Title: Wesley Rogue Demon
Authors: James Walkswithwind and Mad Poetess
Series: none
Pairing: Wesley/Gunn
Rating: PG15
Feedback: yes, to giladajames@highstream.net and abbyty@usa.com
Archive: list archives only, and http://perian.slashcity.org/gila and http://www.hawksong.com/users/mpoetess/stakes
Disclaimer: not ours, no profit made
Summary: Wesley's past catches up to him.


Wesley Rogue Demon

The celebratory air was muted, but there. Muted, because it was only the third time Angel had gone with them as a member of the agency -- member, and not boss. There, because they had every reason to celebrate. They'd saved the woman from her demonically possessed garden, even if they had been forced to destroy the lawn gnome which had been running across the yard screaming about cattle and doilies. They'd figured it to be a drunk lawn gnome, and shattered it when the spell to reverse its animation failed. Afterwards, in the aftermath of a battle which had left fertilizer scattered everywhere and potted plants heaved onto the rooftop, they'd vanquished the demons.

Then they'd been paid.

Wesley was still staring at the cheque as if it were about to sprout legs and a little red cap and run off down the street. There had been no muss, no fuss, no argument, just the simple opening of a chequebook and clicking of a ballpoint pen. Cordelia had been in ecstasy.

Wesley looked up. Correct that: was *still* in ecstasy, staring at the piece of paper in his hand with a mixture of triumph and disbelief. "Mine, thank you," she said smugly, reaching to take it from him, but Gunn got there first.

"Hey, now, I think everybody deserves his chance to smell this baby." He passed it under his nose and sniffed appreciatively.

From the doorway, Angel cracked a faint smile. "My turn?" he asked after a moment.

"No, we can smell you from here," Cordelia said, holding her nose. "Did you have to bring the *entire* bag of fertilizer back with you on your shoes?"

"I was trying to save--" Angel retorted, in that half-annoyed, half-humble way he'd adopted lately. Wesley spared him a glance, wondering if humility would wear off sooner than later.

"A rake," Cordelia interrupted.

Angel hesitated. Then, "I thought it was Mrs. Worthington."

Charles snickered, and waved the cheque under his nose again. "Man, only thing that smells better than a cheque, is a good cheque. Who's gonna be up at 8am to deposit this baby, as if I have to ask?"

Wesley looked at Cordelia. She looked innocent. "Me? Awake at 8 o'clock?" Then she grinned. "D'uh!" She grabbed the cheque.

"Good, because there are some things I won't do to make it up to you guys, and bursting into flames on a morning bank run is near the top of that list," Angel said, trying for humour, and coming fairly near. At a quelling glance from Cordelia, he added meekly, "It's a short list."

Cordelia sank happily into one of the two comfortable chairs in the office -- the other one Wesley was seated in -- and kicked her shoes off. "Are footrubs on it? Because, and I'm just saying this to anybody who happens to be in the immediate vicinity and *wants* to get back into my good graces, this girl would not say 'no' to one right about now."

Angel, Wesley, and Gunn exchanged glances. None of them moved right away, and from the other two's expressions, Wesley guessed that neither was any more eager than he to take her up on the...offer.

Cordelia glared at each of them in turn. "Excuse me? Was I too subtle?"

"Um, Cordelia? It's not that we don't love you," Angel began.

Cordelia beamed at him, even as she continued frowning.

"But could you wash your feet first?"

Her frown vanished as she sniffed. "I thought that was Angel."

"You got into the fertilizer, too," Gunn pointed out.

"And no one *told* me?"

The three men looked at each other again. "Er..." Wesley began, then thought better of what he'd been about to say. Since it had involved admitting fear of retaliation, which would, just by his mentioning it, put the thought of retaliation into Cordelia's head. "We thought you knew?"

"Oh, yuck. God, I wish this place had a shower." She made a disgusted face, and Wesley couldn't help but agree with her. He hadn't escaped entirely unfertilized, himself. Beyond that, it would be nice to come back to the office and step under a hot spray, just letting the water soak into his tired muscles, without having to drive the twenty blocks home to his flat.

"Be glad we got the toilet working," Charles complained.

Wesley noted, with some pleasure, that Angel didn't take the opportunity to suggest they move the office back to the hotel. He'd been waiting for it, or some something like it, ever since Angel had returned.

He professed to be willing to work for them, but Wesley knew that once the Boss, always the Boss. It would only be a matter of time before leadership was gently wrestled away from his hands, and back into Angel's. He didn't mind so much, really. Normally -- when not possessed or obsessed -- Angel was a good leader.

But Wesley was enjoying the turn of the head to him, the patient waiting for *Wesley's* opinion, and the agreement when he finally made his decision. Not so overt that they called him the boss, or even failed to argue with him over certain matters. But still, it happened now as it had never happened when Angel was in charge.

"You want me to swing by on my way home and check to see if the road crew managed to get that forsythia bush out of the traffic signal yet?" Gunn asked him. Ever concerned, as they all were, about the chance of someone coming back at them for damages they had been unable to avoid.

"I imagine it will fall from the wires on its own, unless it decides to take root up there," Wesley replied seriously. "Don't go out of your way."

"Besides, they can't really prove it was us," Angel added. This time the easy tone was there, and no one had to force a smile in reply. The tiny smile that almost appeared on Angel's face in return was encouraging.

"I suppose we should be heading out," Wesley began, recognizing the signs of everyone wants to go home, but no one wants to leave. Post-case wind-downs weren't quite so comfortable here, but no one's flat was close enough to make it reasonable to invite everyone over. Perhaps, one day, they *would* go back to the hotel.

"Yeah. I need to get up early!" Cordelia grinned again, snapping the cheque.

It was on the tip of Wesley's tongue to tell her not to tear it. Then there was a rumbling, growling sound from the doorway.

"Angel, there's blood in the little fridge in the back room. You don't have to be invited to go get it, you know," Cordelia said without looking up from her worship of the cheque.

"That wasn't me," Angel replied, turning around, and Wesley looked as well, knowing what he'd see even as he denied it.

"No..." Then, stronger, a last chance at sounding in control before his confidence and most of his sanity fled, "No, it wasn't." Then he stumbled backwards, mind casting frantically about, checking himself, checking his surroundings. Was there anything that would provide instant disapproval? Besides, of course, the fact that he was here.

Angel was stepping out of the doorway as an expanse of smoke appeared, coalescing into a form. Three demonic forms: red skin, horns, glowing yellow eyes -- and all well-dressed, two behind the one now standing right beside Angel. Angel and Gunn were turning to face them, hands going for weapons and only restraining themselves when the persons who'd appeared only stood there, as if calmly, looking for all the world to be clients in search of help.

Wesley dropped to his knees, and pressed his face to the floor.

"Master," he whispered, the one word of greeting that he was permitted to speak, the acknowledgment that he was waiting. For orders, for punishment, for death. For whatever the figure in front of him felt like doing with him. Polishing his shoes, perhaps, since they were standing in something that had dropped from Angel's.

"Wesley, have you lost your mind?" Cordelia spluttered.

He didn't answer. Couldn't answer. It wasn't his place to answer. He could feel the silence, could imagine the looks being traded from one to another of his friends...the demanding, now-angry looks being sent towards Master Arelain.

"What's going on?" Angel asked, and Wesley could hear everything he couldn't see on their faces. It warmed him, and grieved him that as soon as Master Arelain spoke, his place here would be over.

"I have come to re-claim my property. It went astray."

He could hear the anger, could read the voice as well as he'd ever been able to read languages of human or demon. He might escape with death.

Likely not. Punished for an audacity that could not be redeemed....

Cordelia stood up. Bare feet on the floor near Wesley's face, pink-painted toenails, fertilizer-scent and all, and he had never been so happy to have her standing near him, if only for a final few moments. "Well, we'd be happy to find it for you, if you can give us a description. We do charge for expenses, but it's on a case-by-case basis, and I think you'll find our services to your satisfaction." Familiar patter, probably not nearly as comforting to Cordelia as it was to Wesley at the moment, because she could obviously tell that these *weren't* potential clients.

"I have no need of your services, whatever they might be. I only wish my property returned to me." Master Arelain's voice was calm. Reasonable. Dealing with creatures not quite on his level, but still somehow classified as part of polite society. Just.

His anger would be reserved for when they returned. When he had the moment to spare his errant property, to see that matters were dealt with. Would he perform punishments himself, or hand it over to Roelin, standing there at his left? Or was there a new overseer, in the few years since Wesley had been gone....

"What property is that?" Gunn was asking in a quiet, hard voice. They could not have missed his whispered greeting, his one word spoken. They had to know, though they could not be able or willing to admit they knew. Not yet.

"My slave. I sent it to a servant of mine, over twenty years ago. He was in need of a replacement for a child he'd killed. I sent him one of my slaves and now I come to find the slave was released from service...and yet did not return to me."

The sound of that voice made him shiver. The shock, the anger, all so quiet and calm -- it would never do to lose one's temper in front of outsiders, away from the safety of one's own home, where one could mete out punishment and boredom.

He'd been foolish, he knew. Not to go back when Master Wyndham-Pryce had told him he was released from service, two years ago. But he'd thought he'd not be missed. One slave, out of the entire household. One chance to become something else, something that lived in the sunlight of this world and bowed to nothing save necessity. Something that need not live in constant fear of pain, of humiliation, of every breath he took and move he made being controlled by someone else, and nothing he could do about it.

He had hoped. Lived in that personal torment that he had inflicted upon himself by not returning where he belonged, because of that hope. If he was quiet. If he behaved himself. If he was good, then he might not be found.

For naught. He had been found, and was left even without the hope now, that he might be killed and spared some pain.

"You sound like you're trying to say Wes belongs to you." Gunn sounded deceptively calm, deceptively just a bit confused. He could hear the whiff of metal on skin as Gunn twirled the ax in his hand.

"Its name is not 'Wes'. That was the name of the child it was sent to replace." Master Arelin still sounded calm. As if discussing the racing forms, before heading on his way.

"You're saying you own Wes?" Angel repeated.

"I am saying I own this slave, who was sent to replace the dead human named Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. This one has no name. It has never had a name, it is simply my property."

There was a thump on the floor. Gunn's axe-handle, hitting hard, punctuating a step forward. "Maybe you're new to this reality, slick. Because 'round here, we haven't had slaves since 1863."

"I am not from this reality," Master Arelain agreed. "And that document was written by humans. For humans. It applies neither to myself, nor my property."

There was silence, once more. He... no, it -- and it should get back into the habit so it would not slip up and refer to itself as 'he' and gain even more punishment-- worried for his...its friends.

"If you're so all fired about reclaiming it, what took you so long?" That was Angel, and the tone of his voice was hard to read. Couldn't tell if there was anger, or disgust in there.

Or the lack of concern that it sounded like.

"I was not aware it had been released from its master's service," Master Arelain replied. "Wyndham-Pryce died a week ago, and came into servitude in my realm... at which point I discovered the slave I had given him was missing."

That his father... that its master had died, was news both welcome and abhorrent. If it could allow itself the luxury of hatred for any Master, it would have been Wyndham-Pryce the Elder. Arelain, Roelin, any of the overseers, were simply existing, doing what they had all been born to do. The Masters to rule and use and punish, the slaves to serve and be used and accept punishment. The man it had called his father had grown up in a world where such was not the case-- and he had enjoyed his mastership. Had abused and killed his own child, a free being, then bought or bartered another to take its place.

Then treated it as harshly, taking a horrid kind of glee in the fact that there would be no recompense for what he did. As long as his substitution was not discovered, so long as no one found out about the body, spirited away to a ring of Hell, where it was studied and used to fashion another, this one's own.

"So if Wes was released from service, how can you just show up and re-claim him?" Cordelia was asking. Still standing in front of itself, and it was grateful for the presence between Master Arelain and it. Futile it was, but comforting, in these last few moments.

"Because it belongs to *me*." There was a hint of impatience that even humans could hear. "Ownership reverts to the rightful Master -- there is no such thing as a free slave."

"Wanna bet?" That was from Gunn. It smiled, faintly as it dared.

"Who said he was free?" That was from Angel.

The slave that used to be Wesley wished desperately that it could see Angel's face. To know what was happening. But raising its head from the floor would make things go even worse when it was back in its rightful place at Master Arelain's feet, in their own special ring of hell. It dared not even hope that Angel's words were the precursor to something that would change that 'when' to an 'if.' It dared not, but it longed to look, and it dared not do that either.

"There is another claim?" A rare hint of surprise, perhaps mixed with amusement, in his Master's voice. Its. Its Master's voice. If it cocked its head like the RCA dog at its Master's voice, would Arelain appreciate the humour, before cutting that head off?

"Well, no one else had a claim on it, so I did. Finders keepers -- that's legal even in Hell." Angel sounded amused, vaguely. It wanted to creep over to Angel, even if that brought it closer to Master Arelain. It had not been given permission to move.

"It's yours?" Master Arelain was surprised.

"No one else seemed to want him. I can always use help around the office, you know?" Casual, as if discussing the colour of the carpet.

"And I am supposed to believe this?" This was the tone it had only ever heard before some unfortunate, or stupid, slave was destroyed.

"I heard him say it," Cordelia piped up. "'I am your faithful servant', he said. More than once."

"Did it?" Master Arelain asked thoughtfully. "Well? Did it?" Now it was being addressed. It knew by the change in tone, by a certain ring that perhaps only it could hear, or recognize. Nothing it could answer would make things worse now-- or so it could hope.

"Yes. It..." But an explanation had not been requested, merely an answer. And hope did its tantalizing dance in its head. "Yes, Master Arelain."

Silence, silence for moments in which whole empires could be bought and sold in Hell. Or the fate of one useless, erring slave decided.

"No matter. We are not bound to contracts with humans, unless they are formally witnessed, as was the bargain with this one's former Master. We recognize no implied agreements with the natives of this world."

"I'm not a native." There was no sound but the slight lisp it hadn't even known it would recognize, that signified there were fangs in Angel's mouth. Gold in his eyes, and a vampiric visage staring at Master Arelain's.

Another pause. It had no idea what would happen next. Kept itself still and waiting, through long practice, certain knowledge that moving would make things worse, even if such were impossible.

"I see."

More silence. If only *it* could see. It could imagine the looks on Cordelia and Gunn's faces. Questioning. Wondering if this was going to be a battle to end all battles, in the middle of the office, or if....

"Very well, then. My apologies, please enjoy your...find."

There was the sound again. The rumble and growl, and it could not look up. Could not rise from the floor to see if what it was hearing meant that its Masters... were no longer its Masters. It simply waited, forehead pressed to the threadbare carpeting. Waited.

"Wesley, come on, get up. They're gone." That was Cordelia, and that meant everything...but it was not Wesley, and Cordelia was not its Master, so it waited, still.

"Wes?" Gunn had moved closer, but it did not respond. There was the absent-sound of Angel crossing the floor, and it was aware of Angel's movement only because it had to be. Hidden dangers of being owned by something you could not sense approaching... It tensed as Angel stopped, in front of it.

"You can get up," Angel said. It rose, then, to its feet. Kept its eyes downcast. "You can look at me," Angel told it. Gunn gave a surprised 'huh?' as it lifted its eyes to meet Angel's, unsure of what it would find there.

"Wesley, what's wrong? You're free," Cordelia asked, putting a hand on its shoulder. It didn't move to shake that hand off; it had not been told what to do, and Cordelia was a friend. Of its Master's.

Nor did it answer.

Gold eyes, before it, shadowed in demonic folds, then shifting and melting into a familiar brown. Someone he had once called friend, when he was still a he. It... had lost track of the proper pronouns, which was a punishable offense. Anything was a punishable offense. Or nothing.

So it waited.

"I'm going to try to explain this to you, but if you are ever uncertain about something I want you to ask."

"Angel, man, what are you doin'?" Gunn had grabbed Angel's arm, but if he'd tugged on it, it was't going anywhere.

Angel looked at the other man. "Legally, I own Wesley now," he began.

"Yeah, and *legally* I can still slay your ass. We don't own folks here." Gunn was growing angry.

"Gunn, if I don't own him, *that* guy does. That guy who was just here. And if you think what they told you about Angelus was nasty...they make him... make me, look like David Nabbit."

Gunn didn't sound convinced as he gave a small growl that was purely human.

"I said *legally* I own him." Angel's voice was calm. Not subservient, exactly, or timid, as it had been when he had stood in the doorway, unsure of his place. "Your name... was he right, you have no name?" Angel asked it.

"Slaves are not named," it replied. It was not sure if it were safe to explain how it *had* been named, in the tradition of a people kept slaves for thousands of generations. It saw Cordelia frowning, and Gunn's startled look.

"What would you like to be called?" Angel asked.

It did not answer. It *could* not. It understood what its Master was asking. Continue the pretense of freedom, to keep its place in this world, in this society. But...if it erred....

Gently, very gently, Angel told it, "There is no wrong answer. I am asking you for your preference. It's not a trick."

"This one..." It stuttered. Something that had been in character for the human it had pretended to be for the last two decades. Something born of uncertainty and fear in the slave it had once again become.

"Wesley?" Gunn asked, but it could not answer. Could not give in to the temptation to look in response to the name that it had known for so many years.

"This one has no name," it responded dully. Softly. Safely.

Angel simply nodded. "Then since we're used to it, we'll name you Wes. If you decide to change it, you can."

It nodded its head. "Yes, Master."

Gunn exploded. "No, no, fucking no - I'm not gonna *listen* to--"

"Gunn!" Angel shouted, and it flinched. Gunn stopped, and looked at Angel, glaring, still ready to get in the vampire's face. Angel turned to it. "How long were you a slave to Arelain?"

"All of this one's life. Four hundred, thirty one years."

Gunn and Cordelia were gaping at it. Angel even looked surprised. But he turned to Gunn, and said, "He can't unlearn all that in ten minutes."

Now Cordelia was shaking her head. "No. No, he's Wesley, he reads too many books and rides a motorcycle because he thinks it'll make him look less stuffy, and he laughs at Celebrity Deathmatch when he thinks nobody's looking. He's our *friend*. He knew how to do all those things an hour ago, what's different now?"

"Everything," Angel answered. Gunn seemed about to argue again, and Angel threw up his hands. "Fine. You think it's that easy." He turned to it. To Wes, because that was the name it had been given. "You are Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. You're a man. You like imported beer and hate kleenex without lotion, and you have devoted your life to making things better for other people. The fact that I own you is a fiction. A legal pretense to keep you free. You are free. You belong to yourself. Do you understand?"

It nodded. "Yes, Master." It didn't smile, even if a part of it was amused at the exchange. Cordelia and Gunn were both looking uncertain, glancing from it, to Angel.

Cordelia took hold of its arm and pulled at it. It did not look towards her, even when she said "Wes!" sharply. It knew what its Master wanted her to understand, but the reflex was already there. Keeping it trained on its Master until released. "You're joking, right?" Cordelia asked. But it could hear her uncertainty. "Angel?"

"Just give him time, Cordelia. He knows." Angel tapped its head. "But it'll take a while for him to understand." And Angel tapped its heart. Where its human heart resided. It wondered suddenly if it were meant to retain its human body. Did Angel suspect that it could be ordered to return to its true form? Would it be betraying its Master if it didn't tell him?

"Wesley, I know you don't believe all of those things I said. I know you can't. But for now, I want you to act as if they were true. Can you do that?"

It nodded. "Yes, Master."

"Wesley Wyndham-Pryce would never call me Master. He would call me Angel."

"Yes, Angel."

"Oh god, that's creepy," Cordelia said. "It sounds exactly the same."

It could see its Master's eyes. There was sorrow in them. That startled it. Enough that it thought -- if what its Master were saying was true, then it would be all right to tell him. "Angel?"

Of course, if it were wrong....

"Yes?" When it didn't reply right away, trying frantically to re-think its decision, Angel continued, "Wes, there's one more thing I need to tell you. I'm not going to punish you. For anything. Even if I get mad at something you've done." The sadness was still there, and it wanted to believe...that it was there for it, for this slave. Named or not. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"That this one shall not be punished, no matter what it does," it said easily, the answer was clear. But a moment after it spoke the words, it understood.

"Why does he keep referring to himself as 'this one'?" Cordelia looked at Angel. Then she glared at it. "You're not an 'it', Wesley. So stop it!"

It looked to its Master-- to confirm. Just to confirm, that the statement was true. That it was not a trick, or a trap, and there was nothing on Angel's face to say otherwise, so it turned to Cordelia. "This one will try." It should have been able to do anything requested of it. But it knew it could not promise to be perfect....

"Oh, my god," she said softly. As if she finally understood. That everything really had changed.

"What were you going to tell me, Wes? It's okay. You can say whatever you want." Angel corrected himself: "Whatever you feel is necessary for me to know."

It looked back to Angel, and said, "It-- I...was..it...." It stopped, and took a deep breath. "It can change forms, back to its original. If its Master wishes."

Cordelia's grip on its arm tightened, but she didn't say a word. She leaned her head against its arm, briefly, looking at Angel. It could imagine the beseeching expression on her face. She wanted Angel to fix things.

"Change forms? What--" Gunn stopped, and asked, more seriously, "What kinda demon are you, anyhow?" Cordelia's grip loosened immediately.

"It... this one is not exactly a demon. Its kind are slaves to demons. They have no choice. No alliance to good or evil, only to the Masters." Only to its Master, now, who was a demon of another sort entirely.

"You... do you want to..." Angel shook his head. It could understand his dilemma. Angel wanted to let it have its own will. Angel wanted to know, but didn't want to tell Wesley to do it. But it had no will of its own.

"This one... is. Is your faithful...servant," it said, on its own. Knowing, as Angel had said, in its head, that it would not be punished, but only hoping, in its human heart. Then it changed.

The transformation was easy, something it had not done at all since it stepped into the house of Master Wyndham-Pryce. But its own form was always there, in its body, in its blood and bones. In all the times it had re-formed itself, or parts of itself, at the command of its Master, it had never held itself in another form for so long until being sent to Earth.

Changing back was almost like breathing again. It stretched its legs a bit where it stood, not moving from its spot. Legs longer than a human's, a tad more slender, and with feet that were longer, more agile, and more resembling a tree-dweller's than a ground-dweller. Its arms were shorter by a few inches, and its hands long, tapered. Difficult to see their strength in apparent fragility. Its face and torso remained human-like, through narrower, and its eyes had changed, lost the iris and turned back to a speckled blue that resembled broken mosaic.

"You look like an elf," Cordelia said, and she sounded astonished. It shook itself out, as if it were shaking off water. "With bat-wings."

It opened its wings. Spread them out, so the iridescent membranes could glitter even in the dim light of the office. Gazed with its natural sight at the vampire before it, a human-sized figure with an aura like a double-shadow, demon and soul entwined, and waited to be told what to do.

"What do you see?" Angel asked it. Asked... dare it begin to think of itself as him?

"I see you, Angel." What other answer did he wish? If he would tell Wesley, then it, he, would try to give that answer, but....

"I just meant... how are your eyes different from human eyes?" But Angel had caught the personal pronoun, and gave an approving smile. It was trying. Trying to act as if.

It wanted to try to give the answer its Master wanted. His...Master. But what did-- "I see your soul."

"You--" Angel looked down at himself, as if he could see what it did. When he looked back up, he was smiling. "Cool."

"You can see souls?" Cordelia was back, holding its arm, looking up at it with an expression it knew.

She wanted to display it, perhaps as decor in her apartment. It was not sure if it were heartened by her appreciation for its form. But it answered, "It can see auras. Angel's soul is part of his aura."

She surprised it. When it was a he, when it had known that it was a he, she had done so more than once, but this was a different sort of surprise. "Can you see my soul?" she asked. As if she were unsure whether she possessed one.

"No. Your soul is inside you. It can see your aura, though."

"Oh." A small frown, then the familiar expression returned. "What color is it?"

It thought briefly of trying to describe what it saw, then it simply said, "It matches your eyes."

"Really?" Cordelia looked down at herself, and it heard Gunn laugh. She glared at him, and it glanced over quickly, feeling more certain that it would not be punished for allowing its attention to wander from its Master so much. Gunn was grinning.

It liked how Gunn's aura rippled when he smiled.

"Figures that even the girl's *aura's* color-coordinated," Gunn chuckled.

"Hey, when you've got it, you've got it," she said, sniffing.

It was familiar. Whether they were simply reverting to their usual behavior, after the stress of the Masters' visit, or whether they were knowingly trying to calm it, soothe it, such was the result. They were not precisely acting as if it were the man, Wesley, as if nothing had changed, but neither were they treating it as some strange creature that had replaced their friend.

"Wesley, would you feel more comfortable staying in this form for now, or would you prefer to return to your human form?" Its Master asked the question, and it tried to form an answer that would please, yet still convey the fact that it *had* no preference, no right to have a preference... "I'm sorry," Angel corrected himself. "Please return to your human form, for the moment."

It nodded and did so. It caught the glance which Cordelia and Gunn sent to its Master, and wondered if their attempts to act normally weren't just momentary forgetfulness. But how they could forget, when it had stood here in its true form.... It wished its Master would tell it what was expected of it. But it knew it could not ask.

"Wes?" Cordelia said its...name, and touched its arm, lightly. It looked over and found her staring up at it, worriedly.

It had no idea how it would reply to what she wanted to say. It could see that she wanted to make it feel better -- reassure it, somehow, of things it knew were not true.

"Mine was the prettiest, right?" she asked.


It stood by the door. Waiting. Waiting for its Master to finish explaining things to his friends. Waiting for some idea of what was to happen to it. To him.

"I'll take him home with me, for now," Angel was saying.

"I don't get it," Gunn said in response. "He still remembers where he lives, right? How to ride his bike, how to dial 1-800-collect, how to file his taxes. Right?"

Angel nodded patiently. "Yes. He still remembers, but he doesn't feel like he has any right to do any of those things without being ordered to. And he's... vulnerable, I guess you'd say. He's a servant, now. He can't stop thinking of himself like that. Not overnight. And if we let him go off by himself... There are people who can pick up on that kind of vulnerability."

"So, basically you're saying that he can't be trusted without a babysitter at the moment, and you're the best choice, because you're his..." Gunn had some trouble spitting out the word, "Master?"

"Gunn, I'd send him home with you if I thought he'd feel better with that." There was pain in Angel's voice which triggered the need to...do something. Serve its Master so he would be pleased.

"Wes, you wanna come home with me?" Gunn asked.

It held itself very still, and looked at its Master. "Gunn," Angel said quietly, "Can't you see that giving him more freedom than he can deal with is scaring him?"

Gunn took its arm, and tugged, wanting it to turn away from its Master, and face the other man. It did not, until it saw the barely-there nod of Angel's head. Permission granted, needed or not, it turned towards Gunn.

"Is that true?" Gunn appeared somewhat shell-shocked.

It tried to frame an answer. Tried to please its Master, and its Master's friend. "It... this one... I..." And the word felt wrong, wrong on its human tongue, like a presumption, even though it had been told it could speak so of itself. "I require direction. It is this one's purpose to serve. Without purpose, this one has no knowledge of what to do."

"But you *know*. How to be you. All that stuff. How to read and write and make tea, right?"

It nodded. "It has that knowledge. But it has no reason to do so, unless it has been told to."

Gunn looked at Angel. "But you told him to act like he was Wesley. Isn't that the same thing?"

Angel nodded. A bit sadly, to its practiced eye, who had known Angel in moments of moroseness that far outweighed this one. "He could act like that, yes. But he wouldn't be free, then. He would be a slave to being Wesley, without ever knowing if that was what he wanted to be."

There was silence for a moment. Then Cordelia asked, "You mean, maybe you don't like tea?"

It shrugged -- it had never given the matter any thought. It suddenly realised that was what Angel was trying to say.

"Hey, cool! Maybe you're a beers and monster trucks kinda guy. You and me can go hang." Gunn was grinning, but it could read the human's eyes. There was as much pain in them as in Angel's. Pain it had caused, simply by being.

Perhaps it should simply pretend that it was Wesley, and pretend it wanted to be.

It glanced at its Master, who seemed to read the thought on Wesley's face. "No. You can't do that. Even if it hurts you to have to learn to be free, going back to what you were before is the one thing you can't do."

It looked back and forth now, trying to think of something to say that would ease the confusion, the sadness on the faces around it, but it couldn't think of anything. "This one does not know what it *should* do."

Angel reached for its arm, and it stood still. Its Master had every right to touch it. To do anything with it. Angel simply placed a hand there, however. "We'll teach you," his Master said.

It bowed its head. Then it nodded quickly, once. He. He nodded again.

It was afraid. That was familiar, at least. It had always known the fear of being wrong, being taken by its Master and punished or used for no reason other than a Master's whim. It was used to never feeling safe from its Master's infinite reach. Even at night, when the Master and his people were asleep, or when it was outside surrounded only by other slaves -- there was always fear.

The worst part was trying to understand what its Master wanted, so it could try to predict what would happen to it. Its Master now, Angel, said it expected it to learn how to be free. Its Master had said it would not be punished. Games a Master was allowed to play, if he wanted to lure a slave into a false sense of well-being.

Yet it knew Angel. Or rather, the person that it had played when it had pretended to be free knew Angel. Thought that Angel would not do such things. Was not a cruel man, and would not be a cruel Master.

Master Wyndham-Pryce had played such games, though. Wesley, come out of your room. I'm sorry I was cross with you. Everything will be all right. And it had been. For a time. Long enough to convince the slave who had become a boy that he was speaking the truth-- until the next time. Angelus was a creature far older and far more cruel than the monster who had lurked behind Wesley's father's face. How long could that demon wait in hiding, letting his servant think that it would not be punished?

It was shocked to find its Master's hand on its chin. Trembling that it had missed some command of its Master's, it allowed its head to be held, turned its attention back to its Master, who was smiling at it, sadly. "You don't have to believe me right now. I know that. But I'll tell you again -- I'm not going to punish you. Even if you intentionally make me angry, I'm never going to punish you. This isn't a game; this is your life. And I'm going to give it back to you."

It tried to nod, again, let its Master know it had heard, and understood. It felt the hand brush its cheek before its Master's hand dropped.

"What would make you feel safe, Wes? Is there something I can give you?
Something I can do?"

It could not speak. Not that its Master was asking it a question it could not answer -- but it did not know how it should answer. When had it ever felt safe? How could Angel re-create that, if it had? Yet it could not fail to answer. "It does not know," it said softly. "It has never felt safe."

It was glad, just then, that it could not see Cordelia's aura, because it was certain that the color would not match the muddy shade that her eyes had become. When she noticed it looking at her, she turned away. Only for a moment. When she turned back, her eyes were clear again. Determined. "So we make you feel safe. If it takes me sleeping at the foot of your bed with a stake in my hand, and Gunn at the door swinging an axe."

"Maybe you could stand at the door, and I could sleep at the foot of the bed?" Gunn suggested. "I mean, just 'til you wash your feet."

Cordelia stuck her tongue out at him. And... it did feel, if not safe, then safer. Something familiar. Yes, it was the familiarity that had come with its old life, but no matter how much it had changed in a few minutes, these people had not. They were still friends, to each other, to its Master, and, whether or not it was quite able to accept the fact yet, to it. To him.

Even if they could never make it feel safe, with axes and swords, or sleeping at its feet. Though it felt warmed knowing she would offer such. Offer, or threaten to do so anyhow. It-- He, he glanced at Angel and found his Master smiling.

"That won't be necessary," he began, and it was somehow easier to think it, now, in the face of these humans' teasing each other. In the face of their determination for *him*.

Cordelia crossed her arms, and gave a look -- and was interrupted by Gunn, who said, "Oh, you better believe it's necessary. Maybe you lost your sense of smell when you reverted to slavery, but she is *definitely* washing her feet."

"Just for that, *you* are sleeping in the *hallway*."

So what had been a distant possibility, the three of them forgiving Angel, trusting Angel, enough to return to the hotel, became a simple matter of fact, neither discussed nor debated. They felt that he would feel safer with all of them there, nor did Cordelia and Gunn entirely wish to see him left alone with his Master, so they all tramped out of the office, and piled into Angel's car. The hotel did, if nothing else, have plenty of room for all four of them.

Angel didn't seem put off by the other two's insistence that they should be there, to help. Surely they didn't mean to protect it from its *Master*, which they couldn't really do, if Angel truly wished to hurt it. But...but it was tired of trying to understand why. Before being sent here, to the humans' world, there had been little enough reason to think beyond 'what does my Master want' and how to survive to the next day. Being Wesley Wyndham-Pryce had allowed him to learn new skills, devote his energy to learning things beyond survival. It had learned to think about things not related to its Master's pleasure, and now, after so very few years, it had grown less able to devote its entire being to doing so again.

It wanted to rest, to sleep and not think about anything beyond waking in the morning.

Of course, nothing was quite that easy. There were rooms a plenty in the Hyperion, but only one was truly ready for anyone to sleep in it, and that was Angel's. Angel insisted that he have it. Gunn insisted that he have it. Cordelia, after much frowning and glaring at the floor, insisted that he have it. But it wasn't right for it-him to take what belonged to its Master. Finally Angel once again saw its dilemma, and set up bedding for all four of them in a place that belonged specifically to none-- the lobby.

It was strange, for all of them, and that in its own way was a comfort to him. Enough so that when Cordelia at last returned from her shower and lay down near him, stake, indeed, in her hand, and whispered, "Good Night, Wesley," he was able to close his eyes, and greet the darkness behind them, drifting into sleep.


It opened its eyes and found the darkened lobby taking shape. Only enough light for a vampire or demon to see clearly; if it changed forms, it could see. It considered the need to change, listening and watching, and only some moments after coming wide awake did it wonder what had woken it.

It listened again, and heard the rustle of sound repeated. More than the movement of someone still asleep, shifting amidst a dream, but the motion of someone rising from their bed. Not yet coming closer, still just rising, attempting to remain as quiet as possible.

Not his Master. He -- and he was pleased that it came more quickly this time, especially when 'he' had only just awakened -- listened and recognized Gunn, slipping from his pallet to sneak away.

In the last three nights they had slept here together in the lobby, trying to give him a feeling of safety with their presence, he had not told them he slept more fitfully. Alert to any sign that he would be needed, he came awake a dozen or more times each night.

He could not tell them, nor, if he was developing any sort of ability to feel want, did he want to. He did not wish to cause them distress, and this attempt of theirs to make him feel secure was at least making *them* feel secure. And that was a way to serve, without even being asked. The sort of service he had been *allowed* to provide without being told, once: knowing his Masters' needs and supplying them.

Now, he simply stared into the darkness, waiting for Gunn to return. Waiting to see if there was something he could do, though there never was. He heard the footsteps come nearer, then stop, standing close to him instead of moving to Gunn's pallet, which was, as promised, near his feet. "Wes?" came the whisper. "Are you awake?"

He sat up. "I am awake, Charles."

There was a softly muttered curse, then, "Come on." Gunn headed away from the lobby once more. It rose to its feet instantly, and followed, reaching Gunn before he could get more than a few feet away. It followed Gunn into Angel's office, where it waited. Gunn shut the door quietly, then turned on the lamp on Angel's desk. Then Gunn stared at him.

It waited.

After another minute, Gunn whispered, "You're just waiting for it, aren't you? I ain't your master, and I ain't gonna be ordering you around. Except when you need to be told to duck outta the way of a Whothuthiwhat'sitcalled demon ax."

"Whuthuthian," it supplied.

Gunn gave it a look that it was coming to know more readily than its former master's look of wrath. For a moment, it wanted to smile. "Yeah, that thing you nearly got decapitated by a month ago," Gunn said. "Wes--" He stopped, his frustration clear.

It waited. It could, just, prompt him, but prompting him would be something on the order of, "Yes, what may I do to serve you," and that would not please him at all. Wesley knew this, and so kept silent. Waiting.

Gunn slammed his fist against the desk. "Dammit!" When it reacted neither in fear nor surprise, Gunn looked apologetic. Even ashamed. "Sorry. I just... Is this for real, Wes? For real, real?"

"Is what for real?" it asked. Noticed it had slipped back into calling itself 'it', with the habit of serving, waiting to serve. It wanted to say it did not understand, but those words always made these three angry. Perhaps it was just the word 'it'.

"You're really doing this? This is really you?"

An answer was required, here. It knew that -- but, as always since Angel had become its Master, it did not know what answer to give. It waited, and Gunn waited, until finally it whispered, "It does not understand what you want."

Another slam of the fist on the wood of the desk, another apologetic look. Frustration. It did not wish to frustrate, but it had been asked to answer questions honestly, not trying to come up with the answer that would most please, and the only honest answer to the question was its own confusion.

"I want," Gunn said slowly, trying to phrase the question in a way that it could answer something else, anything else. It could sense this, as easily as its true form could sense the sparks of light in Gunn's aura when he made someone else laugh. "I want to know if this person, this... servant that you seem to be, is really you. Nobody's put a hex on you, nobody's switched you for a clone when we weren't looking, that's really the guy I know in there. Thought I knew."

It knew what Gunn wanted. He wanted the person it had pretended to be. It looked away, and tried to tell itself it should answer. Respond, somehow, take the risk that they were all telling him -- that it was okay to be honest, to speak without fear of reprisal. The words almost didn't come out, as he spoke them. "What if I am not?"

There was silence. Gunn made no move, made no sound, and it began to think it had said all it could, and perhaps it should return to its bed, return to its Master's side, and wait.

"What if... you're not saying you're someone else, right? You're saying you never were the guy I thought I knew." It thought it recognized something like understanding, finally, in the softened voice, and it nodded.

"That is what I am saying."

Gunn shook his head. "I don't believe it."

It was silent. What could it say to that? It was not lying, it was not trying to please him, or only insofar as it had tried to please him by speaking the truth.

Gunn came closer to it. To him. "I believe that you believe it. But I wanna tell you something." Staring at him, searching for something in his eyes that he-it could not convince Gunn he wouldn't find there. "I saw you. Saw you do things for no other reason than that it was the thing to do. Saw you save people."

It nodded. Gunn required an explanation for why it had done that, when it was Wesley, the escaped slave in hiding. Still playing the part. "This one was taught to serve the wishes of the Council of Watchers. To serve those who wish to maintain the light in this world."

"Were you taught how to laugh? How to relax and watch basketball with somebody in the afternoon, and try to actually understand the point? How to stand up to the Council when they came back and tried to take Faith away? 'Cause that was all you, and I don't think they told you to do that. I think you learned to do it on your own."

Gunn had not been present for that last. They had been talking about him, then. It had known that they would, that they did. That they had discussed what he had been, away from his hearing. Did they truly wish for that person so much? Perhaps he should, after all, try to return to that, if it would please them. Perhaps.

Except, some part of him did not want to. He did, however, want to try again to let Gunn understand. "I was told to be a Watcher. A Watcher's son, raised to be a proper Watcher. I was told to study, told to learn how to fight, to fight evil, to fight vampires. Told to learn languages and weaponry and demons, told to learn magic. I was told to be a student, to be a Watcher, to be English. To be human. It was told everything, and it does not know what it *is*."

It's voice had risen slightly as it spoke, and it shivered, wondering if it had overstepped its bounds. Gunn was staring at it, eyes wide. It did not think it had spoken loudly enough to awaken its Master, but it listened. Waited. Blinked, when Gunn smiled. What had it done?

"That's a start."

It did not understand, entirely, but it understood that it had done something which pleased Gunn, and it smiled. Involuntarily. Also, perhaps, a start.

Gunn opened the door, motioning him out, and they moved quietly back to the center of the lobby. Still early, still tired, and still waiting for Gunn to tell him to go back to sleep. A reflex. He was not expecting to see two forms near his empty pallet, both heads propped up on elbows. Waiting. Saying nothing to him, giving no orders, asking no questions, only waiting for him to lie down again.

He stood there for a moment, surprised, and feeling yet again at a loss. Not an uncomfortable one, this time, which was curious. He wondered how long they had been awake. If there had been any whispering, while he and Gunn were talking. The thought made him want to laugh -- an urge quickly, and without thought, stifled.

"Damn, we didn't bring back snacks for everyone," Gunn said. Wes looked at him in bewilderment.

"Then you just march right back and get them," Cordelia said sternly.

"I've got snacks," Angel pointed out.

"Oh, no you don't" Cordelia returned, and there was a movement, obscured by the darkness, then the sound of a pillow striking something.

At Wesley's continued look of confusion, Gunn whispered, "He means us. But don't worry, I'll protect you." The other man stooped and grabbed a pillow, launching it at Angel's head.

Wesley stood. Merely watching, something he knew how to do quite well, though he didn't know how to participate in this thing that was happening in front of him, this display of ease between equals.

A flying sack of cotton-covered down flew at him from Angel's direction, and he allowed it to hit him in the chest and fall to the ground. When no one moved or breathed, and all bodies turned so that they must have been looking at him, he breathed deeply. Asked softly, "Was this one... was I supposed to catch it?"

"Or duck," Angel said with a casual tone. "Preferably grab it and hit Cordelia with it." Then his Master was ducking again, using his vampiric speed to avoid the pillow Cordelia had sent his way.

He bent at the knees, keeping an eye on the other three, who were trading blows, and pillows, as if he weren't watching. Picked up the pillow, and held it.

It knew it would never strike at them. Even in fun, even if told. Beyond what could not be done, it could never be done. But...he could appreciate their effort. He held out the pillow when Gunn tried to duck behind him, giving Gunn ammunition to replace the pillow he'd lost.

Gunn took it without a word, but with a smile, and sent it sailing straight for Cordelia. Touched him lightly on the arm, and nodded. Said again, "It's a start."


"Okay, now try this one." Wesley obediently opened his mouth, and Cordelia filled it immediately with his eighth flavor of ice cream in half as many minutes. He carefully allowed it to melt on his tongue. Trying, as he had been asked, to form an opinion.

"This one is...different, from the last one. There is more chocolate, and less banana."

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "That would be because this is double-chocolate fudge ripple, and that was banana cream pie. The question is, do you *like* any of them. Or *not* like any of them."

He tried, very hard, not to like one. It wasn't working. "I... think I like all of them."

Her eyes brightened. "Well, that's a good sign. Hmm. Maybe we should try the control flavor. Open wide."

Blinking, he did as requested, and his mouth was filled with a taste that was... not really describable, beyond... eccch. The man he had been would have said so, anyway. He screwed up his mouth reflexively.

"I take it you give lemon-persimmonberry a thumbs down?" Cordelia asked with a smile.

"That was disgusting," he said, and looked around for the glass of water Cordelia had provided earlier. Something about cleansing the palate, which of course she hadn't given him the chance to actually *do*. He took a long drink, then another, then a third until the taste was washed out of his mouth.

"OK! So, we have 8 yes votes. I think we should try something on the other end of the spectrum -- give you some contrast, to narrow down which ones you *like* and which ones you *love*."

"There's a difference?" he asked, and wondered why the question made her stop and look at him. But she just went to the freezer, and put away the fudge ripple, and took out two more pints.

She held them so he couldn't see the cartons, had he tried -- but he'd been told not to look. He waited until she pried a lid off, and held out a spoonful of something bright pink.

He could smell it from where he stood, and his mouth watered. His body had an opinion, at least. "Whatever that is smells very good." She waited, and at last he took the spoon, and tasted the ice cream. "This..." he said around a melting mouthful.. "This is wonderful." He didn't ask if he could have more, though he wanted to. At least he wanted to-- a month ago he wouldn't even have dared to have that desire. Cordelia took pity on him at last, and handed him the carton.

"Don't eat it yet. Try this one first."

She held out the other carton, and a clean spoon. Wesley looked back and forth between the two. He really only wanted to dig into the one he was currently holding, but she had *told* him to try the other one first... He hesitated another moment, then set the carton down and accepted the one Cordelia was handing him. He took a spoonful, and caught the fleeting expression of sadness on her face. Ah, then he'd been meant to say 'no'. Sometimes it was hard to tell when he was meant to learn something, and when he was meant to assert himself.

He took a bite, anyhow, of the second carton. This one was a faint green colour, and much lighter than the others. It tasted all right, more pleasant than the banana. But he still wanted the pink one. He realized Cordelia was waiting for his report. "I enjoyed the flavour of this one, as well."

He wondered if the pink one was melting.

She raised a delicate eyebrow at him. "And?"

Another moment of testing, he supposed. Wherein he was supposed to guess not what she wanted him to say, but what she wanted him to want to say. He stared at the container of pink ice cream. She stared at him.

It was *definitely* melting now.

Carefully, slowly, he said, "I... would like that one, please."

"Bubblegum? Okay, you have no taste, but at least you have... no taste. As opposed to no opinion." She smiled as she put the green ice cream away.

Bubblegum? He looked at the carton, and found that it was indeed 'bubblegum'. He took another, small spoonful, and ate it. The same, wonderful sweet flavour. Extraordinary. He savoured it, let the ice cream melt all over his mouth before swallowing. He found Cordelia watching him, as she walked over with one more carton of ice cream in her hands.

"Oh, no, you don't. This one is mine," she held it close, and he could read 'choco' on the label, between her fingers.

"I wasn't going to," he said quickly. She gave him a doubtful look, but settled in her chair with a spoon. He took a third spoonful, then stopped. "Cordelia?" It was still difficult to ask a question, but he felt confident this one would be inconsequential.


"Is this what bubblegum tastes like?"

She frowned at him. Perhaps not so inconsequential. "You've never tasted bubblegum?"

He shook his head. Something else for her to feel sorry about? "It wasn't allowed in Mast... in our house. And it was never a part of what I was taught to be, as an adult."

She had become adept at picking up the look of distress on his face when he was worried about having displeased one of them. Or having disappointed them, or made them feel sad. She moved her head slowly, not quite a nod or a shake.

"It's not quite the same thing. Just like the grape sherbet doesn't taste like real grapes." Simply answering his question, though he could see her filing it away in her little mental drawer, under D, for deprived childhood. Forgetting, for a moment, that it was not his childhood at all.

"Grape sherbet?"

"Oh! We didn't get to that one." She looked at the carton in his hands, and grinned. "We'll finish the taste test later... if you still have room."

"I don't think one pint of ice cream will fill me up," he said carefully. He wasn't exactly sure why he felt trepidatious, once more, unless it was simply that he'd sat here for an hour, so far, and had a rather pleasant time.

Perhaps it was that. That he could classify it as a pleasant time. Give it a subjective description. He had enjoyed this time spent with Cordelia, on its own. Had pleased her with his answers, yes, and had enjoyed the feeling of having served, which had been bred into his people for generations, but he had simply and separately enjoyed the moments. Himself. The ice cream. The company.

Utterly apart from any pleasure it might have given her to watch him pick and choose. It was... selfish. Dangerous. Tempting. He dug further into the bubblegum ice cream, letting the taste soothe his senses. Giving himself, for a moment, over to that temptation, to do something just for himself. Just for Wesley.

He even closed his eyes briefly, so he couldn't see her face.

He continued to eat the ice cream, matched by Cordelia, spoon for spoon.


The office was tidy, and quiet. It preferred the office like that, not only from long trained habits of cleaning up after, but something inside it seemed to feel calmer, when things were tidy. It would not last long, wouldn't last much longer than it took the others to arrive. But for now, the office was cleaned and straight. It felt as if it could settle in a chair, perhaps read something...and think to itself clearly, the word 'I' and 'me'.

'I' am reaching to the table and picking up a copy of Ms. Magazine. 'I' am putting it down because it is utter tripe. 'I' am making do with Newsweek because the new issue of Entertainment Weekly hasn't arrived yet.

It wished there were a decent newsagent nearby. 'He' had discovered through much experimentation on Gunn and Cordelia's parts that he *liked* television. Almost all television. Wesley the Watcher had had very distinct opinions on American television; opinions that coincided with it-his current feelings towards Ms. Magazine. Now, however, he was developing a fondness for things that even Cordelia turned up her nose at. JAG, for instance. And repeats of 'The Waltons.'

He was thinking perhaps he should ask his Master about it, however. The way Cordelia was starting to look concerned, even when she encouraged him whenever he told her about another new show he found he'd liked. She hadn't quite got any farther than saying, "You actually watched that? More than once?" but he suspected he might be behaving too...well, too something for her. Going overboard? Or was he acting...too alien?

They never said they were worried about what he would turn out to be -- who he would turn out to be. But he could see it. Especially from Gunn. Whenever the man thought Wes wasn't looking, or forgot or didn't know just how far away his true eyes could see, he would grow worried, and his aura would display tiny, dark, broken jags.

Wes didn't have to wear his true form to see the colours pulsating around them. A quick blink of his human eyes, he had discovered, and merely exercising his...will, strange as it felt to even think the word, and he could see. It was strange, and frightening, like everything else. To be allowed, even expected, to make choices about himself. His own form. His own body. The things Gunn watched him decide to do, and worried about.

True, most people didn't wake up every morning and decide whether the shirt they had laid out the night before would be utterly ruined by the addition of wing-holes in back. He was not, however, most people. He was simply discovering what it was to be *any* sort of person. It was, he almost dared think, rather fun.

There was a sound outside the door, and he glanced over, tensing slightly as he felt himself react, ready in case it should be a client, or Angel. The door swung open, and he saw Angel come inside. Wesley stood up and started towards him, and only managed to stop after he'd taken several steps.

"Angel," he said, and as always he had to stop himself from kneeling and waiting.

"Wes. How's it going?" Angel gave him a smile, but Wesley saw the expression in Angel's eyes that said he'd seen something he didn't like.

"It..." It was unsure. It knew its Master wanted a real answer, but at moments like these, even though the urge to please, to serve, was what was causing the unhappiness, it still felt the need. Still fell back to the safety of anonymity. Still worried in circles that whatever it had done today, it would not be quite right.

As usual, Angel sensed its distress. As usual, it sensed his disappointment in that distress.

"It is fine. *I* am fine," he answered. Fighting, and succeeding, just, to think of himself as he. "Cordelia has been teaching me how to play Minesweeper. It seems like a rather silly game." There. An opinion, and one that he actually possessed, himself. Staring at the patterns on the computer screen tended to leave gridblocked figures dancing in front of his eyes for hours afterwards. "And we've been shopping."

Angel looked purely sympathetic, now. "Shoes?"

"No, furnishings for my room." She had finally convinced him that the room *was* his, that he needn't sleep in the lobby any longer-- but that if it would make him feel safe, they would *still* camp out at the foot of his bed. He had not told her that being alone in 'his' room was something of a relief. She took it as independence, and perhaps it was becoming so. He certainly preferred the blue draperies over the dusty rose ones that Cordelia favoured.

There had been some discussion, some of which he had been present for, some he had not, concerning whether he should return to his flat. Wesley had known Gunn and Cordelia were ready to return to their own homes, and he had been ready to say he would return, so that they might be able to.

Angel had repeated his offer to give him a room upstairs, and the thought of returning to his flat, alone, had been more than he could accept. He might have said it frightened him, had fear been something he should avoid. Following yet another debate concerning his well-being and his freedom and a dozen other things he wasn't sure he even understood the relevance of, he'd agreed to move into a room in the hotel.

That had led to moving his things out of his flat -- an event which had lasted for two days, as Cordelia insisted on asking him 'did he want this' for every item he had, before she'd let him pack anything. It had been a good idea, in retrospect. He had no use for some of the things the former Wesley had collected. Obscure nineteen eighties pop records. Suits that simply did not...suit...him. But at the time, he had been more concerned with simply getting it over with. Not thinking of each item as a major life-decision that he had to make, right at that instant.

"Find anything interesting?"

Angel himself had no interest in interior decorating; he was simply trying to draw Wesley out, and Wesley knew it. But this was something humans did. It was small talk. Politeness for the sake of politeness. Nothing that could specifically be described as Angel testing him, or treating him with kid gloves.

"There was a nice bookshelf. I'm thinking of putting my Harry Potter books on it."

"Who's Harry Potter?"

"A book I found at the library last week. Yesterday, Cordelia took me to the bookstore and we...well, they're quite interesting. Purely fantastical, not a drop of truth in them, which I find...." He couldn't think of exactly the word. Or the feeling. He just knew that reading the books he'd picked out, made him not think about things.

"Ah, is that where you two were all day?" Angel said, still smiling.

A flash of tension ripped through him, before he could stop it. "This one did not know you required it yesterday," came tumbling from his lips.

Angel sighed. "I didn't require you. I just wondered where you were. You're free to come and go as you please."

The smile disappeared, and it knew that it, that he, had once again disappointed his Master. He felt the need to explain, though such things were beyond explanation, and Angel had heard all of them anyway. Had provided many of them. "I...know that. But sometimes I forget."

There, unexpectedly, was the smile, again. Because he had said he knew? It was not a lie, exactly. Perhaps it was better to occasionally forget that he was expected to try to be free, than to not be aware of it at all. "It's OK, Wes. I know this is hard. It's hard for all of us."

That surprised him. "It is?"

"Of course." Angel looked surprised. "Wes...despite all the times I've reassured you that you *don't* have to obey me, I know that if I say or do something, you might take it as an order and I could undo all your hard work." Angel looked away. "I kinda wonder if it wouldn't be easier if I left you alone for a--"

He stepped forward, not speaking, not reaching out. He response was undoubtedly clear enough, without those. "Please," he said, because asking was always allowed, and begging sometimes the purpose.

Angel put a hand out to touch his shoulder. "No? You don't want me to?"

He couldn't answer, could only nod, slightly. Saying no was next to impossible for him even with Cordelia-- although he had heard Gunn say, out of her hearing, that it was like that for most people, so he shouldn't feel bad about it. With Angel, he was unable to even consider it.

But he didn't need to, this time. Angel was nodding. "All right. If you want me to, I'll stay."

"Thank you." That was easy, as well. Accepting what was given, graciously -- even when it was what he wanted. He stopped, and thought that again. What he wanted. He suddenly realized Angel was smiling at him, again, and Wes discovered he himself, was smiling as well.

"Feels kinda nice, doesn't it?" Angel asked.

"It does. Yes. It is difficult to get used to, though. I remember... I remember that we were once concerned that you didn't want anything. Not even a donut."

A grin. "Then somebody who shall remain nameless attacked Cordelia and blew you up, and I discovered I did want something. My friends, safe."

Friends. They were Angel's friends, Cordelia and Gunn, and the man who Wesley had pretended to be. Now he was trying to learn what that meant, beyond what he had been taught that friends do.

He understood that they cared about him. Not why, but perhaps that was something none of them knew, for when he had asked Cordelia, she had given him the muddy-eyed look again, then said simply, "Because," and filled his mouth with double-chocolate fudge brownie walnut ripple. When he had asked Gunn, he hadn't received any sort of answer at all. The man had just stared at him for a moment, then walked out of the room. Hours later, he had returned, and had once again tried to get Wesley interested in going out to a monster truck rally. The question wasn't mentioned again.

At least not to Gunn. "Angel?" he asked, hesitantly.


He realized that yet again he did not know how to broach the question. It was easier with Cordelia and Gunn, even when it was very, very difficult. He understood why Angel thought it might be easier if he weren't around. Cordelia and Gunn were not his masters.

"I do not understand something," he finally stammered, looking at the floor and accepting the fact that eventually he would overstep his bounds and he may as well as the questions they kept telling him he could ask.

"What don't you understand?" Angel asked, in a very gentle tone.

"I do not understand why I upset Gunn so much. He says that he understands what I am doing, that he wants me to become whatever it is I want to be-- but he is sometimes more disappointed when I express a preference than when I do not."

It had confused him, the first time he noticed it-- he had been standing in the men's section of a department store, with Gunn, and had reached for something that had caught his eye. A bright red t-shirt, with a pocket in front. Just something simple. Gunn himself wore similar things all the time, but when he had seen Wesley reach for it, something had passed across his face that Wesley still didn't understand.

"I do not know what he wants from me."

There was a look on Angel's face he did not recognize. "He doesn't want to lose you," Angel said.

That wasn't an answer he'd expected. Perhaps he had missed something important, in this freedom thing. Or was it a human thing? He'd only been one for a few years, and Master Wyndham-Pryce had often told him he was a poor excuse for one.

"How is he to lose me?" he asked, disturbed by the words, and the thought that threatened, behind them. "Because it is a slave?"

"No," Angel said quickly, moving forward and putting his hands on Wes' shoulders. "Not because you were a slave. Because you're discovering who you are, and he thinks you'll become someone who doesn't like him anymore."

Wesley considered this. Not like him? He didn't like or not like any of the three who were the center of his life, now. He didn't dare form a preference about them. He tried not to serve them, he tried to please them only by accident, he tried to remember how to want to be with them or not be with them, but there was no question of like, or not like. He had feelings about them, but he couldn't explain them, define them. It was hard enough to say that he didn't like pistachio ice cream.

"I still do not understand. Why he cares, if I like him."

"Because he likes you."

The way Angel said it, made Wesley think that was the entire reason. Only it didn't make sense. If Gunn liked him, did it matter if Wesley liked Gunn? "How does choosing a shirt or a movie or a flavour of coffee reflect upon whether or not I like *him*? He isn't any of those things."

He tried to understand why this conversation was beginning to cause so much distress. He glanced up to find Angel looking amused. "Never thought I'd be the counselor type," he said, which only confused Wesley more. "But I'll give it a shot. Gunn liked you, liked who you were and what you did. Now, some of those things are changing. You don't wear the same clothes, or read the same books, and you eat *totally* different foods. None of those things make you who you are, though. You can change all of those things, and still be Wesley."

Wesley nodded, though he wasn't quite sure he followed.

"He's afraid that you'll start changing other things, the things that *do* make you, you."

It didn't take any consideration, to decide not to do such. He was sure that he had kept his expression the same, listening, slightly bewildered. But Angel glared at him, anyhow.

"Wesley, you can't just decide not to change, because it would upset Gunn. I don't mean that as an order, I mean you're not able to. The whole point is that there are things none of us can change about ourselves, because they make us who we are. Just because you don't know what those things are, doesn't mean they're not there."

This was getting more confusing than usual. "But Gunn thinks that I *will* change those things?"

"Yeah, well, Gunn's just--" He stopped, and again had the look Wesley couldn't identify. "You should probably ask him about that part. I just want you to realize he doesn't want you to become something you're not. None of us do. Gunn...may just need a little reassurance that you're still gonna be you."

"And how do I do that?"

"I don't know that you can." Angel shrugged. "Just be patient with him."

Wesley smiled, just a bit. "That I can do. If nothing else, I have always been patient."




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