watch."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Okay, but how do I kill it?"

"I believe most demons can be dispatched via decapitation."

"Chop off its head?"

"Chop off its head."

She twirled the axe. "Next time, just say that."

A high-pitched screeching drew their attention back to the carousel, where the squat, furry red demon was clinging to a white wooden horse with a brown mane. It swayed from side to side and cocked its head, studying Buffy and Wesley.

Clang. Wesley had taken off his shoe and tossed it against the far wall. As the demon swiveled around to investigate the noise, Buffy crept up behind it. Carefully, she raised the axe then quickly brought it down, but her aim was off and she only managed to lop off a chunk of its flesh. The Ockchar howled and leaped towards Buffy, knocking her backwards; she avoided landing on her ass only by grabbing onto a horse's upraised hoof.

"Okay, that wasn't fun."

"Buffy, remember what I showed you, let your opponent come to you."

"Yeah, I'll let the angry demon come to me and chop off some of my skin in retaliation," Buffy snapped, but did as told and remained as she was.

Snapping its green teeth at her, the Ockchar hopped from one horse to another until it was perched above Buffy, green blood dribbling down its arm and onto the carousel platform. With a howl, he leaped towards Buffy, who brought the axe up and decapitated the demon in midair.

The head landed in her lap.

"Oh, okay, scarred for life."

"Here," Wesley pushed the head away and helped Buffy to her feet. "Well, your first demon. What do you say we go celebrate?"

"Celebrate? How?"

"It's a surprise," he smiled.

They put their gloves back on and headed into the cold. After being in the relatively-warmish shed that housed the carousel, the icy wind cut straight through to Buffy's bones. The moon lit the almost empty pathway as Buffy and Wesley headed east. Maybe Central park had some kind of secret Turkish bath house...steam, and heat, and hot steam...Buffy was so wrapped up in her fantasies of regaining some of her body heat she hadn't noticed that Wesley had stopped in front of....

"An ice skating rink?!"

"I saw it on the map while I was scrying," Wesley smiled, leading her towards the building.

"I had no idea there was a skating rink in Central Park."

"It does seem to have all sorts of surprises."

"Like demons hiding out in carousels?"

He laughed. "Well, yes, there is that."

Buffy had to give Wesley credit — he'd made it around the rink twice before falling flat on his ass and skidding into a pack of teenaged girls. After he went down for the third time, Buffy sent him inside to get them some hot cocoa while she took a few more laps. Skating turned out to be just like slaying; her body hadn't forgotten a thing even though it had been ages since she'd done it. After a little while Buffy found a rhythm and she was able to shut out everything but the scrape of her blades against the ice and the wind whipping into her face.

"Did you have fun?"

Buffy dropped into the chair next to Wesley and accepted the proffered hot chocolate. She smiled. "Not as much as you. You know, if you wanted to knock things over, we coulda just gone bowling."

"Very funny."

"I thought so."

As she took a sip of the cocoa, letting it warm her tongue and lips, one of the girls Wesley had bulldozed limped past. She glared at him while her friends trailed behind, then disappeared around the corner in a haughty swirl of fuzzy pink wool.

Buffy giggled.

Wesley just sighed and closed his eyes. "Not a word."

The entire subway ride home, Buffy broke into periodic bouts of giggles, remembering Wesley sliding across the ice. She loved him, but man, he could be a spaz. As Buffy started to climb the steps towards her apartment, the feeling of wind stinging her cheeks had faded, but the feeling of freedom and flying that skating always gave her hadn't. It was like slaying, in a way — losing yourself to pure physical reactions, getting lost in the dance.

A sudden sharp wind cut through every layer of clothing as she fumbled for her keys. Buffy shivered and jammed the key into the lock.

When she finally got inside and upstairs to her apartment, she was surprised to find the entire place dark. "Mom?"

No answer. Working late again.

Buffy peeled off her coat and headed into the kitchen to get a glass of juice. On her way back to her bedroom, she heard a faint noise coming from her mother's closed bedroom door.

"Hello? Mom?" Pushing the door open, she saw her mom lying on the bed, watching the news on the small television in the corner. "Hey, didn't you hear me?"

"...temperatures are expected to dip into the low twenties tonight as another cold front moves through...."


Drip. Drip. Buffy looked down to see she'd crushed the glass in her hand, and the blood from her palm was welling up and splattering on the floor. When she looked back up, the only thing she saw were her mother's eyes staring blankly ahead.

Chapter 10: Still Life

March 13, 1998

If only. If only Wesley had insisted on walking Buffy home that night. If only Wesley had not gotten the bright idea to take Buffy ice skating. If only Wesley had waited another day to scrye for the demon, let Buffy have a day off and spend a quiet day at home with....

"Please, Mister...Pryce, is it? Sorry, Wyndam-Pryce. Please, make sure Miss Summers knows that there's nothing she could have done to help her mother. The aneurysm was so small, almost undetectable. No one could have known."

"Yes, I will. Thank you, doctor."

If only she'd not had to face that alone.

"Wesley, what...what happens now? To me?"

"You mustn't worry about that. The Council will see that you're legally placed within my care. You've been through enough. I'm going to make sure your life isn't disrupted further."

Disrupted. Could he have sounded any more callous? Wesley shook his head and unpacked another box of clothes. Buffy had been scared, grieving, and he'd made it sound like her mother's death had been some...some inconvenience. Stupid.

"I mean, c'mon Wes, the Council is paying for the rent, and your apartment is so tiny. And I've got all this extra room.'s really quiet up here at night. Plus, it would make training easier...."

So here he was, moving into Buffy's mother's old bedroom. An unusual arrangement for a Slayer and a Watcher, but Buffy had become so withdrawn in the month since her mother died. Wesley was grateful he had the chance to better keep an eye on her.

There was a soft knock on the door.

"Come in."

Buffy pushed the door open and padded in, still pajama-clad at three in the afternoon. "Hey. I brought you some sheets. I mean, I'm sure you have your own sheets, but people always offer their guests sheets...." She bounced on the balls of her feet and ran her hand over the linens.

Wesley smiled and took them from her. "Thank you."

"So...I'm gonna take a shower, and then we can train?"

"Of course."

Buffy had thrown herself into training with a vigor and enthusiasm he'd never thought possible for her, at least when it came to something that wasn't shoe shopping. She'd even volunteered to pull out of public school and be home tutored, just to devote more time to training. He was fairly certain she'd have given up their occasional trips to the movies had he not insisted.

Still, all told, she was handling the situation admirably.

The small radio bleated out the latest Third Eye Blind single as Buffy stepped into the shower, hissing when the hot water hit her skin. She hoped Wesley didn't mind the music cranked up so loud, but she needed it. Showers were really the worst. Showers and those minutes between getting into bed and actually falling asleep. Any other time, she could find something to do, keep her mind off her mom. But showers...when she was stuck in there with just her own thoughts....

So, music. For showers, at least. When she was going to sleep, she was kinda trapped. Nothing to do but lay there and feel like her ribs has knitted themselves into a heavy ball in her chest while tears stained her pillowcase.

Sometimes, if she couldn't sleep, she'd go and make herself a cup of tea. If Wesley was still up, or if she'd accidentally woken him up, he'd join her. God, Wesley had been so great. Taking care of all the funeral arrangements, letting her cry and vent, agreeing to move in. It was weird, she thought, turning off the water and reaching for a towel. It was like, somewhere along the way he'd stopped being Mister Fussy Watcherman and started just being her friend.

He was still totally fussy though.

Yesterday, he'd inexplicably rearranged the cupboard where they kept the drinking glasses and mugs. Everything was now grouped in some order Buffy guessed was largest to smallest, though she had to admit that wasn't a given. After all, he had his weapons cabinet arranged by alphabetical order of the demons each weapon was most effective on.

Which didn't exactly do her any good when she just wanted to know where to put the long sword with the green handle

Living with him was turning out to be an interesting experience. He'd always tried so hard to be all business, even when he was taking on their outings. But it's hard to be a stern Watcher when vegging on the couch watching Dawson's Creek with your Slayer.

Yeah, Wesley definitely did his best to make things better for Buffy. It wasn't his fault it felt like nothing would ever be enough to make her happy again.

"Where are you going?"

Wesley watched as Buffy ran her fingers through her wet hair.

"We're out of milk and bread, so I'm gonna run to the grocery store."

He couldn't remember the last time Buffy had gone out in public without her hair somewhat styled, without a trace of makeup.

"I'll come with you."

Buffy raised an eyebrow. "I think I can handle going to the grocery store solo."

Can you really? "Yes, I know, but I could use the fresh air."

"Wes, it's like ten degrees out." When he continued to stare at her, she shrugged. "Get your coat."

The sun had already set by the time they entered the Food Emporium, and Wesley found himself blinking against the glaring fluorescent light.

On the five-block walk to the store, Wesley had done his best to keep up a constant stream of chatter. Buffy'd mostly nodded, occasionally throwing him a monosyllabic answer. But Wesley wasn't going to give up so easily.

"Well." He rubbed his hands together and smiled at her. "Where shall we begin?"

"Uh...fruits and vegetables first, I guess."


She looked at him. "Wesley, it's just fruit."

Buffy pushed the cart while Wesley selected the food. Though she made a few efforts to smile at his jokes, he could tell she was largely lost in her own thoughts. Finally, he stopped in front of the ice cream freezer.

"What do you think? Chunky Monkey?"

She shrugged. "Whatever you want. You like black cherry, right?"

"Yes, but we can get two cartons. It is on the Council's dime," he winked.

"Yeah." A wan smile. "Yeah, sure, Chunky Monkey."

Pulling the freezer open, Wesley shook his head. He would give anything to make Buffy feel better.

"Man, I don't know how people drag groceries up three flights of stairs without Slayer strength," Buffy said as they reached the landing.

"I imagine there's a reason why there are countless fast food places in the immediate vicinity."

"Point. Aw crap." Buffy put the bags down in the hall and sighed. "The super said there weren't gonna be any more homeless people sleeping in the hallway. Hey!" She started to walk over. "There's a shelter over on — oh, god...."

"Buffy, what is it?"

When Wesley got closer to the body, he realized what he'd assumed were rags were intestines, pulled out of the young woman and strewn about her corpse. With a shaking hand, he removed the piece of paper stuffed into her mouth.

You're cordially invited to take your rightful place as my pet.

The warehouse, tomorrow at sundown.

The farther you run, the longer the trail of bodies will be.


Chapter 11: Before I Come Undone

March 13, 1998

"Here's my card. I want you to call me if there's anything else you remember."

"Yes, officer," Wesley said, taking the card and showing the detective to the door.

After, Wesley headed into the kitchen, where Buffy was pulling the weapons chest out of the closet they'd stashed it in before calling the police. Somehow, they didn't think a chest full of knives, swords, daggers, and stakes would give the officer the right impression, considering the disemboweled girl outside their door.

"Here, let me," he said, pulling the chest out the rest of the way. "I'm going to call the Council first thing in the morning. They'll advise us how to proceed."

Buffy plucked a dagger from the chest and turned it over in her hands. "I already know what I have to do," she said, softly. "I have to go kill him."

"Buffy, you can't act rashly now. If you agree to his terms, you'll have no element of surprise, no advantage. He'll kill you. Or worse."

Shrugging, she continued to stare at the dagger. "It's what I have to do."

Dear lord. He'd heard, of course, about Slayers who became suicidal. Hunted as though they'd had a deathwish. But Buffy, his Buffy...the girl who dragged him to terrible movies and was always so full of life....

Wesley laid a hand on her arm, surprised at how cool her skin felt under his fingers. As if the internal-freeze that began with her mother's death had started to seep outward.

"Buffy, you know that's not true. I want Kakistos to pay as much as you do, but—"

"What do you think her name was?"


Her eyes finally left the dagger to meet his. "The girl. The one he tore apart to send me a message. What do you think her name was?"

"I...don't know."

"How old was she? My age? Older?" Her voice sounded so far away. "Did she have a family? Is someone gonna tell her mother...." With a strangled cry, Buffy brought the dagger down and into the wooden kitchen table. It wobbled but remained upright when she released it.

Wesley pulled her to him, stroking her back and waiting for her ragged sobs to subside. After a while, her breathing slowed and she stilled.

Finally, her face still pressed against his chest, she said, "I can't let anyone else die because of me."

"Oh, Buffy, you mustn't blame yourself," Wesley murmured, brushing tangled golden threads of hair off her face. "That girl...Kakistos is—"

"I don't just mean that girl."


"No, not just my mom either." Buffy pulled away from him and leaned against the counter, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand. "If I had listened to Merrick more, been a better Slayer, maybe he wouldn't have died. If I had been a better daughter, maybe my parents wouldn't have split, and my mom wouldn't have gotten this crazy, stressful job at the Met. If I hadn't stupidly chased after that woman, I wouldn't have been caught by Kakistos. If I'd just...god, something." A sigh. "Anything."

"Buffy, you weren't to blame for any of those things. We live in a dangerous world, and we're fighting a war most people don't even know exists. There are bound to be...casualties." Buffy snorted. "What?"

"You. Even when you're being a jerk, quoting your Watcher's handbook about 'acceptable losses' still manage to make me feel better. Always. How do you do that?"

Wesley ducked his head. "Luck, I suspect."

When she gave him a small smile, Wesley was certain his heart stopped. The smile quickly disappeared though, replaced by the frown that had taken up residence on her face for the past month.

"But that isn't even everything. Just...seeing that girl.... She could be me, you know? She would have been me if Kakistos had it his way. Or some other demon gets in a lucky shot when I'm not paying attention or something. I'm not an idiot, I know Slayers don't usually get to take advantage of senior citizen's early bird specials. But...oh, jeez, listen to me." She looked down, drawing her arms around herself. "A girl gets gutted on my doorstep, and all I can worry about is my death. God, I'm stupid."

"You're not stupid," Wesley said, vehemently. She sounded so distraught, he wished...he wished she could just see herself through his eyes. "You're intelligent, and resourceful. You were wonderful with your mother, she knew how much you cared for her. You're beautiful, and you have a truly wonderful heart."

"Yeah, but...." Her head snapped up and she stared at him, open-mouthed. "You think I'm beautiful?"

Oh, bugger. "I'm sorry, that wasn't.... I'm your Watcher, it's not proper for me to—"

"You think I'm beautiful," she smiled.

At least she hadn't run away. Yet. Actually, she appeared to be moving closer to him....

No, no, no. He was her Watcher, he'd taken a sacred oath....

Her hands were on his arms. Skin no longer chilled, but warm, so warm. And Wesley became painfully aware that she was wearing a rather flimsy tank top.

The scent of her strawberry shampoo surrounded him, and Wesley realized that neither of them were moving. He needed to tell her...that it was wrong...before it was too late....

Then her lips were on his, and Buffy softly moaned as she melted into him. Wesley wrapped his arms around her waist, going against everything the Council had told him and not caring at all. He could feel her heart pounding through her chest against his, even as she hungrily sucked on his lower lip.

Dear lord, she's a distraught girl in mourning, you vulture, his father's voice rang through his head. That was enough to make Wesley pull back and disentangle himself from her.

If he was doing the right thing by not taking advantage of her, why did he feel like hell for it? And oh, god, she looked so hurt....

"Buffy, we can't...I'm your Watcher!" Maybe if he kept repeating it, he'd believe it himself. "And...and you're seventeen! And I'm...not."

She put her hands on her hips and stared at him. "Yeah, well, there's no guarantee I'm gonna see eighteen, is there."

The Cruciamentum. He couldn't possibly perform the Cruciamentum if he had feelings.... "Buffy, we can't do this.'re mourning. I can't take advantage of you like that."

Buffy brightened considerably. "So you do have feelings for me!"

"What?! How did you—"

"You said 'take advantage.' That means there's something you wanna do."

Wesley felt himself blush. "You're not listening to me. You're upset, you're not thinking clearly...."

"No, that's the thing," she said, shaking her head. "For the first time in, like, ever, I feel like I'm finally thinking clearly. I can't keep waiting for my life to begin, because if I keep waiting around, I'm gonna wake up one day and find out it's over. Or, okay, not wake up, but you know what I mean."

Wesley nodded. "Carpe diem."

She cocked her head. "Fish of the day?"

"No, carpe...seize. Seize the day." He smiled. "You didn't pay much attention during my Latin lessons, did you?"

"I paid attention. Just not to the Latin."

"Well then, what did you...." She looked at him from under her eyelashes, and Wesley felt himself blush again. "Oh, my. We're back to that?"

"Yes, but you get points for almost changing the subject. Wesley, don't you get it? You're my best friend. I can't imagine not having you in my life. I don't care what your bosses say, I love you."

Buffy blushed then, and brought her fingernail up to her mouth to chew on it while she watched him, waiting for his reaction.

Wesley was speechless. He kept waiting to wake up in his bed in Buffy's mother's old bedroom. Or his old apartment on Christopher Street. Or worse, find out he'd only imagined her. Maybe he was still in London, hoping to be assigned to an active Slayer someday. Maybe Buffy Summers was just a figment of his imagination. After all, what beautiful woman like her could look at him and....

He reached out, just to make sure she was real, and suddenly she was in his arms again, and his hands were finding their way under her shirt, running across the small of her back as she nuzzled his neck and moaned.

When she started to lead him towards her bedroom, Wesley had one last reservation. "Buffy, have you ever...?"

She shook her head.

"Are...are you sure you want to...."

Her eyes met his, and she smiled. Really, truly smiled, for the first time in ages. "I trust you. Now stop being a wanker and come on."

Wesley chuckled. "Oh, sure, wanker you learn, but carpe diem you don't."

Buffy grinned and pulled him into the bedroom.

Oh yes, I'm quite certainly going to hell, he thought. And I'm quite certain I don't care.

Chapter 12: Broken White Line

March 14, 1998

Warm breath tickled the back of her neck and sunlight streamed in through her window, diffusing into an orange glow that lit up every surface of her bedroom. For a moment, Buffy relished the warmth that covered her inside and out. But as Wesley stirred behind her, his arm slipping from around her waist, she started to panic.

She couldn't believe what she'd done last night. God, she gave Tricia Douglas back at Hemery High a run for her money as World's Biggest Skank. Buffy had practically jumped Wesley, and he'd tried to tell her he wasn't interested, but she hadn't listened. Buffy had totally screwed things up, and now he was gonna request a transfer or something because she'd made things too weird between them, and she'd never see him again—

"Good morning," Wesley said, kissing the side of her neck. "Mm, I love waking to bright sunshine."

Buffy rolled over, searched his face for any sign of revulsion or pity and, finding none, smiled and brought her hand up to smooth his tousled hair.

Stroking her arm, Wesley grinned at her. "It doesn't surprise me to find you're absolutely lovely when you wake up."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "That'd be more convincing if you had your glasses on."

"I'll have you know I can see fine when it counts. Now, come on," he kissed her on the forehead and sat up. "I'll make us breakfast."

For the first time in a month, Buffy showered in silence. There were enough wonderful things filling her head to push out all the bad thoughts without the help of a radio. As the water sluiced down her shoulders and back, memories of the previous night came rushing back to her. Back in Los Angeles, she and Tyler had almost...but it hadn't felt right, so they didn't. Last night, with Wesley, that felt right. She never thought she'd feel so close to anyone. Especially not after becoming the Slayer, inheriting this huge secret that separated her from every other person on the planet. But Wesley — the one person who had no reason to see her as anything but a Slayer — he'd looked at her and seen...her. Just her.

Nothing was right. Her mom was dead, Kakistos was coming after her, an innocent girl had been murdered on her doorstep. But for the first time in years, Buffy felt like a normal girl.

"Wow, that smells great," Buffy said, plopping down at the table.

"In London, we call it 'bangers and mash.' Sausage and mashed potatoes." He smiled and scraped the contents of the pan onto her plate. "Mother would make this for me every morning when I was growing up."

"Well, good. We need a big breakfast today."

"What's on your agenda? Training?"

Buffy shook her head. "You know what we're doing today."

"I see." Wesley frowned and sat down across from her. "I thought we agreed that going after Kakistos would be madness."

"I'm not disagreeing with you there. But it's something I have to do. Besides, I have something that's gonna make sure I win."

He raised an eyebrow. "Oh? And what's that?"

Buffy smiled shyly and covered her hand with his. "Something to live for."

At 11th St., Buffy and Wesley ducked into a lowered stone staircase to check their weapons.

"Okay — stakes, axe, holy water," Buffy said, looking through her bag. She lifted the back of her shirt. "Extra axe. Anything I'm forgetting?"

"Only this." From his jacket pocket he withdrew a small black pouch. He pulled the top of the bag open and tipped it over Buffy's hand. A woven silver cross on a leather cord tumbled into her palm. "I know you were worried about the other cross I gave you getting damaged in a fight. This one's quite durable, I assure you."

Buffy grinned. "I love it." She slipped it over her head and felt the cool weight settle against her chest. Taking a deep breath, she stood on her tiptoes and brushed her lips against Wesley's. "And I love you."

He pulled her into his arms and rested his cheek against the top of her head. "I love you, too."

"And I think we just became a sappy Lifetime movie," she laughed, pulling back. "Come on, let's get rid of this creep once and for all."

Buffy held on to Wesley's hand on the walk to the next block. It felt like she was walking towards her final showdown. Killing Kakistos would be her last big fight before she could settle back into the normal vamp slayage. Go back to being something resembling normal.

And no matter what happened in the warehouse, at least she knew she'd never be alone again.

The axe handle felt slick in Buffy's hand as she looked up at the warehouse. She was built to slay. She'd trained with Wesley for months, and Merrick before that. There was nothing about this vampire she couldn't handle. But still....

"There's time to turn around," Wesley whispered. "We can call the Council...."

Buffy shook her head. "I have to do this."

Just then the front door swung open. "A wise choice," came an oily hiss from inside.

Readying their weapons, Buffy and Wesley peered into the gloom and spotted the ancient vampire grinning menacingly at them from across the room.

"If you had not come," he continued, "I would have had Rocco drop off another present for you."

Another vampire stepped out from behind the door he'd opened, holding on to a young, Asian girl who was quaking with fear.

"Let her go," Buffy said. "I'm here now, so let her go."

"Oh, no, no. I don't think I will. Not yet anyway. You see," Kakistos patted his shoulder, devoid of the arm Buffy had cut off, "I well remember what happens when I become too complacent near you. You will, of course, pay for that indiscretion. Yes, pet, I'll make sure you bleed when I'm fu—"

"Finish that thought, and I assure you the removal of your other arm will be quite painful," Wesley glared, raising his sword towards the vampire's throat.

Kakistos laughed. "Humans are such amusing creatures. But there's no reason we can't be civil, eh? In fact, I have a proposition for you. We fight. If you win, you, your Watcher, and the girl go free. If you lose, all three of you become my pets."

"I don't make deals with vampires. Let the girl go."

"Rocco?" Kakistos waved his hoof.

Rocco nodded and pulled a knife from his pocket. He brought it to the girl's face and made a small cut on her cheek. The girl whimpered.

"You see," Kakistos said, "I'm not fond of bargaining."

Buffy squeezed Wesley's hand and leaned in close. "Go stand by her. Make sure she's okay," she whispered.

He looked at her worriedly. "Are you certain?"

"Something to live for, remember?"

Wesley nodded and gave her a small smile before heading over to the vampire and the girl. Buffy scanned the warehouse. There didn't seem to be any other vampires in the building. Just Rocco and Kakistos.

Goes to show how arrogant this sicko is.

"Okay. You wanted me, you got me."

Remembering what Wesley had once told her, about being safer when you're low, she dove forward, rolling towards Kakistos and ignoring the pain of the spare axe pressing into her back. When her feet hit the ground, Buffy pushed herself into a crouch and swung her axe towards his knee.

Despite his bulky frame and whole 'no arm' thing, Kakistos moved fast. He grabbed Buffy's axe just before it made contact with his leg. He then twisted it around. When she felt her bones begin to crack, Buffy yelped and let go.

Using her momentary distraction, Kakistos cracked Buffy across the face and sent her flying backwards. She slammed into the wall and a fine spray of plaster rained down around her. Coughing and wiping her eyes, Buffy pushed herself to her feet. She could feel blood gushing from her lips, the skin completely split where his hoof had connected. But she had more important things to think about currently.

"Now, you know I won't kill you, Slayer. But I have no qualms about making you nice and tender before breaking you in," he said, licking his lips and stalking towards her.

Buffy glanced over at Wesley, who was wringing his hands. "I'm fine," she mouthed. To Kakistos, she said, "Sorry, goat-boy, but the only breaking that's gonna happen here is your ass with my foot."

Kakistos picked up her axe. "I have your weapon, little girl." He let out another one of his creepy laughs that made Buffy's skin crawl.

"Got another." She pulled the other axe from her waistband and closed the space between them, bringing the axe over her head and down towards Kakistos. Whistling as it cut through the air, she'd miscalculated and only knocked the other weapon out of his hand instead of cutting it off entirely.

Still, it was enough to let Buffy gain some momentum. She spun around and kicked him in the head, her foot connecting dully and sending them both flying backwards. When he landed on his back with an "oof," Buffy skidded to a stop in front of him and raised her axe.

"It ends now, you bastard," she said.

"Yes," Kakistos nodded. "It does."

And Buffy was falling, the ground rushing up to meet her. At first she thought her legs had buckled, but she didn't fall to the floor. She fell through it.

When she slammed to the ground, Buffy looked up a couple feet to see Kakistos grinning at her from the edge of the small shaft she was in.

"The only rule here, you see, is that I always win. Rocco?"

Buffy almost threw up when she heard the young girl's screams, followed by a wet crunch and complete silence. Then, a small scuffle, and the sound of Wesley's sword clattering to the floor somewhere in the warehouse.

"Wesley, get out of here," she screamed.

"Tut tut, it's far too late for that," Kakistos said.

Wesley appeared at the edge of the trapdoor, flanked by Rocco and another vampire she didn't recognize.

"Look, you got me, okay? I'll be your pet. You win. But let Wesley go."

Kakistos's face grew stony, all traces of his amused arrogance replaced with a look of seething hatred. "Letting him go won't get me my arm back, will it?" he spat.

"Killing him won't either!"

"No, but it's fun."

"Buffy, it's going to be okay," Wesley said. His voice was calm, but even from her vantage point she could see his eyes filled with regret and fear. Buffy just wanted to hug him, make the fear melt away with a kiss. The air around her grew thick and stilled as she lost herself in his eyes, remembering the warmth of his lips against hers. The way his hand felt wrapped around her waist, callused fingers and a gentle touch pulling her closer. The way he always made everything.... "It's going to be okay," Wesley repeated, giving her the smallest of smiles.

Kakistos shook his head. "No, it won't. Slayer, how many of my kind would you say you've killed in the past couple years, using one of these?" He plucked the stake from Wesley's belt and studied it. "Haven't you ever wondered what it feels like ripping through you?"

Kakistos twisted his mouth into a ghoulish grin and brought his arm backwards, burying the stake square into Wesley's heart.

"No!" someone shrieked hysterically. It took Buffy several moments to realize it had come from her.

Wesley stared sadly at her before all the light disappeared from his eyes and he slumped bonelessly forward.


Buffy didn't feel herself begin to breathe again until she was out of the hole, kneeling on the ground. Kakistos leered at her, amused smile playing across his lips. Buffy brought a shaking hand to her own lips, split skin hanging loose and still oozing blood. Nothing compared to the amount of Wesley's blood that was pooled around her knees. Her hands stopped shaking the instant she wrapped her fingers around the cold hilt of Wesley's fallen sword.

She was gonna wipe the smirk of that bastard's face. Make him miserable. No one deserved to be happy in a world without....

Not gonna think about it. Not now. Can't.

In a firestorm of fury, she twisted around, ripping through the necks of the vampires who'd held Wesley down. Buffy felt little satisfaction as they exploded in a hail of dust.

She felt even less advancing on Kakistos. He just stood there. Didn't expect her to go on without someone to love. He'd underestimated the importance of something to avenge. She was on top of him in a flash, driving him into the ground and splitting his head in half with a clunk. Kneeling in a pile of his dust, Buffy didn't feel avenged. She just felt cold. The cross Wesley gave her hung heavy around her neck.

When Buffy finally made her way over to her fallen lover, the only thing she could see was herself reflected in his empty eyes.

Epilogue: Living Dead Girl

December 1998 — Cleveland, Ohio

"Miss Summers, you have no business disappearing for days on end without informing me beforehand," Nigel complained, traipsing after Buffy as she walked through his apartment.

"Yeah, well, you have no business walking into my hotel room uninvited," she replied.

"I-I assure you, I tried reaching you. If I'd known you'd be...making love...."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "I wasn't making love."

The boy she'd picked up at the club panted as he pounded into her. "God, baby, you're so beautiful. Baby, won't you smile for me? Bet you have a gorgeous smile, even with the scar. C'mon baby...."

"Fine, then, in flagrante delicto. My point is," Nigel continued, "I made an utter arse of myself in front of another Watcher today. Rupert Giles, from the Sunnydale outpost, called. I had to tell him I didn't know where my Slayer was."

"And that's my problem how?"

Nigel sighed and crossed his arms. "I honestly have no idea why Mister Wyndam-Pryce thought so highly of you. What happened to the bright, kind, obedient girl he described in his journals?"

"She's dead," Buffy whispered, hand flying to the cross around her neck.

"Excuse me?"

"Nothing. So what did that guy on the phone want, anyway?"

"Ah, yes. Well, I need you to pack your bags. I'll be driving you to the airport in an hour. There's apparently a situation in Sunnydale that needs your attention."

The airport. Fun. In the past eight months, Buffy had been in more airports than the other sixteen years of her life. Buffy and Nigel were always on the move. There was always some new, foreign evil to kill, a new city to make safer. Always some new boy to pick up at a club and fuck until she forgot who she was.

It was still better than staying in New York, where every street and building reminded her of....

No. Feelings got in the way. She'd made that mistake the first time. She never would again.

"Fine, let's go."

Sunnydale, California

She'd found Rupert Giles flat on his back, getting thrashed by a few vampires. After she'd gotten rid of them, he'd wrenched himself into a standing position again and led her over to his car.

"Well, I must say, it's quite an honor to meet you, Miss Summers. It's not often that an outpost Watcher gets to meet the active Slayer."

"Uh huh." She kept her eyes on the empty streets flying past the window.

"Did Nigel tell you anything about the situation here?"

"Yeah. Hellmouth."

"That's right. Well, a couple years ago, the barrier separating hell from earth became punctured. Slowly, demons — vampires, mostly — began to take over the town."

"That sucks," Buffy said, flatly.

"Er, yes."

She didn't know what this guy wanted or expected from her. She was a Slayer. She killed things. Nothing more, nothing less. She didn't get all excited over it or anything.

Not anymore.

As soon as they were back in his apartment, Giles went straight for his books. He dragged them halfway up his stairs and remained crouched there, mumbling to himself.

Finally, he jumped up and started babbling about reversing wishes and power centers. Buffy did her best to ignore him. Walking instead to his bar, she picked up a bottle of scotch. Scotch had always been Wesley's favorite. Giles continued talking about this demon woman.

"Why don't I just put a stake through her heart?" Buffy suggested.

"Slayer, how many of my kind would you say you've killed in the past couple years, using one of these?"

"She's not a vampire," Giles replied patiently, as if explaining to a child.

Right. She was a child. She was a child who'd seen more horrors than this Watcher wannabe in this little town could ever hope to see.

"Well, you'd be surprised how many things that'll kill."

"Haven't you ever wondered what it feels like ripping through you?"

The scent of scotch flooded her senses, bringing back unwelcome, happy memories of the month Wesley had lived with her. The way he'd have a small tumbler of scotch every few nights before going to bed. The way his lips would curve into a small smile when she walked in the room....

Buffy quickly put the stopper back on the bottle, hoping it would put a stop to the memories, too.

When she turned around, she was confronted with a much more unsettling sight. The Watcher, Giles...he looked so hopeful. So optimistic. Who had a right to be that optimistic?

"World is what it is. We fight. We die. Wishing doesn't change that."

Giles stared at her. "I have to believe in a better world."

"Go ahead. I have to live in this one."

She managed to half tune him out again as she polished her boots, but suddenly, one word caught her attention.

"The Master sent his most vicious disciples to kill her. Now, she, she must have posed some threat to him," Giles said.

"The Master?"

"Um, supreme vampire around these parts. He, he lives on the outskirts of town in an old club."

Buffy couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"You know where he lives, and no one's ever tried to take him out?"

She clenched and unclenched her fists. Buffy had risked her life and Wesley's to eliminate a bloodthirsty killer, stop him from preying on innocent people. Meanwhile, these idiots knew right where their big daddy vamp was set up, and instead of doing anything about it, Jeeves was sitting here chatting about power centers.

"People have tried."

Buffy sighed. "Well, point the way. I might as well do some good while I'm in this town."

Giles gave her a patently Wesley expression of reproach that chilled her to the bone. He even sounded like Wesley when he said, "You can't just walk in there and—"

"Look," Buffy interrupted, "you wanna stay here and play make-believe, fine. I'm not gonna be any help to you anyway. There's only one thing I'm good at."

"At least let's muster some kind of force."

More people I can get killed.

"I don't play well with others. Now, I'm gonna ask you this once, and then I'm gonna get testy. Where's this club?"

Giles closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's across town. I can drive you."

"I'll walk."

"Fine. Just take Main Street to the end. You won't be able to miss The Bronze. Just...follow the trail of bodies."

"Got it."

As she headed towards the door, she felt his hand settle on her shoulder. She flinched and looked back at him. The sincere concern in his eyes made her ill. Buffy turned back to the door.

"Please, be careful," Giles said.

"Yeah. Careful." Buffy lightly traced the cross hanging around her neck, then opened the door and stepped outside into the waning night.

She didn't know whether to blame the scent of the scotch or something else, but the sun creeping over the horizon reminded her of the morning after, with Wesley. His warm arms around her, the way the sun had filled her room.

This was the first sunrise she'd seen since that morning. Buffy closed her eyes for a moment, and she could almost feel the sun's warmth pulling at her, trying to draw her close. She wanted to reach out, give in to the warmth, but she had a job to do.

One way or another, the Master's reign was gonna end. She didn't care how it had to happen. Buffy opened her eyes, steeled her shoulders, and started walking to the club.

The sun would have to wait.