Or at home.
It suddenly deflated for him, then, the cozy little office, even the door he could close between himself and the sight of Fred, all glowing eyes and coltish eagerness. He wanted to get angry over something, anything, but there was nobody to be angry at. Fred? Charles? Fred brought out a side of Gunn he'd never suspected, and more importantly, Gunn wasn't at all embarrassed by it, either. He wondered at the alchemy between souls, wondering what he could have brought out in Fred if he'd had a chance. Not like he hadn't dreamed about it, waking and sleeping, for weeks.
It just wasn't going to happen. He was slowly acclimating to that notion, like adjusting to a new climate. It seemed that since he'd realized it, his whole temperament, like the temperature in a greenhouse, had been thrown off, and he clung to the notion that he just had to ride it out, and then the pain would be over.
He closed the door behind him, crossing the lobby to the big old registration desk. Vampires in love, he thought. Two years ago, he'd have been scoffing at it. Before Cordelia, before Angel, before that awful poisonous incident. Once he'd wrapped himself in cozy suppositions, like blankets, to protect himself from the buffeting of the gray winds that whipped other people around. He had been certain, resolute, decided. He'd laughed at the jokes about vampires, especially the ones circulating about Angelus, the worst of them all. It made it easier to kill them.
Now, though, now... He'd read somewhere the burn victims were greatly at risk from infections, until they received skin grafts, because with their skin burnt away, they were vulnerable to every germ out there. Their nerve endings had no protection from the world. Now, he knew what that felt like.
Ever since he'd experienced that -- incident -- -he'd felt that way. He felt as if all those protective layers of reaction and distance had been stripped away and worse yet, the skin beneath them as well. Stuff he hadn't noticed before now seemed vivid and painful, as if his emotional skin had been burnt away and he'd been left exposed to what felt like every molecule he'd ever missed.
He could have killed her; worse yet, he'd wanted to. Oh, the memory of the joy of that thought. He still remembered how good it had felt to finally have the upper hand, to know she was scared of him, to know she'd do whatever it took to placate him. He didn't have to wonder what, if anything, she actually felt about him; he didn't care. All that had mattered was what he felt about her.
He grimly found his dictionary and opened it, finding the papers he'd tucked inside. They were very old, very fragile; it had been very irresponsible of him to do that. What if they were destroyed? Well, then he wouldn't be able to continue with the disturbing translation. Then he just wouldn't have to deal with it.
He flipped pages back and forth across the thickness of the book, not really ready to begin translating. He retreated, thinking back to the office, the vampire who'd shook his hand, as if he were used to shaking hands -- or observed a lot of it, which indicated lots of exposure to humans -- -and had claimed to be in love. Of course, he probably thought he was in love. But that was just impossible. It wasn't possible unless you had a soul; that wasn't one of the Council's stupid pronouncements, that just made sense. If you had a soul...
"Hey, Wesley." Angel peeked through the door, hanging off the doorjamb like a teenager. "Anything interesting?" Then he ducked back out of the door for a minute, returning with Connor clutched to his chest. He was making googly eyes at the baby as Cordelia brought up the rear, swinging a car seat from one hand. Wes had picked it up and found it rather heavy and unwieldy, but then again, he wasn't half demon. Smiling at him, she plunked it down on the counter and headed for the coffee machine with the tip of her tongue sticking out in anticipation. Angel looked up as she brushed by him, his eyes still and unreadable for a moment, then softening as he returned his gaze to the baby's face. Gently, he settled the child in the seat, wiggling the little body around to make sure no blankets were lumped uncomfortably against the baby's back. Then he lifted up the shirt and blew air against the child's belly, producing a startlingly vulgar farting sound. Wes sighed and winced just a bit.
Angel noted that reaction and did it again; Wes pretty much repeated his reaction as well. Angel raised his head and looked at him. "I saw that."
"Then you'll stop?"
"Why? He liked it."
"He doesn't sign your paycheck." Wesley said, but softened it with a smile.
"You don't, ah, actually, pay me."
"Well, I change more of those diapers than you do."
Wesley sighed and eyed the ceiling. "Do too. Don't pretend, Angel, I've seen you running away."
"Vampires have a more acute sense of smell than humans. And—" he sounded injured, "I don't run."
"Then how come—" Cordelia returned with coffee for herself, and blood for Angel, "I always see you sneaking in the opposite direction when there's a diaper to be changed." She nodded
"I don't sneak." Angel sounded worried, swinging around to look at Cordy as she casually clicked her way through the computer menu. "Cordy?" He looked at her plaintively.
"Yes. You. Do." Cordy said. Then she stuck out her tongue at him. Wes sighed and blinked from one to the other. He clearly needed to talk to Angel about it; on the one hand, they could always use the money; on the other hand, who could really say what that vampire had been up to?
He felt invisible for a moment, as Angel took the baby up to his room for changing, Cordelia following behind, coffee cup in hand. He shook his head, wryly; if Angel thought his feelings were more than temporarily unrequited, he was wrong. Then again, he thought, when have Angel's feelings ever been unrequited? When he was Angelus, he wasn't capable of love; when he was Angel, at least until Buffy, he had been too focused on survival to love. One moment of perfect happiness, he thought. Was it that simple? Did love just mean consummation? Until that happened, did what he felt even count? If he never got closer to Fred than her quiet co-worker, did he even matter at all?
"Going for some strong silent record, there, my friend?"
Wes started, his heart jumping at the sudden sound of an unexpected voice. He cautiously turned his head, warned by the sound of the demon's voice that there might be hurtful sartorial excess. "No, just thinking." He took a deep slow breath, trying to calm himself. It didn't help that Lorne, now attired in a yellow suit with a lime green shirt, looked perfectly calm and relaxed, almost debonair. If you squinted, and were colorblind, you could even sort of picture him as a sort of pastel-toned, scaly, Rick from Casablanca.
"You could think a little less and get out a little more. Or is there a prize involved in staying indoors this long?" He settled himself into a chair after turning it backward, and leaned over the back. "Because I think Angel's the titleholder. I mean, if you're that old, what else is there to do?"
"No, just a lot of translation to do. " Wes shrugged, and purposefully opened the book again. This time, he smoothed the prophecies out, and regarded them sternly, before meeting Lorne's eyes. "I've just been avoiding it."
"No wonder. I looked at that stuff and almost died of boredom. C'mon, honey, they're all tucked in for the night. Let's go kick up our heels -- in my case, literally."
Wes' lips twitched. "What, do you need a chaperone?"
"No, but you do. Somebody's gotta make sure you have some fun. C'mon, let's get out of here. You don't have to look at any happy couples and I don't have to get any insulin shots. We'll be a great team."
"I don't really care if they're happy or not. I'm glad for them."
"Honey, you lie like a rug. And I am proud of you. That's the spirit. Never let them see you cry. Don't cry out loud. I will survive. By the way, that's the karaoke list for this evening."
"I still don't understand why I have to be part of it."
"Well, see, honeybunch, there's this thing called 'fun' that they've invented. It involves entertainment, laughter, and sometimes nudity. There might be catering, from what I've heard. I used to be pretty good at it. And you could use some practice."
"Practice at what? Being miserable?"
"Not being miserable." Lorne said, grabbing his arm in a grip that was impossible to break. "See, here's the thing. You're being all noble and everything, and that's just great, but you know what? You need an audience for that."
"Are you implying that my behavior is... showing off?"
"No, no, honey, calm down. It's just that it's such a waste. Good looking English guy like yourself, tragedy, high cheekbones, perhaps a little sympathy sex..."
"Look I'm not saying you don't feel what you feel, but would it kill you to stop being so noble? Couldn't you be a bitch for just a little bit like the rest of us? Come down off that pedestal and roll around with the rest of us. Besides, think how much fun it would be to critique your rivals. C'mon, you're gonna tell me you really don't think it's nauseating the way they think they're not noticeable? Oh, hello, I can hear loud smacking noises as well as anyone, maybe better when it's somebody lip locking. You mean you haven't noticed Cordy cut Groo's hair like Angel's? You don't think that's beyond tacky? Plus it just doesn't look good, Freudian issues aside. You don't think it's sort of alarming that Gunn looks like he's going to start rapping about love one of these minutes? Is it really just me or would it be too much for Groo to assimilate and pick a name that doesn't remind me of oatmeal? Sounds like something they serve in old folks' homes to people who don't have teeth. Let's go."
"Shouldn't we get Angel?"
"Ah-ah-ah, sweetness, not a chance. Love the guy, really, really do, but the man needs to brood, plus change diapers, and who are we to possibly get nailed for nasty nappy duty? Uh uh. Love him, really, but take him to a whorehouse, and he'd induce celibacy. Now, I meant that in a good way. And, oh? By the way? You're driving."
"I don't have a license. On this planet. Plus I don't think I can stand the thought of Groo dancing. Just sounds bad, doesn't it? The tequila is calling us..."
Lorne yanked Wesley up the stairs, giving him only enough wiggle room to grab a jacket. "Jeez, did your mother tell you to always bring a jacket in case it got cold? C'mon already, there's bitching to do..."
Continued in Chapter 17