TITLE: Waiting
FEEDBACK: God, yes please. Constructive criticism received with gratitude. Praise received with dance of joy.
EMAIL: pandorapandarus@hotmail.com
SUMMARY: Gunn waits. Wes wakes. (AtS S2, set just after 'The Thin Dead Line'.)
RATING: PG 13 - nothing but a dash of immoderate language to get your knickers in a twist about. Yet.
DISCLAIMER: The characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui, Sandollar, and David Greenwalt Productions, 20th Century Fox, and whoever else may have a hold upon them. I do not mean to infringe upon any copyrights. Not mine. Just playing. Don't sue.
ARCHIVE: Fanfiction.net, List Archives. If you want it, ask. (I'm still polishing it up, though.)
NOTES: Thanks to the Bitches & to everyone who asked about a sequel to 'Games'.

Gunn really fucking hated hospitals.

Watercooler half-full. Big fake plant in the corner of the waiting room that needed dusting. Pile of dog-eared old magazines with smiling white women on the covers, banal headlines in bold, primary colours offering "101 Ways To A Slimmer Summer!" "How To Get That Guy!" and "The Secret Of Giving A Perfect Blowjob!"

Remembered his Mom lying in a bed in a place like this, way too late. Alonna, that time she broke her arm when she was little. Derek. Marion, her pretty face all torn up. Wayne. Jasmin. Veronica. And now Wesley Wyndham Price, skinny-ass English guy, who really had no business bein' in LA in the first place, let alone bleeding to death from a zombie-inflicted bullet wound there. But at least Wes had medical insurance, which meant one less set of hoops to jump through.

And God, God, he'd thought for sure it was too late by the time they got to the hospital. Heart in his mouth when the weird simplicity of frantically kicking zombie ass gave way to staring confusedly at the suddenly-crumbling corpses; when the flood of relief dried up as he remembered his boy was *dying* there. Ol' Wes was a resilient little bastard, give him that; Gunn had more than half expected him to be dead before they left Annie's place, but he'd hung in there. Needed medical attention like, *yesterday*, but somehow he was still breathing, his precious prissy face growing greyer and older by the second. Gunn had hovered protectively around him like a mother hen with one chick left, swinging between fury and fear, useless adrenaline zinging through his veins. He wanted to kick the shit out of the person who did this - but since the zombie was technically already dead when the shooting occurred, and since it was a whole damn heap deader now, there was nobody to take it out on but himself.

Gunn had failed again. Someone was dying because Gunn had failed again.

"Sorry sir, only next of kin allowed," the orderly said as Wesley disappeared through the swing doors in a flurry of medics. The look Gunn turned on him made the guy flinch automatically and raise his hands palm- outwards in a gesture of appeasement. "Hey, man, I'm sorry - but it's the rules."

"He's my brother. My *twin* brother," Gunn had said in a dangerous tone, daring the guy to contradict him, ready for a fight; but he was disarmed by the compassion of other man's smile and by the light touch of Cordelia's hand on his arm. He'd half-way forgotten Cordy was even there, but her hand was shaking and when he glanced down he could see that she was just barely holding it all together herself.

//Jesus, poor Cordy.//

"I am really sorry - I know you're frightened for your friend, but the rules are the rules. He's in good hands, now - the best. Just let them get on with it. You can wait through there and I'll come tell you as soon as there's any news, I promise."

* * *

The waiting was the worst part. And God knows he should be used to waiting by now - vampire hunting involved plenty of waiting around patiently between stakings. But then you had some measure of control. A purpose. This hospital waiting drove him insane - nothing to do but replay everything in your head, think about all the things you'd done wrong. Think about what the doctors were going to say. Think about things you should have said yourself, back when there was still time to say things.

It wouldn't be the first time he'd had one of his people die on him ("No! No. We don't talk about that. That's done."), but ever since Alonna, Gunn had lost some sort of protective shell he'd never even known was there. Since Alonna, Gunn was finding that he couldn't be ruthless about risking other lives anymore - not like he had been up until then. Giving the necessary orders left him feeling raw and drained and empty with the knowledge that any one of the familiar faces could vanish if their trust was misplaced. If he made a mistake. He knew they needed a decisive leader, knew he wouldn't help his people by going easy on them; but it ate away at him every time he sent them out into the darkness with nothing but a bit of wood and their reflexes between them and all the bad thing that waited in the shadows. ("Everybody dies. I'm just trying to make sure that when we die, we stay dead.")

It was a relief to be out of the neighbourhood, to be fighting demons alongside people who didn't matter so much - people who weren't *his* people, people who weren't his responsibility. People who were Angel's responsibility.

After Angel up and left, wild horses wouldn't have made Gunn desert them; and of course, inevitably, now he felt like these middle class white folks were his people too. Should have seen that one coming, but it still took him by surprise. And Wesley was special - he would be astonished to hear it, he'd blush and say something self-deprecating, but the white boy was special just the same. He'd somehow sneaked in under Gunn's radar while his attention was elsewhere and turned out that Wes dying would matter a whole lot, would matter maybe more than Gunn could handle. ("You're the one that's falling now. Let me catch you") It had taken Gunn a while to realise it, but Wesley Wyndham Price deserved a helluvalot more than he thought he did, a helluvalot more than he would ever dream of asking for. Wesley might be a pansy-ass momma's boy with some spectacularly ugly clothes to his name, but he was *all right* and Gunn was proud to have him as a friend. Embarrassed by him some of the time, yes, but painfully protective and proud of him just the same.

And he was bleeding to death right now because of Gunn. Because he was a well-meaning English guy who didn't understand how rough things could get in the real world. Who thought that people were basically fair and reasonable - that *the cops* were basically fair and reasonable - and that everything could be worked out if a person just talked in a fair and reasonable voice. Who didn't understand you could be in a world of pain and trouble with the law just for walking while black.

Wesley Wyndham Price didn't know jack shit about the real world.

And OK, gotta admit that Gunn hadn't been expecting things to go down the way they did. He hadn't expected white, middle class, Masterpiece Theatre- soundin' Wes to get shot on sight; and he sure as *hell* hadn't expected the cop to get up and walk around after Rondell shot him dead.

So maybe Gunn didn't know shit about the real world either; 'cause he *still* didn't know what made those fuckers stop moving, what made them fall down like puppets with their strings cut and start looking and smelling like the long-dead meat they really were. If they hadn't all just committed mass zombiecide or whatever the hell that was, Gunn and Cordy and Ray and Annie and the rest of those kids would be toast. And so would Wesley Wyndham Price. They all owed their lives to some whacked out freak of chance - because G had been fresh out of ideas when the zombies started coming through the walls.

He had failed again; and if Wes lived through this it was going to be no damn thanks to Charles Gunn. ("...Is anyone else cold?")

He started to his feet when the doors opened, but it was only Cordelia back from the coffee machine. She looked haggard, seemed to be at a loss for words as she passed him a plastic cup of nasty-smelling liquid. It scalded his tongue. Tasted like shit.

"What kinda ugly-ass dead demon you squeeze this from?" Gunn asked her, feeling a sudden rush of tenderness at the desolate look on her face. Waited for Cordy to bitch back at him, needing some sort of normality to hold onto just now, something to occupy the front of his mind for a little while. Sure didn't expect to see her cheerleader face slowly crumple in a way that wasn't pretty at all.

Just when Gunn thought it wasn't possible to feel any guiltier, suddenly he went and made Cordy cry and found himself feeling a whole new flavour of guilty.

"Shit, girl!" he said, wrapping long arms around her and holding her tight. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, baby. Thank you for the coffee, it's the best coffee I ever had." It was too long since Gunn had held anybody; surprisingly he found himself powerfully reminded of holding Alonna. Not that he wanted a new kid sister to look out for, not that some spoilt-brat, whiney, white Prom Queen would ever have been his choice of family; but deep down Cordelia had some of the same ballsy courage his little sister had always had, was almost as smart. Maybe he needed that to keep him grounded. And sure, Cordelia was a fine looking girl - but for some reason Gunn would no more think of her like *that* than he would have thought of Alonna like that. Shit, he hadn't meant to make her cry. "I'm sorry, baby. I'm sorry. It's gonna be OK, you'll see."

"It wasn't OK before," she said eventually, her rich-girl voice sounding frayed around the edges. "Doyle didn't deserve to die, but he died anyway. I don't think I can take it again, Gunn." Which was so damn close to his own thoughts that there was nothing he could say at all, so he just stood there and held her and prayed silently that this time things would be different.

* * *

When they finally got to see Wesley he was unconscious and looking very much like someone who'd been shot in the gut by a zombie cop and then left to bleed all over a sofa for a while. Morphine drip plugged into one frail- looking arm. Dark shadows under lidded eyes that looked oddly vulnerable without their customary armour of glass. Face ashen and slightly translucent; the vivid tracery of veins visible under his paper-thin skin reminding Gunn of that old blue-painted white china you sometimes saw in junk shops. Too fragile. Pitiful.

("I was never gonna let anything happen to you. I was supposed to protect you")

More waiting.

* * *

Gunn watched the gentle rise and fall of Wesley's skinny chest and felt awkward, like he was some kinda Peeping Tom. Remembered the first time he'd ever set eyes on Wes, lying scarred and unconscious in a hospital bed just like this because of Angel. Remembered how irresistibly simple it always was to wind Wesley Wyndham Price up, right from the start. Remembered the unlikely bravado with which Wes would fling himself into battle like he was trying to prove something. Remembered the way he would defer to Angel all the time; the unquestioning loyalty with which he followed the vampire's orders; the self-doubt under his pompous bickering; and the incredulous look of wholly unexpected pain on his sweet, dumb face when Angel fired them.


Gunn hadn't cottoned on for the longest time to the fact that the whole hero-worship thing Wes had going on with his employer maybe had another dimension to it. It wasn't until they'd met that guy Fletcher at a post- slaying venue one night that Gunn had realised that ol' Wes was - well, that he wasn't exclusively into girls. Sure hadn't seen *that* one coming either; although he really, *really* should have done, 'cause when you thought about it, Wesley was just So. Damned. Obvious. But Gunn had thought maybe that was just the whole English thing.

But *Angel* knew. Gunn had given it some thought and he was quite sure of that. Angel had been around the block a good few times in the past couple of centuries - no *way* he was going to misinterpret Wesley's adoration. Looking back, Gunn realised that Wes had been walking around with his heart on his sleeve the whole damn time. Cold-blooded sonofabitch was happy to just use the guy's hopeless crush and then throw the poor slob out on his skinny English ass once this skanky peroxide-Elvira Sire showed up again.


He realised belatedly that he was already thinking about Wes in the past tense and that would never do. It was all gonna be OK - English was gonna be playin' darts again and huddlin' over his dusty books again in no time flat.

//This time. What about next time? 'Cause we all know there's gonna be a next time.//

No point in thinking about that now. Gunn found that he really, really wanted to touch Wesley - just wanted to reach across and squeeze his pale hand so English knew that he wasn't alone. Wondered if Wes guessed on some level that Gunn was watching over him again - but watching for himself this time, not as a favour to Angel. ("These people mean a lot to me," Angel had said, back before they meant anything to Gunn. Maybe that was true then, but where the hell was he now? Where the hell had Angel been all these past weeks, when they had been staying alive by the skin of their teeth? Bastard.) He sure hoped Wes would somehow just know he was there, but kinda doubted it.

He found his long fingers twitching involuntarily with the sudden urge to enfold the hand that lay there helplessly in front of him. He wanted the contact more than he could explain - wanted to feel the first spark of stirring consciousness when Wes tentatively squeezed his hand in return, the muscles contracting slightly in his grasp before the naked blue eyes peered myopically out from between slowly-parting lids and Wes was Wes again, instead of this vulnerable Wes-shaped shell stretched out neatly between hospital sheets.

He balled his hand into a fist and bit his lip, staring intently at Wesley's defenceless face. He wouldn't touch him. Didn't want ol' Wes getting the wrong idea there, waking up with Gunn holding his hand like some lovesick pansy. Nothin' wrong with Wes liking guys - Hell, life was too damn short to worry about that stuff - but Gunn was a regular guy. A man's man. Wrapping his warm fingers around Wesley's poor sleeping hand would just be leading him on, like Angel had been doing all that time. Besides, he could just imagine Cordy's raised eyebrow when she returned with another undrinkable coffee and found him all snuggled up with Wes. That was *so* not going to happen.

Flashed on 'Sleeping Beauty' for no good reason and wondered with a grin whether he could wake Wesley with a kiss. A beat later he couldn't believe he'd even thought of such a thing. Found himself remembering how warm and vulnerable and human Wesley had felt in his arms as Gunn helped load him into the ambulance. ("Come on, man. I got you.")

He wasn't prepared for the surge of sheer delight that rushed through his weary limbs when Wesley finally stirred. Hadn't realised how damned tense he'd gotten until he saw Wes peering drowsily back at him and Gunn felt the knots in his muscles start to dissolve, felt the urge to get up and dance or punch the air, or make some other stupid *stupid* expression of exultation and relief that his boy was back. That this time it had all ended differently.

//Thank you, Baby Jesus.//

Leaning in closer, suddenly tongue-tied and irrationally shy, Gunn said "Hey." Heard the undisguised pleasure in his voice and felt like blushing. Wesley looked over at him very slowly and answered: "Hey." And, God, Gunn wanted to just hug him - weak as a kitten but still just *Wes* looking back at him, drugged to the eyeballs but blessedly, beautifully alive. His heart was about ready to burst with the joy of it.

"How you doin'?"

Wesley considered the answer."Oh...I feel I should be in a great deal of pain," he said cheerfully. Gunn felt like a school kid.

"Getting gut-shot will do that to you," he pointed out, grinning.

"And yet..." said Wes, musing upon the IV that sprouted from his left hand "Is this morphine?" Gunn nodded. "Well it's bloody lovely!" Wesley said simply, giggling as his blue eyes met Gunn's.

Gunn couldn't help himself then, had to grab hold of Wesley's hand and squeeze it tenderly for just a moment before sitting back with a little sigh. And it felt so normal and unremarkable and *good* that he wondered what on earth he'd been waiting for. Found that he wanted to pick the guy up and just cradle him in his arms, press his face into the soft hair behind his ears and promise him that it wouldn't ever happen again; that Gunn wouldn't *ever* let it happen again.

"Where's Virginia?" asked Wesley after a moment, his eyes unguarded and his mouth still curved into that irresistible little dopey grin.

Hadn't been expecting the pure burst of jealousy that the question provoked - hadn't been expecting it one little bit. Fact was they hadn't even thought to ring her - which was really bad, when you thought about it. Gunn wondered just how to explain this without sounding like a complete idiot and found himself unable to frame the words as Wesley peered guilelessly over at him, smiling. Such a trusting little expression, such a relaxed and affectionate and above all innocent expression. Gunn found himself feeling vaguely ashamed, but didn't want to think about quite exactly why.

And then Cordelia was back with some more of the evil-tasting coffee and the air was suddenly filled with affectionate Cordy-babble, leaving Gunn oddly adrift and probing his own emotions like a kid with a loose tooth.

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