Ending In Amazement
by glossolalia

"There's more in the back," Anne says, touching Gunn's shoulder when he sits on the shelter's step to wipe his face and catch his breath. "Always more," he says and she laughs.

"Rondell's running late." She plants her fists on her hips as she looks around. "Got any friends with strong backs?"

So Gunn calls Wes. It's worth a try, and it's not like Wes couldn't use some fresh air.

"I'm a tad occupied at the moment," Wes says and he's using that voice again. Catatonic, Lorne called it, and that's absolutely right.

"You're sitting in the dark with Blue Oyster Cult," Gunn says. "Get down here."

He hears Illyria in the background, rumbling and strange, and Wes sighing like Cordy used to when she had to file, like any imposition is just too much.

"All right," Wes says eventually. "She's healing, so --"

"Big of you," Gunn mutters but Wes has already hung up.

Gunn regrets calling him when Wes shows up. It's his face, haggard and drained; seeing it makes Gunn's hands clench and his skin prickle. Some things just aren't right -- vampires, rapists, Cordelia playing Sleeping Beauty, Illyria wearing Fred's body, and in the last couple weeks, he's added Wes's face to the list.

Wes's face is wrong and the sight of it makes the air in Gunn's heart shriek.

There's no scar, but Gunn feels the hole in his heart with every breath. It rattles. Whistles, sometimes. The Wrath wasn't too choosy or precise with its cutting instruments.

He does have a scar from the scalpel in his gut, and it matches -- mirrors -- the one Wes got, years back now, from the zombie cop's gun.

And Wes has got a scar on his neck, which is both old and new. Old, because it's a part of his skin, like it's been there for years, and new, because it wasn't there when Gunn went to the basement.

"Annie," Gunn says when she comes out again, arms loaded with clothes. "You know Wes. And this is --"

She grins at Illyria, barely blinking at the blue and the armor, and nods. "Thanks, guys. Wes, help me sort these out. Charles, can you take Lyria out to the back?"

"Yeah, sure," Gunn says, one last glance over his shoulder. Wes is already bending over the clothes, and he's lost more weight. His vertebrae poke up under his sweater.

They were brothers once, something good and right, the two of them and Cordy all that long rainy spring, down the Pylean brick road, and then all across that not-so-mournful summer. Lasagna and videotapes, games of Risk and a little Resident Evil, hide and seek with Dennis, darts and demon-killing.

They've explained to him about the memories. Or Wes tried to, but his voice was soggy with booze and Illyria kept interrupting to add in doomsday phrases and observations on the vanity of ants, and Gunn just listened.

He remembers that spring, Pylea, the summer after. He remembers Fred hiding in her room and Cordy slipping off her shoes after Buffy's funeral, he remembers Wes's eyes shining when he deciphered a minor prophecy and when Cordy remembered his birthday. He remembers the first - only - time he beat Wes at darts, and he remembers waking up in the wee hours of the morning to the rasp of Wes's stubble on his arm and sleepy blinking eyes that couldn't focus without their glasses. He remembers Cordy waving her Cosmo glass and telling them to get a room and the flush that spread over Wes's face and down his throat.

Gunn figures his memories are good enough. If he doesn't remember Wes stealing a baby and hooking up with Lilah, he does remember the knife in the gut and Wes hooking up with Fred. It evens out. Roughly, anyway.

"Memories," Wes said that boozey night, "will make themselves felt. Illyria here --" He waved his hand in her direction. "-- she'd say that they have their own form and once walked the earth, wraiths and wisps, twining through reality."

"Your accoutrements are bulky," Illyria says now, surveying the store-room. "They will not protect you."

Gunn slaps the back of a recliner, its vinyl upholstery torn and graffiti'd. "Let's get the big pieces out first."

"Agreed," Illyria says.

Three recliners, twelve stinky, sagging mattresses, and a boatload of sheets and blankets: Illyria moves everything with ease, and Gunn's not entirely convinced they did drain all its powers.

It cackles at him when he bangs his knee on the corner of a side table, and he'd slap it if he wasn't afraid he'd get shoved through various dimensions for the insolence.

"Shut up," is all he says, rubbing away the worst of the pain in his knee. "Hurts."

"You humans, bald apes and mewling monkeys, you are so fragile. These emotions of yours, these are mere winding sheets, cloaks against the world that strangle and bury you."

"Done with emotions," Gunn says and pushes a carton of books into its arms.

"After death, the muck still breathes and stinks," Illyria says. "Never done."

"Grab that chair there, would you?"

Illyria's right, though. Whether it's memories or emotions or whatever, they're never done with you.

He had a lot of time to think, down there on the table. In between screams, anyway, and the shattering, ripping agony. He tasted his own blood when the Wrath squeezed his heart over his mouth and he made himself think of other places, other sins. Betrayals and what love meant.

Love is, he thought then and thinks now, a many-tentacled thing, reaching into all sorts of unexpected places. What he felt with Wes and Cordy, that was love, and it was different from what he felt with Wes alone, but that was love, too, just like what he felt with Fred was love. And different.

Hell, even Rondell and the boys - Alonna - that was love, too, so many tentacles reaching out to all of them, drawing them in.

Wes and Anne are somewhere in the office, wrestling with a filing cabinet. Gunn jogs down to the corner and gets water for Illyria, Mountain Dew for himself.

"I do not require hydration," it says, but takes the bottle anyway. "Your Wesley, he frequently attempts to feed and water me."

Gunn nearly chokes on the soda. "My Wesley?"

"Yes." Illyria tilts the bottle horizontal and studies the water moving back and forth. "He speaks of you often."

Gunn knows Wes in a series of layers, images and facts that sit and shift uneasily. Brother and boss both, bullet in his side and special handshake; ruthless in Pylea, narrow-eyed and flat-voiced, and then joyful, triumphant. Each layer shifts in its own place, and nothing killed love, but everything added to it, brought in doubt and questions and respect.

Other people, he thinks of them as people, round and full, but Wes is different. Flatter, somehow, but deeper, too, like those piles of leaves white kids on TV play in to show you it's fall.

"Good man," Gunn says. "Shame about tonight and the Black Thorn."

Illyria wrests the cap off the bottle and pours water over its face. Gunn hopes for half a second that the blue will wash off, but no such luck.

"It is destined. This battle, Angel's participation, the confrontation," Illyria says.

Gunn squints into the sky. Perfect day, blue sky and high, puffy clouds. Hard to believe that what's going down tonight is real, but then again, that's how it's always been. The unexpected's always right around the corner, and an Old One can look like Fred, Wes can starve to death, Alonna can sprout fangs.

"Never much cared for destiny," he says, draining the last of his soda and twisting the can in his hands. "Specially not when it's going to kill me and my friends."

Through the shelter's open door, he sees Wes dragging a big laundry bag, his head bent and arms straining, and Gunn gets to his feet.

"He has a journey to take," Illyria says and catches Gunn's arm. "Times are aligning for him, bringing him to completion."

Gunn looks at -- her. Him, it. Nothing like Fred, all alien and superior, just a knowitall bug-thing -- and laughs. These immortals always come with delusions of grandeur. Part of the territory, how they prefer their worlds huge and perfectly orderly. Destinies stretch out over ebony and ivory chessboards, follow the lines laid down, and never mind the soul and beating heart of whatever poor schmuck happens to possess that destiny.

Ants, chess, it's all ridiculous and mean.

Illyria tilts its head -- Fred's skull, beautiful head he could palm in one hand, destroyed under all that blue -- and blinks slowly as he laughs.

"Forget it," Gunn says. "Like trying to reason with a cat."

"He wants to die," Illyria says. "He seeks it for its succor. Punishment and rest, he craves them equally."

He knows Illyria's right and that makes him sick. Wes is out of sight now, and the hole in Gunn's heart whistles.

Nothing special: That's the righteous way. Gunn used to know that, he forgot for awhile and got Fred killed for his vanity, but he knows it now. Start believing you're special, the next step's going to be prophecies, destinies, and looking at the rest of the world as ants.

"He ought to know better," Gunn says. "Martyrs're a dime a dozen."

He's already on his feet, so Gunn heads back to the store-room. Couple more trips, just cartons and rolled-up carpet ends, and Illyria follows him.

It's talkative today. Maybe hanging out with Wes does that to you, whoever you might be.

"I feel her at times. Whispering little sensations, quite warm. How she felt with you, with him. A plague-fever, I think, a small bellows heating her up from the inside."

"That's nice," Gunn says. So he made Fred hot: It's a compliment, however much it hurts to think about her. "Grab those rugs."

"Nice." Illyria tries the word out, flicking her tongue. "No. Not always nice. Rage, sometimes. Rage, and confusion. But also..." Its tongue clicks. "Nettles in honey, stingers in the hive. Sweetness."

He adds a small box of trinkets on top of the rugs, obscuring its face, and pats Illyria's shoulder. "It's called love, honey."

"He calls that hope," Illyria tells him. "Hope that one can still be surprised."

"Yeah," Gunn says, piling three boxes on top of each other and hefting it up, nudging Illyria forward with the corner of the bottom box. "Something like that."

Wes isn't looking to be surprised, not any more. Gunn knows that just as well as Illyria does. Maybe better. Wes's face, when Gunn and Cordy brought out the chocolate cake for his birthday, candles blazing, that was surprise. Wide, dorky smile and moving eyes, trying to sort out how they knew, why they'd care, how in the world he deserved this.

Gunn checks his watch when they've stowed the last load of boxes and rugs in the back of the van. Only four-thirty, and the night's still a ways off.

He has to fight tonight. It's just what he does.

"Elsewhere, other times," Illyria says and Gunn sucks in a breath, preparing for another speech, "he is crippled and yet you stand by him."


It cackles again, and now it looks like it's trying to roll its eyes. "Wesley."

"That so?"

"He is bearded and possesses only one arm. You fight by his side and tend to him at night with potions and needles. Pressing your mouths together and groaning."

In profile, Illyria looks less like Fred. Gunn can take looking at it, in glimpses anyway.

"Charles," Wes says from his other side. "Making a new friend?"

"Illyria's telling me fairytales," Gunn says, standing up, swallowing. Wes's cheeks are burning red but the rest of his face is pale. Sweaty. Wes nods, gaze ticking over to Illyria, then back to Gunn.

"She's quite adept with, with --"

Illyria rises and holds up a hand, cutting Wesley off. "This will change. I will change this."

It stands up, blue brow drawn tight, maneuvering them until Gunn and Wes are facing at each other.

"There is something soldiers feel for each other. Brothers, and monks. Whining pups and their mother. I have nothing of it but another's memories."

Illyria grasps their hands and presses them together, palm to palm.

Gunn stares at Wes, that tired familiar face and wet blue eyes. Their fingers interlace and fold down, and Illyria releases her grip to rest her hands on their shoulders.

Wes's hand is clammy but the smooth skin on his palm, that's more than familiar. That's the kind of memory no sorcerer can ever touch.

"You feel that for each other," Illyria says. "She knew that. I know it, too, and you must go."

"Illyria --" Wes says, voice rasping. "Don't be ridiculous."

"Quiet, mortal. You are too fragile and suicide was always a sin. Before there was sin, when all was whirling in joy and terror, this, this was not allowed."

Wes's eyes widen and Gunn's heart rattles and clanks in his chest like some crazy person wrapped in chains. Illyria grasps their hands again, pressing them even closer together.

"This is not your battle," it says, and Wes's knuckles crack against Gunn's. "These emotions of yours, they are all you have. Go."

The last thing Gunn sees is the whites of Wes's eyes, crescents of blue and fuzz of lashes, and then the world goes white and he feels the hissing drag of time yanking at him. Just like when Illyria pulled him out of the basement, tossed him over its shoulder, and time pulled apart like cobwebs, torn but clinging. Wes's forehead against his, Wes's hand in his, and they plummet without moving through the white.

They're standing now in front of the Hyperion. Same perfect blue-sky day, same pale face of Wes, but Gunn's heart simply beats and does not wheeze.

"Charles?" Wes asks, and his voice is his own again, quiet and full of wonder.

"Yeah," Gunn says. "Right here."

"Where are we? When are we?"

"That's your job," Gunn says. "Figuring it out, I mean."

"Yes," Wes says, and then he smiles. Just a little one, but it changes his face and Gunn recognizes him again. He unlaces their fingers and smiles again. "I believe she married us."

"Hell, no --" Gunn cranes his neck, taking in the hotel, sliding his arm around Wes's waist. "Really?"

"Or some primordial equivalent thereof, yes."

Sunny day, Wes smiling, and Gunn doesn't think about it before he's kissing Wes.

"Okay," he says, breaking for breath, then presses his tongue up against his palate, tasting the pie-spice sweetness of Wes's mouth again. "But I'm not calling a robot 'Dad'."


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