Kickin' Off An Era
by Jennifer-Oksana

"Made the call, took the fall
Broke the laws
Not my fault they're fallin' off"
Public Enemy, "Welcome to the Terrordome."

When it's all over, Gunn finds himself sitting at a Norm's in Hollywood, staring at a cup of coffee, alone.

What the fuck had happened to his life? He'd gotten into it to protect his family, his friends, eventually his neighborhood. Now he was looking at the other end of ten years and if someone had told Gunn his life story and expected him to believe it, Gunn would have laughed and passed it off as the result of bad weed or some shit. Souled vampires, a "shanshu" that turned out to be less redemption and more elimination, an ex-goddess and an ex-lawyer in a clash of the titans that couldn't have been more unclear in the outcome, and the very nature of reality changed.

Maybe he shouldn't focus on that. Maybe it was a simpler story, where Gunn's friends tried to do right and ended up dead, one after the other, while Gunn somehow got to see the end of it. The end of it at a Norm's in Hollywood, the coffee cup he's holding flecked and beige, the coffee burnt and black, the other clients looking as shell-shocked as Gunn feels, like his skin was peeled off strip by strip.

There are certain things everyone assumes, and one is that the Powers that Be are not fucking with you just to see if they can.

Gunn is deep in this set of thoughts, so deep he doesn't see the other guy drop into the booth across from him until he says, in this chill voice, "I'll thumb wrestle you for lunch."

He looks up, and this guy is a scrawny little white guy, redheaded, long-faced, and looking like he doesn't know or care that the world might be coming to end and all the champions are dead, which might mean they were all saved. Or not.

Yo, Gunn was there, got to watch the Old Gods stare at the Alpha and Omega and her triumphant rewriting of the rules, and he's still not sure what's going to happen.

"I'll kick your ass," Gunn replies.

The dude puts his hand on the formica and grins. "Try."

Three rounds later, Gunn's learned that this dude -- by name of Daniel Osbourne -- is the thumb wrestling motherfucking master, and they're going to get vegetable soup for lunch and split an order of cheese fries. By the time the soup's arrived, they're trying to outquote each other on Public Enemy lyrics.

"Keep it simple stupid means numbers, payola dough white-owned black radio," Gunn chants, ignoring the looks from the old (and very white) patrons who were tired of Chuck D's poetry.

"World Tour Sessions," says Oz.

"Right album, wrong track. Crayola, yo," Gunn replies, eating the soup fast, noticing that when Oz watches him, it's like he's some sort of animal. "What's wrong? Am I not eating soup right for you?"

"Just curious," Oz says. Oz doesn't use many words, at least not that he speaks. Gunn can recognize a thinker, especially given that after so many years, Gunn realized the look on Angel's face was confusion, not confidence.

Damn Angel. Stupid-ass vamp acting like he had all the answers and being too much the man to say, "hey, I don't got this." But he's dead, like everyone else not Gunn, so fuck it. There's not enough time to be pissed at all the stupid dead people in Gunn's life.

"Curious about what?" Gunn asks.

"Why you're giving up," Oz replies. And Gunn knows this movie, but isn't Oz supposed to be played by someone not quite so white? Maybe Oz is a mystical elf or some shit. Kind of looks like an elf, if you don't think elves look like Orlando Bloom or what the fuck on ever. Giving up?

"Shit, that's a bold thing to tell a guy you just met," Gunn said.

"You were with Angel," Oz says, stating the fact as calm as if he was telling Gunn the sun is shining or that the coffee at Norm's sucks ass. "When they went down."

Gunn doesn't even want to know how he knows. "Yeah."

"I knew them," Oz says. "From Sunnydale."

Gunn nods, because that's all he can do. This dude (and he is a dude, Oz is damn near The Dude, taking her easy for all us sinners, of which Charles Gunn knows himself to be one) is strange and somehow comforting in the way he's just telling it like it is. Because even now, even with the Powers being the Partners being gone for good, there's nothing comfortable, nothing certain.

He would have thought things would be easier. Instead, Gunn is wishing for his friends to be back, even Angel, and hell, even all the old bad guys.

When the world thinks you sold out to the Man and killed the gods, there's a certain charm in having people who get it.

And fuck if all these people wouldn't have done the same thing if Mr. Charlie had deigned to give them a state-of-the-art multi-tasking turn-key operation to use as they would. It isn't Gunn's fault that Angel, like most middle-class white folks, doesn't understand what it means to not have any power at all. Reminds him of what Fred said about her college roommate, who Fred hated the way she hated bad buffets.

"She was, you know, a vegan. And a hippie, and she was always mad at me because I didn't boycott Wal-Mart for being mean to the workers and I'm not against labor, but you know, when you're making fifty bucks a week and double majoring, it's not easy to keep up, and she had so much money, and it was just, y'know, aggravating to be talked down to by someone who never had the choice between Wal-Mart and a big nothing."


He misses Fred. More than anyone. More than even Wes, who was maybe The One, kind of sort of, in another universe where they were both into the man-on-man sex and Wes didn't have the hot superheroines and supervillainnesses (who turned out to be the same girls) trying to beguile him into their evil lairs. Fred had this way of finding all sorts of little nuggets of truth, like she was panning for gold with all the babbling.

"You're a weird dude, Mr. Osbourne," Gunn says. "Why'd you come looking for the hero that failed? Especially in a world like this that doesn't need us anymore?"

Oz smiles. "World always needs heroes," he points out. "Maybe it's just the end of gods and monsters."

The idea catches Gunn in the chest, and he looks away, out the window. "They weren't gods and monsters to me," he says. "They were just people, trying to do the right thing. And they did it, man, even though it killed everyone except me."

"It's okay to not be dead," Oz says. "I think it's even a plus."

"What are you, my psychologist? I think I got the fucking right to some survivor guilt," Gunn growls.

"Sure, yeah," Oz agrees, and Gunn is starting to hate this guy, even though he's kind of glad that someone is talking to him about this shit. "But what then? Suicide?"

Smart-mouth punk son of a bitch. He's not wrong, but shit.

"So are you here to give me advice or a job?"

"Six of one," Oz shrugs. It's kind of endearing (see, Gunn can keep that fifty-cent vocabulary, even after all the shit that's gone up and down in his brain) how nothing seems to rile this cat.

But he's offering Gunn something. Something that Gunn didn't think would ever be possible again. Oz is trying to give Gunn a purpose. Or maybe he's looking for one, too, and he's seeing someone who could help him get it back.

"So what do we do? The time for heroes is over, man. I watched the souled vampires, my best friend, and his crazy bitch put the nail in that fucking coffin," Gunn points out.

"Find some people. Help 'em out," Oz replies.

And it's not that easy, it never could be, and Oz knows that as well as Gunn does. But this is a beginning, not an end, and in the beginning, things are simple.

Find some people. Help 'em out.

Gunn looks down at his coffee. It's cold.

"Fucking A, man," he says. "Fucking A."


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