Title: Torches
Author: hold that thought
Summary: Game over, reset. Five months after Not Fade Away, Gunn, Spike, and Illyria start over in New York City.
Pairings: pending
Rating: R
Spoilers: Through Chosen and Not Fade Away
Feedback: Greatly appreciated.
Archive: More than likely okay, but please ask first.
Disclaimer: The characters used within are the property of Mutant Enemy, Twentieth Century Fox, and of course Joss Whedon. It's their sandbox, I'm just playing in it.
Notes: Okay, I must be suicidal, because I'm doing something I've never done before - posting a WIP as I write it. I hope to have updates regularly and without too much wait between, but each chapter is lengthier than most of my stories are whole. I can tell you there will be 10 chapters total, and that it's largely gen, though the shipping intentions should be made clear by Chapter 4 or so. I'm leaving some of the characters off this page for the first few chapters at least, since they're supposed to be surprises for the first chapter. Lilah and Wesley won't be appearing, and though Buffy won't be making an appearance, the story will be Spike/Buffy friendly. Mostly, I hope people have as much fun reading this as I'm having writing it.
Thanks so much to Soda for the beta. Chapter titles come from the album "What It Is to Burn" by Finch. (Started 07/25/04)


Chapter One: New Beginnings

"All right, kiddies, rise and shine." Spike flicked Gunn on the forehead. Hard.

Gunn kept his eyes closed, rolling away from the intrusion and landing smack against the cold metal wall of the train. Beside him, he heard Illyria shift in her seat.

"I was not sleeping."

"'Course not," Spike said.

"I was merely allowing my eyes to rest."

"Never said different."

Though Gunn continued to feign sleep, he couldn't help but groan softly. There'd been variations on this conversation every morning for the past several months. At least after the first two months she'd stopped tacking "you insolent half-breed" onto the end of everything. Progress was progress.

When he finally risked opening his eyes, Gunn was greeted by the sight of Spike peering at him from over the top of his seatback, a wide grin on his face. "Welcome to New York, Chuck."

Gunn looked out the window into the stretching darkness. "Don't look like much to me."

"That's because we're under Penn Station, you git. Come on, get your bags, we have to get a move on."

Illyria stood up and reached for their bags in the overhead rack, grabbing all three and swinging them down easily. In the process, she almost took the head off a middle-aged female passenger who was heading down the aisle, but the other woman seemed too surprised by the tiny girl hefting huge bags to be upset by the near-decapitation.

They'd told Illyria to maintain Fred's appearance while they were traveling - it was hard enough staying low-key without Punk Xena around. Truth told, Gunn almost preferred the stares Illyria got in her usual form. Waking up next to something that looked like Fred but wasn't....

Not like he even remembered what the hell happened. Not really. As the three of them were leaving Los Angeles, the Senior Partners made one final strike, hoovering out all the law knowledge they'd stuck up in Gunn's brain a few months before. Nasty side effect left him totally blank on almost everything that had happened after joining Wolfram and Hart. Know what it's like to wake up one day and find out three of your best friends died in the past few months? Find out you're traveling with the thing that killed one of them, and your boss has been sucked into some unknown hell dimension because he took on the Big Bad and they didn't appreciate it? Realize the only one with any freaking idea what was going on was some previously-dead-currently-undead vampire you barely even knew?

Yeah.

On top of that, Spike said the Senior Partners might or might not want the three of them dead, so they'd be smart to take off to parts unknown. Which apparently meant New York City, since Spike claimed to have connections there.

Of course, Spike had also claimed to have connections in New Orleans. Turns out "connections" was more like "bunch of scary-assed demons that Spike owed a lot of money." They made it out of Louisiana in one piece, barely, but Gunn was still apprehensive as to what New York held in store for them.

Together, they left the train, weaving through the crowd that seemed evenly split between gawking tourists and crabby commuters. Gunn wanted to say that at least nobody -- besides them -- was carrying bags full of battle axes and throwing stars, but he remembered enough from Wolfram and Hart to know an average briefcase could hold an impressive mini-arsenal. And some of his fellow passengers sure looked surly enough to be packing.

"Lots of people around," he murmured to Spike.

"Hadn't noticed," Spike smirked back.

"Just sayin', seems like there's a good chance we'll run into someone from Wolfram and Hart who knows we're the enemy now."

Spike shrugged. "Even better chance we'll get lost in the crowd. Did you have a better idea?"

Gunn had to admit he didn't. There were times in his life he'd felt like he was lacking a clear path and purpose. Like when Alonna got killed. Or the times when he'd had to choose between his old crew from the streets and his new crew from Angel Investigations. Or right after Cordelia's blood, administered by Angel, had brought his happy, Jasmine-centered world crashing down around his feet. But Gunn had never felt so lost as he did waking up in a crappy, smelly hotel room with Spike and Illyria, no memories of the past year and nothing making sense. Even when Spike explained it repeatedly. So yeah, Gunn had been content living the past five months adrift, easily following Spike's lead with whatever the crazy-assed vamp wanted to do. Things weren't about to change now.

As soon as they hit the street, Illyria cocked her head in that weird, bird-like way of hers and sniffed the air. Stopping dead in her tracks, she said, "That wagon is emitting an acrid stench."

"That's a pretzel cart, love." Spike tugged on her arm.

When she fixed a deathly gaze on him, Spike didn't flinch. Gunn, however, did. Girl was downright spooky sometimes. He'd been traveling with her for months, couldn't even remember what she was like with her full range of powers, and she still spooked him out.

"That smell. In my time, it signaled death. Destruction. Chaos."

Spike was already pulling out his wallet. "You want one, too?" he asked Gunn.

"Naw." Shifting his heavy backpack to the other shoulder, Gunn said, "I just wanna get to wherever we're crashing. We, uh, do have somewhere to crash, right?"

"Two," Spike said, giving the pretzel vendor a few crisp dollar bills.

"Right?" Gunn repeated.

"You worry too much, Charlie boy."

"Worry about becoming another one of the Big Apple's homeless bums, yeah." Gunn winced as one of the passing aforementioned bums gave him a dirty look.

"I said I have connections here. Just trust me," Spike said, handing Illyria a pretzel.

Weirdest thing about their little trio was the way Spike acted like an indulgent father, lavishing attention on Illyria. It was even weirder when Illyria looked like Fred, beaming up at Spike with a smile that said she was a proud, ancient warrior who was nonetheless pleased with the half-breed's affection.

They began to walk downtown, the crowd thinning as the street numbers fell, until they were standing at 7th and 21st with only the occasional other person flitting by. Gunn shivered in the cool October air. Yeah, he'd spent years on the street, sometimes just a few scraps of sheet metal and his crew's warm bodies huddled around him keeping the elements away. But New York was practically a tundra compared to L.A.

At least Gunn didn't have to totally fend for himself. He had...probably the freakiest traveling companions a person could ask for. But at least he could rely on them.

Spike turned to him, clapped him on the shoulder, and said, "Okay, here's where we part ways."

Oh. Lifting his chin and plastering a wide smile on his face, Gunn took a deep breath and said, "A'ight, then." He stuck his hand out at Spike and said, "See you around."

The vampire rolled his eyes and batted Gunn's hand away. "Not permanently, you gonk. The contacts I have to meet get a little...twitchy...'round humans. Me and Big Blue will pay 'em a visit. You think you can find a way to amuse yourself for a couple hours?"

"Aw, yeah, no problem. Plenty of bars around here. Plenty of fly honeys to chat up."

"Right." Spike looked at him, head cocked and lips set in a line that said he was about two seconds from calling bullshit on Gunn's ass. "Make sure all your bits stay attached," he finally said.

"You got it," Gunn smiled. "Call me when you finish your thing?"

"If I can keep Illyria from chewing on the cellphone again."

Apparently, Old Ones came equipped with slight oral fixations.

Gunn looked around the near-empty street. "Speaking of...."

"Bugger," Spike sighed. "Where'd she wander off to this time?"

It wasn't like she couldn't handle herself, but they weren't in the mood to clean up whatever mess she might make. Not after the South Carolina incident, anyway.

Gunn started reaching for the pickaxe in his backpack. "I'll take downtown, you take--"

"Charles!" Fred's Texas twang echoed from around the corner. "Charles, Spike, come quick!"

With an apprehensive glance towards each other, they took off down the block, rounding the corner and almost crashing into their source of constant amusement and frustration.

"Charles, look," Illyria said, wrapping her arm around his and beaming. "Isn't it amazing?"

The amazing sight that had apparently captured her attention was a man painted head to toe in silver, making slow, jerky movements like a robot. Well, a robot or a guy painted silver and twitching. Gunn understood street performance; L.A. had its share of it. But he didn't understand performing when no one was around.

And there was that whole Illyria-as-Fred thing again. Why couldn't she stick to the creeptastic monotone voice she usually used? Pulling out the dead friend routine was getting old.

"Right," Spike said, grabbing her arm and gently leading her away. Over his shoulder, he shouted, "All bits attached!"

He watched them go, shook his head, and started walking downtown again. Spike apparently thought Gunn was gonna go and get himself killed battling demons.

Maybe he wasn't wrong.

The first ten blocks were dead silent. No beasties of the supernatural or city-dwelling variety. So far, New York City wasn't turning out to be all that different from downtown L.A., New Orleans, or any of the other big cities they'd hit. It wasn't until he reached 10th and cut across towards the east that he started picking up vamp vibes. Then again, that could have been the swarms of teenagers dressed up like something out of Anne Rice's nightmares.

By the time Gunn had walked past hordes of skaters, businessmen, and artsy types of indeterminate gender, he was itching for something to fight. And judging by the muffled screams coming from the park across the street, he was about to get his wish.

"Now we're talking," he said, sprinting into the park and pulling a stake from his pocket.

He was just about to swoop in and save the pretty blonde girl from getting chowed on by the big, ugly vamp when he was roughly pushed aside.

"Sorry, this one's mine," the pusher said, not bothering to give Gunn a second glance before tearing into the vamp, all fists and kicks until it was good and dusty.

That's when Gunn got a chance to look at the new player.

He blinked, then clapped his hand over the top of his head, rolled his eyes upwards, and said: "You have got to be kidding me."

"Good to see you, too," Faith said, grinning and pushing a lock of hair out of her face.

"A hell dimension," Faith repeated as they crossed the street.

Gunn nodded. "Past few months."

"And no one's tried to get him out?"

"We tried. At least, that's what Spike told me."

"Spike, right. Run that by me again? He came back from the dead out of a necklace?"

"So they tell me. You really live around here?" They'd been walking a good twenty minutes, and the further west they went, the nicer the surroundings got, until they were smack in the middle of wide, clean streets and posh buildings.

"Yup. The new Council foots the bill for all of us."

Before Gunn could ask who "us" was, his cell phone started bleating a tinny version of the Spider-Man theme. "Not a word," he said in the face of Faith's smirk. "Hello?"

"All (crash) done on this end, mate. (thonk)"

"Spike? You okay over there?"

"(smack) Nothing to worry about."

In the background, he could hear Illyria cursing a blue streak, something to the effect of insolent mud-crawlers disrespecting the once and future God-King. Business as usual. "You got everything settled?"

"That's Spike?" Faith said beside him. Gunn nodded.

"Who's that?" Spike asked.

"I'll explain later."

"Gimme the phone," Faith said. Gunn held up his hand. She sighed and plucked it from his grip.

"Hey!" he started to protest, but she already had it up against her ear, playing catch-up with an apparently old acquaintance.

Gunn took the opportunity to get a better look at her, something he hadn't really had the chance to do yet. It'd been about a year and a half since she helped them track down Angelus, and Faith looked pretty much the same. A few vibrant streaks of red ran through her hair now, and she'd picked up a small scar on the side of her cheek. As she threw back her head and guffawed at something Spike said on the phone, he caught a glimpse of the scar Angelus had left behind on her neck, courtesy Wesley's brilliant plan.

Wesley. Spike said they'd pretty much patched up their relationship by the end, right before the world went to hell. Illyria hinted that Spike's version might have been slightly edited, but still. It hurt knowing he'd found a way to rebuild a bond with his best friend when most of his actual last memories of the guy involved brawling over this imagined hurt or that childish slight. Losing memories might not be a bad thing sometimes -- Gunn could think of a few childhood years he'd happily dump -- but losing everything from such a pivotal time? Well, hey, maybe the Senior Partners didn't have to lay their hands on him to torture him.

"Earth to Gunn," Faith said, snapping her fingers in his face.

"Huh? Oh, sorry, what?"

"I said we're here." She gave Gunn his phone back. "Gave Blondie the address, he said he and someone with a funky name will be here in a little while."

"Cool."

He followed her into the imposing white brick building just off Fifth Avenue. Faith stopped by the doorman (doorman!) and told him to let Spike up when he arrived, then led Gunn to the bank of elevators.

"Man," he whistled, taking in the gold-and-white decor. "This Council of yours hiring?"

"Always," she replied, jabbing the up button. "You ever try to start a semi-secret occult organization from scratch? Not like you can place Help Wanted ads in the paper."

"True enough."

In what seemed like a minute flat, they were getting off at the fortieth floor. Faith led him down a short hallway, opened the door all the way on the end, and said, "Ta da."

Enormous. White. Giant windows that stretched all the way across the far wall and gave a perfect view of the glittering Manhattan skyline. "Damn."

"Pretty sweet, huh?" she grinned, before shouting: "Honey, I'm home!"

"Like I couldn't tell from the way you slammed the door," came a voice from the next room. "How was patrol?" The voice was followed by the appearance of a young guy...with an eyepatch. "Company?"

"Xander Harris, meet Gunn...do you have a last name, or is this a Madonna thing?"

"Charles Gunn," he said, crossing the room and sticking his hand out. Xander took it, giving Faith a slightly wary look. "Xander, huh? Heard all about you and the rest of the Sunnydale gang."

"Gunn used to work with Angel in L.A.," Faith supplied helpfully.

Xander nodded. "And how is The Incredible Bulk?"

"Got sucked into a hell dimension," Gunn said.

"Again? Guy has got to start planning his summer vacations better."

Faith shrugged her jacket off and slung it over the back of the nearest chair, which she then threw herself onto, legs hanging over the armrest. "Told Gunn we'd help them out while they got settled in the city. That's cool with you, right?"

"Yeah, sure. Who's 'they'?"

The front door opened, revealing Spike and Illyria, who'd reverted to her usual look of body armor and blue bits. On cue, Spike said, "Can I come in?"

A horrified look crossed Xander's face, and he screamed "No!" at the same moment Faith said, "Come in."

"The 'ay's have it," Spike said, grinning and stepping over the threshold. "Harris, don't look so surprised. You know no one ever stays dead in Sunnydale."

"I knew you were alive, Spike. I'm just surprised Faith is now freely inviting vampires into our apartment." Xander turned to her and scowled. "I thought we discussed this."

"Hey, I died saving the world!" Spike protested.

"Yeah yeah, you're like Jesus in your own special way -- I get it. I just wish I'd gotten the chance to make sure you came back from the dead with the majority of your sanity intact before giving you a free pass to bite me in my sleep."

"They always like this?" Gunn asked Faith.

"Better believe it," she said. "I suggest settling in to watch the show."

But before the show could continue, the door Xander had come through earlier creaked open.

"What's all the racket out here?"

Gunn took a sharp intake of breath, eyes riveted on the slight figure framed in the doorway. "Cordelia?"