Wesley's Liberal Guilt
by Jessica Harris
January 2002
Disclaimers: Ave Joss.
Summary: See title.
Ratings Note: PG-13.
Spoilers: None, really.
Author's Note: OK, this came out of a discussion on Remember Us, and a resulting discussion with Te about the terrible writer's block that can be produced by liberal guilt, and, well, this is what resulted from it... J.
Feedback of all kinds welcome at lumpj@hotmail.com


Wesley has come to take a certain pride in having grown into a far more tolerant and open-minded man than the uptight Watcher's Council type he'd once been. Here he is now, after all, working side-by-side with demons and vampires and actresses and all sorts of other creatures of whom the watcher's council would never have approved. He congratulates himself at having transcended the Council's prejudices and learned to see people for who they really are, not just for their gender or the colour of their skin (or ridges or scales) or whether they are, strictly speaking, human or not.

He'd even said as much one slightly drunken night at Caritas, holding forth grandly about how much the Council could learn from the way their little team functioned. And Gunn had raised his eyebrows and said, 'Well, I hate to mess with your newly-opened mind, English, but who I really am *is* a black man. Look-" he'd licked his thumb, rubbed it across the bridge of his nose, "See? Doesn't rub off!" He'd grinned at him then, that wide grin that Wesley finds more and more unreadable, and Wesley had felt his whole face go burning red and had spent most of the rest of the evening staring down in to his drink.

He still squirms every time he thinks about it. It's all much more complicated than he had ever imagined. And he's not sure why it's *Gunn* who's brought this home to him, when he's dealt with it one way or another with everyone else. Maybe because he doesn't want to sleep with the others. And he'd rather like to sleep with Gunn. Sleep with Gunn, and wake up with Gunn, and go out for breakfast at the diner and read the paper and bicker with Gunn about whose turn it was to do the laundry and...

And now he's beginning to suspect himself of the basest of beliefs and motivations in these desires. He doesn't *think* that he's a racist. But he feels now like he can't be sure. Is he behaving in ways so automatic to his imperialist english forebears that he doesn't even notice they're offensive? He's started monitoring his own thoughts and actions with such vigilant suspicion that he finds himself almost paralysed at times...

Is he just exoticising Gunn when he imagines what Gunn's skin would look like by candle-light in his bedroom? Or when he fantasises about what his lips would feel like against Wesley's own? To test himself he cautiously pictured himself in white linen and a pith helmet, Gunn in full regalia as a African chieftain, and he found the image ridiculous and offensive rather than arousing, which for about two minutes he thought was a good sign. Then he was swamped by crushing guilt that he could even imagine such an image, and for weeks he hadn't been able to look Gunn in the eye. Or anywhere else, for that matter. He thinks he can safely say that he harbours no overblown fantasies about the size of Gunn's equipment, but what body-parts are safe to be aroused by, uncolonised by his oppressor's gaze? Though he has to admit that Gunn doesn't seem exactly *oppressed* by his gaze...

And he worries about lecturing at Gunn when they're doing research. Will Gunn think he's being patronising, Wesley with all his opportunities and his ivy-covered degree? *Is* he being patronising? And he starts to wonder if he should be explaining more, or explaining less, or explaining *differently*, until he ends up stumbling over his words, back-tracking and stuttering until Gunn cuffs him lightly on the back of the head and says, "Come on, English, just spit it out!" Not even Cordelia rolling her eyes and telling him that he lectures at *everyone*, not just Gunn, is enough to reassure him.

And all the self-monitoring and second-guessing is making him twitchy and uncomfortable. And he's worried that Gunn will notice, and misinterpret the reason, and the thought of *seeming* uncomfortable around him is enough to make him even more uncomfortable in itself, and he can hear himself getting more and more prim and white and *english* all the time.

He doesn't know what to do...

Books have always held answers for him, so he surreptitiously downloaded the reading list from UCLA's first year African American studies course, and picked up a couple of the texts. Then he worried that Gunn would think he was attempting to appropriate his culture if he found him reading them, and he hid them away in his apartment as if they were the most shameful of porn.

He keeps thinking of the terrible crush he'd had at school on the son of an Indian diplomat in his year at school. Ajit had had large brown eyes and gorgeous hair and a body that had stayed lithe and athletic even on the unrelieved stodge of the school's meals, and Wesley had mooned after him for most of the year. They'd eventually had a brief affair, conducted mainly in the closet in the chapel where the choir-boy robes were kept, but it hadn't lasted for long. He'd kept trying to ask him about his experiences with eastern mysticism, and Ajit had just wanted to talk about pop music and the school's cricket team, and it wasn't until years later that Wesley realised just how big an ass he'd been.

He knows he's being an ass now too - Gunn has started giving funny looks at the way he now dissolves into a heap of tics and stutters whenever they're in the same room now - but Wesley can't quite seem to find his way out of it.

Then one night they were on a stakeout, in another seedy LA bar where, it was rumoured, some serious demon business was going on through a transdimensional portal that opened up beside the Lotto machine every Wednesday night. They were at a table in the corner, Angel watching the back door and bathrooms, Gunn the front door, and Wesley himself the bar. A small knot of people had gathered at the end of the bar, and as Wesley watched a young black man with close-cropped hair surreptitiously handed a package wrapped in paper marked with various charms to an older man who stood near him.

Wes jerked his head to get the others' attention. "Someone just handed over a package", he said quietly.

They glanced over, then back at him. "Who?" asked Gunn, and Wesley suddenly froze.

"The, um, the one closer to the right."

They looked over again. "Whose right?" said Angel, looking at the tight knot of people.

Wesley tried again. "The... the young one. The *tall* one. The one in the blue jacket, with the - "

Gunn raised his eyebrows at him, and said, "You mean the *black* guy, Wes?"

Luckily at that moment the portal opened with a greenish flash, the guy who now held the package made as if to toss it in, and all three of them leapt across the table at him, triggering a brawl that went on for some time, so Wesley didn't have time to actually *die* of embarrassment.

But eventually the fighting had to end, and as they limped back to the hotel with the battle-adrenaline wearing off, Wesley became aware of Gunn looking at him in a very peculiar way.

"Come on, English," he said quietly as Angel vanished downstairs to change his torn clothing, "I think it's time for us to have a little talk." He herded Wes into the office and shut the office door behind them, and once it was shut reached out and cuffed the side of Wesley's head. "Come on," he said, "say it, english - Charles Gunn is a Black Man. It's not a bad word, Wesley."

"I'm sorry, Gunn, I -" started Wesley and Gunn moved in closer.

"So *that's* what's been making you act so much weirder than usual," he said. "I wondered. Now I want you to say it. Say 'Charles Gunn is a Black Man whose black ass I've been watching like it was the year's hottest new release'. What are you afraid of?"

To his own humiliation, Wesley felt himself blush like a school-girl, and he tried to back away. "I'm truly sorry, Gunn, if I've caused you any sort of insult or discomfort, or made any kind of assumption out of ignorance that might -"

He was backed up against the desk now, nowhere else to go, and Gunn was standing right in front of him, looking at him intensely. "Nope, that's not what I asked you to say now, was it. What I *want* you to say is, 'Charles Gunn is a black man, and I, Wesley, am a very very white man, and Gunn's been watching my ass right back.' Is that so hard? Or maybe try something less complicated, like, 'Charles Gunn is a black man whose clothes I better start removing any second now before he's forced to hit me upside the head again."

Then he stepped forward again, up tight against Wesley's front now, and leaned in and pressed his lips, very gently, to the corner of Wesley's mouth. And Wesley, once the realisation penetrated his frantic brain, grabbed his head and kissed him back.

When the kiss finally ended, they were both panting. "All right," Wesley murmured, "maybe I can do it now... Charles Gunn is a black man to whom I would very much like to make love."

Gunn laughed and made a face. "You make it sound so... so *english*. Like it involves crumpets and going to the library."

"I *am* English," said Wesley. "I am an English Man."

Gunn laughed again. "See? he said, "it's just a fact. I'm black, and you're english, just like I am incredibly fine, and you are incredibly weird, which for some reason I find pretty hot. There's always facts. You just gotta work with them. Can you work with this?"

"Yes," said Wesley, and kissed him again.


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