Running Scared



He doesn’t know why she asked for him. False or not, the only experiences he’s shared with Dawn can be summed up in the time he bumped into her and her friend – Janet, was it? – in what Sunnydale bravely called a main street. She’d elbowed, no, it wasn’t Janet, was it? Janice. Yes. Janice. She’d elbowed her sharply in the ribs, hissing frantically, head bobbing as she tried to point him out without being obvious, making sure Janice didn’t miss out on the chance to see a freak from a foreign land. His face had burned as he walked past them, favouring them with a stiff nod, a polite, frozen smile, and their incredulous giggles had echoed in his head long after they’d vanished from sight.

Not that he’d looked back.

Now she’s here, in his office, youthful lankiness transformed to slender curves, hair a little shorter but still a sleek, shiny fall of chestnut – and her eyes are hard and empty of laughter.

Odd that he finds himself regretting the disappearance of the gauche girl when the young woman’s so much more suited to these surroundings. She’s dressed in a suit, severe and classic; she’s carrying a business-like briefcase... she could walk these corridors without getting a second glance.

Well, no, perhaps he’s being a little naive there. She’d get looks. Too pretty, too fresh, too...

“You’re staring at me.”

Her voice is flat and he can’t see even a hint of pleasure that he’s giving her an admiring look. Perhaps he wasn’t. He doesn’t feel up to translating the expression on his face from the inside, and there’s no mirror handy. Tiredness means that his intended smile of welcome might have appeared as a faint grimace, and the frown from peering at dense lines of text for hours isn’t easily wiped smooth.

“I’m trying to reconcile you with my memories,” he tells her. “It’s... disconcerting, to say the least. How are you?”

She lifts the briefcase up, with enough effort to alert him to the fact that it’s heavy, and lets it slam down on his desk. He sees that her nails are short, bitten, the only jarring note in her appearance, as she fumbles to open it, turning it to face him after extracting something.

The case is filled with cash, the something’s a gun that’s now pointed at his head, and she smiles for the first time as she answers his question.

“Dying.”

He watches the gun shift in her grip. She’s holding it with the clumsy care of a novice. He’s sure she thinks it’s given her the power in this encounter, certain she’s a little afraid of it.

So is he. When he’s holding a gun he knows any bullets emerging from it with do so at a time of his choosing and hit their target. He’s far from hopeful that the same applies here.

“You’re not saying anything.”

There’s a pettish tone to her voice that’s really quite gratifying. He’s not behaving how she expected? Good. Nice to know he’s changed so much. Or perhaps not. The gun’s wavering now and he’d really rather it wasn’t pointing at his chest. At this range she’s bound to hit something after all.

“You haven’t asked me a question,” he points out, giving way to the temptation to use a mild voice that’s oil on the flames.

“I told you I was dying! I gave you money and I’m threatening you with a gun.” She takes a breath and the gun swings back up and steadies, aimed at his head. She’d have done better to leave it where it was, of course, but he has to admit it’s rather effective in getting him to reconsider baiting her. “I think that’s worth a comment, don’t you?”

“You didn’t give me the money,” he tells her. “You placed it on my desk. That doesn’t make it mine.” He lets his gaze drift to the briefcase and finds, as expected, that it’s full not of dollars, but pound notes. The Queen smiles serenely at him and he feels a totally unexpected pang of homesickness. “For instance,” he nods at the corner of the desk farthest away from the briefcase and her gaze follows his, “Spike sat there just today –” Hand in drawer, hand on gun, gun pulled out, gun aimed at Dawn. “And I really don’t think that means his arse is mine, do you?”

It had been his ace and he wasn’t quite sure it wouldn’t turn out to be a lowly two, but no, shock has held her still for the second he’d needs and there’s something disturbingly good about what he’s doing.

Until she fires, point-blank, mouth set in grim lines, and his trigger-finger squeezes in a reflex he has no intention of regretting later.

They both hit their target, which leaves him surprised and bleeding and her – oh, he doesn’t really care how she feels.

“You shot me,” she whispers and he can see the anger rise. “You shot me!”

“I’m the only one bleeding,” he points out, taking a handkerchief from his trouser pocket and using it to soak up the blood that’s seeping out of a flesh-wound high on his arm. She’s ruined his shirt and added another scar to his collection, but right now all he can think about is how much it hurts. And his ears are ringing too.

It’s awkward, but he picks up the phone and stabs a finger at a button.

“Security and a clean-up squad to my office. Now.” He swallows back a moan because his body’s stopped being in shock and is telling him with a sullen insistence that it’s had enough of being neglected and this is the last fucking straw. He ignores it, as he’s been doing for days now, and grates out, “Please,” because it’s not enough of an emergency to rate rudeness.

“So you missed! It doesn’t mean –”

“I didn’t miss,” he interrupts. “I never miss. Now put your gun in the case, close it and –”

“Why?”

It’s too much. “Just bloody do it,” he snarls, “and do it before we have company.”

She bites her lip, smearing the lipstick that’s turned it lush and obeys him. He reaches for the case and slides it off his desk and out of sight just as the room fills with people, armed, wary and oh so very late.

“Sir!” snaps the leader of the security detail.

“I think he was alone,” Wesley tells him, “but I want a search on all levels and the building locked down until it’s complete. Send the body to the lab and let Miss Burkle look at it.”

“Yes, sir.”

With one curious glance at Dawn, he gestures to his men and the room empties for just long enough for her to turn, look through the shattered inner window of his office and see a body being loaded onto a stretcher in the corridor.

“Oh my God!” She reaches out and gropes for a chair, sitting down in it with an inelegant thump.

Wesley gives her a thoughtful look. “You didn’t know he was there? With a gun pointed at – hmm, come to think of it, it could have been either of us.” He smiles. “But I don’t want to be grabby; feel free to claim him as your potential assassin.”

“He followed me here,” she says dully. “From England. He works for Giles.”

Wesley stands up. “I’m going to get this wound cleaned-up.” He eyes her thoughtfully. “You’re coming with me,” he decides. “I’d hate for your manners to return when I wasn’t there to be apologised to and thanked.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you!”

He walks over to her, clasping the handkerchief to his arm. “Angel and Spike – yes, I wasn’t lying, he’s back – are out of the building or they’d have been in here faster than Security were. I’m expecting them back in an hour. You’re coming with me, you’re staying with me, and you’re going to tell me everything I want to know.”

“You can’t make me do anything,” she says and it’s the confidence beneath the defiance that makes him smile tightly at her.

“You really are good at annoying me, aren’t you?” he murmurs. He goes back to his desk and rummages about in a drawer.

She makes a break for the door but he’s behind her in three long strides, slamming her against the wall and bending her wrist up behind her back. It’s not easy, with his left arm managing to be numb and throb painfully at the same time, but he locks the cuffs on his right wrist and her left with a minimum application of force, ignoring some vicious kicks from her heels.

“Stamp down instead next time,” he advises her kindly. “More effective.” He yanks her towards the door. “Or possibly pull my hair or try and scratch my face.”

“I never liked you,” she says.

He opens the door with his cuffed hand. “I think that comment’s a little redundant, don’t you? The bullet hole got that across quite nicely.”

They step out into the corridor and Wesley sighs. “It seems I over-estimated the time it takes two vampires to deal with a sewer full of Grith’nak hatchlings.”

Dawn stares at two figures who are in each other’s faces, arguing fiercely and armed with axes. They’re a fair way off but Spike’s pale hair and long coat are unmistakable.

“He’s really alive? How?”

Wesley shrugs and regrets it as it sends a stab of pain along his arm. “Magic.”

“Oh, not again.” She rolls her eyes and he can’t say he blames her.

“They haven’t seen us yet, but I’m sure if you were to call out they’d hear you over the name-calling.” Wesley gives her a side-long look “And they might even order me to release you.”

“Would you?”

He turns and begins to walk away from Angel and Spike. “Probably not. Walk faster, will you? I’m in some pain here.”

They nearly make it, but he’s overlooked – or under-estimated – the effect smelling his blood in the air would have on Angel.

The argumentative voices cut off abruptly and he sighs, and turns to face them.

Somehow, Dawn’s hand finds its way inside his and although it’s trembling slightly, her voice is calm.

“Lie to them, and I’ll do anything you want.”

He shakes her hand free.

“You really are desperate, aren’t you?”

“Anything.”

By the time they’re joined by Angel and Spike, he’s removed the cuffs and slid them out of sight.

Wesley waits out the babble of conversation that follows and slides smooth reassurances into Angel’s ears until the terse questions tail off and Angel’s nodding. Assassins. Right. Related to a grudge from Wesley’s days of working alone – Angel’s eyes shift and cloud over at that and he falls silent.

Stemming the flood of Spike’s conversation is more difficult; he’s alternating between a rather sickening sentimentality – is it really necessary to cram quite so many pet names into three sentences?- and a nervous belligerence when Dawn asks why he never told them, never said –

Wesley waits and then gives an artistically perfect stagger and wince that brings him Angel’s full attention again and a sharp order to Spike to shut up.

In the flurry of elevator-summoning, no one thinks to ask why Dawn is there and why she’s going with Wesley. It’s a temporary reprieve and Wesley doesn’t count on it lasting long. The elevator doors close just as Angel’s swinging back around, frowning, lips parting on a question. Wesley makes sure he’s looking away and the doors close.

“Well, that went well,” he remarks. Dawn’s as far away from him as she can get, which still means he can get her when he wants.

“I – he seems so different. I’d... remembered him differently.”

“Taller? Halo?” Wesley suggests. “He’s remarkably resilient, I’ll give him that. And perhaps a little less irritating now he’s no longer a ghost.”

“A ghost?” Dawn shakes her head. “Don’t tell me. Hearing about it in bits is annoying.”

The elevator doors slide open. “Indeed it is,” Wesley says. “Which is why as soon as I’m done here, we’re going to have a nice uninterrupted chat about your situation.”

He takes note of the stubborn fold of her lips and never takes his eyes off her as his wound is cleaned, chanted over and bandaged. After tugging his ruined shirt back on again he leads her back up to his office and collects his jacket, her case and his gun.

She hasn’t spoken for so long he’s beginning to wonder if the gunshots left him deaf. His memories don’t include a silent Dawn. She talked. All the time. Very fast. She used words he didn’t know, in arrangements that made no sense. She confused him.

He’s starting to miss the simplicity of that feeling.

“Right. Time to go.”

“Where?”

“Oh, you’ve decided to stop sulking, have you? Excellent. My place, I think. It’s relatively close and should we be interrupted it’s adequately supplied with weapons.”

“God, you’re weird.”

He smiles indulgently. “That’s just the jet-lag speaking. I think you’ll find I’m actually far worse than that.” He holds up the cuffs, letting them dangle from one finger. “Well? Do you wear them, or do you behave without them?”

“You say that like I have a choice,” she spits at him. “Like I’m not so fucking desperate I’ll do anything, even come to someone like you for help.”

Hearing her swear disturbs him because she’s far too good at it. There’s no sense of her trying to shock him and no fumbling of the word as it passes her lips. “It’s not wise to let your opponent know that you’re in dire straits,” he says softly. “It can lead to people... taking advantage of you.”

“You’re not an opponent,” she says and he wonders tiredly if she’s going to argue with everything he says or does. “I came to you for help.”

“Which in no way guarantees you’ll get it,” he points out. “You’ve achieved one thing; you’ve made me curious. You’ve also annoyed me, disrupted my work and shot me. So far you’re not making the best of impressions.” He pulls a face. “And you hugged Spike and blubbered all over him.”

“I did not!”

“Yes, you did.”

“Yes, well you let Angel slobber over you!” She tosses her hair back and glares at him, rousing from her withdrawn sullenness and perfectly matching his memories as a brat of the first order. “’Oh, Wesley, are you hurt? Oh, Wes, what happened? Who did this? Let me at them.’” She snorts and ends by pulling her face into what he assumes is an imitation of Angel’s anxiously brooding look.

He quirks his lips in a half-smile. “Accurate enough, I suppose. Are you quite finished delaying us?”

There’s a long moment in which her eyes go to the case he’s carrying. “Let me take that,” she says, stretching out her hand.

“I think not.” He sees her eyes narrow and sighs. “I’m not going to steal it. I just prefer to have your gun with me.” He frowns. “I think I’ll be having a word with security. There’s supposed to be a check for weapons made on all visitors and yet you and your friend both managed to bypass it.”

She shrugs carefully enough to prepare him for a revelation. “I don’t know how Simon managed it, but I gave the guard a blow job last night.”

Keeping his reactions to himself is surprisingly difficult. He’s torn between anger and amusement. Then he pictures her on her knees and his emotions twist.

“Really? You must tell me all about that, too. Was the pound not doing so well against the dollar, then? Because I really can’t see your fumbling attempts to please being preferable to a monetary bribe.” He purses his lips and reaches for the phone. “Hello? Wyndam-Pryce here. Could you tell me who’s on guard duty at the main entrance please? Ah... thank you.”

He ends the call and stares at her thoughtfully. “I hope you didn’t give him your heart as well as your pretty little mouth. Simon seems to have decided killing him with kindness wasn’t as satisfying as breaking his neck.”

She reacts in a way that he might have predicted but didn’t expect. Her hand lashes out and it’s inches away from his face when he catches her wrist in a cruel grip.

“I don’t think we know each other well enough for that, do you?”

“I hate you,” she says through gritted teeth.

“Think how pleasant it’ll be when we get better acquainted and you actually have a reason for that emotion.”

“You don’t think I do already?”

He moves towards the door. “Quite honestly, no.”

“You’re wrong.”

“Possibly. I’m also indifferent as to your opinion of my many shortcomings and starting to wonder if I’m making a mistake.” He opens the door and nods down the corridor. “Angel’s office is over there. I’m going home; it’s earlier than normal by about six hours but I think it’s wisest. If I’m tired enough to sit there and allow you to shoot me, I’m not fit to be trusted with the particularly tricky translation I’ve been assigned. So run along to cry on Angel – I wouldn’t advise shooting him, no matter how overwhelming the temptation but tears are effective, I promise – and take your little piggy bank with you.”

He drops the briefcase, gives her a smile that’s as politely meaningless as he can make it, and walks away, counting under his breath.

She starts to move after ‘three’, catches up to him by ‘eight’ and lapses into a sulky silence by twenty when he ignores her reproaches.

It lasts during the drive to his apartment and he makes no attempt to question her. He’s too busy checking that they’re not being followed for one thing. He’s got the feeling that being within a few yards of her paints a target on him and it’s enough to leave the skin on the back of his neck prickling in an atavistic reaction to danger that he resents having to endure.

By the time they reach his apartment he’s wrung-out from tension and the throbbing agony of his arm. Driving probably wasn’t the best form of therapy but he’d really had no choice.

He slams the door behind them with his foot and locks it. “Sit down,” he says, nodding at a chair. “And wait.”

She places the briefcase by her and he changes his mind about heading for the whiskey and goes over to open the case and extract her gun. “Sorry,” he murmurs, “but you don’t get this back until I’m convinced you’re actually capable of using it. Missing me at that range was inexcusable.”

“I wasn’t trying to hit you. Just scare you,” she says and for a moment she’s all appealing dark eyes and quivering lips.

He straightens. “That just makes you stupid as well as a terrible shot. Do warn me if you plan to exhibit any signs of intelligence, won’t you? In my weakened state it might prove too much to deal with.”

“What will it take to get you to stop trying to be clever?” she asks. “Because you might be getting a kick out of it but I haven’t – I can’t –”

He watches, sipping his drink as the tears fill her eyes and spill down over her face.

“Stop that,” he says mildly. “What will it take? Let’s try the truth.” His voice hardens. “I said – oh for heaven’s sake!”

Forced into hospitality, he pours her a drink and takes it to her. “Here.”

“I’m too young,” she sniffles.

“So was I when I discovered the delights of medium-sweet Strongbow at the tender age of fourteen, but it didn’t stop me.” He places the whiskey beside her. “Think of it as medicinal.”

She bites her lip and glares at him, the tears ceasing to flow. “If I thought it’d help, I’d drink a bottle,” she hisses. “But it won’t.”

“Ah, yes. This is the dying we’re talking about, yes?” He sits down. “A bottle at a sitting would be counter-productive, trust me.” He waits until she’s swallowed, shuddered, and sat back and then smiles. “Let’s start with the dying then, as it seems to be on your mind.”

She gives him a disdainful look. “You just can’t stop it, can you?”

“Being incredibly insensitive, cruel and relentless?” He purses his lips. “I should stop following your shining example, you think?”

“It wasn’t me,” she says. “You stupid man. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t real. You’re making me suffer for memories of something that never happened.” She’s on her feet and the glass is flying at him, past him, shattering on the wall. “I remember it too, all of it, and I’m ashamed and I hate that I’m ashamed because I know I didn’t do it, but I can’t stop...”

She blunders towards the door, and she’s crying again and she’s almost got it unlocked when his hand closes around hers.

“Go and sit down,” he says softly.

She turns tear-wet eyes to stare at him suspiciously. “Not if you’re going to –”

He reaches out and touches her wet face briefly. “I think we can move on now, don’t you?”

This time he steers her to the couch and sits down beside her. “You were in Rome,” he says abruptly. “With Buffy.”

“Yes.” Her face brightens. “It’s beautiful there.”

“I know.” He doesn’t elaborate. “Must have been hard though; strange place, different language...”

“Oh, I already knew some Italian,” she tells him. There’s no arrogance in her voice as she adds, “I’m good at that; didn’t you know? Languages? Demon as well as human. Giles says there’s a place waiting for me on the council as a translator –” She glances away. “I was... looking forward to that.”

“We’re back with the imminent death?” he asks, but there’s no malice in his voice. “Suppose – Lord, I don’t know where to start asking questions.”

“Why don’t you just listen instead?” she says with a tartness that reminds him, disconcertingly, of Cordelia.

He chuckles. “Too accustomed to being the one doing the explaining, I suppose.” He leans back at stares at her. “One question.”

“All right,” She sounds indifferent as though the brief flash of warmth between them at the door when she’d leaned into his touch had turned to grey ash.

“Why did you ask for me? Real or not, the memories we have aren’t such that I’d expect to be first on your list of potential – whatever I am.”

“You were third,” she tells him.

“Oh.” He’s silent, absorbing that and then he shrugs. “Even so.”

“Giles was first.” Of course lingers in the air. “Then he sent me to Professor Darrow.”

Wesley snorts. “Is Giles losing it totally?”

“You know him?”

“He lobbied hard to get my translation of the Reecher Scroll withdrawn from the Council archives,” Wesley tells her. “Not because he disagreed with it, but because I was... less than complimentary to him in a footnote in Appendix Three.”

Dawn blinks slowly. “You called his treatise on the Scroll erroneous and riddled with errors.”

“He told you that?” Wesley asks. “Good Lord, he still bears a –”

“No. I’ve read it,” she says.

His eyes narrow. “Am I to assume coincidence? Or is this in some way connected to your story?”

“You’re asking a lot more than one question,” she says. “And of course it’s connected. You and he are the leading authorities on that scroll.”

“Obviously Giles considers him to be in the lead then,” Wesley murmurs, and he’s, not hurt, no. A faint hint of chagrin perhaps.

“No. He was just there and you were here.” She lifts up her hand and waves it vaguely. “And Giles is ticked about you working at that place. Says he expected better of you and I wasn’t to contact you.”

“And you weren’t as obedient as he’d have liked?”

She turns to face him. “I’m not very good at doing what I’m told if I don’t see the point of it.”

“I’m sure you’re delightfully obstinate but I can’t see Giles killing you to prevent you being corrupted by me.”

“Could you do that?” she asks, leaning forward slightly. “Because don’t I have to be pure and innocent first?”

“It helps,” he says, removing her hand from his knee, “but for all your supposed skills at... bribery, I can’t help feeling...”

“I could show you,” she says, setting her lips. “What I did to that guard. I could do it better this time –”

He’s about to answer her, though God knows what he can say to that, when he frowns. “You did that on purpose,” he accuses her. “As diversionary tactics go, it’s effective, but it’s only shocking once. We both know Giles would never allow harm to come to you –”

“Unless it’s me or the world,” she says bitterly. “And then he’d let me die in a heartbeat.”

“I really can’t muster up righteous indignation,” he says. “I’d kill you myself to save the world. I just have difficulty imagining Giles doing it to stop you seeing me.”

“He didn’t!” She’s looking at him as if he’s falling short of her expectations as regards his intelligence and it’s infuriating.

“You said that man –Philip – worked for Giles.”

“So?”

Wesley sighs. “Is there any inducement I can offer to get you to be more responsive?”

She gives him an incredulous look and then, unexpectedly, begins to giggle. It takes him the space of three seconds to work out why and he reaches over and places his hand against her mouth. “Seriously. Stop that.”

She pouts so for a moment he thinks she’s kissing his fingers and he pulls them back, startled. “Philip works for Giles, but that’s not connected to him trying to kill me. Well, I suppose it is, because if he didn’t work for Giles, he wouldn’t have heard me telling Giles that – where are you going?”

Wesley walked carefully around the shards of glass that lay on the carpet and picked up the whiskey bottle. “You’ve driven me to drink, Dawn. Happy now?” He re-filled his glass and stood in front of her. “What conclusion did I reach about the ritual of Dain?”

Her eyes widen but she answers promptly. “That it was myth, not fact. The knife supposedly used was from a different culture and would never have been viewed as a sacred object.”

“Good... Very well. I’m prepared to accept you’ve read it and understood it, on a basic level at least.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Don’t interrupt. That being so, you’re bright enough to sum up your situation in, let me see, five sentences, of no more than fifteen words each.” He inclines his head. “I’m waiting.”

The glare he gets would have made the Wesley she once knew quail and stutter. He’s glad he’s able to meet it with one of his own these days.

“The monks used part of the power of the Key to work the spell that made me.”

Too long, but he allows it to pass.

“But I’m not –” She gestures at herself. “There’s no room for what’s left. They couldn’t contain what I was in what I am. Connected to me, but not in me. Enough to open portals, yes, but the rest of it’s ...”

“Floating around?” he suggests, ignoring the fact that she’s never going to meet his conditions. It’s enough that she’s telling him. Finally.

“Like a giant, green butterfly,” she agrees sourly. “And some people– Philip being one of them – have got hold of a net.”

He waits, but she’s done talking and she’s looking at him with expectant eyes. He turns and begins to pace the room. “A net... to capture the power. And they’ll want all of it and power’s never destroyed so if they take it all, they take with it the power used to make you –” he paused. “The Reecher Scroll. Of course. Not designed for that, not precisely, but I can see how they could amend it, alter it just a little –”

Her voice is so quiet it slides into his head almost unnoticed.

“What did you say?”

“I asked if you were one of them.”

She’s pointing another gun at him and this one’s his so he knows it’s loaded, though he seems to have missed her picking it up. He starts to regret the whiskey. Between that and the painkiller he’d taken, he’s losing his edge. “Because he was, and I killed him and I thought you were safe because he hated you, but maybe that’s a lie, like me, a lie like me, and maybe you shot Philip because you know I have to stay alive because you think ‘tesselin’ means ‘at the time of the rising’ and he swore it meant the night before –”

“Oh, it’s impossible to translate it that way!” he says automatically, before a sense of priorities kicks in. “Dawn, haven’t you put enough holes in me for one day? Put that down and stop being so bloody stupid.”

“That’s what Giles said,” she murmurs, and the gun and the hand that holds it come to rest in her lap and she’s crying again.

“I’ve changed my mind,” he says. “If it’s a choice between being shot, or watching you cry, I’ll take the bullet.”

The outrage he expects doesn’t materialise but she stops crying. “Sorry.” She sniffs rather too comprehensively for his liking and her mouth firms. “You don’t care that I killed the Professor?”

He sits down and reaches for the gun, taking it from her and putting it down where he can get it if he needs to. She lets him, the dull look back in her eyes. He realises that she’s tired and this close the make-up she’s applied doesn’t conceal her pallor and the smudges fatigue’s smeared under her eyes. Unless they were supposed to look like that?

“Let’s say I don’t think he’s a loss, but it seems a little drastic.” He coughs. “You haven’t mentioned Buffy in all of this?”

“She doesn’t know,” Dawn murmurs and somehow she’s curling up against his shoulder, long legs tucked under her. “It’s only been three days and she’s in the middle of Africa with Xander. Giles was trying to reach her but he hadn’t when I left.”

“Three days?” he asks, shifting so that he can slide his arm around her shoulder and wincing at the dull ache in his injured arm. “Since you killed Darrow?”

“No, that was last night,” she says drowsily. “And they probably haven’t found him yet.”

“You killed him last night? Where?”

“Level Three,” she says, and her voice is a murmuring mumble. “You know; where the stairs go up. There’s a cupboard and I put him in there.”

His frown deepens because she can’t mean – “Dawn?”

“Mmm?”

“Darrow’s body is in a cupboard in the car park at Wolfram & Hart?”

“Told you...”

Then she’s asleep and he’s cursing, struggling free of her, and heading for the phone.

She sleeps for longer than he should allow, but he does more than permit, he abets, draping a soft, heavy blanket over her, tucking a cushion under a tear-flushed cheek and making his phone calls in his bedroom so his voice doesn’t carry.

Even so, he finds himself drifting to the hallway so he can watch her sleep, staring at her with a confusion of compassion that doesn’t creep into his voice, brusque and belligerent as he bullies people as tired as she is, following her tracks, checking her story, plugging the leaks.

As far as he can tell, her tale's true, but he hasn’t spoken to Rupert Giles yet and once he does – if he does – it all could change, tilt, and tumble like the coloured glass chips in a kaleidoscope.

Because he’s expecting Giles to lie to him. Oh, yes. Bloody self-righteous git.

He’s just taking a moment to clear his thoughts when one takes advantage of the lack of competition and pokes him sharply.

"- maybe you shot Philip because you know I have to stay alive because you think ‘tesselin’ means ‘at the time of the rising’ and he swore it meant the night before –”

He starts to work out what she meant. Philip wanted her dead today – Darrow, rather, since he'd been the man in charge, because -? One question that needed answering. He went to a cupboard in his bedroom and dragged out a box filled with copious notes – handwritten of course. No computers then...

It takes him twenty minutes because he keeps getting sidetracked by what he’d written and marvelling at the stilted tone he'd used. Although that bit there... yes, that was rather good...

The answer swims up out of the neatly-written pages and he sits back on his heels and sighs. Fine. They wanted her body lifeless by sundown, not sunrise so they could take back the power. It could be done whilst she lived, but why bother? Life is tenacious, greedy; Dawn's body would have clung stubbornly to what held it together, at a level far beneath volition or even awareness.

Sever her spirit and the power would be as easy to catch as a ball, lazily tumbling towards a waiting hand.

"Darrow's dead, Philip's dead..." he murmurs. "Any remaining members will either fade away or step onto the vacant throne... and they'll know it hasn't worked and possibly, just possibly they have enough intellectual acumen to see that sunrise is the correct time and –"

"They'll come for Dawn before dawn." She giggles, hanging onto to the doorframe, her eyes still glazed from lack of sleep. "That's funny, isn't it?"

He glances up at her. "Hilarious. You wouldn't have any idea of the numbers involved would you?"

She frowns as he begins to sort through the papers, stacking them neatly. "I saw a woman and a few more men in his office, but they don't matter. If they come for me, I'll kill them. Or you will." Her trust in his ability to commit mass-murder on her behalf is breathtaking, but he's saved the trouble of correcting her – and really, so far he's given her no reason to doubt that he would, after all – by her next words.

"Besides, I told you; I'm dying anyway. I don't know why I'm doing this. I don't know why I came. I don't –"

Her voice is getting dangerously high and his head throbs. "Stop that. I mean it. Stop. Why am I getting the feeling the assassins and the dying aren't precisely the same thing? Why are you dying? Are you ill?" He frowns. She seems well enough to him, but that means nothing, of course.

She looks a little defensive when she tells him, and well she should because he's up and over to her side in a second, shaking her furiously, his hands bruise-tight around slender arms.

"Tell me you didn't do something so utterly fucking stupid!"

Her face tightens and then the anger that matches his own drains away and she stops struggling, just stands still and leans forward so that her forehead lies against his shoulder, the third point at which their bodies touch.

"I didn't think it mattered," she whispers. "I shouldn't be here anyway. I'm not real. Every time I think I am, think I'm normal, something like this happens and I –"

His hands loosen and he pulls her to him, hugging her awkwardly because he doesn't know how to. He knows how to run his hands down her back so she arches and presses and moans, he knows how to strip her slowly or fast without letting her leave the circle of his arms – oh, he knows how to do a lot to a woman standing this close.

Comforting isn't one of them, and anyway he's too angry to want to learn. Pushing her back he controls the urge to scream at her and modulates his voice. "I want to know exactly what you did when you made the potion."

"Just what it said in the book," she says. "I thought – it said I'd be invulnerable for a month and I thought that would be long enough and Giles would have sorted it out –"

"And you're invulnerable for a month and then you're very, very dead," he tells her. "It's not meant for – it was for warriors, Dawn, consecrated warriors whose lives were pledged to a king, a queen – they'd take it and fight until they dropped. Suicide fighters, but they lasted from one full moonrise to the next..."

"And I've not got long, have I?"

He shook his head.

"You've got all the time in the world, Dawn. I'll see to that."

Her eyes narrow. "What?"

"You're coming back to the office. I'll get Fred onto this. Maybe you did something wrong, maybe it's just a bloody myth –"

Shooting herself to let him see the bullet bounce off her skin was incredibly over-dramatic.

And the ricochet took out a rather nice vase.

By the time he's finished telling her off, there's a mutinous tilt to her lips and she's sulking. He cleans up the shards of the vase and the glass from earlier and then walks past her to the case of money.

"What are you doing?" she asks sharply.

"Shut up," he suggests, staring down at the neat packages. Sitting back on his heels he shoots a glance at her. "This is Council money. From the emergency stash. I recognise Glinforth's handwriting on the packaging around the bundles. You stole it."

"Borrowed," she says, "and Giles wouldn't mind."

"It's not his to give," he points out. "And shall we put that to the test? Shall I call him and see?"

"No!"

He stands up and heads for the phone and she jumps up from the couch and grabs at him with frantic hands. "You can't! Please! Don't – I'll do anything, just –"

"Will you stop that!" he snaps. "It's inaccurate, deceitful and insulting, and I can't decide which one irritates me the most."

"I mean it," she says. Her long hair gets flicked back and she meets his sceptical gaze with more aplomb than he'd expected. "I'm not – it's not as if –"

"Say it without stammering and I might believe you," he says dryly. He nods at the open case. "There's too much missing, Dawn. A plane ticket, all the sundries... still too much." He strokes his finger along her blushing cheek. "You didn't use your mouth to pay off that guard, did you?" he asks softly. "You used cash because you're still a sweet little virgin."

He thinks she's going to hit him but she settles for jerking her head to the side. "I'm not. I – there was this boy –" She grits her teeth. "I'm not a virgin."

"It's not a crime," he says mildly. "You're very young after all. And I'm still waiting for you to admit to yet another lie."

He feels an infinitesimal twinge of guilt at bullying her, but lines have to be drawn and this will all go so much more smoothly if she starts trusting him with the truth.

"It wasn't a lie," she insists.

He shrugs. "Fine." He takes a step backwards, drawing her with him, and leans against the wall. "It's been a stressful day. Suppose we start to explore the intriguing idea of your limitless desire to please me?" His hand rests gently on her shoulder for long enough to feel her stiffen and then he pushes her down to her knees. "Off you go then."

She looks up and his breath catches because if anyone ever made the cliché 'beautiful when she's angry' a glorious truth, it's her, right now. He hopes she calls it quits fairly soon; he really doesn't relish the thought of letting her teeth get close.

She unzips him with a savage jerk and swallows as he reaches down casually and pops open the button holding his trousers fastened. "Allow me."

His hand is poised to reach inside his shorts when she cracks and scrambles up.

"I lied! I've never – not properly and it was gross and I hate you and –"

Kissing her was never going to be a good way of punishing her for lying but he does it anyway, one hand – and he's getting very tired of only having one usable hand – slipping around her neck to hold her still. With a perfectly timed, if cruel, withdrawal, he breaks off the kiss, seemingly in response to her first shocked struggle, actually at the moment she stops fighting him and kisses him back.

"Why did you do that?" she says, staring at him with wide eyes.

"Kiss you?"

"Stop."

"I was curious," he says. "You're not very good at it, are you? Would you like me to give you some pointers?"

"Would you like me to shoot you again?"

"Not particularly," he admits. "Are we done?"

She nods.

"Then I suggest you shift your pretty little arse out of my way and let me get to the phone."

He gets as far as the switchboard which, thank God, is neither automated nor one of those hellish voice-recognition systems, but a living person, when he's struck down from behind.

From the crash his ears register before the darkness swallows him up, he's just lost another vase.

He doesn't think she hit him hard enough for his blackout to have lasted long, but that has to be down to luck, not judgment, and it does nothing to lessen his anger. Which is directed mostly at himself for being so fucking stupid...

She's gone and he doesn't even try to chase after her. Where can she go, after all? And he has ways of finding her that range from the mystical to the mundane if her stubbornness – and she really is possessed of an abundance of that virtue – prevents her from seeing sense.

With his back prudently to the wall, he calls, not the Council switchboard this time, but his own staff, and within three minutes has Giles' home phone number and private work line.

Giles turns out to be at home and his voice is worried as he snaps, "Hello?"

"Hello, Rupert," he drawls. "It's Wesley. How are you?"

There's a long enough silence that he has time to silently recite a rather rude limerick about Giles that someone, not him, no, certainly not, had composed after Giles got fired. He's just at, 'His stake got all bent' when Giles says quietly,

"She reached you then?"

His head and arm twinge as if in reply. "I've got a mild concussion and a bullet hole in my arm, so I'd say, yes, yes, she did."

"What the fuck did you do to her?"

It's the enraged growl of a protective parent which is all that saves Giles from getting his eardrum lacerated. "The bullet was a misunderstanding; I pulled my gun and fired past her at an assassin. Philip. You can start a collection for his wreath if you like. The bump on my head was because she didn't like – can't imagine why – the idea of me calling you. She hit me and left me bleeding on the ground. My, you've been such a formative influence on her."

"Where is she?"

"I don't know. I'm sure she'll be back to wreak more mayhem on me; she seems to have a taste for it. Of course, as she's invulnerable, there's not a lot I can do to her but, given the circumstances, I doubt you see that as a good thing, am I correct?"

When Giles answers, his voice is tight with control. "I don't trust you, Wesley."

"I gathered. I'm rather hurt."

"Oh, I'm sure it's mutual," Giles says dryly. "Now we're on opposite sides."

"We're not and I have to say your belief that we are makes me wonder if you're up to being in control of the Council. And that's not a gibe, it's the simple truth. You're letting prejudice blind you. But I'd rather discuss Dawn."

"And I'd rather you didn't. I'd rather you never set eyes on her, but it's a little late for that, isn't it?"

"She's dying, Giles."

"I know. After she'd gone, I found –"

"Little late, weren't you? Christ, Rupert, no wonder our Slayers –" he gives Giles points for doing no more than breathe heavily at that provocation – " ran rings around you. She's a teenage girl and she's stolen money, performed lethal spells, killed that bastard Darrow and left his body at my place of work – where the hell were you?"

"Darrow's dead?"

"He is. His body's in storage; if you want it to disappear, I can do that, if you need it to turn up somewhere other than here, I can arrange that too."

"But you're not evil."

"A simple, 'thank you' would have sufficed."

Giles sighs. "I can't leave the office," he says. "Too much to clear up here. Find her and I'll do all I can to find a reversal spell."

"And I'm to do this, because -?"

"Just fucking do it, Wesley," Giles snarls. "Or do you want to add another failure to your long list?"

The click in his ear is final and oddly invigorating. The tap at his door is slightly earlier than he'd anticipated, but –

"Nice to see you again, Dawn." He stares at the bulky figure beside her. "Aren't you going to introduce me?"

Dawn's shoved at him and he stumbles back a pace.

"She says you're the only one who knows how to kill her. Do it, and we'll let you live."

"A friend of Philip's?" he asks, setting Dawn on her feet.

She nods, blinking away tears. "His name's Andy. He was waiting outside." She lifts her hand to her breast and he sees that her shirt's torn, showing the edge of a bra and a curve of breast. "He... he stabbed me... and..."

"Broke my knife." Andy pushes out a swollen lower lip in what passes for thought and winces. "That's going to cost you."

"You hit him?" Wesley enquires. "In the face?" His elbow jabs sideways and up, smashing Andy's nose, and not for the first time judging by the shape of it. "Like that?" Andy's hands fly up to stem the gush of blood, leaving his stomach vulnerable, but Wesley's tired and he can feel the warning twinge from his wound that goes before a slow, fresh trickle of blood. With an admirable economy of motion he gets in a solid knee to the man's balls, followed by – no, no need for more than that. "Go for the balls instead," he advises her. "But not mine, if you please."

Andy's making some distressing sounds but as long as he doesn't throw up, Wesley doesn't care. "Get that chair," he says, nodding at a sturdy wooden one.

Dawn obeys him which has to be a first, and by the time she's set it in the centre of the room, Wesley's taken out the handcuffs he'd used on her earlier.

"You're going to tie him up?" she asks, eying the cuffs. "Why?"

"I want to ask him some questions," he says. "It'll be easier if he's restrained." He beckons her to him, leaning in close to whisper in her ear. Her hair's silky and heavy against his fingers as he brushes it back and he's close enough to appreciate the way the soft roundness of her ear lobe is pierced by the slim gold hoop. It's an interesting, undeniably erotic, meeting of soft and hard but he doesn't have time to linger on contemplating it.

"When I question him," he says quietly, "You're not to interfere, no matter what I do, or say."

The vigorous nod makes him flinch slightly as he locks the cuff around her wrist and drags her, kicking and, yes, trying to knee him, good girl, over to a low shelf. The cuff snaps neatly around one of the support brackets, leaving her able to stand, if not very comfortable. "It won't be for long," he says, rubbing at his shin. "I'm just a little tired of never knowing where you are."

He's got another set of cuffs for Andy.

Letting him see what else is in the box they're stored in has him babbling before Wesley's even started to hurt him.

Wesley throws back a device he's almost certain is meant for taking pits out of olives and rubs his slightly sticky fingers on his handkerchief. "You really are a completely spineless little wanker aren't you?" he asks conversationally. "I hadn't even started."

Andrew squints up at him, blinking fast and opens his mouth. Wesley hits him one final time because Dawn's shirt's still ripped after all and then goes to the phone. The clean-up crew from Wolfram & Hart arrives in under ten minutes and he watches them politely avert their eyes from the sight of a young girl cuffed to a shelf. Very prudent of them.

Well, apart from Sutton, who gapes openly, but Wesley knows enough about his inclinations to guess that outrage isn't his primary emotion. He'll deal with him later.

"Where are they taking him?" Dawn asks as the door closes.

"Don't know."

"Will he – he'll go back to the others – he'll tell them –"

He can't help the astonishment in his voice. "Tell them? Dawn, I don't know exactly where they're taking him, but he's a dead man walking." He reconsiders. "A drugged, placed inside a box designed to hold a dishwasher, man, I mean."

"They're going to kill him?"

Her eyes go blank with shock and he frowns. "Well, yes. I rather thought you'd be all in favour of that somehow. He did try to stab you and reduce you to – whatever you are."

"Stop them?" she pleads. "I don't – it's not the same as Professor Darrow – I don't want –"

He sighs in exasperation. "Really, you're the most tiresome young woman I've ever met."

"Worse than Buffy?"

"Immeasurably so."

"And Faith?"

He walks over to her and tilts up her chin. "Why, Dawn. Anyone would think it was a competition to be the thorniest thorn in my side... Let me reassure you that you win hands down."

Her mouth sets in a thin line and he shifts his grip, running his thumb across her soft lips. "Smile for me, Dawn," he says lightly. "Or I'll think you're cross with me for some reason."

"What, like the way you've got me chained up?" she says with bitter sarcasm.

"Actually, most of my girlfriends like that," he tells her. "You should have said something."

"I don't believe you."

"Which bit?" he asks curiously.

"I don't believe anyone trusted you enough to let you do that to them." She gives a rather endearing combination of choke and snuffle. "It's no fun being like this anyway."

"Really?" He smiles. "Perhaps it isn't. And I think if I tried to change your mind, Rupert would be less than pleased. Here." He gives her the key and watches as she fumbles to free herself.

"Why aren't you helping me?" she asks, gritting her teeth with frustration as she tries to fit the small key into the lock, her wrist bent awkwardly.

"I want to see how sincere you are about your freedom." He shrugs. "Or I prefer to keep a safe distance between us... or I'm getting some amusement from your ineptitude. Or all of the above."

"Or none of them."

His smile widens. "Very good!" he praises her.

The sound of the lock clicking open coincides with her hiss of annoyance. "Did anyone ever tell–"

"Yes. If it's insulting they told me," he says. "Count on it. Now let's go and see what we can do about making you less invulnerable."

"And if they can't?" Dawn says. "Angel and Spike and this Fred?"

"You left out me," he tells her.

"Would you really care that much if I died?"

"Let's just say it would be inconvenient."

"Oh, well I'd hate for you to be inconvenienced," she says.

"Sarcasm isn't easy to pull off unless you're a little older. Unless you'd like lessons in that as well as kissing."

She puts her hand on his arm. "What if I said I would?"

He curls his fingers around her hand, cool and soft, and removes it, refusing to give into the temptation to place it somewhere else on his body. Like his fevered forehead. Or - no. "I was being facetious."

"I wasn't and if you tell me I'm too young to be kissed –"

"You're not." He looks at her full lips, bare of lipstick and remembers how they'd felt against his. "Theoretically. I'm just a little too old to be the one doing the kissing."

"Bollocks."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Spike said it all the time."

"Which is, I would have thought, sufficient of a clue as to why you shouldn't." He shudders. "Ever."

"I can't kiss you, I can't swear-"

"You can do both. I just won't kiss you back. And 'bollocks' isn't swearing, it's simply vulgar."

"So is walking around wearing my lipstick."

He swipes his hand across his mouth and gives her a bone-melting glare when it comes away clean. "Did anyone ever tell you -"

"All the fucking time." She lifts an eyebrow. "What? You said I could swear."

It's been, he reflects, as he locks his door, a rather long day.

Amazingly, the trip back to Wolfram & Hart is accomplished without incident. Wesley's silent and Dawn, after one attempt to make conversation, sinks back in her seat, staring out at the city.

When they reach the offices, she's taken from him, whirled away by Fred, who gives him a look of sorrowful disappointment, he's not quite sure why, possibly because Dawn dissolves into tears at her first gentle hug, and he's left to face Angel and Spike, looking oddly alike in their grim anger.

"What the fuck do you think you're playing at?" Spike begins, but Wesley's having none of it.

"She came to me for help." He gives Angel a sardonic look. "That's what we do, right?"

"So we help her," Spike says. "We give her to Fred, you hit the books and we help her. Fine. Just don't get why you took her out of here without saying a bloody word."

He's shouting himself into a better temper, Wesley notices, but he's more concerned with Angel's frowning silence.

He doesn't think that Angel's particularly intelligent. Cunning, devious and dangerous when cornered, yes, but he misses so much – Having said that, Wesley's never been inclined to under-estimate him.

"It wasn't safe here," he says. "The assassin who penetrated the security system, the body in the parking level –"

"You didn't know about that when you left," Angel says heavily.

Wesley gives him a point for noticing that. "Dawn was terrified. Insisted we left," he says. "She seems..." He lets his gaze go from one vampire to the next. "More comfortable with me." He lets the pause go for one beat, two, and then adds. "I've known her as long as you two, more or less, and I'm sure she likes you best, but I've never tried to kill her, you see."

It's cruel, but effective, and if the memories he's invoking are false, it doesn't matter. He's found out first hand how much power they have.

Angel isn't quite done though. "Still, Wesley, you acted alone. Didn't consult me." There's an odd tension in his voice. "I don't like it when you do that."

"I promise to keep you fully informed from now on," Wesley lies smoothly, meeting Angel's dark stare with just the right amount of concern and respect. "And now, if you'll excuse me –"

Angel nods. "Yeah. Leave everything else; make Dawn a priority."

"You don't need to tell me that," Wesley says with complete sincerity, and an accuracy that's lost on Angel.

He gets back to his desk to find a report waiting. Three typos, and if he has to point out one more time that there's no 'h' in his name, he's going to start hammering the point home literally, but the news is satisfying enough that he decides to overlook that.

He spends thirty minutes researching the spell Dawn used before accepting the fact that his attention's elsewhere. With Dawn, who's being poked and prodded, tested and tormented.

He reaches the lab in a shorter time than he'd believed possible and takes a steadying breath before going in.

"Miss Summers," he snaps at Knox. "Where is she?"

"Dawnie?"

The irritatingly friendly smile on his face is justification enough for hitting him but Wesley, not for the first time, quells the impulse. Although if Knox refers to her in quite that tone again...

"Miss Summers, yes."

Knox waves his hand. "Back there. In Medical." Wesley turns and Knox clears his throat. "It's – strictly speaking – a no visitors allowed room that she's in."

"Good," Wesley says, striding past him. "I'd hate to be interrupted."

Dawn looks up when he walks in, a look of mute misery on her face that changes to fury. "You left me here! Why did you do that?"

She's wearing a hospital gown, skimpy and full at the same time, her long legs exposed, the curve of a breast and the rounded point of a nipple clear through the thin fabric. He's not quite sure, given how warm the room seems to be – well, it feels hot to him- why her nipples are hard or why, when she should be looking vulnerable, child-like and worthy of protection, he's consumed with the desire to kneel her up on the narrow bed and slowly, so slowly, push up that gown, baring her to his eyes and hands.

"I'm sorry," he says automatically, falling back into the dry tone of voice he's been using with her. "I hadn't realised holding your hand took precedence over researching your problem."

She studies him and then shakes her head. "Sorry."

He raises his eyebrows in pretended surprise. "An apology? Goodness me. There's hope for you yet."

"Did you find out how to cure me?" she asks eagerly, with a touching faith in his abilities.

"Miracles take a little longer than thirty minutes for those of us who are merely human," he says. "However, locating what's left of the group conspiring to kill you and... dealing with them, falls more into business as usual, so you needn't worry about them any longer."

"Are you just saying that to make me feel better?" she asks sceptically. "Because if you are, don't bother. I can handle the truth."

"No, in actual fact, you showed that you couldn't with your childish reaction to Andy's unfortunate demise," Wesley tells her coldly. "Having said that, as I don't have the slightest interest in making you feel better, only in making you better, I don't think that's relevant. They're dead. All of them. And if bloody Rupert had done that in the first bloody place, we wouldn't be having this discussion, and I wouldn't have a bullet hole in a perfectly good arm and a bruised head."

"You're not being fair!"

Her voice is rising, but her eyes are glinting with anger, not tears, so he counts the painful throb of his aching head as well worth it. If she starts to think their deaths are down to her not telling Giles in time to let him mobilise the troops – such as they are – then she'll feel guilty. It's inevitable, perhaps, but he hopes to stave off the evil moment until she's back in Rome.

Ah. Less of a cheerful thought than it should be. Coupled with the lurid thoughts he's still having, running serenely along in the background of his mind, he's forced to admit that the sooner she leaves the better.

"Why are you in here?" he asks abruptly. "I need your help with the research." He gives her a nasty little smile, simply because his eyes have just wandered to a tray of medical instruments and he's shocked himself by the flurry of fantasies they've conjured up. Dawn, blindfolded, making pure-throated stammering 'ahs' as he gently presses cold metal against warm flesh, Dawn spread out, slippery flesh there to be probed by a gloved finger – oh God. "Unless you were lying about your talents as a-"

He's saved from a truly disastrous slip of the tongue by the entrance of a doctor who seems to think a white coat confers dignity on the completely undeserving.

"Now, this won't do. Miss Summers is going to be moved to the isolation unit until we're quite certain –"

"She's getting dressed and coming with me," Wesley interrupts. "You've had her for long enough to know that she's in, quite literally, the best health possible and as I very much doubt you can draw her blood –" He glanced at Dawn, who shakes her head. "I should imagine you've exhausted most of the possible tests by now."

"It's easy to see you're not a medical man, Pryce. We haven't even started."

"What did you call me?" Wesley bites his lip. "Never mind. Get out. Dawn – get dressed."

"Uh, hello?" She's on her feet now. "Standing right here, and I'm not getting dressed with an audience, so you can both get out."

"You don't need to get dressed," the doctor says with a heavy sigh of strained patience. "You're going to isolation. Give me any trouble and you'll go there in a straitjacket and stay that way."

The sudden switch to threats leaves Dawn open-mouthed but Wesley's become accustomed to the old-school Wolfram & Hart employees.

"Mr Angel, who's doubtless watching and listening right now, holds this young lady in a high regard," Wesley sys softly. "I don't think he'd be pleased to hear you use that tone with her."

The doctor smirks. "It's never been our policy to have a camera in the examination rooms."

The implications of that are, sadly, not lost on Dawn who shudders. Wesley, feeling astonishingly guilty, abandons every fantasy he's entertained, and turns on the doctor with a bright, anticipatory smile. "Really? How fortunate."

He's almost sorry when his meaning sinks in immediately and he doesn't get to hit him.

And even sorrier the guilt compels him to leave her to dress alone.

It really is very warm. It'll be cooler in his office.

By the time they reach his office, his phone's blinking red and ringing, a double assault on his senses that he could well do without.

Gesturing Dawn to a chair, he picks it up. "Yes?"

"Mind telling me why Dawn's not getting treated right now, Wesley?"

He closes his eyes against the reaction to hearing that... assumption of his error in Angel's voice. The tone that says he's already been tried and found wanting. From his father it leaves him on familiar ground, from Angel it leaves him wanting to stammer out excuses, abase himself, anything to make it fade away.

Or at least it used to.

These days, it's almost as easy to ignore as his father's hectoring and he wonders when he stopped being afraid of Angel.

"Treated? I think you're under a misapprehension. There is no treatment."

"You don't get to decide that, Wesley! Doctor Miller –" Ah, so that was his name. Useful to know. "- says you threatened him. Put Dawn at risk."

"I most certainly did not." Wesley reconsiders. "Possibly a small threat. I'm in some pain here. It makes me testy."

"Wes..." Angel's voice softens a little. "I just want what's best for –"

The phone's taken from his hand and he realises Dawn's heard enough to understand that he's being reprimanded. She stabs at the button to put it on speakerphone.

"Angel? You leave Wesley alone!"

"Dawn..."

"That man, he was going to hurt me. He was the one making the threats."

Angel's chuckle, amplified and echoing sounds uneasy. "Come on, Dawn. He's just trying to help you."

Wesley watches, fascinated, as Dawn sets her jaw, her eyes flat and cold. She does anger better than anyone he's met; a force of nature level of ire.

"He told me he was going to put me in a straitjacket. Lock me up."

Her voice grates and grinds through clenched teeth and he hears Angel clear his throat.

"Look, I'm sure he didn't – and if he did, he didn't mean –"

"He said there weren't any cameras in those rooms. He was glad about that." Dawn's voice drops, levels and freezes. "You know what? I bet there are. I bet there are and you've got access to them. You find out, Angel. And then you deal with him the way Buffy would want you to." Wesley clamps down on the smile that rises to his lips. This room's doubtless got its cameras too.

Dawn slams the phone down and gives Wesley an unsmiling look before winking and sitting down. She crosses her legs, sending her skirt slip-sliding high, and he gets to stare at the shadow of a book, lying dark across her inner thigh as she begins to read.

Angel calls back ten minutes later when Wesley's reached the point of staring, blind and helpless at the curved arch of Dawn's instep as she dangles her high-heeled shoe from her toes, curling them now and then, so that her foot snugs back inside the black leather before being released from bondage again.

She's doing it and he's close to breaking, fingers tight on a pencil he's using to scrawl nonsense words on a blank page. Why, suddenly, he's enraptured and captured, he doesn't know, but he's remembering an experiment in a Chemistry lesson, years ago, when one final drop turned a liquid into a crystalline mass, a chain-reaction as rapid as it is irreversible.

He rather thinks that drop was the way she gnaws on her lower lip as she reads, white teeth indenting fullness, bearing down. Or the slide of her fingers through her hair, freeing it from the open curve behind her ear so that it spills silkily down, hiding her face.

He wants to push it back, give her nowhere to hide from his gaze, expose her, bare her and she thrust the tip of her finger into her mouth and bites on already-bitten nails and he opens his mouth to tell her to stop when the phone rings.

Stabbing at the speakerphone he finds himself unable to do more than listen as Angel says, with admirable brevity, "Sorry. Taken care of."

Dawn flicks back her hair, removes a wet-tipped finger and her shoe smacks back into place. "Good." She waits until Wesley's cut the connection before smiling at him. "Now we can get on with it," she says. "Enjoy the show?"

"Bitch," he tells her pleasantly.

"You deserved it," she says and really, perhaps he did, but he'd give a lot to know if it was meant as punishment or reward.

"I suppose I did." He eyes her skirt, still riding high. "Adjust your clothing, Dawn."

Her fingers hook into the hem. "Up? Or down?"

He doesn't look up from his book. "Play time's over, Dawn. Behave."

She sighs. "Or you'll make me? Please!"

He glances at her. "Or I'll make you," he agrees. "And you'll say 'please' so very nicely when I do, followed by 'stop' and I won't pay any attention to either." He draws a fresh piece of paper towards him. "And you'll doubtless die with a sincere, heartfelt regret that you wasted my time and distracted me, won't you?"

"That's –"

"Were you planning to finish that sentence with 'not fair'?" he asks, keeping his voice level with an effort. "Were you?" His voice is rising despite his best efforts. "Read. Help. Stop acting as if you've got nothing better to do than make me want you."

"Do you?"

Quiet, soft voice. He doesn't dare look at her eyes, drenched and sparkling. And he won't answer, which is all the answer she needs.

"Thought so."

Odiously smug. Dry-eyed and smirking.

"Dawn," he says softly. "Do you recall the time you annoyed me so much I put you across my knee and applied the flat of my hand to the curve of your arse?"

She frowns. "No."

"Keep this up, and in ten minutes, when I ask you again, you'll be able to answer 'yes'," he snaps.

Her lips part and she stares at him in silence before bending a studious head over her book.

Oh, the bitch...

They work in silence for hours. He has food brought in, drinks coffee, and uses the lukewarm dregs to swill down painkillers that leave his skin itching and numb, until he longs for the bright, sharp agony in his arm every time he turns a page.

And Dawn behaves beautifully. She finds a reference that proves to be hopeful and does no more than nod when he tells her gently, an hour later, that it's a dead end. She makes Spike go away when he comes in to help, and for that alone he forgives her some – not all – of her earlier transgressions. She's a companion and he finds that he's missed that more than he can say.

And then Giles calls and she stares at him as he holds out the phone and shakes her head, lips tight and stubborn and won't speak to him.

It's so late that for Giles it's early and he's got a fresh from the shower zing to him that's nauseatingly abrasive to Wesley's nerves. "Call back in ten minutes," he says. "She'll speak to you then." He hangs up in the middle of Giles' protest and gives her a look.

"You may explain your reluctance to speak to Giles but no matter how good it is – and I think it'll prove to be no better than adequate, if that – you will speak to him." He pauses. "You owe him that, Dawn." His eyes go to the case filled with money that's been shoved, forgotten, into a corner. "Along with some other things."

"I won't."

"That tone doesn't work with me, Dawn."

He sounds bored and just a little impatient. He's not. He's fiercely expectant, hiding it with an effort of will he wasn't aware he was capable of.

"Why do you care if I speak to him? You hate him!"

He pauses to consider both her question and his feelings towards Rupert. "I don't," he says finally, which applied to both. "But he'll just keep calling until you convince him that the big, bad wolf hasn't gobbled up Little Red Riding Hood, so let's get it over with shall we?"

"He'll tell me to go back."

Wesley shrugs, walking over to her slowly. "Perhaps you should. Now that I've removed Darrow's group there's no real reason for you to be here. I can continue my research and pass along anything I find."

He pauses in the perfect spot for her to be able to rise to her feet and swing an open palm at his cheek and she doesn't disappoint him. He lets it land, because the moment where her hand's cupping his face is worth the hard explosion of pain – not in his face, but his jarred arm as he leans with the blow to lessen its impact.

There's no fleeting instant of regret in her face. "You asked for that," she says and there's absolutely nothing about the statement that isn't true.

"And you gave it to me," he agrees. "May I ask for something else?"

She frowns uncertainly, already learning not to promise sight unseen. "What?"

He turns his face slightly. "Work it out."

The second blow hurts more and her palm's hot against his face. He fingers first one cheek then the other, smiles at her and says, "When Giles calls, you will talk to him. Sob. Sniffle. Call him Unka fucking Rupert if you like. Just get him off my back. Understand?" She nods just the tiniest bit. "Good girl."

Angel arrives after Giles has been dealt with and he's finished admiring the tears that fall, humiliated, angry tears, because Giles, after all, isn't beguiled by repentance and Wesley, with a crooked smile, makes sure his voice, sharp with anger, fills the room so they both listen to Dawn being reprimanded by someone who kept – how many of them was it? Five? Six? – teenagers controlled with no more than a raised eyebrow and a dry sherry sarcasm. He wants to catch each drop that trickles, taste their salt on his tongue, but he settles for tossing her a Kleenex that she turns soggy and discards.

He's about to commiserate, just a little, out of a fellow feeling, having been on the receiving end of some of Giles' lectures himself, when Angel comes in.

He sees Dawn's tear-stained face and the fading handprints on Wesley's face and starts to reach a conclusion that has his eyes darkening, but Wesley's tired of the drama and looks him in the eye and says quietly, "Don't. It's not what you think," and Angel, for once, after a quick look that takes in Dawn's nod, obeys.

"It's getting late, Dawn," Angel says. "I think you should go to bed. Rest."

She nods again, eyes heavy and Angel smiles as if she's yawning because he said so. "Right. My place is just a long stroll and a short elevator ride away. Have you tucked up in no time."

And that's just – no. It's Angel's bed and Dawn's not sleeping in it. He's saved from protesting by Dawn's intervention.

"I'm stopping at Wesley's," she says. "All my stuff is there."

As she arrived with nothing, and that's exactly what she left at his home, that's true enough he supposes, if one overlooks the case of money. Does she even have a toothbrush?

"And, as you say, it's late and neither of us wishes to compromise our research by approaching it with fatigued minds," he says in a smooth patter of words. he picks up the case and gives Angel a smile he takes care to make warm and somehow they're out of the door before Angel can decide that he's been thwarted, not reasoned with.

When he locks the door of his apartment, sealing them in, he leans against it, weak and light-headed with what he's done.

"Are you –"

"Get ready for bed," he says. He feels his smile grow teeth. "Couch, not bed. I'm not the gentleman Angel is, and my arm hurts."

"I'd like – is it too late to have a shower?"

He shakes his head. "Help yourself." He nods in the direction of the bathroom. "I'll sort out some spare bedding for you."

She drifts away without a word and he waits to hear the sound of the falling water change as she steps under it before allowing himself to sit and let his face stop hiding his thoughts.


By the time she comes out, dressed in his robe, he's made up the couch and he's smoothing the quilt needlessly.

"All yours."

He nods, pushes past her blindly and doesn't release the breath he's taken that holds the scent of her, warm and damp, until he's in the bathroom. She's managed to make it smell of her somehow, even when she's used his soap, his towels and – yes, it's damp – his toothbrush.

He showers, one hand busy, the other flat against the shower wall and his head empty of anything but the rush of the heat over and through him.

And he might as well have saved himself the trouble because as he's peeling off the soaked dressing and studying the torn, reddened skin, he sees the damp scrap of her panties, washed out and hung to dry over the back of a chair.

He's not sure what brings his cock back to life; the pink cotton, sprinkled with daisies innocence of them or the discovery as he spreads them out on his hand, that it's a thong, not panties, designed to leave her pretty backside bare.

He replaces them and, moving slowly, with blank eyes in a pale face, he tugs his trousers back on and gathers what he'll need from the medicine cabinet.

She turns her head as he comes towards her where she's sitting on the couch and he lets the creams, bandages and tape spill from his hands into her lap.

"I can't do this alone."

She nods, her eyes going to his arm, and he shakes his head, feeling the room waver and then sharpen again.

"Not that." His hand wraps around her wrist and he brings her hand down between his legs. "This."

The instant her hand begins to move, the thin bones shifting in his grasp, he releases her.

"Your arm is bleeding," she says, curving her fingers fleetingly around his cock in an assessment that seems more curious than critical. "God, you're just like Xander used to be."

Her hand moves away and she picks up the cream, unscrewing the top and squeezing some out onto her fingers before he regains the power of speech.

"Next time," he says with the distinct clarity of a drunk who knows he is, which fits the way he feels. "I'd appreciate it if you hit me again when I anger you. I am nothing like Xander Harris."

She smears the cream over his wound with careful, gentle strokes, wipes her hand on a Kleenex in the pocket of his robe, and reaches for the dressing. "You think about nothing but sex. You're, like, a Xander-clone. When he was younger, of course." Her face droops a little. "He's not like that now." She puts the dressing against his arm, takes his hand and pushes it against the cotton pad. "Hold it there." She dimples at his eye-roll. "I'm not angry," she says kindly. "You've just got really weird timing, you know? You're hurt, I'm beyond tired... "

She fixes the tape in place and he stands up. "Thank you, Dawn," he says icily. "That took care of both problems. My congratulations on your bedside manner."

It's as dignified an exit line as he can come up with but he swears he hears her giggle as he slams his bedroom door.

Sleep comes mercifully fast as he finds refuge in oblivion from embarrassment, frustration and worry. Because he's no closer to helping her, despite the hours of work. But it's only been a few hours when he wakes again, thirsty and lacking anything to drink. He has to go through the living room to get to the kitchen and he doesn't want to, but with every passing minute his mouth gets stickier and the tongue passing over his lips does less to moisten them.

Wearing a pair of shorts and trying to be quiet – but not stealthy, not in his own house – he walks into the front room and hesitates. She's crying. Soft, jerked-out sobs.

He turns and goes into the kitchen, emerging with two bottles of water and a wad of kitchen towel.

"Here," he says.

"Go away."

"Willingly, but short of putting my head under the pillow, I'll still be able to hear you sniffling. This apartment isn't very big." He nudges her hand with the cold bottle of water. "Sit up. Drink. Stop crying."

She takes the bottle from him and by the time he's swallowed half of his, she's calm again, as much as he can see in the dimness.

"Why were you crying?" he asks.

She sucks in an indignant breath. "Use your imagination!"

"We're talking about the dying?" he asks cautiously.

"Yes, we're talking about the dying," she says bitterly. "I thought by now I'd be – you'd have-"

She's silent then and he realises, with a shock of shame and bewilderment, that she thought he'd have an answer in hours. That he hasn't been good enough, that he's disappointed her. He's wiped out the people attacking her, taken a bullet and a vase to the head, dealt with Angel, Spike, Rupert and that doctor and she's still –

"Who taught you to expect so much?"

He's yelling at her, voice raised – well, it's probably not that loud really, but as this time of night, when sleep-soaked, torpor-wrapped bodies lie deep and dreamless, it's loud enough.

"I owe you nothing, Dawn. We met this morning and you dumped your problems on me without a fucking please or thank you, expected me to –"

"I'm sorry."

She whispers the words faintly, stands and clutches a quilt too heavy for a single hand to her body. She's naked and as the quilt falls, hanging from her hand in a triangle of draped fabric, he steps back, steps away, and tries not to cringe.

"Please –"

Which of them says it first is open to debate, but he manages to make it be her hand that touches skin before his, even if there's only a snatched breath difference.

Fingertips five, in a half-moon circle against his chest and the heel of her hand coming down to shift against his nipple in a gently persistent rock back and forth... He doesn't mimic it quite but he stretches out thumb and finger and pinches her nipple with them, gentle little tweaks until it's risen and full and she clutches the quilt to her and sways. Then he strokes the high curve of her breast and waits.

Her hand moves high, to his face, hesitating, not through shyness, not here in the darkness of dreams, where perhaps this isn't happening (it is) and they agree to pretend it isn't (but they'll know), no, not through that. But her indecision ends as she presses firmly against his mouth and he parts his lips and takes her fingers in, four fingers, wide and flat, bitten-down edges of nails scraping at his palate, as his tongue explores them, tasting tears. She goes too far back and he gags, chest heaving, throat spasming until he controls himself.

She pulls them back slowly as he sucks them into a shape, one that spreads his mouth wide-circled, makes his jaws ache; pushes them back in a shallow, swift dart.

He shows her what she needs to know as best he can, feeling the future echo of her tongue on his cock, tentative and blackberry-sweet and leans away, waiting.

"I won't kneel."

She says it with such soft vehemence that he wonders what happened between her and the lad she'd mentioned but it's of no importance.

"Sometimes it's just the easiest way to get to what you want," he tells her gently. He gets to his knees in front of her and glances up. "See?"

He leans forward and runs his tongue over the concave dip just above her fluff of hair, keeping his hands at his side. She twitches the quilt aside, although she doesn't let go of it, and the disturbed air brings her scent to him and he makes a soft sound of wanting and dip his tongue into the folds of her cunt, spreading them open and finding the taste of her. He thinks at first she's dry but then his tongue moves down and she's not, she's sticky-slick and messy and he has to pull back a little to keep from whimpering, his hand going to his cock which is nudging the thin cotton of his shorts.

She moans and her hips tilt, and he hadn't moved that far so he's back where he was. He frees his cock with an impatient downward shove at his shorts, taking it in hand and working it enough to make his tongue quicken as he laps at her. His other hand curves around her body and he doesn't even pretend it's to help her keep steady on her feet. If she wants to do that, she can spread those feet a little wider and yes, yes she does.

His palm's against her ass, and he crooks his fingers and drags them with a rough deliberation down the crack of her cheeks, splitting her open, doing it again and again, his fingers delving deeper every time until he's scratching and teasing her asshole, the downward stroke ending just as his fingertips reach the source of all that wetness.

He's going to dam it with fingers and cock, but first –

She comes as his teeth worry gently at her clit, a sudden, short climax she wasn't expecting from the note of shock in her cry, and he smiles and sends his tongue inside her, his head bent awkwardly, his neck aching, his arm throbbing. He'll take the pain willingly because it brings him the quiver of her release against his tongue and when she crumples, he catches her, quilt and all, pulling her into his lap where her flank rubs against his cock, and wishing he didn't have to use his hurt arm to cradle her.

They stay like that for two minutes at most, and it's long enough for awkwardness to seep in like smoke, leaving him about to stammer, about to find an excuse to leave, but then she turns in his arms and kisses him.

And she still doesn't really know how to. She keeps her lips closed and then opens them too wide, too fast, and her tongue is curled out of the way and she's breathing wrong and –

"Dawn." He hears his voice, pitched voice an octave away from exasperation and sighs. "Stop."

She freezes and then starts to struggle.

"Stop that, too."

"No! Let me go!"

He slackens his grip and she wriggles out of his lap, yanking at the quilt to cover herself, but she doesn't go far. He leans back against the couch, rests his forearms on his bent-up knees and waits.

"Why are we doing this?"

He twists around and reaches up, flicking on a small lamp. Enlightenment won't be quite as easy to achieve, he suspects. "Is that something I should answer or pretend I didn't hear?"

"Could you?" She's a huddled, hidden mass under the quilt but her toes are peeking out, oddly endearing.

"Which? No, never mind; I know what you mean. Yes, of course. Just say which you prefer and I'll jump through yet another hoop for you, until you get tired of holding them up."

Which is the point where she should blush and apologise, but she does the tangential tango instead. "I shouldn't be here."

"No," he agrees, after giving it some thought. "But you have to be somewhere and you can't be alone." He shrugs. "I can have you with Angel in under twenty minutes. He won't be asleep." And with the way they smell of each other, he'll be lucky if he gets chance to do more than say 'hello' before Angel hits him.

"You don't want me?"

"Is that sentence finished?"

"Here."

"Better." He shakes his head and goes for honesty as an interesting tactic. "I don't mind. I feel – it worries me when I don't know where you are as you seem, invariably, to get into trouble. Once we've solved your problem it'll be different. Back to normal." He yawns, faking it for the first second and then feeling it become genuine. "And I'm going to go back to bed." He reaches for his water bottle and takes one last swig. "Good night."

"I might not be here in the morning."

"You'd bloody well better be," he says pleasantly.

"Wouldn't you rather make sure?"

There's a blankness somewhere an inch away from his ears, eyes and mouth, blocking sound, sight and speech. No. No, dammit. Anger smashes through the dead air.

"And how – just out of curiosity – would I do that, Dawn?" He breathes in sharply. "Do share your thoughts on the subject."

"We could... sleep together. You'd notice if I left, wouldn't you?"

Right now he feels that if he ever gets to sleep she could tattoo him and he wouldn't wake.

"I don't know. Maybe. Dawn –"

"You could."

And that sentence does stop there, and why not?

"I can't do this," he says. "I can't – Dawn, go to sleep. Run away, stay, whatever. I'm –"

"Cuff me."

"What?"

"You could cuff me. To your bed. It has – it has – places. I saw them. And you could – I wouldn't – wouldn't stop you."

"You couldn't," he says after a pause. Something in her expression makes him realise he hasn't phrased that well. He hauls himself up, by what feels like his bootstraps and glances down at her. "Come on then," he says, when she doesn't move.

Without waiting, he turns and walks back to bed, naked, exhausted, arousal fled. He gets into bed with a series of movements too complex for his brain to translate so that the act of folding back the covers enough to allow him to sit on the bed and not the sheets leaves him clutching at the sheets but not able to work out which way to tug them.

"Are you –?"

"I am so very fucking tired," he manages and then he's falling into bed and she's pulling up the sheets around him and he thinks he hears her whisper his name but there's no way he can do more than make a small sound that says he's heard her.


He can't remember the last time he woke up in the morning with someone beside him. Lilah never stopped over; had Virginia? Once, maybe...

The intimacy of seeing someone sleep and then waken, self rushing back into dream-clouded eyes, leaves him shivering. She blinks up at him and smiles, tentative and careful, and he can't help touching her, back of his fingers to the curve of her face. She turns her head so that his fingers rest against her lips and she waits.

He's not sure what she's waiting for but he doesn't want to ask. Talking doesn't seem to work for them.

His arm hurts like this.

He rolls to his back, reaches under the covers for her hand, and when he finds it he brings it over to his cock, already half-hard, and gives her a side-long glance.

She bites her lip, a sudden, deep jab of teeth into softness and then she pushes down the covers with her other hand, in an impatient yank, and leaves them both exposed.

He thinks he could fall in love with someone who doesn't need the darkness to hide in when she's scared.

She lets go of him and kneels up beside him, studying him with her face flushing hot. He peers down his body, wondering if he looks old to her compared with whatever teenager she's been with, and grinning slightly as his cock twitches and swells just from being stared at.

"I've never seen it get that way," she says and there's a curiosity in her voice that's oddly touching. "It's ... fast."

"It can be," he agrees.

"It must feel weird."

He frowns, thinking about it, and then shrugs. "A little, perhaps. I don't think I've ever really analysed it to that extent."

"What do – what should I do?"

He tucks his uninjured arm behind his head and reaches down, resting his hand on his thigh. "You don't have to do anything," he says, looking at her. Kneeling like this, in the thin, filtered light, she's heartbreakingly beautiful, all smudged eyes and tousled hair, just enough this side of messy to be real. He lets his fingers wander over to grip his cock and work it slowly, because he wants to see her face when he does. "You can always just watch. Or look away, or go away, or –"

She places her hands beside her, and with the suppleness of a green branch, bends forward, so that her hair falls and tickles against his leg, and licks slowly, not along his cock, but his middle finger, letting her tongue dip between it and the ones beside it, so that as his hand freezes in place he wishes his fingers weren't so tight together.

Her hand comes up to tuck her hair behind an ear so that he can see what she's doing and he takes advantage of her distraction and widens his grip. Her mouth curls up in a swift smile as she notices and she punishes him – or perhaps not – by ignoring his hand and lapping cautiously at the head of his cock, surprising him enough that he's the one who flinches.

"Did I hurt you?" she asks, pulling away and giving him an alarmed look. Her face goes distant for a moment and he can almost see her swallowing and trying to decide if she likes what she's just tasted.

"No. You just startled me."

She stares at his erection doubtfully. "I'm not sure I can, uh, fit it all in," she says.

He tries not to laugh. He does. And he succeeds. The strangled noise that emerges from his tightly-closed lips bears very little resemblance to amusement.

"Sorry," he manages. "I truly am."

She hits him; a solid punch, high on his shoulder, that hurts. "Want me to remember where you said I should hit men? As if I didn't already know?" she asks managing to sound dangerous.

"No." He sobers. "Dawn, if you want to do this, go ahead. If you don't, just stop."

"Help me? I know what to do but last time..." She rubs at her nose. "He pushed and I felt sick and I couldn't breathe and he had his hands on my head and he wouldn't let me go –"

"I won't do that," he says evenly. "Any of it." It hurts a little, but he reaches up with both hands and takes hold of the headboard, the central, horizontal bar that, yes, he's used as an anchor point for cuffs before. "See? No hands."

"Would you let me cuff you?" she asks, blinking at him with an innocence he knows damn well is assumed. Inexperienced, possibly; innocent, no.

"Not a chance in hell," he says firmly. "I can almost guarantee that if you did, the room would be invaded by assassins. Or possibly Angel. I can't see it going well from that point on somehow."

She giggles and he smiles back at her. "Dawn?"

"Yes?"

"I'm not in pain, far from it, but I'm not sure how much longer I can wait."

She shifts to kneel between his legs and gives him a cool smile. "How long did I last?"

"What? Oh!" He thinks about it. "Three minutes?"

"It felt faster than that," she says, frowning. "And it wasn't – I wanted more. I wanted –"

"I'm sorry," he says, wondering if he's always going to fail her. "I was tired and I'm still far from convinced that this is anything but insane, you know."

She shakes her head hard. "Don't be sorry. That was the first time I'd ever – ever come when it wasn't just me, you know?"

"Oh..." he murmurs, a little shaken. "Was it?"

"I owe you."

Her head dips down and he breaks his promise and locks his hand in her hair. "You don't do anything to me for that reason," he hisses at her, feeling absurdly hurt. "D'you hear me?"

She shrugs free. "Idiot," she says, making it sound exasperated but not unfriendly. "I didn't mean –"

"Didn't you?" His voice is hard.

"No." Her eyes drop but only because she's staring at his cock again. Her voice sounds distracted "Really. Just joking."

And then he cries out because she's all over him with that soft, warm, deliciously spiteful tongue of hers and his cock's painted in wet strips and stripes, cool and warm, vertical and horizontal, and finally swirls as she targets the slithery-slick head and plays with it.

She hasn't once taken him past her lips, pouting and full now, but he's on the edge of coming, balls tight, hips lifting, teeth gritted until his jaw aches as much as his balls and he gives in and pants out something incoherent enough to make her smile.

"Tell me what to do,"

"Suck me," he says and she does, a delicate pursing of her lips around the swell of the head, tongue still flickering in and out and, although it's not a comfortable image, he's reminded of his mother's sewing machine with the stab, flash, stab of the needle, too fast to see.

"Take me in deeper," he says, "or use your hand." The words are forced out of him, squeezing by his reservations, easing past his shame.

She does both and he feels everything that isn't this pulling, tugging, teasing agony shift sideways and hover. She's killing him. Fucking killing him and he gasps and squirms and writhes and his fingers twist and tighten until he thinks the metal they grip has become part of his hands and she doesn't stop, not even when he comes, jerking and spurting and coating her mouth and lips and chin because she pulls away choking and indignant and he doesn't care because that was perfect, she was perfect and he really thinks he could sleep now, curled against her, arms around her, breathing air she's left scented and soft and –

"It's still gross," she says, swiping at her face with an ick! ick! expression and a handful of duvet. She pauses. "Think it'll be better next time?"

He slackens his death grip on the headboard and grabs her, pulling her close and finishing the clean-up job in the most practical way possible.

"It wouldn't be gross if you made up your mind whether to swallow or spit and didn't attempt to combine the two."

"Oh, like I did that on purpose!" she huffs. "It's all right for you; you don't know what it's like on the other end..." He clears his throat and she stares at him. "Oh..."

He lies back and closes his eyes. "I'm going back to sleep. Run away again and I'll beat you."

She takes the covers he's just pulled up away from him.

"No, you're not. You're getting up and saving my life. Then you can beat me."

She sounds very sure about that somehow.

"Don't think I won't. Often. Daily. Twice on Sundays."

It turns out she's got good cause to trust him.

And no matter what she does, he never seems to get around to beating her and when he says it's because his arm still hurts, she smiles and looks smug.

And somehow he doesn't hate that look any more and it's hard to remember when he did. Hard to remember doing anything but love her.

And really, when you think about it, he always has.

From the first time he saw her.

In his office with a gun and a case full of cash.


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