Pepperidge Farm State Of Mind
by glossolalia

Gunn's feeling pretty damn antsy these days. He's never been one for just sitting around, letting things happen, but sitting around is a very nice way to describe this summer. Just him, Fred, and the kid, rattling around the big spooky hotel, bumping into each other and talking in hushed, careful voices.

Fred's holding up the best, which isn't exactly a surprise. She's a brain, like Wes was (is); she likes being in her head and working through problems.

Gunn's not a brain. Gunn wants to move, do something beyond staking random vamps and asking the same low-class, double-talking demons about what might have happened to Angel and Cordy and getting the same lies, fantasies, and fairy-tales.

Everyone's got a theory.

Gunn's theory is: keep on keeping on. Watch the kid, keep Fred happy, and go slowly batshit.

He's not, admittedly, all that pleased with this theory.

"Charles?" Fred looks up from her notebooks and forgets to push her glasses back up her nose when he bangs out of the office, rounding the counter. "Where -?"

"Going out," he says, bouncing on his heels. "Just a run."

"Maybe you could take Connor? Show him around, let him tag along? He might like that -"

Last he saw, the kid was slumped nearly horizontal in front of the TV. "He's okay. Doing a sweep with him tonight."

Out, he wants out, and Fred's smart, she gets that. "Okay. Bring some dinner back? Not burgers, though, I don't think I want burgers again. Maybe noodles? Something Chinese-y with lots of noodles. No, chicken. Fried, with extra coleslaw?"

"LA's best chicken," he says and she grins. He circles back around the counter and kisses her forehead. Doesn't matter how much everything changes, Fred's always going to smell like maple syrup and cotton candy. Sugar and spice, Gunn thinks like a goon, and he kisses her head again in apology. "Don't think too hard. Gives you wrinkles."

"Be careful," she calls after him.


The air smacks him, hot and bright, as soon as he steps outside, and Gunn takes a deep breath full of smog and emissions and the sticky-sweet scent of the dead flowers around the hotel's entrance.

He heads south, through the glaring day, saltsmog wind in his nose and windshield glares dazzling his eyes. He picks up a mango slushie from Miss Patel three blocks down and he's slurped it down nearly to the ice chips when he rounds a corner and sees the big red sandwich board. Blood drive today and tomorrow.

His crew used to patrol the blood banks, provide night security, generally keep an eye out for vamps and other creepies.

Through the plate-glass of the office building lobby, he can see Carlos's mighty Mexi-Fro bobbing at the reception desk, and Gunn tosses the cup into the nearest basket as he bounds inside.

"How's the hardest working man in blood services?"

Grinning, Carlos stands up and slaps Gunn's hand. "Where've you been, man?"

"Around," Gunn says. "You know. Here and there."

"Heard you went straight."

"Ever known me not to be straight?"

"True enough," Carlos admits. "What brings you down?"

"Business," Gunn says, keeping it as vague as he can as he scans the room. Everything looks all right: couple rows of cots, nurses in scrubs moving around with IV stands and blood bags. Platters of cheap off-brand cookies and jugs of watered-down juice. "Just checking in for any action, any -" He turns and that can't be who he thinks it is, tall, elegant and evil, dominatrix's stilettoes clicking toward him. "Bloodsuckers. Lilah Morgan."

"Charles Gunn," she says, shedding her jacket, barely looking at him. "What a surprise."

"What are you doing here?"

Lilah takes the clipboard from Carlos and scrawls something at the bottom. "What's it look like?"

"Not about what it looks like," Gunn says. "So. What is it? Your boss need some fresh o-neg for some nefarious ritual?"

"I could ask you the same thing. Oh - that's right." Lilah puts her index finger against her pursed lips and for a moment, if he didn't know who she was, Gunn would say she looks sympathetic. "Your boss is MIA, isn't he?"

"You know he is."

"Must be hard, losing your leader like that. Not knowing what to do, all at loose ends. Directionless."

Low blow; he knows she can do better, but then again, she's uncannily good at needling just where you're sorest. Gunn shifts his weight, then follows her back behind the counter. He takes the cot next to Lilah's. "We get by. You gonna answer the question?"

Lilah sweeps her hair over her shoulder. "Which one?"

"The one where you tell me what you're doing here."

"I answered that." When Lilah smiles, everything goes bright and cold, like the fake snow and chips of mirror on Christmas altars in the old neighborhood. "What's it look like?"

"Looks like Ally McBeal's casing a blood bank for reasons unknown."

She smiles again, no teeth this time, like an exasperated grade-school teacher. "Please. You can do better than that."

Gunn sits forward and the cot creaks ominously. "What're you -? Never mind. Forget it."

"Not even thinking about it." She stretches and adjusts the scarf around her neck. Her skin is perfectly pale, and he figures she never, ever, just goes outside to enjoy the day. "But since you're so persistent - I'm donating."

Gunn snorts.

Lilah uncurls her fingers and lifts her brows. "I am. Rh negative's hard to find. They hit me up every chance they get. Worse than being on a Republican donors' list."

"Right," Gunn says.

Batting her lashes, Lilah says, "Want to see my Red Cross card, big guy?"

She's an attractive woman, and that makes it all the harder for Gunn to deal with her. Attractive, smart as hell, and - evil. Really, truly evil. "Yeah, whatever," he says, and watches as her blood swoops up through the tube. Just as red as anyone else's, much as he'd like to believe she really has air-conditioner fluid, green and toxic, in her veins.

A woman in scrubs approaches them, checking her clipboard before pulling up a chair and tying off Lilah's right arm.

"Tell me," Lilah says, and it's something maybe admirable, how she can keep talking with that needle in her arm and her blood draining out, "how is life at the old hotel? A bit lonely, I'd expect."

"Fine. Doing our thing."

"No visions, no leader, just you and the walking-stick bug and that alien kid? What's his name?"

"Connor." Gunn looks away when another nurse sits next to him and swabs his arm. He'll bleed in a fight, no problem, but all this medicine and officialness sets his teeth on edge. And he's not going to talk about life these days without Cordy and Angel and Wes. "You know that. Got your grubby paws all over him."

"Connor," Lilah says. "Connor, all grown up. He's a lovely little thing, isn't he?"

Gunn hisses in a breath when the needle hits his skin. "Kid's all right."

"Right up your alley, too. Skinny, pretty, lost. Exactly your type."

Blood spirals through the tube, always faster than you'd think, and Gunn swings his head to stare at Lilah, sure he didn't hear that right. "Excuse me?"

"Your type," she says smoothly. "Tall, gangly, could use a little sun."

"I don't have a type. If I did have a type, Connor sure ain't it."

"Too young?"

"Too male."

Lilah laughs, tinkling crystal and shards of glass showering together. "You do have a type, Charles."

"Yeah?" He leans in, despite himself, dragging the IV stand a little. "What's that?"

"Brunette," she says, studying her nails, turning them under the lights overhead as if checking their sheen. "Long-limbed - some would say coltish - nice big brain on top."

He smiles; can't help it. It's pretty funny. "That makes you my type."

"Sure," she says, accepting a paper cup of juice from the nurse. "If you'd like that. Would you?"

"One girlfriend don't make a type," Gunn says. Talking to Lilah is like fighting an unexpectedly fast vamp; lots of fakes and slips, but he can wear her down. It's fun, like fragging the hours away in an arcade. He's out of the hotel, keeping busy, and for now, that's more than enough.

"Girlfriend. Me, Connor. Wes. Especially Wesley. All adds up."

Right, he's not going to go there. Nowhere near Wesley territory, full of tiger traps and pitfalls worse than a Rambo set. She talks about Wes like she knows him. Worse, like she knows him better than Gunn. Knows him best. At this point, after everything, he shouldn't be surprised to suspect that Wes is banging the enemy; the enemy of your enemy is, apparently, your lay. Not surprised, then, but Gunn is creeped out. "Don't know what he sees in you."

"You're lying," she says lightly and grins. "It's not a good look on you. Though I always did wonder what he saw in you."

"Nothing." Wes-territory's a DMZ, no-man's-land, blank spot on the map. "Nothing."

"Beyond the obvious, of course," Lilah continues, talking over him.

Gunn looks around, but Carlos and the nurses are deep in conference at the counter and there are no other donors. Nothing to get him away from here. "Okay, I'll play. What's the obvious?"

"Don't make me compliment you," Lilah says. "I do have a reputation to protect."

"Already complimented me." He helps himself to two cookies and breaks them in half, eating each half in one bite. Crappy stale oatmeal, flavorless as newspaper. Crumbs clog his throat and he waves his hand. Smirking, Lilah passes him the juice and he washes it all down. "Thanks. As for what Wes sees in me - saw in me - you wouldn't understand."

"No," she says lightly. "Probably not. Although - let me hazard a guess, if I may -"

"Can't stop you," Gunn says.

"More juice?" she asks, lifting the pitcher, and he'd wonder how she got an entire pitcher to herself, but this is Lilah.

"Thanks -" He holds out the cup, tiny in his hands, and she fills it right to the brim.

"I always thought he liked your - what to call it?"

Gunn sips the lukewarm OJ. "Lack of evil?"

"Funny. No, more your - moral compass, let's say."

One thing she's got in common with Wes: they both like their words. And talking. Lots of talking, defining and redefining until he's about ready for a nap. If he wasn't already so woozy, Gunn'd like to think he'd be on his feet, blowing this popsicle stand. "Didn't do him much good, though, did it?"

Reclining against the shitty little pillows that're hard as plasterboard, yet making it all look as luxurious as damn Cleopatra on the Nile, Lilah crosses her arms over her chest, then recrosses her legs. Lady's got gams, that's for sure. Longer than anything, in sheer stockings that probably cost more than a dinner out for two. "He's a complicated man, Wes."

"That what you see in him?"

She closes her eyes and touches the hem of her scarf. Strokes it a little, and if he wasn't sure before that she's fucking Wes, he's certain now. "Among other things. What do you think? He strike you as the kind to dabble?"

"No -" No. Not like Wes is his friend any more - hell, sometimes Gunn has to wonder if they were ever friends, though that'd be taking the easy way out - but he can still admit that Wes doesn't do anything lightly. Especially bang evil.

"Then what?"

Courtroom voice, he's pretty sure; he watched _LA Law_ from the very first episode, and she's no Susan Dey. But she's better than most at interrogation. Gunn shrugs and sets the juice aside. "Dunno. You're the college graduate here. What do you want to hear?"

"Nothing," Lilah says. "Or everything. Simply that you're an exceptionally handsome young man." Leaning over, she cups his cheek, taps it lightly with her palm. "Strong, too. Hardknock life really filled you out, didn't it?"

"Could say that."

"I did say that." Hand back on his shoulder. "Tell me. Ever consider a career change? Upward mobility. It's all the rage."

"You want to stay on topic here?"


"Kinda hopping all over here," Gunn says. "You want to do the deed, you want to give me a job. You want - what, exactly?"

"Just passing the time," she says. "They don't let you go until an hour's up."

Like waiting to swim after lunch. "How much time we got?"

Lilah checks her watch, delicate as a bracelet around her bony wrist, and smiles as she looks him over. "Forty more minutes."

"Shit," he says, massaging the band-aid on the inside of his elbow.

"Not so bad." She nibbles the edges of what looks like a Milano. Comfortable pillows, her own juice pitcher, and the good cookies: the lady really does know how to live in style. "Juice, cookies, good conversation. It's like recess."

"Something like that," Gunn says. "You gonna bogart all the Milanos?"

She passes him the platter. "Help yourself."

He might want to think about why it is that he feels more relaxed here, next to Single Evil Lawyer, than he has in weeks. But he's got blood loss, and cookies, and for the next forty minutes at least, it's all good.


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