No Place Like?
by Alex (prague_spring at hotmail.com)
Summary: Family, humanity and home. All in under 4000 words.
"This other Eden, demi-paradise,"
Shakespeare. Richard II.
Gunn was born and bred, not in the briar patch but in Los Angeles. In all his short life, he has never travelled more than twenty miles outside the city and he cannot even contemplate the distance which Wesley, and also Angel, have journeyed to end up here in the City of Angels. Can't imagine how it feels to have a both a continent and an ocean between you and the place of your birth. Can't understand, even, why anyone should feel so strongly about their homeland, their Fatherland.
"It's in the air," Wesley tries to explain, "somehow, here, the sky isn't the right shape, the trees are the wrong sort of green, it's too bright or too dark."
"The sky isn't the right shape? Man, you been doing too many spells or somethin'? The sky is always the same shape," he scoffs.
Wesley frowns and tries again. Gunn wants to tell him to stop it, to shut up, that he doesn't really care, doesn't want to know about a country he'll never visit and Wesley will never return to, but he can't.
"Summer isn't a brilliant sky and smog and blood on the pavement and girls in bikinis and the hum of air conditioning. It should have a deep blue sky with fluffy white clouds and a fresh breeze to drive kites. It should have football on a Sunday afternoon and cold beer. Pink gin and sherry and Pims with cucumber and strawberries in. Cricket on the village green. Teenage boys playing football with t-shirts as make shift goals and farm made ice cream on the sea front."
They are sitting in the Hyperion's garden, sprawled out in the shade, trying to keep cool. Several empty Budweiser bottles littered just out of reach and baking in the sun are testament to their efforts. It is a lazy Sunday afternoon. Fred is unashamedly sleeping somewhere on the top floor and inside, Cordelia and Angel are squabbling amicably about something. The gentle rise and fall of their voices is almost lulling, the first indication that things are returning to normal after the traumatic events of the last year and the tragic news that awaited them on their return from Pylea.
"Sounds like an ad for British TV."
"Well, they had to draw from somewhere. Although I'm not entirely sure about Doctor Who. Frankly, it seems possible that there are Time Lords out there."
"Travelling in... what was it? A police call box." Gunn enunciates clearly. He is feeling pleasantly buzzed from the beer, the hot sun and the company.
"Yes. Possibly Wolfram and Hart are behind the Daleks."
"Exterminate. Exterminate." Gunn sniggers through a bad impression of Doctor Who's arch nemeses.
Wesley holds his amber bottle up to the light and contemplates how much he has left.
"Sometimes I feel like... Not Doctor Who. Douglas Adams."
"Yes. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Arthur Dent," he explains to Gunn's befuddled expression. "'I never could get the hang of Thursdays'," he murmurs.
Gunn grins, "Hey, does this make me Zaphod? 'You guys are so unhip it's a wonder your legs don't drop off!'"
Wesley smiles at him, suddenly, blindingly, "Surely Cordelia could be Trillian."
"And Angel, Marvin."
"The 'electronic sulking machine'. Really, that's a little unkind."
"Thought it was pretty fair."
"I said 'a little'."
They share another smile. Confident enough now, that mocking Angel doesn't have the sullen tang of resentment to it. Gunn levers himself up on one hand and tries to get a good look at Wesley's face. Their eyes meet, again, and another, slightly secret smile slides between them. One of them moves, or stays still and suddenly they are touching, lightly along their legs. Lightly, and then not so lightly as their bare legs press and slide. They smile. The smile continues, takes on a life of its own even when Angel comes stomping out of the hotel and throws himself down on one of the rugs they have haphazardly stretched out in the shade. It is not much of a stretch to see the child he was two hundred or so years earlier indulging in a temper tantrum. The smile acknowledges that, for the moment at least, they feel older than him.
"I have had it with that woman!" Angel grumbles, without conviction.
"What's happened now?" Wesley asks, when it becomes obvious that Angel wants a reply.
He turns on his back and blinks up at the dark, fluttering leaves.
"Oh, she wants to make another commercial. I don't know why, so don't ask." Angel snaps, holding up one pale hand to forestall questions.
Wesley strokes his leg a very little against Gunn's, feeling the hairs catch and kiss.
"Between Lindsey and Lorne, I'm surprised everyone in LA doesn't know who we are," he comments, enjoying the flicker of a dare in Gunn's eyes.
"She wants to make a commercial so she can star in it." Gunn says, somewhat uncharitably.
"That is not the reason," Cordelia's clarion tones object, "the point is that although we're like, number one in the demon scaring business, we're aiming at a human market. As in, the people with money. Who definitely aren't us."
She glares at Angel, but it is just for show and neither Wesley nor Gunn are surprised when she drops onto the rug next to Angel; nor that he shifts to accommodate her.
"Fine! I'll drop it! Jeez, it's like talking to a brick wall," she pauses and corrects herself, "talking to three men. But don't you three blame me when you end up on the street. At noon... in front of some evil reanimated police... who want to deport you," she teases, eyeing Angel, Gunn and Wesley in turn.
Angel pokes her.
"Hey! Enough of the poking, Undead Poking Guy," she complains, pushing at his shoulder.v Angel, being Angel, doesn't give against her pushing, even when she uses both hands. He simply grins, somewhat indulgently at her until she gives up with some grumbling about people being built like brick walls and slumps comfortably against the shoulder she had been abusing and into the arm that curls around her waist.
They sit in silence, soaking up the heat.
"Cordelia?" Gunn asks, "what's Sunnydale like?"
Surprised, she rouses herself out of the drowsy state she had fallen into.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, Wes was saying what Brit-land was like. Got pretty poetic," the smile is back, "so, as another foreigner to LA, I wondered what Sunnydale was like."
Cordelia's eyes lose focus as she thinks.
"Spike calls it 'Sunnyhell'."
It is Angel who answers, not Cordelia, and his eyes are full of an old pain.
"It's full of old spanish architecture complete with mad mansions above the water. More churches and cemeteries than towns three times the size. The garden in my house was full of roses and clematis and lavender, so the air was heavy with perfume even at night."
"Hello! Still here, Brood Boy and I believe I was asked the question," Cordelia's tart tone jolts Angel back from his past and his arm curves more tightly around her.
"Sunnydale, Sunnydale. Oh! My car. I used to have this amazing little red sports car and Harmony and I used to drive down the coast to the beach and sunbathe for hours and then we'd go to the country club and swim in the ozone pool or get massages or use the sauna. Sometimes, I'd meet my dad up there when he'd finished a round of golf and then we'd drive home," she finishes, a wistful note in her voice. "Mind you, there was the whole, living-on-the-mouth-of-hell thing as well. Sometimes I think I spent most of high school being chased by monsters. I never got why they all wanted to save the world all the time, you know? I mean, no one ever knew. We'd go out and risk our lives and at school it was all, 'oh my god, look what so-and-so's wearing and did you hear what happened at the Bronze?'. There was only this one time when it was like anyone noticed. At the prom, our graduating class gave Buffy an award for being class protector. It was really sweet."
"Not like much like England then," Gunn comments when Cordelia finishes her diatribe.
They are all aware, but tactfully do not comment, that Angel has not retreated at the mention of Buffy's name. Instead, there is a certain devil in his eyes, but it is his own, and not the strange demon who played behind his eyes with Darla and Lindsey. He shifts as he responds, tucking himself a little closer to the wall and out of the encroaching sunlight. Cordelia shifts with him, her head firmly tucked against his chest.
"No. Not much like England," and there is suppressed laughter in Angel's voice.
"I thought the Mayor reminded me of Tony Blair." Wesley says irreverently.
"The Prime Minister guy?" Cordelia is puzzled.
"Yes. They both smile all the time and look harmless."
"Ahh! Dead give away." Cordelia smiles sweetly at Wesley before burrowing into Angel and closing her eyes.
"It's a good theory, but I don't think it can go any further," Wesley says regretfully, "after all, Tony Blair didn't eat anyone when Labour got into power."
"Strike out on the big snake?" Cordelia is doing such a good impression of one who is sleeping - apart from the talking, naturally - that Gunn and Wesley are suspicious. Cordelia's apparent ability to fall asleep anywhere meant covert male bonding could go on even if she was there. Now, they're not so sure she was as asleep as they thought. Angel is not surprised. He knows full well how duplicitous Cordelia can be.
"So far." Wesley concedes, still eyeing her with caution.
He suspects that within the next few minutes she will doze off, the heat of the sun and the soothing motion of Angel's hand against her back will see to that. They will all have to be quiet then as Cordelia's health is of paramount importance to them all. Wesley and Gunn have talked long and hard about what would happen if anything were to happen to Cordelia and have reluctantly reached the conclusion that this would tip Angel over the edge. With Cordelia gone, there would be nothing to tie the vampire to the world of the living. The ensuing situation would be more than dangerous.
"And that's what your mate Giles has gone back to."
Wesley fiddles with the label of his bottle of Bud.
"Yes. I think... I would like to go back, some day."
"Potential big snakes and all?" Gunn's voice is light, teasing, but his eyes are serious.
Wesley glances at him and bites his lip. Caught. He meant all he said about England and certainly there is a part of him which will long for the aesthetic beauty of the Lake District where he spent many school holidays, the stunning architecture and the sense of history that saturates the country. But it is not all he finds himself missing. The mundane as well as the aesthetic, the obvious. The FA Cup, Wimbledon, Cadbury's chocolate, Red Dwarf repeats and the Glastonbury festival; rainy days and the Severn Valley Railway, Walkers Crisps and the Oxford/Cambridge boat race and a hundred and one other things which he had always taken for granted until he realized he might never return.
"Elected snakes and all," he confirms, not missing the flash of disappointment in Gunn's eyes, nor the way his leg moves from where it was comfortably resting against Wesley's.
"But not soon? You're the only one who understands Cordy's alleged filing system," Angel points out, somewhat panicked.
He does not relish being left to deal with Gunn, Cordelia and Fred without someone else there to play at being the grown up as well.
"No. Not soon," and Wesley smirks at Angel's relieved expression. From the vicinity of Angel's chest is some slightly cross mumbling about filing systems and some bizarre grumbling about demon dating.
"That's DATABASE, nimrod." Cordelia scowls as she sits up and smoothes her hair down, shooting a slightly smutty look at Angel as he reclines against the wall, all tousled dark hair and broad chest.
Wesley ignores it, as he has ignored every other sign of Cordelia's unfailing attraction to Angel. They do not flirt so much as bicker like any married couple and certainly the Warrior/Seer bond is as close as any marriage vow. Does Angel know how Cordelia feels about him? Probably, Wesley has long since concluded, but he chooses not to acknowledge it to save Cordelia's pride and dignity as he does not feel the same way. Or so Wesley thought. Angel's increasingly over protective and possessive behaviour regarding Cordelia seem to suggest some reciprocation.
All of a sudden, he is tired. Tired of worrying about whether Angel will be able to keep hold of his soul, about Cordelia and the increasing tole her visions were taking, about Fred and her fragile grasp of sanity. Tired of worrying that every time they go out to slay a demon, they'll come back a member short. After all, if the Slayer can die... and they none of them have supernatural powers. Strange that less than two years ago he barely knew these people and now, he honestly cannot imagine life without them. That somehow they became all the friends and older brothers and uncles and sisters and cousins and boyfriends that everyone else had but that he did not. Family. Kin.
Thinks, even, that should anything happen, he might die. Could not endure living in a world without Angel and Cordelia and Gunn. Especially Gunn.
"Wes?" It is Cordelia speaking and her voice is hushed, concerned, "You're crying."
So he is. He brings one slender hand up to his face, amazed to find wetness, tasting the salt as tears trickle down his face.
It has been years since he cried and longer since there have been arms which wind around him to soothe him and even longer since a warm, supple female body wrapped him and rocked him. Cordelia, a creature of instincts, has abandoned Angel to enfold him in the warmth of her uncomplicated affection. Like a child he pushes his face into the warm hollow of her throat and breathes in and out, exhaling the cold, rotten pain which has festered inside him for too long. Cordelia wears no perfume now, but there is a subtle fragrance to her skin which is warm and flowerlike. She strokes his hair and croons wordlessly, giving comfort as women have been doing since time began.
But there is more; the warm press of Gunn at his side and the heavy weight of Angel's hand on his shoulder. They are close, but unthreatening and Wesley takes a moment to savour the fact that he can enjoy their nearness without being afraid or anxious. He is beginning to understand why humans, like any other animal which lives in family groups, crave contact. He remembers something his long-dead grandmother said when his brother had been born as she watched four year old Wesley stroke his brother's tiny face.
"We shape each other human," he murmurs. Cordelia pulls back and he regrets her warmth, but this is almost better because he can see her eyes. And also Gunn, craning forward to see into his face.
"What did you say?" Cordelia asks curiously.
He shakes his head. "Nothing, it doesn't matter."
Her eyes are very soft and warm, "Yes, it does," she insists.
Wesley shakes his head, the beginning of a smile teasing around his mouth. Cordelia has a very familiar look in her eyes; she hates secrets, hates not being in the loop.
"Cor," Angel reproves, leaving one hand on Wesley's shoulder, but raising the other to gently tug at her hair.
She rolls her eyes. "No one EVER tells me ANYTHING!" She moans, sliding gracefully from kneeling between Wesley's spread legs to collide with Angel. A flurry of limbs and dark hair and she is held against his chest, his head resting comfortably against hers.
Wesley finds that he doesn't mind so much now. He knows that if Angel loves Cordelia, really loves her, he will be careful. Understatement. His new feeling of acceptance may have something to do with the fact that Gunn slid an arm around his waist and has yet to remove it.
"The phone's ringing," Angel remarks blandly.
Cordelia gets excited, "Oh my God! It could be a client!" She squeals.
"Or Lorne," Gunn suggests crushingly.
"Perhaps David has found out that we're back," Wesley adds.
"Or Lindsey wants a job," Gunn throws back and it is impossible for Wesley not to grin when he sees Angel's expression.
Complete and unadulterated horror.
"That would be... not good." Angel says, managing to keep the horror out of his voice.
"Oh, I don't know," Cordelia says consideringly, "He's smart, he can sing so we wouldn't have to listen to Angel every time anyone wanted something and yes, evil, but he'd fit right in. Plus, he's cute."
Angel stiffens alarmingly, "You think Lindsey's cute?" He asks dangerously.
Gunn and Wesley, who can see Cordelia's face, have great difficulty keeping straight faces.
"Well, duh! He has this whole bad boy thing going for him," she starts, apparently unaware that the original bad boy is glowering at the back of her head. "He can fight, he can sing like," she pauses, trying to find a good synonym, "like an angel who fell to earth and landed in Memphis. Gorgeous blue eyes and an ass to die for. Did I leave something out?"
Mortally offended, Angel rises gracefully to his feet and stalks away, muttering something about answering the phone before it drove him mad. He has not quite escaped before Cordelia cuts him off at the knees.
"You should be able to answer all questions on Lindsey's ass since you were the one who got the most up-close-and-personal with him!"
She calls after him. Angel actually staggers, straightens and finishes his stalk.
"I think you made him mad." Wesley ventures, playing the straight man.
Gunn has collapsed into laughter.
"Nah," Cordelia waves off Angel's mortification lightly. "He's used to it. It's good for him."
"You're good for him," Wesley says quietly.
She twinkles at him, "We all are. Have you noticed? He's getting more human. He's getting back to us."
"Anyone'd find it hard to be all broody when we're around," Gunn concedes.
Wesley frowns, "It makes one wonder exactly how he coped with intellectual and sophisticated pursuits when he had Darla wandering off shopping, Drusilla disconcertingly bursting into song and Spike. Well, Spike being Spike."
"An undead version of a Mel Brooks movie?" Cordelia suggests, giggling.
"You can just see it can't you? 'My lord, you have invited Death into your home tonight, but he will not come swiftly - Darla, we agreed to kill them first and steal their belongings later - your screams, my lords and ladies, will be as music to the children of the night - Drusilla, I don't care what Miss Edith told you, you can't fly! - When the sun next rises, your bodies will be - Spike, don't make me come up there!'" Wesley finishes in a flourish.
"I can hear you all perfectly well." Angel calls crushingly from the hotel, "Cordelia, David wants to talk to you."
"Ah, duty calls." Cordelia gets to her feet.
"Duty?" Wesley queries, "This isn't the prostitution thing is it?"
"The WHAT?" Angel growls, appearing at the door with stunning suddenness.
"Thank you Wesley," Cordelia says sarcastically, "Now I have to deal with Daddy-vamp. Remind me to do you a favour sometime."
Wesley cocks his head to listen in on Cordelia and Angel's wranglings.
"What prostitution thing?"
"Gee, Angel, talk a little louder. I think that there are people in the city who didn't quite hear you."
"Cordelia, I'm just..."
"Over-protective? Annoying? A pain in my butt?"
"Worried about you. I care about you. Hey! That hurt!"
Wesley grins and turns back to Gunn, who is watching him very closely, one arm still warm around Wesley's back.
"Hey," he says, somewhat inanely. Like a teenager with a crush, and he instantly blushes.
The smile is back, and now it is in frank admiration of the flush in Wesley's cheeks.
Brown eyes smile into blue as Wesley's hand, apparently of its own volition, strokes gently down Gunn's cheek.
We shape each other human.
Yes. Because those rare early photographs of Angel show a much more alien creature, all sharp angles and deadly beauty, than the man who obediently follows Cordelia around.
Yes. Because Cordelia is not the archetypal high school queen she was as a teenager. She has matured, and changed.
Yes. Because. Because even he is different. He moves differently, and has muscles where muscles never bulged before, and sometimes he catches sight of himself in the mirror and wonders, wonders who that man is. The leader that the others apparently see.
Perhaps Angel is not the only one who came to LA for redemption, in search of humanity. Perhaps they all came together searching for the same thing.
It's a nice theory.
Overlooks the fact that Gunn was born here, Cordelia's parents lost all their money and couldn't send her to college, he got fired and Angel wanted to get away from Buffy, but hey, no theory's perfect.
Or LA as Oz. He found courage, Gunn, a heart and Angel... a brain? Perhaps not.
"Ya thinkin' again," Gunn says softly, his voice full of tender amusement.
Wesley shrugs. "Twenty odd years of education and it's a little difficult to turn it off."
Gunn shakes his head, "Some things you can't think through. Some things, you just gotta feel."
And Wesley can't reply because now Gunn is kissing him.
And it's unexpected, not because Gunn is kissing him, but rather, the way he kisses. Slow and thorough and insistent, but still gentle. Wesley's world has contracted to the feel of Gunn's lips moving over his, a warm hand stroking his back, another touching his face. As his thoughts being to trickle away like warm honey, one last thought, poignant and sweet, slides through his sun lit mind. A little clichéd, but true, for all that.
There's no place like home, and home is where your heart is.