Title: anyway the main thing is

Author: Hth

Stats: Slash, NC-17, Gunn/Wesley. Post-Thin Dead Line, with certain vague spoilers. Insert your own disclaimer.

Summary: Gunn remembers what love really looks like.

Author's Notes: Alex C. wanted a TDL story, so I blew right past little things like, oh, the A/W breakup and any kind of solid foundation for a G/W relationship. All I can say is, either you trust your slasher or you don't. Sorry it took me so astoundingly long to write this one, tali.

Series: Ask me the tough ones. This belongs to the series I've been calling "The Weakness in Me" -- mostly. Unlike the rest of that series, this one isn't essentially about Angel's on- (and on- and on-) going love triangle problems. Maybe it's, like...a spin-off? Anyway, it's mid Season 2, Angel's taking the long walk off that great gangplank Sanity, Lin's off somewhere licking Darla's snakeskin boots, and "The Weakness in Me" (motto: The Least Linear Vampire Soap Since *Dark Shadows*) is spiraling way out of my control, guys. Anyway, read the rest of the stories for full impact, particularly the Wesley fic, which you can find at http://members.tripod.com/HthW/weaknessinme.html

anyway the main thing is
by Hth

Love's a bitch. Love's a terrorist, it's an uprising, and the peasants are revolting.

Of course they're revolting. They wouldn't be so pissed off if they weren't revolting.

Just a little joke.

But love. Love's no joker. Love ain't no song and dance and it ain't getting its own special on HBO anytime soon. Love's just a ball and chain, it's the other shoe that drops and the sword hanging over your head, the gun in your side. The streets are not safe, my friend. Go on back inside. Go back where you belong.

//His eyes open again, not so bright this time, unclear with grogginess and pain. Gunn's hand tightens where it was resting, just below the blue veins inside his elbow, over a muscle. "Look who's back."

"I don't...feel back, especially." His voice, too, is unclear.

Gunn half-rises from his uncomfortable chair, glad for the excuse to move. "You need more drugs, brother. I'll get a nurse."

"No. I don't...not up to the fuss. Wait."

Poised in mid motion, Gunn appraises: he's sober enough to be in pain, but maybe stoned enough to be talking out his ass? Gunn's the alert one, the one running on caffeine and anger and pride; he's the doer and the fixer, and he should do something now. But something slows him down.

He smiles, and though he looks like something an undertaker would have anxiety dreams about, he doesn't have that glassy morphine sheen anymore. "Just...what would help...could you...?"

Gunn takes a quick glance around, getting the lay of the land. "You think...?"

"You don't..."

"No, I do. If..."

"Only if you're..."

"Yeah, yeah. It's all good."

Instead of standing up, Gunn winds back down to set his lips against Wesley's and holds that position for the count of three seconds, or four. Then he sits back for more waiting.//

Love's a dog and pony show, the bona fide Greatest Show On Earth. Three rings and twenty-four seven of lights and noise, camera and action, something to amaze you, astound you, hide in plain sight and blindside you while you've got your eye on the prize.

Love is this invisible thing that casts a long black shadow, so you know its shape. You know that it's huge, or stunted, depending on where the lights are. You know if it's on the move or not. You can treat it like a vamp: flank it, fox it, work around it, harry it, shock it, turn your back on it, take it into your arms. You got so many choices that if you freeze up for even a second, if you don't make that choice, it's sure as hell going to choose for you.

Stay on your feet. Move, move, move. That was always my tactic, come nightfall. Hit, hit, split. Relocate. Make the bastards follow you like rats out of Hamelin. Years before I ever heard of Sun Tzu or Machiavelli, I knew who Ali was. Float, sting. Float, sting. Sting hard. Float for your fucking life.

Love's a stalker. It makes you look over your shoulder, stop to second-guess it. Makes you freeze up.

Because that's the only time you ever get more than the shadow over it, more than that little out-of-nowhere chill that they say is somebody stepping over your grave. It's those silent moments, freeze frames, still life. That's when you lose the us-them split, and you're at peace for once in your life. It's the perfect high, where everything breaks down, and you just *are.*

Love's a dealer. Love's the ultimate show, the ultimate ride, the ultimate crash.

I was clean for one year.

//They talk for a little bit, about police, about guns, about hospitals. Nothing deep. He wants to wake up, and Gunn's letting him bring himself out of his stupor, letting him talk himself up from the bottom of the sedative sea. There's no other purpose to the conversation.

He says it out of nowhere. "Does Angel know I'm here?"

Maybe the dope's making his brain jump the tracks on and off. Maybe he's been thinking about it all along. Gunn frowns. "Search me. Were we supposed to call him?" He makes the question flat, more like, You know nobody in their right mind's gonna call him.

"I just thought...." He looks like a kid, like someone just told him the Easter Bunny was just for babies and this year he wouldn't be getting candy. (That's Gunn's memory. He was a man. Alonna was the baby. First he resisted it, then he gave in. Alonna got the sweet things, and Gunn bootstrapped his way along, and together they were almost one whole person. He hasn't eaten candy in years, hasn't even thought about it.)

Tough love. He never heard the phrase till he was grown, but the theory, Gunn's known that all his life. You want to be a man? Give up the window dressings of childhood, no matter how pleasant they are. You want to be a *good* man? Fight like an animal. You want to help the helpless? Herd them like the woolly little Dollies they are. You want a decent life for the nicest girl in the whole sick world? Kill her. Run her through. Leave nothing but dust.

(Gunn doesn't want to have any sympathy for Angel. He's almost empty of it, almost pure in his contempt, until sometimes the though occurs: What if someone brought back Alonna? What if? What if his mind couldn't take the stress either? Then it's like a morning dew of compassion, cold and heart-stoppingly pretty, and gone by midmorning.)

He can be tough. He can't *not* be. "Angel's not coming."

"I know," he mumbles, petulant.

"He's got a one-track mind, Wes, and you ain't a stop on that track."

The conversation lags, and Gunn wonders what he's saving the final piece for, what kind of moment might call for telling it. Tough love demands honesty, the more brutal the better. He's clinging to a fairy tale, the Good Angel who was good to him, and a part of Gunn itches to grind it out like a cigarette butt, because it's the big lie. There was no Good Angel, and Angel was never good to him. Gunn knows. Gunn was born suspicious, or got that way early enough to count for born, and he's traced Angel's movements enough to know the patterns of them, visible and invisible. He knows everything.

Love, Gunn admits to himself, is never really tough.//

Love is sleight of hand. You're watching one hand, and the other hand is the one that's got the action going on. It's called misdirection, and it means that the more something seems to mean, the less it really does.

Love's the silver screen, bigger than life. I used to pay for a movie ticket and then sneak up to the front and let Alonna in through the emergency exit. My mother would've beat me into the next decade if she'd known, but to me it didn't feel like stealing. Where I went, she oughta go too. That's how we were raised. There was no question, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Everybody goes to the movies to escape into the fantasy for a little while. Love is home base, the safe zone, the artificial matinee darkness where you bend reality into whatever you need it to be. Action, romance, thriller, comedy. The monsters all had bodies like sponges; just hit ‘em a good solid whack in the chest with a brass candlestick, and they fall apart.

Love gets you telling stories to yourself, where you're always the hero. When you're in love, you *want* to be the hero. The rest of the time, you just get down to business.

//Conversation lags, and Gunn dozes off. It's been a while since he slept. He wakes, all systems on go, when he hears a strange noise.

In his life, Gunn's seen many strong men cry. It's a rite of passage; sometime around your first fight, or your fourth, it just...gets to you, and you try to hide in the one room where you and your friends all have to live. You find a corner, someplace in shadows, and you cry because of fear or physical pain, loss or just plain regret. Everyone pretends not to see you, to spare your pride. It's the long, dark night of the hunter's soul. No one escapes.

But when Gunn hears this man snuffling and choking, sees him try lamely to hide red, wet eyes behind the wrist of the arm that isn't pierced with needles and tubes, he knows that pretending not to see is the wrong thing to do this time.

"What do you need?" Gunn asks, gracelessly. "I want...."

His eyes are surprisingly accusatory when he turns them on Gunn. "I *don't* need your lectures on letting go. You don't know what it was like. What he was like -- at first."

Gunn clamps down on his instinctive answer. *At first. What, before he started running around behind your back, or just before he used to treat you like his personal fucking butler?*

"The last time I was here," he continues, dreamily, "everything was different. Everything." Translation: It wasn't Gunn sitting by his bed last time. "I know you think I'm pathetic--"

"I don't think that."

"I know it's come between us."

That much, Gunn doesn't argue with. Can't argue with.

They've talked about themselves -- about the two of them. They've kissed. They've locked the office door and turned out the lights and moved toward each other, letting the darkness be as much a comfort as the touches, Gunn's hands kneading warmly into his shoulders, his face nuzzled lightly against Gunn's cheek, his scalp. Gunn loves this man's accent, loves his voice when it's a low whisper in his ear.

But they pet each other like horny teenagers, and then real life gets in the way.

Gunn has never.... Well, he would. It isn't fear that stops him. He's willing, because of the way they get along -- so comfortable, like old friends, like family, like they're in everything together already. He's willing to get it on with his Englishman. Sure, why not? It's not like most rules of a normal life have ever really applied to Gunn.

He's not willing to be anybody's runner-up. He's not willing to give it up, and then spend the rest of his life wondering if it was really *him* there in the bed, or just a low-cal Angel.

He said as much. Wesley said, *I understand.* Wrong answer, he said. You're supposed to say-- *I know what I'm supposed to say. I just...need more time. I still feel....*

Come between them. Damn sure had.

And he hates that arrogant bastard, hates every handsome, room-temperature inch of him. Hates the way he carries himself, like the lord of the manor, like a tourist in Hell, checking out the scenery, above it all. Hates his shallow, faithless oh-so-special soul, that lets the man *simultaneously* brood about his one true love, get it on the side from some pretty rich boy in hotel rooms that get paid for by credit card and probably written off W&H's taxes, obsess over a vampire he'd been perfectly down with killing a couple of years back, *and* keep ownership of Wesley's whole heart, chained up like a dog waiting outside a coffee shop for its master to take it home again.

He hates Angel for coming between them. He hates Angel for the way he keeps turning love into something undead: cold, empty, but still moving around, and still dangerous.//

Love is always in the dark.

Love is that theater you used to sneak into, false afternoon darkness, matinee. I always liked that word. Matinee. I took a year of French in junior high; loved it. Then, in ninth grade, only five of us signed up for a second year, so the school canceled the class. In tenth grade I got the green light to transfer to a magnet school where I'd be taking advanced English classes, creative writing, too. But that was the year that the vampires came, and I never went back after Christmas break. Never even made it to the magnet school. Not that I have regrets, but I find myself trying to remember any French at all now, and I can't. Maybe a few regrets.

Love is the darkest corner of the room, the one that you keep empty, like a shrine to pain, like a joke of privacy. I never sat there by myself; I was the one, the only one, who never cried. Didn't have to. I sat there, dead silent, while Alonna lay stretched out across my lap, crying against my chest. She did all of it for me. All my crying, half of my smiling. All I had to do was be her darkness, put my arms around her and shut out the world.

Love is blind. Love is the dead part of the night, the part when the only people out are the ones who are too desperate to be scared. Dealers, hookers, bums, and the kids who would rather die than fade away behind a locked door.

Love is the hunting season. Things move up on you in the dark. Human things, other things. Every night is one night closer to your last, and every person you love is one person closer to your final score. The number of people you had and you lost, from the day you're born to the day you close the cemetery gates and join them.

The thing I don't know about love is, Does a high score win, or a low score?

//Gunn is tired of talking about it. He's sick of the way the truth never seems to set anybody free, no matter what the preachers say. He'd rather just put his shoulder to the grindstone and shove. Ignore the world's truths. Change them.

Keeping his eye on the window, Gunn moves closer and pretends to mess around with the sheets, straightening them out. He works his hand underneath, and under the hospital gown, until he's holding Wes' balls lightly between his finger and his thumb.

For once, words seem to have failed Wesley. He gapes. He's shocked past thinking, shocked way past talking about it.

Gunn wraps his hand around the softness of his dick, scared shitless that some combination of morphine, Angel, gut wound, and modesty will keep Wes from getting it up, because wouldn't that be about as humiliating as it gets, for both of them? He catches himself glaring at Wesley, signaling *Are you gonna help me out here, or what?*

And after a few torturous moments, he lets out a long, groaning breath, closes his eyes, and relaxes back against the bed. Gunn feels it twitch in his hand, knows that Wes is going to let it all go for him.

They could really use a little slick, and Gunn eyes Cordy's purse speculatively, sitting in the corner all the way across the room. Girl's got to have some moisturizer in there or something. But he knows that if he stops, even for a moment, it buys Wes a little time to think, and that can't be good. So he stays put, and anyway, he likes feeling the shape and weight of Wes' dick change against his fingers as it fills up bit by bit.

"I don't think...this is...."

Gunn puts one finger of his free hand up to his own lips to cue for quiet. He's not having this talk. He's not talking about this.

He wishes they could turn the lights off. Not that, under other circumstances, he'd mind seeing Wes' face; he thinks it would be a kick, actually, to do it like that sometime, just drive him out of his mind and watch the whole thing. But this is too obviously a hospital room, which gives the whole business an aura of panic and desperation, like some fucked-up deathbed hand-job, even though he knows that no way is this anyone's deathbed.

Besides, he loves hearing that voice float up out of the darkness. It just does something for Gunn.

"Oh...Charles," he whispers, hoarse, and it turns out that the darkness is not completely necessary. It does something just as is. The voice, the accent. The feeling behind it, appreciative agony. The name. What his family used to call him. What Alonna called him. Love in a single word.

He moves his hand slowly, and the soft skin rises and falls with his rhythm, shifting up and down the length of Wes' dick. His fingers clench in the bedsheets, which makes Gunn smile. Wesley answers the smile with a weaker one, helpless, disoriented, surrendered. Gunn leans over him, closer, like they're talking intimately about something important. Wes' hips jerk up once, just a little, and then he pulls it back together and lies still again. His eyes keep drifting closed and then open again, over and over.

Unexpectedly, Gunn wishes he could go down on him. In all the times he's thought about him and Wes, that idea never exactly occurred to him before; he's thought of hand-jobs like this about a million times, thought of those lips around his own dick, even thought about Wes fucking him, even though he's pretty sure that what he thinks, cut whole-cloth out of fantasy as it is, is different from how it would really happen or what it would be like. But he's liking this; he's developing very warm feelings for Wesley's warm, smooth cock, pearled with come at the tip, and he wants to know it better. He wants it. Everywhere. The force of his frustrated longing comes as a surprise to Gunn. This is the next level.//

Love thinks it's a superstar. It has an ego -- what an ego. It's willing to take out anyone who doesn't agree, too. Like the old Greek gods, love is a jealous bitch. You just can't say you're too good for love and expect to get away with it.

I wonder if that's Angel's problem. If he's so set against love that love just pops up and says, Okay, try *this,* then. Try this, then come tell me how tough you are.

Love is the deal-breaker. You can have it all under control, you can have a master plan, strategy and tactics coming out your ass, and you can know exactly where you're headed. And still, love has the right of way.

Love will fuck with you, no doubt about it. Love will spin you, slice you, change you, kill you.

After Alonna, I said I'd never love anyone like that again. I said it hurt too much, and anyway, it was a distraction.

Love will stalk you, hunt you down and devour you. I shot my mouth off, and now love has this grudge against me. I should've known better; at twenty, no matter how much of a man you think you are, you just don't go talking trash like *I'll never* and *forever,* like life's just stalled in its tracks and can't ever go anywhere else from here.

Love. Those Greeks were right. It'll shoot at you. Love will try to take you out. And the nastiest part is that most of the time, someone else takes a bullet, too.

//He comes, right into Gunn's hand, and somehow Gunn is the one who's shaking all over. Already, he almost can't believe he just did this. Here. Like this. He doesn't know what to do with his hand, so he wipes it on the fitted sheet, down at the lower left-hand corner of the hospital bed. He wonders if the laundry guys will be able to tell what happened here.

Wes lays a hand on his chest, like he's double-checking to make sure he still has a heartbeat. The idea makes Gunn chuckle, and Wesley's eyes fly open again. "I can't believe you did that."

Join the club. But he shrugs. "Life's short."

"I...." He can't seem to think of anything to say.

Instictively, Gunn brushes his fingers over Wesley's mouth, not thinking until it's too late that his fingers probably still smell like Wesley's spunk. Wes kisses them. "Thank you."

He's not the one who took the bullet. But he's not in the mood to argue about who's grateful to whom. Gunn realizes, for the first time, that he's hard himself, and his heart sinks a little as he realizes that it'll be days before they let Wes out of this place, probably weeks before he's strong again.

Gunn leans back in his chair, slouching. Wes can't seem to take his eyes off of him, still looking vaguely amazed -- by Gunn's audacity, or by the simple fact of him? The last time Wesley was in the hospital, after all, everything was different.

There's a list like the Encyclopedia Britannica of things that have changed since then. Gunn wonders what the main thing is, the pivotal thing, the change that all the others constellate around. Losing Angel? Being fired? Meeting him?

Growing up, Gunn finally decides. Becoming a man. He's thinking of both of them when he says that to himself. They might have thought they were men before, but Gunn has a suspicion now that it wasn't the case. After all, just moving out of your mother's house doesn't make you a man. Even risking your life doesn't. Only facing the thing you most wanted to turn your back on. The main thing. The thing that ruled your life by its absence, lorded it over you in the dark.



The thing you'd run from if you could. The thing that hounded you until you couldn't.//

I was clean for a year. And then I wasn't anymore.


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