Buffy ready

"Gunpowder Tea" commentary (Buffy/Wesley, all audiences)

As requested by snickfic.

“Gunpowder Tea”, Buffy/Wesley
general, no warnings
tags: angst, author’s favorite, buffy, guns, merrick, season 3, tea, wesley, wishverse
This one was written for the Buffy round of hetfic_minis, to noelia_g’s prompt: “wishverse, tea, lines: ‘I expected you to be taller’ ‘Well, I expected you to be dead’”, no character death wanted.

In the Wishverse, no character death is a bit of a challenge, especially because Buffy, er, doesn’t make it in that ’verse. So I decided to AU the canonical AU by keeping her alive. This is all set after the events of “The Wish”.

One of the advantages of managing one’s writing with a change control tool is that I can look back at every version of a file checkpointed. I can look at my repository browser on github & see what I wrote first for this story. The working title for this story was “Second Hand”. It’s saved in a file named “bwes_shotgun.text”, which means I had the shotgun idea from the start. I also had the opening interchange between Buffy and Wesley straight off.

The minis ficathons give you one week to write, so this was written quickly. File created Feb 12 2008, first draft checkpointed Feb 17, minor edits same day, then posted.

Writing this was a challenge because we don’t see Wesley in the Wishverse. What would he be like? There has to be a core of season 3 Wes-ness in him, but he has to be moved by the universe around him just as the other characters we see are.
Wesley finished dismantling the first of Merrick’s two shotguns. They were in a sad state, clogged and rusty in places. Most of Merrick’s firearms needed attention. The dead Slayer had apparently only known what to do with his knives and stakes. Wesley was running the first of several patches through the bore when the door rattled. He froze. Merrick’s house was not in the best of neighborhoods, and he’d already had to make a point to the local youth.
This story has a ruling metaphor. Its development starts in that first sentence, which is where it has to start. I draw your attention to the condition of those shotguns and I keep bringing it back there through the story. And right away I connect “the dead Slayer” with them.

That first paragraph has a lot of work to do, I notice. I have to set up the AU situation as quickly as I can: we’re Wishverse, but we’re different. Merrick lived past the events of Buffy’s calling and was her Watcher in Cleveland. Then he died, circumstances unspecified. Wesley has inherited what Merrick left on his death. Mentioning Merrick’s name does some of my heavy lifting, because it makes a connection between him & Wesley that did not exist in canon.
A key slid into the lock and failed to turn. Whoever was on the other side shook the knob impatiently. Wesley stood, taking one of the fresh stakes with him. A blonde girl stood on what had been Merrick’s front porch. Wesley recognized her from the file photographs: the dead Slayer. Buffy, not a nickname, Summers. Her hair gleamed under the porch light. She wore a leather jacket and fatigues, and a military duffle sat at her feet. She looked put out.
A description of Wishverse!Buffy. Wesley has never seen her in person before. The info in the file meets the girl in the flesh.
The stake slid from sleeve to hand without Wesley’s conscious input.
He believes she’s dead; she’s on his porch; ergo, she’s a vampire.
“Huh,” the dead Slayer said. He watched her eyes flicker as she scanned. His face, to his feet, to the dim room behind him, back to his face. He did not let the stake waver. “Who are you?”
Character work for Buffy. She doesn’t flip about the stranger in her house. Instead she scans for threats or more information. No Buffybabble. She’s terse.
“Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.”

“I’m–”

“Buffy Summers. I know.”

“So, can I come in or what?”

“Can you?”

Buffy gazed at him, calm and unfazed by his suspicion. She stepped over the threshold slowly, palms out to make her intentions clear. Once she was through the door, uninvited, Wesley grasped her wrist, checked for a pulse. Warm, breathing, alive. So. He had a Slayer after all. He released her reluctantly.
Whatever is going on at the Cleveland Hellmouth, it’s not all hugs and puppies. She’s entered without an invitation and Wes is still jumpy.
“I take it they finally sent me a new Watcher.”

Wesley blinked and shut the door behind her. “Yes.” He shot the dead-bolt, and turned to find the Slayer watching him, head tilted. She gave him a tiny smile.
First hint of warmth between them.
“I expected you to be taller,” she said.

“Well, I expected you to be dead.”
The interchange from the prompt. I wonder if Noelia meant this to be the other way around: Buffy expecting Wesley to be dead post-NFA, Wesley commenting on how short she is. But my mind went: wishverse!Buffy dead, how not dead? aha! Idea!
“Dead?”

Wesley tucked the stake into the back pocket of his jeans. “A new Slayer was called a week ago. Leather trousers, tattoos, chip on her shoulder. Furious with me for existing. Not shy about telling me so.”
A jeans-wearing Wesley: the Wishverse turns all Watchers scruffy and unshaven. Also a description of Wishverse!Faith. Hmm, I wonder if Kendra was skipped over in this verse.
He gestured toward his face and the traces of what had been a spectacular shiner. Buffy went up on her toes to examine it. Her fingers brushed his face where it was sore– hot skin, Slayer hot. Wesley shivered. She laughed.
First hint at Wesley’s response to her.
“Explains the point-first welcome. Where’s the new chick?”

“I sent her to Sunnydale. To clean up, ah–” After your death, Wesley did not say.

Buffy shrugged and strode into the sitting room as if she belonged there. She did belong there. She had far more right than he. She slung her duffle bag into a corner. Wesley heard the rattle of metal on metal. “Good. The guy there was in over his head. Bitter about it. Called himself something weird. Watcher without a portrait or something.” She made a face.
Wesley feels like he’s an intruder. He’s Merrick’s heir but he hasn’t settled in all the way. Also note that Buffy is still Buffy with the malapropisms.
“Portrait? Ah.” Wesley laughed. “Watcher without portfolio. Well. He has one now.”
Giles now has a Slayer on the Hellmouth. I wonder if they’ll get along. That would be an interesting story.
Buffy shrugged. “Good luck to her. Gonna go wash the Greyhound off. Assuming you didn’t already get rid of my stuff?”
More character work in this indifference to whether her possessions have been thrown out. Remember the condition of those shotguns? Buffy must be shown to be in the same state: badly cared for, banged up.
Wesley shook his head. Buffy made no further small talk with him, but vanished down the hallway, leaving her duffle where it lay. He heard the shower running moments later. He listened for– he didn’t know what. Well. He too was no longer a Watcher without portfolio. He had Merrick’s house, Merrick’s Slayer, Merrick’s guns. Step smoothly into the role, and try not to die Merrick’s death.
Wesley knows what his task is. Also note connection of guns & house to Slayer again.
Wesley got up to make tea. He needed to think, and the ritual was soothing. Something homely and warm in this terrible, bare, scarred life he’d been handed. He’d already rearranged Merrick’s starved kitchen to his liking, turned it into something more like a home and less like a barrack. It was his now, like the guns and the Slayer, his to repair. Nothing that Merrick had left behind had been in good case. How was he to deal with it all? Untrained, little field experience, green, that was what he was. He’d made a complete hash of the single afternoon he’d spent with the new Slayer, and earned himself an unqualified rejection. At least Buffy seemed calmer. More professional. Perhaps he might stand a chance with her.
I do hope that connection is clear now, because this graf lays it all out. Some self-doubt from Wesley, who at this point in his career hasn’t had much experience. This Wesley, unlike canonical Wesley, knows it.
He scrubbed his fingers through his stubble and tried to think what to do.

“You Watchers are all alike. Fussy about tea, not so fussy about remembering to shave.”
Scruffy Wishverse!Watchers, mmm.
Wesley startled. Buffy was in the kitchen door, back from her shower already. Her arms were raised, hands fiddling with something at the back of her neck. A leather cord, Wesley saw, from which hung a heavy silver cross. He wore a crucifix himself, under his button-down shirt. Religion had nothing to do with it.
This is a grim world. I like the image of Buffy standing like that.
He pushed himself into motion and resumed the tea ritual. Flame under gas, tea pot down from the cabinet and set out on the counter. He paused with his hand hovering over the jars of loose tea. Perhaps a spot of hospitality, comfort offered from Watcher to Slayer.

“Do you have a preference?”

Buffy searched among the canisters for a moment and emerged with one. She handed it to him slowly, as if reluctant to let go of it. “He liked this. Merrick. The tea with the funny little balls.”
Buffy misses him. She will never express it any other way.
“Gunpowder tea.”
From whence my title comes. I had some of this around the house and thought it might work. I think it’s a little too much nervous underlining of the metaphor, but meh. It’s okay. Also a better title than “Second-Hand”.
She leaned back against the counter and watched him finish setting out the tea things. Wesley watched her covertly. Her hair was wet at the edges. She’d dressed in something less military than the black fatigues she’d been in earlier. A white tank top, jeans. Her muscled arms were bare. The body of a warrior. Deadly. Such contrasts: the smooth skin and the lovely breasts, and that scar across her mouth. She’d been quick in the shower. She’d be quick in everything, he thought. Lightning and quicksilver, in battle and in bed.
Wesley is falling! This is a point-of-view centric trick. Using an external point of view can be a great way to dig into the awesomeness of a character. This story is about Wesley’s view of Buffy. His attraction to her, his connection to her. We never get what Buffy thinks about Wesley directly, but we can luxuriate in his view of her.
She’d caught him staring. Wesley flushed and shook himself, but she merely smiled and stepped across the kitchen to take the kettle off the flame. It had gone on the boil and he hadn’t even noticed.
He was that much into her. Notice that all this is done without saying it directly. It’s all in action. I liked those mini ficathons with their short deadlines, because they forced me to pare everything down and not go into disgressive blather about what’s going on inside people’s heads. Also the tiny minimum required word count takes the pressure off. You should be writing punchy short stories for those ficathons.
They took their cups back to the sitting room. Merrick had treated it as a work room. He’d hung weapons on the walls and strewn more on the floor. There was no sofa, no comfortable armchair, just a broad worktable and a tool chest. Merrick’s approach to home decor had been along the lines of the kitchen: scattershot and haphazard, with little attention to human comforts or indulgences, the handiwork of a man whose attention was elsewhere. Wesley had taken a resolution to change that, but hadn’t progressed further than the kitchen.
Returning to our main theme again. This conception of Merrick has little to do with the movie or the comics version of him. I’m just inventing for the convenience of this story. Note that the details also serve the purpose of scene-setting for the reader. Must keep that fictional dream vivid by feeding it some concrete details.
Wesley set his teacup down on the table and returned to the shotgun. He ran the rod through the barrel, scrubbing out gunpowder residue. Someone had fired this shotgun many times and hadn’t bothered to care for it afterward. Buffy drifted over and leaned on the table. She watched him silently. He stole a look at her. He wondered how she’d won the scar on her face, what had happened to score a permanent mark on the Slayer. He tried to imagine her three years ago, before the destiny had burned her. When she’d worn lip gloss instead of scars.
Ruling metaphor time again. That “somebody” would have been Merrick, of course. Buffy has been mistreated and is damaged as a result.
He flushed again when she met his gaze, but this time she looked away first. He covered by clearing his throat.
A little turnaround and a hint that the attraction might be mutual.
“How did the new Slayer come to be called, I wonder? Because you do not appear to be dead.”

“Oh. Yeah. Well. I died.”

Wesley raised an eyebrow.

“For a minute. Clinically. The Master broke my neck. Everything went black. Came to with that other Watcher doing mouth to mouth. Came to again in the hospital.”
Giles saves her life in this version of the AU. We shall wave away the medical improbabilities with the phrase “Slayer healing”. Besides, it doesn’t matter much. She lived.
She pulled a chair over next to his and picked up the shotgun barrel. He handed her the cleaning rod. She ran it through, imitating him carefully. She did not appear to have any experience with the gun, though she wasn’t afraid of it. He turned his attention to the receiver.
The cleanup isn’t entirely Wesley’s responsibility. Buffy can do it herself.
“Funny thing about the Slayer healing. It can fix a lot of stuff so long as I’m still alive. Like severed spinal cords.” Her hand rose to the back of her neck and rubbed. He thought perhaps she wasn’t aware of making the gesture. “Took two days. Two days with a machine breathing for me. Let me tell you, that was not a party experience.”
Understatement. A little bit of cruelty to the character.
“And?”

Buffy looked through the barrel, and he couldn’t see her face. “Third morning I could feel my back itch. Wiggled my toes at noon. Checked myself out through a window before sundown.”
In the original posted version, I had her nose itching. Erk. Wrong.
“And the Master?”

Buffy shrugged and set down the barrel. “The new chick has something to do.”

And that was a shadow across a face that needed no more shadows. That face belonged in the sunlight, and it was so much lovelier smiling. Wesley hated himself for bringing that shadow into the room; always so clumsy, he was. He resolved not to do it again, if he could, not to remind her. The affair was over, and it was the new Slayer’s problem now.
Oh, Wesley, so unsure of yourself. I’m enjoying this stretch of story. It’s doing what I wanted it to do, and it’s doing it smoothly and indirectly. All the emotion is there, but I’m not underlining anything or propping up neon signs about it.
“Right, then,” Wesley said. “If you’ve still no interest in dinner? We have only one problem before us this evening.”

Buffy folded her arms. “What’s that?”

“This lovely bit of walnut. Was it left out in the rain?”

Wesley picked up the gunstock, which had once been a gunsmith’s pride. The grain was still a lovely thing under the stains.

“Something like that,” Buffy said. Her voice was odd. Had he just trod on her toes again? He heard her fiddling with the tools strewn over the table. “Rains more here than it does in LA.”
The implication is that this gun was involved somehow in how Merrick died. I didn’t work out the details, but I had some vague idea that maybe it had gone something like how it did for him in canon: a calculated suicide to allow Buffy to escape from a bad situation. There would be lingering grief associated with the guns in that case, even for a hardened person like Buffy.
“And even more where Merrick and I came from.”

Her chair scraped on the bare floor. Buffy vanished down the hallway. He’d transgressed again, and reminded her of past loss. Wesley wondered if she were finished with him for the night. He soaked a rag in gun oil and began rubbing it into the stock. Buffy reappeared a few minutes later and joined him. She had a bottle of nail polish, something pale pink, with glitter. She uncapped it and set to work on her hands as methodically as he was working on the gunstock.
Parallel actions. Hello metaphor.
She refreshed his teacup a little while later, silently. She’d noticed he took it with a little milk and no sugar. Observant. He opened his mouth to praise her, then shut it again. She didn’t need praise from the likes of him.
You’re beginning to get it, Wes. And Buffy is making a gesture of kindness and welcoming to the new guy. She’s saying she accepts him.
Buffy capped the bottle of nail polish. Wesley gazed up at her. She was holding out her hands to inspect her work. There she was, the woman behind the Slayer. The girl who’d lived in California sunshine, there at his second-hand worktable. She smiled to herself, unconscious of his gaze, and stretched gracefully. Wesley’s breath caught. He hadn’t been expecting this. The Slayer he’d met last week had been all coiled violence and anger and instinct. She’d exploded at him and discarded him. This Slayer was nothing like her. This woman had a sweet smile.
The Buffy underneath what the Wishverse!Buffy has had to do to survive. She has to be there somewhere, was my theory. Wishverse!Buffy is tough and scarred but she still has that urge to look good, to wear fun clothes, to find stylish yet affordable boots.
Well done, Pryce, he told himself. His Slayer had been with him for three hours, just three short hours. He needed to keep his mind on his job. He was here to kill vampires, not to moon about over her. She would likely have no patience with him. He shook his head and forced himself to turn away from her, back to his work. Back to restoring some sense of order to his second-hand life.
Oh, Wesley. No self-confidence.
He turned his attention to the second gun. It was obviously mate to the first, one of a matched pair by the same maker. It looked to be in considerably better condition. He pulled the trigger. Smooth, definite engagement point. The hammer snapped down solidly. The slide action felt good. He broken open the gun and sniffed. This gun hadn’t been used since it had left the maker’s workshop. A touch of oil to keep the mechanism smooth, then. He set it down.
Could this perhaps be, gasp, more metaphor for our characters? I don’t believe I’m hammering on this, but I think it’s clear anyway.

The following exchange between the two of them is the nut of the story.
Buffy stood and came around near him. He could smell the soap she’d used in her hair, and he breathed in deeply. Soap and nail polish and gunstock oil and a whiff of his tea. She leaned against the table and nudged the shotgun. “Brutal.”

“Say rather, efficient.”

“I’d have pegged you for a guy who picks the elegant solution. A sword, not a shotgun.”

That was perceptive. Wesley inclined his head to her. “There’s elegance in efficiency. Isn’t this a beautiful thing? Nothing is wasted.”

Her mouth twitched in distaste. “It’s a weapon. A tool.”

“That’s its purpose. But it’s also art. Lovely.” Without thinking, he reached out and brushed his fingers over her lips, where the scar was. “So are you.”
And just in case there was anyone out there who hadn’t twigged to the connection, Wesley says it outright. I think this is in character for him; he’d think in these terms. A message about self-worth for her, if she chooses to hear it. And of course for him as well.
She flushed, but didn’t flinch. Wesley dared to allow his hand to linger, then tried to shy away. Her hand closed around his wrist, holding him in place.
Say hi to the Slayer.
“It’s okay. I, um– Hey. Before, I didn’t say, nice to meet you.”
She’s softening, even as she pins him with her strength.
She drifted closer to him, close enough that he could feel her body heat. Wesley’s breath came fast. Something flooded through him. Certainty? Assurance. Daring. He let himself smile.
And a shift in Wesley as well as in Buffy.
“A pleasure to meet you as well.”

“You’re not what I expected.”

“Nor you.”

“Way more alive than you were thinking, huh?”

Her voice was unsteady. His was not.

“Yes,” Wesley said and bent his head to hers.
I like this story a lot. In it I manage to do all the things I always want to do in stories but fail at so much. The prose is spare and simple, but there are plenty of details that build the fictional dream for the reader and keep it going. There are no expository dumps; the exposition is mixed in with action and some of it is done indirectly via detail choices. There’s something going on that’s deeper than the mere surface action of the story. I’m saying something non-obvious about the characters by means of metaphor, which is itself presented without sledgehammers. Cleaning the shotguns, making Merrick’s house more livable, taking all these second-hand things and making them his own– these are all natural details that fit the story. I had no moments of thinking, “oh god that’s clumsy” as I read this. (This is so unusual!)

Sometimes a ficathon prompt & the deadline pressure work magic in the brain.
I loved this story - Buffy/Wes is one of the ships we don't see enough of. And I really enjoyed your commentary. I always find interesting to see inside the writer's mind.
Thank you! And yeah, there's not a lot of Buffy/Wesley out there that I've read. He was on BtVS for such a short time, I guess.
I went back and reread the story first, before reading your commentary, and was reminded again how much I like it. It is, to borrow a word, very elegant. :) Although I feel fairly silly that I didn't cotton onto the significance of the shotguns earlier. Wesley makes the Buffy/shotgun connection explicit there at the end, but I didn't work backward from that to the full metaphor, at least not consciously. Subconsciously, maybe? Can metaphors work subconsciously even if we don't notice them?

Anyway, thank you for the commentary! This is indeed a lovely story.

Giles now has a Slayer on the Hellmouth. I wonder if they’ll get along. That would be an interesting story.

I... had never even thought of this until I read your comment. Oh heavens. I would love to read that story.
If I were remixing this story, I'd be so tempted to write that. Wishverse!Faith! Fighting the Master ascended! Kicking his ass, too. With scruffy, war-weary Giles helping her.

Or I'd write the bits that went before this with Buffy and Merrick. I am unsure which interests me more.

And in re: metaphors working subconsciously: I sure hope so! I think a lot of writing does its work in the subconscious when the reader does the work of imagining things, closing the gap from prose to dream. Readers are always active participants in a story. Our minds are deep places where a lot goes on. So yeah, I think all this stuff cooks around inside your mind as you read. It does when we write, as well. Sometimes you just blurt and look at it later and say, oh look at that! this pattern is latent here, I'll just help it along in the next draft.

Writing is too difficult to be trusted to the conscious mind.

Edited at 2011-10-28 07:01 pm (UTC)
So yeah, I think all this stuff cooks around inside your mind as you read. I

I'm so used to works being analyzed and picked apart so that the individual pieces - this metaphor, that foreshadowing - can be appreciated, but I think that means the net effect gets neglected a lot of the time. The idea that you can enjoy what an author put into a story without consciously noticing some of it is awfully freeing.
Here courtesy of margotlefaye because I wanted some Buffy/Wesley. This was perfect. Understated and still passionate. just what I wanted -- except I didn't know that when I started to read this. THank you.