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Loners

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Gunn hadn’t died that day in the alley. When he looked back on it, there were a lot of times when he could have died before in his life. Teenage knife fights, vampire attacks, even his own recklessness that was partly the usual adolescent belief that he was immortal and partly a secret death wish, any of them could have, maybe should have, killed him. When Illyria had told him he was dying, he did what he had always done: gritted his teeth and kept going in spite of the odds. The odds were always open to interpretation, and that time proved no different.

No one expected that all the activity of L.A., the rumblings going through the Circle of the Black Thorn, would have met the ears of another warrior, and an unlikely looking one at that when Gunn had first seen him picking his way through the dead bodies of the demons in the alleyway after Illyria had exploded, taking out the entire non-human population for the next several blocks. Gunn had been pretty busy at the time, what with the dying and all, but he’d still glanced up and known immediately that there was something strange about the short, skinny kid with the almost complete lack of an expression, and that strangeness wasn’t limited to his purple hair, either. He noticed Gunn was alive and hurried in his direction, kneeling down to see what was happening.

“Hey,” he said, checking his pulse as he spoke.

Gunn found the greeting oddly informal given the circumstances, but the calm in the single word had been reassuring.

“Don’t bother. I’m not going to make it,” Gunn had managed to say, the words painful.

“Sure you are,” the purple-haired kid, who on closer inspection appeared to be in his mid-twenties, said, and his tone suggested complete confidence.

“Excuse me, but of the two of us, which is the one laying on the asphalt and bleeding his guts out?” Gunn said, mildly annoyed.

“That’d be you,” he said, and a crooked smile tugged at his mouth.

“Right, so I ought to know if I’m dying or not,” Gunn said firmly.

“Okay, you’re dying now,” the stranger said, hitting the last word strongly as he dug through a bag he was carrying, “but you won’t be in a second.”

The next thing Gunn knew, the unknown man was holding a bronze talisman shaped like a quarter moon. It glittered sharply in the spattering rain as he slowly drew it over Gunn’s body. A faint heat ran through him as it hovered over his skin, something that reminded him of drinking hot chocolate when he was a kid, back when his mother had been alive and sane, and he’d felt warm and safe in a way he had never been able to recapture since. He’d also known that somehow, the guy was right; he wasn’t about to die.

“See?” he’d said.

“Yeah, okay, so maybe you’re right,” Gunn agreed, sitting up slowly and finding he wasn’t even sore. ‘”I’m Charles Gunn by the way. Everyone just calls me Gunn.”

“Oz,” the other guy said, putting out a hand, and it took Gunn a minute to realize that was his name. “You look more like a Charles than a Gunn, though.”

He remembered Fred for a moment, and he must have grimaced because Oz noticed his reaction.

“Or not,” Oz said, shrugging. “You got a middle name?”

“No,” he admitted.

“Huh. Weird,” Oz said, bending to get his bag.

“This from the guy named Oz,” Gunn said.

“Touché,” Oz agreed, and he seemed to be about to walk away.

“Hey,” Gunn called out, and Oz stopped in his tracks, turning back around. “You just saved my life. You want to grab a beer or something?”

Oz looked like he was about to say no, but something changed in his face, something small, just enough so that a weight Gunn hadn’t really noticed had been hanging around the other man’s face seemed to lessen a little.

“I guess,” he’d said.

Beers had turned into swapping stories, and Gunn learned about the whole werewolf thing while Oz learned about the whole Wolfram & Hart thing. There were parallels they drew for themselves: both the one who usually felt like the outsider in the group of warriors, the one who lost the girl, the one who didn’t really draw the eye, the one who didn’t say a lot unless it mattered. They fit. Oz had drifted for months now, if not years, and when Gunn tried to pin him down on how long it had really been, he realized Oz didn’t even know himself. Sometimes Gunn felt the same way. But maybe it was time to stop the drifting.

At the end of the night, Gunn suddenly realized he had no home left, and Oz invited him back to his hotel. Gunn had given him a funny look, weighing the words, until Oz had laughed and said, “Hey, I’m not looking to hook up.”

Three weeks later, they were still living in the same hotel room. Gunn had never lived alone. He’d lived with his sister, his posse, at Angel’s hotel with the rest of the group, but not completely alone, and living with Oz was okay. He was a good guy, and Gunn liked the way he picked out songs on his guitar in the mornings. Oz wasn’t a great guitarist, but the notes were real and solid, if sometimes a little off-key. It was nice. Gunn never talked about the alley, and Oz never asked. That was nice too.

It was only normal that they would begin hunting together. Here, too, they fit. They fell into a routine quickly, a simpatico that usually took months or years to form, if ever. On the night before Oz would transform for the first time, and Gunn knew what to expect from that from Nina, something Oz seemed grateful for, they were patrolling one of the worst sections of the city, a part that seemed to be some kind of demon magnet. Together, they worked as a team, Gunn the one who was obviously a threat, but Oz no less lethal even though he looked fragile.

Tonight, though, the pack of vamps they were trailing didn’t seem as chaotic as the others recently had. After the Circle collapsed, disorganized demons had been easy to pick off, but this group had arrived in town only very recently and wasn’t suffering from any self-esteem issues grounded in the idea that a whole bunch of their kind had gone kerplooey a few weeks ago for apparently no reason. These guys were old-school smooth and seemed to have studied street fighting a little too well for Gunn’s taste. After all, he and Oz formed a duo, not really a team, and they were up against six.

The first two went down fairly easy, as they usually did because they weren’t expecting resistance. The other four, though, were on guard at once. Gunn managed to stake one from behind while Oz improvised an extra long stake out of part of an abandoned shipping pallet and staked a vamp from six feet away. The last two got in some hard stirkes against them, though, and Gunn took a hit to the back of his knee that knocked his legs out from under him, sending him down hard.

Oz did something very strange at that point, something that made the other three fighters all swivel their gaze in his direction. He growled, and it wasn’t a human sound at all, and not even like the feral noises vampires made when they fought. The spring that followed was an equally inhuman achievement, and while Oz actually twisted off one vampire’s head with his bare hands, turning it to dust, the other, his eyes bugging out, ran for it. Oz shrugged.

“Can’t get all of them all the time,” he said, bending over Gunn to check his knee. “Is it broken?”

“Nah, just bruised really good,” Gunn said, trying to stand.

Oz eased Gunn up so that his weight rested against the smaller man, letting him lean.

“Good fight,” Oz said.

“Yeah, but where’d you pull that werewolf thing from?” Gunn said.

Oz paused, the streetlight making his usually pale features seem vulnerable in their harsh light.

“I can tap into the wolf if I have to,” he finally said. “Usually if there’s something threatening someone I… care about.”

“Uh-huh,” Gunn said.

“Yeah,” Oz added.

“So you, uh, care about me,” Gunn asked.

Oz paused. “Yeah. That okay?”

Gunn stared at him for a while, taking in the hair that had changed colors three times in the last three weeks, the greenish-blue eyes, the freckles on the end of his nose. He liked him. There had been moments with Wesley, but Gunn had always known the Englishman was using him as a proxy for someone else, and if Gunn was being honest, he hadn’t minded. But this was something different, somehow, and a little scarier. He was standing there, thinking about implications, when Oz took matters into his own hands and kissed him.

He hadn’t known what to expect from a werewolf’s kiss, and really he hadn’t given the matter much thought, but Gunn had to admit he was surprised by how soft the kiss was, tentative and gentle, lips brushing over his own as if Oz feared he might hurt Gunn somehow, and it felt good to be the one who was being treated like china for once because he had enough scars and he didn’t need any more. He opened his mouth to Oz. He let him in.

“Yeah,” Gunn finally said, when the kiss ended. “Yeah, that’s okay.”

“Good,” Oz said, leaving it at that.

Yeah, Gunn thought, this was good.