Beyond Edenby Wolfling
He was by no means a stranger to pain -- either physical or emotional -- having endured and survived near mortal wounds in the past. But this time was different.
This time he'd been cast out of the garden. He'd tasted forbidden knowledge and so been barred forever from paradise.
Now he knew how Adam must have felt.
Wesley shifted postion against the smooth rock behind him, pulling his legs up closer to his body in an effort to ward off the sewer chill. There was a soft murmur from the young voices of the teenagers they'd run into, but he easily blocked it out of his consciousness.
He spent a moment wondering why he seemed to have taken to thinking in biblical imagery, but had to admit it was an apt, if blasphemous metaphor.
Whether she was in reality a fallen Power or demonic life form, Jasmine had been his god and life under her influence had been... perfect.
Under Jasmine there had been no doubt, no worry or uncertainty. He knew he'd made the right decisions because Jasmine had told him they were right.
And he'd been accepted. Not just by Jasmine, but everyone. Everyone: Connor, Fred, Lorne.
He still wasn't sure how things had gone so bad so fast between him and Gunn in the first place. Oh he knew the surface causes -- their mutual attraction to Fred and Wesley's own mistakes with Connor and subsequent withdrawal -- but the hostility that had suddenly laid between them, underpinning any and all interaction seemed to go so much deeper than that.
But Jasmine had changed that. She'd spoken to them both and suddenly, as simple as that, the hostility between them had vanished, and their friendship was back seeming as strong as ever.
But now that they were no longer under Jasmine's influence, Wesley wondered where that left him and Gunn. Was their rebuilt friendship real or just something else that vanished when Jasmine's blood touched theirs?
Wesley rather feared it was the latter, and only their current desperate situation and the emotional ache from Jasmine's loss that dampened down all other feelings were keeping that hostility from suddenly bursting forth again.
And then there was Angel.
Wesley's relationship with Angel made his relationship with Gunn seem absurdly simple. Everything with Angel was complicated. There was so much that lay between them -- pain and comfort, accusations and forgiveness, loyalty and betrayal, love and hate -- that sometimes the only thing Wesley had been sure of was that one way or the other he couldn't walk away from Angel.
But under Jasmine's influence, all those complicated, conflicted emotions became simply acceptance, friendship, love. There had been no fumbling or missteps, just the knowledge that he and Angel had a connection and it was good.
Now that certainty was all gone, and Angel seemed further away than ever. They had all been withdrawing into themselves in an effort to deal with the loss of the perfection of Jasmine, but Angel, Angel had gone further than any of them.
Maybe it was because Angel had more experience withdrawing from everything than the rest of them; because of that, he was able to push his feelings away that much more efficiently. Wesley wasn't sure if he worried about that -- or envied it.
He looked across the artificial cavern that the teenagers they'd run into were using as a base of operations; Angel was sitting alone in a slight alcove brooding silently. Much like, Wesley realised, he himself was doing.
He thought about going over and talking to the vampire, knew that he would have done so in times past, but there was so much between them, so much that he was wrestling with himself, that the distance between them seemed like light-years than mere meters.
And that was the worst thing about the current situation. Under Jasmine's influence, they had felt connected to each other and everything else; now they were all isolated, so locked in their private pain that they couldn't even reach out when they wanted to.
Which left Wesley sitting alone and staring across the cavern at Angel sitting alone... and hurting.
"Is this a private brood or can anyone join in?"
Wesley tore his eyes from Angel and looked up to see Gunn leaning against the wall and watching him. "Be my guest," he replied, gesturing at the ground next to him.
He watched as Gunn took the proffered seat, warily waiting for whatever was coming next. A harsh word, a punch in the mouth, a civil conversation; each seemed equally likely in Wesley's mind at the moment. In the ruins of paradise how could you predict anything?
"This sucks," Gunn said after a few long moments of them sitting in silence.
Civil conversation then; Wesley felt something inside him ease a little at that. "Indeed," he agreed heartily.
"You know what burns me the most? The fact that even though we know the whole eternal bliss thing is just some kind of freaky wannabe-goddess mind control, it doesn't stop part of me from wanting it back."
"Indeed," Wesley said again. He stretched out his legs in front of him, turning a little more towards Gunn. "As you said earlier, it's a hard drug to kick."
Gunn mirrored his actions, his left leg brushing against Wesley's right as he stretched them out. Wesley found the physical contact... soothing somehow.
"So do you think tall, dark and broody's right about how to deal with it?" Gunn nodded towards where Angel was sitting across the cavern. "Rip out our emotions by the root?"
Wesley followed Gunn's gaze. "I think," he said slowly, watching Angel be so motionless he could have been a particularly lifelike statue of himself, "that all of this would be a lot easier to deal with if we could." He sighed and looked back at Gunn, admitting a touch ruefully, "Doesn't mean it's easy to do -- or even possible."
"Angel doesn't seem to be having any problems with it."
"Yes, well," Wesley began, voicing his earlier thought as he once again letting his gaze drift back to the vampire, "he's had a lot more practice at it."
"You worried about him?"
Wesley sighed and let his head fall back against the stone wall behind him. "I'm worried about all of us," he said softly.
"Yeah," Gunn said thoughtfully. "You would be."
Before Wesley could figure out or ask what exactly Gunn meant by that, Gunn was continuing to speak. "I think Angel's wrong on this. Our feelings -- they tell us what we're fighting for, y'know?"
"You fight with more passion when you care," Wesley said softly, a realisation he'd come to himself earlier in the year.
"Yeah." Gunn nodded emphatically. "That's it exactly. Funny you should put it that way because I've been thinking about that since before we got free of Jasmine. When we did, I thought maybe it was just part of the whole mindwhammy lovefest, but I don't think it is."
"What is?" Wesley turned his head to look at Gunn, curiosity temporarily overriding all the rest of the emotional turmoil inside him. "Or what isn't I suppose is the more appropriate question."
Gunn looked... nervous, Wesley decided. But also determined. He watched as Gunn licked his lips and fidgeted before finally answering, "This." As soon as the word was out, Gunn was leaning close and pressing his lips to Wesley's own.
'Ohhh,' Wesley's brain went as Gunn was kissing him, finally understanding what all that underlying hostility between them had really been about. Other than that one realisation though, Wesley's thoughts and feelings were hopelessly tangled and confused and remained that way when Gunn finally pulled back.
Still, he felt like he should say something. Maybe if he started speaking, he'd know what to say. He got as far as "Charles, I..." before he ran out of words.
"Yeah, you," Gunn replied with the kind of smile that brought back memories of late nights involving video games, beer and lots of laughter. "Look I know this isn't the time or place for life-changing declarations, and to be perfectly honest, I'm still kinda freaking out about all this myself. So really not ready to go there yet. But...."
"But?" Wesley asked, finding his voice when Gunn's trailed off.
"It's there. It's real." Gunn shrugged, looking a bit embarrassed. "Just thought you should know. That the passion I'm fighting with is partly for you." Then he got up and started to walk away.
Wesley called out after him, unwilling to let him go without at least an acknowledgement. "Charles." When Gunn turned back to him, Wesley smiled and said the only thing he could think of to say. "Thank you."
Gunn nodded at him, a hint of his earlier grin hovering at the corners of his mouth. "We're cool," he said, then headed off to talk to the teenagers whose hideout they were in.
Which left Wesley sitting there feeling.... He wasn't sure exactly what he was feeling actually. He thought about it, turning his emotions over and over like he was examining an old coin. Better, he finally decided. He felt better. Relieved that not all of the emotions under Jasmine had been false, and stronger for realising that losing her influence hadn't meant losing the connections to those people who meant the most to him. Anything more than that would have to wait until they were in a situation where what had just happened could be explored more fully. But still, it was... nice to know that there could still be belonging and acceptance outside of the Jasmine-built Eden.
Wesley found himself staring across the cavern at Angel again. The vampire looked as distant and alone as he ever had, and Wesley found a sudden urge within himself to reach out to him, wanting to give Angel some of the hope that Gunn had just given him. Giving into that impulse, Wesley got up and started over.
The walk across the cavern wasn't light-years after all.