Wesley walked into the office, standing straight, walking tall. Cordelia stared at him, her head to one side, trying to work out what had changed. Gunn was quicker. “Wes? You’re better?”
He nodded, a smile he couldn’t hold back any longer transfiguring his face. “Saw the doctor for my final check up. She said I can start training again – I didn’t give her the details of what that would entail of course – and yes, I’m officially off the sick list.”
Gunn grinned broadly and held out a hand. Cordelia rolled her eyes in mock disgust as they went through a complicated high five routine. “Do you know how silly you look when you do that?” she asked pointedly.
“It’s a guy thing,” Gunn said firmly. “Don’t even attempt to understand it.”
“Like I’d waste even a moment of my life on trying!”
Wes let their squabbling voices wash over him. He’d had a lot of practice at that. Gunn snapped his fingers, jolting him out of his reverie. “Hey, Wes - you gone deaf or something? I said I owe you, and tonight’s payback time.”
“You don’t owe me. Really.”
“Not listening....” Gunn put his hands over his ears. “You saved my ass out there – and tonight, one night only, you own it, O.K?”
“Really?” Wesley murmured, slightly taken aback by the images that evoked. “Well in that case...”
“We’ll start off at this bar I know that has Happy Hour every hour. None of those fancy priced foreign beers that taste –”
“What the hell is hops? And after that we can go to this club. Man, the dancers there are hot and – why are you shaking your head?”
“If this is to be my ... reward, then I get to decide where your arse goes.”
Gunn looked at him, not even trying to hide his horror at the change in plans. Wesley smiled, relishing his trepidation. “It’s going to be a lad’s night out, British style. I’ll meet you outside the Queen’s Head at nine.”
“I’ve never heard of it!” Gunn objected.
Wesley smiled brightly. “Then I suggest you find yourself a good detective. Or a map.”
Gunn looked at Wesley, and sighed. “You really going to make me go in here, English?”
Wesley glanced up at the wooden sign and the glittering eyes of a queen who had appreciated the usefulness of an expertly-wielded axe, though he doubted she’d ever met a demon. “Oh, yes,” he said calmly, pushing open the door. “Pubs form a large part of a Friday night’s entertainment.”
“Bars, Wes, we call them bars.”
“The bar’s the place you stand at and wait to get served. It can take some time, especially if -”
Gunn strode over and the crowd parted before him. Wesley raised an appreciative, and slightly envious, eyebrow and reached his side in time to countermand the order for bottled American beer. The pub stocked it but it would come at double the price and with a sneer. “We’ll have two pints of bitter, please. Let me see... ah, a nice selection from the Gale’s brewery. I think we’ll start with some H.S.B.” He turned to Gunn. “The Watcher’s Academy isn’t far from where they make this. I got quite a taste for it when I was in training.”
Gunn took the tall glass of dark liquid and sniffed at it dubiously. “Smells funny.” He took a brave gulp and grimaced, took another, and Wes watched with a satisfied smile as his face smoothed out. “Not bad. Course, the first taste numbed my taste buds, so I’m guessing that helps.”
Wes shook his head, paid, waving away Gunn’s attempts to buy the round, and they went to sit down.
They’d been out before when there wasn’t something to kill or danger lurking, but never without Cordelia. Wes was expecting – and dreading – the moment when the lengthy pauses dragged out beyond the point where they could be ignored. He knew he wasn’t seen as entertaining company by, well, anyone really.
He tried to stave off the silence by talking about the one thing they had in common – work - but Gunn leaned back in his chair and laughed. “Forget that for one night, Wes. If Cordy gets a vision, Angel’s there; if he needs us he’ll find us fast enough. Tell me about, oh, I don’t know. Soccer. Never did get the point of that.”
Wesley’s eyes gleamed. “Football, not soccer, and I suspect it’s the offside rule that’s puzzling you, am I correct? Pass over those beer mats. Right. Now if this is your defender and this is the goal...”
Gunn leaned in, his face dubious but mildly interested. The TV in the pub started to show an England World Cup qualifying game and they turned to watch. After a controversial decision got a player sent off, Wes leapt to his feet, screaming suggestions that would have got him arrested if he’d made them to someone who could actually hear them. Gunn watched him, smiling, admiring Wesley’s range of inventive curses. Wesley was absorbed in the game, but not so much that he wasn’t aware of Gunn joining in the chorus of jeers and jubilation as the crowded pub reacted to the events on the screen. He relaxed, enjoying himself, forgetting his earlier worries.
Gunn lay back on Wesley’s sofa, a few hours later, a bottle of American beer cradled possessively in his hand, and studied him. “So,” he said, ticking them off on his fingers, “we drank beer, we watched socc –I beg its pardon, football, we had fish, chips and mushy peas – and man, I so know it’s not true your Queen has that for breakfast! - and now what you got for me? What did you and your friends do after that on a Friday night?”
Wesley shrugged. “If you were lucky, you got laid, but sadly, that was never how my evenings ended. I wasn’t exactly – oh, you know what I was like when we met, and my friends were the same. Priggish, earnest, dull...we weren’t exactly beating the girls off with a stick. No, sitting around like this, talking, was usually how we finished up. If we were having a lot of fun, vomit might be involved, but I think I’ve achieved a certain tolerance for alcohol that I lacked in those days.” He preened himself slightly as he finished speaking, and took a long swig of his beer.
Gunn nodded sceptically. “Uh huh. Let me see. We came out of that last pub and you held onto me and said, ‘Pavement’s gone all wobbly. Not s’pposed to do that. Doesn’t do it in England. Never. No never,’ and then started to sing this really weird-ass song about a wild rover. That was you being all alcohol tolerant was it?”
“You surely don’t think I only sing when I’m intoxicated?” Wesley demanded.
“Yes. And you should drink less.”
Wesley shook his head sadly. “I’m hurt,” he proclaimed. “Hurt and wounded and when I’m hurt and wounded, I soothe the pain by ...”
“If the next word out of your mouth is ‘singing’, you’re going to be wounded in more than your feelings, English,” Gunn warned.
Wesley eyed him and then smiled seraphically. “Reciting poetry,” he said solemnly, and waited hopefully for Gunn’s reaction, wondering if he’d realise his leg was being pulled.
Gunn hesitated and then closed his eyes, leaning back against the cushions of the sofa. Almost dreamily, he began to speak, his voice gaining conviction and strength as the rhythm of the words captured him. By the time he reached the last verse, Wesley was leaning forward, his eyes bright with appreciation.
“’- Now the spates are banked and deep; now the footless boulders leap –
Now the lightning shows each littlest leaf-rib clear –
But thy throat is shut and dried, and thy heart against thy side
Hammers: Fear, O Little Hunter – this is Fear!’”
The final words dropped into a deep silence and Gunn opened his eyes to see Wesley watching him, his face alive with interest and emotion, unguarded and open.
“I – that was extraordinarily moving, Gunn. Kipling was one of my favourite poets as a boy. I can see how that poem in particular would resonate with you.”
Gunn shrugged, cloaking his pleasure with an embarrassed smile. “Should’ve known you’d have heard of him, being book guy and all. Bet you thought I’d only seen the cartoon, huh?”
“I doubt many people who’ve seen that would connect it to a book,” Wesley said dryly. “You did surprise me, I admit. Where did you come across ‘The Jungle Book’?”
“It was in a box load of books we grabbed by accident on a raid. Got holed up for three days once with nothing to do but read to keep from dying of boredom. That one...it stuck with me, you know? Felt like that when I’ve been hunting vamps. Never know when you’re going to find you’re the one being hunted.”
“Well, quite...Tell me, did you ever read -?”
Gunn stood up and yawned, stretching his arms wide. “I’m so tired, if I see a vampire I’ll probably fall asleep on his shoulder. Catch you tomorrow, Wes; I’m hitting the road.”
Wes stood with him, following his guest to the door. “Gunn?” he said hesitantly. “Thank you.”
Wesley looked at him. For treating me like a friend. For laughing at my jokes. For making me feel you were enjoying being with me. He couldn’t put his thoughts into spoken words, so he smiled, shook his head, and held out his hand, palm up. Gunn grinned back, slapped it, and they completed the ritual with a flourish.
Wesley opened the door and Gunn stepped through and then paused. “Wes? Can we do this again without both of us nearly dying first? ‘Cause, don’t know ‘bout you, but I had fun.”
Wesley fought to keep a grin of delight off his face and said provocatively, “Even when I drew a smiley face in the head on your Guinness?”
Gunn shuddered. “Never, ever do that again. It’s showing no respect for good beer.”
“Strictly speaking, it’s not a ...” Wesley stopped. “I won’t do it again,” he said meekly.
Gunn gave him a cold glance. “You lying to me, Wesley?”
Wes made sure the door was almost closed and then said, “Probably,” and began to chuckle as Gunn drew in a breath of outrage and turned back.
The next morning he had to endure a lecture from his neighbour, Mrs Ellington, about the sin of fighting in the hall at that time of night, and how she’d been this close to calling the police, and how she’d never expected behaviour like that from him, he seemed like such a nice boy, quiet and...
It was worth it. So was the bullet. Because friends? Were worth dying for.