AUTHOR: Katta ( head_overheels@hotmail.com )
RATING: PG-13 (mostly for violence, some for slashiness)
DISCLAIMER: Any recognizable characters belong to Mutant Enemy and others, not to me. I mean no copyright infringement by writing this fic.
SERIES/SEQUEL: Sixth in my Birthdayverse series. Previous stories can be found at http://geocities.com/katta_hj/fanfic/Angel under "Birthdayverse".
RELEVANT EPISODES: "The Ring", "Birthday"
SUMMARY: The rescue of Angel and its aftermaths.

Wesley handed his ticket to the doorkeeper and stepped inside. Despite the large poster in the brothel, he'd had a hard time getting a ticket, and the final price had been atrocious. He could have had a night at the opera for the money he had spent on this reconnoitre mission. Of course, he didn't have the clothes for such entertainment, while here his appearance wasn't noticeably different from that of many other customers.

As he pushed through the crowd towards the large ring, he found himself wishing for one particular thing commonly found at the opera: a pair of opera glasses. He could see the demons fighting in the ring. There was the gleam of metal at their wrists, and he'd heard of such devices, bracelets that could force them to stay inside the ring, but he couldn't get a closer look.

One of the combatants, that Wesley identified as a remarkably bloody and beaten howler demon, started making the most unpleasant sound. Although a first-hand experience of this kind should probably be cherished, Wesley wished that it would shut up. Apparently its opponent had similar wishes, because before the howler demon could get in as much as a last blow, the larger demon grabbed its neck and broke it. The crowd cheered but Wesley winced, wondering if Angel was even alive anymore. He found an empty seat and sank down, his lips dry and his hand sweaty.

The announcer started speaking, and Wesley immediately paid attention: "From this exhilarating experience, we venture straight into tonight's second game, featuring a new favourite – a crazy, fearless fighter still fresh from his first kill. Angel the Mad Dog vampire!"

Wesley leaned forward. The words "first kill" made him concerned that maybe what stepped into the ring wouldn't really be Angel at all, but rather his evil counterpart. If that was the case, how would he be able to tell the difference?

But once the vampire entered, Wesley had no more doubts. Angel was very different from his time in Sunnydale, muttering to himself and throwing strange glances at nowhere, but as peculiar as his behaviour was, Wesley could see no evidence of evil in his appearance. Only hurt and confusion.

"What have they *done* to him?" Wesley breathed to himself.

He had no time to contemplate the question further. Angel's opponent was announced as well, and the combat began.

At first it was more of a slaughter than a fight. Angel barely moved when the first punches came, sagged a bit maybe, but seemed to have his attention elsewhere. After yet another punch he looked up at the red line above, and Wesley's heart skipped a beat. Touching a line while wearing a bracelet was lethal, but he wasn't sure that Angel in his current condition would understand that – or care if he did.

"Come on, Angel." Wesley's voice was still barely more than a breath, but Angel's eyes moved from the red line out over the audience, and though he showed no recollection, the increased puzzlement on his face when he got to Wesley was promising.

The announcer dropped two wooden staffs in the ring. They were both pointed, and would work excellently for staking a vampire. Angel ignored his, but the other demon seized one immediately and attacked. It was very clear that he was going for the killing blow. Only this time, Angel spun around just before the strike hit, grabbing the staff and wrenching it out of the other demon's hands. He proceeded to attack, but still seemed strangely absent from his actions, and it took a while before the audience realised that the tables had turned. Angel very clearly had the upper hand now.

"He is quite a fighter after all," an amused female voice said behind Wesley. "Hard to believe when you talk to him – he's definitely gone nuts. Of course, I happen to think he always was."

Wesley tensed, both from what he heard and what he saw. Angel had floored his opponent, and Wesley silently cheered on him with all his heart. But even the cruel sport below wasn't nearly as engaging as the conversation behind him, and he wished there could have been a way for him to turn around without making it obvious that he was listening in.

"You've talked to him? Did you offer to get him out?"

"To tell you the truth, I didn't see the point. He barely even registered me. Even if he managed to kill enough opponents to be set free, he'd be as mad as a hatter."

"But Holland said…"

"Twenty-one kills to get out. One or two matches per night. He won't even know the meaning of the words 'Wolfram and Hart', much less be able to cause any more problems for us."

Wesley gasped, and then quickly clasped his mouth shut, hoping this carelessness would be written off as interest for the fight. It was quickly coming to an end, but even the view of Angel running the wooden staff up through stomach pit to shoulder blades, leaving it's point protruding bloodily out of the other demon's back, couldn't shock him more.

Wolfram and Hart. The firm Anne referred to as her guardian angels. The people who had helped Chen Li out of prison. He couldn't make what he knew from the shelter fit this callous attitude, and he stood up, slightly dizzy, turning for the exit. He got a glimpse of the speaking woman, who was tall, slim and dark-haired, as well as her partner of conversation who was none of these things, and registered their faces.

He needed to find out how those bracelets worked so he could get Angel out of this place. The lawyers could wait.


"Get out of my way," Angel growled. Someone was trying to use his head as a punchbag, which made it hard to concentrate, but he didn't take his eyes off Doyle.

"Sorry, mate, no can do." Doyle gave a wide smirk, standing by the edge of the ring so Angel couldn't reach the red line. "See, I happen to love you. Meaning I don't want you to die. And that line? Very lethal. Of course, I don't have to tell you that."

"I want to die. I don't want to kill anyone. I want to die."

"Come on!" Doyle protested. "You're so close to help and you're just going to give up?"


"Help." Now Kate was the one standing by the red line, motioning towards the audience. "There was a one-armed man looking for you."

Angel looked up at the audience. At first, he couldn't see what she was talking about, but then he spotted the one-armed man, sitting not too far from the ring. There was something familiar about him, but Angel couldn't figure out what.

"I don't care. I want to die."

"You do *not* want to evaporate." It was back to Doyle again, his face a lot sterner now. "It's not everything it's cut out to be. Trust me."

Angel winced from the reminder, and then once again as Trepkos tried to hit him with a stick. Trepkos, that was the name of the demon who was fighting him, and he was a damn annoying one. Angel grabbed the stick and ripped it away.

"Who's the one-armed man?" he asked Doyle. "Get Kate! I want to know who the one-armed man is!"

"She doesn't know." Doyle's voice was disdainful.

"Then who does? Do you know?"

"I know who he is." Buffy. It was a long time since it had last been Buffy. Strange, really, seeing how she had been his whole life once. "He's a nobody. Unless you need someone to scream like a woman, you won't get any help from him."

"You never were fair to him," Angel said. Trepkos was trying to attack again, and Angel had to put all his attention into the game, but it struck him that if he knew that much, he probably knew who the one-armed man was, too. But he didn't have the time to find out. He was struggling with an evil-doer – damn, the man was strong – and he had to bring him down fast.


Gunn stared silently at Wesley. Alonna, on the other hand, was more than willing to talk.

"You don't even know that he's safe. And even if he was, how are you going to make sure he's the only one who escapes? If every demon there has to kill twenty-one to leave, we're talking about a pretty big supply. We have a hard enough time dealing with the demons that are already out there. Can you imagine what it would be like if we started messing with something this big?"

"He's a good man," Wesley said, pained at the logic in Alonna's arguments. She'd have made a good Watcher.

Gunn finally opened his mouth. "He's not a man at all, is he?"

Despite the ominous silence, Wesley had hoped that Gunn could be persuaded to see things his way, but it appeared this was not the case. "Not technically, no..."

"I'm not risking my neck for a vampire. I don't care if he comes with a halo and wings."

Wesley gave Alonna a last pleading look. "I have to do this."

"So do it," she said. "It's not like we can stop you."

But they could, and rather efficiently at that. This wasn't something he could manage alone, and he knew that if they said no, that no went for the rest of the gang as well. Their attitude towards demons was simplistic to say the least, and he couldn't blame them – their only experience of demons was from combat situations, and even the long training and education of Watchers hadn't given the Council a more nuanced approached. But he knew Angel, and this was not right.

It struck him that perhaps this was the time to call in a few favours, and he headed for the nearest bus station. The bus to the promenade slowed to a halt as he rounded the block, and he had to run the last few steps to catch it.

The bus was half-empty, and apart from the stuffy and rather smelly air the ride was quite comfortable. Since he'd been forced to sell his bike, he had spent a lot of time on public transport, and knew how rare an occurrence it was for him to get enough space to think properly. And he definitely needed to think now.

He'd been trained to think of the supernatural as something that should only be dealt with by experts, while the ordinary people were protected from it. Sunnydale had taught him differently, Gunn and Alonna even more so. But still, it was nothing to be taken lightly.

He stepped off the bus and headed down the promenade, still in deep thoughts. He promply ignored salespeople and performers demanding his attention, although the girl playing three trumpets at a time did make him stop for a brief moment. In the crowd, it took him a good half hour before he managed to spot a small, black-clad figure bending itself into a pretzel.

"Li," he said, stopping before the boy.

"Oh, hi Wesley." Li's chin was pressed hard against his ankle, but he still managed to talk. "What's up?"

"I need a favour, actually. Is there some place we can talk?"

Li slowly untangled from the mess he had made of himself and rolled up on his feet. With a final chivalrous bow he picked up the beret he'd used to collect the money, and nodded towards Wesley. "No problem. I was longing for a break anyway."

The promenade didn't permit for anything even resembling actual privacy, but they sat down on a bench by the waterfront, and Wesley told Li what he had told Gunn. He tried to phrase himself somewhat better this time, but wasn't the least bit sure that he succeeded.

Li sat listening while Wesley argued, explained and persuaded. Finally he said, "So he's a vampire?"

"Ah... yes," Wesley replied, thrown by the polite curiosity of Li's question. "But he has a soul."

"You said." Li scrunched up his face, which was just as rubberlike as the rest of him. "How does that work?"

"He was cursed by gypsies."

"Wow." Li seemed to ponder that, and then shrugged. "Okay, then. What do you want me to do?"

Wesley was dumbfounded, and it slowly dawned on him that the child was more innocent than he had thought. While Gunn might have done something like this regardless of the danger, Li didn't seem to understand that there was a danger.

"After I have figured out how to work the bracelet, we'll go back to the fight club on a night when Angel is in the ring. Then on my command, I want you get into the ring, free Angel from his bracelet and get the two of you out of there as soon as possible. I'll be covering you."

Li nodded. "Sounds reasonable."

It was *not* reasonable. It was foolhardy and likely to go wrong, and if it did, Li would be the one paying for it, not Wesley. Li's failure to understand that made Wesley very concerned.

"It will be very dangerous. You could get killed."

"But it's for a good cause, right?" Li wasn't naturally equipped to appear wide-eyed, but the naivety in his voice was unmissable.

This was preposterous. He'd have thought that Li was familiar with the demon world, but of course, a friendly arena like Madam Dorian's was quite unlike what they would be going up against now. Furthermore, and probably more important, Li was still enough of a child to think himself immortal. Though his life had certainly been far from easy, he'd probably never faced death first-hand, and Wesley certainly wasn't the one to introduce him to it. Not in this fashion, in any case. Wesley had to find another way, perhaps try to persuade Gunn once again, or make the attempt on his own.

"Very well then," he said, managing to smile even though his face felt like dried plaster. "I appreciate your help. Mind if we start right away?"


Madame Dorian gave Wesley and Li a very friendly greeting, but when she heard why they were there her eyebrows flew up and she hurried to pull Wesley into her office.

"I don't think you should take the boy to that place," she said. "It's bad enough for adults."

There was a certain irony about a woman in her position saying something like that. "You don't seem to object to having minors *here*," Wesley snapped, already feeling guilty and lashing out on instinct.'

"It's not the same." Madam Dorian scowled hard and walked up to a small table, pushing the vase standing on it a few inches. Evidently that didn't please her either, because she pushed it back right away. "That's simply business between consenting people who happen to be of separate species. I don't deal in slavery."

"If you don't mind me saying so," Wesley said, trying to keep control of his anger, "sponsoring slavery is also a form of 'dealing' in it."

She kept fidgeting with that vase, clearly not satisfied no matter how she placed it. "It's a legal thing. And also, I might add, none of your business."

Wesley felt his body go numb. "Legal as in Wolfram and Hart?"

Madam Dorian finally took her full attention off the vase. "They're excellent lawyers. Naturally, their price is somewhat high."

Wesley looked straight into her eyes. "I'm afraid it's absolutely essential that Chen Li goes to the fight club in my company, on a night when Angel is fighting."

Madam Dorian stared at him for a moment, and something in her edginess hardened. It surprised him when she nodded curtly. "Of course. I'll arrange for your tickets right away."

"There's another thing." He was pressing his luck with this, but he had to ask. "Those bracelets – do you know how they open?"

"No, I don't." The answer came quickly, but not too quickly. She was most likely telling the truth.

"Then, do you know where to get one?"

Her nod was almost invisible, as if even here they couldn't speak openly, but it was there.


Once again, Wesley took a seat near the ring of the fight club. Li was by his side, looking in every direction, in no way resembling anything but a curious boy on his first visit to a special event. Even Wesley had to look hard to find the bulk of a rope under Li's jacket, despite the large metal hook he knew was tied to it. His own gun felt much more obtrusive, and he had been certain that the guard outside would stop him – but no such thing had happened.

He looked down at his ticket. It only offered basic information about the night's game, but he felt oddly comforted by Madam Dorian's sponsor ad on the reverse. She could have betrayed him if she had wanted to, and yet he was certain she wouldn't. And certainty was something he had too little of.

Li was currently leaning backwards in a way that had to strain his muscles ferociously, but Wesley turned his attention to the ring, knowing from last time that the fighters would soon be called out. He could see the announcer slouching against the wall, presumably waiting for everyone to sit down. Eventually, the hall went somewhat quiet. The announcer straightened his back – and Wesley straightened his, tugging at Li's jacket to make him pay attention.

"Ladies and gentlemen, for the third time tonight..."

Wesley didn't listen to the morbid praise the announcer rattled off, but he listened for the name "Angel". When he heard it and soon after saw the vampire step into the ring, he gave Li a hard shove in the back, whispering, "Now!"

Wesley had seen Li in action twice before but was still surprised at the ease with which the boy hooked the rope onto the wall and jumped down. If Angel felt any surprise at seeing the small figure land before his feet, he didn't show it. Instead, he stood perfectly still while Li brought up the small key and released him from the bracelet.

He was the only one. People had started to rise from their seats, and the announcer was reaching for his inner pocket. Wesley took forth his gun and fired. Perhaps it wasn't a weapon the man had reached for, but there was no time to find that out.

The second demon had already entered the ring, and Wesley prepared to fire again, only to see Angel pull Li behind himself and slug the demon. The blow was only enough to stun, not to kill, but it gave Angel and Li some respite, and Wesley a chance to turn his gun towards the crowd. He neither could nor would kill them alll, but the threat of the weapon kept people back in case someone would try an act of heroism.

A thud behind him very nearly made him bite his tongue off, until he heard Angel say, "Oh, there you are," as if this had somehow been expected. Apart from the odd comment, he seemed more collected than last time, and Wesley was entirely grateful, seeing how guards were beginning to draw closer. There were still too many people in the crowd for a clear shot, but that was likely to change.

"One one-armed man to go," Li said, sounding somewhat out of breath. "To go *fast*, I hope!"

That was when one of the guards fired his first shot. Wesley fired back and turned to Angel: "Cover us!" It was hardly fair to ask the vampire to take the bullets, but at least it wouldn't kill him. And a large proportion of the crowd was now beginning to panic. Although the mass of human bodies kept their distance to the vamped-out Angel, there were still enough of them to stop the guards from getting a clean shot.

The three of them were almost by the door when a shriek was heard from within the hall and the pushings of the crowd became even stronger. Wesley filled with a ghastly suspicion, but he had to dispose of the doorman before he could turn to Li and ask, "What did you do with the key?"

The boy was considerably pale as he replied, "I... I think I left it on the floor..."

They got out the door and headed for the car. Wesley let a noticeably shaking Li into the driver's seat before hurrying to join Angel in the back. He was shaking himself. What was supposed to be a rescue mission of one vampire with a soul had turned into the release of bloodthirsty demons. The best case scenario was that the demon in the ring had taken the key with him. The worst case scenario...

The worst case scenario would have to wait. The immediate disaster seemed to be over. There were no cars following them, and although Angel was full of bleeding bullet holes, it didn't seem to slow him down any, and there were still hours left before sunrise.

"How can he be the one-armed man?" Angel asked.

Wesley blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

"Of course I remember him. We met in Sunnydale. But he wasn't one-armed then."

"He was talking like that before, too," Li said, looking at the two of them - well, Wesley anyway, and the void where Angel was - in the rear view mirror. He was still shaking badly. "Asking for the one-armed man."

"I was hurt by a Kungai demon," Wesley told Angel, wondering if this was what the vampire wanted to know.

"Shut up, that's not funny!" Angel snapped. He leaned in against Wesley in a conspiratorial manner, whispering, "How did Doyle know about you?"

"Is Doyle the police woman?" Wesley tried to put the pieces of the puzzle together. He *thought* that last comment had been aimed at him, but it was hard to tell.

"Kate! You're right, it was Kate! Doyle just spoke of help."

"Was Doyle one of the demons?"

"Only the half that didn't matter."

That didn't seem like much of an answer, and perhaps it wasn't one, either. Wesley stopped trying to make sense of Angel's talking and focused on Li, who was shaking even worse now.

"Li, are you all right?"

"He's bleeding."

Wesley didn't know what made him so sure this comment wasn't just more crazy talk from Angel, but he leaned forward between the front seats and pulled the brakes before piling out of the car as fast as he could. When he opened the driver's door, he noticed for the first time the cramping grip Li had on the steering wheel, as if letting go would make him fall. On a closer look, he saw dark red blood seeping out from under Li's black jacket.

"Good Lord!" Wesley leaned in closer and found the bullet hole in the jacket, and after lifting up both that and the shirt he saw the wound itself. Fortunately, it didn't seem deep, and the blood was seeping, not gushing. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Didn't think it was too bad," Li said, his teeth clattering. "Don't know why I'm shaking."

"You're in shock, that's why." Wesley hauled Li out of the front seat as cautiously as he could, which wasn't very, and he got a low moan in response.

"It's dark and pure," Angel said from the back seat. "He'll be okay."

"Yes, but he can't *drive*. Would you..." But if Angel was only half sane, letting him drive would be a decidedly bad idea as well. Should he call an ambulance? Angel's appearance would be *very* hard to explain. "...please look out for him while I drive to the shelter?"

Li sat down by Angel in the back seat without arguing. All he said was, "Anne will be mad at us, huh?"

"Of course not," Wesley said, shutting the back door and sitting down in the driver's seat. How the hell was he supposed to manage this one-handed? He muttered to himself, "Though it's quite possible that Anne will be mad at *me*."


One advantage with having one's own key to the shelter was that one could get in after curfew without any trouble from Anne. Nevertheless, by the time Wesley had opened up she was already standing at the end of the hall with her arms crossed. When she saw the state they were in, her arms quickly dropped while her eyes widened, and she hurried up to them.

"What happened? Should I call an ambulance?"

"You'd better not." Wesley dropped the keys on a table and put his arm around Li, whose feet didn't seem too stable. "It looks worse than it is. Angel, come on in."

"Looks worse than it is!?" Anne had stepped up to Angel, clearly prepared to help him with bandages, ambulances or a coffin, whichever would be needed. Seeing how straight and undisturbed he stood, in spite of the bloody wounds, she stopped short and frowned.

"He's not human," Wesley said, sagging a little. Li was a lot heavier than he looked and seemed about to faint. "He'll be fine. But I need some help with Li."

Anne took half a step back at hearing "not human" and instead helped take Li off Wesley and lead him towards the office, where the first aid kit was located. "Is he safe?" she asked, very low.

"If he wasn't, I wouldn't have brought him."

Fortunately, Anne accepted this without any further question, only a skeptical glance towards Angel, who managed to pull himself together enough to offer a smile. He wasn't talking to himself anymore, but Wesley had a feeling that the invisible person hadn't gone far. Still, that was a later worry, and Wesley was only grateful to have one less thing to explain to Anne.

"This is a bullet wound."

"Ah, yes. Yes it is." A more elaborate answer than that was probably required, but Wesley couldn't think of one.

"What the hell is going on?"

"They saved me."

Clearly Anne hadn't expected Angel to contribute to the conversation, because she spun around like he had pinched her. He sank down on a chair under her gaze, and Wesley started to wonder if the phrase "what doesn't kill you can only make you stronger" was in fact not true even for vampires. Angel looked an awful lot like his wounds were starting to bother him.

"I was taken prisoner, and they got me out. Unlocked my bracelet." Angel looked down at his wrist with a frown, and then raised his head to face Wesley. "How did you do that?"

"Trial and error." Wesley chortled a little. "Would you believe me if I said the solution lay in a violin bow?"

"Saved him, huh?" Anne's voice was surprisingly soft as she gave Li a pat on the cheek. "Well, if you tried to play hero it seems like you're paying for it now. It doesn't seem too bad, though."

"It isn't," Li insisted. "I'm f-fine."

"Sure you are," Anne agreed without any conviction, putting a compress against the wound. "At least the bullet seems to have come through clean. Hate to have *that* in your body. You should still see a doctor, though."

"The blood is pure. It didn't hit any organs," Angel said in a low voice.

Anne stared at him like a few more coins had dropped than she would have wanted, and Wesley hurried to intervene.

"I could take him, if Angel stays. Or we could both stay while you take him."

"I have a better idea," Anne said slowly. "How about you take the demon out of here before the kids wake up, and I'll call an ambulance."

Wesley felt his cheeks heat. First Gunn, now Anne, and that would have been hard enough if he'd been certain he was doing the right thing. But he couldn't get the screams from inside the fight club out of his head.

"All right." It was hardly fair to Angel, after everything he'd been through, but neither was barging in on Anne like this. She had enough to think of already. "I'll borrow the car until tomorrow?"

"Do that."


Gunn rapped on the door, harder and harder, and with a rising sensation of dread. Anne hadn't said anything about Wesley being hurt, but he might not have told her if he was. At long last, the door opened, and Gunn could see that Wesley looked tired and wrinkled, but clearly unhurt. The dread was immediately replaced with thorough anger.

"Are you out of your god-damned *head*?"

"Do come in, Gunn."

Gunn stormed into the apartment and burst into another row of accusations before Wesley had even had time to shut the door. "You took a kid into that place! You released a bunch of demons and took a kid into that place!"

"Yes I did." Wesley's voice was flat.

Helpless in the face of such a rejection to fight, Gunn let his hands fly into the air. "You risked his life. For a *vampire*!"

"Gunn, I'm quite aware what I did. If you have nothing else to tell me I suggest you leave."

Of all the infuriating little... If it had been anyone else, he'd be having to scrape his face off the wall after that remark. But some part of Gunn's mind wouldn't let him hit a cripple, not even a pig-headed, self-righteous, smart-ass, bastard cripple. "Three people are dead because of what you did. Was it worth it?"

"I don't know. I honestly don't..." Wesley suddenly stopped, and a deep frown formed on his forehead. "How many?"

"Three. At least that's what we think. Only one of them still had all parts attached. We didn't exactly count the pieces of the other two, but there were two skulls."

Wesley stared at the wall as if he was doing an equation on it. "There were hundreds of people in that fight club. I don't know how many demons there were, but certainly dozens. And you say only three people are believed killed so far? That doesn't match. Either we only released the first, or they were..."

"You say 'benign', you're a dead man."

"They can't have been altogether benign," Wesley mused, "or they wouldn't have fought in the first place. And there are those three bodies. Still, you've taken a weight off my shoulders."

"Well, I'm glad," Gunn said sarcastically. "So those three people don't matter?"

"Of course they matter." Wesley sat down and drew a long, shaky breath. "It wasn't supposed to happen this way. They were people willingly watching creatures kill each other – but they might still have been innocents, and I should have been able to save them. But when you've been fearing a massacre..."

"What about that kid? You could have gotten him killed." And then, so low he didn't know if he hoped Wesley would hear it or miss it: "You could have gotten yourself killed."

"I know." Wesley's voice wasn't much louder than Gunn. "It wasn't bravery. I just didn't know what else to do."

"And all for a vampire."

"Yes, as you put it, all for a vampire."

It occurred to Gunn that he didn't know where the vampire in question was, and that couldn't possibly be a good thing, even if he really preferred not knowing. "So, is he around?"

"Angel? He's sleeping."

That wasn't very likely, considering how Gunn had been yelling, but never mind that, because – "Angel? His name is Angel?"

"I didn't name him, Gunn."

Gunn snorted. "Nah, even you know better than that." There was a brief pause. "So, do I get to see him? This 'different' vampire 'with a soul'?"

"You want to see him?" Wesley's eyes flicked towards the bedroom, and for the first time during the conversation his voice quivered. "He's not entirely... sane."

"Never met a vampire who was." They'd been talking all this time with a vampire in the next room? That was beyond creepy. "He in here?"

He slammed the door open, ignoring Wesley's weak protests, and stared at the creature half-lying on the bed in there. It was tall and a bit bulky, pale of course, but with dark eyes and hair. With the bandages around its body and the look of surprise and confusion on its face, it seemed surprisingly human. But he wasn't ready to sing Kumbayah just yet.

"Angel," Wesley said from the doorway, "this is my good friend Gunn."

"Hi," the creature said, and bizarrely enough added, "Nice to meet you." Then its eyes turned to Wesley. "Where's Doyle? He was here just a moment ago."

"Doyle?" Gunn asked. He didn't take his eyes away from the vampire, but could see Wes shrugging on the edge of his vision.

"No." The creature was speaking again. "Doyle's dead. He died for me. He loved me and I couldn't love him back."

It's pain was so deep and so sincere that Gunn took a step back, and he was deliberately harsh when he said, "So this is your end of the deal? Some fucked-up vampire ranting about a dead faggot?"

Wesley left his peripheral vision, and he turned around, only to see the Englishman disappear into the kitchen. Even the line of his back somehow looked hurt. Gunn slumped against the wall. He'd said something wrong, something worse even than the harsh words had intended, because Wes would never had gone off like that for some little thing. He'd accused the guy of *murder* without getting the same reaction. So what was different now? The only thought he got was ridiculous, stupid...

"You're a jerk, you know that?"

Gunn looked up. The vampire was glaring at him as if *he* was the monster here. "Piss off. I just don't like vampires."

"I don't care what you think of vampires, or half-demons, or anything for that matter." It was sitting up now, swinging its feet over the side of the bed, but didn't seem about to attack. "You're not *my* friend, and seeing how you treat Wesley, I'm glad."

"It wasn't even aimed at him! It was..." Gunn stopped short and headed out into the kitchen. The suspicion was getting too weighty to ignore, and he had to find out or he'd never be able to think of anything else.

Wesley was standing by the stove, getting some water ready for boiling. So what now? Gunn wouldn't force anyone to look his way, but this was discomforting, and he shoved his hands down his pockets, leaning on the doorway.

"I'm sorry I said those things."

"Doesn't matter."

"I think it does. And there's something I gotta know..." Fuck. How did you say something like this? "Are you... I mean, have you ever... Do you... like guys?"

The back tightened. "I like many people. Men and women."

"*That* way?"

Wesley put the lid on the saucepan and finally looked up. "I don't see why this is any of your business, but yes. That way."

Gunn didn't see why this was any of his business either, but his stomach was fluttering all over and he couldn't stop pushing. "But have you... you know... done the deed with a guy?"


The answer was so low Gunn wasn't sure at first if he'd heard right, but Wesley's face said the same thing. A fag. Wesley was a fag – but no, that wasn't quite it, because he'd mentioned women as well. So, he was one of those bisexuals, and that was a lot harder to believe, because Wesley was after all the whitest guy Gunn had ever met, and with that accent and those manners, it was pretty easy to think of him as gay. But to think of him playing around with both sexes... that was just weird.

"So... okay, yeah... that's... you know... that's okay."

What else was there to say? Do you want to fuck me? Even in this strange state, he could tell that was the worst thing he could have said. Whatever the answer, it would be a disaster. If Wesley said yes, he'd have to back off, claim he'd just been asking out of general interest, and that would be cruel. On the other hand, if Wesley said no, well, if he said no... Gunn would be pretty screwed over, wouldn't he, seeing how his close friend, who just happened to be gay, wasn't the least bit attracted to him... while he got a hard-on at the mere thought. Jesus Christ.

"I got to go," he said, backing away towards the door. "I mean, it's not... I meant what I said, that it's okay. But I really got to go, because of those demons and everything."

Great. Now Wesley would offer to help. But he didn't, just bent his head down over the simmering water and nodded curtly. "Good-bye, then."

"Right. See you."

The apartment was small, but it took forever for Gunn to get to the stairs and down them. Shit. It was one thing with Wesley, it was even *expected* of Wesley, but... He had to get a grip on himself.


The sound of Angel turning on the television was strangely comforting. Wesley had gotten used to the silence and solitude of his home, but it was one of the main reasons he spent so much time elsewhere. Now all of a sudden these few rooms felt like a good place to live, and he had to sternly remind himself that Angel was just staying there until he'd healed up and would soon go back to his own apartment.

"Wesley?" Angel shouted from the living room. "Is Cordelia on television?"

Wesley put his book down and left the bedroom to see what Angel was talking about. He had yet to understand the nature of the vampire's insanity, or if it was true insanity at all. Half of the time Angel didn't notice him at all, instead ranting at people who weren't there, but the other half not only was Wesley real to him, but he was "he who is real" – a point of reference.

It made Wesley feel like he messed with things beyond his comprehension, since for all he knew Angel might really have achieved the ability to see invisible people, in which case that should probably be thoroughly researched. But his reassurances made Angel calmer, and so he obliged. At the very least he could say what *was* real, and that had to count for something.

So now he stood behind Angel's chair, watching a daytime serial. Onscreen, a doctor was just kissing a young nurse. "I'm afraid not, Angel."

"Not that one," Angel said, leaning forward. "There was a girl on the phone... maybe it wasn't Cordelia, but can you wait and see? The conversation wasn't over. They'll probably return to it later."

Wesley shrugged and sat down. The book he'd been reading had been dull anyway, just an attempt to stop himself from thinking. Certainly a daytime serial would do the same trick. He watched with detached amusement as the doctor sported red glowy eyes, and then...

*Well, I had to dump him!* the young brunette on the screen told the person on the other end of the line. *He was shopping at Wal-Marts!*

It took a while for Wesley to find his voice. "Good Lord!"

"So it is her?"

"Yes. It is indeed." Well, if he could find Angel on a fight club poster, why shouldn't he find Cordelia on TV? The world was a strange place, even by Watcher standards.

The doorbell rang, and Wesley tore himself from the screen to open the door. Gunn was standing outside, hands in his pockets, chin held high.

"We took four of them down tonight," he said.

"Oh." There had to be more to say than that. "That's good. Won't you come on in?"

Gunn stepped inside with long strides. "So, about yesterday..."

"Mm," Wesley said, trying with this to indicate that they didn't have to talk about yesterday if Gunn didn't particularly want to.

"I didn't mean to... I mean, it's okay, really."

Wesley was relieved to hear it, but held off comment.

"I'm kinda... wondering, though."

The pause following that seemed to last forever.

"Anything in particular?"

"Uh, yeah." Gunn turned away, and then apparently changed his mind, facing Wesley again. He took his hands out of his pockets and wiped them on his pants. "When you're... with a guy... what do you..."

This was truly quite incredible. Was he supposed to explain the whys and hows of homosexual encounters? He was hardly qualified, seeing how long it had been since he last had a man. "Gunn, I'd rather not..."

"I know, I know." Gunn shoved his hands back into his pockets again. "God, stupid thing to say. Just... is it the whole package, with kissing and touching...?"

Something clicked in Wesley's mind and caused him not to complain about Gunn's improper questions again but rather try to answer them. "Sometimes."

"And it's not just to get to the sex? I mean, if a guy, like, kissed you, would you think he owed you sex?"

"Of course not," Wesley said firmly. This wasn't the time for wishy-washy rambling about circumstances. He put his hand on Gunn's shoulder. "Gunn?"

Gunn tensed for a split second and then relaxed. "Yeah?"

Asking first would rather spoil the moment, and Wesley was certain enough of his conclusions to dare try without permission. He leaned his face upwards and let his mouth touch Gunn's, gently at first so as not to scare him. The response he got made him smile involuntarily. This wasn't the fumblings of a straight guy trying an experiment. Gunn might be frightened and inexperienced, but his kiss was active, searching, tasting.

From the corner of his eye he could see Angel halting in the doorway. Damn that vampire and his silent footsteps. Angel was already drawing back, but it was too late, Gunn had noticed Wesley's tension and let go, his face freezing when he too noticed Angel.

"Hello again." It wasn't technically possible for Angel to blush, but he was looking clearly uncomfortable. Considering the sexual habits of vampires, Wesley strongly suspected it was the bad timing that got to him, rather than what he had found. "Didn't mean to disturb you."

"Whatever." Gunn was heading backwards to the door. "I was leaving anyway. Just came to... talk to Wesley."

He'd found the door and slunk through it almost before he finished speaking. Wesley's heart sank as he saw him go, but he had to chuckle at Angel's expression.

"I'm *so* sorry."

"Oh, he'll be back. I think." The fact that Gunn had returned a first time was promising in itself. "Is the show over already?"

"Yeah," Angel said absentmindedly. "It's no good anyway. I would have zapped by it if it wasn't for Cordelia. I couldn't believe it when I saw her there."

"Me neither." Funny, how his old crush had showed up on television only minutes before his first kiss with his new one. He chose to see it as a good omen.



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