Title: Living with phantoms
Author: Katta ( head_overheels@hotmail.com )
Website: http://www.geocities.com/katta_hj
Rating: PG13
Summary: Further insights to Wesley and the people around him.
Series/Sequel: Fourth in my Birthdayverse series after All Talk. An attempt to round things up a bit – I plan on writing more, but perhaps not soon. Slash still only subtext, I'm afraid.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. I'm from Barcelona. :-)

Why newspapers had to be insanely large and fall apart when you opened them was something Wesley had never been able to understand. He ignored the loose pages falling to the floor, searching only for page five to read the full story of the headline that had caused his interest. There it was, "Seven year old boy suspect of arson", and certain details in the article suggested there was something off about it all.

A strangled noise from Anne's office made him dismiss the newspaper for the time being and head inside. One moment earlier, and the book that flew past him would have struck his face.

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" Anne's eyes were wide with horror. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"Not at all." A quick glance around the office was enough to determine that, whatever the reason, she was very upset. Papers were spread over the floor in a fashion that seemed to indicate she'd thrown them like she had the book. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," she said, the response as automatic as unconvincing.

"So what is this? A new form of exercise?" He picked up the book from the floor. Accountancy. "Book keeping still giving you trouble?"

"Only in the sense of being completely and utterly incomprehensible."

He cautiously stepped over the papers on the floor and sat across from her, putting the book down on her desk again. "Do you want me to help you?"

"No! No! Shit!" The outburst was very unlike anything he had seen from her so far, and he watched in uncomfortable silence as she hid her face in her hands. Finally it appeared again, heated and swollen with emotion. "Do you have any idea how tempting it is? Other people know how to do this. *Smart* people know how to do this. All I want to do is go 'hey let's call a friend!' Or a boyfriend, or a goddamn cult leader!"

"Cult leader?"

She closed her eyes. "Smart people don't have those." Opened again, they got a touch of guilt. "Oh, God, listen to me. And you... I mean, look at you, you've got problems of your own, and I'm just... You must think I'm whining over nothing."

"Feeling inadequate is hardly nothing." In truth, he found her outburst oddly comforting, even though he was aware of how unkind it would be to say such a thing. He hesitated, afraid to offend, but at long last asked, "Who told you that you were stupid?"

She laughed, in spite of the tears starting to form in her eyes. "That sounds Biblical. 'Who told you that you were naked?' and all that. I don't know. I told them. So they wouldn't be disappointed in me."

"Well, that's a method I never tried," he said, trying to lighten up the situation. "Of course, it does depend on the people you're with accepting excuses."

"And yours didn't?"

He shook his head silently.

"Thing is," Anne said when the silence got too heavy, "I keep thinking that if I was just smarter or better, somehow the accountancy fairy would show up and hand me enough money. Except there's no accountancy fairy, is there?"

"I wouldn't think so, no," he said absentmindedly. "Tooth fairy, of course, is another matter."

"There's a tooth fairy?"

"Plenty of them, actually. Hard-working category of women."

She stared at him wide-eyed, and then her eyes slowly narrowed. "You're messing with me."

"Yes. And you caught it. So you're not stupid."

"Not *that* stupid."

"Well, then." Since she was opening up, he felt he should too. "I tracked the wrong demon halfway across the country. That's a lot worse than having troubles with maths."

"True," she admitted, and although her face was still serious there was a glint of something less so in her eyes. "But not worse than being a vampire worshipper."

"You were a *vampire* worshipper?"

"Told you. Stupid."

"Well..." He was momentarily at loss of words, trying to find something to match that. "Yes. It's quite... On the other hand, I volunteered to work in Sunnydale." Realising she probably didn't realise why that would be bad, he added, "The Hellmouth."

"Is *that* what it is?" She didn't sound very surprised – more like she'd received an importan clarification. "Why on earth would you want to work there?"

"Well, it's an honour. The one Watcher in all of the Council to be chosen to mind the Slayer... and you have no idea what I'm talking about."

A casual nod contradicted his inference. "Slayer. Short blonde girl, Buffy something. Not easily forgotten."

The shock of having his different lives merge into one made him forget to breathe. If it had been Gunn he could have expected it somewhat, but Anne's way of life was mostly normal, and so he sat there until his lungs reminded him they needed oxygen to work.

"You know the Slayer?"

"Just a bit. She saved my life." Her blush was so slight Wesley might have been imagining it. "I don't know what a Watcher is, though."

"He trains the Slayer, tells her what to do."

"Telling *that* girl what to do?" She looked delighted and disbelieving at the same time. "And she did it?"

"Not really, no."

His answer was kept brief on purpose, but some of his deep failure must have shown through, because she gave him a sympathetic grimace.

"I can't think of anyone who could make her do anything she didn't want to do. Then again, I only met her twice." After a quick glance at him, she continued, "Vampire cult was the first time. She had a couple of guys with her. One of them... I can't remember what he looked like... but I remember him looming over me, calling me a fool... and I blathered something completely stupid about tolerance."

Wesley felt himself smiling, and looked down to hide it. He could see her saying it, and a certain smug superiority raised its ugly head.

"And the second time?" he asked.

"Here in L.A. There was this pack of demons who took people to a place..." She swallowed hard. "A place where time works differently. They let you work until you died of old age, and then they threw you back before anyone had a chance to miss you."

"How very Narnia," he said before he could stop himself.

"It didn't feel like Narnia."

"I understand that. I'm sorry."

She shrugged, and her gaze wandered away. When it returned to him, it was clear and calm. "You had your arm when you were with the Slayer, didn't you?"


"I wasn't sure before, but I figured it couldn't have been long. Sometimes you do things as if it's there."

"I know I do." It was a habit he was trying to break, but it wasn't easy. To him, his arm had gone invisible and intangible, but he couldn't wrap himself around the thought that it was gone.

"Not easy to do without."


"Do you get scared?"

Her voice was low and insubstantial. He understood how much the answer meant, and so he resisted his initial impulse to lie.

"All the time."


Wesley wasn't sure if finding Gunn alone was a relief or not. He didn't know most of the gang, but he hadn't disappointed them either.

When Wesley had first realised the gang made their own weapons he'd been shocked at the crudeness, but since then he had learned to admire the craftsmanship needed to create such items in a working place as simple as the one built up in their headquarters. That was where he found Gunn now, working on something and seemingly embarrassed to be disturbed, which there really was no reason for.



They watched each other silently for a while, and Wesley began squirming inside, hoping it didn't show.

"You said I should come, so I..."

"Yeah. I'm glad you're here. Come on." Gunn walked around the wood and metal he'd be working on, half hiding it with his body. That only made Wesley even more curious, particularly since he couldn't figure out what it was supposed to be. It resembled a wooden vice, but had spikes sticking out at one end.

"Is it some sort of weapon?"

"Uhm, no." Gunn looked down at the device and then slowly met Wesley's gaze. "It's for you, actually. Anne mentioned that you might need something like it." He continued with rising enthusiasm, but still somewhat cautious, as if his actions might be considered offensive. "This part over here is for cutting bread and meats and that kind of stuff. You adjust the size of it with the lever. I... uh... tested the lever, and it looks like it will work, but if you need me to I can change it. And the spikes over here are for small stuff like fruits and vegetables. You spike it, then slice it."

Far from being offended, Wesley marvelled at the amount of thought Gunn must have put into his work. And all that for him. Even assuming that Gunn had seen it as a challenge – and he quite obviously must have – it was still unbelievably generous of him.

"It's wonderful," he said, admiring the device. At home he could stick to fast food and microwave meals, but the food Anne bought for the shelter needed preparation. It wasn't that she made him do anything he couldn't, but she was much too busy to think of everything. So rather than admit defeat, he often tried to manage. And succeeded more often than he would have expected. But this would make it a lot easier.

"Thank you," he said, blinking repeatedly. "Goodness, it's dusty in here."

"Not really." But Gunn didn't press the issue any further. "Glad you liked it. I can make another if you want one at home."

"Are you sure it's not too much trouble?"

"Thinking it out was the part that took time. Making them's easy."

"Well, I would certainly appreciate it."

"Consider it done, then." Gunn grinned briefly and turned for the exit. "You ready to party?"


"You know. Train some. Prepare for future fighting."

"Party," Wesley repeated again. Good Lord. Not another one who saw the mission as his personal playground. But while he'd found the Slayers' attitudes abhorrent, he couldn't resist the glitter in Gunn's eyes. Mainly because this time that glitter included him. So he banished all treacherous thoughts to the back of his head, swallowed the lecture and nodded.

"Great! How about we start with some physical? We can swap notes on the latest demon happenings after - I got a few things I wanted to quiz you about."

"Sounds... reasonable." He wasn't too keen on the idea of physical training, but he couldn't deny that he needed it. "I'm not in very good shape, though."

Gunn's gaze drifted away. "That's okay."

Wesley had referred to his clumsiness and lack of fitness, not to his handicap, but if that was what Gunn thought this was about, he didn't mind. At least it was a legitimate reason to be pathetic. Still, he was growing heartily tired of those averted glances. And even if Gunn at some point would cease to be embarrassed, there were still the five billion other people to deal with.


Alonna sat in the truck watching the entrance of the subway tunnel and the people going in and out. She'd seen the boys leave some time ago and now she was waiting for Gunn, but all she could see was an increasing number of policemen, judging from whose behaviour the threat was over. She couldn't understand what was taking him so long.

Finally she saw him coming and started the engine. He dropped down on the passenger seat, clearly dismayed, and she understood her guess had been right.


"Yeah." It was practically a growl. His head jerked up when Alonna turned the car around. "What are you doing? We can't leave!"

"Why not?" she questioned, although she stepped on the brake automatically. "You said it's dead."

"Yeah, but Wesley hasn't seen it yet."

"Why would Wesley have to look at a dead demon?"

"To identify it, in case there are more."

She pursed her lips, but didn't reply. It wasn't so much the thought of waiting for Wesley that bothered her; they had called him away quite abruptly from the shelter, after all, and it was only common courtesy. And in case there were more of those demons around *of course* they had to know how to deal with them, but it didn't mean he had to look so goddamn pleased with the thought.

Gunn was squirming around in the passenger seat like a little kid, trying to look in all direction at once, even half climbing out the window. At long last, he gave a relieved sigh and stilled. "There's the bastard now."

Turning around, she saw Wesley approaching the truck, clearly puzzled. "What's going on?"

"Police killed the demon," Alonna replied.

"I see. Well, thank you for staying to inform me."

Gunn opened the door and hopped out, grabbing Wesley's wrist. "Come on."

"Where are we going?"

"To check out the corpse."

Wesley gave a quick glance at Alonna before Gunn dragged him away. She shrugged. There wasn't any harm in taking a look, as long as they stayed away from the police. And it calmed her a little that Wesley had sought confirmation from her; gave her hope that she would be able to talk to him.

They took longer than Gunn had last time, and when they came back Gunn was sulking worse than before. "What the hell do you mean, benign?"

"Well, I can't say for certain before I've taken a look at the books," Wesley said, getting into the truck and scooting towards Alonna so Gunn would fit in too. "But from what I can tell, it does seem to be from a benign species. Perhaps something provoked it."

"Yeah. A whole bunch of people who weren't dead."

"I'm obviously not saying that what happened was in any was excusable..."

Gunn slammed the door shut. From the outside. "Forget it. I'm off hunting."

"Gunn!" Alonna protested, but he was already stalking off. She groaned loudly. "Fantastic."

"I'm afraid he's disappointed in me."

"Yeah, well, only for preventing him from getting killed. Which brings me to the next topic."

Wesley had apparently lost all interest in what she was saying, and was staring out the window. Not that there was anything of interest to see. They still hadn't gotten the demon out, just a bunch of passengers in various conditions. A female cop was talking to a guy in dark clothes who seemed more together than most of the others.

"Hey, crip, are you listening to me?"

That caught his attention. "What did you say?"

It was no use going about this cautiously. She'd already tried that. "Do you want my brother to die?"

"What!? Of course not!"

"And you agree that's a likely outcome the way he does things?"

Wesley frowned, and she felt ready to scream. If he dared to deny it, so help her, she was going to hit him. To prevent that from happening, she continued speaking: "He comes out practically pouting because someone else killed the demon. Is that what you call a healthy attitude?"

"Perhaps he is a bit over-eager," Wesley admitted in a tone indicating even that was too much criticism for his liking. "But someone has to do it."

"I'm not arguing that, I'm just..." She silenced, staring straight ahead, her hands squeezing the steering wheel in murderous intent. "Why does someone have to do it?"

"What do you mean?" It was clear he found the idea mind-boggling, and although she agreed with him, she also felt sorry for him in a way she never had before. Had he ever had the chance to deny his responsibility for all the weird things that were going on? There were, after all, people out there who didn't even know such things existed. Maybe to him, the world was once and for all set into the people who saved and the people who were saved, and he was in the first category. Through no outstanding skill, judging from what she'd seen of his training sessions with Gunn.

"Why does someone have to do it? What difference does it make?"

"What difference?" If the situation hadn't been so serious, she might have laughed at his horrified expression. "It's a question of life and death!"

"So it's about saving people."

"Of course!"

She gestured across the dashboard. "Those people were saved. Shouldn't that make him happy?"

The point evidently hit home, because he calmed down instantly, and his voice was low when he replied, "Yes. Yes, it should."

"But it doesn't."

He shook his head without a word.

"It's all a game to him. He scores by killing the demon and saving the damsel in distress. Losing just means trying harder next time, and hell, he might even have a few extra lives before it's game over."

His eyes didn't meet hers. "What do you want me to do?"

"You know it's not true. And what's more, you can prove it." She hesitated. This was none of her business, but somehow she couldn't bring herself to stop talking. Concern for Wesley's feelings just wasn't an issue compared to her overwhelming desire to save her brother if he was salvageable at all. "I'm not trying to sound callous, but if it's your pride or his life, I want you to choose him first."

There was a long silence, and she feared she had said too much.

"I would. Don't ever think I wouldn't."

"I'm sorry," she said. "It's none of my business."

"If it's not yours, then whose is it?" He spoke with difficulty, and again she felt genuine sympathy for him, not just for what he had been through. "You're right. There are things in my life that are... difficult to take. That perhaps Gunn ought to hear. If I could make him listen."

There wasn't anything funny about this, really, but she had to laugh. "I'm not sure anyone could make him listen. But just having someone on my side makes it a whole lot easier. You are on my side, aren't you?"

"No, I'm on his side. I just happen to think it's the same one. Not that..."

"...he would agree with you," she filled in along with him. "Definitely not. But in the long run, you'd be doing him a favour."

"Small consolation if he hates me."

She grinned. Seeing him in her position shouldn't make her so goddamned satisfied, but it did.


Gunn hooked his axe into Wesley's and pulled, dropping his opponent's weapon clanking to the floor. That tended to be the way most of their training sessions ended, but it took longer for every time, and all in all, Gunn was satisfied. Many of the guys had joined the gang without knowing much more than which end of a stake was which. Wes was decent enough with the stabbing and slashing, and he had a wicked aim. Could probably have been good with a crossbow if he'd had both arms to reload. Now one shot would be all he had, and that wasn't enough against the big stuff.

He was much too showy, though. Fighting for style, not to win, and that made him nervous and clumsy when he didn't have to be. At first, Gunn had commented on it, but Wesley hadn't seemed to understand what he was talking about, so he probably wasn't doing it deliberately. Chances were the style had been taught to him along with the moves and he'd have to unlearn it one bit at a time.

There was nothing wrong with the guy's determination, though. Long after his stamina had worn out, he'd keep going at it, too stubborn to admit he was beat. Gunn had been forced to learn to look out for the signs, and not to trust a "nothing".

He saw a sign now, as Wesley blanched and drew back against the wall, in pain, not in fear – but *why*, for Christ's sake? He hadn't even touched the guy, and yet Wesley's face was tight and he leaned heavily on the wall.

"Wes, are you okay?"

"It's noth..." And then evidently he changed his mind, because instead of trying to deny it he bit his lip and admitted, "Actually, it's my arm."

Gunn took Wesley's hand, worried that maybe the clashing of the axes had twisted the limb. Wes looked uncomfortable, but he didn't move away.

"Not that one."

That didn't make sense, because Wesley didn't have... oh, fuck. Oh, *fuck*. He'd heard about these things, but he'd never had to deal with it before, and he had no idea what was needed of him.

"You mean like phantom pains, right?"

"Yes." Wesley's voice was calm, but it was pretty obvious he still hurt a lot. "Quite a bit like phantom pains, actually."

"Shit. I'm sorry." He realised he was still holding Wesley's hand and let go. Wesley unbuttoned his shirt a bit and slipped his hand in, rubbing his shoulder as if to get rid of muscle aches. But these things were imaginary, weren't they? Although it sure didn't seem that way from Wesley's reaction. Gunn got a glimpse of lumpy skin going from ribcage to shoulder. It looked goddamned awful, and yet Gunn couldn't tear his eyes away. He stood there staring at the scars and at Wesley's chest that was much too pale, much to thin, and evidentally cold since the nipple was all hardened and surrounded by goosebumps. He took a step forward. "Can I do something?"

Wesley straightened up and moved away a bit, trying to regain posture without much success. "I doubt it."

But Gunn knew he couldn't just stand there looking, and so he reached out, even though he didn't really want to, and touched that shoulder. The scarred skin felt weird to touch, particularly knowing that this part of Wesley's body should normally be unreachable. He rubbed carefully and heard Wesley draw his breath.

"Does that help?" he asked. "It doesn't hurt, does it?"


He started to withdraw his hand, but was caught in a firm grip.

"Yes, it hurts, but not because of anything you do. And yes, it helps."

He kept rubbing, trying to figure out what it would be like to have a whole part of you missing, and be touched where it used to be. It wasn't anything he could imagine properly, but then again, Wesley didn't seem like he'd mind being asked.

"What does it feel like?"

Wesley closed his eyes and leaned his head up a bit. "Right now? Like it's trying to twist itself into a corkscrew."

"Ow," Gunn said automatically, and Wesley laughed. It actually sounded cheerful, too.

"'Ow' is rather accurate, yes. But most of the time it isn't like that. Just... like having a leather glove that's too small and stiff. And goes all the way up to my shoulder."

That jarred him a bit. He'd heard of phantom pains, but never of phantoms that were just there.

"So you feel it all the time?"

Wesley nodded, his eyes still closed.

"But then–" He was still holding that shoulder, not even properly rubbing it anymore, and Jesus Christ, what was he thinking? He didn't want to touch this stuff. Except he did, because he had been curious from day one and hadn't so much as seen it before. But that didn't stop this from being majorly messed up. "–What does it feel like when I do this?"

A smile came over Wesley's face, and his eyes finally opened again. "Like you're touching inside of me."

Gunn was incredibly grateful Wesley couldn't see what he was thinking, and he hurried to ask, "Does it move, too?"

Wesley actually blushed, which made Gunn wonder just what sort of tricks that cut-off arm was up to. Not that he'd ask. No BS was one thing, no privacy quite another.

"I can move it a bit, yes."

The use of 'can move', a voluntary thing, made Gunn wonder about that blush even more. And that in his turn made him disgusted with himself. He withdrew rather abruptly, reaching back with his hands to wipe them off on his pants, but halfway there he managed to stop himself and instead stuffed his hands down his back pockets.

"So. When you're feeling better, we can get back to it." Maybe that was a bit on the harsh side. "Or you could rest, if you'd prefer."


The one word was enough to make him stop and turn back, watching Wesley, who smiled in an almost apologetic fashion.

"You know... this is me."

"Yeah, and this is me," Gunn said flippantly. He had a feeling that his foot had built permanent residence in his mouth, and although he knew what Wesley was trying to say he couldn't think of a more proper response. He didn't want what he'd just seen to matter, and yet it *did*. If he hadn't come to like Wesley, it would have been easier. If he could have continued to believe that Wes was some kind of a hero, or if he'd never been tricked at all. But this was too hard. Knowing what a coward Wesley could be and at the same time having to notice that it wasn't the fear of someone who had never been in pain. And now this. This courage, because that was the only thing to call it.

He was braver than Wesley, big time. And yet these things he'd found out, they were Wesley's life, and say what you wanted about English, but he took it well. Gunn wasn't nearly naive enough to think Wes wasn't bothered, but at least he *coped*, and that was an awful lot, all things considered.

It bugged him that Wesley could cope with living with it, when he couldn't even cope with knowing about it.

"To hell with all this," he said. "You wanna grab a few beers with me?"

Wesley smiled, and things went back to slightly less freaky. "Sure."



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