Unfortunately I wasn't able to finish editing Betrayer in order to upload that story to the BFA, but I did say I was going to post this on Sunday. And it is very, very done.
Let's hope I can post this in one piece.
Title: Absence of Solace
Author: Regala Electra
Summary: Every hour wounds, the last one kills.
Spoilers: AtS S3/BtVS S6
Timeline: Futurefic set roughly ten years after the events in Betrayer.
Pairings: Buffy/Wesley, (mentions of Buffy/Angel, Wesley/Lilah, Wesley/Other)
Author's Notes: Rewrite of the original version posted on my old blog. Originally, I had planned for a three part series of different characters' povs in a potential future. Absence of Solace is the Wesley POV. I had written this particular one quite a while ago but I was never really happy with its outcome. I've modified this story quite a bit, fleshed out the details, tweaked its edges and made it a few shades darker, much less Buffy/Angel, and added a much more graphic sex scene than the orignal version.
Warnings: Sexual content, violence, character deaths, language
Feedback: Helps a person become convinced to write more Buffy/Wesley. ;-)
It was a dark day as always.
After the attempts to use human-made weaponry against the hordes of demons failed, they finally resorted to the final solution.
And now, it was eternal darkness.
It would be easy for him to blame others for this nightmarish reality he lived in. For this terrible new world, for the gravel-dirt-cement ground he walked on, for the ruined and hollowed building they all hid in, for the scar around his neck that gave away his identity as "The Betrayer," but it was all his doing.
And now, it was eternal suffering.
Humanity hadn't been prepared to know the truth. He had known that when he made his decision, but he'd thought they'd be ready. Ready when the demonic armies finally united to regain the world they had once ruled, but humanity, its frailties too brittle for the harsh truth, could not do anything to save their shattered reality.
Their shattered lies.
So, he was labeled Betrayer, but he was more than that. After his involvement with the now defunct Wolfram and Hart, he'd joined up with the oldest and most powerful Slayer to attempt to gain some order the chaos.
It would be easy to consider this ruined world another dimension and not actually Earth, but the memories persisted when the attempts at pretending failed.
The irony was that by destroying the law firm, he'd only managed to make the side of evil (and how he loathed using the overly simplistic words of good and evil) a more desperate and more deadly enemy, one that was so splintered, it was impossible to claim victory for his own side. He still called his side the winning one and never dared to call it the good side. His morality had died a long time ago.
Now, there was only the war. And it would continue until they were all dead.
Until there was nothing.
But he wouldn't let that bother him for the moment. At this rare and precious time, when he had finished going over battle strategies and sending off more helpful demons (that desired the illusion of peace and foolishly thought that it could ever be achieved) and beleaguered people to die, he was able to rest and perhaps sleep. Only for this short while, he allowed himself to reflect and remember.
And to no longer be alone.
They hadn't planned it. When they had first decided to join forces and manage the task of saving humanity from the threat of the End of Days together, it had only been a mutual partnership of two warriors on the same side; his betrayal had ruined any bond of friendship they had developed.
He had sold his soul. Wesley knew that. When he finally died, his soul (for he did indeed have a soul, once upon a lifetime ago) was doomed for all eternity. Perhaps someday that would scare him. But not today. Or tomorrow. He didn't fear death. Nor damnation.
Buffy had become a strong ally; if he had left that day without her, he would have surely been dead by now. In the beginning, she didn't trust him, always expecting him to leave and was never surprised at the times he had disappeared, coming back reeking of alcohol and sex.
She never asked him about those things, nor would he ever tell her. Time passed, and eventually, things changed.
Angel didn't though.
Immortality has a way of always preserving the inner self, like a frozen shard of ice, sharp as glass, and Wesley wondered when was the last time he saw a real winter instead of this bleak gray-slate sky.
He remembered Buffy coming back from a mission with snow in her hair, her skin wet from melted snowflakes, and she never once complained about being cold. That was the very last winter he'd witnessed before the seasons died along with night and day.
Though they worked together, Buffy often left on her own missions, she was more efficient on her own, disrupting the most powerful of demonic forces with a well-planned strike at the heart of their operations. Weeks and months could stretch by without a word from her or one of their informants. But that was the best way; the only word he'd want while she was gone on a mission was if she had fallen and he was far too confident that he'd never hear that.
She had returned to Angel's side many times over the first few years. Wesley had never asked about what happened, never dared to. It had become a silent agreement. Neither would ever ask the other about their private affairs.
It was hard to remember (not to forget, no, he never forgot things) the last woman he had been with. Dark hair, perhaps, dark eyes, he had a rather unfortunate type with a look in their eyes that was too old and too distant. Wesley shook his head as he bitterly realized that the women reminded him a bit of a girl he had never quite loved or even really understood, and mostly of a woman he longed to hate, yet he kept her memory always at the forefront of his thoughts.
Waiting for Buffy, he tried to understand why she still went to Angel, even after everything had fallen apart between them. She still loved him and Wesley, who loved too little and too much at always the wrong time, could understand that she couldn't stop.
Yet she persisted in actions that she had acknowledged, however indirectly, were futile. He had watched her repeatedly return from whatever mess Angel had gotten into with a distant look in her eyes that could have heralded her last days of fighting.
Finally, one day not particularly different from any other, Angel had asked for her assistance and Buffy did not come.
Dealing with the insane eventually wears a person down.
Angel had simply gotten worse after Buffy had left with Wesley. His brave heroics in Los Angeles had been a bloodbath and gave him notoriety as a vigilante, but had hardly affected the whole of the war. Indeed, his actions barely caused a dent.
After the loss of his son Connor, who had died fighting, a warrior to the end, Angel simply wasn't the same, although he'd never been the person Wesley considered "Angel" for a long time. Connor had joined Wesley and Buffy a year into the war and he told them that he would fight with them, but not *for* them. Wesley had dared to ask of news of his father (for that first terrible year, Angel and Buffy had not contacted the either in help with similar missions) and Connor had paused before answering that his father was dead.
They buried Connor in Los Angeles, his true home, though the young man had denied its relevance to his life. If Angel had come to see the end of his son's future, Wesley did not know; he had left right after the funeral to stop a demonic uprising in Northern California. And he would never dare ask Buffy, who had stayed, if she had seen Angel.
It was after all, Angel's choice for it to be like this.
Angel had sworn that he'd defeat the armies of darkness on his own. And he refused to work with their efforts, had denied them his services, purposely leaving Buffy with no choice but to declare that he would be considered a threat and killed if he ever tried to interfere with the allied armies' battles against the demons.
She had said, and this was one of the few things she'd ever said to him about Angel, that he'd laughed when she informed him that he'd die once the war was over by her own hands.
He was out there somewhere - here - in the ruined wasteland of Los Angeles and he was hunting.
Wesley had not come face to face with Angel for five years.
Not since the last time.
Yes, the madness had overtaken him completely.
That had to be the reason. The other potential alternative was far worse.
"You, you betrayed me, and they treat you like a hero. You openly betrayed them all, and now you're leading them, telling them that destiny doesn't control their lives and that they will be able to defeat the demons. You know Wesley," he said, the dark glint in his eyes growing more and more bleak with every moment, "You betrayed humanity and you're the hero. And you don't have any idea what you're doing."
"It's in the past, Angel," he commented, letting down his guard, lowering his weapon, "Don't hold onto that. Let go. I chose my path, as did you. And perhaps, someday, it'll all be over."
"That's the catch, isn't it? For mortals, it will be over. But for me? Never."
Before he left, Wesley asked the one question he shouldn't have ever asked.
"Now, do you want me to give Buffy a message?"
A long, desperate pause before the answer. "Tell her that she still has the choice."
But of course, she didn't. None of them did. She could never leave Wesley's side, because they had become the stability that the human army was formed on, they had become the two generals that everyone turned to for guidance. The Slayer and The Betrayer.
Buffy was truly the one in charge, hardened by her years spent as the Slayer, she was the one person who kept the demonic uprisings from overwhelming and obliterating humanity.
She was also the only one left.
Faith had been captured by one of the more knowledgeable demon legions in the early years of the war. No new Slayer had been called; the demons (clever bastards) were keeping her alive so that they wouldn't have to deal with two Slayers.
Despite his connections and his attempts, her location was still hidden. She was still alive, somewhere, that much was unfortunately true. The demons were quite brilliant and he grudgingly respected their tactics.
Yet they had also assumed that eventually, they'd be able to kill Buffy. Considering her age and her continuous fighting at the frontlines, it would be easy to assume that she'd be weakened enough to fall in battle.
She was stronger than she had ever been.
Of course, Wesley hadn't realized until it was too late that though it was necessary to become fiercer in battle, Buffy had grown colder in the few silent moments she had. There wasn't peace anymore; there was a kind of stillness - a kind of deadness before and after the chaos of battle.
That was all that was left for them to hope for as well.
It had become simply a matter of regaining order and stillness.
It was another dark day and the sun couldn't be seen through gray clouds, no matter how hard any of them looked. It was also a fool's pursuit to venture outside, instead, his small force (consisting of the most skilled and ruthless warriors hand-chosen by himself and Buffy), was waiting in a series of ruined brick and concrete buildings, one of the last secure places in Los Angeles.
She'd come back soon.
Buffy had become isolated after the attack on Sunnydale during the second year of the war. She had been too late to prevent the destruction of her town and her family, but had arrived soon enough to bear witness to the corpses. She didn't rejoin Wesley until several weeks later, only telling him that someone had to bury the bodies.
He'd never been inclined to visit the gravesite.
Giles had survived, having been in England at the time. After Willow's death, Buffy had insisted that he remain there so that he could aid the Council's attempts to gather a decent army of those more supernaturally inclined.
The Watchers, always desiring their own glory above all else, were foolish enough to refuse to support Wesley, declaring that they would oppose him since he was responsible for the Apocalypse. Although it was true, it was a deadly choice they made when they withdrew their troops from the core human armies, instead using their forces only to secure magical locations that the Council deemed worthy. They had even dared to put a price on Wesley's head.
They tried to stop Buffy as well, tried to rein her in and convince her to support only the Council's objectives. Insisted that she must obey her sacred duty.
Buffy had told them that she was the Slayer and she wasn't destined to work for the Council. The Council was supposed to serve her and her only duty was to the world. And if they refused her demands, she would save it alone.
So Buffy, who had rashly, but rather bravely, quit the Council all those years ago, finally, for once and for all, turned her back on them and decided she wasn't going to rely on them. Ever again.
She even turned her back on Giles.
She was now alone in the world. But not quite alone.
She had decided all those years ago to let Wesley live. To join him in his attempts to stop the Apocalypse that he had brought forth on his own.
Sometimes he wished she had just killed him. It would have been easy. He wouldn't have to stare at the dead gray sky and the eternal darkness and remember the loss - the loss of everything.
He could've died a failure of himself, instead of a failure of the world.
But that wasn't possible for Buffy. She couldn't just kill someone. She would have put Willow out of her misery if she could, but she couldn't. Wouldn't.
And now, their lives, if they could call them that, were devoted to a finality that could never come.
A faint drizzle fell from the sky. Los Angeles was no longer sunshine and fair weather, it was a chilling place with a bitter wind that never ceased and a dull sky that hung over, ready to fall at any moment.
And above the soot and rubble, beneath the dead sky, walking unhidden, was Buffy.
No one would dare attack the Slayer. Especially after what she had done to the last person (desperation can lead a human to do the rashest things); it had taken hours for Buffy to wash the blood off of her body.
She'd gotten older; the hair had become darker when she'd given up on coloring it, still containing faded, blondish streaks. Her face was sharp and aware, looking assured and deadly, no one would dare consider attacking such a creature.
She could have been their hero, the one who could have saved them all. There were so many ifs: if it had happened another way perhaps, or if they had been different people. But that wasn't how it worked. There were no heroes.
A forced line that had become Buffy's smile crossed her face and she casually heaved her axe over her shoulder. After a clipped conversation to the wary-eyed lookout post, she walked into the ruined building, their temporary (it was always temporary) base of operation.
He didn't bother to turn from his position at the window, only managing a polite nod. "Buffy."
"There's a group of Snickers demons on the way, but I took care of most of them. I think even the new recruits can handle them."
"Sure," she replied distantly, not listening.
As Wesley turned around, he watched as the grim warrior faded away, and he could see who remained, the woman more Buffy than Slayer, though not by much. Looking up at him, she explained, "It's not doing any good." She sat down on the ragged sheets of the dilapidated mattress with a defeated sigh.
"We won't win," he said with a definite edge to his tone. It was true. And he had learned that lying didn't help anymore.
Not when he was always able to see the truth.
"No. We're just delaying our destinies. There's just so much left, so many of them out there. How many humans are left? We're dying out. And I don't - I don't..."
He moved over to her, sitting next to her, removing the axe she firmly held, placing it on the ground. "You can leave if you want. But where could you go? And really Buffy, you can't stop fighting, now can you?"
She didn't cry anymore. Occasionally, when there had been two bedrooms, two separate beds, he'd hear the muffled sounds, the whispered words. Things she didn't tell anyone else, burdens she alone carried, he had listened to the words he never could really hear and never once attempted to give her comfort, to try to offer something when all he could give was nothing. There had been many tears shed over the years. Though she'd spill them in private, he'd always known, thinking it was fitting that at least one of them held onto their humanity.
She wouldn't let herself cry anymore. It was useless.
"No," she responded in that dull, dutiful voice, "I have to finish this."
"Yes, well, we all must do what drives us. What keeps us sane."
A strange, hollow laugh rushed out of her too quickly and too violently. "This...this is being sane?"
He didn't look into her eyes, trying not to see the truth reflected in the far-too steady gaze. In the past ten years, it had grown, dark and fearsome, and he knew it to be identical in his own face. Finally, he briskly answered, "This is the closest either of us can get."
"You've been a good friend," she suddenly said, changing topics. If there was any emotion to that statement, he did not hear it.
He shook his head, "Don't patronize me. I have never been a friend, now have I?"
"You've done something better. Something that my friends never did for me." Her hand rested on his cheek then, rough and cold. Nothing like a smile appeared on her face, but that was the best thing he could call that sharp flex of lips that curled upwards, so it would be called a smile, though it was nothing of the sort. "You let me decide."
"You're the Slayer." It was a loaded statement, but its primary meaning was implicit. She was the one who now held the power and he, though it was his hands that shook the fabric of destiny, was a mere ally and was secondary to Buffy in the grand, disordered scheme of things.
He pretended not to notice the brief sadness in her eyes and said nothing. They'd been over it. Any illusions that Buffy held, of her own ordinariness, had been shattered as the war progressed. She had never embraced her role as the Slayer as the sole essence of herself, but holding onto humanity was far too painful and too disheartening. It hindered her survival, and if anything, Buffy was unfortunately a survivor.
And Wesley was nearly an equal when it came to survival. He gave up what was once a mere human existence to keep from suffocating in the doom. He was not known as Wesley, but as Wyndham-Pryce or as his title, the Betrayer. It was most fitting and it performed a necessary function. It kept he and Buffy sane. They would never fall, nor be broken, by illusions or hope.
"Yes." Her hand withdrew from his face; a pretense of kindness fled from her eyes. "The Slayer."
"Perhaps," he began, "someday, we'll find something to stop the demons. To save Earth."
"Maybe. But we won't. We can't. It doesn't exist. Earth was never ours to begin with. It was theirs before we even got here. Maybe, just maybe, our time's up."
Something flared up inside of him, hard and bitter.
"You really believe that? Since humanity once seized control of Earth, we shouldn't even bother to fight for a world that wasn't ours from the beginning? It would be much easier then, wouldn't it? What a marvelous idea, we just give up, because we don't deserve it. We just wait until every single human is wiped out and then our work is done. Yes, that's fair."
"You know that's not what I'm fucking saying, Wesley." There was a light in her eyes and he was thrilled to see it there. Her spirit still lived even if her heart had long been discarded.
"It don't matter," he replied, standing up, picking up and examining one of his many reports from his field agent. Turning back to her, he said, "I will continue to fight. We have a window of time, these are the days when we can eke out a true victory."
"Too much time." She looked out blankly for a moment, lost in a memory. Head turning toward him, eyes challenging, she asked, "Wesley, how long am I going to live?"
Sensing the dangerous air to her question, he cautiously answered, "I don't know, Buffy."
"Sometimes," her harsh smile returned as she slowly spoke, "I think it'll be forever. Maybe that's why Slayers don't live long, because if they can't die, they'll just go on forever. You know what it's like? Being immortal. But it's so much worse."
"I don't doubt that."
"I don't think about death anymore. I mean, it's not like I had a death wish when I was younger. I could have, it would have been so easy to have just wanted it all to end. But I wanted," she searched for words, finding herself at a loss, "I wanted peace. I didn't want a funeral, what's the point in that? I didn't want anything that was impossible. I just wanted to live and to have a life, a real life. And to never have to think about dying. But that's not what happened. It was always at the back of my mind."
"It would be impossible for a Slayer to avoid that issue."
"I think I won't ever die. Even if I did," she stopped herself from saying anything else.
"When you die, you'll be cremated instantly," he said firmly.
"There are other ways to bring me back. A body isn't needed. When I," she paused, shuddering as though it had actually gotten colder in the cramped room, "when I came back, I read about all the ways possible. Just because humans aren't supposed to live like that, doesn't mean that someone won't try it. Maybe the Watchers Council will find a way. But like I said, I stopped thinking about death a long time ago. I feel like I'm going to live forever."
She closed her eyes, running her hands through hair she preferred to leave long, no matter how inconvenient it was. Rubbed her temples and opened weary eyes, looking at nothing and it was so painfully clear that she wasn't trying to remember, yet failing so spectacularly that Wesley felt no need to further their conversation.
Several minutes passed and he could hear the murmurs of the changing of the guards outside the ruined building. He looked outside the dirty windowpanes and watched the slow, sneaking forms of humans make their way to their outposts, or if their shift was ending, return into the dubious security of the ruins.
"I'm going to bed."
"You'll need your rest," he quietly replied, swiftly moving about the space to turn out the lamps and lights save for the one on his makeshift table where all his affairs and strategies were laid out.
When he finally turned around, he didn't say good night. Or, if he wanted to be precise, good afternoon, as it was just after midday. Night bled into gray so easily now, it was difficult to remember what time it truly was.
Besides, wishes for a good night's sleep were meaningless words they couldn't bear to hear.
So much lost. Everything lost. If he thought about it, perhaps his choices, his final decision was the wrong one. Perhaps he was wrong. It had been gnawing at him lately, a growling in the pit of his stomach that he had first blamed on his lack of appetite. He had been lying to himself that it was a symptom of a greater problem, and not the cause of his anxiety.
No, he wasn't wrong; he had done the only thing he could have. The Powers that Be had expected Wesley to die that fateful night when Justine slit his throat. They had expected him to mindlessly and willingly play one role in their little game and then go away, a miserable waste of potential that had been duped by the higher powers as a means to the end. But he had lived. He had survived beyond their games and he knew that his was a destiny doomed to shatter. That he would make his own destiny.
His decision had been made long before Lilah entered his apartment with an offer of power, the only catch being his damnation.
True, he had sold his soul, but that didn't matter anymore. Allegiances to Wolfram and Hart were disrupted; his damnation would not come from their hands. If hell was where his soul was to remain for all of eternity, well, that certainly would be appropriate.
He flicked his wrist, studying the mended cut he'd treated all week, finding it to be healing, but far too slowly. Unintentionally, he looked at his hands. He had had too much blood on his hands; he could see the reddish stains had, to some degree, discolored his skin over the years.
Returning to the reports left on the table, hastily written, most of them filled with bad news - more demons attacks, strongholds being abandoned, cities overrun with warring factions that declared no side and reveled in anarchy - he wondered when he lost track of how many people he had sent off to die.
He wondered when he had stopped caring about that.
There were some places in the world that weren't overrun by demons and weren't controlled by the Watchers Council. Places of safety. Sometimes, when the battles raged too long, when he was forced into hiding, Wesley wanted to find one of those places and live there forever. Well, not exactly forever.
Because eventually, he'd be forced to leave. He knew that until his death, he'd never be able to stop fighting. That very first year, had proved it.
When he and Buffy had gone to Sunnydale all those years ago, he had been tempted to stay. The monsters and demons of Sunnydale were already rallied and itching for a fight. The nightmares were out in the open and easy to grasp, he didn't have to hide. He could pretend that the world wasn't about to fall apart and that his own hands didn't create the Apocalypse. It would have been easy.
And then, on a day that had been so disgustingly routine and ordinary, the awful inevitable happened. Willow killed herself.
The last time he had seen the redhead was when she came to tell Angel that Buffy had died. Such a different person was left behind in Sunnydale. The magic had destroyed her, leaving a being less than sentient and far too insane for his tastes. Though the worse of it was the knowing; it had been he who had given Buffy the power to create this shattered woman.
What little contact he had with her during that time was when Buffy attempted to speak with a somewhat lucid Willow. She had tried to explain that she had to leave; that she had a duty to protect the world.
Yet really, Wesley wondered if Buffy's true reason for leaving had merely been a poorly veiled cover, an escape from her reality. An escape from Sunnydale.
Buffy had explained her choices to Giles when she finally gave up on conveying her goodbyes to Willow; he was most decidedly against the idea. But he had listened and had realized all the implications (for unlike many, Giles was a very straightforward realist, which Wesley grimly respected), and said he would immediately go to the Watcher's Council and assist them in the upcoming days.
Wesley had been careful not to tell Giles that the Watcher's Council was just as doomed as Wolfram and Hart.
And the next day, while Giles was assisting Wesley in using the extraneous magics caused by the disruption in L.A. to seal the Hellmouth, Buffy had knocked on Willow's door and opened it.
The funeral, although it was hasty, was a sad event.
Xander Harris, the young boy no more, a sad-eyed man who had seen too much, told Buffy that he would never speak to her again if she left them. She told him to take care of Dawn and that she would check in as much as she could, but she had to do this.
A most sad event, indeed.
Yet there was more to that one event that he would ever dare to reveal. He still kept it hidden from her, even though they worked together, even though so many years had passed, and even though they had become loyal to one another.
It was just a single hour of time. One single hour he would never tell her about, for he had made a promise, even though he hadn't spoken a word.
Wesley entered the room, the crying and harsh sobbing too loud for him to pretend it away anymore. Willow was huddled in the bed, ghost-white skin of her face covered in tracks of wet tears. Shaking, hard and loudly, she was trying to say one word, trying to express all her emotions through a single word.
As he dared to come closer, dared to sit by the bed, she opened her eyes, red-rimmed and so different from the Willow he had barely known, this was a person who had lost all hope. Wesley had seen that look in his face every time he looked in the mirror.
"It hurts," she managed, voice choked in a cry she would not release.
He placed a hand on a too-thin shoulder and admitted, "I know."
"I killed. I-so much darkness. Buffy, she's here! I brought her back here. I want peace. Do you know where I can find it? It's not in magic. Not anywhere."
And Wesley was shocked as Willow embraced him in a hug, as though she was searching for something else. Wet tears fell on his shirt and he listened to her silent cries, felt her body move in wracking sobs.
Petted her hair, yet he offered no words. None to give. Nothing. This was the price Willow had to pay. Always a price.
"I just want to sleep and be Willow again. I just want to be-"
"It isn't that easy, is it?" he gently reminded her, moving back, looking into dark eyes, a face shadowed by the night, given it a sickly glow by the weak moonlight.
"Wesley, you can help me," she suddenly said as though she had just returned from somewhere else. As though she was sane. "I know you can. They won't let me be. They won't do it."
He frowned, yet the request made sense in an instant. And he felt sick. "No. I won't do that."
"I just want to go to sleep."
"But there may not be peace there to greet you."
"The hurt - will be less. I know that." Placed his hand on her thin neck and requested dully, "Tired."
Had he not thought about, he would have snapped her neck in an instant. Had it been a few days ago, when he hadn't seen Buffy attempting to reason with Willow and witnessed her vain attempts at a goodbye without saying the word, there would be no question.
Frowning, Willow pushed him away. She cast her sad, empty gaze on him and said, "When it's too cold, who will give you comfort? What if there is none? Winter is coming. Rain so red - blood, tears that shatter like glass, lies - there is so much hurt in the world. That is all I feel."
"That sounds like a prophecy, Willow," he commented, worried that the ramblings actually made sense to him.
"I'm going to sleep now," she announced, "Tara's making pancakes in the morning."
"Yes," he sighed, "perhaps she is, for you at least."
He left the door unlocked.
A mistake, that was what it was, Wesley acknowledged, as he got up from his seat, turning off his light, leaving the many papers to be read later. Had he give her the little comfort she asked for, perhaps things would have been different. Maybe Buffy wouldn't have trusted him, for in reality, he lied over and over again to her.
But that was his lot in life. No, that wasn't it either. Wesley had destroyed the chance for a person to have a destiny.
But he still had a destiny. One he had carved out by his own hands.
Stripping off his dark long-sleeved shirt, leaving the white t-shirt on, removing the aged belt, untying and tugging off his boots, he laid down on the mattress, taking his own separate bed sheet and tightly covering his body. Buffy had her own side; he'd not disturb her.
Rarely did she sleep peacefully. A dull, misshapen candle was lit next to her, propped up on a cinderblock. Someone had been kind enough to procure the waxy lump especially for Buffy. She always needed a light while sleeping. Kept the nightmares away.
In the first year, she had been too busy; there had been too much going on at the time to really deal with her memories. Then, they hadn't shared one lumpy, uncomfortable mattress. He hadn't realized how bad her nightmares were.
Until one night when he woke and found Buffy sitting on his bed, tears she refused to let out shining in her eyes. It had been too dark, she told him, too dark and she needed light.
But that was a lie.
Soon after that, there was only one bed and only one room that they shared together. And, one night, one dark night after she returned from a mission with Angel, she climbed into bed without any clothes.
And they had sex.
Wesley wondered if he could ever really explain it. It certainly wasn't love, and he was grateful for that. It would be too easy to lie about it, to pretend that their hearts belonged to one another. No, Wesley didn't love Buffy, he knew that much. Nor she for him, they wouldn't dare pretend that they had any feelings for the other.
The companionship, if he could call it that, was merely a break from it all. From reality. From the fact that they could die the next day. A reprieve.
They never forgot their roles or acted as though sex made them understand the other any better. That was impossible. Buffy had changed over the years and while Wesley felt as though he had been stuck since he awoke in a hospital to a world that he changed because of his own desire to destroy the Fates' plans, their hearts did not grow fond for each other.
In Buffy's eyes, perhaps he looked different. He pretended to understand Buffy and her reasons, but there was always something underneath, obscured, and he knew that he'd never figure it out.
Buffy wasn't cold, not like how he remembered Lilah to be, but she also lacked that brutal honestly that revealed her core nature. Though he woke up in the morning to find Buffy there, the distance was clearly there, a protective shield that kept him from ever fancying a notion of love towards Buffy. If, at another point in their agreed companionship, he or she had gone to the other, perhaps it would be different. But this was all it could be, and he never desired more.
And yet, just as he began to fall asleep, just as he felt her body shift towards him, her hand resting on his arm, he realized perhaps it would be better if she weren't always there in the morning, prepared for another day of lies, lies that had become the truth. He moved his arm, letting her body curl against his own, hating himself for needing her to be there.
Ignoring that part of him that found this to be right and natural, Wesley forced himself to go to sleep, an uneasily kind, yet the only kind available.
In his dreamless sleep, he let the lies fade and the bleak truth wash over him.
It was much later when he awoke to the hand gracefully stroking his chest. Rarely did this happen; it was less kind and more functional, no kinds words were ever offered by either of them, nor any rationale for the fact that they had, if they wanted to be technical, become lovers.
Yet they did not love.
She was looking at him with eyes mostly filled with sleep. This dream-like, peaceful state was something she was rarely able to achieve. A true, deep slumber eluded her often, as proved by the dark circles always under her eyes. Yet nevertheless, she was not softened nor made innocent, she managed to maintain that hard edge even in the somnambulist state.
Reaching closer and taking his relief in her lips, it could be easy to delude himself that it was something comparable to love. He excelled at this; he was once able to delude himself that being with Lilah had been merely a means to an end. Lies did not suit him now in these hours of comfort.
As he pulled away, preparing to discard his clothes by the side of the bed, he heard her gentle sigh, the word spilling softly out of her lips, even though it was barely audible.
"I am not him," Wesley answered, voice strong and revealing nothing, rousing her awake with a mild, though rather callous, caress to the darkened strands loosely arranged around her face.
Eyes focused on him and she frowned. The light by her bed had dimmed while they slept; sitting up and turning around to shift the candle, she clarified softly, "Sorry. I was -"
"Dreaming, though perhaps, that term isn't absolutely correct. You don't dream anymore, as I do not as well." She didn't say anything at that and her silence revealed that his theory was correct. A tense pause stood between them and he pressed on, "When he first realized about us..."
"If he was angry, he wouldn't tell me," she replied, settling back into bed, this time without her shirt and pants. "He'd never bring it up. Not after what happened between us."
She paused there, a shaky hand running through her hair, staring a little too long at Wesley, her features dim and faded in the minimal light. She bit her lip for a moment; he took it as a sign that she was telling the truth. He had become experienced at reading her body signals. Though he'd rather let himself be deluded by her poor lies.
"I could forgive and forget a lot of things. I could," she stopped, as though it pained her to say it, "I could ask him to forgive me for the things I did to him. But I didn't. And I won't. He won't ever tell me he hates me or that what I'm doing is wrong. He doesn't - he won't say it. I don't either."
"I understand," Wesley began, reaching towards her, but she gently pushed him away.
"Don't lie to me." Her voice was cold then, and though he had never felt the need to fear anyone in the past decade, he felt could feel the power emanating from her request. Alas, their lies had become too well crafted for either to remember what the truth felt like.
"I didn't say you had to believe it. But I do understand." How he did understand, he hated to reveal, but his memories persisted: a lie that he had played to its fullest potential, a predator's smirk, a taste of sweat and sex on the back of his tongue, an image of a woman he never loved.
"I never gave up on him." He didn't need to hear it, that much was obvious, but she paused, a bitterness seeping out of her accepted stance on Angel. He wondered if the day came, when the war was over, if she would carry out her promise and kill Angel. If she would flinch or hesitate when she truly had to shove the stake in his heart (because Wesley knew, without any doubt, she'd dispatch him with a stake), yet he hadn't missed the angry flex of Buffy's jaw as she spoke.
Wesley knew that Angel has never given up on Buffy. And she would never forgive Angel for that.
"But I'm not waiting for him and I'm not going to go to him just because he loves me, if he still does," she added, her voice faded and weary. "I know that I'm being selfish. And I know what happens every time Angel and I try to act like we can work together. We lie about what we do to each other. It's an old habit. I'm not a kid anymore, but it's so easy to go back to him. It feels right. When I'm with him, I can pretend for a moment that I'm still me. But I'm not. I'm not, Wesley. You don't understand. What am I supposed to do now?"
"We do," he explained, taking her into his arms, her stiff form oddly fitting in close proximity to his body, "whatever we must."
"Fight losing battles?" she scoffed at him, her head ducking under his chin, rubbing against his scar. Two scarred necks, two scarred people, Wesley hated the irony in that.
Voice low, she asked, "Are we supposed to just keep on fucking and pretend that it's normal when we can barely look at each other in the morning? I can't do this anymore. I'm tired. I'm fucking tired of this shit."
"Buffy," he said, cheek against cheek, the need for touch too important right at that moment, even if it was too caring a gesture, and they had silently agreed to never resort to such blatant acts of dishonesty, "if you want to stop, there are ways. My opinion may be in opposition to the idea, but I won't dissuade you from making your own choices. You could go to sleep and dream forever if you want."
"I don't want to become a living fairy tale, Wesley. I don't want anything like that. I can't kill myself."
He traced the underside of her covered breast; she remained still, her breath even and steady. She had once been skin and bones, so underfed at one point that he declared that their partnership would be dissolved if she kept on starving herself. And now, her body was corded with hard muscles under deceitfully soft skin, that while not particularly white (the younger Buffy must have absorbed enough sunrays to keep her skin from ever transforming to a true pasty white), had a paleness to it that both aged her and made her look rather ageless.
In another light, he might consider her beautiful.
Pulling down her bra, he traced a finger around her nipple; she closed her eyes and responded in no other way. Her hand, smoothly and cautiously reaching beneath his pants to stroke the skin just above his cock, was far too graceful and innocent at the same time. This was her gratitude, he was showing her gentleness, and so she'd show him compassion.
He twisted her harshly budded nipple and savagely attacked her mouth, opening it with a demanding, unrelenting tongue. She waited for a moment, giving back as good as he gave, her tongue and lips just as violently merciless as his own, then clamped her swift hand like a vice around his cock. Pain coursed through him, like an image of violent color, a vision of dead things and eternal gray skies, but it came with a shot of dark pleasure.
"You feel it?" he asked, a red thrumming (pounding) in his ears. He cupped her ass, one of the last few soft features left on her body, and most likely remaining for vanity purposes; though Buffy had given up dyeing her hair, she would never look anything but presentable. His other hand was tangled into her hair, forcing her to keep her eyes at the same level with his own.
She stared at him, her hand still holding onto him and refusing to move or lessen her grasp.
Wesley's hand moved from the back to the front of her body, stroking her from outside her panties with light touches and she finally answered him, "Fuck - no. I - we don't talk."
"Fuck you, Buffy," he hissed, letting his poorly healed throat hitch on the expletive. It was a dirty trick, but one he was quite fond of. He'd quickly learned it sent the loveliest goosebumps down his partner's body when whispered just right.
Tiring of the stalemate, his hand ducked beneath her panties, attacking her clit without pretense.
Never a screamer (a pity), she gasped out and her precarious hold on his cock was forgotten, both of her hands reached up towards his face, smashing her lips to his, and - the hot taste of blood - split open his bottom lip.
"You feel that?" she asked and he could feel the aftershocks subsiding inside her.
He licked his lip, refraining from asking if Angel had just recently turned her on to blood play, and grinned at her. In the dim light, he could see the darkish stain on her lips.
"Did that make you feel alive?"
Her face twisted, whatever kept her going (which he feared was the exact same thing that kept him here) had just been amped up and she furiously wiped off her mouth and removed the damp panties and mildly abused bra from her body.
Wesley, no fool, quickly stripped before Buffy tore off his clothes herself. Before he'd even gotten back into the bed, she pulled him down onto the mattress, straddling him with a look of violent triumph in her eyes.
"This isn't living anymore," she said, slamming hard onto his cock. He pushed up into her, needing her to move but she remained still, her slender body keeping him stuck in the position. She bent over him, in all their years, first as partners, then as this strange, unfortunate something more, he'd never fantasized about her body or thought it one of the most magnificent specimens he'd ever taken to bed, but there was such power there, oh yes, it could kill him with such careless ease.
"You're right," he managed, wondering why his brain was still functioning. She now began to move, slow and long and he gritted his teeth when she rose high enough that he nearly slipped out, only to have her hand stroke down his cock with evil precision, her hips rotating in tiny spirals, forcing him to suck down harsh gasps of air.
"You don't have to ask me what I feel," she began, her hand moving back up to her chest, working one nipple, and bringing herself back down on him, "I can tell you right now. Your skin, muscles, even the bones - fuck, and you said that I don't eat enough?"
"I'm not the one out there on the front lines," he hissed, grabbing the back of her neck and kissing her, forcing her to open her lips, the kiss hard and tasting of lingering remnants of blood.
She moved her head away, riding him hard, speaking a bare whisper into his ear, "Your cock, fuck Wesley, how long are you gonna last? I can feel it burning inside of me, I don't want it to. You think I'm thinking of Angel? I don't. Not even when his cock is inside me."
"That's not surprising," he gasped out, grasping her hips to regain some control of their combined rhythm. "I always suspected that you'd become like me. Dead inside."
A violent tug from - god - inside, she squeezed him hard and he forced himself not to come.
"I'm not dead yet," she hissed, and he took that as his cue.
Managing to sit up, although she clearly didn't want him to, he rocked into her, her body too tight and too strong. His hand found its target, but he made no move to put pressure on it, he paused to take in her whole form, a faint sweat covering her, a cold fury in her eyes, resentment not for him, but for herself, revealed in her face.
"We're worse than dead," he said, finally placing pressure back onto her clitoris. "It's like being burned out, like there's nothing in the world that can truly touch you."
Her mouth opened as if she was about to reply and then he felt it, the her contraction exploding from within and he couldn't hold out any longer. Pulling her closer, he came in a violent burst and if he remembered how to scream, he would have.
Buffy pushed off of him, the heat from her body left a gaping coldness and he quickly put his boxers back on, not caring at how uncomfortable it felt. When he turned, he saw her eyes shut closed; it almost looked like a tear had fallen down her face, the shining wet drop caught by a flicker of the candlelight. He was far too sure that it was merely a trick of the light.
"You should put something on," he finally said.
She shook her head and kneeled on the bed. "I'm tired, Wesley."
He looked at her and knew that she believed that. She believed that she was tired and burned out. She didn't want to face the truth and he could understand that. But it didn't stop him. "That's a lie."
She didn't look at him. He laid back down, pulling a sheet that had been thrown to the floor, when it had fallen there, he didn't know. He watched Buffy lick her index finger and thumb, quick, careless movements that seemed surprisingly delicate.
Buffy snuffed out the candlelight with her moistened fingertips, an artful, dangerous move. His eyes grew used to the dark grayness as her shadowed form crossed the room, past the window for a moment, her body was more defined by the covered window, but just barely. He heard a sound of clothing being rustled and she returned to bed, without any stumbling about or a slow step, she'd become used to operating in little-to-no visibility.
She pulled up the sheet and climbed underneath, curling her body around his. She'd talk no more to him and in the morning, they'd say nothing about this.
He wanted - and perhaps this was his breaking point and he had finally gone 'round the bend - for this to change. Taking a deep breath, he said, "I should have never brought you with me."
She reached up and the kiss was gentle and deceitful. Wesley understood then why so many people had been taken with Buffy, as the woman, and not as the Slayer. But this one, who kissed him so sweetly and carefully, was just as deadly, if not more so.
Her voice was flat and calm, "I would have been here anyway."
Finished with her lies, Buffy went back to sleep, the only place where she was able to still pretend that she was a person who believed in love and hope and a future. When she woke, that dream would not haunt her, as it no longer haunted Wesley.
He stayed awake. An image of hopeless, mad eyes crossed his line of vision in the bleak darkness. Willow's broken sob repeated endlessly and every time, he chose wrongly.
He remembered the sickening sound as the bullet made contact with the flesh, bone, blood, and brains of Lilah's head and the way the gun thudded - as dead and hollow as Lilah's body - as it slipped from his hand. He'd warned her and he promised her at the same time. He'd never promise anyone ever again, not even Buffy.
Angel told him that Buffy still had a choice and it was incredible that Angel could actually believe such a lie. After all, she had promised him and she was just like Wesley: she'd carry out that promise.
Wesley's arm curled around Buffy's body and how he wanted her to push him away, or for her to whisper Angel's name in her sleep, but it would not happen.
A voice echoed, cold and gray and dead:
When it's too cold, who will give you comfort?
Soundless in the empty room, a shadow blending in the ruins, his voice was silent, but he finally replied, "No one, and that shall be the worst wound."