by FayJaySubject: [glass_onion] FIC: Watching. (AtS) 1/1. Date: Tuesday, September 17, 2002 5:21 PM TITLE: Watching AUTHOR: FayJay EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org FANDOM: Angel (Set late Season 2, just after 'Epiphany'.) SUMMARY: Gunn's just looking out for his buddy. Honestly. RATING: PG 13 (slashiness) DISCLAIMER: Not mine. But you knew that. NOTES: Thanks as always to the Buffistas
This wasn't Wesley's normal route home.
Gunn knew this for a fact, because he'd been stalking the guy for nearly three weeks now and he'd gotten Wesley's routines burned into his memory. He knew the late night store where Wes picked up his sad single-person-food: the cans of soup and boxes of Kraft dinner that were cheap and easy enough to feed a tired and hungry researcher-turned-demon-slayer after another long day at the office. He knew the place Wes regularly bought a week-old copy of "The Times" that had been shipped all the way from Merry Olde England. He knew the bars where Wes very occasionally stopped off for a quick nightcap and a soothing game of darts. Gunn had watched Wes sitting like a weary goldfish in the glass bubble of the late night Laundromat, rubbing Shout into slime- or blood-splattered shirts and pants with an expression of bruised optimism; and he'd seen Wes regretfully taking many of these same shirts and pants to give to the thrift store when the stains refused to budge. But he'd never seen Wesley take this route home.
Gunn quickened his pace, automatically keeping to the shadows and walking with a predator's quiet speed. Could be that English just had to go pick up some dusty old volumes to research the Harrisons' problem with their Kankanath son-in-law, but Gunn really doubted it. Kankanath demons weren't exactly mysterious; just big. And blue. And spiny. But they weren't the kind of monster that demanded after-work reading. Gunn took in the purposeful way Wes was walking and frowned. He'd bet his truck that old Wesley was up to something. What the hell was Wes doing keeping secrets?
Everything was different now that Angel was back. The guy had himself an epiphany and now he was all Mr Team Spirited again, hitting Wes with these great big puppydog eyes and falling over his feet to open doors for Cordy. Trying to make out like it was no big deal that they'd all been doing his job for him while he ran around after Lindsey McDonald and that born-again blonde who'd made him into the freak of nature he was in the first place.
Gunn couldn't believe how pissed he was about the vampire's return.
'Cause they needed him, right? The one thing they really needed more than anything else right now was a big old superguy fighting the good fight on their side. Nearly invulnerable kick-ass nemesis of all pointy toothed demons, complete with first-hand knowledge of a wide range of Big Uglies and built-in Super Strength - this really ought to be top of Gunn's List of Things Angel Investigations Needed. It would keep Wes safer, it would keep Cordy safer - Hell, it would even keep Gunn safer.
But he was still good and pissed about it; he still wanted to take his beautiful home-made axe on up the steps of the Hyperion and demonstrate just how effective it was on vampires. It wouldn't be all that hard, would it? Just creep in while the undead sonofabitch was lying in bed one day and just ...wham! Pouf! No more flapping black coat, no more spiky gelled hair, no more Neanderthal brow, no more smug Alpha male bullshit. Just a sprinkling of dust on the sheets. Gunn could explain that he'd just up and had himself an epiphany.
Shitshitshit! Pay attention!
Gunn was only half a beat slower than normal, but it was enough to set his heart racing. He ducked behind a car just a split second before Wes could get a proper glance back down the street. He'd gotten carried away with this train of thought and really not been focussing properly on the whole stalking thing; Wes had nearly seen him.
Now that was just a little too damn close. Shit. Get back in the zone, you fool. He waited while Wes rounded the corner and followed, cautiously, at a distance. What the hell was Wesley up to? He'd said he was just heading straight home when Gunn suggested a few post-slayage beers.
Gunn studied Wesley's back and smiled almost unwillingly; he'd know Wes anywhere, just from the tilt of his head and the way he carried himself. Knew him better than he knew most anyone these days; or at least he'd thought he did. What was Wes doing, keeping secrets from him? Gunn scowled. Everything was changing now that Angel was back. Sure, things were still a little awkward between Angel and Wes, Gunn could see that, but he just knew it wouldn't take the damn vampire long to get Wesley back in line. Wes wanted him so bad it was painful to watch - and now Virginia was off the scene again there was nothing to stop him from mooning around after Angel like a teenage girl. Gunn was absolutely astounded at how very, very angry this made him. 'Cause Wesley was better than that - Wesley didn't need to be all humble and apologetic and adoring.
And OK, right now Wes was still clinging on to the remnants of his self respect - he was strutting a little, feeling all proud and happy about being in charge of Angel Investigations. About being in charge of Angel. But Gunn could see, even if Wes was trying not to see, that it all meant nothing. Angel was trying to go through the motions of not being the boss man, but he sure as hell wasn't planning on taking any orders from Wes other than orders to do exactly what he wanted to do. And Wes was going to slip back into his old role, slowly but surely, because deep down Wes thought it was as much as he deserved.
He was wrong. Wes had done a fine job of running AI without any vampires. Without Wesley's help Cordy would be dead by now, or driven crazy by visions of all the demonic disasters she couldn't prevent alone. Hell, Gunn would likely be dead by now. Wes was good at being in charge; he just didn't believe he was. Angel didn't know Wes, not the real Wes - Angel didn't respect him like he should. But he wanted him, Gunn could see that. He still pretty much thought of Wes as his rightful property, to pick up or toss out as it pleased him. Thought about them all that way, but Cordy wasn't standing for any of that shit and neither was Gunn. Wes was another matter. Wesley Wyndham Price wanted to belong to someone and even now, after all the shit they'd been through, he wanted that someone to be Angel. Gunn couldn't believe a smart guy could be so dumb. Wes belonged to Gunn and to Cordy and he didn't need Angelic approval to tell him he was doing things right. But Wes just didn't see it that way, and this frightened Gunn in ways he didn't want to analyse.
Sure, Angel said he was sorry, but as far as Charles Gunn was concerned the trust was gone. And he kept remembering Alonna, and thinking about the way Wes looked at Angel. How far would Angel go to get what was his? To stake his claim? Not that far, Gunn was pretty sure; but not totally sure. Not sure enough. He didn't really get Angel, didn't understand what made him tick - and Cordelia had left him in no doubt about what a bad idea it would be for Angel to get intimate with anyone. Angel knew it. Wes knew it. So no problem, even if it had turned out that Wes was kind of - flexible - about his sexuality. Even if Wes did watch Angel when he thought nobody was looking. Even if Angel wanted Wes back to being his devoted servant instead of his supposed boss. Right?
Wrong. No matter how many good deeds Angel had done, Gunn knew the guy was no boy scout. End of the day he was pretty much an undead bloodsucking sonofabitch who was playing at Robin Hood for reasons of his own. Gunn had never been comfortable turning his back on the vampire, and these days watching Angel cosy up to Wes was making Gunn think some very unfriendly thoughts.
Thing was, Gunn did get it. He could see what Angel saw in Wes. Damnedest thing, because Wesley was smarter than God and ruthlessly efficient when it came to kicking demon ass - but there was this whole uncertainty thing going on there, like Wes just didn't get how fucking cool he really was. It tore a hole in Gunn sometimes, seeing that raw look on Wes's face; made him want to go out and find every last person who had made Wesley doubt himself, starting with the father he never, ever talked about and then working his way through the Council bastards who fired Wesley's sorry ass, the psychotic little slayer who carved her name on his skin, Angel's precious ex, all her little buddies and finally ending up with Mr Epiphany himself.
Instead he'd taken to stalking Wes.
Nothing creepy about it, not really; he just believed in looking after his own and he didn't trust Angel not to do - something. Didn't trust Wesley not to let him. Gunn had let Alonna down; he wasn't going to let anything happen to Wesley Wyndham Price. So he'd taken to following the guy home now. Wes was good, no doubt about it, but years of playing cat and mouse with demons in the roughest part of town gave Gunn a definite edge. Couple of times he knew Wes felt himself being followed, but he'd never managed to spot Gunn yet.
This time Wes didn't go straight home, though. Gunn followed him with growing curiosity into a part of town plenty far away from Wes's apartment, and finally watched Wes disappear through the doors of a sauna.
Gunn wasn't born yesterday. He had a pretty clear idea of what this meant, but he wasn't at all sure how he felt about it. And he definitely wasn't sure about his next move; following Wes inside would mean - well, Gunn didn't think he was ready to go there. He chewed his lower lip and peered across the street at the door. Probably the best thing that could have happened, when you thought about it; if Wes was getting his rocks off in a place like this, it meant he was that much less likely to fall into the sack with any of the undead. Nothing to worry about.
Gunn leaned back against the damp brickwork, feeling the surface rough against his bare scalp, and his lips twitched into an involuntary grin. Just when you thought you had a guy figured! No wonder he wouldn't go for a beer tonight - Wesley already had some R&R in mind. Well, go Wes! It wasn't Gunn's thing, but he didn't mind Wes being a pansy-ass Englishman; just so long as Wes was his pansy-ass Englishman. Family - or something like it. Angel wasn't going to mess with that.
Gunn probably ought to be kinda freaked about the thought of Wes sucking some stranger's dick in a sauna. And he was a little freaked, but not in the right way; he had this irrational urge to kick the shit out of anyone who laid a hand on Wesley. Who laid Wesley. He couldn't get the image out of his mind, and this wasn't the way you generally thought about your co-workers. Well, not your male co-workers. Like it was any of his damned business what Wes got up to on his nights off. This was some fucked up shit, when he looked at it; he was following the guy home, playing detective in his spare time, like he didn't get enough of that during the day. It was dumb. Wesley could handle himself just fine; only Gunn had this weird feeling in his gut that Angel was waiting for his moment with Wes. The damn vampire kept watching Wesley like he was some sort of Scooby Snack. Charles Gunn was not going to let that happen.
Well, news flash - English wasn't as desperately vulnerable as Gunn had thought. He already had himself a sex life even without Virginia. Good for him; it was more than Gunn had had for a while. Wesley wasn't primly waiting around for some vamp in shining armour to redefine necking for him; he was out fucking some total stranger in a sauna. Or getting fucked by some total stranger in a sauna. Gunn drew in an unsteady breath and found himself suddenly wishing he'd worn looser pants.
He so was not having these thoughts. About Wes. Naked.
Definitely time to call it a night; Wes didn't need his ass protected from the big bad homosexuals and if anything was going to take his mind off of Angel, this was it. Gunn should really head home and get some rest; but instead he leaned back against the wall and waited. And waited. It was a spineless compromise; he wasn't ready to up and leave without seeing Wes get safely home, but he couldn't bring himself to follow Wes inside. Would have done for a case, no question; but this wasn't some case, this was personal. The thought of catching Wesley doing - whatever he was doing - disturbed Gunn a whole lot more than the idea of walking in on a nest of hungry vamps, say, or a roomful of lawyers. No way Wes would understand that Gunn was just being a friend, just looking out for him; and Wesley Wyndham Price was so damned private and closed up about this stuff that the guy would be mortified, no question. Gunn didn't want that kind of awkwardness between them. Things were kind of strained already, with Wes in his big old office and Angel getting under everyone's feet.
It was a couple of hours before Wes finally emerged. Waiting around reminded Gunn of the old days of hunting with George and Alonna. When Wes finally stepped back out into the darkness his hair was wet and his skin, in the harsh neon light, was still flushed from the sauna. And from other things, that Gunn very carefully wasn't thinking about. Things that had nothing to do with the distracting pressure that was growing again in Gunn's pants. Kind of weird to be watching a friend like this, walking with that loose-limbed, self-satisfied, just-had-sex kind of swing. There were still shadows under his eyes, but Wes looked a whole lot better than he had back at the office and Gunn kind of envied him. Wesley wore a smug little half-grin and the muscles in his face had relaxed, softening the constant expression of worry that Gunn hardly even registered most of the time. It sent a twinge of guilt through him, that realisation. Wesley worried a lot. Maybe not too much, 'cause there was plenty to worry about - but Wes took it too much to heart. The guy had an overdeveloped sense of responsibility if ever he'd seen one - and Gunn knew a thing or two about that.
He followed Wesley at a safe distance, slouching along in the shadows and trying not to be mean-spirited. Wesley Wyndham Price was walking the walk of the recently-laid; which meant that he wasn't on top of his game, slayage-wise, making this an ideal moment for one of your friendly neighbourhood man-eating monsters to turn him into Wesley Chow Mein. Lucky that Gunn had his back, thought Gunn testily. Although in the circumstances that was maybe not the best phrase to be using.
Damn. He did not need these images in his head.
Gunn couldn't remember the last time he'd walked the walk of the recently-laid. It was way too long since he'd seen Veronica or JulieAnne. Hell, he'd not even thought about either one for weeks, let alone gone to see them. Spending too much time hanging out with English and Cordy; he really ought to go see his old crew more often. Keep an eye on what was happening in the neighbourhood.
Afterwards Gunn would be all kinds of embarrassed about not having noticed the three vampires coming out of the other alley; his attention had been firmly fixed on Wesley's ass at the time. Luckily his reflexes were excellent, but since he'd been standing still for so long his muscles were stiff and he moved just a hair's breadth too slowly to dodge the first blow. Years of practice took over, and rather than move back into the vamp's reach he let the momentum carry him down, rolling out of the way and bouncing to his feet a moment later. The stake was in his hand without any conscious effort and he was gratified to see that it made the vampires pause. There were still three of them though, and only one of him. And all his favourite weapons were in The Hyperion.
"English!" he yelled. "Hey, Wesley? A little help back here?" There would be plenty of time to worry about being embarrassed once he didn't have to concentrate on keeping hold of a heartbeat.
"Good grief." Wesley's startled voice sent a shiver through him, but he didn't turn around. The largest vampire glanced over Gunn's shoulder and bared its fangs.
"This isn't your business," it said to Wesley, but Gunn knew that it was just trying to encourage him to turn around and he wasn't about to take his eyes off the evil dead for a second, thank you very much. His poised stake tracked its movements while the other two fanned out to the sides. Come on, Wes, he thought, scowling at the lead vamp.
"I must beg to differ." He could hear Wesley getting closer by the second and Gunn felt himself starting to grin. "I'm afraid that it is my business," Wes explained in crisp and half-apologetic tones as he hurried back down the alley. "Quite literally, as it happens. I think I even have some embossed cards somewhere, although the logo is frankly rather awful." That was his boy, always there when you needed him. The vamps were briefly distracted by Wesley's chatter and his failure to run away screaming, and Gunn saw his chance and took it. One quick lunge and then the leader was dissolving into dust and it was two against two, Gunn's kind of odds, and then there was no time for thinking at all, just sweet exhilaration as pent up tension exploded into violence. Long seconds of nothing but reflex and instinct, everything blessedly physical, and after a brief, familiar struggle and the shock of impact it was suddenly two against none.
Gunn found himself inhaling powdered vamp and blinked sheepishly across the quiet alleyway at Wesley Wyndham Price.
"Hi," said Gunn.
"Hi yourself." There was an awkward little pause, while Wes slipped the stake back into his pocket and brushed dust off his shirtfront. So much for Gunn's catlike ability to go unnoticed.
"Thanks for that. Guess I wasn't paying attention," said Gunn, and tried to think of some way to sound less like a complete dumbass. A psycho stalker dumbass, at that. "Um. So you come here often?" Wesley blinked. Gunn replayed his last sentence and groaned. "I mean this isn't - I mean you're kind of a long way from home. Ah. Which is cool. Your business." He stared at Wesley, feeling like a rabbit trapped in the headlights. "So now d'you want that beer?" he asked brusquely, like he was just carrying on the conversation they'd had two hours ago. Which wasn't what he'd planned on saying, but then he hadn't planned on having to say anything, and right now drunk seemed like a great way to be. Wesley gave a startled laugh.
"Very well, if you absolutely insist. But really, you didn't have to set vampires on me just to make me come to the pub." Gunn grinned. He didn't see Wesley like this often enough; loose limbed and reckless and comfortable in his own skin. Gunn couldn't take his eyes off him. It struck him quite suddenly that he wanted very much to see Wes stoned, because Wesley Wyndham Price without the stick up his ass was a whole different ballgame.
Damn. Another image he didn't need. Hello Mr Freud?
"What can I say?" Gunn heard himself replying nonchalantly. "I was thirsty."
They fell into step and headed back towards the main road, leaving the sauna and the swirling dust behind them, and Gunn prayed that Wesley would just accept that it was coincidence that he was here and leave it at that.
No such luck. "Gunn, I don't mean to sound stupid," said Wesley after a little while. "But - you haven't been following me, by any chance?"
"Uh - "
"Only I could have sworn that somebody had been following me home the last few evenings."
"Why would I do a thing like that?" said Gunn, trying to sound outraged.
"I don't know. Why would you do a thing like that?" asked Wes, ever so casually.
Ah, shit. Wes knew, and Gunn knew he knew, and Wes knew Gunn knew Wes knew, and Gunn was starting to get a headache just thinking about it. Deception had never been one of his strengths. He carefully didn't look at Wes, because right now "I thought you might start fucking your ex-boss, which would be A Bad Thing" sounded really very, very stupid indeed.
"Suppose I was following you - I mean I'm not saying I did, you understand, but - look, couldn't we just kind of say it was for a good reason and leave it at that? Or, you know, that it seemed like a good reason at the time? You know - hypothetically. If I had been following you. Which I wasn't."
"Right. I see. So if you had indeed hypothetically been stalking me, then it would hypothetically have been all for my own good. Hmm. Well, that's comforting." Wesley was - was Wesley flirting with him? No way. Wouldn't happen. But there was just an edge of something different in the familiar voice, and Gunn was suddenly off balance and self conscious in a way he hadn't felt in years. Nobody but Alonna had ever gotten under his skin like Wes had, and that was cool, that was fine, that was comrades in arms and all that shit - that wasn't anything like whatever Wes had with the guys in the goddamn sauna. Gunn didn't think of Wes like that. Except right at this minute Gunn couldn't get the image out of his head - Wes on his knees in front of some stranger, or under some stranger, or over some stranger. Ah, Christ.
"Hey, that looks like a bar," said Gunn hurriedly, his voice sounding way too loud. He pointed and then glanced over at Wes with an imploring expression. Just let it lie, already, he thought. Damn, he could be a fool at times. Why had he imagined for so much as a single second that Wesley would do such a dumbass thing as screw Angel? Even if he was walking around with a hard-on for the guy 24/7? Like Wes hadn't been trained by Ye Olde English Anti-Vampire League, for fuck's sake. Like the guy was going to risk pushing Angel over to the Dark Side of the Force when they'd only just got him back. Gunn was feeling pre-tty damn stupid right about now. You'd think he was goddamn jealous, or something.
"I don't think you want to go there," said Wesley, squinting over at the bar.
"It's a bar, isn't it?"
"Um. Yes. But - I don't think it's your cup of tea."
"If we wanted tea, we'd go looking for tea rooms," said Gunn, sticking his chin out and concentrating on the matter at hand. "We want beer. This is fine."
"I meant - well." There was a faint note of hilarity in Wesley's strained voice, and just the hint of something else. "Ah. I think you'll find that it's actually a sort of gay bar, Gunn."
Charles Gunn froze.
Oh, for fuck's sake.
"Huh." Gunn's expression didn't alter one bit. He was the essence of cool. Just because they hadn't had any big heart to heart about Wes being a pansy ass - well, pansy ass pansy, that didn't mean Gunn was supposed to have forgotten about that guy they'd bumped into in some bar. Wesley's ex-boyfriend. Ex-one-night stand. Ex fuck-buddy. Ex-whatever the hell he was. Gunn shivered. Whatever. Revelation, surprise, and then absolutely positively no further discussion of the matter whatsoever, thank you very much. It was Wesley's business, and so long as Wesley kept on doing his book thing when they needed it and didn't go all limp-wristed in the middle of a battle, that was just fine. Hell, when Gunn was a kid when he'd had crushes on guys. A person grew out of it, most of the time. A person might still occasionally wake from inappropriate dreams about his best friend and find that his erection wasn't interested in how appropriate these dreams might be, and that his hand didn't give a damn either - but that didn't mean anything. That was just - reflex. "You been there before, then?" he asked, nonchalantly.
"Well. Once or twice, yes, but - it's loud, and the music is very - well, it isn't really my type of place."
There was the tiniest of pauses, and Gunn was suddenly very conscious of several different possibilities stretching before him. His mouth was dry and he didn't quite dare look Wesley in the face - because he knew he could say something now that would change the world, in a tiny way, and the very thought of it scared him more than any nest of demons ever had. The moment stretched out unbearably.
"You can say that again," said Wesley. He sounded ruefully amused. "O'Dwyer's should still be open, on the corner over there - as staunch a bastion of heterosexuality as one could hope to find. Yes. See? Still open. Are you still thirsty?"
And that was the moment gone, if Gunn hadn't imagined it entirely, and they were just two guys who deserved a beer after fighting the forces of darkness for the twentieth time that week.
"Hell yes," Gunn said with feeling, but there was an emptiness in the pit of his stomach that no quantity of alcohol was going to fill. He ignored it resolutely. "You buying, Boss man?"
"I save your ungrateful arse from the legions of the badly dressed undead and you expect me to buy the drinks too?" Banter. Banter he could do. Gunn felt a surge of gratitude and pretended not to hear the tiny trace of regret in Wesley's voice.
"That's about the shape of it."
"Oh, very well. But only the first round."
"I realized that my - um - mindset had changed when I was complaining to a friend about work and said 'I ended up spending half the day reading gay porn on the internet.' Shocked pause. Probably should have given that more of a lead-in." (Ellen S)
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