Helping Hand, by DoofusPrime
Notes - This is my first piece of fan fiction for the Buffyverse. There will be two chapters total. Enjoy!
It was a night Charles Gunn had experienced many times before. A warm, oppressive Los Angeles night with danger looming, lurking in every dark alley and corner. A night which might not be followed by another morning. At least not if things went wrong over the next couple of hours.
The headlights of the truck cast an eerie glow over the vacant back road as Charles pressed onwards to their destination. Too fast to be safe, but there was no such thing as safe in his world. Gunn's sister, Alonna, sat in the passenger seat beside him, armed with a crossbow. Behind them, several more passengers tried to stay seated as best they could in the pickup truck's bed, bouncing up and down from time to time as Gunn hit a pothole in the decrepit street. They were on another mission, like many other nights. Family, friends, acquaintances, strangers. Just people, tied together in their struggle for survival.
"I knew something was gonna go wrong with him being so stuck on goin' after that new nest," Alonna said aloud. She stared blankly at the street ahead of them as she spoke. Gunn couldn't tell if she was talking to him, or to herself.
"Yeah, but that's Alonzo."
"You could have stopped him," said Alonna. "We needed more time to scope the nest out."
"Stop Alonzo? No way to do that without beating the crap out of him. You know that," Gunn told his sister.
Normally his observation should have been humorous, but he was already anticipating the worst, and Alonzo's stubborn nature was not so funny anymore. "He wanted to go on patrol," he said, half to his sister and half to reassure himself. "I'm not gonna tie him up just to keep him back, even if we weren't ready yet."
Alonna shook her head silently. Gunn sympathized with his sister, but he didn't see any easy answers. Their little group of ragtag refugees worked together, lived together, fought together – but nobody forced them to do things together. Nobody human, anyway. Gunn had known Alonzo for a long time, and he knew his friend could be a loose cannon. In the dark underworld of Los Angeles - the Los Angeles that he knew – Alonzo was bound to run into trouble sooner or later. Gunn was surprised his friend had found serious trouble as late as he did.
The truck made another turn and reached an empty parking lot where it swerved to a halt, floodlights splashing their washed out glow over the crumbling facades of abandoned buildings. Black windows, highlighted by the headlights, stared back at the truck like malignant eyes. Doors hung ajar, creaking from time to time in a light breeze, beckoning for Gunn and his companions to step inside so they could be swallowed whole. Gunn stepped out of the truck, stake in hand. His sister got out and stood beside him.
It was a familiar area. Gunn and his gang had gotten wind of a new vampire nest nearby, which was a common occurrence. Before they could get enough intel, however, Alonzo had taken a couple of the group's more impressionable members and gone on a patrol that afternoon, hoping to catch the vampires indoors and asleep. They had run into trouble. Two escaped and returned to the hideout with word that Alonzo had been taken. Gunn was hoping he was now in the middle of a rescue mission. If he was not so lucky, it was a mission to avenge his friend's death.
There was a third possibility, but Gunn did not want to think about that one.
"Willy," said Gunn as he looked at one of his gang still standing in the bed of the modified pickup, "keep watch out here, alright? Take care of any vamps that get past us and run out here."
"Why I always gotta be on cleanup?" asked Willy.
Gunn gave him no response, and Willy manned the makeshift stake-firing gun mounted to the back of the truck. Willy actually liked cleanup anyway – Gunn knew all his whining was just for show. The other two members of the group, Rondell and Chain, joined Gunn and his sister as they approached the nearest abandoned building. It looked like it had once been a warehouse. Shattered plate glass windows lined its imposing walls, and even in the moonlight, Gunn could tell they were streaked with dirt and grime. The building stood taller than some of its neighbors. It was imposing, and yet it had the appearance of a dead, squatting animal encased in concrete and steel.
Gunn looked over at his sister. She returned the look and raised an eyebrow, her crossbow clutched to her chest. He didn't feel comfortable about Alonna coming along, but – like Alonzo – she had a hard time taking no for an answer. She also hated being treated like a baby. As much as Gunn wanted to protect her, he knew they did not live the kind of life where he could ever truly protect her from danger. And so, to his resignation, she had insisted on joining them.
"Ready?" he asked her.
"You know it."
Gunn led the group into the warehouse, keeping an eye peeled for traps or ambushes. Usually vampires weren't exactly strategic geniuses, especially not the kind that had grown complacent on easy prey in the seedier parts of L.A, but that didn't mean there was anything to gain from being careless. The warehouse was dark, dead silent, and the main room was largely empty.
As the group approached offices and corridors towards the back of the building, their footsteps sent dust motes floating into the air, glinting in the moonlight that crept through broken glass windows. The building looked empty, but Gunn knew they had made the right choice. It was hard to explain why; a certain scent in the air, maybe. A sense that it was too quiet. Maybe, having survived as long as he had, Gunn sometimes had a sixth sense flare up when it came to the presence of bloodsucking fiends.
Before long, they had scouted out most of the warehouse offices and back rooms. The only place left to look was an ominous stairway that lead down to a basement. Gunn stood at the top of the stairway with his sister and the others, looking down. It was gloomy at the bottom of the stairs. And yet it was not pitch black. Gunn could make out the faint details of shelves and scattered debris beyond the stairway; it was dim, but there had to be a light on in the basement.
Which meant they were not alone.
"Hey guys," whispered Gunn under his breath. "Over there. When I yell 'dust'."
Rondell and Chain followed the tilt of Gunn's head, which indicated a few of the offices they had left behind down the hallway. They nodded and retreated into the darkness. They had seen the dim light downstairs as well, and everyone in the gang had gone through so many similar situations in the past, they could read Gunn's intentions without having to hear him say anything specific. There was an ambush waiting for them downstairs. Gunn was going to make sure some of them stayed back, so they could respond with their own counter-attack when the ambush came.
"Why do I feel like we're throwin' ourselves on a buffet table?" said Alonna.
"Probably 'cause we are."
They took the stairs as silently as possible, step by step. Alonna had a stake as backup, but she held her crossbow at the ready, pointing it into the basement as they approached the bottom of the stairwell. Gunn held his stake close to his body, ready to strike at a moment's notice; he preferred hand to hand combat. Sure enough, there was a single light bulb hanging eerily from the ceiling, far in the back of the basement, almost obscured by shelving. Gunn and his sister checked their sides and took a few steps forward before stopping abruptly.
"We've been waiting for you," echoed a voice from the other side of the room.
A silhouetted figure walked leisurely out from behind the shelving on the far side of the basement. It stood beneath the lone light bulb and looked at its new guests; although its face was shrouded in darkness, somehow Gunn knew it was sporting a smile. He felt the last vestiges of hope slipping away into the darkness as he stared at his former friend.
"I'm too late."
Alonzo shook his head as he took a step closer.
"You're right on time."
Several more figures stepped out of the shadows, forming a loose ring around Gunn and Alonna. His instincts had been correct: the vampires had been waiting for them.
"You'd like this, Gunn," said Alonzo as he approached. "Things are a lot simpler now. No worries about where our next meal is coming from, whether we're gonna get tangled up in the law. No conscience weighing you down, no responsibilities. It's like a big rock was lifted off my back. I can breathe now."
"You don't breathe," Gunn pointed out.
"It's a metaphor, man."
Gunn instinctively tightened his grip on the stake he was holding as the vampires approached. Although he hadn't turned around, he sensed that there were two vampires behind him. Three others stood in front of him, not counting Alonzo. Even with Rondell and Chain holding back for Gunn's signal, things could get ugly. Gunn was beginning to realize that he had entered the situation rashly, just like Alonzo. Too eager to save his friend, and now he might be putting his sister's life in danger.
Reckless. Something he had in common with Alonzo.
"I figure you came to save me," said Alonzo. "But you know what? If you let me, I could save you."
"Save me?" laughed Gunn. "How you gonna do that?"
"Save you from the burden of your life, Gunn. It's funny – they call it life, but I didn't feel like I was living. Now that I'm dead, I feel more alive than I've ever been before. I've only been turned for a few hours, and I can't believe what I was missing all this time. This power" - Alonzo clenched his fists and looked down at them as if he could feel it coursing through his body - "I can't even describe it to you, man. I can only show it to you."
"Good luck showing me anything when you're DUST!" said Gunn, shouting the last word.
The vampires, who had been on verge of pouncing, stopped and stared at him quizzically.
"Why'd you yell it out like that?" asked one of the vampires.
In answer to the vampire's question, Gunn glanced behind himself at the two vampires who had been sneaking up just in time to see them burst into a cloud of dust. Rondell and Chain stood behind them, stakes in hand, where they had crept down into the basement in order to provide backup.
"Didn't see that coming," said another one of the remaining vampires to his undead friends.
Gunn turned back to Alonzo and the remaining vampires. One of the three vampires leaped forward only to explode in mid air, pierced by a bolt from Alonna's crossbow. Gunn was showered with its dusty remains.
"I got Alonzo!" said Gunn as he charged at his former friend.
The two remaining vampires grappled with the others as Gunn fought wildly with his foe. A kick blocked, a punch absorbed, a stake narrowly missing as Alonzo kept one step ahead of him. Gunn had seen Alonzo fighting in the past – had fought alongside him in the streets of Los Angeles – and he knew that Alonzo was a good fighter. Strong, angry. A force of nature when he got the adrenaline going. But Gunn also knew that as reckless as he could be, Alonzo was worse. He was careless, and that was why Gunn would ultimately win the fight.
"Let me turn you!" hissed Alonzo after Gunn pushed him back into a cobwebbed shelf with a loud clatter. "You're the strongest in the gang, Gunn, and you know it. Think of the power you could have as one of us! Think of what we could do together!"
Alonzo leaped forward, fangs bared and glistening, face distorted into the cruel visage that Gunn had seen on the faces of his enemies so many times before. Gunn felt a flash of melancholy as he fought his friend back. He reminded himself that it wasn't really his friend anymore. A demon, maybe, using his friend's body as a shell. Defiling it.
"I don't want your power," said Gunn. "and I got no interest in being a pointy-toothed freak. You gotta work on your sales pitch, Alonzo!"
Gunn took a swipe with his stake and almost immediately knew he had aimed badly. The stake dug a glancing blow into Alonzo's side, far away from his heart – unfortunately, Alonzo took advantage of the opportunity to clench both his hands on Gunn's arm in a vice-like grip.
"How's this for a pitch?" laughed Alonzo as he jerked back and pulled Gunn off balance. Gunn didn't even have time to realize his mistake before being lifted off the ground and thrown like a rag doll into a wall. Alonzo pulled the stake from his side and flung it to the ground before making a run for the basement stairway. Before Gunn could even collect himself and get up, Alonzo had disappeared up the stairs.
"Gotcha!" shouted Alonna as she plunged her stake into an undead foe. The vampire dropped to his knees with a scream before vaporizing into the gloom. Gunn looked around; his two other friends were gasping for breath, and the second vampire was nowhere to be seen.
"We got the other one," said Chain, picking up on the unvoiced question in Gunn's look. "He's dust."
Gunn checked to make sure his sister was alright and looked around the basement for any more surprises, but as far as he could tell, they had succeeded. None of them had been hurt or killed, which was fortunate considering the sticky situation they had gotten themselves into. Killing off several of the vampires almost before the fight started had been a stroke of good luck. Before Gunn could take stock of what to do next, he gasped as he found himself slammed against the wall for the second time that evening.
"You said you had Alonzo!" yelled Rondell "You let him get away! I saw it!"
"Like hell he did!" said Alonna, pulling him off her brother.
"You think he's just gonna disappear now? He knows where we are, he knows how to find us."
"Look," said Gunn, "we'll get him, alright? He just got the drop on me for a second."
Rondell sneered at the explanation. "You know what I think? I think you were holding back. You keep trying to be the leader, but you don't got what it takes to finish the job. He ain't Alonzo anymore, but you didn't want to take care of it, and you gave him the chance to get away."
Gunn made a move to push Rondell away, but stopped himself at the last moment. He knew emotions were running high after the fight, and Rondell had been picking fights with him lately anyway. Instead of responding, he ignored the comment, retrieved his stake, and walked up the basement stairway. Rondell looked angrily at him for a moment, but Gunn's lack of response seemed to calm him down a little.
Alonna took to the stairs and motioned for Rondell and Chain to follow her brother as Gunn carefully made his way through the dark warehouse again, making sure Alonzo was not waiting around to catch them by surprise. As he saw the headlights of the truck filtering through the open doorway, Gunn felt a sinking feeling begin to take form in the pit of his stomach. He pushed the warehouse door open and walked out into the muggy night air.
He yelled at the truck, but there was no response. Gunn lost his sense of caution and ran more quickly towards the vehicle as he noticed the stake gun in the back was pointing up at an awkward angle. Before he even reached the truck, he knew what had happened. An arm dangled limply over the back of the truck's bed, and Gunn looked over the side to see Willy's body lying inside, two bite marks on his neck.
"Damn it!" said Gunn. "Those two that crept up behind us in the basement must have gotten Willy outside before they followed us into the warehouse."
Rondell looked at Willy's dead body as the rest of the group caught up to Gunn.
"Or Alonzo killed him on his way out of the building," he said.
"Hey man, get off my back!"
"I ain't the one who dragged everybody here without planning things out and got yet another person killed!"
This time, it was Gunn's turn to lose his temper. He turned and knocked Rondell back against the truck's door with a snarl. "I didn't get Alonzo killed if that's what you're implying, alright? And we didn't have time to think up some master plan, now did we? You know as well as I do that every second we waited, Alonzo was that much closer to dying."
"Would you two cut it out?"
Alonna pulled her brother and Rondell apart. Gunn tried to make another move forward, but Alonna planted a firm hand on his chest, giving her brother a look that he had seen sometimes in the past when he was acting particularly annoying towards her. He knew better than to take another step forward.
"You guys are attacking each other when we got bigger things to worry about. We can't be fighting each other when we're not the enemy. And Alonzo's still out there!"
"I just can't figure out why we should keep lettin' Gunn call the shots when he's getting us killed!" yelled Rondell.
Gunn shook his sister's hand aside, but for the second time that night, his urge to fight back failed him. Instead of confronting Rondell, he abruptly began to walk off, leaving the truck behind. He had no idea where he was going. It was a stupid idea to walk off alone when Alonzo could be lurking nearby – not to mention other creatures of the night – but Gunn suddenly felt like he was being smothered. He couldn't be around anyone anymore, not even his sister. He felt a overwhelming urge to be alone, and what was worse, he was beginning to think Rondell was right. Rondell had accused him indirectly of letting Alonzo become a vampire, but he had also implied that Gunn was responsible for Willy's death. And Gunn found himself unable to respond to that.
"Charles!" his sister shouted as he walked away. "Where are you going?"
"What? Quit being stupid, Gunn. You can't go out there alone!"
"Just take the truck back, I'll be fine."
Alonna tried to run after her brother for a moment, but Gunn quickened his pace and left the empty parking lot behind as he disappeared into a twisting back alley that wormed its way through the abandoned buildings around them. Alonna watched, at a loss for words, as her brother disappeared into the night.
"Just leave him," said Chain. "He can take care of himself. We gotta get back to the hideout in case Alonzo decides to pay them a visit."
Alonna sighed as her two companions watched the dark alley where Gunn had disappeared. Rondell looked back to the truck after a moment and leaped into the bed beside Willy's corpse, pulling a stake out from his belt. Alonna flinched and averted her eyes as he stabbed down with the stake; it was gruesome work, but Alonna knew they had to make sure Willy was not going to turn, and they didn't have time to wait around and see.
There was no telltale whoosh of dust. Willy would not be changing.
Rondell and Chain exchanged silent glances with Alonna for a moment before they got into the front of the truck. She slipped in beside them as the truck sputtered to life and began to back out of the parking lot. The cabin felt a little cramped, but she did not want to ride in the back with Willy's body.
Alonna knew Gunn was feeling the sting of seeing Alonzo in that basement, turned into a grotesque parody of his former self. Still, she wished he hadn't just deserted them like that after Rondell's challenges. Gunn should have known that Rondell was only worked up, just like he was, and taking off like that definitely wasn't what she would call responsible. Big brothers could be a real pain.
Seeing broken tenements and ruined squalor change into high-class housing within the space of a few blocks was always a shock. No matter how many times Gunn made his way through the streets of Los Angeles, he could never quite get used to it. The fact that every day, almost in plain sight, there were thousands of people living a life where everything was handed to them. Where nothing was beyond their grasp.
Gunn gazed up at the sparkling lights and glowing windows as he passed beneath them. The more he made his way out of the projects, the more the streets seemed to vibrate with life. Bustling pedestrians, chatters and shouts, car horns honking. This was a part of the city where people knew they could go out and be safe at night. Gunn wasn't sure why he was coming here – he felt out of place. It wasn't Beverly Hills or Bel-Air, to be fair, but compared to the kinds of places he and his gang called home when they weren't on the run, it was like he was walking through another country.
He already felt bad about leaving his sister behind, but he knew that Rondell would keep an eye on her. Not that Alonna couldn't hold her own, but Gunn found it hard to shake his brotherly protective instinct, even now that Alonna was an adult. Their parents certainly hadn't done much to protect either of them, after all. It had been up to Gunn to keep her safe. But after that near-debacle in the abandoned warehouse, after what Rondell had told him, Gunn was beginning to wonder if he could really do that. He knew he had been reckless, and Rondell was right to question his leadership ability. Gunn didn't know if he could be a leader. If he even wanted to be one.
Rondell was a close friend to Gunn, and for a longer time than Alonzo, but sometimes they could clash with each other. The gang had been looking for a leader, especially since vampires and creatures of the night seemed to be getting more restless recently. They increasingly looked to Gunn to fill that role. Gunn was well aware of it, but he didn't know why; maybe it was just because no one was stepping up. Unfortunately, it also meant that things had been a bit on the prickly side with Rondell lately. Maybe it would be best to let Rondell call the shots.
"Hey, watch it buddy!"
Gunn stumbled as he accidentally ran into a man passing him on the sidewalk.
"Sorry man... sorry."
The man cursed and kept walking. Gunn ignored him as he slipped back into his morose mood. Rondell's sudden outburst had been too much to handle after seeing what those things had done to Alonzo. After seeing what Alonzo might have done to Willy after he escaped from the warehouse. Had Gunn really let him escape? He wanted to say no, but the more he thought about it, the more unsure he became. He had staked people he knew before, members of his little group that strayed too far from the safety of the flock, but they weren't friends. Acquaintances, at best. Alonzo was different. And, if Gunn really had let him get away, and Alonzo had killed Willy, it meant he was responsible for Willy's death. There was no doubt about it; Alonzo had to die. Again.
But can I really do the job myself?
The question lingered in Gunn's mind as he walked aimlessly down the sidewalk. Alonzo's sneering face flashed in his memory, the way a bright light would imprint itself on a pair of closed eyes after someone stared at it for too long. The face smiled, taunted him. Warped into a sick parody of how it had looked in life. As Gunn thought about Alonzo, he felt himself focusing again on the situation, pulling himself out of his emotional overload, and he began to realize he had been stupid. For all he knew, Alonzo was returning to the hideout at this very moment. Somebody had even mentioned that possibility earlier, he remembered. If Alonzo got there before Rondell, Alonna, or Chain, everyone in the hideout would be caught unaware, perhaps thinking he was still alive. Gunn was putting people in danger yet again.
He turned around, about to double back and return in the direction he had come from, when – beyond the pedestrians on the sidewalk, farther down the street - he saw a figure dart abruptly into a side alley. It was quick, but not quick enough to miss Gunn's notice. As if someone had been tailing him and didn't want to be noticed.
Gunn ran down the street, heedlessly pushing people aside on the sidewalk as he approached the side alley where Alonzo had just disappeared. He slowed down as he darted inside the alley and pulled the stake out from where it had been concealed under his shirt. The neon signs and shining headlights of the busy street shone into the alley, illuminating it for a number of yards, but eventually it melted into blackness. Gunn stepped carefully as he left the street's lights behind and entered into the darkness.
It was obvious to him now. Alonzo would have no interest in going back to the gang's hideout and attacking them. Just like Rondell, Alonzo had been having problems with Gunn's rise to leadership in recent weeks. Making snide comments on the side, questioning Gunn's competency. Counting Rondell, the three of them were closer than many others in the group, relying on each other to get things done, but they were all headstrong as well. It was probably a major reason that Alonzo had been so eager to check out the new vampire nest without planning things better beforehand. He didn't want to wait for Gunn's help. Now that he was dead - undead, to be specific - Gunn got a distinct feeling that Alonzo was primarily interested in coming after him alone.
If that was the case, he was happy to oblige his old friend.