Title: The Taste of Bitter
Author: Abi Z.
Contact: Praise and constructive criticism to crescentia@yahoo.com.
Flames to jesse_helms@helms.senate.gov.
Fandom: Angel
Spoilers: mild one for That Old Gang of Mine
Rating: PG
Pairing: Wesley/Gunn
Improv: half - bitter - conscience - optional
Disclaimer: Dear Joss, my possessions include a lot of books and even more student loans. I have stolen your characters, but you really don't want to sue me. Yours, Abi.
Archive: Yeah baby!
Summary: Your standard drinking-and-regretting piece.
Author's note: Written as an improv for the BuffyAngelImprov list.

His conscience doesn't have a problem with this. At least, not outwardly. In Los Angeles, it seems, morals are rather like power steering: optional.

But for some reason he's at the bar anyway, drinking scotch the way it should be drunk, straight, and if he drinks enough of it he'll wind up another pathetic drunk using the bartender as a confessional. Or maybe he'll just put some Hank Williams on the jukebox--it's not his culture, certainly, but he's been in the States long enough to appreciate the man--or maybe some Elvis, something about lovin' the one who feels right even while knowin' that it's so, so wrong. If a pickup truck figures in the song somewhere, so much the better.

It's a demon bar, but not a hostile one, and the owner has picked up a lot of the traffic that normally would have gone to Caritas. Wesley wonders if Lorne will ever recover from the massacre in that place so many of them considered sacred. Funny that karaoke and pastel cocktails should be the accouterments of sanctity--but then this is L.A., and if morals are loosely defined, then religion has no rules at all.

Wesley looks up to signal the bartender back again. Perhaps it would be more efficient if the man simply left the bottle. Wesley would hate to keep distracting him, and it seems like that kind of night. When he looks up and to the right, he can see the spidery tentacles of the bartender. There have to be at least sixteen of them, and half of them hold glasses, while the other half brandish napkins and are vigorously polishing. Wesley, frankly, is amazed at that level of coordination. He's sure he would wind up polishing two glasses together. The bartender comes over and, at Wesley's request, leaves the bottle. Wesley nods his thanks.

A couple has seated themselves a few stools down from him. Interspecies dating is a controversy among demons, Lorne has told him, on the level of interracial relationships or homosexuality in, say, the 1950's. This is an interspecies bar: the couple consists of a Vachekanaya and a Harois, and as Wesley's eyes move over the crowd he sees that few of the other couples match as well. He wonders if an interspecies bar is subject to the same harassment as a human gay bar in the 1960's, if he will be caught in the demonic version of the Stonewall riots. If it happens, he'd love to read the obituary.

There's a thunk on the stool next to him. Charles Gunn has sat down and has parked a rather large axe at his feet. "Trust you," he says to Wesley, "to find the only demon gay bar in town."

"As far as we know, demons do not have gay bars. Most of the species either do not have genders in the sense that we do, or else their genders are so fluid as to render distinctions unimportant. From what demon sociology tells us, demon pick-up joints are simply pick-up joints. There aren't separate heterosexual and homosexual ones."

"This ain't your everyday demon pick-up joint. They wouldn't have let me in the door except for the axe. How'd you get in?"

"My rogue demon hunter reputation preceded me."

"Well. I better get me one of those. What the hell is this place, anyway? They act like they got the Fountain of Youth or the Manhattan Project in the basement."

Wesley nods at the Vachekanaya and the Harois, who are trying to mesh each other's mating behaviors and not succeeding all that well. "You'll notice that those two demons--and most of the others in here--are not from the same species."

Gunn observes as the Vachekanaya tries to find places for each of its six legs around the waist of the Harois. Harois demons are vaguely human-shaped, but their erogenous center is actually located on the soles of the feet, something the Vachekanaya is going to be surprised to figure out. Vaches, as they're commonly called, believe that feet are the creation of an evil being known as Gurag, and touching them requires a complex purification ceremony. Wesley wonders if the Vache will observe the ceremony. Among other things, it involves boiling kesnerseed oil, which most Harois are allergic to. Interracial relationships among humans may be controversial, as Wesley is discovering, but interspecies, in addition to the societal bias, is just plain difficult.

The bartender finishes polishing the rack of glasses, and glides over to where Wesley and Gunn are sitting. Jaxxersteins don't have limbs, just a wide variety of tentacles, and they use them for walking as well as every other function of their daily lives. Because they have so many walking tentacles, they tend to move more like spiders than like people. It's graceful but unnerving, especially as Jaxxersteins average well over seven feet in height.

"Can I get you anything?" the Jaxxerstein asks Gunn. The voice is entirely human-sounding, as flat as an accountant's. They speak out of their midsections, and the effect is not unlike talking to a large octopus.

"Just another glass," Gunn says. "I'll have the other half of what he's having."

One tentacle hooks a shot glass from behind the bar and another a napkin from below, and Gunn is set. "So what brings you to a demon bar in Whittier, Wes? Plenty of them closer in if you just want to drink scotch and look at the tentacles."

"I came in the hopes that I would not be disturbed."

"Too late."

"Clearly. How did you find me?"

"I just asked people if they'd seen the skinny, morose British guy in the leather jacket."

Wesley can't help but smile.

"Actually, I had a Butra demon sniff you out. Was gonna invite her in for a drink, but she said something about interspecies scum and bolted. So why you out all this way? Can't face your demons-- 'scuse me, issues--closer to home?" Gunn pours himself some scotch.

"This-- this whatever-it-is between you and me, Gunn. It has to end."

"Wesley," Gunn says patiently, as though he's said it before. "You can't dump someone you ain't with in the first place."

"It's unethical. I don't know whether or not I'm with you, as you say. I don't, as it happens, think it matters. I'm your supervisor and it's not acceptable."

"Not acceptable to some antiquated code your father beat into you back in England, or not acceptable to you?"

It's an excellent question. Wesley, too, pours himself another shot. "I don't know," he finally says.

Gunn slides off his stool as though his feet are being poured onto the ground. He flows in front of Wesley and traces Wesley's mouth with a long finger. "Then why don't you look at the tentacles some more and decide. I got some business to attend to. I'll leave the axe with you case a barroom brawl breaks out." His hands are fast, so fast, and they grasp Wesley's hair so hard he can't move. Gunn tastes like scotch now, but also like salt, and some kind of fruit. It's a long kiss, bruising, and when Wesley reaches up to pull Gunn closer it is broken off. Gunn strides away and out the door. Angel would look back, but Charles Gunn does not.

Wesley watches him go. He pours another shot, this time to wash away the taste of bitter.

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