By Minim Calibre
Notes: “Who is he?” “Oh he’s a . . . he’s a kind of acquaintance.” “Nothing of the kind, we hardly know him.” “True . . . we don’t know him very well . . . but all the same . . .” First of the Port in a Storm series. Spoilers up to “Normal Again” and “Double or Nothing.”
It felt almost like the last time. She’d grabbed a bag, bought her ticket, and left a short note on her bed. Only this time, the bag was weekend-light, the ticket round-trip, and the note said she’d be back soon. Buffy shifted in her cracked vinyl seat and tried to ignore the smell of stale sweat and urine that clung to the interior of the bus.
The steady rhythm of the vehicle lulled her into a state midway between waking and sleeping. She stared out the window, occasionally focusing on something—pebbles in the asphalt or shrubs off the shoulder, it didn’t much matter. Every time she focused, she let herself think before letting the scenery blur again, leaving the thought trapped on the roadside. Buffy knew it was only a short-term solution, a mental coat check. She’d collect her problems on the return trip. She didn’t need them where she was going.
The worn-down sigh of the brakes startled her. She got up slowly, still stiff from the ride and the lingering effects of the demon sting, collected her things, and headed to a pay phone to call a cab. It cost more than she remembered, so she put a dollar in the vending machine for some stale candy she had no intention of eating, then headed back to the phone booth to make the call.
The driver was surly, and she was pretty certain he took the long way to the motel, but she didn’t have the energy to argue. Buffy paid him, frowning at how much of her available cash she’d had to hand him. Lately, it seemed like everything came with too high a cost.
She checked in, ignoring the leering suggestions of the manager, and went to her room. With its faded shag carpet and beaten old furniture, it reminded her of Faith’s room. She wondered why she found the idea comforting.
Buffy set her bags on the bed and locked the door. She undressed quickly and headed to the shower, wondering why it was that sitting on a couch for a few hours didn’t leave her sticky and gritty, but sitting on a bus for the same amount of time did. She showered as quickly as she could, then did her best to dry off with the small threadbare towel provided. The jeans and t-shirt she picked out clung to her still-damp body, but she figured that as long as she was clean, she could cope with clammy.
She slid into her shoes and out the door, heading down road until she found the path to the beach. It looked almost the same as she remembered it. There was the strangely listing tree that Dawn had insisted on climbing when she was four, and the spot where she’d fallen and ended up lucky she only got the wind knocked out of her (except she hadn’t, but Buffy didn’t know if she had any memories about the tree that weren’t monk-made), and the curve in the trail where Buffy had panicked because her mom and dad had rounded the corner when she wasn’t paying attention and she’d thought they’d abandoned her. She hadn’t been back since she’d learned she was the Slayer. It was safe here, the only ghosts from the past happy ones.
The sand crunched under her feet, and she wondered if it was worth the risk of broken glass and needles to take off her shoes and feel it squishing between her toes.
“Guess even the safe places have their dangers,” she muttered.
Buffy wandered along the beach admiring the sunset and losing herself in memory, a piece of driftwood swinging from her hand just in case. She didn’t notice the man leaning up against a log until she’d tripped over his legs. She went sprawling, her makeshift stake flying from her hand as she caught herself.
“Ouch.” She rubbed her wrists as she got up, and turned to glare at the man, wondering why the hell he hadn’t told her she was about to step on him.
The bandage across his neck brought her up short, as did the empty look of recognition in the dark blue eyes.
She frowned, trying to place him. When she did, her eyes widened and she almost laughed.
He closed his eyes, and she noticed the tension in his face. He looked like he hadn’t slept or shaved in days.
“What are you doing here?”
A quick expression of exasperation crossed his face, and he grabbed the pen and notepad off the ground next to him. He scribbled something quickly, and handed her the pad.
Does it matter? she read.
“You look like hell,” she said, handing the pad back.
He wrote another message.
As do you, Ms. Summers.
“I feel like it, too.” she mumbled.
Wesley raised his eyebrows.
She felt the urge to clarify.
“It hasn’t been the easiest of resurrections. Lots of stuff has… happened, and I just wanted to leave it behind me for a couple of days.”
She slumped down next to him and stared out at the water.
“I’ve tried so hard and it hasn’t been enough, not for any of them, not for me.”
“Besides,” she added quietly, “I think after… well, I think that maybe it’s a good idea for me to give them some space. Do you have any idea what it feels like to know you’ve betrayed almost everyone you care about for an illusion?”
The harsh inhalation of breath startled her, but not as much as the raw pain she saw on Wesley’s face when she turned to look at him.
She suddenly realized what a bad idea it was for someone weakened by an obviously recent wound to be out by himself waiting for the sun to set.
“Do you even care that any vamps who happen to be out tonight will smell the blood on you from a mile away?”
He shrugged and picked up the notepad.
She stared at him, wondering what to say.
“I used to come here when I was younger,” she stated suddenly. “I thought it was the most beautiful place on earth. We’d get a room in town for the weekend, and Dawn and I would build sandcastles and play in the water while mom and dad relaxed in the sun. I don’t remember them ever fighting here, but maybe we stopped coming before that really started. It was always so peaceful.”
“I came out here because I needed that again. The peace. It’s the one place I thought I could go where I wouldn’t have to remember that I’m the Slayer, but I guess I was wrong.”
“It’s not you,” she added. “Even before I tripped over you I was prepared.”
Buffy pointed to her discarded stick. “Exhibit A, one strong piece of driftwood.”
“I was finished. Done. At peace. And then I wasn’t, and suddenly, nothing made sense anymore. Not my friends, not my family, not my enemies. And I made the least sense of any of it. The idea that it was all just a hallucination, that none of the pain and confusion was real made so much sense to me. So much sense that I almost killed everyone I loved so I didn’t have to face the reality of my life.”
“The reality is my friends decided to bring me back from the dead because they loved me and they thought I was in hell, and now I can’t even talk to them, because they’re still filled with some fucked-up combination of guilt over what they did and frustration with my inability to get over being ripped out of heaven.”
“The only person I could talk to was Spike, which is wrong, and I ended up fucking him so I wouldn’t have to listen to what he had to say, which is even worse.”
The expression on the ex-Watcher’s face wasn’t the disbelief or disgust she’d expected. It looked uncomfortably like compassion.
Any port in a storm?
Buffy gave a wan smile. “I guess so.”
She’d never noticed how young Wesley was. At 18, she’d just lumped him in the adult category and left it at that. She hadn’t really thought about him much, even before he’d left Sunnydale. After that, the only time she thought about him was when she’d gone to L.A. to confront Faith. Despite the lines of worry and exhaustion on his face, she figured he was only about a decade her senior. Only five or so years older than Riley. Not that she was thinking about Wesley that way.
“Where are you staying?” she asked.
He shrugged and wrote I hadn’t given it any thought.
“Why don’t you come back to my motel?” Buffy winced at how that had come out. “I mean, it’s late, you don’t look like you are in any shape to go anywhere tonight, and besides, I think the manager kind of expects me to show up with a strange man, and I’d hate to disappoint him. Not that this is a come-on… far from it, I mean… you’re a good-looking man, but I’m so not ready to deal with that sort of thing, not after Spike, and besides you used to be my watcher, and you don’t like your in any shape to…” she stopped as he pressed a note into her hand.
Yes, I’ll stay. And yes, I’m well aware that it was not a come-on.
She smiled again, a twist of rue to it. “I must have sounded pretty stupid. Want to head back now?”
It wasn’t really a question. She stood up, grabbing the closest stick.
“Follow me. It’s not far.”
She waited until he was standing, and gently took him by the hand to lead up to the trail. They walked slowly and silently back to her room, pausing occasionally so he could catch his breath.
“It’s not very impressive,” she warned him as she unlocked the door, “but at least it’s inside and there’s a bed. Which you should take, by the way. I’ll be fine in the chair.”
Wesley was too tired to argue. He set his backpack next to her bags before staggering to the bathroom. Buffy listened to the water run while she arranged a blanket and pillow on the chair. He came out as she was turning back the covers.
“Make yourself comfortable, well, as comfortable as you can. I think the mattress has seen better days. Possibly the Crusades. I’m going to go brush my teeth and let you get ready for bed now.”
She took her time in the bathroom, flossing carefully and brushing until she heard him slide under the sheets. He was already asleep when she walked back into the room, so she quietly turned off the lights and curled up in the chair. The light from the parking lot kept the room too bright for comfort, so she covered her face with the blanket and drifted off.
The sound of a struggle woke her. She’d bolted out of the chair ready to fight whatever it was until she realized it was just Wesley, face turned towards his pillow as he fought against his nightmare. Buffy shook him awake as gently as she could. His eyes flew open and he raised his hands as if to shield himself from someone.
“Shhh… Wesley, it was just a dream.”
Not knowing what else to do, she sat next to him and wrapped her arms around him. He clung to her as though his life depended on it.
“Shhh… it’s okay. It’ll all be okay.”
She stroked his hair and kissed his forehead and cheeks as she rocked him until his panicked gasps changed to harsh, nearly silent sobs. Buffy felt his shaking ease, so she kept caressing and kissing him until somehow one of them shifted as she was about to press her lips to his cheek and she found herself kissing the corner of his mouth instead.
Her tongue darted out before she could think, teasing his lips until they opened. She’d forgotten lips could be so warm. She covered his mouth with her own, hands tangling in his hair as she tasted him, gently licking the curve of his lower lip. A hint of hesitation, and he was returning the kiss, lips moving against her, hands loosening their grip to stroke her back. The warm breath mingling with her own felt foreign and familiar and right, and suddenly she found herself on top of him, pressing into his body urgently as his hands slid under her shirt.
She could feel his heart pounding against her chest and the sensation startled her back into awareness.
What the fuck was she doing?
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she heard herself start to babble as she scrambled off the bed. “Oh, shit. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to… I don’t normally. G-d, what’s wrong with me?”
Buffy sat on the edge of the chair and forced herself to look at him. He was propped up on his elbows, face revealing nothing of his thoughts.
“I’m sorry. Do you need anything? A glass of water? Another pillow?”
He closed his eyes and shook his head, the abrupt motion making him wince.
“Are you okay? Will you be able to sleep?”
The answer was a small nod. Keeping his eyes shut, he settled back down on the bed, rolling to one side so his back was to her. Buffy didn’t bother trying to sleep, she just sat and watched him. He was thinner than she remembered, the bones of his spine painfully visible through the thin white shirt. His hair was a soft mess of tangles, rumpled from sleep and her hands. She could still taste the salt from his skin on her lips.
When she was certain he was asleep, she got up quietly, grabbed her purse, and locked the door behind her.
It didn’t take her long to get to the convenience store. She grabbed a box of doughnuts, a carton of juice, some paper cups, and a bottle of shampoo. On her way to the register, she added a box of condoms. She wasn’t expecting to need them, but as it seemed she couldn’t trust herself, she figured it was best to be prepared. The cashier was almost as rude as the motel manager, and she wondered if she had the word “whore” tattooed on her forehead. Given how she’d acted with Wesley, she considered it more than possible.
He was still asleep when she let herself into the room, sprawled like a chalk outline on the sheets. She set the grocery bag down on the table and walked to the edge of the bed, hands fisted to keep from touching him. His shirt had ridden up, exposing the taut stomach marred by a still-livid scar. There were other thin white scars scattered like terrible confetti over the pale skin. She stared at them, wondering how to reconcile the man in her bed with the pompous ass from three years before.
It didn’t really seem possible. The uptight, overdressed Wesley she remembered didn’t make her insides clench as though she’d stumbled across a banquet after weeks without food. Not like this one, all hard shadowed eyes and hot smooth skin and damn, she wanted to crawl inside him and lose herself and she really had to stop this train of thought before she did something she’d regret not regretting.
She was still staring when he woke up. The steady rise and fall of his chest changed to something ragged and shallow. Buffy tore her eyes from the scars to look at his face. He was watching her, expressionless again, and she felt the blood rush to her cheeks.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
She turned, ready to go back to the chair. The unexpected feel of his hand on her arm stopped her. Buffy turned back cautiously.
He let go of her, and fumbled on the nightstand, first for the light switch, then for his glasses and notepad.
“I beg your pardon?”
Stay. I don’t especially relish the notion of being alone at the moment.
She stared at him in disbelief, wondering if she’d fallen asleep on her feet and was dreaming.
“Wesley, are you coming on to me?”
He just looked at her, either unwilling or unable to answer, she couldn’t tell.
Buffy slipped off her shoes and climbed into the bed before she could change her mind. She awkwardly arranged herself at the edge, body held as tightly as she’d held her fists when she’d watched him sleep. Eyes closed, she listened as he set glasses and notebook down and turned out the light and settled in, making no effort to touch her. The sheets rustled softly, brushing against her arms as he pulled them up. She relaxed and let herself fall asleep to the sound of his breathing.
Waking with her face pressed into warm skin under thin cotton wasn’t conducive to self-control. Hands moved of their own volition to push the offending material away from flesh they needed to touch, fingertips leaving a path for her lips to follow. She traced the outlines of his scars, fingers and tongue offering benediction. Wesley stirred, pulled her up until she was lying next to him, and kissed the faded scar on the side of her neck with an offering of his own.
Her hands wanted to be everywhere at once, impulse translating into a frenzy of greedy touches—the curve of his spine, the rasp of his cheek, the soft skin behind his ears—she claimed them for her own, committing the sensations to memory. When he traced the underside of one small breast, she whimpered, hands abandoning his body to frantically tug off her shirt. He lowered his head and took one lace-covered nipple into his mouth while he undid her jeans, pushing them down until she could kick them off.
Buffy was shaking, breath coming in pleading gasps. His hand slid under the waistband of her underwear, stroking slowly, heel of the palm rocking against her clit. Hips buckled and two fingers slipped inside, teasing and tormenting until she heard herself begging him for nothing and everything at the same time. She lost track of herself, dimly aware that there was no longer anything between her breasts and his lips.
“Bag. Table.” she blurted.
He stilled, and she forced herself to try and make sense even though she couldn’t remember parts of speech.
“Condoms. In the bag. On the table.”
He kissed the inside of her knee before getting up reluctantly. She watched him navigate to the table in the near-dark, bed and body suddenly too cold without him. She fought the urge to pull him back into bed as he set the box down and removed his shirt and boxers, folding them before dropping them on the floor.
Lips pressed heated kisses against her belly as she traced the sharp edges of his shoulder blades. Lightly calloused hands slid between her thighs, caressing the soft skin until her legs opened. His mouth moved lower. She could feel the heat of his breath at her opening, tongue barely more than a tickle at first, circling and flicking and oh, damn, he was good at this. Her hands clenched reflexively around his shoulders, drawing him closer until she couldn’t stand it.
She still wasn’t forming complete sentences, but her meaning was clear. The ripping sound of foil confirmed it.
Eyes met as he pushed into her. His face was a mix of raw need and the wariness that never quite left his eyes, and suddenly the biblical meaning of knowing, source of so much adolescent humor, made perfect sense.
A lot of things made perfect sense.
She matched his measured thrusts with her own, the languid rhythm echoed in spiraling flutters that grew until languid wasn’t enough and she voiced her demand for more in word and deed. Watched him hesitate for a moment that stretched before snapping like saltwater taffy, let herself guide him past thought and control before allowing instinct to take over her actions.
She woke up in a unfamiliar room that smelled of sweat and sex and groaned at the memory of how it had gotten that way. This was getting to be a bad habit. At least this time there was a bed, the building was still standing, and the Englishman next to her was warm and breathing.
She prodded her mind, looking for regret but finding none. She’d done what she’d done. She couldn’t take it back, and wouldn’t even if it were an option. Her life was her own. It should have been such an obvious thing. Since she’d returned, she’d just been floating aimlessly, drifting into whirlpools because they happened to be in front of her and she couldn’t be bothered to avoid them. If she was honest with herself, she’d wanted to get lost in the undertow.
It had to stop.
She lifted her fingers to her throat to feel the pulse beating there. It was her life. She hadn’t asked for it back, but she had it none the less, and it was time she started living it.