I shot a subtle glance to my right and felt butterflies swirling in my stomach. Which was a ridiculous reaction. Absurd, really. Because it wasn’t like I expected Wesley to be any less handsome than he’d been in that elevator. Or on the walk over here to this bar. Or when he’d asked me idly what I was ordering and I’d stammered for a whole five seconds before asking him to order me something nice. It was absurd. Because I’d known Wesley for years and I’d never been incapable of being around him without acting all silly.
And now I was. It wasn’t even like he was doing anything especially captivating, like a tense piece of spell-work bathed in a fiery light that had lit up his face in just the right way (because that had been upstairs in his office twenty minutes ago): he was just sipping his scotch. Blue eyes soft and thoughtful, fixed on the middle distance, elegant fingers tapping on his glass, mouth curled into—
And there were the butterflies again. I focused on my own drink - a fruity-looking concoction with an umbrella - and sipped it. Fruity. Zingy. It was actually kind of amazing. I took another sip and tried to work out my logical course of action. Because my previous strategy of trying to ignore my feelings for Wesley - while also ignoring that I was ignoring them - had clearly failed. If I was honest, it had failed long before now. I should have known it was failing when I daydreamed about him when I was meant to be writing lab reports, or wondered what he would say when a particularly fascinating scientific theory bore fruit. But that would have been way too simple, logical and easy. So instead, I’d hid from my feelings.
Like a dumbass. And now I was sitting next to him in a bar after a crazy busy day, having finally realised that hiding from my feelings for Wesley was never going to make them go away, or even make them less intense. Because having been cold turkey on Wesley for so long, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. Couldn’t stop admiring his intellect, his dedication, his wit, his kindness… every little thing about him (even tiny, silly things like how he put too much honey in his tea or staunchly refused to ever use the ‘Americanised’ variants of certain words). I wasn’t going to forget how well we fit together. How perfectly he understood me, right down to ordering me this amazing drink. And if I couldn’t hide from my feelings any more - which I obviously couldn’t - then I only had one option.
I was going to have to flirt.
I felt myself flush slightly red at the thought of my previous experiences with flirting. I’d never been any good at it: I’d always been much better at blushing, stammering, giggling and generally making a fool of myself when other people flirted at me. And I’d certainly never flirted with Wesley. Because first I hadn’t recognised his feelings, then I hadn’t recognised my own, and then I’d been trying to ignore my own feelings - and failing miserably - while trying to deal with how impossibly attractive he was. But if I wanted to be with Wesley - which I desperately wanted - then I had to let him know I was interested. And there was no way he was going to be the first to flirt (first flirter?) after the barrage of mixed signals I’d put out over the last couple of months.
I tried to quickly run through everything I knew about flirting. Step one: make sure nobody else is there to overhear you. I glanced around the room: fortunately, I’d been successful in guiding Wesley over to the bar when we’d got here, while everyone else went to the tables, which reminded me of how warm Wesley’s hand had been when I’d took it and tugged him over here, feeling sparks racing across my entire body and dammit, there were the butterflies again.
But we were alone. That was good. That was great. Alright. The good news was that - despite what my stomach’s gymnastics routine was telling me - flirting with Wesley should be easy. Right? A few compliments, a couple of not-so-subtle shy glances and eyelash batting, some soft hand touches, a mention of dinner… Wesley would instantly understand what I was doing, because he always understood me, and he’d reciprocate because I knew how he felt about me (and why, why had I hid for so long from someone so wonderful who cared for me so deeply, so obviously, so desperately?) and then it would all be so easy. And blissful. A lovely romantic dinner… was I dressed well enough for a romantic dinner? I glanced down at myself: a nice blouse, a cute little skirt, necklace and nice shoes. I was dressed well enough. I hoped.
Why was I panicking? This should be easy! I loved Wesley, Wesley loved me, we knew each other impossibly well, all I had to do was start flirting and it would be perfect. A cute little romantic dinner, Wesley being chivalrous, just the two of us talking and then afterwards… I shut my eyes for a second, smiling as I let myself imagine Wesley moving closer to me, leaning down, eyes intense and kissing me. I shivered pleasantly at the thought. It was going to be so wonderful, just me and him, kissing and-
“It would certainly be nice.” Wesley mused, sipping his scotch.
I froze on my barstool. Because when I was thinking I had a tendency to talk out loud. Had I been talking about it? About my feelings and fantasies? I felt myself flush bright red and turned to face Wesley… who was thankfully not looking at me and showed no sign that I’d just confessed my love to him. Okay. This was fine. Everything was fine. I just had to start talking - I’d talked to Wesley loads before - and flirt a little. Then it would all be peachy.
“What would be nice?” I swivelled to face Wesley, sipping my drink.
“Having an arch-nemesis.” Wesley swirled his drink thoughtfully. I frowned. Wesley turned to face me and kept talking, eyes animated. “Fred, Angel gets all the arch-nemeses! Darla, Holtz, Lindsey… daring quests for revenge, epic battles, skirmishes of wit and willpower. Don’t we deserve arch-nemeses of our own?”
“Definitely.” I nodded, smiling thoughtfully. “We’re cool enough to have arch-nemeses.”
“Precisely!” Wesley nodded and smiled eagerly. “But where are we supposed to find suitable candidates?”
“We work for an evil company?” I suggested. “Surely somebody here must be arch-nemesis material.”
“One person springs to mind.” Wesley muttered darkly, eyes momentarily narrowing. I wonder who’d annoyed Wesley so? “But compare our staff to Lindsey. He was immune to external surveillance, strong and fast enough to fight Angel on equal footing and had a well-devised master plan to bring Angel to ruin. Can you think of anyone here who could do all of those things?”
“Well.” I grinned slyly and kicked Wesley’s leg gently. “There’s you.”
Wesley blinked. “Me?”
“Yes!” I nodded, putting down my drink and snapping my fingers. “That’s it! We should be each other’s arch-nemeses!”
“I…” Wesley frowned. “I don’t quite follow.”
“Look.” I leaned towards him. “To qualify as an arch-nemesis, the other person has to challenge you intellectually, right? Y’know so that you can have battles of wit and opposing zany schemes. Now, can you think of anyone else at Wolfram and Hart who could challenge either of us intellectually?”
Wesley hesitated. “I suppose not. The staff here do leave something to be desired.”
I smiled. “Ergo, we should be arch-nemeses. We can have battles of wit and play games and see more of each other.” I pouted slightly. “I haven’t seen enough of you in ages, Wesley.”
Wesley hesitated for a second, then nodded and sipped some of his scotch. “The idea has legs. I would be honoured to be your arch-nemesis.”
“And I am honoured to be yours.” I offered my hand. “May the best woman win.” Wesley chuckled softly and shook my hand firmly.
“Don’t get too ahead of yourself, Fred.” He warned. “I’m no pushover.”
“Well, neither am I.” I finished my drink and waved at the bartender, who nodded at me in return and started making another one. I turned back to Wesley. “Unlike way too many of the staff here.”
“I know what you mean.” Wesley nodded. “Too many people here seem to be either evil or lazy.”
“Or just plain incompetent.” I shook my head. “I mean, you don’t want to know how many times I’ve caught Knox right before he slipped up and made a major mistake that would have cost us days of work.”
“No, please. Go on.” Wesley downed his scotch and turned to face me, looking very interested. “This sounds like something you need to get off your chest.”
“Well, right now he’s working on the Trask experiment and every time I take a look at his work, there’s more mistakes on it.” I glowered slightly, thinking of the headache I’d had this morning trying to deal with it. The bartender put down another fruity drink and I brightened.
“Thanks!” I smiled at her, than glanced to my right: Wesley’s glass was empty. Perfect. “Oh, and one of those, please.” I smiled, pointing at Wesley’s empty drink.
“You got it.”
“Oh, and one for me too.” Wesley nodded. I blinked at him.
“No, Wesley.” I smiled at him and rolled my eyes. “The one I’m ordering is for you.”
“Oh.” He blinked. “Are you sure? But I can-”
“No buts.” I shook my head. “I’m buying you a drink.”
Wesley smiled at me. “Thank you, Fred.”
“You’re welcome.” I smiled back.
When his scotch arrived I raised my own glass. “To my new arch-nemesis.” I grinned.
“Cheers.” Wesley smiled and we clinked glasses, then both of us drank.
“So.” I said slowly. “I’ve told you all about my woes in Practical Science. How are things on your end?”
“Oh, you know.” Wesley shrugged. “Same old, same old. Detailing spell-work, supervising shamans. Slowly removing the darker arts from our standard repertoire of spells.”
“And how’s that going?”
“There’s much to be done.” Wesley grimaced. “But we haven’t sacrificed any living animals in over a month, so I’m making progress.”
“They used to sacrifice living animals?” I gaped.
“Worse.” Wesley said grimly. “Before we took over, senior executives frequently sacrificed their own children.”
I shuddered. “Sometimes it feels like we may have bitten off more than we can chew here.”
“More than you can chew?” Wesley’s eyes gleamed. “That would be an impressively large mouthful.”
I giggled, instantly feeling better. “I’m so glad Cordy is back. She’ll keep us honest.”
“Yes.” Wesley smiled. “Not that you ever needed much help with that.”
“You know what I mean.” I elbowed him gently. “And I’m sure Angel will be so happy she’s back.”
“Yes.” Wesley sipped his scotch. “They finally get their chance to be together.”
“After so long.” I tried determinedly to make eye contact, but Wesley seemed extremely focused on a spot of wall in front of him. “They can finally just look right at each other and say ‘I only want to be with you’.”
“Yes.” Wesley sounded slightly pained, totally oblivious to the fact that I was staring at him, trying desperately to make eye contact while I said the words. “It’s wonderful for them.”
By the time Wesley turned back to face me, the moment had passed. So we talked in that easy way we always had, about small events in our daily lives, discussing books and theories, mundane and mystical, and I allowed myself to relax and have a real night off for the first time in much too long. I laughed at Wesley’s trademark dry humour, and I lost all track of time until I eventually glanced at the clock. “Wow, look at the time.”
Wesley glanced over at the clock and started. “Oh my, the time has flown by.”
“It does that when you’re having fun.” I shrugged at him and smiled.
“So it does.” Wesley downed his scotch. For courage, I hoped. “I suppose I should be going home then.” Or not.
“That’s not what I meant.” I frowned down at my stomach. “I never got to eat dinner.”
“Same here.” Wesley drummed his fingers on the bar.
“We should go grab something to eat.” I smiled flirtily. “We haven’t hung out together in ages. I don’t want the night to end just yet.”
“Good idea.” Wesley nodded and smiled. Finally! Now to just- “I’ll get the others.” Wesley stood up.
“No!” I gasped. Wesley started and turned to face me, confused look on his face. Oh dear, how did I explain that? “I… err… think they’re otherwise occupied.” I nodded at the rest of the team meaningfully.
Lorne was surrounded by Sea Breezes, and seemed to be enjoying watching Gunn and Spike’s drinking contest, which - judging by the number of number of full shot glasses in front of them - looked like it would be going on for a while.
“I suppose they are.” Wesley murmured. “Alright then. The two of us it is.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” I said softly.
Wesley stopped mid-step and turned to face me, brow furrowing. “I’m sorry Fred, I must have misheard you, what did you-”
“Angel-cakes!” Lorne yelled happily, and I turned to see Lorne stand up and stumble towards Angel, walking slowly into the bar.
“We should tell Angel we’re going.” Wesley murmured, then marched over towards him.
“My condolences.” The bartender offered.
I turned to face her and frowned. “Pardon?”
The bartender nodded to Wesley. “For his cluelessness.” She explained. “It was painful to watch. I don’t even want to imagine what it felt like for you. The male of the species is truly a frustrating creature.”
Okay, so, maybe flirting with Wesley wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d thought. Or, rather, getting Wesley to notice that I was flirting wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d hoped. But I was not going to let that stop me. We’d wasted two and a half years dancing around each other and I was not going to let a sudden onset of obliviousness on Wesley’s part stop me from showing him how I felt about him. I just had to be smarter. Plan better. Wesley was smart and he paid a lot of attention to me: there was no way he wouldn’t figure out what I was doing. I just had to be patient.
“Some Cupid kills with arrows,” I said to myself more than to her, downing my drink. “Others with traps.” As I walked towards Angel, I began formulating my attack strategy. It should still be easy: all I had to do was get the smart, perceptive guy who (I hoped) was hopelessly in love with me to recognise that I was hopelessly in love with him. And we already had dinner set for tonight! Granted I was sure that Wesley hadn’t realised I meant a romantic dinner, but I could fix that pretty quickly by picking the restaurant. Really, this had been a stroke of luck: there was no way with our hectic jobs that I’d be able to get Wesley out to dinner any time soon after today. This was an opportunity not to be missed. Luckily, it wasn’t like Angel was going to tell us anything that could change our plans for the night. After all, we’d won! Beaten Lindsey. It wasn’t like any of us had died.