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something that you learn on a tightrope

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It's freezing in Minnesota and Wes is still a little crazy. Gunn has stopped reciting Gilbert & Sullivan in his head at this point, he's just thinking "fuckingcoldfuckingcoldmotherfuckingcold." Nothing he's lived through to here has prepared him for Minnesota in January.

He's on a little more solid ground with Wes being crazy.

"The demon in question," Wes says, rifling through a book. He pauses and turns the page more slowly. It's kind of impressive how he can do it with those thick leather gloves on. "The demon in question is really rather boring. Run of the mill. Native to the area. Strong. Natural body armor but only on the extremities. Only two arms and two legs. Really, sometimes you long for variety." Wes shrugs and puts the book back in the trunk.

"Vamp minions?" Gunn starts reaching for weapons, deciding between stakes and axes and crossbows.

"Certainly. It would be typical and this one is completely that." Wes shrugs. They bump shoulders as they walk to the warehouse on the corner but don't step away.

*

Gunn nearly died and Wes all the way did. Gunn remembers rain and flashes of light, clang of metal, grunts, fists coming at him and the blood in his mouth. Then Angel yelling and Spike pushing and shouting, "Blood, you want the demon's blood." Gunn thought it was a horrible idea.

Then he felt seizing inside him like a convulsion. Until he felt better. Better everywhere, no blood and guts spilling out anymore. Someone, Spike again probably, shoved the dying Mohra demon and Gunn into the Hyperion. Gunn slipped on the rain from the alley and then stumbled over Wes's body.

*

They made a plan when they first started this, but even Wes and his "I grew up in England with actual seasons and snow, the cold is nothing" attitude can't take any more after two weeks of Minnesota. Gunn drives straight south and when he doesn't see snow anymore, they stop and get out the map.

"It will still be cold, Charles. It's January."

"But it won't be Minnesota."

They decide to tackle the baddie in Concordia, Missouri. "Concordia sounds pretty," Gunn says. He counts to three in his head and then Wes starts talking, explaining. That's a sign he's still a little crazy. But it's getting better because the things Wes is saying make sense. Boring as shit, but actual information.

*

They drove straight north when they left Los Angeles, Angel's list in Wes's hand, Wes's SUV packed to the gills. Two hours out, Wes said that when they reached northern California they should check on Connor. Gunn said, "Connor who?" Wes rubbed his eyes and put his glasses on and didn't explain for miles.

Some purple-skinned shaman in Goleta fixed Gunn's memory. He threw up twice, slugged Wes and then threw up again. Then he apologized. He thought of Fred and saw her twice over and over again. Like vertigo of the brain. He swore at Angel through the next two counties.

At Stanford, Gunn waited by the car and watched Wes and Connor talk. Junior was now a big smiling kid. Nice what Wolfram and Hart could do. Gunn wasn't sure if he was being sarcastic or not. It wasn't his story anyway. It was the big destiny thing with Angel and Cordelia and Wes. Whatever had been said back in the lobby with Skip, Gunn didn't think his part in the grand saga of the miracle vampire child had been very important. Gunn was probably better off for it.

Gunn waited for Wes to finish his catching up. Wes walked over after ten minutes and said, "He was glad to see you live and kicking. And he said he was sorry for the various offenses you now recall."

"Good for him," Gunn said. He waved, Connor waved back and they drove off.

*

It takes them a month to finish in Concordia and then there's Missoula and Boise and Spokane. Next stop Bend, Oregon, and that's where they run into Faith. "Like the coat," Gunn says, smiling. It's a knee length brown leather one like Angel might wear. "Did you think about black?"

"Eh," she says. "Kinda played out, don't you think?" She pulls herself up and sits on the front of the car. "You look good, too, Wes."

"Thank you," he says from three feet away from her. He's doing his stare down thing. "You're here about the Elbnoth as well?"

"Big scaly long tail guy with like five hundred teeth? That's Elbnoth? Yeah." She looks over her shoulder and says, "You guys are stocked. You're not sleeping in the back of this thing, are you?"

"Not anymore." It wasn't so bad, before they figured their bank accounts were safe to use. They were fine once they pushed some stuff around and stopped being afraid of bumping each other. And once they didn't care about bumping each other at all, it was easier to fall asleep.

Faith smirks. "Sounds cozy."

Wes says, "Yes," a brief pause and then, "Elbnoth. We have information on its henchmen as well which will be helpful in planning."

With Faith there, it takes them two days to kill Elbnoth and all its minions. And none of three of them wind up dead or really injured. They end up on the same corner where Faith found them, standing in the same places. Or sitting, in Faith's case. She's still smiling. "That was some good work, guys. We should do this more often."

"Our next stop is in Utah, which doesn't seem like your choice of vacation spot."

"Yeah, no Utah for me. Nevada I'll do, but not Utah."

"Pretty country," Gunn says. They drove through it after Palo Alto.

"Not too pretty people. Freak me out. And I was in prison, you know?" Faith leans back on her elbows and Gunn can see where the blood on her hands is streaking on the hood. Wes is pretty calm about it. "So this is what you guys are doing now, driving around, killing demons."

"Not that different from what we've been doing, just more mobile." Gunn shifts his feet and wishes this conversation were done. He knows where it's going and he's already tired of it. He'd rather talk about the way Wes fucks than talk about this again.

Wes is still calm. "Just ask, Faith."

"I don't need to ask. I know you guys were at Wolfram and Hart to work from the inside, bring 'em down. And now you've taken down those LA guys and you're out on the road. I get it."

"That wasn't the idea actually," Wes says easily. "We intended initially to use the LA branch for good."

"That sounds like a much stupider idea." She's staring at Wes. "But it ended up the same, I guess." She rubs her neck and says, "Whatever, I don't care. I know you guys. I know Angel. So, okay, what now? Dinner? Take me to your motel and we throw down? Or something more fun."

Gunn cracks his neck and gets ready to say no, or maybe even yes, but then Faith winces. Wes touches her side and says, "You're bleeding." Then it's hospitals and calling some guy Faith wants to pick her up and once they're sure she's okay and her guy arrives, Wes and Gunn hit the road.

Gunn says, "You think that's her boyfriend?"

Wes snorts and says, "Faith with a boyfriend. In the midst of traveling around, killing, she's committing to someone now. It's an odd thought, isn't it?"

"Seems to like her, so, good for her." Gunn means to say something about Wolfram and Hart, what Faith said, but he's tired of it. They have their job now. They're doing good. Making up for the bad.

*

Wes was well and truly dead. Gunn rubbed Wes's chest and he was only warm. But the Mohra demon was bleeding everywhere and it could be a miracle. He rubbed so much green glowing blood on Wes it was like the Green Lantern had stopped by to dress him up. Wes still wasn't breathing so Gunn decided CPR would be the way to go. Get something flowing so the miracle could start working.

One moment Gunn was breathing hard thinking he should help everyone else and the next Wes's eyes were open and he was breathing back. Gunn managed to shift away before Wes threw up.

*

"Why would they send a Mohra demon?" Wes stares out the window and asks like it's nothing.

"Maybe they thought we wouldn't know. They were good fighters, man, hard to kill. Would they know Angel had fought those guys before?" Gunn's said this before but that was when they first set out. Maybe Wes wasn't listening then.

"They knew. Of course they knew. And they had to have known that the Mohra's blood can heal, can even bring back vampires to life, to real breathing life." Now they're back to crazy. The first three months they were on the road, Wes'd be okay about 12 hours out of the day. Then he'd start on the Senior Partners and that would drift to Illyria and then he was gone. Obsessive, repeating, circling round and round the same points and losing lots of sense in the middle. Always back on point when they got to work, but in between it wasn't always good. Gunn wasn't sure it wasn't his fault. He was the one who had brought Wes back to life, after all.

"Do you remember anything? Like a white light or your grandmother giving you tea or something?" Gunn should have asked sooner but he was afraid.

"When I was dead? No." Wes smiles and looks sane. That's good.

"Spike said something about coming back from being dead being hard on the Slayer. I just wondered if you had the same."

"I believe Spike said that Buffy had been in some sort of paradise and she had to claw her way out of her grave. I don't remember anything of the sort."

"You just saying that to be nice?" Gunn looks over at Wes again.

"I remember nothing, Gunn. I remember dying and then throwing up. There was nothing in between for me." Wes shrugs and Gunn can't figure out what that means.

"You afraid you weren't good enough for paradise like Bunny?"

"Buffy. And I'm not afraid of that. I don't suppose I'll be going to any sort of paradise, all recovered memories considered."

Gunn snorts. "That's bullshit. You thought you were doing right. I really don't think a few months of boning an evil lawyer would send you to hell. Well, maybe according to a few preachers I've heard, but I'm pretty sure they were wrong. And you've done a lot of good in your life. That has to balance out the bad. Angel and Spike got you beat when it comes to the big evil, English." He glances away from the road again and Wes isn't looking at him.

"Well, we all pale in comparison to soulless vampires who had over a hundred years to perfect their craft. And thank you for the vote of confidence. But you needn't worry. Thanks to you, I have many years to put things right."

"More right." Gunn presses the accelerator and says, "You hungry?"

"I am hungry. But if we could not stop at Taco Bell this time? I think I'd prefer something more like processed beef products with buns."

*

They've been sleeping together since they started. And doing more for a slightly shorter time. If Gunn thinks about it, it's just more of their friendship. One more thing they can count on each other for. But it doesn't come up as something he thinks about. He has a lot more to worry about.

"We drive by his house, his pansy English flat, and we throw water balloons. Filled with paint."

Wes is laughing out loud so Gunn feels accomplished. "I don't believe I have Giles's address."

"Oh, we can find it. We have the internet at our beck and call." They took two very nice laptops from the lair of some vamps in New Orleans. They loot from the dead baddies a lot. "Just do some pokin'. Show him that you're better than he thinks."

"The spitballs should make that clear, I think." But Wes is laughing still, so it's good enough. He has some of that, sometimes, when they're in bed, also something good.

They tell real stories to each other as they drive, and fake ones, too. They talk about the summer Wes and Fred and Gunn got Justine to help them find where she and Holtz sunk Angel. And then ten minutes later, it's Wes describing how he built a cage in his closet.

Gunn says, "You know, here's what Angel should have done: he has Wolfram and Hart do their thing for Connor, make everybody forget the kid, give him his new life, and then he tells us Lilah helped him find Connor and Connor's dead. End of story. No fucking with our heads, no changing the last two years of our lives. Just that."

"He wanted to make everything better for all of us."

"Yeah, he should have let us choose that." Gunn sighs. It's Wes's turn to drive so Gunn has nothing to do with his hands. "Whatever. It's done now. And fixed."

Wes doesn't say anything but he's speeding so Gunn's pretty sure he's disturbed. Gunn reaches for the radio and settles on another Spanish language station. Those're the best for distraction from crazy and death and memories and somewhere back West, Spike and Angel and the crazy blue godking trying to keep Wolfram & Hart down.

*

Everyone survived the alley. Angel said, "I don't understand. Why didn't they send more?"

"Too much faith in the dragon?" Wes still hadn't stood up.

Angel's new idea was to split up. "Divide our lack of strength?" Wes asked, standing for the first time though he was leaning against the counter. All Gunn could see was blood from all their wounds and bright green behind his eyes.

"I have a list from the Black Thorn, demons they rely on outside Los Angeles. Their tools. Types who give them tribute. You and Gunn can take them all down, one by one, while Spike and Illyria and I distract them here."

"A flanking maneuver." It was Gunn's first words.

Wes stared down Angel and Angel didn't give. They left a week later.

*

Andrew says, "That was very helpful, thank you." He smiles weakly.

"The part where we saved your life and killed all those vampires, that was definitely helpful, huh?" Gunn snorts and wipes his axe clean. Vampires and some other kind of demon that wasn't that hard to kill but bled slime. Gunn thinks of Cordy complaining. She always hated the slime.

"Totally. But we were doing okay, I think." Andrew brushes at the slime on his jacket. "I should report to the Slayer."

"Buffy's here?" Wesley looks up from the demon corpse he's examining.

"No, not Buffy. This one's name is Violetta. She's pretty new and so's her watcher, so I'm here to help out. Pretty good idea that turned out to be, I must say." Behind Andrew's back, Wesley rolls his eyes. Gunn tries not to sneer. Andrew coughs and says, "Anyway, you're here to take on the Muikisa, too? That's pretty cool. We should pool our information, like, over dinner? There's a really great diner a few blocks over."

"So you can kill it and then tell us to fuck off again?" Gunn stares at the boy until he looks away.

"But that was then, now you're all working against Wolfram & Hart and we're all on the same side. So it's okay now."

Gunn is so tired of this conversation. He bets Wesley isn't, though. But Wesley stands up and says, "We were always on the same side." Then he wipes his hands on his pants and adds, "We can go to this diner." He starts walking and Gunn follows the man.

Andrew doesn't know much but he can bring a Slayer into the fight, so Gunn's okay with having him along. The Slayer, though, she's fifteen and skinny, looks like she'd go down quicker than Andrew in any real battle. He says so to Wes and just gets a shrug in return. Wes says, "Buffy was the same age when she was Called and she acquitted herself quite well." Under the table, Wes's thigh presses against Gunn's which makes up for bratboy the Watcher.

Violetta does okay for herself against the Muikisa but Gunn's pretty sure she wouldn't have made it out alive without him and Wes there. Little baby slayer, he thinks as she sits down on the ground and waits for Andrew to tell her it's okay to go. Andrew says, "So I guess we're done here. Thanks, again, for your help. I'll make sure to put it in my report."

"Gosh, thanks." Gunn pats Andrew on the shoulder and smiles when the kid winces. Like he gives a fuck what Rupert Giles and all of them think of him.

He and Wes hit the road right after torching the Muikisa lair.

*

Angel calls every week and sometimes Spike calls, too. They were still holding the fort down in LA. Gunn thinks it would be nice when they got home to come in to work at the hotel again. He misses the big brown lobby and the high ceilings. It's a damned pretty building.

Gunn says, "Do you think Illyria stays in Fred's old room?" He hates to think that. And then he hates that he'd said it, poked at Wes like that.

Wes says, "Perhaps. We cleared our things out of the hotel; I don't know that that room would have any allure to her."

"Still, I don't like her being in Fred's room." Gunn concentrates because he can remember living there, too, like in split screen crazy vertigo that summer when Connor lived there and that summer they had Justine tied up before they took her out on the boat. He was with Fred both times, in that room. He knows the one with Connor is true, but he likes the other one better. Which was Angel's point, apparently. It grates, still, to Gunn. "I guess it doesn't matter."

*

Wes says, "Once I plotted all the Wolfram and Hart branches in the United States and Canada and tried to see if there was a pattern. Chronology, location, none of it worked. Even with different maps, no pattern. Rather maddening."

"Why would there be?" Gunn tries to think if he knows, if it's there in the brain upgrade. But it isn't.

"Why be in Los Angeles and New Orleans and not Sunnydale or Cleveland? Why is there a branch in Muncie? Certainly, they're always in cities, but not in Boston or Washington, D.C. It used to mystify me."

"You figured it out now?"

"I've decided the lack of pattern is unimportant." Wes fiddles with the radio station, looking for NPR again. "There are other, more pressing questions."

"Back to the Mohra demons?"

"We'll worry about that when we return." NPR comes in loud, someone talking about grocery stores.

"We did pretty good, didn't we? Saving the world."

"Hardly the world. Over the course of a year, we killed 27 demons, which, if Angel's information is correct, has considerably weakened Wolfram and Hart's demonic power on this continent. Which is not the entire world."

Gunn smiles. "Yeah, but those 27 demons were all doing some serious evil in their towns. So, okay, not the world. We saved some cities, though."

"The smaller ones." Wes smiles.

"We saved the county. We saved 27 counties. I count that as a good year's work."

"You're right." Wes reaches over and rests his hand on Gunn's thigh. "It was a good year's work." He moves his hand away and says, "I do have a theory about the Mohra demon, though, if you'd like to hear it."

Gunn leans back in his seat. This is okay. He says, "Okay, fire away."

THE END.