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Acceptable Losses

by Minim Calibre

It was almost like old times.

Late at night, and Gunn was at his door, grim, focused, and ready to beg.

Wesley didn't feel like laughing, but he had to admit, it was funny.

Gunn hadn't begged at his door in a very long time. Not since the night of Giselle when he turned up at three in the morning, reeking of cheap liquor and frustration and Wesley had sent him away, unwilling to continue the farce.

Truth be told, he'd wanted to end it for a very long time.

Things had started off well enough. Fighting together had segued into the occasional outing to blow off stream, and one night after a couple pitchers of flavorless beer, Wesley decided that it was time to introduce Gunn to something other than watery pilsners. They hit a grocery store and went back to Wesley's apartment, beer in hand.

Several bottles into the selection, Gunn declared that if he liked the taste of English beer, he might as well see about the taste of English men, or at least one Englishman in particular. Even with advance notice, Wesley hadn't realized Gunn was serious until his tongue had made it into Wes's mouth for a sample.

"Damn, English. Tell me again why Virginia left you? She did realize what she was giving up, didn't she?"

Wesley looked at him, trying to remember how much they'd had to drink, but then Gunn started playing with Wesley's earlobe and he lost count. It must have been a hell of a lot, because he didn't recall much more about the evening other than thinking that it was a very bad idea, that he really should stop before they did something they'd regret in the morning, and that Gunn snored and radiated heat like a furnace.

He'd woken up hung over, naked, and trapped under Gunn's arms. They'd gotten dressed without really looking at each other, not saying anything until Gunn suddenly grinned and slapped Wesley on the back.

"We cool, English?"

"Oh, certainly," Wesley replied faintly.

It became a sort of pattern. Back at the office, Gunn acted as though nothing had happened, but every few nights he'd show up at Wesley's apartment with a movie and a fresh box of condoms. The latter was enjoyable, to say the least; the former was anything but. During a research break, Wesley decided to seek clarification.

"Gunn, I don't mean to be rude, but what the devil is this?"

"What do you mean?"

"This thing. You know, the one where you come over, we watch whichever action movie was left at the video store, and you end up spending the night in my bed? Which is also the one you studiously avoid mentioning outside of the confines of my apartment?"

Gunn didn't answer him at first. He just stood there, hands hooked into the waist of his jeans and glowered.

"How about you ask me inside the confines of that apartment sometime? Because this isn't the time or place, Wes."

Wesley let it drop. He made a point of not being at home in the evenings for a while.

He was sitting in Caritas chatting up an attractive brunette who reminded him somewhat of a more self-absorbed version of Cordelia when Gunn walked in looking none too pleased.

"Hey, English, get your scrawny white ass up. We need you back at the hotel." Gunn grabbed Wesley by the arm and started pulling him towards the door.

When they were outside, he turned to Wes and asked, "What the hell was that all about?"

"Socializing. Which, as you know, is something I'm free to do outside of work, and with anyone who happens to strike my fancy."

"Which is why you haven't been answering knocks on your door for the last week, right? You decided it was about time you start socializing?"

"Perhaps."

"Yeah, or 'perhaps' you're trying to pull some sort of deal where you try to get me to add to certain work place tensions by making me jealous enough to admit to the world that we're dating?"

"Oh, is that what we're doing then? I seem to recall asking you for elucidation on this, which, I also recall, you were unwilling to give."

"Shit, Wes, I'm not sure I know what the fuck we're doing."

Wesley turned to go back to the bar. "In that case, Gunn, I'm going to go back, finish my drink, and continue my conversation, unless you have some actual reason for pulling me out of there."

Gunn stared at him, his expression unreadable, then pushed him up against the wall and kissed him. "That reason enough?" He didn't wait for an answer, just kissed him again until he'd driven all thoughts of the drink and the brunette from Wesley's mind.

They returned to their usual pattern, although the movie was replaced with beer and a Playstation. Drinking and killing things, even when the things were just pixels on a screen, was altogether less confusingly date-like and allowed them, or rather, allowed Gunn, to continue the friends-with-benefits front. Besides, Wesley was pretty certain he'd be able to write off the games and the Guinness as business expenses.

Then they went to Pylea, and everything went straight to hell.

Things were different. He'd felt it in his bones when he'd been planning battle strategies. Gunn had looked at him as though he were a stranger. There hadn't been time, or really the words, to explain to him that he wasn't indifferent to the soldiers he was sending to their death. It was just that acceptable losses took on new meaning when you've seen a bunch of children take up arms against an apocalypse, knowing that many of them would fall in the battle. So he'd explained it with crisp, terse words, and Gunn had let it go at that.

But the trust, as Gunn would have said, was gone. They picked up where they left off, but the when and how of it grew increasingly unpredictable. Visits slowed to once or twice a week, and then to a couple of times a month. After Caritas was trashed by Gunn's old companions in arms, Gunn had shown up each night for the better part of a week, as if to seek atonement through a bodily offering. Or at least that's what it had felt like at the time. Perhaps Wesley hadn't understood at all. Perhaps Gunn had simply been attempting to figure out once and for all where he belonged. As usual, they hadn't spent a hell of a lot of time talking.

And then there was the question of Fred.

She was an attractive young lady, sweet and funny, if a bit peculiar. It had become apparent that whatever was happening with Gunn wasn't going to lead anywhere other than the bedroom, and even that appeared to be ending. With Fred he'd hoped for something more. Even after what he'd done to her while under Billy's influence, he'd hoped. He'd been so wrapped up in his own thoughts and frustrations that he hadn't realized Gunn felt anything for her other than brotherly affection. After all, Gunn was still his lover, at least sporadically. Wesley had always assumed his talk about hot mamas and sweet-looking babes was just an act.

He had thought he knew why Gunn claimed an attraction to Fred. It had seemed blindingly obvious. So much so that even Angel could have figured it out, had he known the particulars. Overly slender, bespectacled, and bookish? No, that description didn't sound at all familiar.

It was just one of the many, many things he'd been wrong about. Certain prophecies and his makeshift family's capacity for forgiveness chief amongst them. Hubris did that to a person, he supposed.

It was so very, very tempting to let them all just go to hell, but the pain in Gunn's voice as he asked for help was just enough to tap the last veins of fellow-feeling. He told Gunn he was doing it for Fred, and he was. But he was also doing it for Gunn. One last effort and he was through with all of them.

The second knock that evening took him by surprise; he thought he'd made his desire to be left alone perfectly clear.

"I thought I told you never to return."

Gunn stood in the doorway, not bothering to try and come in. "Yeah, you did, but there's a few things you need to hear."

"Why? I believe Fred made her opinions about the situation perfectly clear."

"Fred speaks for Fred. I'm speaking for me, and I want you to hear me loud and clear. This ain't about what happened with Connor, Wes. It's about what happened with you and me. When the chips are down, Fred's got my back; I can trust her." He paused for a moment, seeming to mull something over before adding, "Push comes to shove, no way I could say the same about you."

"I assume that's all?" Wesley started to shut the door, but Gunn's foot got in the way.

"You assume too much. Know what they say about assuming makin' an ass out of you and me? Well that's what you went and did. 'Can't allow any one member of the the team to compromise the safety of the group' and then you go and do the same damn thing to us. I thought you were better than that, thought we were tight. You changed. Maybe it started in Pylea, or maybe I didn't know you like I thought. Doesn't matter. You lost the mission, and you lost the trust. Fred's gonna be okay, so thanks for that."

He turned to leave, then turned back one last time. "You've gotta do what you've gotta do, Wes. I've gotta say goodbye."

Wesley closed the door, the echo of Gunn's footsteps ringing in his ears.


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