sparsenicjade
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"It is a nice day. If my princess asks, tell her I went for a walk." Gru began to walk away, pausing. "If she asks."

*

Gru enjoyed the rhythm of the Earth dimension. LA was dirty and oftentimes too hot and dangerous and mean but it was also filled with color, and people who looked like him. Gru thought he could handle the trade off.

He enjoyed people-watching. It was a foreign concept to him, something Cordelia had mentioned while they were in the airport, waiting to be carried away to a vacation spot. She had told him a whole story about a girl, based on the tattoo of a turtle inked onto the girl's ankle. He had asked Cordelia if the powers had told her everything she had related and she had laughed, her eyes gently mocking, "No, I made it up. I people-watch when I'm bored. Check people out, make stories up about them."

He hadn't understood it right then, but he had caught on. The boy with the backpack bigger than himself had interested Gru, then the woman in a corporate suit carrying flowers; the septuagenarian with the small dog-in-a-bag and three kids in tow; the boy and the girl with matching Mohawks and septum piercings. It hadn't taken very long for the idle pastime to become an obsession. There were very few stories on Pylea, and those that did exist had for several thousand years. Humans and Pyleans were used to doing and existing as they had for centuries on end, no questions asked. At least until Cordelia and Co. had changed the world.

Those slew of days when Cordelia had fallen into a portal that should have never been breached had changed two story lines. That of Gru's home world, and that of Gru. He didn't regret it, he couldn't. Being the creature that parents scared their children with at night had nothing on being in love with Cordelia. Or it wouldn't have, if she had loved him back.

Gru crossed a street, looking both ways carefully. There was an ice cream parlor directly in front of him when he reached the opposite sidewalk. A girl was leaning up against the front window, holding a cone out to a guy. Gru watched, unabashedly, as the guy licked at the proffered ice cream. Gru dug into his pocket, smiling when he found what he was looking for. He went in and paid attention to the people waiting in line before him, mimicking their request for a single scoop on a cone. A comment of Cordelia's echoed slightly in the back of his head about the orgasmic quality of chocolate. He chose that flavor and paid, careful to count out the money and be aware of the amount of change given, as he had been instructed to by Gunn.

Gru took his cone outside, licking tentatively at the cold mound atop the inverted cone. It was shockingly bitter and sweet, the paradox only accentuated by the temperature. Gru thought he might tell Cordy he agreed with her, if he decided staying around long enough to discuss such a thing was a good idea. He doubted he would.

Gru followed the sound of children's screams and laughter, finding himself in front of a large, twisted metal structure. He tilted his head, unsure of what to make of it. It did not seem to be threatening to the children in any way, otherwise he was sure they would not have played on it with such abandon. He was walking closer to it when a familiar voice spoke from behind him. "It's a playground. Children climb on it."

Gru turned around. "And it is safe?"

Wesley kept his face blank, his tone unexpressive. "As long as they are being watched."

Gru nodded. "I see."

Wesley placed a bookmark in the volume he had evidently been reading when he had chosen to speak. He stood up, preparing to leave. Gru hesitated for a moment, all too aware that he understood little of how people in this world functioned, particularly in relation to each other. Wesley nodded his head a bit in Gru's direction, his eyes tightening. Gru spoke suddenly, "I do not know the story. I know that they are mad. Irrationally, perhaps. My princess, though, she is wrapped up in Angel." The words were sharp against Gru's throat, even as he forced them into the late afternoon air. "He is her purpose. She will not go against him. Not for anything."

Wesley held the book in front of his chest, as though it were a shield. "Yes. The point being that she would have to go against him to get to me. I did not-" Wesley stopped abruptly, deflating a bit, as though well aware of the uselessness of whatever he would have said.

"You did not betray them."

Wesley was silent for a moment, searching for the hidden scorn or doubt in Gru's statement. When he was satisfied of the lack thereof, he replied, "For all that it matters, no. I wouldn't have. Ever."

Gru smiled sadly. "No. A warrior does not turn his back on his comrades in arms, nor does he harm them when their backs are turned. You are a warrior."

Wesley seemed tired as he asked, "Can you find your way back to the hotel?"

Gru catalogued the steps he had taken in his mind. "Yes. Will you be able to find your way back?"

*

Gru was aware that he was far from being an expert on living in this dimension. He knew enough to realize that his options were limited. He couldn't stay with Cordelia, pretending that she belonged to him as much as he belonged to her. Nor could he go back to his own world. This one had ruined him for that. He had never much fit in there. Earth wasn't a perfect fit, but it made more sense than Pylea.

Gru wasn't precisely sure of how to go about getting a job. He was good at what he did for Angel, but he doubted that there were many similar opportunities available. What little money he possessed had been given to him by Cordelia, in case of emergency. He did not think it would last long.

Gru took the only option he had come up with that seemed the least likely to leave him starving on the streets. He looked up the apartment number in the phone book, walked the several blocks it took to reach it and knocked on the door.

There was a rustle from the other side before Wesley's voice seeped starchly through the wooden barrier. "I told Gunn, no more. Did he not relay the message?"

"I am not here for them."

"Then what? You enjoyed our conversation of two days ago so much that you just had to come around for more?"

"I have nowhere else to go."

"I am quite sure that if you knock loud enough on the Hyperion's door, someone will let you in."

"I left her."

It was several moments before Wesley opened the door just enough to look at Gru. "Why?"

Gru's mind flipped through various possible answers. "Because. Her happiness is…vital to me."

Wesley stood back to let Gru inside. "Only until…another option presents itself."

"I must learn to be something other than what I am. My skills are not what people value here." Gru's voice twisted ever so slightly at the word 'people.' There was only one person he cared to be valued by.

Wesley swallowed. "You must feel so very- displaced."

Gru allowed the statement to be rhetorical.

*

Gru jumped back as Wesley came into the kitchen looking finicky and wielding an axe. "I did not think you would mind me using your kitchen."

Wesley dropped his arms, the axe swinging loosely from one hand. His eyes were a bit sheepish as they met Gru's, "I forgot you were here."

Gru turned back to the stove. "I did not want to wake you, I would have asked otherwise."

Wesley rubbed a hand over his eyes. "You could've woken me. I shouldn't be falling asleep in the middle of the day, anyway."

Gru made a soft, noncommittal noise that Wesley chose to ignore. "I made plenty, would you like some?"

"What is it?"

"Spaghetti. It was all I could find that I knew how to make. Cooking is different here."

"Open fires can be a bit of a hazard in apartment complexes." Wesley walked to the cabinet and retrieved two plates.

The spaghetti was cooked to the right consistency.

*

"Can't sleep?"

Gru didn't turn around or mention the hoarse pleas that had filled the apartment moments before. "I once slept on the ground. When I was given a bed the first time, I could not get used to it at first. I would lie awake comfortably, but unable to handle the difference. It is the same now. There is no weight beside me, no extra heat. I just did not feel like laying there."

"I was going to make myself some tea. I could heat enough water for two." Wesley's voice was painful in Gru's ears.

"That would be nice."

Gru followed some distance behind Wesley. Gru assessed his host in the sparse lighting provided by the city lying beyond the windows. He was reminded of himself in the too-pale skin, the fine-boned physique that hid surprising strength. Wesley's body was much like the man himself, deceptive.

Wesley stood by the stove, removing the stainless steel kettle from the electric coils before its scream became too shrill. He poured the water, handing Gru a steaming mug with a picture of Big Ben on it. The tag to the tea bag dangled over the side.

Wesley set his cup on the table. "Sugar?"

Gru sat down. "No. Thank you."

It was silent except for the sounds of swallowing until Gru put down his cup and said, "Is it like that every night?"

Wesley set his cup down. "It's funny. The demons I fight. They're no longer so easy to defeat."

"A tangible fight is always much preferable to any other kind."

*

Gru recognized the woman. If he hadn't though, he would have recognized the way Wesley's back tightened ever so slightly upon opening the door. "I'm busy."

The woman ignored him, walking past him into the apartment. Her eyes registered momentary shock upon seeing Gru, before conforming back into their normal perfectly amicable blankness. "I see you have a visitor."

"Yes. Now run back to your superiors and have a nice long brainstorming session about how to fit this new piece of information into your plans for world destruction." Wesley was still standing by the open door.

The woman considered Gru for a second before turning back to Wesley. "This doesn't change anything. Two rejects from the larger whole does not a team make."

Wesley bared his teeth in the imitation of a smile. "Have a nice day."

The woman left. Gru watched as Wesley shut the door, the tension draining from him the moment he was completely behind it. "Angel's enemies."

"Yes."

"It would seem that everyone is confused as to exactly who you are." Gru thought this assessment might apply most to Wesley himself.

"So it would."

*

Gru knew Wesley was only pretending to read the book in front of him. A page had not been turned in over a half an hour. Gru had seen Wesley decipher ancient Demon dialects faster than that. "Why do you not return home?"

Wesley looked up. He took off his glasses and rubbed at them as though to clean the lenses. "Do you mean England?"

"Wherever you… This is not where you originated."

Wesley leaned forward to set the book on the coffee table. "I have even less things to keep me there than I do here."

"You are without a family?"

"I. My parents and I have a less than fulfilling relationship."

"Humans are not supposed to exist on Pylea. We do as a fluke, some type of dimensional mistake. I cannot go back to a place where I will always be, by my very nature, inherently wrong."

Wesley's eyes met Gru's, considering. "I suppose I understand. There is more than one way not to belong, though."

"You stay here because you belong to them."

"I stay here because they cut the chain they held on me, but I can still feel its weight."

Gru's breath felt trapped inside his chest.

*

Wesley handed Gru a cutting knife, four carrot sticks and a cutting board. "I need them cut into bite size portions."

Wesley turned the knob on the oven to 375 degrees before holding the chicken underneath the tap and setting about to clean it methodically. Gru finished with the carrots and picked up the onions, eyeing Wesley for permission. Wesley nodded, "Quarter them."

Wesley lined the roasting pan with aluminum foil, shiny side up. His reflection bounced back at him, distorted splashes of color. Wesley dribbled olive-oil onto the sheet, reinforcing the sheen, and placed the chicken, carrots and onions so that they all fit. He untwisted the cap to the rosemary and thyme shakers, parceling out the spices in one hand each. He opened the oven and slid the chicken in, drawing back from the warmth the moment the pan was in place. "It has to cook for awhile."

Gru knew this. Cooking on Earth wasn't that different.

Wesley rubbed gingerly at the scab slowly forming a scar along his neck.

"Does it hurt?"

Wesley's hand stopped mid-motion, as if unaware of its own actions and ashamed to be caught. "Not really. Not-"

"Physically?"

"Yes."

Gru lifted the back of his shirt, just enough for Wesley to glimpse his lower back. It was decorated by an expanse of too-pink webbing. "Given to me by the Pylean woman whose house I was raised in. Her son told her I had stolen the food which he himself had taken for him and his friends. Regardless of the fact that she was the closest thing I had to a mother, he was her son and I was her slave. Punishments for stealing were harsh, even for children."

Wesley reached out with the hand that had been rubbing at his own markings, but stopped short of actually touching the regrown skin on Gru's back. "Can you still feel them?"

"For awhile, with my Princess, I couldn't." Gru lowered his shirt. "She was the first thing I ever stole."

*

"I have stayed for over a week."

Wesley's eyes strayed to the desktop calendar partially obscured by his computer. "Yes."

"I was hoping-" Gru's fist clenched and unclenched.

Wesley considered the man standing in front of him. "Do you have skills other than fighting?"

"None that I can foresee being useful on Earth."

"Tell me, perhaps…something will occur to me that you would not think of."

"I have expertise with many Pylean beasts and can speak several Pylean languages."

Wesley calculated the things he knew about Gru quickly in his mind. "You learn skills quickly."

"That is dependant on the skill."

Wesley ran his fingers smoothly along the edge of his desk. "Naturally."

"Do you have something in mind?"

"No, but I'll research a bit."

"Thank you for that. I will leave as soon as I am able. Do you wish some type of reparation for my time here?" Gru's eyes were opened slightly too-wide in his way of hiding anxiety.

Wesley nearly flinched at the innocence of the expression. "I don't mind having you here."

*

Wesley took showers at night, a holdover from when going to work had also meant the possibility of being splattered with demon bodily-fluids. Gru used the bathroom after Wesley emerged to brush his teeth and comb his hair. The air was always still three-fourths condensation, smelling of Ivory soap.

It should have been a softer smell than it was.

*

Gru wasn't claustrophobic; he had never found anything that frightened him beyond his own ability to handle it. He disliked being in enclosed spaces. After a week and a half, he woke just as the sun was forcing itself into visibility, pulled some pants, a shirt and a pair of shoes on before walking out the door of the apartment.

He didn't really care where he was going, so long as it didn't have four walls. An openness beyond the one in between apartment buildings and shops would have been nice, but Gru could see the sky, reach out and not have his fingers encounter glass. His goals, for the moment, had been accomplished.

He got lost somewhere around the time he saw the first car driving without headlights. He knew it then, because it occurred to him that it had to be full daylight for that to happen, which meant a considerable passage of time since he had left the apartment. That was how he noticed that he didn't recognize the name of the street he was on.

There was a bus stop by Wesley's house, so Gru found the closest bus stop to where he was and read the different routes, trying to determine his way back. He figured out a rough sketch of the quickest way back. It would take him directly past the Hyperion.

He walked past the hotel slowly. He wanted Cordelia to come out the door, rushing somewhere, her body lines filled with determination. He hoped that she didn't.

He meant to keep walking after that, pretend it was just another building on just another street, but he found himself stuck, unable to do anything beyond tracing the steps he had taken that day when he had left for only a few hours, a precursor to his final choice. The ice cream parlor was empty so early in the morning, and the jungle gym stood silent, waiting for children to be released from the prison of the schoolroom. Gru sat on the bench to wait with it.

Later, when the children had come and gone; women in classy business suits had bought themselves fancy-flavored ice creams and excused the calories on the stress of work, and drivers had shouted angrily at each other at the intersection a few feet down, Gru became tired of waiting.

He walked his way back to where he had begun, knocking lightly at the door. Wesley opened it, fighting to hide a look of relief. Gru apologized, "I…it took me awhile to find my way back."

*

Gru had been in cars with Cordelia, and even a few times with Fred and Gunn. The engine's thrum below him combined with the stale recirculated air of the ventilation system always made him feel slightly disoriented.

Wesley drove them to a place beyond the city. The highway was still paved, branching off like an overgrown spider every mile or so, but the scenery changed from brick and concrete and plexiglass to soybean and grape fields. Their destination was off of one of those fields, land that had not been cultivated, but that seemed to be shaped into certain patterns, nonetheless. There were large, four-legged animals, some being ridden by men and women, others grazing lazily. They reminded Gru of the Oksharn on Pylea. He had helped to raise more than a few for his owner as a child.

Wesley led them over to a small building. There was a woman inside speaking on the phone, looking harried. Her English accent was harsher than Wesley's but still recognizable. She smiled absently when Wesley knocked at the lower half of the split door that was open on top and motioned the two men in. She hung up shortly after they had stepped inside. She stood up and held a hand out. "I'm Mary, what can I do for you?"

"Wesley Wyndham-Price, we talked on the phone." Wesley gestured to Gru who shook Mary's hand in turn, "This is my friend, Gru."

"Yes. You said he's worked with animals before?"

Gru smiled. "I grew up working with many."

"But no horses?"

Gru and Wesley has discussed the logistics of this interview beforehand. "I grew up on a small island. Our wildlife was different from that of this continent."

Mary's eyes narrowed. "Small island? You're lucky I have a thing for fellow displaced Brits and lost causes, the latter of which you two both clearly can be categorized as."

Wesley laughed softly. "Good to know my birthplace finally came in useful for something."

Mary shook her head, though whether the gesture pertained to herself or Wesley and Gru, none of them were exactly sure. "C'mon, I'll show you around."

*

Wesley parked the car in an empty lot outside of L.A. He got out and walked around to Gru's side, opening the door. "Go around."

Gru heeded the direction, making his way to the driver's seat.

Wesley instructed, "The pedals are under your feet. The gas is on the right, it controls your speed, the brake is on the left, you use it to stop."

Hesitantly, Gru experimented by pressing down. Nothing happened. Wesley reached over and turned the key. The car revved and settled down. "You have to turn it on first. Then you check your mirrors, you should be able to see just a bit of the side of the car in the ones outside the window and as much as possible of what's behind you in the rearview." Wesley tapped at the mirror to the right of Gru's head.

Gru took a moment to figure out the controls and adjusted everything accordingly. He waited.

Wesley took Gru's hand and placed it on the gear shift. "It's an automatic, all you have to do is change it from Park to Drive, or, if you want to go backwards, Reverse. Remember to put your parking break," Wesley moved Gru's hand to the aforementioned instrument, "down before you press on the gas."

Gru tested things out, shocked by how sudden the movement of the car seemed when someone else wasn't in charge. His urgent need to stop often caused jerking.

Wesley didn't complain, not even later, when he came from the bathroom, towel wrapped around his waist, his chest bruised where it had met repeatedly with his seatbelt strap.

*

Gru always brought home extra fruit on his week to go grocery shopping. Wesley had needed to accompany him at first, walking him through the aisles and attempting to explain the haphazard organization of the items, but Gru had figured things out quickly and they had divided the job between the two of them.

Gru liked pears when they were in season and plums when they were almost too tart. Vegetables on Pylea hadn't been all that different from those on Earth, but fruit hadn't, for the most part, existed in his old life. Wesley wouldn't eat grapes because the workers who picked them were sprayed with pesticides, but he would split an orange evenly with Gru in the evening and slice half a banana over cornflakes in the morning.

Gru made fruit salads and chilled fruit soups and fondues and even a few rather funny looking fruit pies. Wesley didn't get sick of fruit.

*

Gru wasn't precisely sure when the sharp silence inside his head quieted into something more like a hum. It could have been when Wesley took the portion of Gru's first paycheck he needed for rent and didn't say anything about the classifieds circled with a large black marker on the table. The day Wesley brought home books that Gru would enjoy with his own stack from the library was a possibility as well.

It crossed Gru's mind, even as he tried to ignore the thought, that perhaps it hadn't been one moment at all, but rather the way Wesley made Kenyan brew coffee each morning before Gru left for work. Wesley, Gru had learned, freelanced as an online editor/researcher and didn't have to get up at any particular time. He was always waiting with two mugs when Gru emerged, dressed and ready to head to the stables.

Gru admired the way Wesley kept his weapons in good and working condition, knowing that he hadn't used them in months and quite possibly wouldn't ever again. He liked watching the simple arching and tensing of Wesley's fingers as they polished the surfaces of axes and crossbows, the play of muscles when Wesley sharpened his knives.

The hum was more pleasant than the silence had been. Wesley's eyes, when they were open, still screamed for a love that was lost to him. Gru kept the humming to himself.

*

Wesley came home with a book on Clydesdales one night. Gru fell upon it, amazed by the creatures. He had been staring at a picture of an unadorned Clydesdale for a minute when he looked up, feeling Wesley's stare.

Wesley didn't look away. "She was a librarian. Fred, I mean. Before she fell through the portal."

Gru nodded like he had known this, even though he hadn't. He had only the vaguest idea of what a librarian was.

"Most nights, I go over to that library, her library. It's out of the way, but it's not as though I can just walk into the Hyperion, so I sit through the bus ride and spend an hour or so feeling as near to her as I possibly can. I browsed the section on Quantum Physics when I first went over there. I, um, know very little about science."

"It must be nice, to have a place like that."

"It is. Was." Wesley frowned. "I went to the library two blocks over tonight. It was a nice walk. I thought you might like a book on horses; you seem to enjoy working with them."

Wesley walked into his room and came back with a book of his own to read while Gru was perusing his temporary gift. It was one from Wesley's personal collection.

*

Wesley sliced a banana straight through the center and placed the two halves carefully on either side of three perfectly lined up scoops of vanilla ice cream. He poured chocolate sauce in a jagged pattern over the surface of both the fruit and the ice cream. The hand that wasn't holding the bottle opened and rustled through the silverware drawer. He fished out two spoons, raising them in silent question to the man behind him.

"Yes, please." Gru had discovered his sweet tooth living with Wesley. It was larger than his mouth.

Wesley came to the table and set the bowl in between them. Gru was careful to get a bit of ice cream, chocolate and banana on his spoon before taking his first bite. Wesley submerged a piece of banana in the excess chocolate sauce and brought it to his mouth. "I've been trying to remember the things I wanted to do."

Gru took another bite. Wesley would say what Wesley needed or wanted to say. No amount of encouragement or lack thereof would affect the amount of words about to be spoken.

"When I was a child, there were my parents to answer to, and I swore that when I was free of them I would do things. I know I wanted to see the surviving Seven Wonders of the World and visit each continent. There were other things, I'm pretty sure meeting Santa Claus was one of them, but I probably crossed that off the list at some point."

Gru had stopped trying not to look confused with Wesley. Wesley never mocked him for his ignorance and usually knew when he was faking knowledge, so the effort didn't really seem worthwhile. Wesley considered Gru for a second before realizing what he had said, "Oh, Santa Claus. Mythical figure, children on earth believe he comes to their houses to bring gifts on a particular holiday every year."

Gru nodded. "There were figures such as that in Pylean lore."

Wesley smiled. Gru rarely saw Wesley smile, hadn't since they had met. It caused him to smile back instinctively. Wesley's smile widened. "If I remember correctly, you were a bit of a myth yourself. In a monster-under-the-bed sort of way."

Gru blushed and swallowed too much ice cream at once. He panted in shock.

Wesley held back laughter at him. Gru wished Wesley wouldn't hold it in, even if he was the butt of the joke. Wesley looked contemplatively at the spoon dangling from his fingers. "I got free of my parents, but only through the aid of the council and then I had duties to fulfill for them, which was never bad, I enjoyed being a Watcher, but it got in the way of doing the things I'd planned on."

Gru scraped his spoon along the bottom of the bowl slowly. "You have no more ties to keep you from your travels." The words were said gently.

"I'm not ready to leave yet. I would…I don’t want to have to spend every moment of the way wondering if they need me, even if I said I wouldn't help them, I know-"

"The true giving up and moving on is a much longer process than merely saying the words out loud."

Wesley nodded. "But I am going to do it. And, the thing is, I know you've been looking for another place. I would be willing to offer you money, though, to stay on here, keep this one up while I was gone." Wesley got up and walked to the sink with the bowl, his back safely to Gru. "To be here when I returned."

Gru walked to the sink to stand next to Wesley. He watched the water run over the other man's hands, washing away lemon-scented anti-bacterial soap. "I have been unsuccessful in finding some place suitable elsewhere. Staying would be optimal."

*

Gru enjoyed sitcoms. He didn't always understand the humor, but he liked the too-bright settings and the instructional laugh tracks. It made him feel like he wasn't the only person on Earth who needed to be cued.

Wesley would sometimes join him, huffing mildly at the things he found truly amusing. He rarely made a sound when the laugh track was running.

It was early summer when Gru was stretched out on the couch, legs long and bare where the shorts didn't reach, a hand resting lightly underneath the hem of his t-shirt over the soft skin of his stomach. Wesley leaned over and kissed Gru, sliding his tongue quickly over Gru's lips and taking the responding gasp as a chance to slip into his mouth. Gru's hand came off his stomach, tugging at the waist band of Wesley's jeans. Wesley let himself be pulled in too close.

Wesley eventually slid off of Gru, hair everywhere, licking his lips. Gru's eyes flickered to where the television was still playing. There was a different show on.

*

Gru came home well after dark the next evening.

Wesley was still up, staring listlessly at his computer screen. He looked away as Gru came in the door. His eyes were eerily golden underneath the lamp's glow. "I don't blame you for wanting to stay away, but this is your home too, you pay as much as me."

Gru walked over and pressed a few buttons on the computer, saving whatever Wesley had been working on. He had done that same thing almost every night upon first moving in, when Wesley had been in the habit of working himself until he fell asleep sitting up. "One of the horses was sick, Mary asked me to stay and help."

"Oh."

Gru moved away, leaning up against the back of the couch. "When I was with my Princess, I had never before felt anything like her kisses."

"Cordelia is quite the woman."

"I left her. It took me awhile to know that I was gone, that there was no returning, but I know that now. As with her, there has been no other to kiss me the way you have. If the kiss was meant for me I would very much like to try being in love with you. I do not want another her. You are brave and intelligent and kind and many other things that I have come to admire. But I have had more than enough experience with being a lover's second choice. I have no wish to repeat the experience."

Wesley was still thinking when Gru left to go take a shower. After stepping in, Gru discovered he was out of soap. Wesley's Ivory bar tingled against Gru's skin.

*

Gru blinked awake to a soft clinking. The clock on his wall said 4:18 AM. He wondered if it was wrong.

He stumbled into the kitchen to discover bowls spread out over the counter top, the flour and sugar jars open with used measuring cups beside them and a brownie pan glistening in all its Criscoed glory.

Wesley looked up while he kept stirring at one of the bowls. "Did I wake you?"

Gru tried not to ask about the obvious, but there were times when the temptation was impossible to overcome. "What are you doing?"

"Making upside-down pineapple cake." Wesley poured some vanilla into a measuring spoon and dumped it into the bowl he was concentrating on.

"It's the middle of the night."

"Yes, well, you weren't supposed to wake up. It's a breakfast surprise. Go back to sleep."

"Cake for breakfast?"

"It has pineapple in it. The average five year old can construct a fantastic argument for why this makes it acceptable as breakfast food."

"Why are you…" Gru walked to where Wesley was standing and forced him to look away from the bowl by placing a hand underneath his chin. "Your coffee is quite filling."

"I just." Wesley set down the spoon. "Thought maybe, if I put a little effort into this-"

Gru brought the hand that Wesley had been stirring with up to his mouth and licked away the remnants of sugary batter. "Tastes good. I will act surprised in the morning."

*

Wesley was asleep on the couch when Gru awoke a second time to the insistent bleating of his alarm. Gru set up the coffee maker and went to go brush his teeth as the coffee brewed. When he got back to the kitchen, Wesley was there, pulling two mugs out of the cabinet. "I was planning on being awake."

Gru took a cup from him. "I know."

"Pineapple. It's, um, one of your favorites. I know because Fred preferred starches and junk food to anything that could be grown and that made things easier on me, at first, that you were so different."

Gru filled his mug and set it down. There was a knife lying ready atop the plastic covering the cake.

"I stopped thinking that way without even knowing it. Just one day I thought about you and it had nothing to do with her. You weren't the same or different, you were just-" Wesley swept off his glasses and gestured ineffectually.

"Do you want a piece?" Gru had already placed a sizable portion on a paper towel for himself.

"Please."

Gru cut a second piece, smaller. Wesley didn't like pineapple all that much.

*

Wesley slipped into the shower with Gru that evening, a blush appearing on every inch of his body. "Do you mind?"

Gru upended the bottle he was holding over Wesley's scalp, set it down and used both hands to lather Wesley's hair.

When they stepped out, each reaching for their own towel, Gru inhaled softly. "We smell the same."

*

Afterwards, when they were draped over each other, covers thrown to the side in an attempt to escape the heat, Wesley told Gru, "I should stay here. I mean, those things I talked about, they can wait."

"Your dreams?" Gru waited until he felt the slight movement against his chest that constituted a nod. "They have waited."

"They have been put aside in the face of more important things." Wesley's thumb stroked pointedly across Gru's hipbone.

"I could accompany you. If I stayed late a few nights a week over the next year, I would be earning overtime-"

"I don't want you to stay late. I'm done with being lonely, even for a few hours at a time."

"I don't want to be more important than your promises to yourself. Or, at least, I don’t want to be an impediment to them. I want to live them with you."

"They're only my fantasies."

"You do not wish to share?"

Wesley propped himself up on Gru's chest to look down at the man he was speaking to. "Don’t you have any of your own? Ones that I could tag along for?"

Gru laughed softly. "You are tagging along for mine."

Wesley drew in on himself a bit in the way he did when he was waiting for all the pieces of a particularly difficult translation to fall into place. "Oh."

Gru kissed the outside corner of Wesley's left eye. "So tell me. Tell me of the wonders you will show me."

Wesley's voice had a small catch to it that was always there, a reminder of that which he had survived. It resonated softly through his ramblings until the early hours of the morning.

Gru listened and heard and understood.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile