Los Angeles is empty.
Full of ashes and rain that never seems to stop.
Knows he *needs* to be.
He should've learned his lessons all those years ago with Alanna. But his sister's ghost is the first to tell him that he's thickskulled, stubborn, and wack. She's the first and not nearly the last.
Everywhere he turns, there is a memory of a life he helped save. Of a crisis he helped avert. And of the lives he didn't save. Of the crises he didn't avert. Of the one he wasn't there for. The one he didn't see coming.
Sometimes he goes to Sunnydale to visit and he sees the horror locked in Wesley's eyes. The tightness in Cordelia's smile. And he feels the distance. He feels the door to their lives close just another fraction of an inch.
The message is always clear.
*You weren't there, Gunn. You don't know.*
He knows they don't do it on purpose. That he could easily wrench the door back open and walk through.
But they're right. He wasn't there. He doesn't know.
He barely remembers what he was doing when he lent his motorcycle to their brooding bossman. Was he manning the phones at the Hyperion? Was he beating on some snitches down by the docks?
He wasn't there. He doesn't know.
But the "what if" seems infinitely worse.
Did Angel scream at the end? Did his girl? Did Holland smile? Did Lilah laugh? Did Lindsey pretend to laugh, too, as his insides shattered?
He wonders if that was when he lost any chance with Cordelia. If that was the first time she turned to Wesley. The first and the last, born of tragedy. No more skinny, white, beauty queens for Charles Gunn...no, Sir.
Was there blood? Was there fire? He wonders just how bad it all was. He can guess. He can piece together possibilities.
Maybe Wes and Cordy can't tell him, but he does remember the aftermath. After they left. After they fled. He can't forget.
Empty blue eyes staring dully at a shiny, new, plastic, left hand.
A silent demand for justice.
Equally silent agreement.
Handing Lilah Morgan over to a flock of hungry fledgling males.
Holland Manners begging, for hours on end, to be allowed to live.
A beautiful multi-story office building exploding...sending pieces of glass, concrete, and wiring out for miles.
He remembers it not being enough.
No amount of blood will be ever be enough.
The hotel room was dark. Almost oppressive. Heat and sweat and the smell of smoke. Lindsey was fitful in sleep. Murmuring...tossing and turning despite the heavy load of prescription sedatives. It'd only been hours since they'd left the ruins of the Wolfram&Hart building, but it felt like days. Like years.
He felt older. He felt vaguely unreal.
As he watched the ex-lawyer sleep, he wondered how he'd come to this. Pulling this string for an M-16...calling in that favor for the parts needed to rig explosives to a car's ignition...driving the getaway vehicle 'cause McDonald couldn't grasp a steering wheel. They were partners in crime. Unlikely allies. Bound by the singular obsession of revenge.
Bound by guilt.
Living on the street, he'd learned to kick ass early. He'd learned to break the hands of anyone who'd dared touch him in a way that might make him look weak, like a victim, like someone he didn't want to be. But how could you break the hands of someone who didn't have any?
"I wish I could be him for you, Bro'. But I can't," he'd whispered just minutes earlier, gently pulling the cool palms, from his chest...brushing back the golden-brown hair like he would for a little kid.
How could you break somebody who was all ready broken beyond repair?
And how would you try and fix them?
Industrial smoke is belched across the horizon in dark, ugly, clouds. He tilts his face up to the sky and feels the faintly metallic water slicking down his face in rivulets.
He knows Lindsey is in Missouri now. Has been there for almost a year. He left the day after they reached Sunnydale. Took Angel's vintage Plymouth and floated that big black boat right back out of that town. It was the first time either of them had ever been to the place that harbored the Hellmouth...to the place that had spawned events and people that had eventually changed both their lives.
It had been too much, too fast. Too perfect, too beautiful.
So, the man went south.
And he...he just went.
"Don't leave, Charles. Not so soon!" Cordelia had pleaded, with tears in her voice, with no sign of the half-heartedness that would come in later months.
"Stay, Unca Charlie?" the little girl had asked, tugging on his coat and looking so much like an angel that it had hurt. A different kind of redemption. The kind born of innocence.
"I can't," he'd said. And he'd headed for the bus station just hours after discovering his partner gone.
His *partner*. What a funny word that is.
As he should be.
He opens his mouth to catch the succession of drops and swallow the poison. He's soaked to the skin. To the bone. And beyond.
He's thickskulled. He's stubborn. He's wack.
He's got nothing more to lose.