It took a moment for Buffy to remember her assumed name and realize her manager was talking to her.
"You mind cleaning up that table before you get out of here?"
Buffy's manager, Mitch, stood beside her and pointed out at the nearly empty dining area. Buffy followed his extended finger to a table in the far corner of the diner. Several teenagers had been eating there moments earlier. They had apparently finished their meal and left, but not before leaving half of their food scattered over the table like discarded trash.
"Can't Mary clean it up?"
"No idea where Mary is. Probably chatting outside with her boyfriend again."
Resigned to her fate, Buffy sighed and slumped her shoulders before grabbing a spray bottle, wastebasket, and paper towels. Not that it would take more than a few minutes to clean, but Buffy was just about to finish a particularly long shift and was looking forward to flopping onto the bed in her apartment for the night.
As Buffy arrived at the food-strewn table and began to clean, she wondered if it was strange that she still hadn't gotten used to the name 'Anne.' She had been in Los Angeles for a few weeks now, working at Helen's Kitchen and leading a solitary life after work in her lonely apartment. But even in the time she had spent away from Sunnydale, she was still found it difficult to leave herself behind.
It was difficult to leave anything behind, really. She was frozen in place, stuck in quicksand. Locked into being Buffy Summers, regardless of what she called herself. The image of Angel's face flashed across her mind's eye, grimacing in agony, and Buffy froze for a moment as she leaned over the table. She didn't know what else to do after that. She knew she was leaving behind her friends, her family, but it was just too much. She could risk her own life, but to be asked to sacrifice those she cared about?
The formica table lay polished and buffed, free of food. Buffy's work was done – and it was five minutes past her shift. She forced the image of Angel out of her mind as she went back into the employee area. Mitch was nowhere to be seen. She clocked out as quickly as possible and went out through the back door, noticing Mitch outside in the alleyway arguing with Mary. That girl needed to put away the cell phone during work hours. Buffy rushed down a side alley as quickly as possible, just in case Mitch wanted to harangue her about taking care of anything even though her shift was over.
It was only a few blocks to reach the apartment where Buffy had been living ever since she ran away, and it would be a little faster to get there through the busy street in front of the diner, but Buffy liked to take the back roads. Maybe she was so used to taking back alleys and slinking through the darkness that she couldn't shake the habit, even when she was trying to. Or maybe she just didn't want to be around other people that much.
Sometimes she wondered if she might see someone she knew while she working, or walking through the sidewalk on the way back from a shift. Someone from her old school, before the gym burned down and her mother took them to Sunnydale. Would she recognize them? Even if she did, Buffy figured that would be an awkward conversation.
Hey, I remember you. Buffy, right? Burned any gyms down lately?
Buffy was lost in thought as she wove a circuitous route through back alleys on the way to her apartment complex. She turned a corner, however, and a sudden flash of movement down the alley jerked her back into alertness. Someone had walked quickly past the entrance to the alley in which she was standing. Farther back, beyond those trash cans.
Buffy watched for a moment as she approached more carefully; there wasn't anything that unusual about someone in an alley, but years of experience being the Slayer had honed Buffy's ability to recognize when something was off. Sure enough, as she approached the twist in the alley where she had seen the figure, another shape darted by. Another man following the first one. A man in appearance, at least.
Something was definitely off.
Buffy sighed as she quickened her pace and turned another corner, trying to catch up to the two figures and see what was going on. Even here in Los Angeles, alone and hiding behind another name, she couldn't escape her calling.
The figure walking at a brisk pace a few dozen yards ahead ignored the shout, disappearing around another corner. Gunn could tell Alonzo was playing with him, drawing things out as much as possible. They had killed off the vampire nest at the abandoned warehouse, and Gunn doubted there were any more around who Alonzo could have been acquainted with in the hours he had been undead, so he doubted his old friend was trying to lead him into a trap. It was just a game. Alonzo probably thought he was going to win, too. His confidence in his skills as a fresh member of the undead was even more exaggerated than it had been when Alonzo was a living, breathing human. Gunn had smirked at his friend's ego in the past, but he could find no humor in the situation now. He just wanted it to be over.
"Come on man, quit playing around. You know what I gotta do!"
The honks and chatter of the city street faded as Alonzo led the two of them farther away from the good part of down. They passed through several open lots and empty back streets as Alonzo took Gunn on a winding route back in the direction of their home turf. Sometimes Gunn caught a glimpse of Alonzo waiting for him. Standing in the shadows across an empty stretch of asphalt, grinning in a black crevice between buildings, white teeth flashing in the moonlight before he slipped away.
Gunn entered another dark alleyway.
"What's your hurry?" spoke a sinister voice, farther ahead.
Rough concrete walls and dead windows pressed in relentlessly on both sides, almost forcing Gunn farther into the passageway as he pursued his unseen foe. This was more familiar than the comparatively clean, white-washed streets he had been walking through earlier that night. This was his element. But it was also Alonzo's element.
Gunn passed under a flickering light that illuminated a doorway to his left, and after a few more steps, the alley terminated into a small open concrete lot, sandwiched between brooding buildings. A few dumpsters were lined up along the sides of the enclosure, which was mostly surrounded by buildings except a single narrow road. A lone street lamp stood in the corner of the lot, casting its light down on a couple of empty parking spaces next to a store, which was either closed or abandoned.
Leaning against the street light, Alonzo was waiting. He gave Gunn a smile. Alonzo's face was not distorted into its vampiric form. Other than a certain malicious streak that had not existed before, it was the same person Gunn had known for years. Almost.
"You done running?"
Alonzo smiled and stepped forward from the street lamp.
"Just having some fun, Gunn. It's not like we're gonna see each other again after tonight, right?"
"I thought you wanted me to join you vamped-up freaks."
"Sure," laughed Alonzo, "but you made it pretty clear you weren't interested, and we both know you're a stubborn son of a bitch. I think it woulda been fun seeing you without that pesky soul holding you back, but if you're not interested, we only got one other option. Am I right?"
"Right. You get dusted."
Alonzo's smile widened, and Gunn began to get an uneasy feeling that someone was lurking in the alley behind him, where he had just emerged to enter the lot. Maybe Alonzo had led him into a trap after all. Gunn slowly circled, keeping his eye on Alonzo but his ears peeled in case there was someone approaching from behind.
"At least it'll be fun taking you down," said Alonzo. His forehead furrowed monstrously in the yellow street light, eyes narrowing into vicious slits. "I always thought the gang looked up to you more than you deserved. You're good, but you're not that good, Gunn."
Alonzo didn't need an invitation. Gunn didn't even have time to pull out a stake before he was bowled over, wrestling with his former friend on the ground. He cursed as he narrowly escaped a bite from Alonzo's fangs and knocked him aside, getting up as quickly as possible. Alonzo was trying him, just like he asked, so Gunn supposed he had only himself to blame for being caught off guard like that. But it wouldn't happen a second time.
The second time Alonzo made a rush towards his prey, the stake dug viciously into his arm. Alonzo screeched and backed away as Gunn pulled the stake out and tried to make another swipe. It was a miss, and Alonzo managed to take the opportunity to grab the arm just like last time and bring Gunn in close. He yelled in anger at Alonzo pinned the arm behind his back and wrapped his own arm around Gunn's neck, attempting to strangle him.
"Another thing you wouldn't have to worry about if you had taken my original offer," laughed Alonzo as Gunn began to gasp for breath.
Gunn found the vampire's hold to be too strong to counter. Instead, he made a sharp push backwards with both legs, forcing the two of them to stumble back until Alonzo was pinned between Gunn and a metal dumpster at the edge of the enclosure. Gunn slammed back into the dumpster repeatedly until Alonzo released his grip, but he barely had time to take a breath before his foe leaped in for another attack, this time knocking him to the ground again.
Alonzo dug his claws in deep, puncturing Gunn's skin and drawing out a scream. Gunn looked up at his friend to see a mouth open wide, blacker than the night sky except for the needle-like points of sharp canines. Alonzo reached down to take a bite...
The vampire looked up just in time to catch a boot to the face.
Gunn was surprised to see someone who looked like a teenage girl deliver several bone-crunching punches and kicks to Alonzo before he could get up again. It took Alonzo a few moments to recover from the surprise attack, but once he did, he shook his head as if to dispel the shock of her blows and rushed at her. All it got him, however, was another boot – this time to the chest. Alonzo flew backwards and slammed into the side of a dumpster, crumpling to the ground in a heap.
Gunn stared incredulously at the girl who now stood over him, dressed in what looked like a waitress's uniform.
"Thought you could use a hand," she said as she extended a hand and helped him off the ground.
"Uh, yeah, looks like it. Thanks."
Alonzo snarled as he got up slowly. Both Gunn and his unexpected ally turned to face the vampire. Not only was Alonzo looking a little worse for wear after the lightning fast attack, but his movements seemed more hesitant and cautious after the sudden appearance of a new opponent.
"Who the hell are you?" he snapped.
"Me?" asked the girl. "I'm uh – I'm Anne. I work over at Helen's Kitchen. And you are?"
"Your worst nightmare," said Alonzo.
"Excuse me, but how tame do you think my nightmares are? You know what - forget about it. You look like you could use a little stabbing. You mind?" she asked Gunn as she leaned over and picked up the stake he had dropped on the ground.
"Uh, look, thanks for the save and all, but I do kind of mind," Gunn replied sheepishly. He held out a hand for the stake, and the girl looked at it in confusion for a moment before a grin of realization crossed her face.
"It's personal. Gotcha."
"Yeah. Feel free to dust this guy if I don't make it, though."
Gunn accepted the stake and turned back to Alonzo, who had been staring at the nonchalant conversation between his old friend and the new girl with a nonplussed look.
"Are you two done?" he asked, forgetting to add a hint of menace to his voice that, even in the few hours he had been a vampire, really seemed to add a certain something to his image. He took Gunn's brief nod as confirmation that he was ready to return to their fight, and wasted in no time in circling closer. Both of them waited for several moments, looking for an opening in the other's defenses. Alonzo saw his opportunity when Gunn briefly lowered his stake. He leaped with a triumphant roar.
And then found himself landing face-first on the ground.
"Too reckless," said Gunn as he pinned Alonzo's arms behind his back. "You were always too reckless."
Alonzo had heard him say that before. Their friendship had always been a little rocky from time to time, and Gunn was always quick to admonish Alonzo for his sometimes foolhardy attitude. It was kind of hypocritical, as Alonzo knew Gunn had some of those same faults. Sometimes Gunn criticized him in anger, sometimes in friendly jest, depending on the mood. But this time, Alonzo detected a hint of sadness. Maybe even regret.
Why Gunn should be regretting anything was beyond Alonzo. He was finally freed from the shackles of humanity, from the unbearable burdens of poverty and hopelessness. His senses were heightened, his desires sharpened and honed into violent purity. He could live forever.
"So what now?" asked Alonzo, trying to struggle free of Gunn's grasp but finding it harder than he expected. "You really think you can kill one of the gang, Gunn? One of the people you were supposed to protect?"
Alonzo felt the answer to his question in the form of a wooden stake, which pierced through his back and punctured his corrupted heart. His taunting expression was wiped away. First by surprise, and then, a moment later, by a faint echo of dust.
Buffy followed about a dozen yards behind as she followed the man she had just met. She had heard the vampire call him 'Gunn', shortly before being staked by him. Clearly Gunn knew how to handle vampires. She wasn't sure why she was following him, except that he had obviously known the vampire when it was still human and seemed to be fairly broken up about it. Maybe she felt like consoling him. Maybe she wanted to make sure he wasn't in any more danger. Or maybe she just didn't have anything better to do.
"Why are you following me?" asked Gunn as he walked, not bothering to turn around.
"I just thought you might want to talk a little. That looked like it was a bit heavy back there."
Gunn made no response, which Buffy took as a sign that she was right.
They were passing through a dangerous part of the city – not that Buffy knew that much about Los Angeles, having left there after the gym incident and lived in Sunnydale for years since, but anyone could tell it was a dangerous part of the city just by glancing around. Before long, they passed over to the other side of a two-lane road. The occasional car drove by, but it was a quiet night otherwise. A chain-linked fence stood on the other side of the road, squaring off a large lot between buildings that contained a playground. Gunn walked through a door in the fence, which was hanging ajar, and Buffy followed close behind.
A few lights coming from the surrounding buildings lit up the playground enough to make out its details. Grass grew in a few patchy spots, but the ground was mostly dirt. Twisted, rusting metal structures stood like skeletons in the old playground. A jungle gym, a dusty slide. Monkey bars with a few missing bars. A swing set with a pair of swings swinging lazily in a warm evening breeze, as well as a third swing which had been broken in half, two pieces of its wooden seat hanging limply from metal chains. It was not a playground where children played anymore.
"It looked like you were pretty familiar with vampires back there," ventured Buffy.
Gunn sat down on one of the swings and stared silently at the ground for a moment. He looked like he was still struggling with what he had done, but judging by the way he was talking to the vampire earlier, it was not the kind of shock that Buffy saw in people exposed to the supernatural for the first time. It was the kind of shock that came from killing someone close to you. Something Buffy knew all about.
"You looked pretty comfortable with 'em too," Gunn finally said as Buffy sat down in the swing adjacent to his own. "Not everyday I see a waitress by day, vampire slayer by night."
Buffy wondered how Gunn knew she was a waitress before remembering that she was still wearing her uniform. Gunn noticed her look and knew what she was thinking.
"Helen's Kitchen you said, right? I recognize the uniform. Been there a couple times when I was a kid."
"You got it," laughed Buffy. "And yes, I've seen a few vampires before."
"So what, you just make a habit out of killing 'em when you get out of work?"
"Something like that."
The two fell silent again, and Buffy watched as her new acquaintance seemed to fall back in his funk.
"I'm guessing that vampire used to be a friend of yours?"
The playground was deathly quiet, and the street had been empty of cars for several minutes. Buffy sighed as she leaned against one of her swing set chains, creaking softly back and forth. She knew what Gunn was going through. It was why she was in Los Angeles, after all. She wondered what she could say to cheer him up, how she could help, but as she thought of her own situation, she wondered if she was even the right person to do such a thing. She certainly didn't know how to help herself.
"Sometimes I just don't know," spoke Gunn, as if giving voice to his thoughts in mid-stream.
"Don't know what?"
"What I'm gonna do," said Gunn. "It's like there's no end in sight. I've been fighting those things for most of my life, you know? And it's not like that's the first time I saw somebody I knew dying. Not the first time I had to kill somebody I knew either, except I knew Alonzo for years. And it's never gonna end. I never had any choice in anything ever since I was born, and I gotta keep watching everybody around me die until there's nobody left. It'd be easier to just kill myself and get it over with. I'd probably end up as one of them sooner or later if I didn't off myself."
Buffy frowned. She got the impression that he was not really suicidal; just venting. Still, despite the fact that she had met Gunn only moments ago, it bothered her to hear the way he was talking. It was hitting a little too close to home.
"You can't think like that," said Buffy. "Even if it seems hopeless, you have to keep fighting."
"Why? What's the point?"
The question, cliché as it was, caught Buffy off guard for a moment. She had asked herself that same question more than once over the last few weeks. She knew where Gunn was coming from; in her own situation, and apparently in Gunn's situation, their future did not look very bright. They would win the battles, but they might never win the war.
Buffy knew that, and yet a part of her still objected.
"Maybe there is no point," she said. "Or maybe the point is just to fight. Fighting evil doesn't need a justification, does it? I mean, even if it was completely hopeless, would you stop fighting?"
Gunn pondered the question for a moment.
"No," he finally said, "I guess not."
"And why is that?"
"'Cause I don't want those cheeky blood-sucking chumps thinkin' they beat me," said Gunn. A brief twinkle of good humor flashed in his eyes, cutting through his morose demeanor.
"And besides, don't you have people you care about?" asked Buffy. "People who care about you? Sorry if I'm prying, but what about friends, family?"
"I got a sister. And some friends, if you want to call them that. Sometimes they feel like more trouble than they're worth. They ain't always friends that I chose, you know? Just people I got to know because we all got thrown into the same mess together."
Buffy understood him, although she knew her situation wasn't quite the same. She had been thrown together with Willow and Xander, in a sense. Buffy was an outsider at Sunnydale High School, and as fellow outsiders, her friends had accepted her when she came to them. And yet, she had chosen to come to them. She had chosen to leave behind the kind of person she had been before she moved to Sunnydale. Maybe Gunn's life had not given him quite as many luxuries.
"Well," said Buffy, "you have your sister. You have your friends. Maybe you don't see eye to eye with some of them, but I'm sure some of them are true friends. And those people are worth fighting for, so as long as they're around, you have to fight for them. You've got people who depend on you and need your support. You can't let them down by giving up or by running away."
Gunn pondered Buffy's point. "I guess you're right," he said grudgingly.
Once again, Buffy felt her advice digging up some uncomfortable things she had been trying to bury inside herself. Before she could think about it too much, however, Gunn spoke again.
"So why are you sitting here giving me this pep talk, anyway?"
"I dunno. I'd just be vegging out in my apartment if I wasn't here."
Gunn peered more closely at Buffy, and she began to feel a little uncomfortable. His look gave her the distinct impression that he was trying to read her thoughts, ferreting out her secrets.
"You said your name was Anne, right?"
Buffy smirked. Maybe he was reading her mind.
"Yep. That's my name."
The tone of Gunn's question made it sound as if he knew she wasn't really a waitress named Anne. His next question gave Buffy an even more uncanny impression that he was seeing right through her disguise.
"So tell me, Anne. What's up with you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Waitress by day, vampire killer by night, except when you're vegetating in your apartment. Hey," he said quickly as Buffy raised an eyebrow at his tone, "your words, not mine. But anyway - how exactly did you get so familiar with the whole vampire scene?"
Buffy understood his interest, but she was not in the mood to bare her past or her calling. Not to mention she didn't really know Gunn – although he seemed trustworthy enough, she was not ready to share the things she was trying to put behind her with a stranger.
"It's a long story," she said. "I don't think you'd be interested."
"I figure you got some of the same problems I do. I mean, I saw those moves in the alley – that wasn't the first time you killed a vampire. And I know L.A.'s the kind of place where a lot of people are trying to get away from themselves, start over, that kind of thing. Unless they've been stuck here their whole lives."
Gunn's last addition gave Buffy the impression he was thinking of himself.
"You're right," she said. "I'm not stuck here. I got here pretty recently, actually."
"Where are you from?"
"Outside the city."
The response was obviously evasive, but Gunn did not pursue the question.
"So you are running from something. Sounds like you might be one of those 'do as I say, not as I do' types."
"I guess a lot of people here are trying to run from something."
During the lull in their conversation, Buffy looked up at some of the lighted windows surrounding the little playground. Once or twice, she caught a faint glimpse of movement behind them. She wondered if they were all running away from something too. Or, from the way Gunn made it sound, caught in place. She wondered how many of them were alone behind those windows, how many of them had left behind their friends and family. Los Angeles did seem like a lonely place to her, but maybe that was just her own loneliness coloring things. Even on the busiest streets, she was surrounded by strangers. Maybe they all belonged here, and she was the only person out of place.
Gunn got up from his seat and brushed a coating of dust from the back of his pants, which he had picked up from the unused swing set. Buffy stifled a laugh as she watched him patting himself on the butt, and Gunn noticed her grin, returning it with one of his own as he saw where she was looking.
"I'm not a piece of meat."
"Gotcha," said Buffy with a grin.
"Anyway, I guess I'd better get back to the people I care about. They're countin' on me, like you said. But thanks for cooling me down a little bit. Not every day I meet a waitress who kicks vampire ass."
"Nice meeting you too. And you're not so bad at the ass kicking yourself."
Gunn extended a hand, which Buffy shook.
"I hope whatever it is you're running from stops chasing you," he said as he turned to leave.
"It's a part of me," answered Buffy, almost rhetorically. "So I can't really run away from it."
As Gunn passed through the door to the chain linked fence surrounding the old playground, he looked back one last time before making his way home.
"Then I guess you'd better learn to embrace it."
A moment later, he was gone.
Buffy still sat in the swing, not quite ready to get up and make her way back to her apartment. She had been eager to go home when she got off her shift at work, but she now felt as if a strange weight was pressing down on her. Not a good weight or a bad weight, really. Just a certain heaviness of thought. In trying to give a little support to a random stranger, she had been surprised to find how much his problems mirrored her own. Buffy had been trying not to think about anything too much in the last few weeks, trying to sink herself into a daily routine, but she knew it wasn't working. Angel, Xander, Willow, Giles, her mother, the ancient calling she was denying – all of them kept popping back into mind.
And after tonight, she knew she wouldn't be able to ignore them anymore.
A rusty fire escape led to the top of a vacant three-story apartment complex. Gunn stood in the dark alleyway near the fire escape for several minutes before he approached it, making sure that no one was tailing him before he went up. Gunn and his gang had been staying in several rooms on the third floor, at least over the past few days. It was a building they had used before. The bottom floor was booby trapped with a number of noise-makers that would alert them if any vampires decided to snoop around for prey, and everyone took the fire escape to get to the hideout via the roof instead.
He reached the top of the building and stepped onto the concrete roof, looking up at the pale moon's glow. Tonight had been an unusual night, in more ways than one. Alonzo's death was still stinging deeply, and Gunn felt a sense of guilt over whether he had been responsible for Willy's death when they had been ambushed by Alonzo and the other vampires earlier. He knew that, in his situation, people died sometimes. Gunn had seen it before. But people were looking up to him more and more, asking for a leader even though Gunn wasn't sure he was up to the task. Knowing all that made both of the deaths that day seem more personal somehow.
Despite all that, he was feeling better than he would have expected. He had been on the verge of breaking down, unable to imagine how he could keep forcing himself through the life he was living, but Gunn knew it had been the shock of killing Alonzo. He had lost his perspective, just for a moment. But he had it back now. And, strangely enough, it was thanks to a waitress named Anne.
Gunn stood in front of the door set into the roof and knocked.
"Who is it?" barked a voice from inside.
The door opened, and before Gunn could say anything or take a step down the stairs, he sputtered as a splash of water smacked into his face. Another face peered out of the door frame and watched Gunn for a moment as he wiped the water from himself. It was Rondell.
"Holy water?" he asked. "Good move. Now can I come in?"
Rondell nodded and led him in.
"Sorry," he said. "We had to make sure you weren't turned."
"Not a problem."
"Hey man, look," said Rondell as they descended into the apartment building itself, "I'm sorry if I was blowin' up at you earlier when Willy died and all. It was just tense, you know? It wasn't really your fault, it just happened."
Gunn patted his friend on the back. "Thanks man."
He knew it wouldn't be the last time that Rondell gave him a hard time, but he didn't mind. Living the life they did had a way of setting everybody on edge. The two of them made their way down a dark hallway and Gunn opened the door to the nearest room, where he knew his sister slept along with a number of other people. Sure enough, Alonna was at the door before he had even entered the room. Gunn was expecting a hug, but instead he was shocked to feel his sister smack him across the face.
"What the hell were you thinkin', Charles? Running off for no reason and not telling us where you went? You coulda died! You coulda turned into one of those things, and then what would I do, huh? Well, say something!"
Gunn rubbed his aching jaw for a moment. He knew he had been asking for it.
This time, he got the hug he was waiting for.
Gunn sighed as he embraced his sister a little too hard for her comfort, but it was his way of apologizing a little more for what he had put her through. Anne had been right; as long as his sister was around, he would keep going. He would stick with the group, even if he had to deal with people he didn't want to deal with. Even if he had to be a leader when he wasn't sure he could be one. There were people there who counted on him, people who had his back just as much as he had theirs - Alonna most of all.
That was worth fighting for.
Notes - That's the story. Thanks for the review on chapter 1, Dale. :) Anybody else, I'd like to know what you thought too!
For those who are reading this, I am writing an Angel V-Day story which I am actually enjoying more than this one, centered mainly on season 5 Wesley / Fred / Spike. Put me on author alerts if you want to catch it, or just keep an eye out around Valentine's Day since I'll probably post it then. In the meantime, I have a story for The Office and Glee, as well as a number of stories for Kim Possible and Hey Arnold, if anyone's interested in those shows.
I'm sort of surprised at how few hits this story has gotten. I don't know if it's because the Angel fandom on is more inactive than I thought, or if Charles just isn't a popular character, especially in a story without romance like this. Or maybe my story just isn't that good.
I was a little ambivalent toward this story, to be honest. I enjoyed the idea of Buffy (in disguise) and Gunn meeting by chance during Buffy's self-imposed L.A. exile, and I liked the idea of Buffy giving Gunn a sort of pep talk. The only problem is that, with this story being set prior to "Anne" on BtVS, I think Buffy's attitude in this story sort of clashes with how she is portrayed in the beginning of that episode, since she's still kind of borderline catatonic from losing Angel. But I was nearly finished writing by the time I really gave that much thought. Ultimately I decided it was interesting to me either way, especially since Gunn was more the focus than Buffy. I guess this could be just be considered a little AU-ish, hehe. Anyway, thanks for reading!