The Road From Home

The wind was never cold in California. Wesley half thought he should endeavour to stay in California for that very reason. He knew that was ridiculous -- he would go where he had to.

He gripped the handlebars of his motorcycle, keeping it balanced on even the curved roads without thought, riding on pure instinct. It was night, and warm, and the scenery all should have conspired to make it a beautiful night.

But instead of enjoying the air and the view he was racing time, yet again. Like always, he found himself being pushed and pulled by things beyond his control. He wondered sometimes if even the illusion of control was impossible for him.

He hadn't had control over his life when he was in England. He'd hardly had control over anything at all in Sunnydale, certainly not his Slayer. That had ended as painfully as it had begun, and now he was riding in the night, pretending to have control over his destiny when in fact his destination was in the hands of the demon he was chasing. He couldn't even decide which town to spend the night in, pushed on by the demon's timetable to catch it as quickly as possible.

Hopefully he would do so at the next one coming up -- five more miles. It was late, and he'd been up since very early that morning tracking the De'ebna demon. He knew he could stay awake for hours, yet, but he would have liked to get some rest. If the demon didn't stop, however, Wesley would have to keep pursuing it, or risk losing it all together.

He inhaled deeply, wishing he could have left his helmet off and breathed in the night air. He wished a lot of things, and he knew they were all of them foolish. He shook his head slightly, telling himself to focus. Concentrate on the demon, and forget other things.

Wesley went over what he knew one more time as he rode. The road didn't challenge him and even though he could recall all the information he had on the De'ebna easily, it occupied his mind to play over the facts. He could rearrange the bits and pieces of information, almost see them as parts of a puzzle. Though he'd have never admitted it aloud, he just wished the De'ebna was a little more interesting.

He knew it fed off of the sort of energy a large group of people could generate. He would be checking dance clubs, bars, rock concerts if he wound up in a bigger city. The demon seemed partial to sexually charged energy, so Wesley also anticipated prowling a variety of seedier clubs. Small towns, however, usually had only one or two bars, and, if the demon was lucky, a strip club.

Luckily, strips clubs tended to have well-stocked kitchens. Wesley was forced to have his meals wherever he could and club food and beers were good -- if a lot more expensive than he'd have preferred.

He saw a sign for the upcoming town, and hoped again that the demon would have stopped, even if it meant someone would be in danger. Wesley told himself there would be no real danger -- he would stop it. He would kill the thing and he would take a day off, rest someplace. In town, or along the road somewhere where he wouldn't be disturbed by demons or vampires or....anyone.

Again he found his thoughts wandering, and he had to force himself to recite what he knew about Torgen demons, a second cousin to De'ebna demons. He didn't expect to come across any, but his best weapon was his knowledge of what he might face.

Soon enough, he found the solo exit ramp to the tiny town in the middle of nowhere, California. This time the middle of nowhere was calling itself Oxnard. Wesley sighed to himself and wondered if it was simply a misspelling of Oxford or a blatant corruption. He decided he didn't really care, if he got to stop for a little while. He rode through the small town looking for a likely spot for the De'ebna to feed.

It would absorb some energy from a crowed of people but to really exist it would eventually have to cut a victim away from the others and feed. Not unlike vampires, the De'ebna would bite and drink, but along with the blood it would savour the build up of tension within the victim, not letting go until the person was drained of energy.

It didn't really care if the physical body was drained of blood, and it didn't matter. Once the De'ebna stole all of one's energy, death was not far behind regardless of blood loss.

He drove into town past the required allotment of truck stops, all-night Denny's, and cheap motels. He gave the motel a fleeting glance -- the vacancy sign was lit, which didn't surprise him at all. He turned a corner at the first street light, aiming towards what looked like the night-life area. He could see neon light in the near distance, and as he rode closer he could see cars in parking lots. There was the vague sense of activity, and he knew that if the demon were in town, it would be here.

Oxnard wasn't likely to have *two* red light districts.

He pulled into the parking lot and cut the engine when he'd stopped in the back row. He sat on the bike for a moment, listening to the engine tick over, feeling the beat of the music even outside. It would be loud inside, and smoky. The crush of bodies and Lord knew what on the stage. He longed to just stay outside of it all for a few moments, but staying in the parking lot wouldn't get the demon dealt with.

He swung his leg over the back of the bike, crushing gravel with his boots. He made sure his helmet was secure and put his hands in assorted pockets as he walked to the door, making sure he had all the supplies he needed. The stakes were just common sense, living in a state which held the Hellmouth, but what he really needed was in a little glass bottle in his hip pocket.

He approached the front of the club cautiously, noting the area around him. In case the demon was inside, and made an escape, Wesley wanted to know exactly what to expect. The street and parking lot were not well lit, but his night vision was good enough that he felt confident he'd have no trouble keeping his footing if it came to a foot-chase.

He went up to the door and found a bored woman taking $10 cover charges. She gave him a look from head to toe with an interest he noticed but ignored. She stamped the back of his hand with luminescent ink, and he made his way inside the club.

Before he even reached the door, the lights and sound hit his skull; as he stepped into the main room of the club, it pounded into his entire body from the soles of his feet, upward. He stopped by the wall near the door, and noticed three things immediately.

The club goers were almost all women. The demon he was chasing was seated near the runway, watching a table of women who were staring at the dancer on the runway. The dancer was a well-built Hispanic man wearing a G-string.

Wesley kept his eye on the demon as he moved through the club, trying to find a spot where he could watch and not get accosted by the women. The ladies seemed particularly unable to keep their hands to themselves and in his short walk to the back wall he was groped twice and propositioned once. It seemed leather, even purely utilitarian bike leather, was a big draw.

The demon was oblivious to his presence, eyes fixed on the table of women. The women had started to yell at the dancer on the stage, completely unaware of the danger they were in. Someone at Wesley's elbow asked if he wanted a drink.

"No, thank you," he said, glancing at the waitress. When he looked back the demon was almost to the door, a pretty girl holding his arm.

He reflexively put his hand on his pocket again, touching the vial there despite having checked it mere moments ago, as he pushed his way into the crowd. The woman -- a girl, really, judging by her face -- was smiling at the De'ebna with complete lack of awareness of her danger.

There was no easy way to get her away from the demon, here, unfortunately. The demon would simply select another target -- or begin a fight in the middle of the crowded club. Wesley's goal was to preserve life, not harm dozens of innocent bystanders.

The crowd was proving difficult to push through, however. Wesley moved as quickly as he could, but was only halfway to the side door by the time the demon and his intended meal had slipped out. He cursed under his breath and edged past a group of women who were gathered together, yelling at the man on stage.

"Watch it," a woman yelled at him. "You almost spilled 'm drink."

Wesley didn't bother answering, as she had already turned from him and was slopping said drink on her shirt. By the time he got through the exit he'd lost sight of the demon and the girl. He hurried away from the door, waiting for the noise to dim enough that he might be able to hear any cries.

At first he heard nothing, and he had to bite back a curse. He'd only been a few yards away, and because he hadn't arrived five minutes sooner, he might have lost his chance -- and a girl was going to pay the price for his failure with her life. Choosing a direction at random, Wesley had turned to run when he heard the girl shout.

He broke into a run towards the alley behind the club.

The girl screamed then, and he knew the demon had shown its real face. He could see it in his mind, green skin and yellow eyes and black horns erupting from its face, and imagine how few seconds he had before he buried those horns into her flesh...

He went sliding around a corner and stumbled to a halt, nearly tripping in his shock. The demon was lying on the ground, already scrambling to its feet. Between it and the girl stood a boy Wesley knew.

He didn't really have time to react to anything other than the demon. He pulled the stopper from the vial and threw the bright yellow liquid into the De'ebna's face. He watched dispassionately as the creature lay down and started to suck its thumb. Within moments it was asleep, then it disintegrated with a shower of sparkles.

"Fancy meeting you here," he said, turning to face Xander.

"Let me guess," the young man said. "You're on a mission to haunt each of us and I got to be first?"

The question he'd been about to ask died on his lips, and Wesley put his hands back into his jacket pockets. He turned to the girl to ask her if she were all right, when he realised -- he recognised *her* as well.

Xander gaped at him, then turned to the girl, then back to Wesley. "Something I should know?" He moved aside, holding the two-by-four he'd hit the demon with, at the ready. No doubt expecting Wesley to tell him the girl was a vampire or demon herself.

"Thank you for your assistance," Wesley told him, not really caring if Xander appreciated the sentiment. But politeness had been forced into him very young, and it gave him something to say while he tried to accept what it was he was seeing.

The girl looked at him with wide eyes and tried to back away from him, to hide behind Xander, who turned with her, trying to watch them both at the same time.

"What? Is she a demon too?" Xander's defensive posturing was better than it had been when he'd first met the boy, but could certainly stand for some improvement.

Wesley ignored him and tried to maintain eye contact with the girl. "It's all right," he said softly. "The demon is dead, and I mean you no harm."

She stopped moving away from him, but didn't come any closer.

"Will you tell me--"

"Xander. Please stop talking. And stop swinging that board, you're going to scare her." To Wesley's amazement the young man lowered the board slowly. He looked at the girl carefully. "Where is your family?" he asked softly.

She glanced at him, at Xander, then back at him. She was still clearly ready to bolt at the slightest additional provocation, but for now she was still listening to him. "North," she said quietly, answering his question.

Wesley placed the location immediately; he'd studied the local region carefully when he'd first been assigned to come to Sunnydale. He'd been lucky that Sunnydale had been far enough away from anyone who would have objected to his presence to accept the assignment.

Anyone except the Slayer herself, her friends, and her former Watcher, Wesley amended.

He glanced at Xander again and tried to phrase his questions precisely. "Do they know you are here?"

She seemed to have dismissed Xander, trusting him not to reveal anything he shouldn't. "Not exactly here, no."

He nodded. "So you've left--"

"Excuse me," Xander interrupted. "I hate to be a pain, but is there anything I should know here? Like is she someone to worry about, why was a demon going to eat her, and why are you here?"

Wesley looked at him evenly. "No, there is nothing for you to know, she isn't anyone for you to worry about, the demon feeds off of life energy, and I am here to kill it. Which I did. You may go now."

Xander blinked at him. "I can go now? Gee, thanks. Not like I don't work here, and not like I wasn't the guy who saved her from being...whatevered, by the demon."

Wesley ignored the insult in Xander's tone. He had other things to worry about than apologizing to someone who didn't even like him. He asked the girl, "Is there someone we should take you to?"

She shook her head no, and Wesley couldn't hide his surprise. "You're alone?" Then he turned to Xander. "You *work* here?" He had a sudden image of Xander taking the place of the Hispanic dancer inside.

Xander glared at him. "Washing dishes, yeah. Are you going to explain this to me, or not?"

"There's nothing to explain," he said again. He needed to take the girl back to wherever she was living, so they could carry on this conversation in private.

"I think there is," Xander insisted. "I came out of the back door, I saw an ugly about to--to--do something gross and painful, I tried to save the girl. Now you're gonna swing in and just say 'go away' and I don't even get a thank you? I don't think so. Besides, what if its friends come around looking for it?"

Wesley sighed to himself. As if he hadn't had enough trouble in Sunnydale, the trouble was now out in the world, still making his life more difficult than it had to be. "Xander. Thank you for your help. Now, if you don't mind, I would like to--"

"More?" the girl said in a quiet voice. "How can there be more? There should only be one." She looked at Wesley with wide eyes. "Terry said there was only one."

"Terry?" Wesley looked at her, dismissing Xander. "Who is Terry?" If there was another De'ebna demon around, he would have to work fast. He'd have to obtain more of the frog's glands -- hopefully along the way to tracking down the second demon, if this girl or Terry knew where it was. Any hope of getting a night's sleep had vanished, and he wondered if he could afford the time to stop at a diner for coffee and a sandwich.

"Terry's my...my sister," the girl stammered, glancing at Xander. "She...." The frightened girl trailed off, looking at Wesley in clear distress. She *wanted* to tell him.

Xander, however, misinterpreted the reason for her fear. "Hey, it's all right," he said, stepping closer to her and laying a hand on her arm. "I've been fighting demony things for years. I know all about them. I can even help this stubborn jerk fight off another one if we find it. What's your name, anyhow?"

Her eyes got even wider. "Marie, but I don't understand. How can there be more of--of that?" She pointed to the spot where the De'ebna had been. "There are more?" She turned to Wesley, looking more confused than scared. "But if you killed it, it's supposed to be over. I could go home then, maybe, and we'd all be safe." She shot a look at Xander and said, "But if there's more, then we're all in danger, and I have to tell them that it's not just one--"

She was starting to panic again and Xander was looking like he was about to fill her in on all sorts of demons he'd seen.

"Marie," Wesley said carefully, using a tone more suited to calming frightened children and spooked animals, "we need to talk, you and I. Right now."

She nodded, eyes still wide but she was focusing on him, now.

"If there are more, should I... I mean, I could call Buffy," Xander said.

"That will hardly be necessary," Wesley said sharply. "Now I've said--" he broke off. Telling Xander to go away, again, would accomplish nothing. "Marie, can you and I go to where you're staying so we can discuss this?"

She began to nod, but Xander stepped forward -- still holding the board, Wesley noticed. He wondered if Xander knew he was holding it in a threatening manner. "I don't care what sort of high horse you've crawled up on, but if there are more of those things you can't fight them by yourself. You're going to need my help -- and if we need Buffy's help, then I'm calling her."

"Put down the board," Wesley said, ignoring the rest for the moment. "You're going to frighten her further, and there is no need of it. That was the only De'ebna in the area as far as I know."

Xander looked a little abashed as he dropped the board against the alley wall. "All right. So no more sparkly death guys. But I want to know what's going on. If there are more demons, I'm going to help kill them."

Wesley watched as Marie stilled, her eyes locked on his. "Are there more demons?" she whispered. "Really?"

"All kinds," Xander said before Wesley could stop him. "You wouldn't believe some of the ones I've seen--"

"Xander," Wesley said sharply. "Stop. She doesn't need to know about your history with the supernatural right now. What we need right now is a quiet place to talk."

"We can go back to my place," Xander offered quickly. "It's a lovely rat-trap motel room, but it's home." He smiled, and for a second Wesley saw that hint of what he'd always found familiar about Xander.

"Marie, perhaps you'd be more comfortable in your own apartment." Wesley wouldn't be exactly able to get rid of Xander, if they went to *his* motel room.

Marie looked down, and shrugged. "I'm staying at the motel, also. The same one -- there's only one in town."

Wesley sighed.

Xander, of course, grinned triumphantly. "It's settled, then. We'll escort you safely back to the motel, and find out what's going on and how many demons we're dealing with."

Wesley let Xander lead them out of the alley and tried to think of another way to get Marie alone. It didn't really seem like there was a way, she was too shaken to be of any help at this point. He just had to hope that she had enough sense not let Xander know who she was.

They crossed the parking lot, Xander slightly ahead, and Wesley walked next to Marie, studying her carefully. She seemed to be in good health, and aside from being understandably upset by having a demon almost drain her she was as calm as could be expected.

"It's just over there," Xander said, pointing down the road to the flashing vacancy sign. "Lovely room nine is home sweet slum."

"Wonderful," Wesley muttered. "I'll meet you there, then. I'm not about to leave my bike here for the drunken lot inside to damage." He veered off slightly toward his bike as he spoke.

"You have a bike?" Xander said, his tone insultingly incredulous. "Whoa. Wild side there."

"There are rather a lot of things about me that would surprise you," Wesley said. "I'm trusting you to get her there safely. Don't disappoint me."

"We're walking down the street," Xander said. "I walk back and forth all the time -- ok, yes, demons. But it isn't like you're going to lose sight of us as you take your bike to the motel."

Wesley just glared at him, then, simply to wind Xander up, held out his hand to Marie. "You can ride behind me. We'll meet Xander there."

Marie started to nod and do just as he'd instructed. Xander crossed his arms. "You really are a tight-ass."

"Thank you for your assessment," Wesley replied evenly. He had a brief moment of wishing he could indulge himself -- he knew far more clever and better insults than he suspected this boy knew. But a verbal fight was hardly appropriate for the circumstances even if he did feel like lowering himself to Xander's level.

Though he *would* like to-- He pulled himself short. There was no need to indulge in fantasies. Xander wouldn't respect him, just as Buffy nor Giles nor his own father, and it was pointless to wish he could explain what was going on, just so he could say 'so there'.

He climbed onto his bike, secretly pleased with the roar of the engine. It helped to drown out anything further Xander would have to say. He pulled out of the parking lot and rode slowly toward the motel, making sure Marie was secure behind him. He noted that Xander looked all around him, eyes darting into every shadow, searching for dangers. Maybe there was hope for the boy after all.

He parked the bike in front of room ten, the slot for room nine being taken up with a large car which had seen much better days. "Marie," he said gently. "I need you to be carefully of what you say. You know that, correct?"

"Yes, of course," she said, her voice soft. "I'm scared."

"I know. You're safe right now, however, and I need to know what's going on with your--" he looked up as Xander approached, "your family."

She nodded and looked at him with calm eyes as Xander walked up to them, a key in his hand.

"Here we are," Xander said, though whether it was to Marie or himself Wesley wasn't sure. Xander unlocked the door and stepped into the room, flipping on the light. "Sorry for the mess, I didn't have time to redecorate."

Wesley barely glanced over the room -- it was furnished like the motel rooms he himself had stayed in, the last few nights he'd actually stopped in a town overnight. Cheap rooms with old, worn furnishings that smelled like they'd been used by thousands of strangers.

There was very little by way of personal items scattered about the room, but it looked like more than Wesley had in his bike's saddle bags. Most of his belongings were in storage, waiting until he found someplace he actually wanted to be.

All in all, the room was as depressing as Wesley felt. That made it easy to ignore.

"Now, Marie -- what did Terry say about the demon?" He didn't bother asking her specific questions. She'd tell them everything she knew, though carefully edited.

Marie took a breath and sat on the edge of the--thankfully made--double bed. "She said that there was one, that Darien--our father--had made it come to our home. That the demon was more important to him than--" she looked at Wes and frowned. "He made the demon very important to himself and was trying to get the rest of us to follow as well," she said in a rush.

Wesley thought for a moment. "Your father is worshipping a demon?"

She nodded gratefully. "One of the m--my aunts went away. He told us that she had decided to leave us, and that he'd said she could go. But Terry, she said that Susan was really taken by the demon. I was scared, and I was going to ask if I could leave, but--"

"Okay, question," Xander said. "You need permission from your father to leave home? Your *aunt* needed permission?"

Wesley looked at him with not a little annoyance. "Her family is a little rigid in its structure. It's not any of your concern." He turned to Marie again and asked, "Did you ever see the demon?"

Marie was shaking her head, but Xander rounded on Wesley. "How do you know? You didn't even know her name, and she doesn't know you, but now suddenly you know what her family is like?"

Marie looked at Wesley, suddenly scared -- scared, he realised, that she had somehow said something she had been warned not to. Wesley tried to reassure her with his expression that it wasn't her fault, but he was irritated at Xander. He tried to focus that annoyance on Xander. "If you recall, I wanted to speak with her privately."

"Yeah, because you're a tight-assed ex-Watcher who won't even admit he needs help killing demons." Xander was glaring back at him, but Wesley heard something in his tone that made him wonder.

Why was Xander living in a cheap motel, one town away from Sunnydale, working at a strip club, anyway? It occurred to him that perhaps Xander was only anxious to help -- because otherwise Wesley didn't need him. After three years of helping the Slayer, maybe his sudden change of career wasn't entirely his own choice?

Now there was something Wesley could relate to. His career plans hadn't gone the way they had been supposed to, and chasing demons around the country wasn't exactly how he'd envisioned his life going.

Wesley made a fast decision, praying it was the right one.

"I don't know her family," he said to Xander, meeting his eyes seriously. "But I do know what she is, and I know she's scared, needs help, and is possibly in great danger. Her family may be in great danger."

Xander's eyes widened a little. "*What* she is? What's that supposed to mean? She's not human?" And from somewhere he'd pulled a stake.

Marie cried out and practically leapt off the bed.

"Put that away," Wesley said, his voice hard. He reached a hand out to Marie. "It's okay, I won't let him hurt you."

Xander looked confused, but by some minor miracle listened to Wesley and put the stake down. "What is she, then?"

Wesley reminded himself that Xander was used to keeping secrets. He'd fought vampires and demons and black magics for three years and had never told anyone -- as far as Giles had known, or known and recorded in his Watcher's Journals. There was every reason to believe he would prove trustworthy.

"She--" he stopped, though he had no idea why. It wasn't as though he could lie about it, now. There was nothing reasonable he could say...unless he simply made something up. Xander couldn't possibly know if Wesley spouted nonsense, naming a species of peaceful demons which lived in the area?

It would be easy enough to construct an elaborate story, and Marie would certainly be able to follow along. Until Xander started asking *her* questions.

He realised he'd paused too long, and Xander was now looking at him, suspiciously.

Wesley looked at Marie, who was staring at him with wide eyes. "It's okay," he said, hoping it was. "He's worked with others that have secrets. He'll not say anything." He shot a look at Xander, letting the young man know what would happen if he *did* let her secret out.

"Look," Xander said. "Just tell me what's going on. I can't help if I don't know."

Wesley nodded to himself. Xander just wanted to help, and unfortunately Wesley was beginning to see that Xander actually *could* be a help. He could get into places where Wesley simply couldn't go without winding up with more trouble than he could handle.

"All right," Wesley said, his decision made. "Sit down."

"This is one of those things I need to sit for?" Xander said, apparently trying for a joke and falling shy of the mark. He sat, however, and waited.

"Marie is not human, as you have gathered, nor is she a demon or anything evil. She is a creature you would think to be a myth," Wesley said carefully, watching Xander's reactions.

Xander merely nodded. "So far, not so much with the needing to sit," he said lightly.

Wesley repressed another sigh. "Perhaps you should simply show him, Marie."

She blinked at him, though she did stand up, one hand straying to her waist. "Are you sure?"

"He won't hurt you," Wesley said again. "And even if he decided to tell anyone, he would first tell the Slayer, who would then tell her Watcher and he would only verify that it is a secret best kept so."

Xander was looking surprised at that, then he looked even more surprised as Marie nodded and began unzippering her jeans. "You know, much as I've seen naked men since I got here, you really don't have to-"

"Calm down, Xander. It will only take a moment."

"I'm not about to be sacrificed am I?" Xander continued babbling. "Because I'm really not a virgin anymore but I still-- eep!"

Marie had slid her jeans down, and kicked them off, along with her shoes.

Wesley knew what was going to happen and barely glanced at her when she continued to strip. Xander averted his eyes when he saw she was actually going for naked from the waist down, his face flushed.

"You really should watch her," Wesley said. "You'll miss her change."

Xander looked at him and glanced quickly at Marie, standing in the largest clear patch of floor there was in the cramped room. His eyes only flicked in her direction, but it was enough. Marie changed fast. Wesley noted, idly, that her coat was the same shade of nearly-black as her hair. It looked healthy enough, which was a good sign.

"She's a horse!" Xander said, standing up suddenly.

"She is not!"

"I am not!"

"But--legs, tail--horse!" Xander was staring, wide eyed at Marie, who looked a little insulted.

"Xander. Sit." Wesley shook his head. "I said she was something out of a myth to you, and I know you've done research."

Xander calmed a little, but was still standing, staring at her. Wesley put a hand on the boy's shoulder and eased him back down.

"Now. Are you calm?"

"I'm calm." Xander was still staring at Marie.

"She is *not* a horse," Wesley reiterated, speaking as plainly as he could.

"I'm a centaur," Marie said. She still sounded a little insulted.

"Centaurs aren't real," Xander said -- still staring at the centaur in his motel room.

Wesley shook his head. "Fine. She's a demon disguised as a centaur and she's lured you here to eat your brain." It occurred to him, belatedly, that Xander would probably not realise he was being sarcastic. In fact, as soon as he'd said it, Xander tensed -- then leapt to his feet and scrambled back on the bed.

Then he stopped and glared at Wesley again. "She's a centaur? Centaurs are real? Why didn't anyone tell me? If Giles knows-- are mermaids real, too?"

Wesley decided not to attempt to follow Xander's train of thought. "Yes, centaurs are real. Obviously. I assume Giles knows, he should, anyway."

Xander looked at Marie again, this time more closely. "You're not human. And you're not evil."

"Of course I'm not evil," she said. She sounded even more insulted than before. "Just because I'm not like you doesn't mean I'm evil."

"Well, to give him some credit," Wesley said, looking at Xander, "all the non-human's he's come in contact with have tried to kill him and his friends. Let me assure you Xander, she is not dangerous. In fact, she's in danger herself, and I think we'd better get back to that."

Xander nodded, but was still looking at Marie. "Does it hurt to change? And can you stay like that for long? Or is being human the hard part? Can you take a rider?"

Marie smiled at him; Wesley rolled his eyes. "We don't really have--"

"No, it doesn't hurt, and I can stay in this form for as long as I like. It's not really hard to be in my human body, but I like to be like this more." It looked like Marie was willing to answer questions, regardless of Xander's earlier blunder. "I can take a rider, yes, but I'm sort of small so I don't like to have anyone really heavy on my back."

"Can we please get back the demon?" Wesley asked, breaking into the conversation. It was all very interesting for Xander, he was sure, but there were other issues to deal with.

"How do you know there's more than one demon? Are Terry and your father and aunt -- they're all centaurs, too?" Xander asked, ignoring him as well as repeating Wesley's own question as though he hadn't asked it.

Marie, at least, looked at Wesley before responding. "Darien...he's--" She frowned.

Wesley nodded, and explained to Xander, "Darien is her herd stallion. Centaurs belong to Zeus, the Greek god, and the fact that Darien has apparently changed his allegiance to a demon is cause for concern. It remains to be seen if the demon Darien is worshipping is a De'ebna or not."

He started to ask Marie to describe the demon Darien was associating with, when Xander interrupted. "Zeus? Isn't he a....uh. He's real?" Xander's voice rather squeaked.

"Yes."

Wesley watched as Xander absorbed this information. It looked like the process was proving rather painful.

"So, are all the Greek gods real? And the rest of them--the Norse gods, the Celtic ones? Is the Christian god real and does He know the other ones? Whoa, all those one true god people are in trouble." Xander was speaking more quickly as he went on, a note of hysteria entering his voice.

"I think we can leave comparative religion alone right now," Wesley said. "Xander, focus. We have to deal with the here and now, and right now I have to find out about what Darien is doing."

Xander looked at him for a long moment and took a deep breath. "Okay. I'm with you there. Stopping demons is what I do. Well, I do dishes, but I'm big with the helping stop demons, too."

Wesley waited a second or two to make sure Xander wasn't about to launch into more babble then turned back to Marie. "Did anyone see this demon Darien is worshiping?"

Marie shook her head. "Not that anyone said, and no one acted like they had seen and just weren't telling." She paused. "But everyone's scared."

She stopped again, and Wesley could tell there was something more to what she had to say. Her hesitation didn't seem to be about Xander, though, so he simply waited instead of telling her to say the rest of it. Marie was staring at the ground, and was pawing the floor with her front right hoof. Xander, Wesley noticed, seemed to be staring at her hoof as though he'd never seen one before.

In fact, he rather had an expression on his face which made it look as though he were about to go over and put his hand on her hoof, just to see if it were real, or if his hands would pass through it.

"Xander," Wesley said quietly. "She's real. Pay attention."

Xander looked up at him, eyes wide. "It's just--yeah. Okay. Right. She's real. We have work to do." He looked back at Marie, this time concentrating on her face. "So. Demon. And your father let you go? He didn't know you suspected something? Usually demon worshiping guys don't like to let others in on the secret." His gaze flicked to Wesley for a moment. "Or at least the ones I've met, anyway."

Wesley simply waited for Marie to tell the rest of her story.

She shuffled again and looked at Wesley. "He might have let me leave, I didn't get the chance to really ask. There was a storm, and I ran."

"Ah." Wesley nodded.

"You ran away in a storm?" Xander sounded sceptical.

"Centaurs are naturally frightened by storms," Wesley explained. "Much as horses are. W-- they're very sensitive to the changes in atmospheric pressure and it makes them nervous and out of sorts." Wesley took a breath and reminded himself to think carefully before he spoke. "Centaurs will run -- bolt, really -- at lightning. It's all instinct."

Marie was nodding, looking miserable. "I didn't mean to -- but I ended up running away from the herd. When I...came to my senses, I was near the edge of our land. Just a few miles away from town. Oiai, not Oxnard. I snuck into Oiai and stole some clothes, then came down here...." She looked at Wesley, begging him for forgiveness with her eyes. "I couldn't go back. I know I should have. But...I was so scared of what Darien was doing."

Wesley couldn't help his frown of disapproval. He understood what Marie was saying, and -- well, *part* of him could empathize with what she'd done. Another part of him was shocked.

"Of course you were scared," Xander said. "Anyone would be. It's not a big deal to run away from scary stuff--I do it all the time." He smiled winningly, and Wesley almost felt sorry for him when Marie looked at him, baffled.

"In this case, Xander," Wesley said, "it is a big deal, as you put it. She's away from her herd without permission. She's without an owner and--"

"Owner?" Xander turned on him, incredulous. "Who said anything about an owner?"

Wesley sighed. This was not going well. He looked at Marie and said, "I'm going to have to explain some things to him."

She nodded mutely, looking more confused than ever. Wesley realized she most likely hadn't spent much time in town or with humans and Xander's reactions were unsettling her.

Wesley turned to Xander and looked at him sternly. "We don't have much time for this, so pay attention. Centaurs live in herds, with a very strict structure. Fillies like Marie, the mares, and the rest of the family are owned by the herd stallion--and don't look at me like that. It's the way it's supposed to be. The stallion takes care of them, protects them."

Wesley studied Xander for his reaction. He still looked outraged.

But he was still sitting silently, so Wesley continued. "It's no more...unnatural than the blood connection between a vampire and his or her Sire, or the way adolescent human males become saturated with testosterone."

Xander flinched, then grinned nervously.

Wesley gave him a nod. "She may look human--" He glanced at her, still in her natural form, and corrected himself with some amusement. "Looked human, before. But she is not human. You can't let yourself assume she will act and react as you would, simply because some of the time she has a human form."

Xander was nodding, slowly. "Like vampires. They may look harmless, and do the suave, cool, sexy walk thing -- but that doesn't mean they aren't cold-blooded killers." Xander suddenly shook himself, and looked at Marie. "Um, not saying that you're really a killer. I'm just saying...." He trailed off as Marie's expression registered.

"Vampires?"

"I don't think we need to worry about vampires just now," Wesley told her, still in the same calming tone.

Marie looked at him, eyes wide. "Vampires are real, too?"

Wesley sighed. Obviously her herd stallion had kept a *lot* to himself. He wondered if it was because Marie was too young, or if he simply kept his herd ignorant of certain things.

Xander had been thinking, apparently, and Wesley found himself grateful that for the first time since he'd ridden into town things were going well. Well enough. Nobody was screaming, at any rate.

"So, if the herd stallion is playing with demons, wouldn't that mean he's not taking care of his family? That he's putting them in danger?"

Wesley was pleased with Xander's observation. "Precisely. Marie, I need you tell me everything you know about the demon--what's been hinted at, what the rumours are, what is fact."

Marie still looked shaken but she was slowly coming back to the conversation. "Um, yes, I can do that." She settled herself and looked seriously at Wesley, calming down as she had a job to do. "One of the mares is gone. That's for sure, and there isn't much chance that she wanted to leave the herd--she never even went into town. And one of the colts said that he saw Darien in his office with something weird, sort of slick and shiny, and really scary looking. It had orange eyes."

Wesley nodded, indicating that she should continue.

"Those are the facts. Everything else is rumour -- the mares all know something is wrong with Darien. Some of them say he's changed, some say he's just expressing parts of himself he never showed that much, before. Some of the mares say he started behaving differently a little less than year ago, late last summer. Other says he was behaving strangely during mating season last year. I-- I don't really know, because he's never chosen me yet. And--"

Wesley saw Xander raise a hand and start to interrupt, then Xander shook his head and closed his mouth.

"None of the younger ones are talking about the rumours where any of the mares can hear, and I've never heard them talking, except for Codan, who saw Darien in his office. But -- I think they *are* talking, because of the way they always start talking about certain things whenever anyone older comes by. It sounds like a pre-arranged conversation."

Wesley thought about what she'd said. It really did sound like something was going on that needed to be looked into. If Darien was indeed dabbling with a demon the consequences would be...well, catastrophic. The herd would be in immanent danger, and any humans in the surrounding area would be too.

"What is Darien like?" he asked. "What would he want with a demon? Is there anything he wants that he'd trade his entire being for?" Wesley stood up and paced a few steps, thinking out loud. "Demons don't do favours, so there is an exchange going on. Darien gets something; the demon gets something."

Xander shook his head. "So what? We just hop on your bike, ride on out there and snoop. Find the demon, kill it, end of problem."

Wesley looked at him his face impassive. He hoped. "No, we can't do that yet. In this case we need more information."

Xander shrugged. "So, let's go get more information."

"I don't know what Darien wants," Marie answered him. "He's always been easily upset by things, but it didn't seem any different than Chris." She glanced at Xander, and added, "Chris was herd stallion before Darien. Darien killed him ten years ago."

Wesley could have predicted the bug-eyed look that appeared on Xander's face. Xander's mouth opened, and he got as far as "Killed--" before he turned to Wesley. "Tell me that's normal?"

"That's normal."

Xander continued to look dumb-founded.

Wesley asked Marie, "What sort of things upset him?"

She shrugged. "Colts growing head-strong, mares being sick, thunderstorms. He didn't like dealing with Mr. Rogerson, the guy who used to come get our colts when it was time for them to be fostered out. But about five years ago Miss Ivy started coming to get them, and he seems to like her. But -- he doesn't really like humans, much. And...he always complained about humans crossing the edges of our land. We can't fence it all off because of the--"

Xander raised a hand again, and Wesley looked at him, wondering if this show of politeness should be acknowledged. But Xander took that as permission to speak, and asked, "This is still normal, right? I shouldn't be jumping up and saying 'it's a demon'?"

"No, you should just sit still until I figure this out," Wesley said, more harshly than he had intended. The boy seemed to crumple a little, but what was worse was the way he seemed to expect it. Wesley forced himself to focus on the matter at hand. He didn't have time to deal tenderly with Xander's feelings. Part of his mind pointed out that no one else seemed to either. "He doesn't like humans?" he asked Marie, still watching Xander. "That isn't terribly unusual, I suppose. How is this Miss Ivy different?"

Xander looked at Marie and waited, sitting quietly and paying attention. Just like Wesley had told him too.

"She...well, she agrees that the humans will keep trespassing if they aren't stopped. But other than that she just comes and gets the colts who are ready to be fostered and takes them away. They don't really seem to spend a lot of time talking or anything. Although..." she looked thoughtful. "She does spend more time at the ranch than Mr. Rogerson did. She says she's just getting to know the colts so she'll know where they'll be happiest when it's time to foster them. She doesn't seem to like the fillies much, or maybe we just aren't important to her."

Wesley nodded. She sounded like a very direct person -- someone whom a herd stallion like Darien would prefer, over a more friendly and sympathetic human.

"The colts like her," Marie said. "And Darien says that's enough. No -- Monat doesn't like her. But he doesn't like anyone except Sasha. She's one of the oldest mares."

Wesley stared at her, shocked. "Monat? How...how old is he?"

"He's three." Marie looked confused. Xander looked confused, but alert -- ready to jump up again and yell 'demon'. Only, this time he'd be right.

Shaken, Wesley tried to figure out how to explain without upsetting Marie. He realised there was no way, and simply said it. "Monat is a name -- a word, really, in the Crobash language. It denotes an object which is precious for its use."

"That...that's... precious is good, though, right?" Marie's voice was shaking.

"But it's a demon word," Xander said, and he stood up. The cowed boy was gone, replaced by the person who had been fighting demons for years. "That means there isn't anything good about it."

Wesley nodded, glad that Xander understood. "Correct. And in this case I fear the bad could be very bad indeed." He looked around the room and asked, "Do you have a pad of paper?"

Xander was all business, fetching paper and a pen as quickly as he could. He handed them to Wesley and said, "Three years." It was all he said, but it was enough to let Wesley know that he was thinking and seeing the same things he himself was.

Wesley nodded at him, meeting his eyes. Xander looked serious; he also looked willing to help, ready to run into danger to aid creatures that he didn't even know existed a couple of hours before. Demons were bad, Xander tried to stop them. It was as simple as that, and very close to what Wesley was doing with his life as well.

Wesley turned to Marie and asked her for all the unusual names for colts born in the last few years.

"Well, there was Monat, of course. And Lanik is four, Tri is three as well--his real name is Trido, but we call him Tri--and Sulta is one. Other then that, the colts have all been named for others we've known, or for their mother's favourite characters in stories and stuff like that." Marie looked anxious as Wesley noted the names, writing them down in a list.

"Are any of the babies -- the fillies -- named Granta, Mesmia, or Rotia?"

Marie's eyes went wide, and she nodded slowly. "How did you-- what does it mean?"

"It means your herd stallion is naming his children for the benefit of the demon he is consorting with." Wesley copied the names down, then handed the paper to Xander. Xander took it without asking, just waiting for further instructions.

"I'm not sure what is going on -- how soon whatever Darien has planned, will occur," Wesley told him. "But three years is plenty of time to prepare. These children are the ones in the most danger. I'm not sure if the mares will be able to protect them. But if you explain to them what is happening, they can do as much as they can without letting on to Darien that they're doing anything. Explain that they're defending their children against a demon, and tell them--"

"Wesley!" Xander had been trying to interrupt him for some time now, and Wesley had been hoping to get everything explained, first. Hoping Xander would get overwhelmed with his task that he would forget the question. Unfortunately, he was asking, now. "Why are you telling me all this? Where are you going to be?"

Wesley studied the boy once more. He's spent almost as much time this evening looking at Xander as he had Marie. "You have to do this," he said simply. "I cannot go there."

"Why not?" Xander demanded. Of course. He wouldn't just obey, would he?

Wesley sighed. Marie avoided his eyes. She knew what he was hiding.

"Wesley? Why can't you do this? You know so much about them you *should* go. They'll pay attention to you, you can explain it to the--the mares. You know what you're talking about; I don't." Xander nodded decisively.

"I can't," Wesley said again.

"Why not?" Xander asked again, his voice raising. Marie winced.

It would have been easy to say he was going elsewhere to track down the demon. Or even go down to Los Angeles, to obtain some mystical artefact necessary to defeat Crobash demons. It might be possible that Xander wouldn't know that Crobash were easily killed with a sharp sword. Wesley hadn't read in Giles' journals about any encounters the so-called Scooby Gang had had with Crobash demons.

It was certainly the smarter thing to do. Which was why he had no idea why he was hesitating.

It occurred to him that of anyone he'd ever met, Xander might actually *understand*.

Scoffing at his own weakness, he told himself that the most he could expect was that Xander would accept what he said. Anything more was irrelevant, and the fact that Xander was apparently as exiled as he was -- even if he was only a few dozen miles away from home compared to Wesley's thousands.

"I can't go," he repeated. It was probably a huge mistake. But there was every reason to think the herd was in danger right at that moment and only the truth would get Xander out there fast enough.

On the other hand -- if the demon were there, now, it wouldn't be safe to send Xander alone.

"Tell me why," Xander said quietly. "Giles always says that before you go into any situation you have to know as much as you can. So tell me." He was serious and still, just looking at Wesley, waiting.

"My father..." Wesley said, then hesitated again, his instincts crying out. He pushed forward, committing himself to only the gods knew what. "My father is a centaur. Therefore, even as a half blood, I will be seen as an intruding stallion, and a threat. If Darien should see me I'll be challenged, and we'll fight. To the death. And when I win, I would have ownership of the herd."

Xander stared, speechless.

Wesley went on, matter of factly. "That would be problematic. I neither want nor need a herd, and it is very likely that as a half centaur the mares wouldn't accept me even if I did. There would be other stallions, full bloods, who would challenge me, and I would eventually be killed."

Marie nodded, unsurprised by his revelation or his desire to avoid a challenge of any kind. "They wouldn't," she said. "Accept you, I mean. I'm sorry," she added apologetically.

Wesley merely nodded and waited for Xander to say something.

Xander managed to shock him. What he asked, was, "If Darien is consorting with this demon...are we going to be able to stop him without...killing him? We have to kill the demon, right? What were we gonna do with Darien? What *are* we gonna do with Darien?" Then Xander blinked. "You can't change into a horse, then?"

"I am *not* a horse," Marie snapped, stomping one hoof.

"I think that once the demon is disposed of, we can... arrange for another lone stallion to challenge Darien. I can simply spread the word that Darien is unstable. It won't be long before someone takes his place appropriately."

"And if he calls up another demon in the meantime?" Xander asked.

Wesley glared. "Then we'll spread the word *quickly*. What is important now is that we deal with the Crobash demon which is currently threatening the herd."

"But--," Xander began. Wesley glared, wishing nothing more than that he had never, ever, met Xander either months ago, or tonight. He realised that he wanted to run. Slam open the door and get as far away from here as possible. Deal with the Crobash some other way.

Like calling Rupert Giles, and having him and Buffy handle it? Wesley felt something cold inside him.

Calling Rupert and Buffy would get the job done, if they agreed to do it, but that would take time and some convincing, not to mention Giles would ferret out his secret as well; Xander knowing was more than enough. No, he had to handle this. And he needed Xander's help to do it.

This was his fight. No matter how he felt about the remote possibility of getting ownership of the herd, this was his fight. It was centaurs in danger, and regardless of how he felt about Xander personally, he couldn't shake off the instinct to protect the mares and the young ones.

He settled himself and tried to ignore his inner disquiet. "Do you understand that you need to get to the mares?" he asked Xander. "Get these children under protection?" He nodded at the list in Xander's hand.

"Yeah, but--"

"No buts," Wesley said, his voice firm and low. Marie straightened at the sound. "You will do it, or you won't, and I need to know right now. We've wasted enough time. Chances are Darien has mares out looking for Marie right now and he's feeling threatened. He doesn't know what she knows or what she might be doing. Will you go to the mares?"

Xander studied him for a moment and then his face cleared. "Tell me what to do. How to get there, how to get to the mares."

"Thank you." He tried not to show his reaction to the look of surprise on Xander's face. Now was neither the time nor the place -- if ever there was such -- to go into why Xander looked surprised to be thanked. "Marie can describe how to get there. Or draw a map, if you prefer. She can't go back with you, because if Darien asks her what she's done, he'll know we're onto him."

Xander looked confused, but not nearly as much as before. Either he was catching on, or he'd reach his tolerance for reacting to weird things. "You can't lie to him?" he asked Marie. She shook her head, and Xander just nodded.

"Okay. So -- I go in, tell the mares, and look for signs of the Crobash demon. Then what?"

"Hopefully, you return and we make plans for either killing the demon, or--"

"Hopefully I return?" Xander grinned. "Thanks."

"That isn't what I meant," Wesley said crossly, even though he found himself almost wanting to smile, as well. "Hopefully you return without incident. While you are gone, I'll be trying to locate any suitable stallions in the area. If we can get one here on the next day or so, we can take care of everything at once. Any decent stallion would even be willing to help us with the demon."

"Okay," Xander said, reaching for the pad of paper. He handed it to Marie and said, "Don't need a map, unless it's really well hidden, but directions would be good." He paused and turned to Wesley. "My car--well, it's not running. Which would be why I'm here, though doing dishes at the Fabulous Ladies Club really is my dream job. Don't suppose you're going to let me use your bike?"

Wesley winced slightly. He saw a look of...resignation? pain? flash across Xander's face. "Yes, you may use the bike," he said. "You can ride a bike, can't you?"

Xander grinned. "Can't be too hard, can it?"

Wesley winced again. "Be careful."

"Of course." Xander reached for his coat and took the directions from Marie. He added the paper with the list of names to his pocket and looked around the room. "Um, so you'll be here when I get back? So we can compare notes and stuff and I can tell you how it went?"

Wesley nodded. "Yes, that would be a good idea, I'll want to hear what the mares have to say."

Xander looked relived as he made his way somewhat awkwardly past Marie. "Good, I'm glad you'll--I'll see you later, then."

"Xander?" Wesley asked. He wasn't entirely sure why Xander was suddenly so rushed. Time was important yes, but this drive to go was a little off.

"What?" Xander looked startled.

"Keys?" Wesley held out the key to the bike. "You have ridden? Tell me you have."

"I have ridden a bike before," Xander grinned. "Well, a small bike. But I have. I'll go slow."

"You'll have to, once you're off the main road," Marie put in.

"See? It'll be fine." Then Xander was gone. In a moment Wesley heard the bike start up.

He sighed, and sat down on the bed. After a moment he looked up. "You're free to return to your room, if you wish." He didn't mean it as an order, though he suspected the filly would take it as such anyhow. He *did* want to be alone, but didn't want her to be alone if she felt afraid.

"I'm in room 16," Marie said. "Just across the way."

She changed back, and began to get dressed unselfconsciously. She seemed to be taking her time, as though wanting to give him a chance to say more. But he didn't. He wanted to be alone. He wanted to lie back and go to sleep, as though his night's work were through and he had nothing more to worry him than which direction to pick in the morning.

She finally left, closing the thin, cheap motel room door behind her through which Wesley was sure he would be able to hear every noise made. He laid back on the bed. He could tell by scent that Xander was not using this one -- though both beds were made up in that uniform housekeeper's fashion. He stared at the ceiling for awhile, trying to think of who he might call to find out which stallions were in the area.

A couple of names came to mind, but there really was only one choice. There was a herd stallion in the Chicago area who had a reputation of being fair and open minded; plus he was known to keep an even closer eye on lone stallions than most of the other herd stallions.

Carl Hensen, like the others, watched stallions because of the possible threat they provided him he also had an interest in finding out about *them*; what they were like, which ones would be good with a herd of their own. He knew that life was easier for everyone if the herd stallions could all be trusted to watch out for their own.

There had been talk about something going on down south too, a herd stallion who had picked his successor and an exchange of power that had gone smoothly, without bloodshed. Carl had approved of that as well, which made Wesley think he could relate to the man. Well, as well as a lone stallion, even one who was only a half centaur could.

He rolled over onto his side and grabbed the phone, dialling the operator first to arrange for the call. He put the charges on a credit card he still hated using -- the one Abigail had given him when he'd visited the herd his father had come from, the summer of his 13th year. Despite being 'only half', she'd treated him like one of her own, and Martin, the herd stallion at the time, had agreed to allow Wes some limited support.

For years, all he'd been willing to use the card for was the occasional purchase of books he couldn't afford. This past few weeks, he'd been pressed closer and closer to living off it.

He pushed those thoughts away as his call was answered by a sleepy, woman's voice. "Hello?"

"I'm sorry for disturbing you," Wesley began. "My name is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and I'm calling from California. I need to speak with Carl Hensen."

There was a slight pause and then the voice, more awake now and serious, said, "One moment, please."

He heard the phone being put down and there was silence for a few minutes before he heard steps approaching. "Hensen." He sounded awake and serious.

Wesley knew that his identity would be known, that his name would have been passed along to the herd stallion as a matter of course. "There is some trouble in California," he said, keeping his tone respectful. "I believe you may be able to help with some information."

"What kind of trouble?" He sounded merely interested, polite.

"I believe that a herd stallion here is doing something very dangerous and is risking the safety of his herd. I would step in and stop it myself, but as you know--"

"Yes, I know." There was a pause. "How dangerous? And how sure are you?"

Wesley had expected that. Arraigning for the removal of a herd stallion was not taken lightly. The fact that Wesley was calling, though, spoke volumes about how series it was. He wasn't out to get a herd for himself, therefore it was in the herd's interest that something be done about Darien. Wesley simply had nothing to gain.

"Very. He's...well, I fear that he's risking the youngsters in particular, and a mare has already gone missing."

"Risking the youngsters?" Hensen asked, still not sounding anything more than polite.

"His own," Wesley explained.

The pause was longer. When Hensen came back on the line, he sounded shocked. "His own? Are you certain?"

"I've a filly here with me -- at the motel. She was separated during a storm and she says....I have reason to believe her herd stallion is arranging for his colts, as well as some fillies, to be killed. Sacrificed in exchange for...something. I'm not sure what."

There was no response. He knew Hensen was there -- he could practically feel the stallion's disbelief. Wesley waited, wondering if he should start explaining about the Crobash demon or not. All herd stallions knew about vampires -- and the agreement with Zeus which made it fatal for any vampire to attempt to feed off centaurs. But he wasn't aware that many herd stallions knew about other things.

Obviously Darien did, but how he'd learned...was unimportant. What mattered now was protecting the herd from whatever Darien was doing.

"Who?" Hensen finally asked.

"Darien."

There was another long pause. Wesley wished Hensen was the sort to think out loud, but herd stallions rarely gave much away to outsiders. Wesley was definitely an outsider. Again and still, always.

"All right," Hensen said, his tone decided. "So his herd needs protecting and you can't take them. Why are you calling me? Just so we're on the same page, is all I mean."

Wesley almost sighed with relief. He really didn't want to try to explain demons to Hensen if he didn't have to. "I'm hoping that you know of someone who *is* able to take the herd. Speed is of the essence, and I don't know who to call, nor do I know who would be best for the herd."

"Good," Hensen said in his ear, sounding pleased. "I'll make a call then. I expect that someone should be there to take care of the herd by tomorrow."

Wesley took a breath. "Would you mind..." he hesitated, choosing his words carefully. "Would it be possible for you to send the stallion to me? So I may explain the particulars of the situation and what the herd thinks is going on? There are rumours he should know about, in order to sooth the mares."

"I can do that," Hensen agreed, tentatively. "Are you sure...I don't know that he'll be willing or interested in doing more than listening to what you have to say."

"That's fine. I'm simply want give him more information and answer whatever questions he may have."

"Right." The herd stallion sounded like he approved, and Wesley had to fight a sudden sense of warmth in his chest. It made no difference what Hensen thought of him. He had a job to do and the approval of a complete stranger....

Was a lot more than he'd had in a very long time.

"There are a couple of stallions within a few hours drive, but I fully expect that you'll be dealing with Wade Mouzouris. Give me a number he can reach you at, and I'll have him get into contact with you."

Wesley gave him the motel's number, along with Xander's name and room number. Then there was nothing more to say, and Hensen hung up with a final word of thanks.

He looked at the ceiling again. There were motel sounds around him, people moving and TVs being played too loudly, and yet he still felt a little more relaxed. Talking to Hensen had gone well, better than he had anticipated, and he turned the conversation around in his mind for a little while.

He studied a spot on the ceiling and reminded himself to tell Xander and Marie that someone was coming to help them. Then he gave himself over to rest, drifting slowly into sleep.

When he woke up there was silence. His eyes opened and he was awake, staring at the same spot, unsure what had woken him. A key in the door pulled him the rest of the way to consciousness, and he sat up as Xander came in.

~*~*~

Xander stopped just inside the door, caught by surprise when Wesley sat up on the bed. For a second his brain was trying to tell him there was something weird here, but he'd known Wes was here. Nothing weird about a guy falling asleep.

He hadn't even slept on the bed Xander had been sleeping in, so there wasn't that to get a wiggins about. The girl was gone, probably to her own room and -- it clicked. Xander even had to force back his grin as he figured it out.

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Stuffy Watcher Extraordinaire, had bed hair.

"That's a good look on you," Xander said, tossing the bike keys on the dresser. "Really brings out your sleepy side."

Wesley gave a half strength glare and ran a hand through his hair. "I trust you had no trouble finding the herd?"

Xander sprawled in the chair and waved his hand dismissively. "Nah. Marie gave good directions, and it really wasn't that far." He stopped, knowing that it would drive Wes up the wall. If it were Giles he'd probably just start telling him all about it, but this was Wes, the guy to bug when he was in the mood to...well, bug. And that little pang of 'Be nice, Xander' was just an echo of Willow.

"And you found the mares?" Wesley finally asked, only a little exasperation seeping into his tone as he sat on the bed.

"Yeah, I found 'em." And hadn't *that* been something to write home about, if he actually wrote home and if he hadn't been sworn to secrecy.

Willow was going to kill him if she ever found out what he knew and hadn't told her -- and that was more of the Willow isn't here, and Xander isn't home, and he didn't have anyone to share secrets with anyway, anymore. He tried to stop that train of thought.

Wesley glared harder. "And?" he demanded, his voice clipped and wide awake and sounding a hell of a lot like Giles.

And almost nothing like the guy Xander had met back in Sunnydale. Or maybe it was just the leather pants and the bed hair. Xander relented, telling himself it was because he was tired and ready to go to sleep himself, not because Wes was all in charge and capable guy, and certainly not because he sounded like Giles. Like he was protective and safe and responsible. Maybe it was the accent. Maybe he was more tired than he thought.

"So I found the one Marie mentioned, Terry, and she made sure the others didn't get all upset at me being there. I told her Marie is all right, and then I did what you said. Explained that there was something dangerous going on, and that help was on the way, and to keep those kids out of Darien's way."

"Did she believe you? How did she act?" Wesley was looking at him intently, leaning forward, his eyes sharp.

Xander knew this was serious--it always was with demons, and he suddenly realized Wesley must feel pretty cut off from the action, trying to plan around reactions and words he could only get second hand.

"She seemed worried, but trying to be all take-charge. Well...not completely take charge. But she was telling all the mares to act like they hadn't heard anything and hadn't seen me and didn't know anything."

Wesley nodded, seeming to approve. Xander wanted to ask him how he knew so much about it. "And?" Wesley prompted.

"And what? I told them, they stayed calm. What else was supposed to happen?"

"Did she say anything? Did any of them say anything odd, or do anything unusual?"

Xander laughed. "Yeah, because I know how centaurs act normally?"

Wesley frowned at him. Xander opened his mouth to say...something, and realized the frown wasn't really at him. Wesley looked frustrated and annoyed, which usually made little difference to Xander, but now he just wanted it to go away. He couldn't help anyone, certainly not Marie and her family, by digging at Wesley.

"Look, I can just tell you that they seemed calm and a little relieved that someone out here knows that there's trouble. I told them that there was help coming and the older..." he hesitated, looking for a word he could use with comfort. "The older ladies seemed pleased. There was a little chatter about what would happen to Darien, but someone said that they would be taken care of."

He sat back, looking at Wes. He really didn't know what else to tell him. He had no idea how *women* were supposed to act, let alone *centaur women*. Did they have even more bizarre ideas and rules he didn't know about? And how about the centaur men? Were they really that different? Was Wes that different? Xander forced his mind away from Wes as centaur, or half-centaur, for the moment. Time enough for that little crisis later.

Wes seemed to be satisfied -- he wasn't frowning, and even though he wasn't saying things like "good work, Xander" or "thanks ever so".

But it wasn't like Xander was used to that, either. Wesley got up off the bed and walked towards Xander, which surprised him. But Wes just turned to head for the bathroom...then paced back the other way. Xander watched him pace back and forth for awhile.

At one point, after Wes had paced and not said anything for several moments, Xander thought about opening the door and letting Wes pace outside. At least then he wouldn't have to keep turning around and making them both dizzy.

Okay, so think and pace, while annoying, was good. Or bad. Or really bad. Not that Xander was worried. No, demon of the day was pretty standard. Though, the usual reaction to demon of the day was worry, then slight panic, then fight. Maybe worry was okay. Maybe Wes was worried. Maybe Xander should panic. No, worry was fine.

"Uh, help is coming, right?" he asked finally. "You called someone, and a...a stallion is going to come take the herd after we kill the demon?"

Wesley stopped pacing and stared at him a moment. "Oh. Yes, I called someone. I expect that someone suitable will be here tomorrow."

Xander nodded. Wesley started to pace again.

"'Cause you know, help is good. The more the merrier with the slaying and all that." Xander suspected he was babbling, or at least getting a good start at it, but he really couldn't help it. Wesley was going to drive him crazy with the non-talking. Buffy at least would talk about what they were up against. "So, umm. How are we going to kill this thing, anyway?"

Wesley barely glanced at him. "A sharp sword should do it." He kept pacing.

Xander stared at him. "Excuse me?" Apparently his hearing had gone out. They were going to all this trouble, when all they needed was a sharp sword? "Is this guy you called bringing the sword? Because I have a short one with me, if that's all we're needing. Heck, I can call Buffy and she can--"

"That won't be necessary," Wesley snapped.

Xander didn't actually want to argue with him -- he really didn't want to call Buffy, have her come to Oxnard, and find out where he was and what he was doing. Although maybe he could lie and say he'd been traveling with Wes around the country slaying demons?

Except he didn't like Wesley, and his friends all knew that.

"OK, so what part did I miss? Why aren't we sneaking in there, stabbing it with our steely knives, and sneaking away?"

Wesley gave him a look that on Giles would have been withering. Actually, it was pretty damn close; maybe Wes had been taking notes or something. "And you were intending to find the demon how, exactly?" Wes asked. Before Xander could reply he went on. "And then, once you raised the creature and killed it, how were you intending on dealing with Darien? He's not going to like having years of effort spoiled by us sneaking in, as you put it, and killing his object of worship." Wesley turned on him, facing him completely. Yeah, withering was the best way to describe it. "Darien wants something. He's gone to great lengths to get it, and he's prepared to kill his children. He must be stopped. This isn't all about the demon, Xander."

Xander stared at the floor. Great. Ignore the obvious, look stupid again. Typical. He looked up at Wesley again and felt something flare in his gut. He stood up before he'd really thought about it and said, "Fine. Save the centaurs, I'm all with that. Even if I've never even seen one a few hours ago. I'll kill the icky thing. I'll do what I can. But how exactly, Wesley, are we going to do this? Just wander up to Darien and ask him nicely to produce his evil thing?"

Wesley didn't answer right away. He glanced away from Xander, and said quietly, "I don't know."

It sounded like he didn't really expect to, either.

"Would...Giles know anything about it?" he asked carefully, because he didn't want to have that be the answer, but he didn't want to endanger a herd of *anything* because he was too embarrassed to tell his friends where he was. "Or--what about the Council? Don't they have ways of tracking demons?"

Wesley gave him an odd look. "Yes. It's called 'The Slayer'." But his face had changed, and there was something he wasn't saying.

Xander nodded slowly, feeling his way. "But they have other things too, right? Libraries and books and people. You could maybe call and ask, right?" As soon as the question was out he knew he'd said the wrong thing. Wesley didn't so much as shut down as stiffen up, and for Wes that was a lot of rigid.

"No." Wesley's voice was flat, so without tone that Xander knew there was something deeply painful around the matter.

"Wes? I'm really not trying to pry here--"

"Then stop." Wesley turned around again, making an aborted attempt to continue his pacing. He was already too close to the bathroom to go more than two steps before he had to turn again.

"Okay. But we still have to figure out how to get this demon to show up at the right time. And if you won't call the Council I'm out of ideas."

Wesley looked at him. Actually looked, and Xander could feel the difference. It wasn't so much the intensity of it, but more a connection. The thought was confirmed when Wesley sat on the edge of the bed and softly said, "I'm no longer with the Council."

"Congratulations," slipped out before Xander realised that this was, in fact, bad news. For Wesley, anyhow. As much as it had been for Giles -- only Xander thought Giles's reaction to being fired was more about who did he trust with Buffy, than any real love of the Council.

Wesley's reaction said as much, and Xander felt bad for him. Not exactly sure how to say it, since he really did think the Council was a bunch of jerks -- although he thought that in part because of what Wesley had been like: the epitome of Watcher Council perfection.

"I'm...sorry," he fumbled, and knew his sympathy wasn't at all what Wesley would want to hear.

Wesley raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything for a long moment. "It doesn't matter. What matters at the moment--"

"Yeah, it does." Xander wasn't sure who was more surprised, Wesley or himself. He bit at his lip and tried to figure out what he meant, exactly, before he kept talking. "Sure, I don't like them. You know what I think of the Council. But you didn't think that, right? You trained to be a Watcher for God knows how long. And now you're not one. You did what you thought you were supposed to, right? And now you're--"

He stopped dead, not wanting to say what his mind was yelling at him. Alone. Away from home. But he stopped before he said it. And maybe all that was really important right now, aside from the big scary demon who was going to lunch on little baby centaurs, was that he finally had a clue about Wesley that wasn't about the suit or the job.

"So," he finally said, when Wesley didn't speak up. "Got any ideas about what would make Darien mad enough to raise this thing himself so we can stab it with the big sharp things?"

Wesley shook his head. "I know several ways to anger him, but none that would guarantee he'd raise the demon."

"Maybe we could just keep pissing him off?" Xander suggested, even though it sounded like a bad idea. Of course he was used to doing things that sounded like a bad idea, and having them work out. Then again, that was usually because Buffy-- he cut off that train of thought.

Wesley looked at him like he couldn't quite believe that he'd been a bad enough person to warrant being cursed with a Xander.

"Okay, so that's not a good idea," Xander allowed. "But we still have to come up with something to get the demon to appear right? Maybe if we could...threaten what the demon sees as his reward? Would that make the demon come on its own?"

Xander watched as Wesley's expression went from pained to thoughtful. Score one for the guy who had spent a lot of time watching the research people. Well, okay, he researched too. But really, Giles was the big planner guy.

"Maybe..." Wesley said slowly, staring at a blank spot on the wall. "But I don't think that we'll actually be able to threaten the foals--not that I would want to. I think that Wade--the stallion coming to take the herd--would object rather strenuously as well."

"Could we make Darien think we were threatening the foals?" Xander had a sudden image of centaur foals. He hadn't seen any, but it was pretty easy to take the mares he'd seen, and shrink them down to baby size.

They were too adorable looking, in his head, to threaten.

"What about this other guy - stallion, who's coming? Wade? Would he make Darien decide he was threatened enough to raise the demon?"

"Wade might pose a threat, if Darien felt he wasn't able to finish him off, himself."

"So, let's break Darien's leg then let Wade challenge him." Xander grinned -- and blinked, when Wes gave him an angry look. "What? Centaurs won't challenge someone with a broken leg?"

"Xander, what happens to horses with broken legs?" Wesley asked carefully, as if speaking to a child.

Oh right. "Something not nice," he said evenly. "But if I've got this right the new guy is gonna kill him anyway--" Wesley was shaking his head slightly, once more looking cursed.

"It's not that. Never mind, it isn't important," he said tiredly.

"What?"

"Xander, what am *I*?"

"Uh, half centaur--oh shit." Well, that made him feel great. Let's just drive the half centaur mad with tales of broken bones that could be fatal if you're a horse. But he wasn't a horse. Xander backed away from the thought slowly and looked at Wes carefully. "Right. So, how do we threaten Darien enough that he needs his demon?"

Wesley was still frowning, and Xander saw his expression change. Knew that Wesley had thought of something that he didn't like.

If Wes didn't like it, chances were Xander wouldn't like it either. But it wasn't like they were drowning in plans. "What?"

"Well, I--" he stopped, and Xander had a flash of brilliance. Or something.

"You won't have to really fight him, will you?" He was already thinking of what he could take, to back Wesley up. Sword, axe, shotgun?

"Who, Darien? No, my interference in that would not be welcome. But the demon, yes, of course."

Xander revised his mental arsenal to include things he didn't have but would come in handy. Missile, M-16, tear gas, one of those orbs of Krilinate that Giles had on his desk holding down junk mail.

"Right," Xander said. "Back to that. We need the demon. And we need to know what kind of demon it is. And how to get it to appear at the right time. And how, exactly, are we going to do this anyway? Just walk up there and let our stallion loose on theirs?"

"He won't call the demon to interfere with a challenge. A stallion like Darien will be...supremely confident of being able to handle a fight, on his own. And even if he didn't, it's extremely rare for a stallion to do anything but meet a challenge head on, unarmed and unassisted."

"What about after? If Darien loses--"

"If Darien loses, it would be easy. If he wins...we're back where we started. And...we can't be sure he won't cheat, and use the demon to make certain he wins."

Xander nodded. "So...what, then?" He heard the voice in his head, which still suggested 'Call Buffy'. It pissed him off. It pissed him off more that he felt like it would make things so much easier, if they just did call her.

"So we trick him." Wesley said, making it sound simple. He was...calm. Reasonable. Xander pushed the Buffy voice further away; if whatever Wes had planned failed he could always let the Buffy voice come back later.

"How?"

Wesley looked at him, searching. Xander was used to people looking him over, trying to figure out if he was a geek, a jock, a dunce...whatever. This felt different. This was like someone assessing his strengths. "How good an actor are you, Xander?"

That was a little unexpected. "Uh...I was in a school play when I was ten. I was a tooth. But I understudied for the dentist."

Wesley didn't even look disheartened. Much. "Can you act like you're in the market for some land? Like you have a bit of money to burn and want to check over a possible purchase?"

Xander laughed. "I've shopped with Buffy *and* Cordelia. I can fake interest in buying anything."

Wesley nodded, not smiling. "Perhaps if we make Darien think his demon isn't holding up its end of the bargain. He will summon it to chew it out. We can attack then."

"Is he gonna think that if I just show up to buy land?"

"Hmm. Well, perhaps if you say something about being told it was available...we don't have time or resources to fake any papers, or a deed. But...." He trailed off, thinking hard.

Xander wanted to tell him he looked a lot like Willow, only a guy, wearing glasses, and more facial hair. That made him wonder what Wesley *did* look like. When he was a centaur. He found himself glancing at Wesley's legs, even though they were perfectly human at the moment.

Black leather pants. Some of the guys who danced at the club wore leather pants.

Wesley was still thinking hard, looking serious and vaguely tired. He still had bed hair, no matter what he'd tried to do with it. Xander pictured a centaur with bed hair and leather pants, but then remembered that the pants had to come off before Wes could change forms.

The dancers had to take of their leather pants too, and that was always a crowd pleasing moment. Xander wished Wesley would say something, if only so he could stop thinking.

Wesley hadn't said if he could even change forms--he'd dodged that question rather nicely, actually. Xander opened his mouth to ask just as Wesley suddenly looked like he'd made a decision.

"Right then. Ready for your job?" Wes asked him.

Xander made a mental note to ask about the changing thing later. "Yeah." He wondered if he'd need notes. "Uh, yeah, I..I mean, yeah. What am I doing?" He wanted to kick himself. Go pretend to buy land, like they'd just said ten seconds ago. He tried to shake the image of Wesley out of his head.

Wesley narrowed his eyes, and Xander could tell he was wondering if he were dealing with a moron. Possibly, but that didn't mean Xander couldn't do what had to be done.

"After Wade gets here and I fill him in you'll go out there and tell Darien you saw the land advertised for a tax auction," Wesley explained.

"Like it was seized?" There, a bright question.

"Exactly. Tell him you want to look around the place before you bid. Make it sound like you have big plans, maybe a development or something."

"And I got the money for that where? I'm not even old enough to buy beer!" Xander could just see how well this going to go over.

Wes sighed again. Giles used to do that a lot. "If it comes up tell him you inherited it. Then wander around, maybe mention that you've heard others planning to bid as well."

Xander nodded. "Right. And you think this will send him into a panic and he'll call the demon to give it...hell, I guess. Where will you and Wade be?"

"Waiting, out of range. We can coordinate with the mares, to get us onto the land...or, perhaps get Wade onto the land, to be ready to challenge Darien as soon as the demon is destroyed." Wesley looked troubled, again.

"Why just Wade?"

Wesley didn't answer right away. Xander tried to figure out what could possibly be wrong. More wrong. Having a demon threatening imaginary creatures was wrong enough.

"I'm not sure...." Wesley stopped, and started again, and his voice sounded strange. "I'm not sure Wade will...accept my assistance. Or very presence."

"So, you come with me and help stick sharp things into the demon's head."

Wesley gave him a flat glare. "There is *no* chance Darien will allow me onto his land. For the ruse to work, you will have to go in alone. Then...well, perhaps I can be waiting nearby. Someplace else."

Xander shook his head. "You'll be there. End of story. I don't care if you have to be out of range until the demon shows up, you'll be there."

Wesley looked amused. "It's not that simple. If Wade says--"

"And I'm saying I don't care. He'll just have to deal with it. I need back up--c'mon, do you really think I can kill a demon on my own?" Xander thought about that. He could kill the demon, he told himself. And then he could be really dead. "Think of what you'd have to tell Giles. Please. You'll be there." Xander had spoken. End of story.

Wesley still looked amused. "I'll see what I can do. But yes, I would prefer not to send you out there to kill a demon unassisted. Perhaps Wade will allow me to come if I put it to him like that."

"Allow? Why would you need *his* permission for anything?" Xander was not impressed with this Wade person--stallion--creature and he hadn't even shown his face yet.

"He's a full stallion," Wesley said in a matter of fact tone. "I will be....subordinate to him."

It sounded to Xander like Wesley had just said he would be required to walk through sewers barefoot. Only he also had that stiff upper lip British thing going, like Giles did. Or had, Xander realised, back when he'd first arrived and hadn't been fully broken in.

"Like...the mares?" he asked, trying to fit this new wrinkle into his brain.

"Not exactly, but...yes, for our purposes. Besides which, if he doesn't wish me there, my presence will only distract him from the challenge. It's important that he win the fight."

There was something about all this that Xander knew Wesley wasn't explaining. He wasn't sure he wanted to ask, and was even less sure he'd understand it. Right now, all he wanted was a demon he could hit with something sharp.

"Okay, so we have a plan. When's this Wade guy getting here?" Xander settled deeper in the chair and watched Wesley. Still in leather, still had bed hair. Kinda...cute wasn't right. Really not right.

Wes glanced at his watch. "Several hours, I expect. By noon, certainly, and I think it will take an hour or so to go over everything." Wes looked at him closely. "You should sleep."

Xander nodded and snuggled into the chair some more. He wasn't sleepy. "So, can you change forms, too? What's different about been full blood and only half centaur?"

Wesley looked surprised and a little uncomfortable. "Uh, yes. I can change forms, though I don't do it often." He crossed to the bed he'd been sleeping on and sat down.

He yawned and tried again to picture Wes as a centaur but couldn't quite. He was having trouble with the tail. Yeah, that was it, the tail. Too long. "Show me?" he asked.

Wes arched an eyebrow at him. Made him look *just* like Giles when Xander was trying to wind him up, and Giles had caught him out. "I don't...that isn't...." He stopped, and Xander waited while he tried to come up with a reasonable excuse for saying 'no'.

Xander suddenly wondered if the reason Wes was trying to say no, was because he'd have to strip down, like Marie had. The image of Wesley, stripping out of those leathers, made Xander feel like stammering a lot, himself.

"That's.. I mean, you don't--" he began, then stopped. From the embarrassed look on Wesley's face, Xander could tell he'd probably just made things worse. At least, neither of them could pretend they weren't talking about Wesley being naked.

"I don't mind," Xander said, then he clamped his jaw shut. He'd meant to say he understood -- that Wesley didn't have to.

Wesley looked around the room and sighed, sounding as exasperated as Giles ever had. "I don't think this is the proper place."

"Why not?" Xander asked, then kicked himself. Where was the part of him that was saying this stuff? Sure, he wanted to see Wes in his other form, but he didn't really want to push him, didn't want to make Wes all defensive. When Wesley just started at him, his eyes getting stubborn, Xander said, "Look, I want to see, but I don't want--I mean you don't have to. There's nothing wrong with it."

Wrong thing to say. Wesley looked more defensive than ever, bordering on pissed off. "I know there's nothing wrong with it. I am what I am." But he was unlacing his boots now. "You want to see? Fine. Maybe then we can get some sleep?"

"Wes," Xander tried to figure out how he was going to smooth *this* over. Wesley was pretending to ignore him, but Xander knew it wasn't like he could really avoid hearing whatever Xander said. "I mean - I'm not trying to make you into a sideshow attraction. I'm just interested. I want to see you."

There was no way he could hope that Wesley didn't hear the double entendre that Xander would never in this lifetime admit was in there. Wesley was standing with his back to Xander, and Xander could see his ass -- black leather pants pulled tight across his ass, and Xander had spent how many weeks seeing drop dead gorgeous guys shed their clothes for all to see. Add to that the fact that he'd never been more lonely in his life, stuck here so close to home and so utterly unable to go home, that it probably wasn't a surprise that he was trying so desperately to make a contact with someone who ought to hate him

Or at least just not care the slightest whether Xander was lonely or not.

"I mean -- I'm sorry." Xander closed his mouth -- too late, but at least he was shutting up now.

Wesley kicked off the other boot and turned around, pulling his shirt off over his head as he did so. His eyes were serious as he stepped back into the open area Marie had used when she'd changed forms. Xander swallowed. This was what he wanted right? What he'd practically forced Wes to do?

Wesley held his gaze as he started to undo his leather pants, and Xander met it squarely, trying desperately not to watch his fingers go to the waistband to push them down. He could do that much at least.

Though it wasn't easy.

Then Wes was bending, leather sliding from his legs, and Xander forced his eyes to keep to a respectfully patch of skin near his shoulder. His right shoulder. Just above and to the right of his nipple. Xander concentrated on that spot very hard as Wesley stood up.

He couldn't not, and he didn't mean to, but his eyes went down and he saw things he wasn't supposed to see -- and then there was a horse where he was staring and it was safe again.

A horse.

Xander blinked.

"Well?" Wesley asked, even though he couldn't have been waiting for a comment. Xander stood up, and Wesley still towered over him, and Xander had never see a horse in person before this week, when suddenly he's seeing centaurs all over the place.

Wes's coat was dark, and Xander had no idea what the name of the colour was, but his coat didn't look all that different from the leather he'd been wearing. He didn't realise he'd moved until he put his hand out to touch, and see if he were real.

Before his hand made contact, he yanked it back. "Sorry. Just...sorry."

Wes actually smile a little, though it faded fast. "It's all right. Go ahead."

Xander looked at him carefully, trying to gage the sincerity in Wesley's voice. He decided that if Wes really didn't want him to touch him, he'd say so. Again, he reached out, laying his hand on Wes's...side? Flank? He had no idea, other than it was a smooth spot above his hip, several inches back from where Wes's torso stopped and the horse part started.

He felt warm. And smooth, and Xander had stroked him with the flat of his hand three times before he realized he was *petting* Wesley. He moved again, blushing furiously.

There wasn't really a lot of room for him to manoeuvre, but he climbed over the edge of one bed and got to Wesley's other side. He was silky, almost, his coat laying flat to his skin. He was...strong. He was amazing.

"Mmmm."

Xander froze, then jerked his hand back. "Uh--"

"Sorry," Wesley muttered, clearly embarrassed. "I've.. it's been a long time.. I-- I'm sorry. It felt nice."

"Oh." Xander felt his cheeks burning. Too bad there wasn't a Hellmouth in Oxnard; it could open up right here. "I'm...." How did you apologise for making someone feel good?

He wanted to touch Wesley again, and didn't know if he dared. On the other hand -- what did he have to lose? Besides a leg, if Wesley kicked? He reached out and placed his hand on Wesley, petting him again, touching more firmly this time.

Wes made another soft noise, so he did it again, a long stroke from Wesley's waist, down his back, then a shorter one, down his side. He kept doing it, finding spots that made Wes sound happy, and staying there for a little bit.

It stood to reason, he figured. He knew he liked a nice back rub once in a while, and really, who could Wes ask to give him a back rub in this form? Probably just relax the hell out of him, and he'd sleep really well.

Xander gave him another long stroke, and Wes shuddered, the movement rolling down his spine and making his tail (tail!) flick. Cool. So Xander did it again, glancing up at Wes to see how he was.

He was--well, he was sort of in a trance, Xander thought. His eyes were glassy and his head was tilted forward. He looked completely out of it. Xander stopped petting him, hoping Wes was okay.

There was a pause, when Wes didn't move at all. Then he suddenly shook his head -- followed by shaking his entire body, the muscles along his form rippling. Then he groaned, and Xander knew that sound.

Wesley turned his head, looking back over his shoulder at Xander, and there was no mistaking the heat in his eyes. For a second, neither of them moved -- then Wesley was suddenly human again, and he was naked and Xander couldn't not look.

He was erect. And Xander had hands that had minds of their own tonight, because he reached out and touched.

Wesley made a noise that might have been going to be a protest, but Xander ran his hand up Wesley's cock in that first motion of a jerk off, and the noise became a groan and Wesley's eyes seemed to roll back into his head.

Xander moved closer, letting instinct tell him what to do. Hell, he'd been raised next to the Hellmouth, instinct kept him alive. He'd learned to trust his instincts. And now his instincts were telling him to keep touching, to get closer to the heat of Wesley's body and to--to--not to run.

Wesley felt good in his hand, hot and smooth and entirely not like anything else. It wasn't like when he touched himself, not really. The basics were the same, the mechanics, but this was something new. The angle. The weight. The smell.

He moved a little faster, his hand a little tighter, jerking Wes off in smooth pulls. He watched Wes's head tilt back a little, his tongue dart out to moisten his lips.

When Wes met his eyes this time the look was stormy, his eyes wild. Xander swept his thumb over the head of Wes's cock on the next up stroke, felt the wetness. He gasped, Wesley moaned, and he started moving his own hips, rubbing against Wes as he looked down at what he was doing.

Xander had to reach out with his other hand, reaching around behind Wesley's back to hold onto him. He told himself it was so Wes wouldn't fall, but he knew it was because touching him with just one hand wasn't enough.

He didn't dare to lean forward and kiss him -- on the mouth or anyplace else -- so he contented himself to holding his hand flat on Wesley's back, and feeling Wesley's cock in his hand.

He was pretty sure he was gonna come in his jeans, and he didn't mind.

Wesley suddenly reached out, grabbing onto his arms and curling his fists into Xander's shirt sleeves. He was panting, and making soft, desperate noises like he was in pain.

"Oh god, yes, come on. Come for me, Wes," Xander whispered, not feeling nearly as much like a moron for saying it as he'd thought he might. Because Wes was fucking his hand, now, and really close to coming all over him.

Wesley moaned, long and low, his hips snapping as he thrust, and Xander moved, just a little, so the friction of Wes's thigh hit him just right, rubbing along his own erection.

He moved his thumb over the head of Wes's cock again, squeezed a little on the next stroke and Wes cried out, his eyes rolling back.

"Yeah, that's it. Come for me." Xander's voice sounded strangled to himself, and he pushed against Wes's thigh, his balls aching.

Wes threw back his head and groaned, his prick throbbing in Xander's hand. Xander felt the wet heat, glanced down to see Wes coming for him, on him, and moved again, holding Wes as close as he dared. Another couple of thrusts as Wes stood in his arms, still frozen in place, still coming for God's sake, and Xander shuddered as his own release shot through him.

In another second it would be awkward what the hell time, and Xander didn't want to do that yet so he closed his eyes and thought about his hand on Wesley's back. Holding, practically actually holding him like this was more than just a -- whatever the fuck this was. Jerk off in the middle of nowhere.

He could smell Wesley, and it was like the back room of the club, the smell that always drove him crazy and made the dancers sometimes laugh and sometimes invite him along. But there was more than that, this time. Right? More than desperate strangers getting it off because they could?

Xander realised he had to let go now, and he removed his hand, wiping it clean on the leg of his jeans. Not the first time, not the last time he'd be washing embarrassing substances off his clothes. He watched Wesley's face for any sign of what sort of stumbling apology he needed, or if they'd be able to just pretend it never happened and go to bed.

Wesley was looking at him, not moving, not saying anything. He didn't look angry, or upset, or anything really. His face was a mask, not giving anything away, and that was more disturbing than anything.

"Umm. I--I better...over there. I better go over there and let you, you know. Take a shower or whatever--" Xander felt the embarrassment well up, the need to get away before Wesley said whatever it was that would make him feel like shit, like he'd done exactly the wrong thing.

But it couldn't have been the wrong thing, really. Could it? He'd seen the heat, the hunger, and he'd certainly felt the need. But maybe this was yet another centaur thing he didn't get. Something he'd screwed up because he didn't know the difference.

"Xander." Wesley sounded calm. Very calm for a man who'd just come all over a man's hand, a man whom he'd barely tolerated a few hours before. "I didn't mean for that--I'm sorry."

"Huh?"

"To...well, it's a natural reaction. For centaurs. Stallions, that is. Being...touched, or brushed that way. It's very arousing. I'd have warned you if..." He stopped, and now he looked away and didn't meet Xander's eyes.

Xander could almost hear the words 'but I didn't want to'.

"I should have warned you, stopped you," Wesley continued. "But...another unfortunate side effect of becoming aroused, for a stallion, is...well, our minds simply shut down. We stop being able to think clearly -- or at all. We simply react. I... if I'd been in clear command of my actions, I would never have done this."

Xander felt his insides clench. He couldn't move his hand, still sticky with Wesley's come. Would never have.... He suddenly jerked back, away from Wesley who was still standing there like he didn't even notice he was still naked. "Yeah. OK. I'm gonna go shower." Xander hurried past, trying to focus on getting to the bathroom and getting the shower on and washing off the scent and the feel of someone who hadn't even wanted him for the few seconds they'd taken.

"Xander--"

"No, it's okay. I get it," he said, not even looking back over his shoulder. He closed the bathroom door behind him and leaned back on it, his eyes stinging. He rubbed his hand on his jeans again and swore under his breath. What a mess.

He turned on the water and stripped quickly, leaving his clothes in a pile. Once under the spray he tried to just get clean, not to think about what he'd done, what they had just done. How Wes had told him it was just an urge, hey nothing personal, just needed to get off. And by the way, I knew it could happen, but it was too late to tell you I would just use your body if you touched me that way.

Fuck.

Okay, so he'd not really had a clue what it meant. Now he did. Now he knew what *he* meant. He was still Xander, still the one on the outside, sometimes useful, but mostly in the way. He just had a new quirk to add to his resume. He could jerk off half centaurs in their human form, 'cause their minds shut off when they got excited.

Not that he did a lot of thinking when he was aroused either. As whatever the fuck that was had proven.

Angrily, he searched for the bottle of shampoo, determined to make this shower last long enough that Wesley would be asleep by the time Xander came back out.

~*~*~

Wesley blinked, confused, as Xander shoved past him and headed for the bathroom. For a moment he thought Xander had been struck by an urgent need to relive himself -- but then he heard the shower switch on.

He wished he'd warned Xander -- wished he hadn't changed, or had stepped aside after the first touch of Xander's hand on his body. But he hadn't, and he'd let himself believe that it would be all right. His last thought was that Xander would understand, that perhaps Xander was as lonely as he was -- and now he'd gone off and shut himself in the shower after Wesley had tried to....

Oh. Of course.

Wesley headed quickly to the bathroom, and knocked on the door. There was no response, and he knew it likely that Xander simply couldn't hear him. He took a chance, and opened the door.

The room was starting to fill with steam, mirror just beginning to fog around the edges. Xander's clothes were heaped in the corner, the scent of semen strong, even behind the chemical smell of shampoo. "Xander?"

"Christ!" The shape behind the shower curtain jerked. "What do you want now, Wes? Come to tell me you won't hold it against me in the morning? That no one needs to know?"

Wesley blinked and moved toward the shower, the sound of the rushing water too loud. "I *won't* hold it against you. And no one needs to know."

"Gee, thanks ever so. Get out." Xander sounded angry. Hurt.

"That's not what I mean." He reached out to touch the shower curtain, to pull it aside so he could see Xander's face as he explained. "Can I talk to you for a moment?"

"Talk away. Sort of busy here though, and incidentally? Naked. Can it wait?" Yes, definitely hurt.

"Yes, well, I'd say we were even, then." Wesley wasn't really bothered by his nudity in front of Xander -- he hadn't wanted to change forms, but simply being naked was irrelevant.

There was silence, as he waited while Xander decided what to say about that. Wesley knew it was probably wrong to let Xander believe he were truly upset about it, but if it kept him talking, then he didn't mind.

When Xander still didn't say anything, Wesley tried again -- asking himself why he was bothering. It wasn't as though Xander had ever shown concern for *his* feelings.

"I would have warned you, if I'd realised I'd react so quickly. It's been a long time since anyone has touched me, at all...." He stopped. He hadn't intended to say any such thing -- lies would be easier, wouldn't they?

>From the other side of the shower curtain came a strangled laugh. "So, you were a little lonely, Wes? Any touch would do?"

"That's not what I said." Was it? Damn it, what did it matter? Xander would keep picking at it, making the situation into something it wasn't. "I only meant that I didn't realize..."

He trailed off, thinking that what he'd been about to say wasn't quite true. He really hadn't known how quickly he'd become aroused, how the touch of Xander's hands would affect him. But he had known that it was possible, and hadn't said anything.

Perhaps lies wouldn't be better.

It wasn't as though Xander could get any more angry with him, right?

"I knew... I was hoping... I know I didn't think it through. Or take your own feelings into account. But when you touched me, the very first time, I found myself hoping you would continue. So I said nothing."

He felt ashamed -- that he would be so desperate, that he had allowed Xander to be put into the position he had been in.

There was a long silence, broken by the sound of the water hitting tile, splashing against the curtain. "So, you're saying you wanted to be touched?" Xander asked finally.

Wesley looked at the ceiling, wishing the damn curtain was a wall, that he wasn't having this conversation at all. But he couldn't quite bring himself to wish what had happened away, not entirely. "More or less, yes."

Another water filled pause. "But you're also saying that it didn't really matter who it was." Xander was insistent.

"No. Not like you mean, anyway." Wesley turned and faced the other direction, almost as if he were turning to face Xander, hidden away in his wet hiding place. "I'm just saying that it was a natural reaction, that I didn't warn you, and for that I'm sorry."

"Sorry you didn't warn me. Not sorry that it was me?"

"I'm not sorry it was you." It was easy to say, and Wesley had no idea whether or not he meant it. But even if he did regret it having been Xander, it would be cruel to allow him to think so.

Besides which, he didn't think he did mind. Not, perhaps, his first choice for a quick one-off in a seedy motel, but beggars couldn't be choosers.

Xander pulled the edge of the shower curtain back and peered out at him, dark hair wet on his forehead, water drops clinging to his shoulders. "Say that again, looking at me."

Wesley stepped forward, looking at him. At his eyes, his lower lip, the collection of drops on his collarbone. "I'm not sorry it was you."

Xander looked back at him, steady gaze not wavering. Wesley, for his part, was having trouble keeping his eyes on Xander's face.

Perhaps he wasn't sorry, at all.

A moment passed, then the corner of Xander's mouth quirked, and he was starting to smile. Drops of water were running down the side of his face and Wesley reached up and touched his cheek.

"Wes?" Xander asked, his voice impossibly calm. "Wanna get cleaned up?"

Wesley nodded, not exactly sure why, just knowing that right then it seemed like a very good idea. Xander was still smiling at him as he pulled the shower curtain back the rest of the way.

"C'mon in, then. Unless you want me to just throw water at you."

"That won't be necessary," Wesley said, stepping forward. He knew that in about two more minutes he would be as brain-dead as he had the first time. Normally his half-human nature gave him some protection against the typical response stallions had to sexual arousal -- but when one had gone for years without so much as being touched....

He stumbled, climbing into the tub, but Xander held out a hand and steadied him. His hand was wet, and warm, and Wesley shivered as he moved into the spray.

"I--" He had no idea what he dared ask for.

"You going to warn me this time, Wes?" Xander said, his hand sliding over Wesley's arm.

"I think you know--" Wesley began, losing the words as Xander's other hand pushed soap along his hip. Wes shuddered, having just enough sense to see the look in Xander's eyes. Determined, yes. But still tentative and unsure. "Want." It was the only word he had as he stepped closer, moved into Xander's arms.

"Anything in particular?" Xander asked, sounding amused, and nervous.

"I want to kiss you," Wesley said, right before he put his mouth on Xander's.

They held each other steady, in the spray of water, trying not to move on the slick ceramic. But Xander was kissing him back, as eagerly and hungrily as Wesley wanted to kiss him. He wished for a moment they were in the bed, or somewhere outside, far away from prying eyes so he wouldn't have to think about moving around in small, slippery places.

But slippery hands were on his back, and thoughts of other slippery places made him forget about anything much, at all.

Xander was kissing him, his mouth, his neck, his shoulders, and his hands were sweeping over Wes's back. He could feel Xander's erection, hot against his hip. It didn't take much to move his hand, just a little...Xander moaned when he touched him.

Then the hand was gone, and the water was off, but Xander was still kissing him, pushing him backwards, gently. "Out of the tub," Xander said, and Wes let himself be directed, let Xander's hands guide him. For now.

They got out of the tub; Xander paused to shut off the water. As soon as Wesley was standing on cold tile, he turned back and tried to re-engage the kiss.

Xander only let him for a moment, before breaking away again. "I think--"

"No, no thinking. Kiss me."

Xander looked a bit taken aback, so Wesley kissed him again. Hard, and demanding, because if they stopped they might not continue, and right now all he wanted was more.

Xander moaned into the kiss and tried to shift him around, tried to edge Wes out the door of the bathroom. Wesley only moved so far, and when Xander pushed a little harder, Wesley stopped, stood where he was and let Xander move against him, wet and warm from the water.

"Bed?" Xander said into their next kiss, his hands drifting over Wes's back, down to his hips.

Those hands were driving Wes, making him hungry. He didn't answer, just kissed him again, his own hand moving to weigh Xander's need.

"Wall," Wesley said. The floor was dry, save for the splatters they were now leaving here and there. Probably not a great idea, but here was *here* and the bed was miles away.

Xander was here, as well, and he was still touching him, and Wesley could feel every inch of his body prickling with gooseflesh. He knew it wasn't the sudden cold air on his now-wet body.

He felt Xander laugh, his chest rumbling with light vibrations. "You wanna break an arm? Have to call 911 and have them rescue us, naked and still trying to fuck each other?" Xander's voice half-choked, despite his bravado. Despite the fact that Wesley surmised they both wanted that very thing, very much.

"You don't wriggle too much, we won't have to call anyone," he said, taking another hard kiss before pushing Xander around by his shoulder. Before he could protest Wesley molded himself to his back, one arm going around Xander's waist to grasp his cock lightly. "All right?'

Xander moaned and nodded his head, one arm coming up to brace his weight on the wall, the other reaching back to touch Wesley. Large hands. Xander had large hands, and one of them was encouraging him to move.

Wesley left a sucking kiss on Xander's back as he teased him, fingers too light to make him come, but enough to make him needy, make him rock into his hand and back against Wesley's own erection. Enough to make them both moan. Wesley looked for soap, conditioner, shampoo...anything would do at this point.

He saw a bottle of something; didn't matter what, a toiletry of some sort. It would do. Wesley grabbed it, knocking it over and catching it before it could fall far -- he didn't have to move away from Xander, to grab it.

Actually, he found that knocking it over meant he could flip open the top with one hand, and gathered some of the spilling liquid onto his fingers. He quickly brought his hand back and slipped one finger inside Xander's arse.

Xander gasped, and shoved himself backwards.

Wesley took that as encouragement and slid another finger in. Xander gasped again and his breath hitched as he froze.

"Shhh," Wesley said. "It's okay. Not trying to hurt you. Let me in." A moment or so later Xander relaxed, breathing again. When he started moving, between Wesley's hands, Wes kissed his back again. Lovely.

Wes moved his fingers, thrusting a little harder, giving him more, reaching for the spot that would open Xander for him. Xander cried out and bucked when he found it, and Wes smiled. "More?" he asked.

"Please. God, please--"

Wesley moved easily, as though he'd done this a thousand times. Moved inside Xander as though they'd been here all night, all week. He slid his cock into Xander, fully inside him, and he stopped. Felt him, listened -- smelled him. Xander's arousal, and his need, made it difficult not to fuck him hard.

Luckily, there was no reason not to.

He pulled back, almost pulling completely out. Xander made a noise, and Wesley thrust back in, pushing Xander forward.

He had a thought, that he should do something, take care of something -- but the thought was lost as Xander moaned, and Wesley had to fuck him again.

In, deep in, then back again. Xander's hand left him, slammed against the wall, and when Wes pulled out Xander pushed back, trying to keep him. Wes allowed it, let him move on him, let Xander's body grasp him.

Back and forth, his hips meeting Xander's arse, faster. They barely had a rhythm, but it didn't matter. He slammed into him, fingers digging into Xander's hips, taking him hard. Xander was crying out with every thrust, words, nonsense...it all just meant 'more' and 'harder'. Wes gave him harder.

The need took over, and all Wesley knew was fucking him, fucking the warm, willing, desperate body in front of him. He knew touch, and submission, and he wanted to steal all of it and bury himself inside it.

He fucked, hard, without thought for holding anything back -- without any thought at all, soon enough.

He was shouting, and his throat felt raw. His fingers gripped tightly, and he felt flesh give beneath them. He kept fucking, losing sense of rhythm or the strength he used, as long as the body with his kept moving, kept groaning with his own voice, kept pressing against his own as he came forward.

He needed, and he needed now, and everything, and he couldn't push himself any farther.

He was vaguely aware, somewhere in his body, that Xander's body had shifted, one hand leaving the wall to go to his cock, that his weight wasn't balanced. It didn't matter. He surged forward again, his orgasm starting to take him, his balls tight and hard, his cock plunging into tight heat. He was close, so very close. He could smell Xander, the scent stronger as his prick leaked a steady stream; he could hear flesh on flesh, the slide of his body into Xander's, Xander's hand working himself.

Xander cried out, swearing, as he came, the smell suddenly stronger, the grip of his body tighter. It was enough. Wesley thrust deep into his heat, felt Xander's body clench at him, his climax rushing through him, making him ache.

He couldn't stop moving, even as his orgasm began to fade. Kept moving inside Xander, as long as he could, until his cock had softened so much that he slipped free.

He wanted to keep fucking him even then, but he gasped for air and let himself collapse against Xander's back, instead.

For a long moment they stood there, both of them panting hard.

"I suppose...a shower is in order," Wesley said, grinning.

Xander laughed, still breathing hard. "Yeah. But I think that maybe you should go first. I don't think I'm up to your natural instincts again right now."

Wesley smiled and stood a little straighter, one hand caressing the line of Xander's back until Xander met his eye. "I'm not sorry it was you," he said softly.

Xander smiled back and nodded. "Shower? Sleep. We have company coming."

~*~*~

Xander told himself that he was going to have to take stock of his life. Look back, really carefully this time, and figure out where things had changed.

Once upon a time, monsters were things that his parents told him weren't real, and he only had to be home before dark because he had a curfew. Once upon a time, fairy tales lived in books and in the games he played with his friends on the playground.

Somewhere, he'd got onto the wrong path. Skipped a step and ended up in a parallel dimension where VampireHunter Xander was supposed to be, and he, the real him, was supposed to be hanging out with his friends and talking about stupid TV shows and football teams, and wondering what the hell they were gonna do with their lives.

He had no idea how he'd landed here. Fighting demons, staking vampires, having sex with guys he didn't like who could turn into centaurs.

He wondered if maybe he didn't not like Wesley as much as he thought.

He'd had sex with people he didn't like, before. With people who didn't like him. Two days ago, if you'd have asked him, Xander would have said without hesitation that he didn't like Wesley at all. But now -- and maybe it was just the sex talking, or the what the hellness of him turning out to not be human -- now he wasn't so sure.

He stared at the wall in front of him for a couple more minutes, pondering the question. The wall wasn't helping. Maybe because it was sideways. Or maybe it was Xander who was sideways--laying on the bed on his right side, staring at the wall from a whole new angle. Usually, he slept on his back, or his left side. Usually he didn't have company in his bed.

He rolled over carefully, slowly, trying not to wake Wes. That's when he discovered he didn't have company this time either.

"Wes?" he called quietly, his voice sleep croaky with sleep.

"Here," came the reply, from the other side of the room.

Xander opened his other eye and discovered that helped. "Hey. You're up."

"Well, yes. I thought perhaps one of us should be up and able to answer the door before our...guest arrives." Wesley sounded slightly amused. He was sitting in the chair by the door, fully clothed and ready for...something.

Xander sat up, the sheet pooling around his waist. "What time is it?"

"About eleven. Marie has already been by--I sent her back to her room and promised food soon."

"Wow." Xander was surprised he'd slept through that. Someone knocking on the door usually woke him up -- but maybe she'd knocked extra quietly.

Maybe he'd been half-zonked after some amazing sex.

Then something Wes had said penetrated his brain. "Food? There's food?"

"Actually, no." Wesley glanced towards the small pile of kitchen stuff Xander had on the top of the dresser. Xander usually ate at the club, or the fast food places down the street, but sometimes he kept sandwich stuff in the room. Apparently there was none left -- or perhaps it was old enough to be at the inedible stage. "I presumed we would...obtain breakfast wherever you normally acquire it."

"Donuts and coffee, coming right up," Xander said, yawning and stretching his back before standing up. The sheet fell, and for a second Xander froze.

Wesley just looked at him calmly, and if Xander saw his gaze flick down, well at least he didn't scream like a girl. Kind of late for that, given the assorted aches and pains he was currently feeling. It didn't stop him from blushing though, proving once again that his life was surprising, even to himself.

He reached for his clothes and dressed, trying for an air of casualness. "I'll run over to the club and get some food--only take me a couple of minutes. How do you like your eggs? Do you want eggs? Don't get them scrambled, and stay away from the bacon. The coffee is good, and sometimes the muffins, if Debbie is in, but I'd check first--"

Wesley was looking at him, one eyebrow raised. "I believe I'll have coffee, thank you. And I'll trust you to decide what is most easily digestible, if not palatable."

"Right." Xander reached for his keys. "When is Wade coming? Should I get extra?"

There was a pause, then, "You needn't bother."

Xander nodded, but he saw the weird look on Wes' face. Maybe there was some weird kind of centaur custom that involved food. Did centaurs, full-blooded ones, eat people food? Maybe that was the problem -- Wes didn't know where they could get mown hay in a tiny place like Oxnard.

Well, neither did Xander. "I'll be right back." He patted the ass of his jeans, making sure he had his wallet. Even though they'd simply dock his pay for the food, he still had to leave a tip. He worked with those people, after all.

It didn't take long to run over and place the order; he stood around and chatted with Debbie while he waited, carefully skirting any mention of visitors. He didn't know if anyone had seem him leave with Marie or Wes, but he didn't feel up to dodging nosy questions.

Soon enough he had the bags of food and headed back to the motel. He let himself into the room and started laying the food out on the table while Wesley went to get Marie. It didn't take long to unload the bags and he sipped his coffee for a moment, looking around the room. It was tidy enough, and Wes had neatened the beds, which was nice of him.

Xander wondered if he should try to make more space. How much room did three centaurs and a human need? He was contemplating shifting one of the beds when Wes came back, holding the door open for Marie.

"Good morning," Xander said with a smile. "How did you sleep, Marie?"

"Fine." She sort of smiled, and ducked her head and didn't quite look at him. Xander didn't mind; he wasn't sure if he was up to answering questions from *her* either. He simply pointed her towards her breakfast, and they all settled in to eat.

Xander was almost done with his last muffin and cheese sandwich, when there was a knock on the door. He was taken aback when both Wes and Marie jumped to their feet.

"Um...I don't think bad guys knock. Pretty sure it's just this Wade guy, right?" He reached to open the door, still watching Wes and Marie out of the corner of his eye. He wasn't sure, but it may have been possible he'd never seen Wes's back so straight, not even when he'd first turned up in Sunnydale. Marie was standing next to him, though she may have been trying to hide behind his shoulder a little as well.

Xander pulled the door open and smiled at the man standing there. "Hey. Can I help you?"

The guy looked him over with a quick flash of his eyes; Xander got the impression he saw everything there was to see. "You must be Xander," he said, and his tone was a lot friendlier than his expression. He held out his hand, and Xander shook it.

"Yeah. And you...?"

"Wade." He smiled, and Xander couldn't shake the feeling that there was something about this guy.

He mentally thumped himself on the head. Of course there was. He was a centaur.

"Glad you could make it." Xander stepped back, holding the door open. When Wade just stood there for a second, giving him a curious look before stepping inside, Xander realised what he'd done. "Sorry; old habit. Never invite anyone in, in case they turn out to be vampires."

Wade's face cleared, and Xander expected to have to explain anyway -- how much had he been told about this demon thing? But Wade just nodded, taking it in stride.

Wade stepped past him, into the room, and nodded to the others. "Wesley."

"Wade. Thank you for coming so quickly." Wes spoke politely, respectfully, and Xander had sudden flash that if he'd done *that* when he'd shown up in Sunnydale things might have gone a little easier. Then he thought about Buffy and dismissed the idea.

Wade smiled a little. "Hensen said it was urgent. I didn't argue."

Wesley gestured to the girl beside him. "This is Marie."

Wade stepped a little closer to her, moving around the table. To Xander it looked like he was giving her even more attention than he had himself or Wes. "How are you?" he asked, his tone indicating it wasn't an idle question of politeness.

"I'm good," she said quickly, still caught between hiding and answering clearly. To Xander it looked like she'd been called on in class by an extremely demanding teacher. "I'm... I've told Wesley everything I know about the Crobash demon, and...and I'm ready to help however I can." Her words trailed off a bit, and she frowned slightly, as though she'd suddenly doubted her answer.

"Okay," Wade said. He turned to Wesley, who snapped even further to attention. "A Crobash demon? You better fill me in."

Xander moved to the chair and sat down, looking for more coffee as Wesley told Wade all the pertinent information. When Wade asked questions, Wesley almost turned himself inside out to answer. Xander was more than a little confused by his behaviour. Where was the Wes who took charge, who expected everyone to do as they were told? Where was the man who'd taken complete charge the night before, even though his brain was mush?

Wade didn't do any more than blink when Wes explained about the demon, which for some reason relieved Xander--he didn't want to watch Wesley try to explain the existence of demons. Wade did, however, seem pretty upset at what Darien was doing.

"So you see why I called Hensen?" Wesley asked when he was done.

"Oh yes. I see. That's one stallion who has no business with a herd. And he won't have one, soon enough." Wade turned to Marie, who wilted under his fury. "Where's the herd?" he demanded.

Marie opened her mouth and Xander stood up. "Wait," he said. "Don't you even want to hear the plan?"

Wade turned to him and Xander felt like wilting as well. "Plan? Don't need one. I'll take care of Darien."

"But the demon--" Xander started.

"Xander--" Wesley interrupted. "Please. Let me--"

"No, wait a minute. We have a plan." Xander gave Wade a glare. "It's even a good plan."

Wade was glaring back, now. "I don't think you understand. This is my problem -- I'll handle it."

Xander didn't think he needed to tell Wade how often he'd butted heads with a stubborner-than-thou Slayer. He just asked, "And do you know how you're going to deal with Darien *and* the demon at the same time? Or were you going to improvise?"

"Xander!" Wesley interrupted in a scolding tone, then he seemed to jerk himself back and he conceded the floor back to Wade.

"It's all right," Wade told him, and Wesley seemed to relax -- slightly.

Xander looked at Wesley, not really believing what he was seeing. "You're just going to roll over and let him do what he wants? Let him go after Darien and leave the demon to run around doing its own thing? Come on, Wes! You have a good plan!"

Wes's gaze flicked to Wade again before he met Xander's eyes. "It's not that...this is...If Wade feels that the right thing to do is--"

"He doesn't *know*," Xander insisted. He looked at Wade and stopped. The man was looking at him with one eyebrow raised, a slight smile on his face. He looked...amused.

"Don't laugh at me," Xander said, wincing when he heard the ten year old in him whining.

"I'm not," Wade said calmly. "Please, go on. This is fascinating." The smile was broader now.

"You're laughing at me. I'm trying to tell you there's a demon out there that Wes can stop and you're laughing at me."

Wesley moved closer. "Xander. Calm down."

"I'm not going to calm down until Wade decides that listening to a good plan is worth doing. How is he supposed to be all "good leader" if he can't listen to anybody else?"

Wade was still smiling at him. Xander had an urge to smack him, see if he could make the guy take him seriously.

"Xander, if he doesn't wish--" Wesley stopped again, and Xander wanted to ask him what the hell was with him, sounding like...like... like he didn't matter.

"It's all right," Wade said. "Tell me your plan."

"Finally," Xander muttered. "God, it's like talking to..." he trailed off when both Wesley and Wade gave him dark looks.

Xander sat in the chair again and looked at Wes, waiting. Wesley was giving Wade one of those looks again, like he was making sure he was allowed to talk. Xander frowned. This wasn't a side of Wesley he wanted to get used to. As soon as that occurred to him part of his mind started working on what side of Wesley he *did* want to get used to, and another part started babbling about what that meant.

Quickly, and once more completely to the point, Wesley sketched in what they had talked out. It was like he was giving a report. Xander half expected him to burst into a delighted smile if Wade gave him a gold star sticker.

When Wesley was done, the plan nicely outlined in clear terms that didn't do anything to tell of his own abilities with any pride, Wesley waited, looking patient. Like he didn't expect Wade to agree or approve. Like he'd just do what Wade said.

"So," Xander said standing again. "That's the plan. Need to know anything else? We ready?"

Even Marie gave him a dark look this time.

He wondered what they'd do if he suggested he and Wesley go take care of things, themselves. Luckily he'd worked with Buffy long enough to know how stupid that notion really was, and didn't give it a second thought.

Wade didn't say anything for a bit, and Xander scowled at the way Wesley and Marie just waited patiently. Finally Wade nodded. "You're right, it's a good plan. You two can deal with the demon, while I deal with Darien. That way everything will be fair."

It looked like Wesley was going to collapse from relief. Xander gave Wade another glare anyhow.

"Glad we agreed," Xander said, not sure why he still felt defiant. Maybe it was just that he didn't think Wade really cared -- he'd just waltzed in and taken over and nothing any of them had already done mattered.

Wade grinned, and looked at Wesley. "He's a nice one."

Xander stared. Nice one? How the hell did Wade know he was nice? Then he saw Wesley flush, his eyes immediately dropping. It only took another moment for Xander to catch on, and he flushed as well, but not with embarrassment.

"That isn't any of your business," he said stiffly, reaching for his coat.

"I suppose not," Wade said easily. He looked at Wesley and grinned again. "And he's got fire in him, too."

Xander turned to face him, stopping when Wesley put a hand on his arm. "What?" he asked. "He's allowed to--"

"Just let it go," Wesley said softly. His eyes said please, even if his voice didn't.

Xander nodded and glared at Wade again for good measure. He opened the door and looked out, seeing a Ford pickup. "Your truck?"

"Yes," Wade said, stepping out in front of him and putting the suggested weapons in the back. "Marie can ride with me. You and Wes take the bike."

Xander bit his tongue, then said it anyway. Under his breath. "Yes, sir."

Wade glanced at him. He wasn't smiling, and Wesley seemed about to thump Xander on the arm, or grab him and yank him out of the way. But Wade shrugged. "Sorry. I don't normally deal with humans in this...capacity. I'm not trying to horn in on your territory; I am, however, trying to ensure mine is safe. What will be mine, anyhow. You and your mate are a means to that end, and I appreciate your assistance. But make no mistake -- this herd *is* mine. I won't allow anyone to interfere with that."

"We're not going to interfere," Wesley said smoothly. "I'm sorry. Xander is just...."

"Mates? You're English, too?" Xander asked, ignoring the way Wesley was still trying to play peacemaker. Were all centaurs English? Was Giles- ok, no, he was definitely *not* going there.

"No," Wade said, shaking his head and Wesley seemed to be swallowing his tongue.

After a second, Xander got it, and tried not to swallow his own as well. "Mates?" He spun to look at Wesley. "Mates? When the hell did--never mind. We can talk about it on the bike." He stalked over to the bike and swore. He turned again and Wesley handed him a helmet, looking uneasy.

Wade was standing by the truck, watching carefully. Fine.

"C'mon. We've got a demon to kill," he said, putting the helmet on.

Wesley nodded and put his own helmet on, then straddled the bike. When Xander climbed on behind him he glanced at the truck, happy to see Wade and Marie getting in. "Let's go," he said. "I don't think I want to be under his eye right now."

Wesley didn't say anything, just started the bike and pulled out onto the road, heading for Darien's--Wade's--land. He didn't say anything for a long time. Xander didn't know what to say, so he said nothing. It was easier.

When they were about halfway there Wesley finally raised his voice over the roar of the engine and said, "He thinks we've been together awhile. We're not...mated, in the way you're thinking."

Xander thought about that for a moment. "Okay. But how does he know *anything*?"

"He could smell it," Wesley said calmly. At least, he sounded calm to Xander.

"Eep?"

"Centaurs have a more sensitive sense of smell than humans." Wes sounded like he was describing some boring text out of a book.

"So he knew we were having sex. Or had been. Or--" Xander tried to stop the flow of babble. "Why didn't he just say... lovers or fuck buddies or piece of ass or something? Mates is a weird thing to call it."

Wesley didn't answer at first. Finally he said, "Perhaps he simply thought we were."

Xander thought there was something weird about that, but he couldn't think of what. Yelling back and forth about it over the wind and the engine and through the helmet wasn't the best place to have the conversation, he supposed.

That didn't explain why he went ahead and asked, "Are you gonna stick around for a while after this demon is dead?"

He felt Wesley's back stiffen. "I don't know," Wesley called back to him after a moment. "I hunt demons. Are there really that many in Oxnard?"

Xander knew that was his cue to laugh and let it drop. But he couldn't, for the same reason he always went back for more--from the uglies in Sunnydale, from the people at school, from life. "Not really. I suppose there isn't much here to hold you, is there?"

Oh yeah, he could do bitter.

Wes was quiet for a long moment. "I wouldn't say that, exactly." There was a brief pause as Xander tried to put that in its proper place, then Wes pointed up the road. "Is that it?"

"Yeah," Xander said, relieved and disappointed. "We're here."

~*~*~

Wes watched as Xander started towards the truck. It was Wade's, but at Wade's insistence they'd stopped just short of the turn off and washed it out until the scent of stallion was faint. Added several pine-scent fresheners, and Wade declared that Darien wouldn't notice -- right away -- that Xander was driving a car that belonged to a centaur.

Wesley said nothing as Xander turned and gave them a casual wave before he got in and drove off. He would approach by the road and drive-way; Marie had already gone off through the woods to do her part.

"He'll be fine," Wade said.

Wes turned instantly to face Wade. "Of course he will be," he agreed politely. "Xander has been dealing with dangerous situations for years."

Wade cocked an eyebrow at him and looked thoughtful. "Yeah? Things as serious as a challenge?"

Wesley cleared his throat. "Well, in a way. Xander's been battling demons in one form or another for a long time now. He's been...through a lot." He wasn't deliberately trying to be vague, but Wesley still wasn't sure how much Wade knew about the Hellmouth and the things that lived in a town like Sunnydale.

Wade looked faintly surprised, but let it slide. "Is he good in a fight?" he asked, crossing his arms and leaning back against a tree.

"Of course," slipped out before Wesley even had a chance to consider the question. He realised that Wade wouldn't know that 'of course' Xander could fight. He tried to explain, "I wouldn't have agreed to his coming along if he weren't."

Wade smiled, and nodded his head once. The look on his face said far more than Wesley wanted to see. He started to scowl -- not at Wade, but at the thought of him knowing things Wesley didn't want to think about. He quickly composed his expression, however, before Wade could take any offence.

It was proving damnably awkward to deal with him, even if it was almost purely instinct.

Wade didn't seem inclined to make it easy on him either. "He's young," he stated. "Are human males always so protective of their mates?"

Wesley floundered for a moment. "I suppose so. I...we..." He took a breath. "This is new. We're not mated, not the way you seem to think."

Wade stared at him and suddenly threw back his head and laughed. "Oh yeah. You are. Maybe you just don't know it yet?"

Well now. That was disconcerting. "I assure you, Xander and I are simply--"

"Yeah, yeah. You keep thinking that. But that boy was ready to leap to your defence and you're just as protective of him. Y'all are gonna fight like the devil until you figure out who's in charge, but trust me. You're mated." Wade stood there, grinning at him.

Wesley made every effort to push the thought from his head. "Maybe we should change. Be ready when he signals?" he suggested.

Wade just kept looking at him. "We've got at least fifteen, twenty minutes before he even gets the truck around to the hidden driveway, up it, and to the house. Even though we're only a three minute run away from where he'll be," Wade said smoothly, as though seeing the thoughts in Wesley head that Xander would be that far out of reach for them to come to his rescue if necessary. "He has to take the road. Twenty five minutes before he even finds Darien, I'd bet. If not longer, even with Marie trying to get him to the front gate like she's supposed to."

Wesley didn't say anything for a moment. Wade was right, of course. There was certainly no shame in admitting it.

But neither did he want to talk about he and Xander being *mated* for god's sake. They'd had sex once, and rather ill-done at that. They'd disliked each other until last night, and he wasn't even certain they didn't still feel the same way.

Wesley nodded. "So, what shall we do?" he asked, forcing himself not to pace or move restlessly.

Wade was still leaning casually against the tree, loose limbed and relaxed. "Well, you've told me that Darien will summon the demon, and we already know what I'm going to do to Darien; what are you planning for the demon?"

Wesley straightened, his mind already picturing the fight. "All we really need to do is cut off the thing's head. Xander has the sword in the truck, and once I've engaged the demon it's really only a matter of Xander getting the sword to me."

Wade looked at him intently. "Which he will?" he asked seriously.

"Of course." Wesley wondered where all this surety about Xander had come from. He was certain, however, that it would happen.

Wade grinned. "Mated."

Wesley fought the overwhelming urge to roll his eyes. That would be far too disrespectful. "We are not," he said, determinedly -- realising only as he'd said it that it made him sound exactly like a colt playing at stubbornness. "I'm going to change," he said, not caring if Wade thought it was too early. Stripping down and changing would give him something else to do for...well, a minute.

Wade shook his head. "He seems like a nice guy, Wesley. What would be so bad about being mated to him?"

Wesley really wished Wade would stop using that word. "Nothing," he replied, glad he didn't have to try to not sound irritated. Instinct was a useful thing, sometimes. "Except for the fact we don't like each other."

Even if Wesley was beginning to think that, once this was over, he might find it interesting to hang out with Xander for a while. Not for the sex, or rather, not only. Xander certainly knew how to fight the supernatural -- and traveling alone was not all he'd thought it would be, when he'd first set out.

"Could've fooled me," Wade said easily. "Don't often leap to defend the character of someone you don't like, do you? And the boy was pretty keen on making me see that your plan was good--that you're smart and careful. He wanted me to hear you. Wanted me to approve."

Wesley sighed. Damn Xander for having an attack of fairness in front of Wade. "Yes, well. Sometimes even teenagers can be surprising." He finished taking off his shirt and removed his shoes. He'd feel better when he'd changed forms, he knew it.

Wade shook his head just as Wes started to undo his trousers. "The physical side was good though? You...connected?"

The physical side. He was just human -- and English -- enough to be slightly uncomfortable with this turn in the conversation. Although it might also be due to the fact that the sex had gone rather...badly.

"Connected in the sense that I managed to insult him, and hurt his feelings? And that I'm not certain he ever wants to repeat the encounter, despite my reassurances that I wasn't just using him as a warm body? Yes, I think we connected." He didn't even try to keep the bitterness out of his tone.

Wade looked surprised. "I didn't realize that being half human would affect your senses that much--or at least your sense of smell. I'm sorry. Trust me, Xander wants a...repeat encounter. And if the thought that he *doesn't* bothers you so much, you might want to think on why for a bit."

Wesley was once more speechless, not a condition he was used to or, he found, liked very much. He finished stripping and changed forms, stepping lightly on his hooves. Which immediately brought to mind the last time he'd been in this form, and what had happened.

"I can smell...him well enough," Wesley admitted. "And the problem is...the problem....I didn't warn him," he confessed, looking at the ground. "He...was stroking my coat, and I didn't stop him, tell him what it was doing."

Wade raised and eyebrow. "But you didn't rape him, so what's the problem?"

Wait. Xander wanted a repeat encounter. He wanted a repeat encounter. The fact they'd never got along before now meant....

Wade was smiling. "It's all right, Wesley. Just ask him." Wade's tone was that of one speaking to a rather slow, dim-witted colt. Admitting Wesley felt like such, at the moment.

"I was thinking about...before. We weren't even friends. And then...it really didn't go well, the first time."

"So, next time you can do better."

Wesley thought about it for a long moment, looking around them at the trees, hearing the sounds of the birds but not really registering them. "Is it really that simple?" he asked finally.

"Sure." Wade didn't move at all, seemed perfectly at ease while they waited to go take the herd from Darien. Waited like he was already Herd Stallion, which made sense. He'd have to feel it to make it real.

What Wesley wouldn't do to feel so sure about his own life. "I'll think about it," he said.

Wade nodded. "Take your time. We got a while before we have to go up there, unless something goes wrong."

Wesley raised an eyebrow. "I'm to figure out my life, my future, and Xander's place in it, in the next ten minutes?"

Wade turned to him and grinned. "Why, you need more time? I figure, you get it thought over, we go take care of Darien, then you and Xander head off to work off any remaining adrenaline. Then you talk about what next, together."

His stomach leapt, and turned over, and felt like it was going to crawl up his throat and out. Together. Dear Zeus, there was no way....

He nearly jumped when he felt a hand on his withers. "Relax, Wesley. Just breathe. It'll be fine; trust me."

It was the herd stallion's tone that must have done it, he realised. He relaxed, despite his brain's best attempts to remind him why it was impossible.

"There, that's better," Wade said, sounding satisfied. "Just relax a little, trust your instincts. You know they're right--about Xander, about the demon." Somehow he made the mild admonishment inoffensive, just the statement of fact.

"You're right, of course," Wes offered, feeling looser in his skin. "However, for now, I think I'll just concentrate on listening for Xander's signal." He held up a hand at Wade's knowing grin. "I know it's early. But I'll listen anyway."

Wade sighed dramatically. "You always so worked up before you do something like this?"

Wesley heard himself make an exasperated sound before he could stifle it. "Well, battling demons does tend to get one's nerves a little high, yes."

Wade looked at him, made a 'mmm' noise, and Wesley felt like he'd just been scored on an exam he hadn't known he'd been taking. He waited a moment, and when Wade didn't explain, he asked, "Yes?"

"Comparing the two of you, pre-battle, I'm going to say that Xander will end up in charge."

Wesley gaped at him. Knew exactly what Wade was talking about, because he remembered perfectly well what Xander had smelled like before driving off to confront Darien -- how he'd smelled the entire time they'd made their plans to do this. Excited, nervous, afraid -- but mostly he'd smelled determined.

Like...

Wesley scowled. "That's completely unrelated."

Wade laughed. "Like I said, you two are going to have fun wrestling over who gets to be in charge. I'm just laying my bets."

"Far be it for me to tell you where your money should go," Wesley said shortly. Immediately, he felt chagrined. "Sorry, that was--"

Wade waved it off and grinned again. "See? Fun. You can no more just let him take charge than I could let someone else run up there and take the herd. You two are going to have this out for yourselves." Wade's grin grew even broader and he winked. "Have fun, though. Boy seems strong willed enough to give any stallion fits."

Wesley wasn't sure exactly what to say to that; was, in fact, over ready for a change of topic. "Do you suppose he's talked to Darien yet?" he asked, walking a few paces away, his tail twitching.

"Maybe. Might be a little soon." Wade did, however, start to unbutton his shirt. "I'll change, though. Things could happen fast once Darien starts to panic."

"Thank you. I mean -- good." As though he was the one giving permission? He was woefully out of practise at this, even though his instincts were shouting at him to stop antagonizing the stallion. "I--"

"Don't worry, Wes. Hey, if you land on top, you and me will be equals. Well, in rank if not in number of herd." Wade finished undressing, and changed forms. He was a hand taller than Wesley, but no broader. Arms and legs looked stronger, but Wesley knew he was a better skilled fighter -- with weapons he wasn't permitted to use, should he decide to do something stupid like challenging Wade.

He found Wade looking at him with a raised eyebrow. Wesley gave him a haughty look back. "Who says I'd stop with just Xander?"

Wade raised the other eyebrow. "Not going to tell you that you can't. But I still put my money on Xander, and I think that if you do come out on top? Going to have your hands full, Wesley. But if you want a herd, go ahead and make one."

Wade's stance didn't really change; Wesley would have sworn the stallion didn't move a muscle. He looked bigger though, the space around him filling in. He might as well have added in the part about Wesley not bothering to think about taking *his* herd--they both knew Wes wouldn't. It was instinct though; a stallion talking about herds would make any Herd Stallion's tail twitch.

Wes forced himself not to fall back, but he did lower his eyes.

"And another thing," Wade went on, his tone conversational, "If you figure on taking more than Xander, you might want to let him know that. He's human--might not want to share, might not be suited to being one of many. So if you're just talking to hear yourself try out ideas...well, better just see what you've got with Xander first."

"Yes, I...know." He hadn't thought about it, of course. "I'm half human, myself," he said, totally unnecessarily. "I.. don't mind the idea of just the two of us-- just having one, I mean. I'm not saying--" He stopped. Realised that he might as well, for the sake of ever having a conversation with Wade that did not involve Wade laughing at him, admit certain things he knew he was feeling. "I don't mind it just being Xander and me."

That was not to say he couldn't think of half a dozen others he'd love to proposition. And he knew, from the way certain people had smelled when Xander was in the room, that Xander might feel the same.

Wade shrugged and stepped away a few paces. "Not minding is fine. Having more is fine, too. You two will get it sorted--but after you figure out who's in charge, I'd think."

Wesley nodded again, part of his mind listening for Xander's signal, part of him dwelling on the inevitable struggle for control if he and Xander remained together, and yet another part still lingering on the subtle way scents had changed on occasion when he was in Sunnydale.

"I don't suppose he knows?" Wade asked suddenly.

Wes blinked. "Knows what?" he asked, his brain a mere half step behind the conversation. "Oh. About dominance. No, I rather suspect not, seeing as he didn't know about centaurs before last night."

Again Wade looked at him, full on. Stallion stare. "And you're going to tell him, right?"

It wasn't really a question. Wesley started to get rankled that Wade was acting like.. like his father or something. The only problem was, it wasn't all that...bad, to have a friendly herd stallion giving advice.

"I'm not planning on keeping secrets from him," Wesley told him.

"Not keeping secrets is one thing. Telling him is another."

Wes knew Wade was right, knew as well as the other stallion that there was next to no chance at all that Xander would ask the right questions in the right way that Wesley would have to tell him. "I know," Wesley said out loud. "I do. What I don't know is how--or when--to tell him."

Wade gave him a lopsided grin. "After the battle. After you take him off into the woods for a bit. After that..." he shrugged. "Just not during. He'll need to focus on getting you that sword."

"I wasn't going to have a conversation with him during the fight."

Even if he'd noticed that Buffy, Willow, and Xander were all equally likely to do so, themselves. Folly of youth, he'd have called it -- overconfidence. He tensed. Surely Xander wouldn't get overconfident now. The Slayer wasn't here to lend that feeling of surety. Xander would know--

"Whoa! Wesley, relax," Wade was suddenly beside him. "Ease up, before Darien smells you from here!"

"What? He wouldn't--"

There was no more time for talk, then, as they heard Xander's signal.

Wade took off without any hesitation, not even looking to see if Wesley was with him. Wes knew that it wasn't a slight--Wade just expected him to be there, to be right where he was needed. And he was. They took off as fast as they were able--which, given the treed area, was only a fairly fast canter until they broke out onto the path.

Then they were galloping, covering ground at an astounding pace, drawing nearer and nearer to the house.

Wesley couldn't remember feeling more alive. The wind, the feel of his muscles working the way they were meant to, the sheer exhilaration of running in this form was enough to make him want to shout. It was only what they were running toward that kept him from doing just that. Still, he did see the knowing grin Wade tossed at him just before they put on a final burst of speed and burst through a line of brush along the yard.

Wesley made a mental note to find a place to run, as soon as this was over. Well, as soon as this was over and he'd had a chance to deal with Xander.

He caught sight of the mares as they burst in, but Wesley's attention was only on one thing. Xander. Xander was standing still, facing Darien, with barely a scent of fear.

Even though Darien was in centaur form and pawing the ground. His throat tightened, and without thinking Wesley burst into a gallop, heading directly for them. Wade was ahead of him, though, and it was to him that Darien's attention went.

That was fine. Wesley angled for Xander, and quickly placed himself between him and the two stallions who were about to face off. He wanted to grab Xander, put him on his back, and escape.

Xander's eyes had widened when Wade and Wesley charged up, and he'd fallen back a couple of paces. As Wesley reached him, Xander's eyes locked with his, and the boy said, "Wow."

"Yes. Wow. The demon?" Wesley asked. He knew that it must be a fairly stunning sight, but they really didn't have time for admiration.

Xander blink once, then snapped back to attention. "Coming. Darien was pretty pissed--he cast the spell over there." He pointed to a spot just behind the enraged stallion, and to the right a bit. Where there was currently a black roiling cloud taking shape.

Wesley nodded. "Get ready. The sword?"

Xander ran a few paces away and bent over a fallen log, re-emerging with the sword. "Ready. You?" he asked passing the sword to Wes. "'Cause he's here."

Wesley snatched up the sword and whirled, revelling in the unexpected feeling of freedom, fighting in his centaur form. He felt - balanced, and strong, in ways he'd never felt training as a Watcher. If he'd faced his first vampire like this, it would have been dust in seconds -- not the humiliating minute it had taken him to garner the courage to act.

He leapt forward, kicking at the ground; he landed beside the demon's summoning circle and as the smoke solidified, he swung the sword.

He was vaguely aware of shouting, but ignored it.

The demon, as tall as Wesley in this form but no taller, took shape just as Wes's blade fell. It was humanoid, if one disregarded the hooked talons in place of hands and the clawed hooves, and had thick leather like skin--not enough to stop the sword's path, but tough.

The demon's eyes widened, appearing to take everything in at once as it solidified--the sounds of the stallion battle, the sight of Wesley's deadly challenge, the angry shouts of its summoner as Wade tried to kill Darien. The demon brought up one arm in self-defence almost immediately and Wesley's sword neatly severed it. But the killing blow had been lost, along with the advantage of surprise.

Xander yelled something as the demon stepped forward, howling in pain and rage. Wesley raised the sword again, dancing out of the way and rearing back, ready to strike again. The demon roared, and it was seconded by the screams of stallions fighting. The sound burned Wesley's blood -- made him ache to run, or fight, or both.

He raised the sword to swing, and the demon raised its arms -- both of them. Its severed limb had regenerated already, and it was too late for Wesley to divert his attack. The sword bounced off the arm, cutting into it but not through this time. He yanked it free and tried to get room to attack again and the demon rushed forward.

Something struck it in the chest, and it turned, roaring again. Wesley took advantage of its distraction and swung the sword -- neatly slicing its head off. It began to collapse on itself and Wesley spun around.

"What the hell were you thinking?!" he demanded of Xander.

"I was saving your ass!" Xander yelled back, his eyes flashing with anger, one stiff finger pointing at Wesley's chest. "What the fuck was that? You think just 'cause you're bigger and have four legs you're invincible?"

Xander was shaking. Wesley didn't know if it was fear, or anger or adrenaline, and he didn't care. He smelled wild, of energy and determination; of something base and male and pure Xander.

He was amazing.

Wesley shook his head and stepped forward, forcing Xander back and away from where Wade and Darien were still fighting. "I was fine, and you were bloody stupid--he could have killed you!"

Xander folded his arms, glaring back at him. "And when he took your head off while you were trying to keep him from growing new arms?"

"I was--"

"About to get your head knocked off. I helped. It's dead, we're both not even scratched. Deal."

Wesley glared down at him, furious and confounded by the sheer...inability of Xander to just accept the fact he'd been placing himself in unnecessary danger. "I was fine. I would have ducked his attack and had his head off in another moment."

"So I'm just supposed to stand back and watch you get pummelled?"

Unable to contain himself, Wesley found that arguing from a height above Xander was actually disconcerting -- so he changed forms and stormed up to him, intent on explaining just how, exactly, he'd needed no assistance.

He found Xander's mouth on his and had no idea which of them had kissed the other.

Wes tangled one hand in Xander's hair and plundered the boy's mouth, a low groan passing between them. He was about to get his other hand involved when Darien's scream of rage and fear split the air.

Xander pulled back, eyes wide, and they both watched as Wade reared up, his front legs churning the air before he came crashing down on Darien's body, silencing the screams. Xander's grip on Wesley's waist tightened and the boy made a noise somewhere between a cheer and a wince.

It shocked Wesley out of...whatever it was that had put him here. He didn't let go of Xander -- Xander was holding him firmly, anyhow, and it might not have mattered if Wesley did try to let go.

He waited, calmly, as Wade walked away from Darien's body. Wade went up to the mares -- one of the older ones stepped forward. There was a pause, then she smiled. "Thank you."

It wasn't the usual way a herd accepted a new herd stallion. But it was certainly understandable.

Wade grinned back. "Dispose of his body wherever you do such. I need to make sure the demon's taken care of."

The mares moved almost instantly to do as instructed -- some going to Darien's still form, others vanishing off to other parts -- to where the foals were, no doubt, to let them know what had happened.

Wade walked up to Wesley and Xander, and asked, "Will it come back?"

"It's destroyed," Wesley assured him. "Unless you summon another, its kind won't bother you again."

Wade nodded. He was all-business -- or perhaps it was just the final level of becoming a herd stallion that had settled on him in the last few moments. Wesley was suddenly concerned that perhaps he should be taking his leave.

Then Wade grinned. "Did you two wanna room?"

Xander was already shaking his head as Wesley said, "No. I mean, no thank you." Wes felt like his skin was too tight, the overflow of energy from fighting the demon and fighting with Xander--and then kissing Xander, and the way Xander's hand was sliding over his hip to his thigh, and then there was the spike in Xander's scent...

Wes shook his head along with Xander and swallowed hard. "I think we'll just be...be going."

Wade's grin grew, but Wes was picking up his scent as well, and the looks he was casting about him as the mares cleared Darien's corpse away. Blood and hunger was high in all three of them and the centaurs, at least, knew it.

"Right," Wade said. "Don't worry about...lingering in the trees, you'll not be disturbed." He skipped a few steps away, toward one of the mares who had suddenly stilled, her eyes on Wade. Wade stopped moving long enough to look at Wes one more time. "Thanks. Both of you. And let me know what happens, if you get the chance, Wes." Then he turned his back and walked to his herd, the scent of his own determination and arousal strong.

"Lingering in the trees?" Xander echoed, sounding like he was offended that anyone would suggest such a thing. Offended, except for the way he smelled.

Wesley knew there was no way he was going to be able to wait until they reached the hotel. That reminded him, of course, of the awful way things had gone when his brain had shut off, so he struggled to keep his thoughts clear. "We can take the bike--" he began, and saw Xander looking at him. Head to toe. "Yes?"

"You did have clothes earlier, right?"

"Yes," Wesley said patiently, tugging on Xander's hand to get him moving. "And I had to take them off. To be in my other form. Now, I'm naked."

Xander was still looking at him, his gaze still going up and down Wes's body. Wes gave up on trying to control his physical reactions and worked on his concentration alone. By the way Xander's eyes were dilating and the way Xander was willingly going where Wes led him, the chances of even making the cover of the trees were going down.

"Yeah, you are," Xander agreed hoarsely. "Naked, I mean. Can we go a little faster?"

Wesley walked faster. "Listen to me," he said urgently. "This is...it's instinct, I won't lie. But it's you as well. I mean I want you, and you have to know--"

Xander pulled hard on his hand and Wesley found himself yanked back against Xander's body. "Shut up," Xander murmured, his mouth covering Wes's again. "Talk later."

It was only his human blood that allowed him to still be coherent this long, he knew. "But I don't--"

"You don't wanna have sex?" Xander asked, looking at him, surprised.

"Yes. I mean, yes, I do. I definitely want to." He wanted to be doing so right now in fact. There was no one looking who would care, after all. A few mares who'd be intrigued by two males in human form, but none of the foals -- which always led to really embarrassing questions.

Well, embarrassing for Xander, who might not appreciate an audience at all. That made it rather important to get Xander over to the trees, so they could....wait. There was something else, first.

"Listen to me," Wesley said firmly, stopping and pulling hard on Xander's hand. "This is important."

Xander rolled his eyes but stopped walking and looked at him. Wesley looked into dilated eyes, the scent of Xander's arousal sending his own to near disastrous heights. Far to easy to just take the boy where they stood.

"Last night I didn't tell you," Wesley forced himself to say. He was also forcing his fingers not to begin ridding Xander of his clothes. "And you got hurt. It's a mistake I won't let happen again. You have to know that this...this drive, right now, is strong. But that's not all there is. I want *you*, and if we--"

Xander stepped close, pressing against him. "Wes? Are you saying that you're about to turn into a mindless sex machine and you want me to know that you know it's me? Not just anyone?" And Xander's hand was on Wesley's hip, then his cock and Wesley could only nod. "Good. Can we fuck now?" Then Xander's mouth came down on his.

Wesley kissed him back - hard - and began tearing at Xander's shirt. Pulled it up and couldn't get it off so he left it where it was. Put his hands on Xander's chest, touching his skin and pulling him close and still kissing because right now that was all he could reach.

Xander was kissing him back with equal ferocity -- pushing Wesley's head back, a bit, and Wesley found himself stumbling back a step. Never broke the kiss, but they were moving, one stumbling, blind step at a time.

He got his hands on Xander's waistband, wanting more. Wanted his hands on Xander's arse, on his cock, and he had no idea which of the myriad options he wanted once he'd got that far. Fuck, be fucked, suck him off till he screamed, push Xander to his knees and fuck his mouth....

He'd got one hand inside Xander's jeans when Xander pulled his mouth away and said, "Easy; we're gonna fall."

Wesley ignored him and squeezed the arsecheek he'd got a hold of.

"Okay, falling can be good," Xander said, his breath coming faster. "Just...easy..."

And then Xander was backing them up another couple of steps and easing them down to the ground, barely into the trees. Wesley kissed him hard, taking Xander's mouth desperately as he fought with Xander's jeans. He didn't want to let go of Xander's arse long enough to push the denim out of the way.

It was okay, though. Xander at least seemed to know what to do, wiggling and tugging at the fabric until he had the jeans down far enough to kick them off. They both growled in frustration when the legs got caught on Xander's shoes, but Wesley got distracted by Xander's cock, hard and full, pressing into his belly.

Wes wrapped his hand around Xander's prick and started to stroke it, moaning as Xander thrust into his fist.

"God, Wes--please--" The needy sound of Xander's voice made Wes growl again, and he moved down Xander's body as the boy finally kicked his jeans off and away.

Wesley got Xander onto his back - barely nudging him and Xander was rolling, giving him room. But it may have been that Wes' mouth was already on the tip of his cock, licking and playing with it before engulfing it.

"We-e-e-es," Xander moaned, and one hand found Wes' shoulder, clutching tightly. Wesley opened his mouth and pulled Xander's cock in, halfway, sucking once before letting it go.

Xander was panting, making strangled sounds of need, and Wes' own cock was hard and aching for something.

"I want...." He stopped, still unable to voice it. Could barley think, didn't want to, and he wanted to just focus on Xander but....

"Wes, don't stop," Xander scolded. Then he asked in a more normal -- if still breathless -- tone, "What do you want?"

"I want...fuck...."

"Which way?"

And that, of course, was the problem. Wesley had a vague awareness that Wade would be laughing himself sick at this point, if he weren't busy with a mare himself.

Wesley took a deep breath and let go of Xander. Completely. He rolled a way a little and closed his eyes, taking another breath in through his nose.

"Wes? What's the--" Xander didn't sound hurt, not yet, but he certainly sounded confused. Wes couldn't really blame him, the amount of mixed signals Wes was giving him was extraordinary.

"Xander, a moment. I need to...get a little control over myself. I have to tell you something, right now."

A large hand slid down his back and Xander made a disbelieving noise. "Right now? Can't you tell me later? Like, after the sucking and the kissing and--"

"Xander!" Wes's eyes snapped open and he stared at the young man, want building again. "Now. It must be right now. Centaurs--you saw me with Wade, correct? We talked a little about dominance and Herd Stallions?"

Xander nodded, still looking confused. Wesley kept his own gaze firmly on Xander's face, trying to ignore the scent of sex and need.

"It extends to more than just...." He couldn't think how to explain it. Nearly half of his vocabulary was lost in the fog his brain had become, and his body was screaming at him. "Than just... Wade. And I."

Xander frowned. "OK. You-- Oh." His expression went neutral, then it slowly began to change. Wesley couldn't tell what he was thinking; Xander looked almost amused, but not entirely.

"I'm sorry," he said quickly, visions of this conversation going exactly as badly as the first one. Perhaps he should give up trying to talk to Xander before or after sex. Maybe he should give up sex with him altogether?

"No, don't be," Xander said calmly. "So this is about top or bottom? You gotta be on top?" As soon as he asked, Xander frowned. "No, except you said Wade was dominant over you. So--" He grinned. "I get to fuck you?"

Oh dear God.

Wes had actually begun to move forward before he caught himself. "Yes. I mean, no. I mean--Christ. It's not a top or bottom issue. Well, I suppose it is, really, but that's not the *whole* issue--"

"Want to," Xander said, he hand on Wes's back sliding down to his ass. "Want to fuck you, Wes."

Wes shuddered, his fine hold on control slipping further. "God, Xander. Let me say this, *please.*" He took another breath and cupped Xander's face in the palm of one hand. "It's about who's in charge within the relationship. About who has the control, who's the leader. Once--God, I want you--we decide, that's the way it is. I'm half human, and you're all human, so we might be able to consciously change it, but we have to...figure it out."

"We have to decide *now*?" Xander said, sounding taken aback. "Before anyone gets fucked?"

Wesley nodded, and started to try to explain why, but Xander spoke again.

"But we already had sex. You didn't say anything about being dominant."

Wesley sighed. The longer this conversation went on, the more difficult it was to continue. "It has to do with feelings and relationships, not just fucking," he said, and he was really, really having trouble thinking. Every time either of them said the word, his body urged him to move forward. Take or be taken, as far as his cock as concerned it was a non-issue. "Not like it was last night--just...doing."

Xander blinked. "So we can't fuck until we talk about this? Can you do blow jobs?"

"Of course. But--"

"Fine. We'll trade, and then we can talk about this when neither of us is about to die of blue balls."

And then Xander kissed him and Wesley's control snapped. They kissed furiously for a moment, thrusting against each other until Xander finally pulled away, his eyes huge. "Shift," he said hoarsely.

Wes shifted, his hands all over Xander's body as Xander licked a quick path down his stomach. "Oh God."

Xander didn't say anything, just pinched at Wes's nipples as his mouth brushed over Wes's balls, his tongue darting out to wet them. When Xander licked up one side of Wes's cock to the tip, the both moaned.

Wesley ignored the grass and twigs under his back. Nothing breaking skin, so he let himself go. Xander's tongue was driving him insane, and he couldn't keep still.

Writhing and shouting as Xander sucked and licked, Wesley couldn't keep his hips still -- it was all he could do to avoid shoving his cock into Xander's mouth.

He dug his fingers into the grass, clutching at blades and shifting his feet back and forth as he kept his thrusts as short as he could. Xander was fingering his balls, now, and swallowing just the tip of his cock.

"Xander," he gasped, wanting more, wanting Xander to suck him, wanting Xander to go faster, to go slower, to do something.

Xander stopped and looked up at him. "Yeah, Wes?" he asked, almost politely. Only the heat in his eyes let Wes know how close Xander was to losing control as well.

"Suck me," Wes said, thrust his hips up.

Xander's eyes flared and he opened his mouth, taking Wes in deep. He sucked lightly, his tongue playing over Wes's cock as his head bobbed. When he teased at Wes's foreskin Wes groaned, his hips moving more forcefully.

Wes reached for Xander's shoulders, his fingers digging in as he fucked Xander's mouth. "Let me," he said brokenly. "Turn. Want you."

Xander seemed to understand, freezing for a second before he turned, his body shifting around until Wes could touch him, feel his arse, his prick. And then a little further, and Wes could lick at the weeping head of Xander's cock and pull the flavour into his mouth.

He continued to do so - licking, teasing the cockhead as Xander sucked him, until he felt a light pinch on his arsecheek. He groaned, and he heard Xander laugh.

"Turnabout, fair play," Xander said, and Wesley had no idea what he was talking about. He kept licking Xander's cock, and felt Xander begin to do the same. Light, quick brushes of the tongue, here and there with no discernible pattern.

Wesley groaned. Xander was driving him mad. He found himself pushing his cock forward again, trying to get more, wanting to fuck Xander's mouth. He felt another pinch. He opened his mouth to say something, anything. To beg, to plead, to say stop it. But as soon as he did, Xander's hips pushed and that lovely thick cock eased between his lips, and Xander groaned.

"Thank Christ," Xander mumbled, then Wes's own prick was bathed in wet heat, Xander finally sucking him off like he was supposed to.

Oh. Oh! Wes didn't waste time trying to figure out where his brain was--he knew it was gone and possibly being sucked out his cock. Instead, he started to treat Xander in kind, licking around the flared head and pressing the flat of his tongue against the head.

Xander moaned, and Wesley sucked a little harder, the vibrations making his own cock throb, his balls ache. He moaned back, and Xander thrust hard into his mouth, apparently unable not to.

Wes let his mouth and throat open as much as he could, taking Xander's cock in as far as he could. He wanted to swallow him whole, wanted to *be* swallowed. He gripped Xander's leg with one hand, trying to hang onto him as though he'd roll away and disappear.

Xander was fucking his mouth, now, and Wesley found himself lying almost entirely still, focused on the cock in his mouth. His own cock was still throbbing, still being licked and sucked but it was almost less important than the cock in his mouth.

He sucked, hard as he could, and Xander moaned again. The sound thrummed into his cock, which made Wes moan, and he felt Xander jerk in response. The feel of it - the scent and the mouth on his cock and everything was short circuiting the last of Wes' control.

He groaned and pulled Xander deeper into himself, felt the head of Xander's cock slip into his throat, and he swallowed. He had one hand on Xander's arse, the other teasing at the soft skin behind Xander's balls, and he knew Xander was close. As close as he himself was, his cock almost aching it was so hard.

Xander bucked, then froze, a long low moan coming from his chest, taking Wes to knew heights as the vibration settled in his balls. Wes swallowed again and Xander's cock throbbed as he came, hips moving raggedly with each pulse.

Wesley swallowed, sucking on Xander's cock as hard as he could with Xander thrusting. Xander's fingers were digging into his thigh, and his shouts were muffled, throat slipping wider and Wesley's cock slipped in, farther, and he started to come.

He tried to keep swallowing, but his cock had finished taking over. He let Xander slip from his mouth and his head fell back onto the grass. Xander moved with him, keeping in contact but moving his mouth and replacing it with one hand. Fisting him fast, and tightly, Wesley barely noticed the change.

He cried out, hips jerking as he thrust into Xander's hand, his hands scrabbling for something to hold onto as his body twitched and climbed toward his climax.

"Come on, Wes," Xander said in a tight voice. "Wanna watch you come."

Fire raced through Wesley's blood and his body surged upward, stomach clenching as he started to shoot. Xander's hand kept stroking him, his voice making Wes's blood roar in his ears and he went over, cock swelling with each spasm of his orgasm.

Then Xander was kissing him, Wesley unsure when he'd moved, but grateful he had. He didn't try to move at first, content to lie there and kiss Xander. He was calmer now, able to enjoy the kiss without having to rut like a mindless animal. Not, of course, that there was anything wrong with that.

Xander propped himself on his elbow and grinned at him. Wesley reached up and brushed his hair with his fingers, enjoying the length of the fringe and the way it hung, to partially cover his eyes.

Xander's smile mellowed into something soft. "Was that okay?" he asked, almost shyly.

Wesley blinked, unable and unwilling to stop his own smile. "Yes. More than okay." And better, it had cleared his head enough that he could think, though the need for more was still there, just below the surface. The blaze of fire had been dimmed, but it still burned.

Xander kissed him again, softly. "So. You gonna talk to me?"

Wesley nodded. He had to. "It's...not really as complicated as it's going to sound. But it is important."

Xander nodded, looking serious. But he didn't shy away, or look uncomfortable, just willing to listen.

"I told you.. male centaurs have a...an inbred need for...being dominant, or else accepting dominance. It isn't fluid, as it is for humans. The power structure. For centaurs it's a... once and forever thing, until someone makes a challenge," he nodded towards the patch of field where Wade and Darien had fought. "I'm half-human so the instinct for some things isn't as strong as it is for full-bloods. But I still...need certain things."

"And you need to be dominated?" Xander asked, voice showing he was taking this seriously. "But - you fucked me last night. What did you mean that it was different?"

"For...a casual one-off, I never... I maintain my dominance. But I seem to be...uncertain, now. Which of us is in charge. And I can't... I need to know. So I know how to behave. While we're having sex or otherwise. And I don't mean consciously behave. I just..." he shook his head and tried again. "I told you my brain shuts down during sex. Well, it did that -- and yet I couldn't tell you what I wanted. To fuck you, or be fucked. Because I didn't know."

Xander looked at him steadily, his eyes serious and thoughtful. To Wesley's surprise he seemed to see right to the heart of the issue, accepting what Wesley was saying as a matter of fact. "So, this isn't some casual thing."

Wesley shook his head, not sure what to say. "I...no. It's not. Not anymore."

Xander accepted the admission calmly, though Wesley could see muscles jump under his skin, his eyes growing slightly confused before they warmed again. "Okay. What do you mean by needing to know how to behave? Like, you need orders?"

"No." Wesley shook his head. "It's more like...if I'm dominant it's my job to make sure you're safe. To protect you. And if you're dominant I need to know that I belong to someone, need to know who I'm supposed to listen to."

Xander looked more surprised now, and a little flustered. "Protect me? Listen to? Christ." He ran a hand through his hair and stared at Wes. "And you don't know which you are? You think I *could* be dominant?"

"I don't know which...we prefer," he said, carefully. It wasn't precisely the case -- Xander could very well chose to be dominant and Wes could find himself refusing to go along. That was the trouble with instinct. But he was human enough that he couldn't do nothing and just let nature take its course. "If it helps, think of it as no more different than any other relationship. There's give and take, but sooner or later one person tends to be in charge."

Xander laughed. "OK, so that would be Cordelia, Faith, and..hmm.. every other woman I've known. So looks like you'd better be the one in charge."

Wesley was already shaking his head, though it took him a moment to realize it. "Don't do that," he said, irritated. "You're strong. You're brave--you do stupid things like attacking demons to protect people. You stood up to Wade and made him listen to the plan. You are more than capable of being dominant, and--"

Wesley stopped suddenly, realization sinking in as he stared at Xander. Xander was all that. Xander didn't hesitate to leap to Wes's defence, with Wade, the demon, any of it. A wave of need and raw desire swept over him and moved closer, kissing a startled Xander very thoroughly.

"Want you," he said into the kiss. "Need you."

"Buh?" Xander managed in between Wesley's assault on his mouth. After several more minutes of Wes sucking on Xander's lip, and tongue, Xander got a hand on Wesley's chest and pushed, but gently. "I can see I'm going to have to take you outside more often, is this is what happens. Or do all centaurs have sex twenty times a day? Not objecting," he said quickly. "Just confused. aren't we having a serious talk that leads to figuring out who gets to fuck who?"

Wesley nodded. They were. They had. And now he wanted Xander. Wes reached for him again.

Xander kept trying to talk, so Wes kissed him again, one hand pulling Xander on top of him, the other buried in Xander's hair as he fucked his mouth with his tongue. Xander evidently gave up the effort to figure out what was going on with words, and let Wesley roll them over so Xander was on top, their erections grinding together.

When Wes spread his legs and Xander settled against him, thrusting into the hollow of his hip, Xander's eyes went wide. He pulled back his head, though his hips kept moving. "Christ, are you sure?"

Wes nodded and dove into Xander's neck, sucking up a mark. "Fuck me."

"But this.. this is..." Xander stared at him -- cock still hard and his hips were still moving slightly in the right rhythm. "Fuck, I'm not ready -- Wes...."

Wesley stared at him, unable to understand why Xander wouldn't just fuck him already. They'd talked, they'd decided, and now there was fucking. But he saw that Xander was growing slightly pale, and as he watched, Xander stilled his motions completely.

"I didn't even like you two days ago, and now...you want...." Xander gabbled.

Wesley reached up and brushed a thumb over Xander's lip. "This is not a commitment. This is us, now. It's sex, and relating, and dealing with... us, but it's not a commitment. It's the way things are with us, right now."

Xander's eyes went wide in an expression of relief. "I thought you meant...."

"If we mate for life I promise to warn you," Wesley said, joking as well as he could when he wanted to be having sex. HIs brain was flickering, and he knew soon he wouldn't be able to make jokes at all.

"You better. And if we slip into some other dimension or something, I want to know that, and if we--" Xander was starting to babble, but he was also starting to move again, his hips rocking slowly against Wes.

Wes was barely listening, anyway. Once Xander started to relax Wes could feel his control starting to slip away, the fire starting to flare again. His own hips were moving, his cock getting harder as they rubbed, his breath coming faster once more. He kissed Xander, silencing the babble, their mouths wide and hungry. His hands were on Xander's hips, guiding him, and after a moment he moved them back and lower, kneading Xander's arse.

It was a lovely arse. Firm and strong and the skin was smooth and he just wanted more. His legs spread even more, coming up to wrap around Xander, thrust speeding and growing harder, more instant. Xander moaned, and Wes held on, his body arching.

"More," Wes panted. "Need you in me."

"Really? 'Cause I hadn't noticed," Xander said, and Wes loved his tone of voice. Happy, amused, thick with arousal.

But he wasn't fucking him, and that needed to changed. Wesley pulled at him, hands and legs and moaning.

"Should I mention I've got a rock under my knee?" Xander asked, moving forward but stopping as soon as his cock touched Wes' arse. Wesley whimpered, and Xander kissed him, hard. "God, I lo-- Do that again."

Wesley had no idea what he was talking about, but Xander's cock was still rubbing against him. Not fucking. He bit his lip then whimpered again.

"Oh, yeah. Like that."

"Xander," Wes said weakly. "Please. I need--"

"I can tell," Xander said with a hot little grin. "Love the sounds you make. Fuck, you're something like this." And the head of Xander's cock passed over Wes's hole again, slippery and hot.

Wes gasped, his hips rocking.

"So," Xander said, finally a little breathless. "Don't suppose you know what we can use as lube?"

Wesley shook his head, not really able to speak. "Just--it's fine, just--"

Xander shook his head, one hand guiding his cock around and around, driving Wesley insane. "Not okay." Then there was a finger tracing Wes's lower lip. "Get it nice and wet, Wes."

It took no more encouragement for Wesley to suck Xander's finger into his mouth. He sucked, hard, then began licking Xander's finger with his tongue -- pressing on his fingertip and feeling the whorls before sucking again, hard.

Xander was moaning like he was about to die.

Finally -- with seeming great reluctance, he removed his finger and pressed it into Wes' arse. Wes found himself relaxing -- dear Zeus, finally, he thought as Xander finger-fucked him. Then he pulled his finger out and put that hand on the ground, shifting his weight.

"Now the other one," Xander said, breathlessly, holding his other hand above Wesley's mouth.

Wesley growled in frustration, but Xander rubbed against him again and they both gasped. Wes opened his mouth and sucked on the offered fingers, his eyes closing as he gave himself over to the sensation of sucking and playing, wetting them as much as he could.

His hips were rocking still; he was unable and unwilling to stop, and it seemed to make Xander breath faster anyway. Xander groaned again and pulled his fingers out of Wesley's mouth with a wet pop, his weight shifting again.

Wes opened his eyes to watch as Xander eased his spit slicked fingers into Wes's arse.

"Oh God." Wes wasn't sure who said it, and he didn't care.

All that mattered was that Xander was opening him, fucking him with thick fingers, the young man's eyes wild and hot on him. Wes ground down onto Xander's fingers, riding them hard, and Xander finally seemed to lose his own control, moving to his knees and wrapping his other hand around his cock, slicking it with pre-come.

Wesley didn't try to stop any of the noises coming from his throat. Couldn't have if he'd wanted to, because it felt so good, Xander's fingers inside him and his presence above him and... dear, merciful Zeus, Xander's cock was pressing against his arse and he had to spread his legs wider, lift up his hips to get him inside that much sooner.

"You're gonna kill me," Xander breathed, but it didn't matter because he was pushing inside, finally, pushing his cock inside Wesley and Wesley nearly shouted. Tried for purchase on the ground, fingers scrabbling at grass and dirt and he couldn't hold still, writhing and pushing his hip upward to get more.

His throat closed, a little, and he gasped for air as Xander stopped, only a little ways in, and pulled out.

"No--" came out, and he clamped his jaw shut and tried not to whimper.

"Got to-- Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck." Xander was gasping, himself, and there was a finger on his arse again, touching him. "Don't want to hurt you, Wes."

"You won't," Wes insisted. "Unless you keep stopping!"

But Xander just shook his head and pressed his fingers back into Wes, slowly, far too slowly. Wes shifted his hips, trying to get Xander to go deeper, to go faster, anything. Anything. "Please!"

Xander moaned and thrust two fingers deep, his eyes wild. "God, Wes. So tight, so hot. Don't want to hurt you."

Wes bit his lip, pushing back hard, and Xander moaned again, pulling his fingers back and adding a third. And that hurt, even Wes could recognize that, but he didn't care. Xander apparently did, as he spit into his free hand and added saliva as best he could.

Then three fingers drove into Wes, stretching and probing, and Wes cried out, his back arching.

"Christ," Xander swore, pulling his fingers out again. "Gotta--fuck Wes. Gotta. Now."

Wes couldn't breathe, not really, as Xander's cock pushed into him, not slowly anymore, just taking him, sliding in and filling him, a deep hard thrust that made them both gasp. Wes's hands flew from the dirt to Xander's hip, trying to get him to keep going, to move, to stay, to just do it.

Xander's mouth fastened on Wesley's neck, and finally finally it was happening. Xander fucked him, deep and hard, with long strong thrusts that made breath seem wholly unnecessary.

All Wes tried to do -- all he could do -- was ride it out. Let Xander fuck him, fill him, push him beyond any vestiges of thinking to where all he could do was take in the feel and the scent and the knowledge of being fucked.

He held onto Xander as tightly as he could, hands and legs latched on like they'd be separated by the wind if he didn't keep hold. Xander continued fucking him, hot air on Wes' neck as he exhaled in sharp, gasping puffs. Kissed him again, grinding their mouths together as if fucking him twice.

Wesley screamed and came, bucking his hips as if throwing him. Held onto Xander tightly, so the sensation would never end.

Xander froze for a moment, became so utterly still that Wesley noticed it, felt the muscles on him, under his hands, in him, all tense and stay that way. Then with a loud cry Xander moved, surging up into him, fucking him harder and faster. Wesley rocked with him, his back starting to scrape in the dirt as Xander ploughed into him, but it didn't matter.

All that mattered was the look on Xander's face, the wonder and astonishment in his eyes, and the base need.

"Yes," Wesley managed to say. "Gods, yes. Like that, harder, Xander. Fuck, so good."

Xander cried out again, his back arching as he pushed deep with his hips, his cock stabbing into Wes.

"Come for me," Wes gasped, and Xander called Wes's name and did just that. Wesley could feel him, the thick prick in his arse twitching as Xander filled him, heat spreading through Wes's body.

Xander kissed him then, sloppy and spent, so sweetly it made Wes almost purr.

"God, Wes. So good," Xander whispered into his mouth. "Feel so good."

Arms and legs still wrapped around him, Wesley held Xander as best he could in their somewhat awkward position -- where they could kiss, and yet not push Xander free.

He wanted to stay like this. Keep Xander in him, keep kissing him. Keep ignoring whatever it was that was scraping up his backside. His heart rate was beginning to slow down, the one human thing he'd inherited over his centaur nature, that after orgasm he did not bounce back quite the same way as a full-blood did. His human lovers always seemed to prefer it that way, anyhow. Sleepy cuddling instead of bouncing out of bed to clean the garage and repaint the roof.

Xander seemed to be headed the way of sleepy cuddling right now, in fact. Wesley smiled, and sighed.

"Really. There's a rock digging into my knee," Xander said.

"Mmm. That doesn't sound good," Wes said, not moving.

"No, it's not. Kinda rocky, you know?" Xander didn't move either.

They kissed again, and Wes found himself smiling. Xander looked so amazing like this, newly fucked, relaxed and sweaty. He smelled good too, strong and male and safe.

"It's still there," Xander said with a grin.

"Bad rock," Wes replied, his hands smoothing over Xander's back.

"Uh huh. Wes?"

"Mmm?"

"I don't wanna move."

"But you have to," Wes acknowledged with a sigh. "All right."

"Don't *want* to," Xander said again. "Like being in you," he added in a whisper.

Wesley opened his mouth, but found that words had deserted him, leaving him with nothing to say at all which would equal the admission or what he was feeling. He contented himself with pressing a kiss to the nearest part of Xander he could reach and tightening the hand he still held on Xander's back.

He hoped it was enough.

After another long moment Xander sighed and shifted, slowly pulling out and away, only to curl up against him again on the forest floor. "What now?" the young man asked softly.

Wes closed his eyes and took a shallow breath. What now, indeed. "First we try to clean up a little, and you get dressed. Then we retrieve my clothes and the bike, and leave Wade's land while he's still feeling indulgent."

Xander snorted softly and mumbled something that might have been 'Don't wanna move', but he rolled away and sat up, looking around them. "Uh, do you see my shirt?"

Wes pointed wordlessly over to the left where the garment dangled from a low hanging branch. Then he watched as Xander untangled the legs of his jeans from his shoes. He pointedly told himself he wasn't merely ogling Xander while he did so.

Xander caught him watching and looked away as he dressed, colour rising in his cheeks even as he grinned. "Stop that."

"Stop what?" Wes asked as he stood, wiping his skin free of dirt, leaves, and other substances. Not all of them came off.

"Watching me like that. Makes me think your instincts might be a little out of whack, or at least in hyper-drive." He looked faintly alarmed. "You do calm down a bit, right?"

"Well, it isn't every day that I fight...oh. Well, we'll just have to see, I suppose."

Xander pushed his feet into his sneakers and looked at Wes, meeting his eyes almost shyly. "We're not... mated for life?"

"No," Wes assured him. And then for some reason he couldn't fathom he felt compelled to add, "Although Wade seems to think it's only a matter of time."

Xander's eyes widened. "Um. Well. Uh."

Wesley winced. "He seems to think that we're rather well suited, although we'll have a certain amount of conflict sorting out the dominance issue." No way was he going to let Xander know Wade's prediction of that particular outcome.

They started walking toward the bike and Wesley's clothes were. The pine needles and twigs on the barely there path were not exactly suited to Wes' bare feet and he wished they could just get there so he could dress and they could be on their way... where?

Xander stopped walking suddenly and faced him. "Doesn't it hurt walking barefoot?"

Wesley glanced at him. "Not really," he said with a certain amount of hesitation.

"Why don't you...I mean... you know. Change?"

Wes blinked at him for a moment, chagrined. "I could," he said, "but I thought you might..." He trailed off and shrugged. The idea hadn't even occurred to him, lost in thoughts of what they were going to do next.

"I might what?" Xander asked, grinning at him in a knowing way.

Wes sighed and changed. Oh, that was much better. They moved a little faster, and Wes contemplated offering to let Xander ride, but decided that now was not the time to hold a beginner's riding lesson.

"Wes?"

"Yes?"

"Can I... you know. Ask you questions and stuff about what it's like to be a centaur? Later, I mean, after we're... clean. And have had something to eat. And when I asked 'what next' I kinda meant in a slightly more long term sense than just the next ten minutes, like if you're going to just drop me off at the motel and head out of town. 'Cause that would be okay, if that's what you want to do, but I wouldn't mind if you stuck around for a bit. You know. If you wanted to."

Wesley stopped. Xander stopped. They looked at each other for a long moment, and Wes could see every doubt that Xander had written large on his face; insecurity, hope, the expectation of being left. It was all there, and it drew Wes in, further than he's thought he was going to go.

"Do you like your job?"

"Oh, I love washing dishes in a strip club. It's my dream job."

Wes changed his form again and stood in front of Xander, close enough to feel the heat from the younger man's body. "I can't stay in Oxnard long. It's too close to Wade's land, we'd both be... uncomfortable."

Xander looked miserable, his eyes closing off. He took a step back. "Sure. I understand."

"Come with me."

Xander stopped, staring at him. "What?"

Wesley was fairly sure his mind was still rolling around in the dirt, or maybe back there fighting the demon. He didn't really care. "I can stay a short while, but when I leave... come with me. Track demons, put your life in danger fairly regularly, travel with no guarantee of having a place to sleep every night."

Xander tilted his head, as if considering. "I bet no one else is having a summer as interesting as mine." And then he smiled as he stepped forward. "Sure."

Wes smiled back, his heart suddenly easy. He'd tell Wade he was right but he figured the stallion knew that, so he just kissed Xander instead.