Gunn speaks a few languages. Wolfram and Hart downloaded several demonic dialects into his brain along with the law, and the knowledge is still there if he ever wants to use it.
Spanish, however, is his and his alone. He'd picked it up in bits and pieces, first from school and around the neighbourhood, then later through concentrated effort with his Latino gang-members because it was hard integrating so many different ethnicities into one gang, and he'd needed every advantage he could get.
Dez is the other way round. The way she told it, she'd been raised speaking Spanish, and hadn't known a word of English when she finally did a runner from the cult. While she was playing assassin in Hell, she'd also been studying English every spare moment she got. Everything was fair game: books looted from stores, audio tapes picked out of wreckage, and the occasional client that she'd practise her conversational English on before killing them. The girl is either an uncertified genius, or just incredibly determined, because after only a few months (or a few seconds, depending on how you rate the passage of time in the Hell-moment) her English is fluent, if accented.
When they meet, there's little interest on either side. She's just starting to explore her role as a champion. He's trying to find his way back to being one. They're on two different wave lengths, with no reason to ever intersect.
Then oneday they're trying to get information out of a Latino shopkeeper. Dez is in jaguar form keeping look out, while Gunn is coaxing the man to give up the name of the demon pressuring him for protection money. The man is pretending not to speak English, and Gunn asks in frustrated Spanish "This any better?", and the conversation goes downhill from there.
Their rising argument is interrupted by Dez.
"My god." She's turned human in her excitement and is looking Gunn like he's a surprise Christmas present someone dropped in her lap. "Why didn't you tell me you could speak Spanish?" She laughs, grabbing his shoulders as if she'd hug him. "Christ, I've been going insane with no one to talk to! I mean, you can get by on English, but it's just not the same."
Gunn clears his throat, desperately trying to keep his eyes on her face and not let them drop below her shoulders.
"Dez, your clothes."
"Oh, don't say it like that. Say it in Spanish. Come on. Don't make me beg. I'll beg if I have to."
Gunn sighs and switches across.
"The shopkeeper is about sixty years old, and he looks like he's going to have a heart attack. Will you please put some clothes on or change back?"
"Please. If this is the first time he's seen a naked woman, I'll eat that sword." She's grinning madly as fur begins to travel down her arms and legs. "But we are going to talk, you and I."
From then on, it's all Spanish with Gunn. Even if he starts the conversation in English, Dez will switch across, and he'll follow because it's easier than arguing. The only times she'll address him in English is when it's a group conversation, and even then she'll drop the occasional sarcastic aside (So Illyria's brilliant plan is to kill everyone) or seemingly innocent question to make him choke down laughter (so Angel and Spike used to date, right?).
At first he thinks it's just to mess with him, because she clearly likes Connor and Connor hates Gunn. And it's not like Gunn's Spanish is particularly great after years of disuse. In fact to call it 'rusty' would probably be a gross compliment. He's on the lookout for any sign of mockery, and bites her head off a few times for trying to correct his pronunciation. Then he notices how carefully she follows conversations in English, showing a focus she doesn't with Spanish, head tilted slightly so as to miss nothing, mouth tightening in tiny flashes of frustration when a word is used she doesn't recognise.
"Tiny holes," he tells Dez during a group meeting. He says it quietly and in Spanish, so as not to embarrass her. "Porous means it's full of tiny holes and absorbs liquid fast. That's why Laura thinks our demon will be vulnerable to salt."
Dez nearly, but not quite, rolls her eyes.
"Why couldn't she just say that?"
"Different kind of British. Watcher-British."
"Guys," Conner says, shooting Gunn a suspicious look. "In your own time, yeah?"
Gunn shrugs and indicates for Laura to finish her lecture. Dez rubs the back of Conner's neck in a gesture not unlike someone soothing a ruffled cat, and smiles at Gunn over his shoulder. With a sense of unfolding revelation, Gunn realises she's a friend. Not just an acquaintance or a work colleague; an actual, real friend. Possibly the first one he's made since… well, since Fred joined the team.
That was three or four years ago now. Had he really been so caught up in the drama of Angel Investigations that he'd let it become his whole world? No wonder they were all so screwed up.
It turns out he and Dez have a lot to talk about. They discuss the effectiveness of guns against demons versus the trouble of carrying an axe around LA, which so-called pacifist demons were truly benign and which ones just neutral, and how to take out werewolves without killing them. Stuff that for most people would be crazy-talk and for them is just shop-talk.
They end up in the kitchen most nights, him polishing an axe or a sword while she perches on the bench with a cup of tea, bare feet swinging above the linoleum. It's nice. Companionable. Like a little piece of trust offered back to him that he's not sure he deserves and is desperately grateful for all the same.
One night Dez mentions what happened to her sister, and Gunn tries to tell her about Alonna. She will be the first person he's told since Fred when they were first dating, a lifetime ago. He's nearly got the words out when Connor comes thumping down the stairs, all bristling antagonism and poorly concealed jealousy, and there's no way Gunn's going to spill his guts with him standing there. He grabs his axe and leaves, and his resentment simmers a little hotter for the kid and his holier-than-thou attitude, like his hands aren't as bloody as the rest of them.
Gunn never gets to finish that conversation with Dez.
Not long after, Connor picks a fight and Gunn storms out of the hotel, frustrated and angry and hating Connor only a little bit less than he hates himself. His pride won't let him go back, even after he's cooled down, and Dez dies alone on a bathroom floor as a demon devours her soul.
Just another person he wasn't there to save.
Later, after Gunn's returned and he and Connor have made their awkward not-quite apologies to one another, he's down in the kitchen. They're packing up to move out of the Hyperion and nearly everything is in boxes. He's looking for the coffee but finds Dez's mug instead.
It's one of those promotional mugs for that awful 'Last Angel in Hell' movie. Spike had bought a whole box from a convention as a joke, prompting a silent alliance amongst the others to get rid of them. Every mug Spike put in the cupboard would mysteriously get broken or lost, which he'd immediately replace, prompting yet more mysterious breakage. Eventually Gunn and Angel had stormed Spike's room and destroyed the whole box. (Gunn was willing to admit that burning it might have been overkill). The only mug to survive their jihad was the one Dez saved, which had a picture of swooning movie-Spike clasped in movie-Angel's arms while movie-Gunn/dragon breathed fire in the background. Dez had thought it was hilarious and kept it hidden when she wasn't using it. Good thing too: Gunn would have smashed the stupid thing, and he wasn't the only one.
Now he cups it very carefully between his hands, conscious of how fragile it is, how easily it could slip through his fingers. She must have put it down here before the soul-eater arrived. Probably stuffed it between the biscuit tin and the old cappuccino machine where it couldn't easily be spotted, before running upstairs and…
"She loved that thing." Connor's voice startles Gunn. His fingers tighten reflexively about the mug, unreasonably terrified of dropping it.
He sets the mug carefully on the counter. Connor is standing in the doorway, not quite in or out, watching him.
"Was there something you wanted?" Gunn asks, making an effort to make it a question, not an accusation. The truce between them is fragile enough. No need to jeopardise it when civility costs nothing.
Connor comes downstairs and puts a book on the table, one of those small pocket-sized dictionaries. The faded cover says English-Spanish dictionary.
"I was trying to learn some phrases," Connor says, not quite looking at him. "I wasn't very good. I kept mangling it up."
Something inside Gunn unknots, some tension unwinding.
"I wasn't very good either when I was starting out," he says cautiously, not sure how far to take this offering. Connor nods distractedly, looking at the mug rather than him.
"Dez missed you," he says. "After you left. She didn't say anything, but she'd talk to herself sometimes in Spanish. That's when I started trying to learn, so she wouldn't have to…" He hesitates, searching for the words, so Gunn gives them to him.
"She wasn't alone," Connor says sharply. "She had all of us."
"Kid, you can stand in a crowded room, and still feel like an outsider."
Connor falls silent at that, looking at Gunn thoughtfully, as if some piece of a puzzle has just fallen into place for him. Gunn is never quite sure what to make of the kid in these moments, when the hatred and posturing falls away, and he gets a glimpse of the person the others must see. Not the savage youth who'd forced his way out of Quar'Toth nor the whiny kid who'd panted after Cordelia. This is someone Gunn had never gotten a chance to know, someone he could respect. Someone he could be friends with oneday.
"I see," Connor says. Then the walls come up again, and it's the bitchy kid Gunn's barely been tolerating for the past few months. "Make sure you put Dez's mug in one of the boxes. I don't want it left behind when we go."
Gunn watches him thump up the stairs, book in hand. It's not a great start. One step forward, and two steps back. But then, he hadn't been expecting it to be easy. He takes one last look over the room with all its ghosts. One more now, if soul-eaters leave ghosts behind.
"I'll make it work," he promises. "I don't know how, but…I'll make it work."
He says it in Spanish.
Just in case.