New Miserable Experience
Summary: They get together and fall apart in about the space of thirty seconds.
Falling in love with the wrong person had always been Wesley’s specialty. No, scratch that–falling madly into obsession with someone who didn’t have a bloody clue and then found herself or himself (even though it hadn’t been men for a good five years and even then only rarely) embarrassed and uncomfortable at the intensity of his adoration–that was Wesley’s specialty.
Virginia had been the most normal relationship of his life with the ridiculous Nabokovesque intrigue with Cordelia coming in at a close third or fourth. Perhaps his father had been right and there was something about the saving-the-world lifestyle that precluded intimate romantic bonds to take hold properly.
Still, to be nearly thirty–and that particular date was coming closer and closer every day–alone, and finally taking advice from his rat bastard of a father–it was galling. It was almost too much to take, but Wesley didn’t really have to take it.
Because there was Gunn, and Gunn was the one person in his life that made any sense. Well, except for Cordelia, but Cordelia was in her own special category in his head, ex-love interest friend, almost more a part of Wesley’s past than Wesley’s present.
And there, holding cartons of environmentally unfriendly clamshelled take-out, was Wesley’s present with the sly sense of humor and beautiful smile.
“Yo, Wes!” Gunn called, holding up the plastic bag of Mexican food. “What do you think I am, your colonial running dog? Get over here and do some actual work, English.”
Wesley stood up languidly, strolling across the lobby with a heavy air of feigned disdain and disgust. It was camp as knickers, but everyone got a big kick out of posh and it wasn’t that big a strain, really.
“Terribly sorry, old chap,” he said in a ludicrously posh accent. “But I find it so dreadfully wearing, you know, being a British imperialist swine. What delightful trifle did you bring us to nosh on?”
Gunn busted up laughing and Wesley took the bag of take-out, delighted that his shopworn act was still funny.
“Man, you are messed up,” Gunn said, grinning again. “You think Fred’ll eat Thai sometime? I’m getting some serious heartburn off these enchiladas four times a week.”
“You could order something less spicy,” Wes pointed out, carrying the bag. “And avoid shaking half a bottle of that dreadful Tapatio sauce on your order.”
“What’s the point?” Gunn asked, brushing past Wes and smacking him on the shoulder. “Mexican food is supposed to be spicy. That’s the point, that is its raison d’etre if you want to get fancy about it.”
Wesley took a deep breath in. Gunn had to stop doing that, or there was going to be awkwardness in a way that Wes desperately wanted to avoid until he was sure that he wasn’t reading things the wrong way. That way lay disaster. And there was always the possibility that things were being read into the situation that were ultimately only in Wesley’s head.
“I’m not against spicy food,” Wes said belatedly, walking to the cartons of tacos and enchiladas. “After all, I did grow up with masalas everywhere. I was merely suggesting that your heartburn–”
“I’m just messin’ with you, Wes,” Gunn said, another one of his perfect smiles burning in Wesley’s stomach, another one of those misreadable signs that made every move near Gunn wonderful and unnerving. “Man needs a sense of humor, stat!”
“Do forgive me,” Wes said dryly, recovering his composure, sitting down and claiming his foil-wrapped rolled taquitos. “Hanging out with such a humorless fossil must be so trying from time to time.”
Gunn shook his head, unable to speak by reason of enchilada ingestion. He tried anyway, but was reduced to semiotic mumblings that Wesley could not, try as he might, transform into communication. He was getting good at decoding Gunn, but translating this was beyond even him.
Finally, Gunn swallowed.
“You had way too much fun watching me choke myself there,” he said critically. “You’re a sick bastard, you know that?”
“It’s a difficult job, but I feel the rewards far outweigh the effort,” Wesley replied, neatly taking a bite from my taquito and smiling at Gunn mercilessly. Gunn in turn managed not to choke, but rather kept Wesley’s glance in a way that was curiously familiar and materially unfamiliar and that led to Wesley’s heart racing.
“Yeah, I see that,” Gunn said in a low, almost growling voice.
He proceeded to suck all the sauce off his fingertips while Wesley tried to choke down the rest of his five taquitos. Wesley felt that it was perhaps unfair to expect a man to placidly munch shredded beef tacos while watching an attractive and possibly attracted man lick his fingers, but he also knew that life in general and his life in particular was manifestly unfair.
“I’m going to put a CD on,” Wesley said, feeling utterly unable to think rationally. “We should probably put a plate together for Fred before the food gets cold, too.”
Gunn nodded companionably. “Sounds like a plan,” he agreed.
Wesley abruptly stood up and walked over to the bell desk-cum-counter and pulled out a plate for Fred, stacking four or five tacos, some refried beans, and of course tortilla chips and Spanish rice on the side. For a reclusive little thing, she certainly could eat, and they didn’t want her to starve to death while Angel was off in Sri Lanka. Angel would probably blame them, as though a grown woman was a houseplant or an exotic pet. Cordelia had been very concerned about keeping a mentally unstable person in the hotel, but from what they had gleaned from Fred, she wasn’t dangerous–just very, very solitary.
Then he turned around and Gunn was standing there, smiling at him with this look in his eye and Wesley, his mouth suddenly dry, looked back at him. The things he’d been toting up silently all summer flooded his mind, every look, every smile, every touch. He could not be misreading this. There was absolutely no way the look Gunn was giving him was a product of Wesley’s sadistically optimistic sexual imagination. This was the real thing, desire, longing, lust–whatever name Wesley could give to it, it was real and staring him in the eye.
And because Wesley was always one to believe in timing, he leaned in and kissed Gunn.
It was perfect. Wesley could hear that ridiculous old man in the Princess Bride talking on and on about kisses, the most passionate, the most pure. This was a perfect kiss, gentle, warm, the right sort of pressure, not too much of anything, tongue or lip or tooth, the kind of first kiss that led to poetry and bad teen movies. Everything was perfect–the lean in, the oddly surprised but unsurprised look on Gunn’s face, the kiss, the reciprocation, everything. It was so smooth that the whole moment could have been filmed in soft lighting.
Wesley pulled away, feeling the smile on his lips, trying to think of the thing to say. It would be very important to–
He looked at Gunn and the smile faded, sputtered, dropped from his lips to his stomach where it promptly became a sour acidic thing that would have ached if he could have felt anything.
Gunn was looking at him, staring at him, not blinking. His hands were at his sides, not visibly tense, but to Wesley, who had spent so much of the summer looking at Gunn, they were practically crackling with energy. Thoughts were flashing into Wesley’s brain faster than he could process them, looking at Gunn. They were not resolving into anything pleasant.
Wesley pressed his lips together, choking back any words. Speaking now would only make things worse, would only confirm that there had been a mistake, there would be awkwardness, that everything was ruined. Instead, he looked away, unable to stand it any longer. He picked up Fred’s plate, thanking God that she stayed in her room and that Cordelia hadn’t appeared yet today.
How could he have been so foolish? How could he have misread things so completely?
The walk to Fred’s room had never taken so long and Wesley could hear her singing to herself, songs that were completely out of date, songs that must have been in when she’d last been here, and he wondered. He wondered what it would be like to lose five years to what amounted to a nightmare in a dreamworld. Would he want to come back? Would he want to deal with five years?
She was singing off-key, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care if he ever went downstairs ever again.
“Tell me do you think it’d be all right if I could just crash here tonight?” she sang, oblivious to the world around her. “It might not be that bad–you were the best I ever had–”
He was at her door and he knew if he knocked, the spell would be over. She’d stop singing, he’d hear her bedsprings squeak and her soft footsteps, waiting to hear him walk away before she opened the door and snatched the plate of tacos into her room. He’d have to go downstairs, be ready to hear whatever Gunn had to say, endure the awkwardness, and swallow it all without a complaint.
“The past is gone but something might be found to take its place…hey jealousy–”
Wesley set the plate down and knocked. The singing stopped and he walked away, wondering what in the world–or what world–was inside Fred’s head. Or anyone’s head, really.
“Hey!” someone called. He looked and it was Fred, or at least a little bit of her, looking back at him. “Hey, Mr. Wind-Up Bird–thanks.”
He almost spoke to her. But the door closed before he could speak. Wesley was alone again, spell broken, with only downstairs and unanswerable questions to look forward to.
He went quietly, thinking about nothing, thinking about everything, the memory of Gunn’s eyes and Fred’s salutation–hey, Mr. Wind-Up Bird, Hey English, Mr. Wind-Up Bird, Wes, Mister Wind Up Bird–moving him along the way.