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The Tongues of Men and Demons

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Wesley lifts the gun in both hands, feeling his arms shake with the weight. He’s been at this for about fifteen minutes, but not so long that his aim should be affected, and yet his second shot doesn’t even hit the target, and he puts the gun down wearily.

 

At this rate, he might hit the target on the first shot, but he’ll be out of luck if he doesn’t.

 

Not to mention the fact that if he has to fight hand-to-hand, his best bet is going to be running away.

 

“That gun is probably going to be too big for you for a while,” Angel says from behind him.

 

Wesley feels his shoulders droop. “I know. I just thought that if I kept practicing, I might build up my muscles.”

 

“There are other ways to do that,” Angel replies gently. “I can recommend a few. Until then, maybe you should pick another weapon.”

 

Wesley puts the gun down glumly. “Right. Distance weapons are my only option right now.”

 

“We can work on that, too,” Angel replies, sitting down on the steps. “You only have to ask.”

 

Wesley sits down next to him. “I think we should probably stop lying to ourselves.”

 

Angel frowns. “Huh?”

 

“I’m not in charge anymore, Angel,” Wesley says glumly. “I can’t be. It’s not like I can lead the group like this. I’m useless.”

 

Angel is quiet for a long moment. “I’m not really comfortable with that. You’re still important to us, Wes.”

 

“Important, maybe, but non-essential.” Wesley manages a smile. “It’s fine.”

 

The silence stretches out between them, and Angel says, “Do you want a self-defense lesson? It might help you get reacquainted with your body.”

 

Wesley stares at him, wondering if Angel knew how that sounded. He kind of wishes Cordy was there, because she’d get it.

 

After a moment, Angel coughs. “Okay, it’s one way to do that.”

 

Wesley flushes. “Yes. I would like to try sparring with you.”

 

“Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle,” Angel teases.

 

In a way, taking a self-defense lesson with Angel just highlights how fucked he really is. He’d always been good with projectiles; it’s an innate talent honed by years of practice and perfected with a healthy dose of confidence.

 

Hand-to-hand is a different matter altogether. That’s just plain hard work, and he’s small and weak besides.

 

Angel doesn’t actually spar with him so much as give him pointers and correct his form as he leads Wesley through a series of moves. Eventually, as Wesley gets more comfortable, he holds up his hands and blocks Wesley’s punches and kicks.

 

Wesley can remember doing this with Faith and Buffy, back when he’s been a Watcher, and he’d always worn pads. There’s a part of him that realizes that even if he had still inhabited an adult body, Angel wouldn’t have needed the pads. There’s another part of him that’s even more depressed, however, since it just underscores the fact that he’d find it hard to do any kind of damage in a fight right now.

 

Still, he appreciates Angel’s time, and his concern, which comes through in every quiet correction, and praise. “Really good, Wes,” Angel says when Wesley manages jab-roundhouse-cross combo. “Really good.”

 

And maybe Angel is just humoring him, but Wesley doesn’t think so. He’s learned to read Angel over the last couple of years, and the words sound sincere.

 

“That’s enough for today,” Angel says when Wesley’s hair is plastered to his forehead with sweat, and his legs and arms are trembling from exertion. “You did good.”

 

Wesley shrugs off the praise, because maybe he had done well—and he doesn’t like to think about the fact that Angel had given him more positive feedback in the last hour than anyone else had done in his entire life—but it will be several more years before he can really hold his own in a fight.

 

Angel frowns. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing is wrong,” Wesley replies, striving for a smile. “I’m just tired. That’s all.”

 

Angel’s expression is skeptical, but he nods. “You might want to get cleaned up. Do you want anything in particular for dinner tonight?”

 

He shrugs. “I’m not all that hungry. I think there might be some things in the fridge for later.”

 

Wesley trudges up the stairs as quickly as his trembling legs will allow, intent on getting back to his room and showering. He’s grateful that there’s no one else in the lobby when he emerges from the basement; business has tapered off slightly with him out of commission and unable to see clients.

 

They’ll have to determine another way of bringing in paying customers, because it’s not like Wesley has a lot of extra cash on hand. He certainly doesn’t have enough to get him through the next few years until he can earn money on his own.

 

It scares him, how dependent he is on Angel and the others. He could probably survive on the streets, but Wesley doesn’t really want to find out.

 

After a shower, and a change of clothes, Wesley retreats to his office and his books, which is one aspect of his life that hasn’t changed since the curse. Wesley’s knowledge of languages—both human and demon—is intact. Since he’s not exactly going out in the field right now, he’s had more time than usual to work on some of his translations.

 

He’s hip-deep in a demonic compendium written in one of the more obscure dialects of a demon language that’s virtually unpronounceable to anyone without a forked tongue. Thankfully, their written language is readable, although it’s still challenging enough to take up the entirety of Wesley’s attention. Sitting behind the desk feels too strange, so he sprawls on the floor, his books and notes scattered around him.

 

The knock on the door barely registers, not until Cordelia says, “Angel says you haven’t eaten yet tonight.”

 

“Angel should mind his own business,” Wesley mutters.

 

Angel is worried about you,” Cordelia replies. “Let’s go out for dinner.”

 

Wesley refuses to look up, because he knows he’ll cave if he does. “I’d really rather not. I can get a sandwich later.”

 

“I landed a commercial,” Cordelia says. “A national commercial.”

 

Wesley isn’t such a selfish git that he refuses to celebrate with his friends when good things happen for them, even if he’s miserable. “Congratulations! It’s very well deserved.”

 

Cordelia smiles. “It would be even better if you came out and celebrated.”

 

“You should make Angel take you somewhere nice,” Wesley insists. “Don’t let him cheap out on you.”

 

She sits down cross-legged across from him. “I’d be happier if you came with us, which you seem to think you’re not going to do.”

 

Wesley sighs and rubs his eyes. He’s fairly sure that his developing eyestrain, and that he should probably get his vision checked, but that’s going to require identification and insurance and all those other things that he doesn’t have.

 

“It will look strange,” Wesley replies patiently, reading her expression easily. “You deserve to go somewhere nice, and three adults do not bring a pre-adolescent tagalong to a very expensive restaurant to celebrate an important event.”

 

“Wesley.” Cordelia stops and sighs. “Maybe it’s more important to me to celebrate with all my friends than it is to go somewhere nice.”

 

Wesley is having a hard time telling her that he’s not ready to go out in public, too afraid that everyone will stare at him, even if it’s ridiculous.

 

“Do you still like sushi?” Cordelia asks.

 

Wesley shrugs. “I suppose I do. I certainly don’t have an aversion to it.”

 

“I’ll make Angel go pick up an order,” Cordelia says. “We’ll celebrate here.”

 

Wesley shifts. “You don’t have to do that.”

 

Cordelia gets onto her knees in one smooth motion, putting her hands on either side of Wesley’s face in a tender gesture that might seem out of place to someone who didn’t know her as well as Wesley does. “I’m not sure you’ve reached the depth of what we’d be willing to do for you, Wes. Making Angel get takeout so we can celebrate at home? Doesn’t even scratch the surface.”

 

He manages to hold himself together until she leaves, and then he has to take several very deep breaths, willing the emotion away.

 

Wesley can speak many languages, both human and demon, and he can read his coworkers very well, but they still manage to surprise him.

 

He supposes that the human heart speaks its own tongue.