Title: Sleeping Beauty
Author: Peggy (pegchallen@hotmail.com)
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Not mine. Please don't sue.
Feedback: Positive, negative and in-between all welcomed. I have a thick skin, and I welcome the chance to improve my writing.
Summary: So you think the cast are behaving like pod people in Season Three? How right you are.
Notes: Okay, I've been working on this piece for a while now. Obviously since before "The Price", which I have decided to ignore. Baby!Connor's still missing, the AI team are still inexplicably furious with the recovering Wesley.

Gunn was never quite sure how long they’d had him. Or entirely sure who *they* were, for that matter. He thought he’d been taken in October. But he had no idea how much time had passed since October. Could’ve been weeks, months, maybe even years. He didn’t think they’d had him for years, though. There were no mirrors in his cell, but he looked sometimes at the skin on his hands and his body. It didn’t look older.

The drugs made it impossible to estimate the passage of time. It was only when the drugs started to wear off, shortly before they doped him up again, that he became lucid. Every time that he came out of the fantasy and realized it wasn’t real was harder than the time before. He was trapped, a caged animal, too doped to fight his captors.

The dreams were good; it was a wrench to leave them, even if he hated them for keeping him pacified, tranquil. It was hard to think with the fog in his head, but he thought perhaps he’d be dead right now if not for them. He would’ve beaten himself to a pulp trying to escape. Or at least he’d be crazy from being being trapped in this box for weeks (months? Years?) on end.

Whenever they came to inject him again, he struggled. It was futile, of course. He was far too groggy and disoriented to do much good. But he wanted them to know that he wasn’t just some tame lab rat. Wanted them to know that he was Charles Gunn, and they had no right to keep him here.

After the injection, he would cry and rage, knowing he was about to slip back into Neverland. But at the same time, it was a relief. Things were peaceful and happy in the dreams. Alonna was there, looking older, glowing with vitality, balancing a baby on her hip. Uncle Charlie. He liked the sound of that. He liked watching her, knowing he had his baby sister back, knowing the monsters hadn’t really taken her. And she was happy, too. The monsters were all gone.

Cordelia was in the dreams too, gossiping with Alonna, complaining about him as though he wasn’t even in the room. Alonna called her Cordy. They traded make-up tips and ate frozen yogourt straight from the carton. Sometimes Cordy babysat. The shy girl they’d found in Pylea, Fred, she was with them sometimes. They did whatever girlfriends do. There was a lot of giggling involved.

He would escape all that estrogen and take his nephew to the park. It wasn’t like the parks in the old neighbourhood. He didn’t have to worry about tiny curious hands picking up needles and pricking themselves like Sleeping fucking Beauty. There were no junkies looking to take their tricks into the dark corners. No used condoms lying on the ground, no smell of stale beer and piss from the party the night before.

It was a beautiful park, with a beautiful playground. He put his nephew on the baby swings and swung him until they were both tired, until it was growing dark. He strolled back to Alonna’s slowly, without worrying. There were no monsters lurking beneath the city, waiting for dusk so they could come out and play. There was nothing to be scared of.

When he reached Alonna’s place, the girls would usually still be yakking. Alonna would get a big smile on her face and say, “How’s my baby? Did you have a good time?”, fussing over him and ignoring her brother. Sometimes Mom would be there, because she’d never died. That was just a bad dream, a mistake.

Mom would exclaim over how big her grandbaby was getting, complain about how being a grandma meant she was getting old, kiss her son, smearing lipstick on his cheek. She looked healthy, just like Alonna. She was older than he remembered, and that made sense of course.

Mom would start to cook dinner, and the guests would arrive. Angel, of course, looking suntanned and relaxed. Lorne, de-horned, looking like a regular person, because there were no demons or alternate dimensions. He was just a regular person with dyed red hair and bad fashion sense. And Wesley.

Goddamn English, still pale no matter how long he lived in L.A. Bringing a bottle of wine and flowers for the hostess, pushing his glasses up his nose, as un-tense as it was possible for him to get. Mom would exclaim over the flowers, and Wes would end up with a lipstick smear to match Gunn’s own. They’d sit on the couch, not snuggling, because damnit they were MEN. But close enough that Gunn could feel Wes’s body heat, could sense when he was about to laugh. English, holding his gas station wineglass with the expensive imported wine in it. Laughing at something Angel said. Angel looking hurt because he was still convinced he could actually sing.

Later, after dinner, Alonna would kiss Wes goodbye, and whisper something about treating her brother right, or she’d kick his ass. Mom would give them both those big squishy hugs he remembered from when he was a kid. Lorne was headed back to the club, Angel was taking Cordy and Fred home. That left him riding pillion on Wes’s bike, unworried about little things like how much wine the man had drunk. It wasn’t important. It wasn’t as though they could ever have an accident, or somebody get hurt. This was a happy place.

The ride would be perfect. No smog, no air pollution, just clear, clean air that was neither too hot nor too cold. They’d go back to the apartment they still didn’t officially share, and sometimes they wouldn’t make it up to the front door. Gunn would drop to his knees in the hallway, smoothing his hands over Wes’s perfectly creased khakis. Wes would laugh and make that shocked English sound, then pull him up and kiss him hard, just because he could. His glasses would grind against Gunn’s face, and it never mattered.

No wonder he hated waking up.

The fantasy was infinitely better than the reality. Once when he woke, he heard muffled yelling coming through the walls. It was Cordelia, indignant and giving everybody a headache with her bitching. Once he realized she was real, that it wasn’t part of the dream, he was ecstatic. She and the rest of the gang had come to rescue him. Then he listened close enough to make out the words, and hope left him. He wasn’t the only captive. She was screaming at whoever was in her cell to get the fuck away from her with that needle. Then she wasn’t saying anything at all.

He heard her again one time, but it was obvious she was doped up on whatever they were using on him. She was mumbling contentedly, and it sounded like an acceptance speech.

The whole gang could’ve been there, for all he knew. Cordy was in the next cell, that was the only reason he’d heard her. Wes could be just a few doors down, drifting in his own fantasy world. It probably revolved around books, books, and more books. Maybe Mr Wyndham-Price being proud of him, and giving him books. Gunn had sucked Wes off in the stacks at the public library once. It had been a dare, to tell each other their most ridiculous fantasies. Fucking typical that Wes’s fantasy involved literature.

If Wes were here, then he wasn’t on the outside looking desperately for his friends. He wouldn’t find them and save them. And Gunn wanted to be saved. In spite of the beauty of the dreams, he’d rather have reality.

He’d been lucid for a while this time. But he was tired, too tired to kick up a fuss. Besides, as soon as they realized he was back in the real world, they came at him with the needle again. He wanted to think, to have himself, to have Charles Gunn, captive, and know it was real, know it was the truth. So he lay on his cot, staring at the ceiling, praying that Wes hadn’t been nabbed along with Cordy, praying English was out in the real world, gearing up to bust in here like an avenging angel. Surely *somebody* had noticed they were gone. It wasn’t as though they could just disappear and their friends not realize they were missing.

He heard voices, and this time they weren’t coming from the wall he shared with Cordelia. He strained his ears to pick up the conversation; he was sure he recognized at least one voice.

“We’ve put a lot of effort into this operation, Ms Morgan, not to mention a lot of capital. Explain again how it’s cost-effective, given recent developments.”

Male, definitely white, sounded pissed. He couldn’t quite place it.

“I assure you, it’s a temporary setback.”

Female, flustered and trying to hide it. Damn, it was Lilah Morgan, from Wolfram & Hart. Figured those bastards were behind this stunt.

“We need that baby, almost as much as we need the vampire. Where the hell is he?”

Baby? What baby? The reference to Angel made sense. The lawyers had been fixated on him for a while. But what baby were they talking about?

A brief stab of fear that they were after his nephew. Then he remembered that Alonna had never had a baby, had died two years ago, six years after Mom. It was all a dream.

“According to my sources, Wyndham-Price is already on it. He’ll find a way to bring Holtz and the baby back to this dimension, and then we’ll be all set.”

English *was* free! He was alive, and he was working on it. Gunn found himself thanking God, even though he’d given up believing in God a long time ago. He pushed down the feelings of betrayal that Wes hadn’t rescued him yet. Wes was just one man, after all. He’d figure it out eventually.

“Wyndham-Price? That English pansy?” The man was speaking again. Lilah’s sales job didn’t seem to be convincing him. “He’s barely out of the hospital. How could he possibly do anything useful?”

No, that wasn’t right. Wes had been shot a long time ago, nearly a year. What was he doing in the hospital again, unless those sons of bitches had messed him up again. No wonder he hadn’t rescued Gunn, Cordy, and whoever else was in captivity with them. Wolfram & Hart had put him out of action. At least he was *out* of the hospital now, from the sound of things.

Goddamn English. He ought to get frequent patient miles. Research Man, pretending he knew how to fight, thinking he could save everyone, rushing in where angels fear to tread. Not leaving the legwork to the guys who had the experience. Although he was a better fighter than he looked, he was still too fragile for the risks he took.

Gunn felt a wash of homesickness for Wes’s body, which sometimes seemed held together with scar tissue and bloody-mindedness. Pale tissue-paper skin stretched over the knobs of his spine. Lean muscles with quiet power in them weren’t enough to compensate for the gash in his gut, or for the old bruises which littered his body like track marks.

No, miss the limey bastard later. Right now it was time to focus on eavesdropping.

“He survived the attack, didn’t he?” Lilah was arguing, “And he’ll be very motivated to retrieve the child, if only to get back in the good graces of his friends. Don’t worry, they’ve been instructed to isolate him as much as possible.”

“I don’t see why you didn’t just remove the subjects, instead of keeping them here at vast expense.”

Gunn was pretty damn sure ‘remove’ was a euphemism for kill. Fucking lawyers, always cloaking their intentions with pretty words. Like it made the blood on their hands any less messy.

“I’m just keeping our options open, sir. It would be a shame if we proved to need them, and didn’t have them. Death tends to be inconveniently permanent.”

“Hmph.” He sounded pissed off.

“And if you review the figures again, sir, you’ll note that this is actually quite an economical operation, especially considering that it will give us Angelus.”

“But when?”

“Very very soon, sir.” Lilah’s voice was soothing, conciliatory. “We almost have him.”

“Yes, well, you’ve almost had him several times now. The last almost was a bloodbath. You’ll forgive me if your track record with this problem doesn’t fill me with confidence.”

“With all due respect, sir, bringing back Darla wasn’t my idea.” Passing the buck to the dead guys. Damn, she was good. “It will work, I assure you. Angel has never been at his best on his own, and he’s practically psychotic by now. We’ve isolated him from the rest of the team. And Wyndham-Price has isolated himself from Angel. Really, I know that Sanjian’s interference was unforeseen, but it’s actually helped us.”

“If you consider not knowing where that damn child is helpful.”

“Wyndham-Price will get him back, as I said, sir. All we have to do is wait. Once he’s procured the child, we simply take it. He’ll get no help from his former colleagues, I assure you. He’s defenceless. And once we have the baby, we move in for the kill with Angelus. Everything’s in place.”

Bitch sounded like she was getting off on the idea. The pieces were starting to fall together for Gunn, and he couldn’t restrain a gasp.

The voices out side his cell stilled, then Lilah was calling for the attendant.

“Is that one awake?”

Gunn needed to hear more. He started mumbling about the pretty new truck, hoping they’d assume he was just in the middle of a kick-ass dream. It was careless of them to even talk down here, but hell, where was he going to go? Who could he tell? He was so incapacitated he could barely even move.

Evidently his display was convincing. He’d never known he was such an actor. They started talking again, quieter this time, but he could still pick up their words if he strained.

“Don’t worry, sir. He’s a cauliflower.” Total contempt in Lilah’s voice, like he wasn’t even human, and he wondered if his ancestors had gotten this shit from their owners. Gunn was so going to get her once he was out of here. He didn’t care if she was technically human, she deserved his axe as much as some demons. More, really, because she didn’t have the excuse that it was just her nature. In fact, the whole goddamn sociopathic firm was going down. No question. He just had to get out of here first. Escape plan before homicide.

“It’s still risky to keep them here.” Her boss was protesting, “They should be moved to a more secure location. If we transfer them to my division-”

“Everything’s under control, sir.” Oh, he got it. Lilah didn’t want to give up control over this little project. Wanted to keep the glory for herself. “The replacements are working out beautifully.”

“Well, why the hell didn’t you replace Wyndham-Price, while you were at it? You’ve said yourself that he’s the key to turning Angelus. Bold strokes, Ms Morgan. No half measures.”

And her voice got silky, “If you recall, sir, my last report was quite clear that we couldn’t replace him like the others.” Huh? “There are shielding spells all around him, and while they are old, they haven’t worn off.”

Uh oh, somebody hadn’t done his homework. Gunn listened to the man splutter that of course he’d read the damn report, and he didn’t care for her insinuations.

Lilah got charming again, “I wasn’t suggesting anything, sir. I know you’re a very busy man. These details are for the junior partners like myself to worry about. Anyway, it was only a minor setback. With the others turned against him, Wyndham-Price is as helpless as if he were in here. Angel’s on the brink. We’ll have him very soon.”

“I hope so, Ms Morgan. For your sake, I hope so.” Pleasant, conversational tone in the man’s voice, no menace at all. Take that, bitch. Hope that cuts into your beauty sleep, worrying about what your bosses will do to you if you fuck this one up.

They began to talk about lunch, and soon Gunn heard their footsteps retreating. He clenched his fists under the covers and stared at the bland ceiling. The Watcher’s Council must’ve magicked Wes up to protect him. Either them or his dad. And after he went rogue, they’d either forgotten to remove the shields, or they’d had an ounce of compassion for the poor bastard. Maybe that was why Wes kept getting hurt bad, much worse than the rest of them, yet somehow pulling through. Maybe he was held together with scar tissue and spells, not bloody-mindedness. Gunn was damn sure Wes didn’t know about this shielding. Maybe if he did, the Council and his family abandoning him would hurt less. Gunn would have to tell him.

Of course, that assumed that Gunn was ever getting out of here. He had no illusions on that score. Wolfram & Hart were cocky but not stupid. The clients they answered to were one hell of a motivation for doing their jobs well. He had no doubt they’d been very careful. He and Cordy were locked up here, and maybe Lorne was with them. Probably that little waif they’d picked up in Pylea was here too. Poor little bitch. She would’ve been better off staying there. Wolfram & Hart were thorough.

So, while Charles Gunn dreamed his way through his tranquilized captivity, Charles Gunn or a reasonable facsimile thereof was on the outside, playing merry hell with Wes’s head. Terrific. Fucking terrific. He tried not to feel betrayed that Wes hadn’t known this ‘replacement’ wasn’t him. Hadn’t somehow sensed the wrongness of this reasonable facsimile. English wasn’t superhuman.

Gunn’s gut rolled as he imagined some empty vessel wearing his face, speaking with his voice. Had he fucked Wes before dumping him? Had he walked away and said it was all Wes’s fault? Had he told Wes he wasn’t good enough? Gunn could imagine the pale, worried face blanking as Wes struggled to hang onto his dignity. As his friends abandoned him and he burrowed deeper inside his own skin. Suddenly he hated the Council for their fucking spellcasting. If Wes was in a cell, pumped full of shit, he’d at least be happy most of the time.

Gunn wanted out. He wasn’t entirely sure how he managed to tip his weak body off the cot and fall to the floor. It hurt like hell, which helped wake him up even more. He started to crawl towards the door, dragging himself along on protesting muscles.

The attendants must’ve heard the crash, because they rushed in. Rage gave him the strength to fight them, but not enough strength to win. He got in a few good hits and even managed to sink his teeth into one guy’s calf. That earned him a backhand across the face that left him dizzy and nauseous, not to mention on the verge of tears.

He wouldn’t cry. He would not. Not here. Not in front of these monsters who called him a vegetable and played God with his life. One attendant was sitting on his chest, pinning his arms, as the other adjusted the syringe. Gunn tried to struggle as he watched the man find a vein, but he was almost happy to see the needle. Almost happy to know he’d be going back to sleep now. At least the dreams were worth living.

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