"Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the
darkness, so a simple phrase like "maybe we should just be friends" or "how very
perceptive" turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart."
Neil Gaiman by way of Rose Walker, in The Kindly Ones
"No." Oz crossed his arms and stared calmly at Giles.
"I said no. You are not going by yourself. Take Buffy, or Xander or even Angel. But don't go by yourself."
"Why?" Giles glared back at the smaller man.
"Because it's a bad idea. You know, it's like when you're watching a movie or TV or something and the main character gets a note that says, 'Come here or your friends will die,' and you're thinking that it's a trap." Oz shook his head. "That's what this is. You know it is."
"I have to go." Giles rubbed his forehead. "Ethan is..."
"Be that as it may, he's still dangerous."
Oz sighed, and ran fingers through his hair, rumpling it even more than usual. "I don't care. He said come alone. That means you shouldn't."
"I will not drag Buffy into this. And the others..." Giles shook his head. "I can't do it. I won't."
"You will not."
"I will." Oz smiled slightly. "You need someone to go with you, in case Ethan does something weasel-ish. You won't take Buffy or the others. That leaves me."
"I won't." Giles had a stubborn expression on his face. "I will not endanger you either. Ethan is...Ethan was a mistake I made a long time ago, and I will not have the rest of you put in danger because I was a fool."
"Either I go with you, or I follow you."
"Why won't you see reason?"
"Why won't you?" Oz looked up at Giles. "He won't know that I'm there. And if he does, what is he going to do? Turn me into a monster? Been there, done that."
"You don't know what he's capable of."
"No, I don't. And it doesn't matter. I can't let you go by yourself."
"You're as much of an idiot as I am." There was a small smile on Giles' face.
"Yeah, well, it's a virtue." Oz blushed.
"You'll do as I say?"
Giles didn't say anything for a few moments, weighing the possibilities and risks. "Come along then." He turned, grabbing his jacket before heading out the door. Oz followed quietly, pretending not to hear Giles mutter, "Heaven help us both."
Ethan was leaning back against the wall of the alley as Giles approached. He was dressed impeccably in dark blue silk and black slacks, grinning as his old friend drew closer.
"Ripper, so good of you to come."
"Tsk. You're being rude, Ripper. Try 'Hello, Ethan, it's good to see you.' I promise you, it will work better than that oh-so chilling glare." He smirked.
"What do you want, Ethan?" Giles pulled off his glasses, tucking them away into the pocket of his jacket. "Why did you bring me here?"
"You know what I want." He pushed himself away from the wall, a small smile on his face as he moved closer to Giles. "But first, I want your little friend to come out of hiding."
Giles blinked several times. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh I think you do." Ethan walked towards the street, before spinning back around and spreading his arms wide. "Come out, come out wherever you are." He turned to face Giles. "You should know Ripper. Supernatural creatures have a...flavor to them. You have it, I have it, and your friend has it."
"Bring him out, Rupert. Or I leave now and to hell with you and your precious Sunnydale." Ethan's eyes grew hard, cold. "This isn't a game. And I will swear to you on anything you want that this does involve you and your Slayer and all your little friends."
Giles sighed and glared at Ethan. "Oz." He didn't raise his voice, trusting that Oz would hear him despite the distance and background noise. "Come out."
Oz stepped into the alley, his eyes never leaving Ethan's face.
Ethan walked over to the younger man, studying him carefully. He slid a hand under Oz's chin, forcing him to look up. "Oh, he'll do nicely, I think."
Giles moved quickly, grabbing Ethan by the collar of his shirt and pinning him against the wall. "No games. Say what you came to say and leave."
"I'm afraid I can't do that. You see, I need your help."
"The bloody hell you do." Giles slammed him up against the wall again. "Why are you here, Ethan?"
"I told you. I need your help." Ethan looked at Giles calmly. "And you need mine."
Oz sighed, separating the two men physically. "Giles, calm down. Mr. Rayne...just...don't say anything for a few minutes." He glanced at the two of them and sighed again. "We can't stay here. Not if you two insist on getting up close and personal."
"Not the library." Giles' response was immediate.
"Ripper, I wouldn't dream of violating your little haven."
Oz closed his eyes and counted to ten. "Fine. Not the library. We'll go to the club."
Giles glanced at him sharply. "The club? Why there?"
"It's neutral ground. And Kristof and Elena will kill you two themselves if you don't behave. Besides, I was supposed to meet someone there." Oz glared at Ethan and Giles. "Do we agree?"
"Oz!" The door in the alleyway opened to reveal a young woman, her dark hair hanging loose to her waist, who smiled brightly at seeing Oz. "And how is my adorable knight at arms this evening?"
"Haggard and woe-begone." Oz leaned forward and kissed her lightly. "Hey, Alexa."
"And you brought friends! Are they all for me?" She wrapped an arm around his waist, motioning for Giles and Ethan to go inside ahead of them. Oz grinned at her. "That one," Oz pointed to Giles, "is Giles, and the other one is Mr. Rayne."
Alexa glanced at him, one glittery eyebrow raised in surprise. She knew who Giles was...and Oz knew that she knew. She shrugged. "Christian's been looking for you. I thought you'd like to know."
"Should you be warning me?" Oz looked over at her. "He might be angry..."
"Christian is...a force of nature. And he knows it." She shrugged again. "He'll probably laugh his ass off, the crazy sonovabitch. And I mean that in a very literal sense."
"I didn't know it was possible to literally laugh one's ass off."
She smacked him. "You know what I meant."
"Yeah." He smiled again. "Alexa, we need a private room."
Alexa nodded slowly. "All right, I'll see what I can do. I guarantee nothing though."
"We'll be...somewhere." Oz shook his head. "That wasn't helpful."
She laughed. "It's okay, you all shouldn't be too hard to find." Alexa moved easily through the crowd, disappearing behind a group of dancing people.
Oz watched her leave before turning back to Ethan and Giles. "She's going to try to get us a room to talk in."
Ethan shook his head. "She was wearing a toga. You do know the oddest people, Ripper."
Giles blinked. "Waterhouse." He pulled out his glasses and cleaned them carefully before putting them back on. "She was dressed as Thisbe, from the Waterhouse painting."
Oz just shook his head and led them toward the bar, asking for the bottle of chartreuse they kept on hand for him. "Come on. We'll wait for her in one of the back rooms. It's quieter."
Ethan just kept shaking his head and laughing quietly to himself.
They were waiting in a room, watching the silent movie being projected on the wall, when Alexa found them. Oz sighed when he saw her companion. "Christian."
Giles looked up in interest. Oz had mentioned, briefly, his meeting with this Christian fellow, and Giles was curious to see just who could rattle Oz's composure so thoroughly.
Christian walked over to Oz, wrapping his arms lightly around Oz's waist and dropping a small kiss on the top of his head. Oz tensed, holding himself away from the other man's body and shutting his eyes. Christian leaned over to whisper something into Oz's ear, and whatever it was, it made him open his eyes and relax a little. Alexa wandered over to them, placing a hand gently over Christian's, and resting her head on Oz's shoulder.
Giles stared at them, lost in thought. Ethan cleared his throat, and when everyone looked over at him he smiled and said, "As touching as this is, we have business to discuss. Can we get on with it?"
Everyone except Oz glared at him for ruining the moment. Oz pulled free of Christian's arms. "You got us a room?"
Alexa nodded, "Follow us." She turned, walking out into the main area of the club and they followed her through the crowd.
Giles touched Oz's arm, "Your friends are certainly...er...interesting. They seem to..." He searched for the right words, finding none and settling for, "They seem to care for you."
Oz shrugged. "They're wacky."
"Not quite the word I would have used."
"What word would you have used?"
"I have no idea. Other than interesting."
"Yeah...they kinda defy description. But they, him especially, remind me of something I read once."
Giles looked over at him and raised an eyebrow, "What's that?"
"Where I touch, things want and need and love- drawn to their objects of desire like butterflies to a candle flame." Oz shrugged again. "I never said it made sense."
"You want them?"
"I don't know."
Ethan turned around and Oz got the distinct impression that he was laughing. "It's much easier to believe that you don't know than to admit that you do. Isn't that right, Rupert?
Giles glared at his old friend and Oz flushed. "Okay, fine, yes. I want them. Both. And may God have mercy on my soul." He frowned at Ethan. "Happy now?"
Oz ducked his head and muttered, "Ass."
"Here you go, one room, devoid of human presence and waiting for your pleasure." Alexa smiled and bowed, gesturing toward the open door. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"And what," Christian drawled, "Exactly, wouldn't you do, Alexa?"
"I don't know. But I'm sure there's something." She caught Oz's arm as he went by her to go into the room. "Hey, we need to talk." She glanced at Christian, who smiled brightly and waved, before she said, "And he won't touch till we're done. After that, it's up to you."
Oz looked at her doubtfully.
"I promise. He owes me."
"All right," Oz said. "After this is done...I kinda fear what they'll do to each other without a referee." He followed the others into the room, smiling apologetically before he shut the door.
Alexa frowned at the door. Christian touched the crease between her brows gently and kissed her forehead, trying to soothe her. She glared at him. "You are such a patronizing bastard."
"No I'm not." He slung an arm casually around her shoulders. "Wanna dance?"
"Oh, that's right, you're just using me to get into his pants. Hmmph." She slid her arm around his waist. "It won't work."
"Sure it will." He smiled. "And I don't just want in his pants."
"That's true. You want in everyone's."
"You know me so well."
"Randy son of a bitch."
"You didn't even know my mother."
"You know you love me."
As soon as the door shut behind Oz, Giles slammed his fist into Ethan's midsection.
Ethan grunted as he slid down to the ground. "What the bloody hell was that for?!"
"You've put the people I care about in danger. Again."
"I didn't bloody do anything!" Ethan glared at Giles. "I told you I needed your help."
"I don't believe you." Giles' voice was cold.
Oz sighed and rubbed his eyes. What had Buffy said again? Bad-Magic-Hates- the- World-Ticking-Time-Bomb Guy. Right. Well, couldn't have Giles losing his temper completely. "Hey, uh, Giles?" Oz put a hand on Giles shoulder, pulling him back carefully. "Could we at least hear what he has to say?"
"He'll lie. He always does."
"I do not! And thank you for your help, dear boy."
"What do you want, Ethan?" Giles crossed his arms, looking for all the world like a school teacher being confronted by a wayward student.
"A lot of power, a lot of money, and a lot of sex. Not necessarily in that order." Ethan smiled as he pushed himself off the ground. "And I want your help."
Oz chuckled. "And I thought you said he'd lie."
Giles began to smile, and then to laugh.
"So glad I could be of amusement." Ethan's tone was dry, his brown eyes shooting daggers. It only made Giles laugh harder. "Truth, Giles. I wouldn't lie about this."
"About what? You haven't told us anything." As quickly as it had come, the laughter drained from Giles' face, leaving his hazel eyes hard and angry.
"There are demons headed for Sunnydale." He glanced at Oz, who was muttering something about there always being demons headed for Sunnydale. "These are different. They can be reasoned with. Sometimes. If they respect you."
"What does this have to do with you?" Oz settled himself on the table, wondering at the lack of other furniture.
Ethan blushed. "I...I...er..."
Giles glared. "What did you do, Ethan?"
"I summoned them."
Giles rolled his eyes heavenwards. "Great. Just bloody wonderful." He advanced on Ethan, intending to do grievous bodily harm.
Oz moved quickly, standing in front of Ethan. "Giles...Giles, you can't kill him."
"Watch me." Giles tried to get around the younger man.
"Hey, patience. We'll probably need him to send the demons back to the...demon place...where do demons come from, anyway?" Oz scratched his head, frowning.
"Hell, mostly," said Ethan.
"Demons. They come from what is generally referred to as Hell." Ethan shrugged when Giles looked at him. "The boy asked."
"The boy," interrupted Oz, "Has a name."
"Yes...what kind of name is Oz, anyway?"
"A nickname." Oz moved out of the way and crossed his arms. "You can kick his ass if you want to, Giles."
"I'm touched by your protectiveness." Ethan stood up, brushing himself off. "Can't you take a little good natured teasing?"
Oz smiled cheerfully. "Not from you, Mr. Rayne."
"Please, call me Ethan."
"Not even if you paid me."
"Pity." Ethan leaned against the wall. "Now, where was I?"
"You had summoned demons that were coming to Sunnydale and putting all of us in danger," offered Oz, helpfully.
Giles glared at Ethan again, and Ethan glared at Oz. "Thank you."
"We need to give them a good show," Ethan began. "Make them...like us, for want of a better term. If they like us, they won't kill us. It all works out for the best."
Giles rubbed his forehead. "Why did you bring them here?"
"I didn't." Ethan sighed. "They're drawn to your Slayer. She can defeat them permanently and they know it. She's the only one who can."
Oz raised his hand. "Hey, uh, quick question. Just which demons are we talking about?"
Ethan glanced over and smiled. "Oh, I like him, Ripper. He reminds me of you when you were young." He smile grew broader when Giles glared at him. "They're called the Daevas. They're nasty buggers. Two male, one female, and one snake thing."
"The Daevas...Zoroastrian mythical demons?" Giles' frown was replaced by interest.
"Very good, Ripper," Ethan smiled. "It's nice to see you haven't lost your touch."
Giles ignored Ethan's compliment. "Why do you need us?"
"I can't impress them by myself. And they're coming to kill your precious Slayer. You have nothing to lose by helping me. Besides, Ripper," Ethan practically purred. "You can be so very impressive when you want to be."
Oz ducked his head, murmuring, "And then the Devil said, 'Let me sweeten the deal...'"
"So, what will it be, Rupert? Will you help your old chum or endanger all your precious children because you hate me?"
"Fine, Ethan. I'll help you." Giles sighed and headed toward the door. "Be at the library in two hours, I'll see what I can do."
"Wonderful!" Ethan tilted his head. "I knew you'd help me."
Oz caught the tail end of Giles' muttered comment --"...I'd like to help you into the bloody hospital, sodding bastard."--and tried very hard not to laugh out loud.
Ethan smiled to himself, heading out the door as well. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Oz."
"I wish I could say likewise, Mr. Rayne." Oz smiled pleasantly and waved good-bye.
Oz sighed, running his fingers through his hair before he got up and went outside, making his way to the dance floor and looking for Alexa and Christian. His friends. Or would they be considered family? He shrugged and looked out over the floor. Oz spotted them on the outside of the gyrating mass of bodies and blinked. In a more innocent world, he would have called what they were doing dancing. They moved around each other, smiling and laughing, touching each other with an ease and a familiarity that Oz envied. He missed being able to touch Willow, to hold her hand or to rest his head on her shoulder. He found an empty chair and sat down to watch the crowd, feeling the bass pound through his body.
Christian looked up, spotting Oz almost immediately and smiling. He turned Alexa around, pulling her back against him and nodding toward the third member of their pack. "He's watching us."
She looked up. "What do you want from him, Chris?"
"The same thing I wanted from you," he said.
"No." He touched her cheek, turning her face towards his and kissing her. "That's not why I made you, and you know it."
"I know." She pulled his arms around her, resting her head against the column of his throat. "He doesn't like you very much, you know."
"He wants me. That's enough for now." He hugged her before turning her around to face him. "Jealous?"
"Of Oz?" Alexa laughed. "No, he...Oz..." she trailed off. "I like him, Chris. A lot."
"I know." He pulled her close, rubbing his cheek against her hair. "He needs us."
She smiled. "I won't argue that." Alexa paused. "You might have better luck if you tried being his friend. They're important to him."
"Which means that a lover would be even more important." Christian grinned. "Besides, he's cute."
"You have the most twisted logic." She looked up. "I uh...I told him you wouldn't touch him till we finished talking."
"Why?" There was no anger in Christian's voice, just mild curiosity.
"I think he'll run, otherwise."
"Ahh. Okay, then."
"Thank you." Alexa sighed.
"Hey...I like him too. I wouldn't be trying so hard, otherwise."
She smiled at Christian and kissed him deeply. "You can be very sweet sometimes."
"God forbid anyone should hear you say that." The song ended, and Christian's mouth quirked up in a half smile. "Shall we?"
"Be nice to him."
"Oh, I want to be very nice to him."
They made their way to Oz, stopping briefly a few times to talk to friends and acquaintances. He looked up when they reached him, a sad, resigned look in his eyes. Alexa touched his cheek, kneeling down in front of him and pulling his head closer to hers. She leaned forward and kissed him, sliding her tongue into his mouth when he sighed and pulled her closer. He slid forward, until he was barely sitting on the chair, his hands on her waist, holding her tight against him.
Christian slid to his knees beside them, watching them closely, smiling. Oz and Alexa pulled apart, breathing heavily. Christian touched the back of Oz's neck lightly, sliding it up to cup the base of his head. Oz turned, staring at Christian silently, his eyes wide and pupils dilated. He leaned forward, reaching up to touch Christian's cheek lightly before brushing his lips, slowly, gently, across the other man's mouth. Oz pulled back and exhaled, shuddering. He closed his eyes, bowing his head.
Christian frowned, "Why did you kiss me?" He stroked Oz's hair gently.
"I wanted to," whispered Oz.
"Because of the way you touched Alexa, because of the way she touched you." Oz sighed. "Because I was lonely." He looked up at Christian, green eyes bright and glittering. "Does it really matter?"
Alexa touched his cheek, turning his face until his eyes met hers. "Of course it matters. You matter to us."
Christian moved around the chair, touching the corner of Oz's mouth. "You're one of us." He kissed Oz's temple. "We won't betray you."
Oz closed his eyes, swallowing past a lump in his throat. He stood up suddenly. "You...you said you wanted to talk to me?"
Alexa sat back on her heels and smiled. "Are you pack?"
"Will you agree to be a member of our pack?" Christian stood up, power and grace rolling off of him in waves. "To follow our laws, come to the aid of the pack when needed," he grinned suddenly. "To obey your alpha in all things..."
Oz laughed, some of the tension in his shoulders easing.
"It was worth a shot." Christian shrugged philosophically.
Alexa stood up, sliding an arm around Oz's waist. "So, will you?"
"Not to be rude or anything," Oz began, "But what's in it for me?"
Christian grinned, pushing his hair out of his face. "Why...you get us." He rolled his eyes and smiled, "That should be more than enough for anybody."
Oz shook his head ruefully. "You sure aren't kidding about that." He sighed, rubbing his forehead. "Why do you want me to be a pack member?"
"We need one. You're a werewolf," offered Alexa. "Seems reasonable."
"And don't forget," Christian added. "You're damned cute."
Oz smiled, looking down. He trusted them, despite everything. He wanted to trust them. The smile faded as he closed his eyes and sighed. God...he just wanted to belong somewhere. To know that there were people who'd be there and wouldn't betray him. Who wanted all of him. He had thought, briefly, that he had found that with Willow. But no, she had wanted someone else. So fuck her. He turned to face the two werewolves and said, "Yeah."
Alexa whooped. Christian grinned and kissed her.
Oz shook his head, smiling. "Is that it?"
Christian sat down in the chair that Oz had vacated. "Nnnnnooo..."
"What else is there?" asked Oz.
"Well...it's like this. Werewolves are pretty neutral creatures, you know?" Alexa sat down on the ground, arranging the cloth of her toga around her as she spoke.
"Yeah..." Oz tilted his head. "So?"
"So...we've been asked to help some people." Alexa glanced up at him.
"She's using the term 'people' very loosely," interrupted Christian.
"Not people?" Oz blinked. "Then what are they?"
"Well...they're demons." She looked back down again, embarrassed.
"Ohhhhhh shit." Oz sat down on the ground, burying his face in his hands. "Why does this keep happening to me?" He sighed. "Why are we...helping these demons?"
Alexa looked up at Christian. He touched her lips with one finger, smiling sadly before looking at Oz. "They have Alexa's family."
"Oh God." Oz scooted over, taking her hand. "I'm so sorry, baby."
She lifted his hand, rubbing her cheek against it. "It's okay. They...we don't get along." Alexa shrugged. "Even so, they don't deserve to be demon food." She smiled slightly. "On the bright side, we get to wear lots of leather and stuff."
"That is a bright side." Oz nodded wisely.
Christian smiled. "And on the brighter side, we get to do mayhem. That's always fun."
Alexa leaned her head against Christian's knee. She tugged Oz closer, until he was sitting next to her. "Chris?"
"What do we do if they don't release my family?"
He shrugged. "Kill them?"
"Oz?" Alexa turned slightly. "Your thoughts?"
"Demons and vamps and bad guys, oh my." Oz leaned over and kissed Alexa lightly. "If they don't give back your family, then I'm with Christian. Besides, I've always been a big believer of safety first." He looked down for a moment. "My friends...they're planning on a party with these demons."
Alexa tilted her head at him. "Oh?"
"Yeah. Intimidation, magick and scariness. It'll be quite the groovy little shindig."
Christian hummed in pleasure. "Sounds fun." He paused a moment. "I'm assuming that there won't be any demons still alive afterwards."
Oz nodded. "Probably not. We...they...operate under the philosophy that most demons are bad. And if they're coming at you with some sort of death-inducing thing, then it's almost a positive on the badness."
"Ah." Alexa nodded. "Can we get in on the fun?"
"Don't see why not."
Giles sat behind the wheel of the Citroen trying very hard to regain control of his temper. Killing Ethan would be a guilty pleasure that would accomplish very little but making his life easier. And it wouldn't stop the demons that Ethan had summoned. Nothing, except Ethan's willing cooperation, would accomplish that.
"Really, Ripper. You should get a new car. This one is..."
"Ethan, shut up." Giles' hands tightened on the steering wheel. "I don't want to hear it."
"I'm just trying to help." Ethan's face was a model of wounded dignity. "You're being quite inhospitable."
"You've caused nothing but trouble ever since I've met you. I'm tired of it." Giles navigated the streets of Sunnydale with an ease born of experience. "Why won't you leave us be?"
"I can't." Ethan sighed sadly. "I would like nothing more than to leave this bloody city and forget about us. Forget about Eyghon. But I can't." He looked over at Giles. "And neither can you." Ethan rubbed his hands on his slacks. "We're bound, you and I. We always will be."
"I would have to agree." Ethan shrugged. "Believe it or not, Ripper, I do have better things to do than think up ways of annoying you."
"I know," said Giles, quietly.
"Then stop trying to kill me whenever we get within ten feet of one another. It's tiresome." Ethan looked out the window. "You're not as innocent as you want to be, and I'm not as guilty."
"I know that as well."
"You don't believe it."
"No. I don't." Giles voice was calm. "You summoned Eyghon for the power you would receive. You were willing to hurt innocent people."
"And you summoned him, why?" Ethan laughed. "Poor little Rupert, pushed into a fate he didn't want."
"I'm not like you."
"You're more like me than you would ever admit, Ripper."
Giles stopped the car in the faculty parking lot. His voice, when he spoke, was rough with emotion. "I hate you. I hate everything that you stand for."
Ethan opened the door. "No, Rupert, you don't. It would be easier for us both if you did."
Giles walked through the library doors, not caring if they hit Ethan and knocked him on his ass.
Buffy looked up and bounded to her feet when she saw him. "Giles! Where have you been? We've been looking for you all...oh." She glared as Ethan entered the library. "What's he doing here?"
"I'm so pleased to see you too, Buffy." Ethan's tone was dry, and he smiled pleasantly.
"You are such a weasel." She shook her head in disgust, returning to the table and seating herself next to Willow.
"I didn't know you cared." Ethan sat down on the other side of Willow and looked her over thoroughly. "My, you've grown up."
Willow squeaked and moved her chair back.
"Do you sleep on your stomach, Willow?"
She stared at him, not speaking for several moments. "N--no...why?" Willow's curiosity got the better of her. It was such an odd question...
"People say that if you sleep on your stomach, a witch is riding your back." Ethan leaned forward and smiled. "Just imagine the possibilities..."
Giles tilted his head back, looking at the ceiling and taking a deep breath. "Ethan, leave her alone."
"Fine." He pouted. "You must admit, she's lovely when she blushes."
"Just once can I beat him bloody, Giles? Please? I won't kill him." Buffy glared at Ethan.
He just smiled at her. "Darling girl."
"But I'm so very much fun."
"Both of you stop it." Giles sat down next to Xander and pulled off his glasses. "We have a problem."
"Let me guess," Xander said. "Our man Ethan here has something to do with it."
"Ethan." Giles looked at him coldly.
"What?" he asked.
"It's your story to tell."
"Good of you." Ethan smiled again, leaning back in his chair. "There are demons coming to Sunnydale, and to stop them, we have to impress them."
Giles shook his head and spoke quietly. "Five of us will be going. Ethan, me, and three others."
"Faith and me will be two of the three." Buffy looked up. "You can't keep us out of this, Giles. Not this time."
"I know, Buffy. And you're right." Giles stood up suddenly, "Does anyone want tea?"
Ethan sighed happily. "I'd love some." He sat up straighter. "Who will the last person be?"
"Oz?" Willow offered. "I mean, he's..." She looked at Ethan. "Never mind."
"He's a werewolf?" Ethan stood up and began to pace. "I know that. Where is he, anyway?"
Giles came out of his office, carrying two cups of tea, handing one to Ethan before sitting down. "Oz just called. He won't be able to attend the...party with us."
"Why not?" Ethan raised an eyebrow. "Is he carrying on with one of those lovely friends of his?"
"I try not to inquire into his personal life." Giles sipped his tea.
"Pity." Ethan added some milk to his tea. "Then who should be the fifth person? Someone impressive. Powerful too."
Cordelia frowned. "Amy? She's a witch, after all. That's gotta be pretty impressive."
"Well, I'm a witch," said Willow. "I could do it."
Ethan snickered. "No offense, dear, but you're not that scary."
"I can be scary!" Willow leapt to her feet. "I call you, Prince of Darkness!"
Xander and Buffy groaned. Giles continued to drink his tea calmly, while Ethan watched in fascination. Willow continued on, summoning various other dark forces.
"Come fill me with your black naughty evil!"
Ethan choked on his tea, laughing. Willow glared at him, but the look of mild outrage only made him laugh harder.
She sniffed, sitting back down. "It's not funny."
"Of course not," soothed Giles, hiding a smile of his own.
Ethan snickered some more. "Ah, no. Perhaps when you've been practicing a bit more."
"As much as I hate to say it," said Xander. "Maybe Angel would be best for this."
Giles nodded slowly. "His reputation would do us good. And he can fight."
"All right then." Ethan smiled brightly. "Let's get a hold of this Angel and start planning."
Buffy looked at him in disgust before she picked up her jacket. "I'll go get him. And Faith. Giles..."
"Be careful." She cast a final warning look at Ethan before kicking the doors open and striding through them.
Ethan looked around the table at the angry, distrustful faces and grinned. "So, is anyone up for a rousing game of poker?"
Everyone except Giles glared balefully at him.
Giles just reached for a bottle of whiskey, pouring a generous amount into his cup of tea.
"Uh...Rupert..." Ethan frowned as he looked through Giles' closet.
Giles rested his head against the wall and growled quietly before asking, "Yes, Ethan? What is it now?"
"Don't you own anything other than tweed?" Ethan pushed several hangers out of the way, smiling broadly when he spotted the black suit hanging in the back. "My, my...you haven't lost your sense of style." He pulled it out and tossed it on the bed. "Yes...this will do nicely."
"Ethan," Giles turned around and glared at him. "Don't you have to go dress yourself?"
"There's plenty of time for that." He watched as Giles moved around the room, setting out an array of weaponry that would have had Buffy lifting an eyebrow in surprise. Giles grabbed the suit off the bed, turning to go downstairs. Ethan touched his shoulder lightly. "You don't have to go, Rupert."
Giles closed his eyes, remembering things that were probably better off forgotten. "Ethan..."
"Stay, Rupert." Ethan's voice grew lower, sliding his hand up to curve around the back of Giles' neck. "We have time..." He leaned forward, until Giles could feel the warmth of his skin. "Say yes..."
Giles opened his eyes, seeing Ethan's face so close to his own. Remembering.
Ethan smiled, his lips curving into the mischievous grin that Giles remembered so well. He moved closer, until their bodies were touching, a solid line of contact and heat, brushing Giles' lips with his fingers. "Say yes, Rupert."
Giles sighed, a soft exhalation of breath and tilted his head forward, eliminating what little distance remained between them and kissing Ethan's lips, his tongue sliding inside when Ethan sighed and pulled his head closer. Giles moved slightly, shifting, sliding his arms around Ethan's body and pulling him closer. Ethan gasped, and turned them both, pushing Giles back until the bed hit the back of his knees.
Ethan pulled away, laughing breathlessly. "I'll take that as a yes."
Giles pushed him away, breathing harshly. "Get out, Ethan."
"Do you really want me to, Rupert?" He moved closer again, stroking the back of his hand along Giles' face, across his jaw, touching the corner of his mouth gently with his thumb.
"Please." Giles pulled back and turned around. "Please, Ethan, leave."
He didn't turn around until he heard the front door close with a slam.
Oz tilted his head back, letting the hot water run through his hair and wash out the dye. He could hear Christian and Alexa arguing outside about something, he didn't know or care what, before it grew quiet again. He stood under the spray for a few more minutes, enjoying the harsh sting against his back. He turned the water off, listening to the sound of his breathing as it echoed through the bathroom, mingling with the faint tinkle of dripping water. He shook his head, flinging drops of water everywhere as he shoved back the shower curtain and froze.
"Towel?" offered Christian, eyes locked firmly on Oz's face.
"God damn it!" Oz yanked the curtain back in front of him, swearing as he pulled the curtain rod down to crash onto his head. "Fuck!" He pulled the shower curtain up, wrapping it around his hips with an attempt at dignity. He looked up finally, blushing furiously. "Hi."
"Hello." Christian picked up the towel that had been resting in his lap as he sat on the edge of the sink. "Want the towel?"
"Yes, please." Oz stared, unblinking, as Christian slid off the counter and moved forward a few steps, stopping when the bathtub prevented him from going further.
"And what will you give me in return?" he whispered, eyes still on Oz's face.
"What do you want?" asked Oz, carefully.
Christian laughed, reaching up to stroke the side of Oz's face, following the contour of his cheekbone, tracing the line of his jaw and sliding down his neck and chest, stopping on top of the hand holding the shower curtain up. He smiled lazily.
"Ah," said Oz.
"Is that a yes?"
Oz blinked. "It's an 'ah'."
"I see." Christian moved his hand, sliding his fingers beneath the edge of the curtain. He felt the muscles of Oz's stomach tense against the light touch and grinned, tugging on the cloth. "Let go."
"I'd rather not." Oz looked at Christian evenly, knuckles whitening on the death grip he had on the shower curtain.
"To a fault."
"Mm. You'll get over it." Christian pulled back a little and handed Oz the towel. "Here. I'll put the shower curtain back up."
"Thank you." Oz watched the other man carefully as he wrapped the towel around himself.
"Oh, we're not done yet," said Christian as he stretched up and settled the curtain rod against the walls of the shower.
Oz closed the lid on the toilet and sat down, trying to make sure there were no convenient gaps in the material. "Somehow, I didn't think so."
Christian turned around, smiling at Oz brightly and waving through the open door at Alexa, who was watching them curiously. He shut the door, locking it.
Oz snickered as he heard Alexa shout, "You are such an ass, Chris!" He tried to put a serious expression on his face when Christian glared at him, but failed when he saw the disgruntled look on Christian's face.
"Now," he said, "Where were we?"
"Uh...I think you were trying to get me naked."
"Right." Christian nodded and moved to stand in front of him. Oz's face grew serious as Christian placed his hands on either side of Oz's face, holding him still.
Alexa pounded on the door and shouted, "Be gentle with him! I want a turn!"
Oz chuckled, laughing harder when Christian shouted back, "Go away!"
She gasped in outrage. "No! It's my bathroom!"
Christian growled, striding over to the door and yanking it open. "I know what I'm doing!"
"Then get on with it!" She crossed her arms and glared at him.
"I will once you stop interrupting." He glared back at her. "Now go away."
"Damn right." She sniffed as he shut the door in her face. "I really intensely dislike you sometimes, Chris."
Christian ignored her, watching Oz laugh. He moved forward quickly, leaning down and kissing Oz gently. Oz was warm and relaxed from a combination of the laughter and the moist heat of the bathroom, and he leaned into the kiss, resting a hand on Christian's chest, feeling the strong beat of the other man's heart under his palm.
"You want me?" asked Christian, kneeling in front of Oz, his hand tangled in Oz's new, dark red hair.
Oz laughed, resting his forehead against Christian's and blushing. "I think that's fairly obvious."
Christian purred, sliding his free hand under the towel. "Good."
"That...uh," Oz gasped softly. "That tickles."
"Is that all?" Christian slid his hand up Oz's thigh, brushing very lightly over the sensitive skin of his groin, moving up and around to the outside curve of his hip and stopping there. "I'll have to try harder."
"No...no, no," Oz stammered. "You're doing pretty well there."
"How long has it been since you--" Christian began.
Oz blushed furiously and shook his head.
"Never?" Christian's hand moved again, his fingers stroking the length of Oz's erection as he leaned forward and kissed him deeply. "Even with a girl?"
"Mm." Oz made a small sound in his throat, his hand clenching on Christian's shoulder. "I...damn. You should've been a musician."
Christian laughed quietly, kissing Oz again. "Maybe I am." He licked and kissed his way to Oz's ear, whispering, "Let go." His fingers continued to move, the strokes growing quicker, a bit less gentle.
Oz shuddered. "I don't..."
"Please..." Oz swallowed. "I don't..." He cried out softly, his hips moving forward, pushing into the warmth of Christian's hand.
"Don't be afraid."
"Christian..." Oz's breathing grew harsh. "I--"
Christian kissed him roughly, feeling him tense. "You're wanted, Oz." Another kiss, another stroke. "You always will be." Oz groaned, closing his eyes. "Let go."
Oz shuddered, coming hard against Christian's talented hands. They sat like that for a few moments, until Oz's breathing returned to normal. His eyes widened suddenly and he slid off the seat, into the other man's arms, shaking. "Oh God..."
Christian sighed, cradling Oz's head, stroking his hair. "Shhh..."
Alexa opened the door, mouth open to make some debatably witty comment, stopping when she took in the scene in front of her. She walked over to them, going to her knees beside Oz, touching the back of his neck gently. "Oz? Honey?"
He shook harder, shaking his head. "Oh God."
She looked up at Christian, eyebrows raised. Christian shrugged, murmuring soothingly at the smaller man in his arms. Alexa wrapped her arms around Oz's waist, curling her body around his, resting her cheek against his back. "Sweetie, it's okay. What's wrong?"
"He's going to kill me," Oz whispered. He buried his face further into Christian's shoulder, holding Alexa's hand against his stomach. "Oh God..."
Christian kept stroking Oz's hair. "He won't. I swear, he won't." He began to rock back and forth gently. "Shhhh."
Oz trembled between them, body tense and hunched over. "I..."
Alexa squeezed his hand. "Shhh, it'll be okay."
"I'm so scared," said Oz, his voice almost inaudible. "This...he'll kill me."
"He won't hurt you," whispered Christian. "He won't."
Alexa placed a gentle kiss between Oz's shoulder-blades. "It'll be okay, sweetie. You'll be okay." She rubbed her cheek against his back. "We're here."
They held each other, the soft whispers of comfort echoing against the cool tiles, blending into a quiet song of solace and compassion for their trembling, scarred friend.
Giles picked up the sword, a rapier really, sliding it into its sheath, and attaching the whole thing to an over-the-shoulder harness. He frowned, wondering if he would be able to move well enough with the sword while wearing the suit jacket, and fearing that it wouldn't matter.
The phone rang shrilly, interrupting his thoughts and he reached for it. "Hello?"
"Hey, Giles!" Giles smiled to hear the cheerfulness in Buffy's voice.
He rubbed his eyes, wearily. "Buffy, are you and Faith ready?"
"Yep. Willing and able, too. So's Angel." Buffy paused. "Giles, you did say you wanted us to be intimidating, right?"
"Er, well, yes. We need to impress the Daevas," he said. "Why?"
"Faith wants to know if we can bring weapons." Buffy sighed. "I told her that we probably couldn't--"
"Actually, I believe we can." Giles looked down at the assortment of weapons in front of him. "I am."
"Really? Huh." What Giles heard next was muffled, as Buffy shouted, "Faith! Get your toys, they're allowed!" She spoke into the phone again. "Okay, that's what we wanted to know. See you at the library."
"Very good. Good-bye, Buffy." He was left listening to the dial tone. "Strange girls."
Christian pulled up his pants, leaving them unfastened until he could tuck his shirt in, and walked over to the closet. He rummaged through the shirts, pulling out several and tossing them on the bed. The door to the bedroom opened, then shut, behind him.
"Hey, 'Lexa." He didn't turn around, pulling out several vests and tossing them to join the mess on the bed.
"Hey there, Chris." She sat on the bed and ran her hands over the raw silk of the shirts, smiling faintly. "Decided what you're gonna wear?"
"Pants. A shirt. A vest. Boots." He shrugged, pulling that last item out of the closet and turning around.
Alexa grinned. "Going commando, I see."
"Underwear would leave a line." He frowned down at the assortment of shirts. "Which color should I wear?"
"Underwear wouldn't leave a line if you didn't wear pants that were so damned tight. And hm." She tilted her head. "Are you going to be the bad ass, or am I?"
"You, babe. You're much more impressive."
"Then the blue. It's less harsh than the other colors." She held the pale blue shirt up to his chest, nodding. "It looks good on you, too. Matches your eyes."
Christian took the shirt from her, pulling it on and buttoning it up to the collar. "How is he?"
She rummaged through the engraved box on the dresser. "Cuff links?"
"Yeah, thanks." He looked down at her, as she stood in front of him, turning back the cuffs on his sleeves and fastening them with the heavy silver. "Silver?"
"The burning will keep your mind on things." She stepped back, looking at him critically. "The leather vest, too."
"What look am I going for, exactly?" Christian asked, as he picked the vest up and slid it on.
"Trashy, yet elegant." Alexa started buttoning up the vest. "He...he's a little freaked out."
"Damn." He frowned. "Who was he talking about?"
"Hm?" She sighed as her robe slid off one shoulder. "Who was who talking about?"
"Oz. He kept saying that someone would kill him. Who was it?"
Alexa met Christian's eyes. "I'm surprised you don't already know."
Christian touched her cheek. "Tell me."
She pulled away, shoving the robe back up. "Is than an order, Oh leader mine?"
"No. A request." Christian sat down on the bed, pulling the boots on. "You won't tell me?"
"No. He asked me not to tell anyone." She turned around, looking at him helplessly. "He's a friend, Chris. I don't betray my friends."
He looked up, and set his foot back down on the ground. Christian leaned forward and bowed his head, his hair swinging forward to hide his face. "Am I?"
She sighed, walking over to him and kneeling between his legs. She pushed his hair back, tucking it behind his ear. "I'd never betray you. You're my alpha, Chris. My sometime wild-sex-for-no-good-reason guy." Alexa sat back on her heels, regarding him closely. "I would die for you."
He smiled, closing his eyes so she couldn't read the expression in them. They were playing a game. Christian was good at games; he had been playing them for a long enough time. "That's not what I asked, 'Lexa."
"I don't know, Chris. You never wanted to be, before." She closed her eyes, her head bowed and her hands clasped in her lap, looking like a servant submitting to her master's will.
Christian smiled to himself. Alexa was as submissive as a pit bull. It was why he had chosen her. He didn't need, or want, someone who would do whatever he said without argument. He wanted the arguing, the good-natured insults, the complete lack of awe. "And now?"
"You want to redefine our relationship now?" She looked at him in surprise. "Chris, this isn't the time."
"I know." He flopped back onto the bed, flinging an arm over his eyes. "You'd die for me?"
"In a heartbeat. You know that." Alexa stood up, pulling her robe tighter around her body. "Why?"
"I don't want you to." Christian sat up and reached for a brush. "I'm not worth dying for, 'Lexa. There aren't many people in the world who are."
She smiled at him. "I wasn't planning on dying any time soon, Chris."
"Of course not. But you're not immortal," he said. He looked at her for a few minutes before adding, "Damn hard to kill, but not immortal."
"You're not, either," she pointed out.
He shrugged. "No, I'm not immortal." Christian tugged the brush through his hair, pulling it back from his face. He got up, searching for something on the dresser.
"What are you looking for?"
"A rubber band." He found one and secured his hair at the nape of his neck.
Alexa walked over to him, looking through his box of random things again, pulling out a silver clasp. "Why the hell do you own so much of this stuff?" She fastened the clasp around the rubber band, and sucked on her finger.
"Because it hurts." He shrugged. "Crazy, I know."
"No, not so crazy." Alexa walked over to the door and opened it. "He'll come around, Chris. Oz likes you."
"And how," he asked, "would you know that?"
"Mm-hmm." He looked over at her, grinning. "If he told you something, and you're keeping it from me, I'll..."
"Are you afraid of anything?" Christian started to pull on his other boot, lacing it up tightly.
"Probably." She grinned at him. "And even if he did tell me, why would I tell you?"
"I'll pay you," he offered.
Alexa smiled sweetly. "You deserve a little uncertainty Chris."
"You're a heartless woman, 'Lexa."
"You know...you're right." She blew him a kiss, shutting the door behind her.
He couldn't do it. Christian couldn't let Alexa have the last word. He shouted through the door, "Tease!"
He could hear her laughing all the way down the hall.
Giles checked the safety on the Browning 9 mm, making sure it wouldn't go off and shoot him in the foot or someplace less...desirable. It had been years since he'd carried a gun. It had been years since he'd had to.
He slid the straps of the shoulder holster on over his vest, securing his belt through the loops and anchoring the whole silly thing. "Dammit, Ethan," he muttered, as he slid the gun into the holster. "Why do I let you talk me into these bloody things?"
Giles picked up the suit's jacket, brushing it off before sliding it on. It hung neatly, concealing the gun perfectly. Not that concealment was all that important. He sighed, picking up the sword that lay on his bed, and tested it's balance. He slid it back into the scabbard, which was resting at an angle along his right hip. He turned back toward the mirror, and studied himself critically. The suit jacket hung over the hilt of the sword, making it difficult to draw. Giles shoved that side of the jacket back, freeing the hilt and exposing the ammunition clips for the gun.
"Hell." He turned back to his closet, grabbing a trench coat and pulling it on. Giles sighed. Ethan owed him for this ridiculousness.
Alexa shut the door behind her, humming quietly as she pulled her robe off and tossed it onto the bed. "You've got your mother in a whirl 'cause she's....not sure if you're a boy or a girl..." She rummaged around the closet, emerging with a short leather skirt and a pair of black PVC leggings. "Hmm." She looked between the two, trying to decide between short or tight.
She resumed humming as she wriggled her way into the leggings, not wanting to flash anyone, and not trusting herself to keep from doing so. "Hey babe, your hair's alright...hey babe, let's go out tonight...you like me, and I like it all..." She pulled open a drawer, searching for something to wear on top. "Ah." Alexa held the abbreviated Victorian corset up to her chest, wondering how well it went with the pants and ending up pleased with the result. "Perfect."
Alexa whirled, the towel she had wound around her hair sliding off her head. "Oz, perfect timing. Help me get into this thing."
He took the corset from her, looking at it curiously. "This is clothing?"
"You've seen me wear it before." She grabbed it back from him, unlacing the back and sliding it on. "I think you have, anyway."
"I think I would have remembered it." Oz began to re-lace the back. "It's a tube, Alexa. With metal bars."
"You're exaggerating." She sighed. "Oz, it's supposed to close in the back."
"Will you be able to breathe?" He tugged the laces tighter.
"Of course." She took a deep breath. "See? Perfectly fine."
Oz shrugged. "Okay." He paused before he finished tying the laces. "Tight enough for you?"
She studied herself in the mirror. "Yeah...yeah, that's good." Alexa turned to him and grinned. "How do I look?"
"Like Barbie does bondage." Oz tilted his head. "You're...damn."
"Good damn, or bad damn?" She dragged a chair over to the mirror, settling herself with a hair dryer and a brush. "Oz?"
"Are you okay?" She glanced at him over her shoulder. "I mean, with everything that's happened and all."
"Yeah...I guess..." He stared at her. "Doesn't that hurt?"
"What?" Alexa pulled out several ribbons, setting them on her lap.
Oz gestured in the general vicinity of her chest. "That. It's..." He made a vague motion with his hands.
"Honey, that," she mimicked his motion, "That doesn't tell me a lot. What exactly do you think should hurt?"
"Your chest. The corset. It..." He motioned again.
"It squishes my breasts?" Alexa grinned. "It's supposed to do that."
"For eye-popping cleavage."
"And it matches the pants."
"That's...good. Matching is very important." He turned faintly pink. "I, ah, I think I'll go now."
"No...stay." She walked over to him, tugging him over to the bed and pushing him down. "You know that we care about you, right?"
"I caught that, yeah." Oz smiled. "Thank you."
Alexa hugged him. "I'm sorry if Chris came on a little...strong. He's like that."
"Yeah, I got that too." He looked down at the bedspread, absently picking at a loose thread. "Why did he do that?"
"Yeah." Oz drew his knees up to his chest, resting his chin on his crossed arms. "It was kind of sudden."
Alexa wrapped her arms around him. "He...well, he wants you. And he wants you to trust him."
"So he seduces me in the bathroom?" He relaxed against her. "That's an odd way of doing things."
"Do you like him?" asked Alexa, curiously.
Oz blinked. "As a person?"
"Of course." He thought for a moment. "He's pushy, and a bastard."
She snickered. "Yeah, he's that. But he does what he can to protect us." Alexa shrugged. "It's his duty."
"I kinda get the feeling that I signed on for more than I know." Oz buried his face in his arms, pulling a little bit away from Alexa. "I don't understand what's happening."
"It's...it breaks down like this. There's an alpha werewolf, who, in our case, would be Chris. And then there are beta werewolves. Us. And he gets power from us, and we get power from him. And we're all one happy, furry family. Except that we can have sex with each other. And there's that whole howling at the moon thing too." Alexa rubbed the back of Oz's neck. "It's not so bad, Oz. I swear."
"I'm afraid." Oz lifted his head and looked at her. "I'm afraid of what I might do."
"Don't be. You're not, no matter what anyone says, a vicious, murdering animal. You're not." She pushed his feet off the bed, and pushed Oz onto his back, laying beside him. "What do you do, anyway?"
"On the nights when you change." She turned onto her side, propping her head up on her hand. "We never see you around."
"Oh." He covered his eyes with his arm. "I get locked up."
"Locked up? In a cage?" Alexa sat up, shock and sadness on her face. "Oh, Oz..."
"Well, this month you're staying with me and Chris." She lay back down. "A cage. God. You at least eat something, right?"
"Yeah. Cordelia, she brought me..." he paused, "You remember Cordelia, right?"
"She's unforgettable," she answered promptly.
"Yeah, she is that. She brought me steak for New Year's." He smiled. "She used to date my friend Devon."
"Are you two a couple?" Alexa took his hand in her own, playing with his fingers. "I mean, I know you were dating someone. And it went badly."
"Yeah...and no, we aren't dating."
"Too bad," she paused. "So who was it?"
"Who?" Oz turned over a little, facing her.
"Your girlfriend. The one that things went badly with."
"Willow. She um...she chose someone else." He picked up a lock of her hair, playing with it absent-mindedly. "I walked in on them kissing and I didn't handle things well...I hurt her, I think."
Oz looked at her silently.
"Stupid question, I'm sorry." Alexa leaned over and kissed his forehead. "She's an idiot."
He smiled. "Thanks. That means a lot."
"Come on," Alexa slid off the bed. "Let's get you dressed for the party. Not that we're not going to talk later, but we do have to be there soon and you're not even ready yet." She smiled. "For shame."
Oz followed her as she took him over to Christian's room. Alexa knocked on the door, "Hey, Chris, are you decent?"
"Never," came the response. "Come on in."
She opened the door, dragging a blushing Oz behind her. "He needs party clothes. Do we have anything that'll fit?"
Christian looked up at them, and then back at his closet. "Well, hm." He searched through the clothing and tossed a shirt at Oz. "That'll fit you."
Alexa took the shirt from Oz, studying it. "Well, it'll match his hair, at least."
"It's...clingy," was Oz's only comment as he pulled off his t-shirt and pulled on the dark red shirt. Christian opened his mouth to say something, shutting it when Alexa hit the back of his head and glared. She shook her head at him.
"Okay...that's nice." She started going through Christian's closet, emerging with a pair of pants. "Here, try these on."
"Leather?" asked Oz.
"I don't own anything else." Christian smiled innocently, grinning when the other two looked at him. "What?"
"You are..." started Alexa.
"Incorrigible," Oz finished.
Oz slid the pants on over his boxers and fastened them. "They're kinda big," he said, as the pants slid down to a point low on his hips.
Christian grabbed a belt out of a drawer. "Here, this'll help." He watched Oz thread the belt through the loops. "You need to eat more."
"Yeah, I get that a lot." He buckled the belt and turned around to face them. "Better?"
Alexa nodded. "You look..." she frowned, searching for the right image and giving up. "You look nice."
Oz smiled. "I've got shoes with me."
"Boots?" asked Christian.
"Steel toed." Oz nodded. "I'll uh, I'll go put them on now."
They watched him leave the room, closing the door quietly behind him. Christian shook his head. "He's shy."
"Yeah, I guess," agreed Alexa. "But only around you. You do have a tendency to bring out the good, bad and ugly in people."
Christian frowned at her. "You've been watching Turner Classics again, haven't you?"
"Nope. Cartoon Network. But I know my pop culture." She lay back on the bed.
"You've lost me."
"The Good, the Bad, and Huckleberry Hound." Alexa lifted her head up and looked at him. "Never mind. I swear, you really need to watch more t.v."
"And rot what little is left of my brain? I think not." Christian pulled out a knife, looking at it thoughtfully. "We are killing demons tonight, right?"
"Mm-hmm." She looked at the knife and grinned. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were overcompensating."
Angel looked confused.
Faith rolled her eyes.
Buffy whined. "We have to walk there? I'm wearing heels."
"Don't you always...never mind." Giles shook his head. "None of us has a car that will fit everyone. Ethan won't let anyone drive his...what is that called?"
"A Yugo," answered Ethan, as he leaned against the library table.
Buffy and Faith snickered.
"It was all the rental place had left." Ethan's expression dared anyone to comment. And promised painful retribution if anyone took the dare.
"Yes." Giles pulled off his glasses and began cleaning them. "Since we don't have another option, we walk."
"I knew I should've worn my boots," muttered Buffy. Faith laughed, sliding her arm around Buffy's shoulders and leaning close to whisper into her ear.
The three men watched the two Slayers laugh and talk and...wrestle playfully.
Angel shook his head and smiled. "I'm trying very hard not to get turned on," he said quietly.
Ethan laughed. Giles ducked his head to hide a grin.
Faith turned around, smiled sweetly at Angel and flipped him off. "Try harder."
"Well, I guess turned on isn't such a bad thing to be." Angel shrugged philosophically.
"Okay, just so I'm clear on this...we're going to volunteer our services to a bunch of foul, murderous demons which would, in essence, be something like betraying my friends?" Oz stepped over several empty bottles carefully.
Christian nodded. "In essence, yeah."
"And I shouldn't be bothered by this?"
"Nope," answered Alexa.
"Any particular reason why?" asked Oz.
"Well, we're planning to kill yon Foul Creatures of Darkness. That should go a long way toward the non-betrayal angle of things." Christian hefted the bag at his side. "See, toys."
Alexa grinned. "Toys of mass destruction."
"Because we're somewhat sociopathic." Christian wrapped an arm around Oz's shoulder. "It's fun."
"Psychopathic." Alexa came up on the other side of Oz and took his hand. "We know right from wrong, but we don't care."
Christian shrugged. "Good. Bad. I'm the guy with the gun."
"Oooh, a reference to the entertainment world." Alexa grinned at him. "I'm all a- shiver."
Oz raised an eyebrow. "That's new."
"So, are you okay with this?" Alexa asked Oz.
He shrugged. "Sure. I just needed a little justification. It does wonders for my ability to deal with things."
She smiled. "Good."
Oz's eyes widened as Alexa tugged him away from Christian and pinned him against the nearest wall. "Um...'Lexa?"
"Hush. It's my turn." She leaned forward and licked her way up Oz's neck.
Christian sighed and leaned against the wall, watching them for a while. "We're going to be late."
She pulled away from Oz, who was looking rather dazed. Or extremely happy. "You know, you have this awful habit of spoiling my fun."
"Serves you right," Christian retorted.
"Go kill a fuzzy animal." Alexa pushed him away. "I'm trying to be un- stressed."
"And you're doing a marvelous job. But we'll be late. And that's not good." He wrapped her braid around his hand and tugged gently. "Demons, remember?"
Alexa glared at him. "No, Chris, I don't remember that there's a bunch of demons holding my family hostage. In fact, I don't remember that three times a month, I grow fur." She rubbed her forehead and closed her eyes. "I wanted to forget, Christian. For a little while."
Oz moved towards her, until he was pressed against her back and wrapped his arms around her waist, kissing the back of her shoulder lightly.
She sighed, and covered his hands with her own. Alexa stayed that way for a few moments, before she pushed herself away and stalked down the alleyway. She kicked a nearby trashcan. "Fuck. I hate this. I hate this, I hate this, I hate this."
Oz and Christian exchanged looks before joining her, one on either side. Christian took her hand, and sat down on the curb, pulling her down to sit beside him. Oz settled himself silently on the other side, watching them both carefully.
"Alexa?" Christian studied her closely. "Are you going to be okay?"
"No." She stretched, arching her back and rolling her neck. "I'm fucked. Completely, totally, royally fucked. We all are."
"How do you figure?" asked Christian.
"Secret identities. We won't have them."
Oz blinked. "Oh. Well...damn."
"Yeah." Alexa leaned back, a model of relaxation and nonchalance. "If they die, I'll feel horribly guilty. If they live, they won't keep their mouths shut. I don't think they're capable of it. And I'll feel guilty. I don't like feeling guilty."
Christian sighed. "Maybe they won't remember."
"Sure. Whatever." She looked at him. "Things have gotten really out of control, Chris."
He nodded slowly. "Yeah. Now I'm pissed."
"Well, this is a all too familiar scene," commented Oz. "Demons about to destroy all of humanity, and everything goes to hell because of personal problems."
"Ain't that always the way?" asked Alexa. "Little things like family and secrets get in the way of saving the world." She shook her head. "I want to kill something."
"I second that," added Christian.
Oz just looked at them and shook his head.
Faith glanced back at the men trailing behind her and Buffy and smiled. "Hey, B, check it out." She nodded back. "I think they're bonding."
Buffy looked back quickly and grinned. "Yeah, it looks like they are." She frowned. "As long as they don't start getting all buddy buddy with Ethan, we'll all be fine."
"You don't like him, huh?"
"That's the understatement of the century. He's a weasel." Buffy sighed. "He's..."
"Kinda cute," finished Faith.
"You have the most appalling taste." Buffy sighed and looked back, smiling at Angel.
Faith rolled her eyes. "And you wouldn't know a damn thing about that," she whispered.
"Hm?" Buffy grinned at Faith. "Did you say something?"
"Not a thing, B."
"I really hate when you call me that."
"Really," murmured Faith. "I didn't know that."
Oz, Christian and Alexa stood outside the warehouse.
"It's...large," commented Christian.
"And in charge." Oz frowned. "I'm sorry, that was awful."
Alexa grinned at him. "Yes, it was."
"So...what? We just go inside?" asked Oz. The door swung open slowly, revealing a large man who smiled widely at seeing them.
"You must be Alexa. Your family has said so much about you." The voice did not match the package. The man's voice was smooth, soft, with a faint hint of an accent.
"I'll just bet they have," mutter Alexa. "Hi. You are?"
"I am Aka Manah." His smile grew wider. "Are these your friends?"
He looked at her reproachfully, chiding her for her rudeness. "Come inside, please." He moved aside, motioning the trio through the door. Aka's voice boomed through the warehouse. "Our first guests have arrived!"
Alexa stopped suddenly, and Oz walked into her, stepping back and to the side to get a better view of the room. His eyes widened.
Christian whistled softly, taking in the various vampires, and the four bodies swinging
silently from the rafters. "We're fucked."
Buffy frowned and nodded toward a couple in the park. "Faith. Badness."
"Yeah!" Faith pulled out a stake, smiled brightly at Buffy and ran forward. "Hey! Ugly! Yeah you, you lousy piece of crap..." She blocked a kick from the vampire and spun around, backhanding it across the jaw.
Angel started to join the fight, stopping when Buffy put a hand on his chest and shook her head. "It's Faith's turn to play." He looked at her and raised an eyebrow.
Giles joined Buffy and Angel, watching his other charge pummel the vampire into bloody insensibility. "She certainly does seem to enjoy her work."
"Sometimes a little too much," said Buffy.
Ethan watched for a moment. "Lovely." Buffy glared at him. Ethan smiled pleasantly. "I wasn't being sarcastic. She's quite lovely."
"Stay away from her." Buffy stepped forward threateningly.
"Dear child." Ethan sat down on a nearby bench. "Will she be done soon?"
"I hate you."
Alexa stared up at the four swinging bodies. "You killed them," she commented calmly.
"Yes." One of the demons came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. "Aren't they lovely?"
"You killed my family." She smiled. It was a terrible smile, filled with dark, unspeakably violent things. "And you had promised not to do that."
He licked her neck. "You taste good...so did they."
The smile grew wider. "You ate them. How terribly civilized." She turned and lashed out, all in one smooth motion, one hand reaching for his throat, the other reaching for his stomach. "Allow me to return the favor."
Alexa then proceeded to try and rip him apart.
Sadly, she failed.
"Buffy, heads up!" Faith tossed the other Slayer a stake. "Your turn to fight the big nasty."
Buffy caught the stake and turned around. "Ooh, he's pretty, Faith!"
"They're all pretty in the dark, B." Faith settled back to watch the ensuing fight. Angel leaned next to her and smiled. She nodded at him. "Dead boy."
"You've been talking to Xander." Angel sighed.
She snorted. "Talking. Sure."
Angel stared at her silently. "You're kidding."
"Yeah. You sound surprised." Faith glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. "But that's not why you're talking to me."
Angel sighed and watched Buffy kick the vampire in the chest. "She's beautiful."
"I guess. If you like that type." Faith shrugged.
"And you don't." It wasn't a question, and yet, it was. Angel watched the dark-haired Slayer carefully. "Like that type, I mean."
Faith smiled slowly. "I like every type."
Oz watched Alexa straddle the demon. His first thought was, "She's upset." His second thought was, "Oh darn." And when the three other demons attacked them, his thoughts followed an interesting pattern of creative swearing, blind panic, and utter fury.
He ducked under the arm of a demon, yelping when the snakes on that demon's shoulders tried to bite him. He kicked hard, connecting with the demon's shin, gaining a little time to regroup and examine the situation at hand. Alexa was still trying to eviscerate one, Christian was ripping his way through a group of vampires, and two more demons - Oz noted the female one, thinking that she might be easier to kill than the others - had entered the fray.
The female grinned at him. Oz bared his teeth and growled. He leapt forward, tackling her to the ground and pounding her head into the cement floor. He was so intent on his prey that he never heard Aka Manah step up behind him.
Oz was suddenly flying through the air, and colliding with the wall, before slumping down to the ground in a dazed heap. He had the distant thought that a impact of that magnitude should have killed him. When the female moved to stand in front of him, he rather wished that it had. And then he thought nothing at all.
Ethan watched Buffy and Faith fight a small group of vampires. "You've taught them well, Ripper. You should be proud."
"I am." Giles shifted uncomfortably. "Bloody gun," he muttered under his breath.
"Lovely, charming, intelligent, exuberant..." Ethan shook his head. "You're quite lucky."
"Shut up, Ethan."
Oz came back to consciousness slowly, drifting up through layers of confusion and pain. He moved his head, grateful that he could, and sat up. His world began spinning in a nauseating rush of color. "Ow."
He looked around, taking in the sight of Alexa bound and gagged beside him, a chain leading from the wall attached to the collar around her neck. He reached up to touch his throat, feeling a slender band of metal encircling it. He felt around the edge of the collar, finding where the chain connected, feeling the delicate links and tugging experimentally.
"It's silver," said Christian, from behind him. "We can't break it."
"Oh. You tried?" Oz leaned against the wall and closed his eyes.
"Yeah." Christian touched the band of metal and snarled softly. "I hate these things."
Oz opened his eyes and looked at him. There was blood all over the collar, where Christian had spent a futile few moments strangling himself in an effort to break the chain. "Wow. That looks painful."
"Mm." Christian touched the bruise on Oz's cheek. "You okay?"
"Peachy. How's Alexa?"
"I can see that. Is she going to be okay?" asked Oz.
Christian shrugged. "She should be. And if she isn't...lucky her."
"They're going to torture us. If she dies, she gets out of that."
"She'll be dead," Oz pointed out. "Which isn't a great thing to be."
"Sometimes...sometimes it's a wonderful thing to be."
Ethan sauntered over to Angel, wrapping a friendly arm around his shoulders and grinning.
"What do you want?" growled Angel.
Ethan put on an offended expression. "Do I have to want something to be friendly?"
"Yes!" came the answer from the rest of the group.
"Well...I love you all too." Ethan walked a bit away from the group, trying to give off an air of offended dignity and failing miserably.
Aka Manah stood in front of the werewolves, smiling pleasantly. "Ah, I see you're all awake now. Good." He spread his hands out. "The introductions were interrupted earlier. I," he placed his hand on his chest, "am Aka Manah. I lead my brethren." He gestured at the female demon, who smiled brightly and waved. "This lovely flower of womanhood is my sister, Druj. She has chosen the small one to be her consort. Be honored, little werewolf."
Oz stared unblinkingly at Druj.
"Yes..." Aka continued. "This one is my brother, Azi Dahaka. As you can see, he needs a body." Aka touched Alexa's cheek. "He has chosen you, my dear."
Alexa turned her head away.
"And lastly is my youngest brother, Aeshma. By default, he gets your alpha. We all considered it a fair trade."
Christian's eyes glittered. "You're dead," he whispered, "you're all dead."
Aka smiled gently. "Of course, child."
Christian matched the expression. "Bite me."
"Let's proceed to the entertainment, shall we?"
"How much further is the place, anyway?" Buffy kicked a can down the street. "We've been walking for a long time and I'm running out of stakes."
Giles sighed patiently. "We're almost there, Buffy. Be patient."
"Odd, but I wouldn't have guessed that patience is one of her virtues," said Ethan.
Faith glanced at him and smiled grimly. "We don't have time to be patient."
"Right." Ethan frowned for a moment. "There's something..." He crumpled suddenly, curling into a fetal position.
"Ethan?" Giles moved quickly, kneeling beside his fallen friend.
Ethan groaned, struggling to sit up. "Bloody hell."
"What happened?" Giles demanded.
"I don't bloody know and I don't bloody well like it." He held out a hand to Giles. "Help me up."
Giles pulled Ethan to his feet, steadying him. "Ethan..."
"Leave it, Ripper. We don't have much time."
They began to run.
Oz breathed in deeply, his eyes closed. Blood trickled down the side of his face, coming from a cut high on his forehead where he had slammed into a wall after the bitch -- the female demon whose name was drifting somewhere in the back of Oz's conscious mind -- had flung him into the small, closed room. He opened his eyes, and struggled to his feet, using the wall as support. Thrown into two walls in less than an hour. It was a new personal best.
The demon was suddenly just there, standing in front of him and smiling tenderly. A low growl trickled out of his throat and he began edging away. The bitch - Oz frowned, realizing that his knowledge of foul things to call a female was sadly lacking - moved her hand over his eyes, shutting them.
Oz shoved her away, opening his eyes. He sprang forward, fully intending to beat the demon silly and then he saw her face.
Red hair, and wide green eyes, smooth, pale skin. Oz jerked himself back, scrambling to get away from her. Willow. She sat up, wiping a trickle of blood away.
"Oz?" She reached out a hand to him, touched his cheek lightly, caressing it. He moved back further, backing himself into a corner. "What's wrong? Aren't you glad to see me?"
"Bitch," he hissed, trying to get around her. "You're not her. She's safe from you."
She grabbed him, her hands on either side of his face, holding him tenderly. "Why are you doing this? I just want what's best for you..."
He pushed her away again, more gently, unable to get over the sight of Willow in front of him. Oz ran toward the door. And she was suddenly there again. Looking decidedly less female.
Oz stopped and blinked as the emotionally reactive part of his mind began shrieking to get the hell out of that room and away from the psycho shapechanging bitch from hell. Sadly, he hadn't listened to that part of his mind since he was ten, and had no intention of starting right then.
His father, this time. Impeccably dressed, conservative, and sneering. He leaned forward, his voice soft. "You are a miserable piece of shit, you know that?"
"Yeah, you've said." Oz looked at the door frantically. He flinched as he saw his father's hand approach his face.
"What did I ever do to deserve you?" His father touched his cheek, lingering, the way Willow had. Oz swallowed past a lump in his throat. "You are such a disappointment...my queer son." He shook his head.
"Yeah, you've mentioned that too," said Oz. He could handle a lot of things from his father. This strangeness was not one of those things. He began to back away and his father grabbed him by the front of his shirt and forced him onto his knees. Some part of Oz's mind began to shut down, not wanting to deal with whatever was going to happen.
His father smiled again, tenderly, lovingly. Oz winced. "You're going to prove that you're a good boy and do what I tell you."
"I've never been good," whispered Oz, silently adding, "at least, not to you."
"You will be."
They ran, through alleys and down deserted streets, ignoring vampires and actual human criminals. Giles gasped for breath, resolving to be in better shape next time something like this happened. Ethan stumbled, falling to the ground, chest heaving.
Giles stopped to haul Ethan to his feet. "Come on!"
"Something is happening...I don't know..." panted Ethan. "We have to stop them, Rupert." He gasped again, feeling something in his chest twinge.
"I know, Ethan. But we can't stop them unless you come on!" Giles began running again, dragging Ethan behind him.
Alexa shrieked at the top of her lungs and kicked the nearest vampire directly in the balls. He crumpled to the ground, turning an interesting shade of purple. She slapped another one as soon as he came in range. "You. Are. All. Fuckrags."
One of the two demons grabbed her from behind and shoved her, face first, onto the ground. He put a knee in the small of her back, holding her down.
"Let her up." The other one was standing in front of her. Alexa figured that she had maybe a minute to rip his throat out. Probably less. No harm in trying. She lunged forward as soon as she was able, fingers reaching for the demon's throat.
He caught her, easily, as if over a hundred pounds of angry werewolf was nothing. She dangled in his grip, choking slightly as his hand tightened around her neck. "You will do nicely," he murmured.
He laughed. "Chain her to the wall." He tossed her at his companion. "She needs to be willing."
The demon holding her looked at her and the snake he had wrapped around himself hissed. "She'd die first, brother."
"Oh, she'll be willing. After Aeshma and Druj are done with her friends, she'll be very willing."
"Fuck off," spat Alexa, struggling again.
He, the big bad boss demon, hit her hard enough to draw blood. "Such language is unbecoming in such a lovely woman."
She glared. "Asshole."
He hit her again and the world spun crazily for a few moments. "Do not try my patience."
Alexa opened her mouth again and he hit her a third time. The world went black.
Buffy whirled around and grabbed Ethan's shirt. "Which one is it!" she shouted, shaking him.
"The one with the lights on, I would imagine." He yanked his shirt free and pointed to the far end of the docks. "That one. The large one."
"Damn." Buffy glanced at Faith and Angel, then back at Giles and Ethan. "We'll go on ahead, you guys catch up. Soon."
Giles watched them run toward the warehouse. "Dammit, they'll be helpless in there."
"You've taught them well, Rupert. They'll be fine."
Giles frowned at Ethan. "If any of them dies..."
"If any of them dies, Rupert, we won't be alive long enough to do anything about it."
Aeshma tossed Christian onto the floor and smiled slowly. "It's been a very long time since I've indulged myself, werewolf."
"Pity." Christian stood up, settling his weight on the balls of his feet, preparing for a fight.
"No, no. I want you on your knees." The demon began advancing. "I want you to beg. To break. It's one of the things I like most about life."
"Been there, done that. Just so you know, you are a sick, psychotic pervert and I will enjoy ripping your guts out."
"Spirit. I like that too." Aeshma stopped and grinned, a tight smile that never once reached his eyes. "I know things..." He trailed off and laughed softly.
Christian leaned forward. "You want to fuck."
"I want to break you."
"You've said that already." Christian began unbuttoning his shirt. "Well, let's get on with it then."
"What are you doing?" Aeshma frowned.
"I'm getting naked. So we can fuck like crazed weasels. That is what you wanted, right?" Christian paused, his shirt half way off. "Or, if you don't want sex, we can do pain. I happen to like it. A lot, actually."
The demon growled. "You can't--"
"Oh, I can. I will. You can't rape the willing. You can't break the willing. You can't even hurt the willing." He finished pulling off his shirt and moved down to the waistband of his pants. He looked up and smiled. "What? Can't get a hard on without a victim?"
"You will not ruin this, werewolf." The demon's fist was a blur of motion, knocking Christian to the ground. Aeshma stood over Christian. "I've waited too long."
Christian rolled his eyes. "You can't do anything to me that hasn't been done already. So, let's get this over with, huh?"
"I was alive before Rome. Before Greece. I was alive before your ancestors had crawled out of a cave." Aeshma spread his arms. "I saw things you can only dream about. You know nothing. You are nothing."
"Yeah, well, I've been nothing for a very long time. If you want to fuck, fine, let's fuck. I'm offering my services as a whore. I suggest you accept. It's not something that I've offered in a while." Christian sat up, hands moving to the demon's pants. "And, if I do say so myself, I'm damn good at it."
The demon howled in outrage.
Christian smiled grimly. He shoved Aeshma back, yanking his feet out from under him. "Yeah, I get the feeling that there's going to be a lot of howling tonight."
Buffy flung herself at the door, slamming her shoulder into it, telling the door that it would open or else.
The door held.
Faith helped Buffy up off the ground. "Not the best way of going about that, B."
"Ow." Buffy rubbed her shoulder. "Well how do we get in?"
Angel was examining the door, running his hands along the frame, trying to find a weak spot or some way of pulling the door down. "Well, you had the right idea. Just not the right amount of force."
Faith looked at him, then at the door. "Can we kick it in?"
"No. But if we all throw ourselves against it, it might give." Angel backed up a few steps and shrugged. "It can't hurt."
"The hell it can't." Buffy frowned. "Okay, let's do it."
Oz curled up, trying desperately not to throw up as Druj kicked him in the ribs. His eyes had gone almost totally blank as he fought for control.
"Give in to me," she, the demon, the horrible foul evil thing said. His father was gone, replaced at first by Alexa, then Christian, then Giles. An endless parade of people he loved, or feared, people he trusted to protect him. People he trusted to hurt him. She, he, it, whatever knelt in front of him, cupping his face between her hands. "I don't want to hurt you."
He didn't say anything, just curled up tighter, fighting off alternating waves of nausea and blinding pain. Oz took the pain and the hate and the sheer terror and held it, needing something to focus on, to use as a weapon. He was not going to give in.
"Don't make me do this, pet." She, it was a she this time, leaned closer, licking his mouth, seeking entrance. "Please."
Oz shook his head, wanting to scream and failing. He tried to focus on her face, it's face. The true one.
"Pet, there is no truth but what I give you." Her voice inside his mind, taking even that freedom away. He curled up, almost fetal in his position, trying to huddle around the last bits of himself.
"On three," said Faith. "One...two...three!" The three unnaturally strong people ran forward, throwing their combined body weight against the door. It shuddered once, but held. She glared at the door, wincing as she tried to rotate her shoulder. "Stupid fucking whoreson piece of crap."
"That sums it up nicely, I think," commented Buffy, from her seat on a nearby crate. "Colorful, too. I give you a 10 on artistry, but you're gonna lose a few points on the technical for bad grammar structure."
Faith shook her head. "Sure, Buffy. Whatever." She looked over the building, seeing a row of tall windows near the top. "Can we reach those?"
Angel followed her glance and laughed. "Three stories up? You've got to be kidding."
"Yeah, witness how hard I'm laughing." Faith glared at him. "Ha, ha. It is to laugh."
"Those are at least twenty feet up, Faith. I can't fly," said Angel. "Or is it some Slayer power that I don't know about?"
"Hey, fuck you, okay? I'm trying."
Buffy stood up, moving between the two. "Hey! No fighting. It's not allowed."
When Alexa regained consciousness, she was naked and sitting in a tub of water. "What the--"
"Ah, our petal of loveliness has awakened from her slumber." The big baddie, Alka Seltzer or whatever, strode up to the tub, taking her hand in his and kissing the back gently. "Have you changed your mind, O Lovely One?"
He slapped her casually. "I see you have not."
He wound his hand in her hair and forced her under the water. He held her there until her struggles grew weaker and slower, waiting until they stopped altogether before he pulled her head up. "Ready to cooperate now?"
She coughed and gasped for air, breathing harshly until the white spots in her vision receded. "Asshole."
He shoved her head under water again.
Ethan and Giles searched the area around the warehouse. They were looking for another door, a service entrance perhaps, a window. Anything that would get them inside.
"Rupert?" began Ethan, his voice hesitant.
"What is it now, Ethan?"
"I think...something very bad may have happened."
Giles turned around and glared at him. "Oh, of course. Other than you summoning demons again."
"Well...yes." Ethan touched Giles' shoulder, "Rupert, if they get human bodies, we can't banish them. They'll be tied to this plane permanently."
The Watcher closed his eyes. "And you just decided to tell me this now?!?"
"They shouldn't have been able to do it." Ethan shook his head. "They didn't have enough power."
"Now...I think they do."
Giles' fist was a blur, smashing into Ethan's jaw and knocking him flat. "Damn you."
Aeshma whistled cheerfully, tying Christian's hands behind his back. "This will hurt a bit."
"Sounds fun." Christian stared at the rope the demon held in its hands. Then he looked up, to where a pulley was dangling from the ceiling. "Strappado, huh?"
"You know it?" asked Aeshma, pleased. "It's one of my favorites."
The werewolf shrugged. "Sure. You yank me up, let me fall, dislocate my shoulders."
"Ingenious, isn't it?"
"Not really. Inconvenient, but not particularly clever." He paused, "besides, I'll heal."
"Yes..." hissed Aeshma. "Isn't that nice."
Christian smiled pleasantly. "Isn't it though?"
"I say we burn the place."
"Yes, Faith, we're well aware of your suggestion." Giles looked at her, eyes stern. "But we can't take the risk of harming innocent people."
"Bull," said Faith. "If they're in there, they're not innocent."
"Rupert, I must agree with Faith. We can't take the risk--" Ethan was interrupted by Giles' fist.
Giles stood over him, breath coming harshly. "Shut up, Ethan. You've brought this down on us."
"Giles!" Buffy looked at him in horror. "Don't do that...it's not like you."
Ethan sat up, touching the corner of his mouth. His fingertips came away wet with blood. "Oh, but it is, child. It's very like him."
"And getting back to the business at hand," interrupted Angel, "we still need to get inside that door."
"Fucking fry the thing," muttered Faith.
Oz focused on the woman sitting on top of him. She was beautiful, in an eerie way. Inhumanely beautiful. White, white skin, dark red hair that matched his own, and her eyes...
She had none.
He closed his own eyes, dreamily imagining her without her head. That made her even more lovely. Oz's beast, his wolf, came howling out, the cold neutrality bleeding into his eyes, washing away the green. His eyes opened and Druj laughed to see it.
He was hers. Marvelous.
Giles looked up at Ethan slowly. "What?"
"It's starting," said the other man, simply.
Giles stood up and walked over to his Slayers. "You're going to burn it, then?"
Buffy sighed and nodded silently.
Faith touched her shoulder. "They're demons. Not human. Not anymore."
Giles walked away from the warehouse, his hands in his pockets. He took a deep breath, wishing that he were back in England; almost wishing that he could be a child again. To regain lost innocence...
She was tied - chained, actually - to a large rock slab. It was cold. Those were Alexa's first thoughts as she regained consciousness again. She tugged on the chains binding her hands experimentally, tilting her head back to get a better view. She immediately wished she hadn't.
The Big Boss was standing directly behind her, so that when she looked back, it gave her a lovely view of his groin.
Alexa was not pleased. She grew even less pleased when she realized she was gagged and had all sorts of unlovely things painted on her bare skin.
"You're awake again! Wonderful!" The snake guy headed into view. "Hello, lovely. We have a little show for you to watch."
"Brother, do give her a bit of slack so she can see what we've tried so hard to provide for her."
Alexa felt the chains around her hands give a little, and she sat up carefully. The two demons seated themselves behind her. One of them grabbed her head, turning it, forcing her to look at the female demon. A chain led from her hands to the collar around Oz's neck, and the demon tugged on it, drawing him closer. She touched the top of his head lightly, petting him.
One of the demons behind her whispered, "That's our first gift to you, love. Your friend broken and helpless. A pet for our sister. Glorious, isn't it?"
Alexa started to struggle. The grip on her head tightened in warning and she subsided. When Christian staggered into the room, she started to struggle again. The demon's hand moved down to her throat, squeezing lightly until she began to gasp for breath.
The demon whispering again. "Watch."
Christian watched as the woman dragged Oz over to him and released the chain holding him. Oz moved forward, on his hands and knees, crawling gracefully towards him. Christian took a moment to appreciate the scene, and the young man stalking him with such ease. Good. A reluctant werewolf was a dead werewolf was a useless werewolf. Much better that Oz fall into the role of hunter than stay in the passive role he was accustomed to.
"Hurt him, pet." Druj smiled brightly. "Make mommy proud."
Christian rolled his eyes, and returned to watching Oz carefully. The green of his eyes had bled away to a pale gold that wasn't very human at all. Oz kept moving toward him, smoothly, as if there were muscles in places that wouldn't normally have them. Christian hid a smile as the other man crawled over him, straddling him carefully so that no part of them touched. Oz lowered his head, his hands braced on the ground on either side of Christian's face.
"Going to make me your bitch, Oz?" whispered Christian.
Oz laughed softly and quickly licked Christian's lower lip. "Hardly."
"Damn." Christian sat up partially, kissing Oz roughly.
Oz sat up, hooking a finger into the collar around his alpha's neck and pulling him up too. "My mistress says to hurt you..." said Oz loudly, right before he drew his hand back and hit Christian across the jaw. He let go of the collar and Christian fell back down to the ground, shaking his head slightly. Oz leaned over him again.
"Oz?" asked Christian quietly.
"M'here," he answered. He yanked open the remains of Christian's shirt, scattering buttons everywhere. Oz ducked his head, moving his mouth towards Christian's ear, licking and biting. "They're going to sacrifice Alexa. For her body," he whispered before he scooted down Christian's body, settling himself on the man's legs.
Oz examined Christian's body carefully, noting the already-healing burns and cuts. He leaned over, licking a long cut just above the waistline of Christian's pants, moving his hands along Christian's sides until he found a wound that was still partially open and dug his fingers into it, making the man beneath him hiss and arch his back in pain. Oz smiled grimly before he pushed himself forward, kissing Christian again. "You need to pretend here, Chris."
Christian glared, his side burning. "What game are you playing, Oz?"
"I need to get the collar off. I can't do that if they don't think I'll hurt you. So, I'm hurting you."
"Fuck," muttered Christian. "So I'm just supposed to lie here and think of England?"
Oz found a bruise on Christian's ribcage, testifying to the broken rib that had once been there. "Fight me, if you want." He pressed down on the bruise with all his weight.
Christian growled, grabbing Oz around the waist and flipping them over. "If you betray us..."
Oz brought his knee up sharply and Christian grunted. "I'd die first. They think I'm theirs. They have to believe that." He flipped them over again, sitting on Christian's stomach and grabbing him by the hair. Oz held him down firmly and smiled.
"Fuck," said Christian, again.
"Want to?" he offered, grinning cheerfully.
"Sex," said Christian.
Oz nodded. "Yes."
"You have the absolute worst timing, ever."
Oz grinned. "I've been told that my timing is pretty good, actually."
"Trust me," he said. "It sucks."
"Not yet." Oz scooted down and tugged open Christian's pants. "But give me a chance."
"And it can't wait?" Christian asked, grabbing Oz's hands and tossing him onto his back. "At least until we get home and have a bed?"
"No, not really." Oz pouted, then grinned. "I'm...tense. Besides, it'll distract them long enough for me to get the collar off."
"So you're using me just for my body."
"Pretty much. To take my mind off things." Oz tilted his head. "Does that bother you?"
"No. Do I look stupid?" Christian yanked Oz's shirt off. "I like sex. Just about any way I can get it."
"I would never have guessed," Oz said, wryly.
Alexa watched the scene in front of her and felt the oddest urge to cheer. God damn, but they were being pretty.
Oz licked Christian's mouth. Then hit him.
All right. Violent and pretty. Same difference.
Buffy kicked the door viciously. It was still holding. She swore at it for a few moments. Then kicked it again.
"Hey, B, that's not working."
"I know that," said Buffy. "What is this door made out of? Concrete? And really, who ever heard of a place with no windows? Ventilation anyone?"
She sat down next to Angel and crossed her arms. He hugged her briefly and she smiled.
Faith threw a knife at the door.
It began to swing open slowly.
Faith blinked and jumped to her feet. "Hot damn!"
"No, dammit. You can't be on top." He pushed on Christian's shoulders. "Should I hit you again?"
"No." Christian looked over at the altar. "We have an audience, you know."
"Yeah. Make it look good, huh?" Oz licked at the pulse in the other man's neck. "I still need to get the collar off."
"Make it look good?" Christian was offended. "Just look good?"
Oz tried not to smile. "Well, that is the main priority. Everything else is just...fun."
"You will pay for that remark, you realize."
"I look forward to it."
"I'll just bet you do."
Oz's hands moved beneath Christian's neck as he explored the chain and the clasp of the collar. He rocked his hips against the other man. "This would be so much more normal if you were a girl."
"But not nearly as entertaining." Christian grabbed Oz's head, pulling him down and kissing him roughly.
Several vampires came strolling out the door, grumbling about something. Faith really didn't care. She grabbed one, staked it quickly while it was reeling in surprise and was spinning around to kick the next when she was grabbed by the arm and flung into a wall.
She yelped. "Ow! Bastard!" Faith lashed out with her foot, kicking the vampire's head. It staggered back and crumbled to dust, revealing Buffy standing there with a stake and a grin.
"Need some help?" Buffy held out her hand. Faith shook her head, opening her mouth to warn Buffy about the vampire behind her.
Angel shouted, "Buffy, look out!"
The vampire swung a crate at Buffy's head, knocking her to the ground. Angel punched the vampire he was fighting and leapt forward.
Faith lunged forward, stake in hand and the vampire crumbled. She crawled over to Buffy's limp form and cradled her head gently. Angel joined her, looking down at Buffy worriedly. "Is she all right?"
"Yeah, I think so...no blood or anything." Faith shrugged. She glanced over at the door, and gave Angel a gentle shove. "Hey, we worked hard to get that thing open...make sure it doesn't close again, huh?"
Angel nodded, glancing again at Buffy.
Oz made a small sound of pleasure in the back of his throat. He tugged on the chain experimentally and Christian pulled back. Oz blinked. "You stopped."
"Why?" Oz pulled on the chain and smiled. "It's looser. The chain. Is."
Christian nodded, absentmindedly. "Mm-hmm." He stroked his hand along Oz's stomach, flicking open the button at his waist.
"You can pull free now...if you want."
"You don't...oh wow...want to?" Oz grabbed Christian's wandering hands and pinned them on the ground above his head. He leaned over, sucking on one of the other man's nipples briefly before venturing further down. He stopped and looked up, smiling innocently. "What next?"
"Please tell me you're kidding."
"Thank God." Christian stretched, arching his back just enough to rub against Oz's body. He pushed Oz's arms out from under him, making Oz fall, full- length on top of him. "That's what's next."
"Mmm." Oz squirmed, feeling Christian's erection pressing against his thigh. "You seem happy."
"You have no idea." Christian slid his hands down Oz's back, fingers digging into the muscles along the younger man's spine. "Why are you doing this?"
"Wriggling?" asked Oz, matching his word to an action.
"The sex." Christian swatted him on the ass. "But the wriggling is nice, too."
"I'd rather have sex with you than hit you. Strange, but true." Oz sat up, a flash of uncertainty in his eyes. It was gone quickly, as Oz grinned down at Christian.
"I'm glad," said Christian, fingers stroking the delicate skin just below Oz's stomach. The muscles there tensed at the light touch.
"Are you sure?" asked Oz. He mimicked Christian's movements, his hands lingering on Christian's chest. "Because I think I might be better at the violent end of things."
Oz laughed. "Thank you. Enjoying yourself?"
"Immensely," he answered.
Giles spotted the dark blue silk of Ethan's shirt and mumbled something regarding the probable existence of something small, scaly, and spineless somewhere in Ethan's ancestry. He caught Ethan's collar and dragged him out from behind the stack of crates.
Ethan smiled brightly. "Ripper! So good of you to come get me."
"Shut up, Ethan."
"I would have helped, really."
"Shut up, Ethan."
"I was simply looking for something to hit those vampires with."
"I know. Shut up."
Christian's hand slid under the waistband of Oz's boxers, brushing against a near- perfect imprint of teeth. He raised an eyebrow questioningly.
"The bitch. She was...you or Alexa at the time. Or maybe my mother, I'm not sure."
"Shape shifter or something?"
"Or something. I'd really rather not talk about it." Oz stroked Christian's abdomen, lingering gently on what looked like a burn. "It doesn't look like you had too much fun with your guy, either."
"Well, he had fun."
"Lucky him." Oz smiled slightly. "You didn't."
"Of course not. A pervert I may be, but I have morals." Christian frowned at Oz for good measure. "Now, where was I?"
"You had your hand in my pants."
"Right." He smiled brightly. "And what was I doing?"
"You know. Or at least I hope you know. Because it would be horribly awkward if you didn't." Oz's eyes widened as Christian's hand moved. "That wasn't what you were playing with."
"No." Oz smirked and moved his hand. Christian yelped in surprise. "That is what you were playing with."
"I see," said Christian.
Oz grinned. "I'm sure you do."
"Keep playing," he ordered.
"My, aren't you bossy?" asked Oz.
"So I've been told." Christian frowned. "Harder. I won't break."
"I know that," said Oz. "I've done this often enough to myself."
Christian laughed. "Thank God. You were beginning to worry me."
Alexa frowned and looked down. "You are touching my breast."
"Pert little thing, isn't it?" said Azi Dahaka.
She raised an eyebrow and repeated, "You are touching my breast."
"Yes, I am."
"Stop touching my breast." Alexa paused, then added, "please."
He moved quickly, enough that Alexa barely saw his hand coming at her face. She ducked her head swiftly, avoiding the slap. Aka Manah growled and grabbed her hair, shoving her back onto the altar. "We are your betters, werewolf, remember that." He hit her then, hard enough to daze her for a few moments.
"Oooh, force," murmured Alexa, shaking her head to clear it. "Look at me, I'm so helpless. Moron."
Buffy's eyes flew open and her fist slammed forcefully into the side of Giles' head. He fell backwards, landing gracelessly on his back and blinking up at the sky which suddenly had quite a few more stars than he was used to. "Ow."
Ethan knelt beside Giles. "Ripper?" he asked, tentatively.
"Shut up, Ethan," came the response.
Ethan smiled cheerfully. "He's all right! No need to worry!"
Faith helped Buffy sit up, and Angel slid his arm around her shoulders, supporting her back. Buffy rubbed the back of her head and groaned. "Oh look...Orion..." She peered at Angel and smiled brightly. "Look Faith! An Angel of your own!" She leaned forward and whispered loudly, "He's really good in bed. Unless he goes all psycho. And then he's not."
Giles shook Ethan's hand off irritably and walked over to Buffy. "Are you all right, Buffy?"
"Peachy keen, Giles." She stood up wobbling a little. "Okay, let's go kick some undead ass." Buffy strode toward the door confidently.
Ethan yanked it open before Buffy reached it. He smirked at Giles as he went past. "I can be helpful."
Giles glared at him. "Shut up, Ethan."
"Do get a more original line, Ripper."
Oz shifted slightly. "So, how are we going to kill them?"
"I was thinking the tried and true method of ripping them apart." Christian grinned suddenly. "After all, there's a reason it's tried and true."
"Well yes. But how?" Oz looked down at him. "We can't just go, 'Hey, we're going to kill you now, please line up in an orderly fashion.'"
Christian blinked in surprise. "You mean they won't? Rude fuckers, aren't they?"
Oz laughed. "No. Generally people don't line up to get slaughtered. Unless you're at a movie theater. And then they line up neatly and wait around to get electrocuted by a big smurf looking guy."
"Uh-huh. I said harder, Oz."
"I fear you."
"So. Killing." Christian frowned. "Your friends are coming, yes?"
"Yes. Are you?"
"That was crude."
"I know. I apologize." Oz shrugged. "You have stamina. It's impressive."
"Mm-hmm. Your friends."
"Are going to join the party. Soon."
Buffy strode in, heels clacking against the cement floor. Faith, Giles, Angel, and Ethan fanned out behind her, looking menacing.
Oz blinked. "Or they could come now."
Christian nodded. "You want my plan?"
"I think it would be a good thing now, yes."
"When everyone's distracted?"
Oz sighed. "You're not very clear on the whole concept of a plan, are you?"
Buffy stopped in the center of the largest room, crossbow held negligently in one hand. "Hear ye, hear ye. I," she put a hand on her chest, "am Buffy. This," she aimed the crossbow at the closest vampire and smiled cheerfully, "is a crossbow." She pulled the trigger and the vampire disintegrated. "That was a vampire. Are there any questions?"
Aka Manah stood up from behind Alexa and moved to stand in front of the altar. "Who are you?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Weren't you listening? I'm Buffy. You know? B-u-f- f-y? The person who's here to kick your ass?" In the background, Faith snickered.
He growled, eyes flashing yellow. "Leave now and you may all live."
"God, is there a handbook of bad villain lines or is it genetic with you guys?" Buffy asked. "How about this? You let all the non-evil people go and I promise to kill you real quick."
"Kill them," hissed Azi Dahaka, as he joined his brother. "They've come for my new body."
Faith strode forward, joining Buffy in an unconscious mirror of the demons. "Well, any body would be an improvement over that thing you've got now."
"Insolent girl!" Azi Dahaka snarled, lunging toward her, hands outstretched. Druj grabbed him by the neck and shook her head at him. "Temper, temper."
"She insulted me!"
"We all insult you."
"Yes, but you're family. It's expected."
Alexa frowned, shifting until she had a clear view of the proceedings. She glared at Oz and Christian, who looked like they were discussing something dreadfully important. Knowing Chris, it probably involved getting several people naked and having his way with them. Or possibly chocolate and vast amounts of alcohol. Oz gave him a look of exasperation and Alexa nodded. Yep. Sex. God, but Chris was a single minded bastard sometimes.
Oz whispered something furiously at Christian, pointing in the general direction of the altar and Alexa smiled. Good boy for remembering she was there. Christian looked up at her, something unreadable in his face. He turned back to Oz, gesturing at her then at the group of people who had just come in. Oz gave him a look, grabbed Christian's hair and leaned forward, whispering into his ear.
Alexa would have paid real, good money to hear what Oz was saying because whatever it was made Christian blush. He opened his mouth, then closed it, blinking in bewilderment at Oz.
Oz quirked an eyebrow and smiled. Christian nodded, still looking faintly shocked.
Damn. Now she was curious. Silly boys. She watched Oz crawl off of Christian and fix his clothing. Christian just sat there, staring at Oz in utter bewilderment. He moved suddenly, grabbing Oz's arm. Oz stared at him calmly, chin lifted slightly in pride or stubbornness, Alexa couldn't tell. She would, however, bet on stubbornness.
She shrugged. Curiosity was all well and good, but she was very tired of being naked and chained to a cold piece of rock. She tugged again on the chains, grinning when they gave enough for her to stand up. And stand up she did, smoothly, pulling the chain until she had a good length of it in front of her.
Alexa smiled grimly and planted a foot firmly in the center of Aka Manah's back, shoving him off balance long enough to get the chain wrapped around his neck. She yanked upwards, muscles straining, hauling the demon off his feet.
Sometimes she really, truly loved being a werewolf.
Giles watched the scene in front of him unfold. Alexa rising up behind the demons like some avenging goddess of old, using the chains that bound her to wreak her vengeance...it all seemed terribly symbolic. And then there was no more time for thought, as one of the random vampires leapt on him and tackled him to the ground. He fumbled into the pocket of the overcoat, pulling out a cross and a bottle of holy water. The vampire backed away, hissing and Giles tossed the bottle into its face. It screamed, covering its face and Giles pulled the sword free and sliced cleanly through the vampire's neck.
He looked up, breathing quickly, taking in the chaos around him. Ethan was hiding behind some crates, Buffy and Faith had teamed up and were currently pummeling several vampires with their trademark banter. Angel was silently and efficiently staking as many vampires as came his way, and Oz was...there.
Half naked, pulling on a chain, arguing with the other young man, and undeniably there.
Giles frowned, spinning quickly and catching another vampire in the chest with the tip of the sword. He reached into another pocket, pulling out a stake and shoving it into the vampire's chest.
If they all got out of this alive, Giles and Oz would have to have a little talk about playing with demons and misleading comments.
Christian pulled on the chain, straining against it and the collar around his neck until it snapped and he fell backwards hard. He jumped up to his feet quickly, looking for something to kill. Oz had jumped into the fight, despite a decided lack of any sort of skill and was trying to get past a group of vampires. Werewolves were natural hunters, with the strength and speed and sheer viciousness necessary to give them the advantage over most other things. Vampires, unfortunately, were not among those things.
One of the vampires, grabbed Oz by the neck and flung him away, toward a wall. Christian frowned and waded into the chaos, making his way toward the offending vampire. It crumbled to dust before he got there and Christian growled, looking down to see a petite blonde with a stake. She tossed it at him and he caught it easily, flipping it over until the pointed end was facing out.
She smiled, and melted back into the crowd, which grew smaller and a little bit dustier as she passed.
Christian grabbed a nearby vampire and staked it quickly, smiling in satisfaction as it exploded into ash. He hated the things. Another vampire lurched into view and Christian grabbed it, plunging the stake into its chest. He looked up, searching for Oz and Alexa, kicking his way through a small cluster of vampires.
Oz and Faith were fighting together, working their way toward the back of the room and Alexa, who was still doing her best to strangle the demon she had gotten her hands on. Satisfied that they were doing well, he turned his attention back to the fight, to killing them. The monsters.
He hated the monsters.
Alexa yanked harder on the chain, the demon kicking below her, trying to knock her legs out from under her. She avoided the flailing legs with ease, pulling the chain tighter in retaliation.
Someone lunged into her, knocking her off the altar and sending her sprawling onto the floor. Alexa moved swiftly, getting to her feet and turning around to face the newer threat. The female demon...damn, what was her name?...circled her warily. Alexa pulled the chain free, putting her bare foot against Aka Manah's throat. "If you come any closer," she said conversationally, "I'll kill him."
"If you kill him, you will die," hissed the female demon. But she stopped moving and simply glared at the other woman. A slender, silvery blade came to rest on the demon's shoulder, and she froze.
"If you even think about touching her, I'll kill you right here and now," said Oz softly, from behind her. He moved the knife closer, holding it firmly against her neck.
"You won't hurt me."
Oz pressed the knife harder against her neck, slicing through the first few layers of skin. "Try me."
She turned around slowly, until she was facing Oz. Alexa was left staring at her back, and what little she could see of Oz's face. His hand on the knife was steady, unwavering. Alexa watched his eyes closely, falling easily into the role of hunter. His eyes would be the first to go, signaling the change from totally human to mostly wolf, indicating that scariness was about to break free.
The demon underneath her wriggled, trying to get loose, and she put a little more weight on the foot holding him down, before turning her attention back to Oz and wondering if she should get involved. He wasn't that great of a fighter, and he was new to the game...
The female demon touched Oz's chest lightly. He paled, the green of his eyes lightening until they were a pale, clear gold. "You can't hurt me," she said quietly, moving her hand up to cup his cheek. "I own you."
Alexa raised an eyebrow at Oz, who smiled briefly at her, before grinning in sudden mirth. "You don't own me..." he sang, pressing the knife hard against the demon's skin. Alexa grinned at the song, looking down at the demon underneath her. She leaned over and hauled him up, tracing the bruises and cuts left by the strangulation with the chain. Azi Dahaka spit at her and she frowned, her hands moving quickly to grasp the back of his head and his chin, yanking hard. She heard the dull, satisfying crack, and let the body fall to the ground in a heap. "Bastard," she muttered, stepping over the body delicately and making her way back into the thick of the fight.
Giles swung the sword, deftly separating a vampire's head from the rest of its body and whirling around to face the next. He had given the gun to Ethan, who was currently using it to his advantage, incapacitating the vampires until someone better prepared came along to kill them. Giles stretched a little, before settling his weight back and lunging at another vampire, moving smoothly and efficiently. The vampire exploded and Giles turned back to staring at the fight.
He spotted Alexa near the center of the group, making her way towards Christian, who was killing anything un-alive that he came into contact with. She kicked a vampire out her path, and grabbed Christian's arm, turning him around bodily. He had the stake raised and pressed against her chest before he realized who it was. He blinked, then pulled off the tattered remains of his shirt and handed it to her. She smiled and put it on, looking down at the various tears and complete lack of buttons.
Christian turned suddenly, grabbing a vampire and hauling it over his hip, tossing it to the ground and plunging the stake into its chest. Alexa grabbed him again, pulling him up and saying something to him. Christian nodded once, took her hand and began running through the crowd, weaving his way around the small clumps of fighting and moving to the edge of the group. They disappeared from view then, as another vampire attacked Giles. He brought the sword up, cutting neatly through the vampire's arm and swinging the sword around to sever the head.
Giles looked at where the two werewolves had disappeared and shook his head in disbelief. Surely they weren't running away.
Christian ran through the warehouse, hauling Alexa behind him until they reached the doors. He released Alexa's hand, flung open the doors and shoved her through them. "Get help." He started to close the doors again but Alexa threw her weight against it, knocking him back onto the floor.
She walked back in, the door swinging shut behind her, and stood over him, glaring. "Hey, what did we agree on, Chris?"
He sat up, rubbing his head. "No more keeping you out of the way." He looked up at her, something sad and scared flashing through his eyes before being replaced by his more normal expression of faint amusement. "I guess I wasn't very subtle, huh?"
"No, babe. Tossing me naked out of a warehouse was not your best idea." She held out a hand to him, pulling him up. She watched him brush himself off, then spoke again. "I appreciate it, I do, but it's not necessary anymore. You know that."
"Yeah...I'm sorry." He sighed, shoving his hair out of his face impatiently.
"It's all right. But what are we going to do now?"
Christian shrugged. "Survive?"
"All of us?" she asked carefully. Christian was funny about some subjects...
He glared at her, growling low in his throat. "Of course all of us," he said coldly.
Alexa nodded, and filed the subject of Oz under "things not to fuck with Christian about". She really wondered what Oz had said, but she shrugged and continued on, stubbornly moving ahead. "All right then, what do we do?"
"Kill them?" he offered, relaxing slightly and shrugging. "Rip their heads off? Pull their hearts out?" He smiled suddenly, eyes glittering. "Dance on their bloody bodies?"
She looked at him strangely. "Okay, ew. Kill them. Wonderful plan."
"I never said I was a good leader, 'Lexa. Or even a particularly competent one."
"You're all we've got."
He smiled wryly. "I feel like apologizing for that too."
Alexa smiled at him. "Don't."
"I didn't say I was going to...just that I felt like it." He grinned suddenly, grabbing her shoulders and kissing her deeply. "Now go, get dressed then come fight."
"Get dressed?" she quirked an eyebrow at him. "And the purpose of that would be?"
"To put one more layer between yourself and something that could kill you."
She laughed. "Honey, my outfit screamed 'please disembowel me'. I don't think it's gonna provide all that much protection."
Christian smiled again. "Any protection is better than none at all. Now go." He gave her a gentle shove in the general direction of the other rooms of the warehouse.
Alexa shook her head, walking away. She turned around suddenly. "Hey...be careful. And make sure Oz is okay."
He nodded. "I promise you he'll get out of here alive."
"Alive isn't the same as okay, Chris."
Christian frowned. "I know. I'll try."
"That's all I can ask." She turned around again, moving silently through the shadows toward the rooms.
She turned around in time to catch the stake he tossed at her. Alexa looked down at it, then up at him questioningly.
Christian smiled at her crookedly. "Take care. I didn't add another pack member just so I could lose you." Alexa blew him a kiss, then slid back into the shadows along the wall, moving swiftly toward the other end of the building.
He watched her go, fighting down the urge to throw her over his shoulder and put her somewhere safe till it was all over. But he had promised her he'd stop doing that. He had not, however, promised Oz any such thing. Christian smiled cheerfully, walking toward the fight, pausing long enough to smash a small crate with a well placed kick. He picked up several of the larger pieces of wood and waded into the fight, spotting Oz near the altar and determinedly making his way in that direction.
Faith ducked, crouching low to the ground and sweeping the vampire's legs from underneath him. She dove forward, straddling him and bringing the stake down into his heart. She looked up at where Oz was sitting calmly on top of the demon, holding the knife Faith had given him against her throat.
She frowned, then looked again. Why was he just sitting there, staring at her?
Faith strode over to them, boots making a dull thudding sound against the concrete floor, pausing only long enough to kill vampires that got in her way. She finally made it over to the pair, and stopped. They were talking. Fuck that. Faith rummaged around in the bag slung across her chest and pulled out a machete. She swung it around, loosening her wrist and stood behind Oz, putting the tip of the machete against the center of the demon's neck and pressing forward gently.
Oz caught her wrist and shook his head. "Don't."
"Why? She's evil, remember?" Faith pulled the machete back. "Just kill her. Don't fucking talk to the bitch."
He looked back down at the demon. "I can't."
"What? Why the hell not?"
"She looks like Willow," he said simply.
"Not a reason."
"Very much a reason, Faith." Oz looked up at her. "I can't kill her. Not in cold blood."
Faith shrugged. "Then move over, I'll do it."
Oz's fingers tightened on her wrist and he shook his head. "No. I'll kill her. Just give me a few minutes."
"And if you don't? And she breaks free and kills us all?"
He looked up at her, smiling faintly. "Then we'll be dead, and it won't really matter, now will it?"
"Speak for yourself. If I die 'cause you're too much of a wuss to kill a demon just 'cause she looks like your uptight-bug-up-the-ass-little-miss- perfect of an ex, I will find a way to kick your ass." Faith stepped back, sliding the machete along Oz's shoulder, near his neck. He tilted his head to the side, offering the whole of his neck to her. Faith laughed and pulled the machete away. "Don't tempt me."
"Wouldn't dream of it."
Alexa moved easily through the shadows, close to the wall, avoiding the fights if she could. She reached the rooms in back, opening a door and sliding in, beginning the search for something to wear. She noted the ropes and silver chains lying everywhere, catching the scent of blood and sex. Mostly blood.
She walked out of that room, moving silently to the next, opening it to find an almost completely empty room. She shut the door very quickly and moved on.
The third door was where she hit paydirt. The bathroom where she had been earlier. Alexa walked into that room, and began searching. She overturned several boxes, tossed a bench out of her way and pried open a bunch of crates. She found her clothes in one of those crates, smiled gleefully and began working her way back into them. Alexa pulled the ties as tight as she could, at a disadvantage because of the awkwardness of her position. She finished, wriggled a bit to make sure the corset was not going to do something odd, and turned around.
Aeshma grinned at her.
Alexa sighed. "Fuck."
Christian yanked the vampire forward and shoved the stake into her heart. She crumbled to dust in front of him and he sneezed.
He whirled, coming face to face with Giles, who smiled at him tiredly. "Thank you," said Christian. "No more vampires?"
Giles shook his head. "No, no more." He paused, taking off his glasses and cleaning them absentmindedly. "You're Christian, yes?"
"Yeah. And you are?"
"Rupert Giles. Oz's friend." Giles held out a hand.
Christian took it, his expression bland. "Friend?"
"Rather less of one than you seem to be."
"Good," said Christian, a faint smile on his face.
Giles quirked an eyebrow at him. "Interesting."
"Oz?" Willow looked up at him, fear in her eyes. "Why won't you let me up?"
Oz looked down at her. He pushed the knife more firmly against her neck, watching the blood bead on the silver of the blade.
She lifted fingers to her neck, touching the slight cut, her fingers coming away red with blood. She placed them against his lips, smearing the blood across his mouth.
He growled softly, licking his lips. Oz bowed his head, his breathing harsh as he struggled to shove down the urge to lick the blood away from her neck. He took a deep breath, catching the scent of the blood, hot and sweet and faintly metallic, and his stomach lurched.
Willow laughed and Oz looked down in surprise, watching her features shift and rearrange themselves into the demon's. He blinked in surprise, and sudden nausea. She smiled, looking at something just behind his shoulder. He had time to think, "Oh fuck," and then someone had grabbed him by the throat and was lifting him off the demon.
Aka Manah lifted the small werewolf easily, holding the struggling body at arm's length. He jumped easily onto the altar, holding Oz like some sort of talisman against the people gathered in front of him.
Christian looked up, eyes widening. He moved quickly into the shadows by the wall, making his way to Ethan, who sat on top of some crates, watching the drama unfold. Christian pulled him back, and yanked the gun out of Ethan's hand before releasing him.
Aeshma tossed Alexa onto the altar, her hair wrapped around his fist and the knife Oz had been holding earlier pressed against her exposed throat. Aka Manah looked down and smiled, before turning back to the assembled group. "I will kill these two if any of you come closer. Now, do be good, and throw down your weapons."
Christian moved again during the clatter of noise, easing closer to the altar. No one noticed him. He held his breath, taking the chance on movement while everyone was focused on the demons. He kept sliding forward, pausing sometimes when someone looked in his general direction.
Ethan looked at Christian out of the corner of his eye, wondering if he should perhaps provide some sort of distraction. Damn, but he hated these altruistic impulses. Ethan stood up, strolling confidently into the center of the group, hands in his pockets. He turned to face the demons, a small smirk on his lips. "Hello."
"Who are you?"
"The person who summoned you out of hell." Ethan shrugged. "No need to thank me."
Aka Manah nodded. "You will be rewarded, human."
"Lovely! Let's discuss exactly what that will be, shall we?"
Christian grinned, moving more quickly toward the altar. He made it to the back of the warehouse, creeping along the wall until he stood directly behind the demons.
"Later, human. After we dispose of these...nuisances." Aka Manah's hand tightened around Oz's throat.
Buffy frowned. "Let him go!"
"Why? What will you do to me if I kill him?" The demon laughed at her and Buffy's eyes flashed.
Giles put a hand on her shoulder. "Stay calm, Buffy."
"No! No calm! He's gonna kill Oz!"
Faith winced. "B...shut up." Angel frowned at Faith. She mimicked his expression, then rolled her eyes in disgust.
The demons watched, intrigued. Druj sat down next to her brother, wrapping her arms loosely around Aka Manah's leg. Alexa tilted her head back, trying to get some slack on the grip Aeshma had on her hair. She scented Christian, that familiar smell of spice and leather and pine, and relaxed slightly.
Christian moved forward on silent feet until he was close enough to touch the demons. He lifted the gun, settling it at the base of Aka Manah's skull. The demons froze, then Aka Manah spoke. "If you shoot me, you'll kill your lover."
"You'll die too."
"You'd kill him just to kill me?"
Christian shrugged. "He'll die anyway, won't he?"
"Then what's the point of caring?"
The demon tried another line of reasoning. "You are their alpha, yes?"
"Yeah. What of it?" Christian shoved the gun a little harder into the demon's neck.
Aka Manah smiled slowly. "Then you know the rules."
Christian nodded. "I do."
"If you shoot me, and kill him, you die too. The price of being an alpha. Am I worth dying for?"
"No," said Christian quietly. "You're not."
"Then put the gun away," the demon said, smugly. "Unless you believe your betas' lives are worth mine."
Christian closed his eyes. The sound of the hammer being pulled back echoed through the room.
Everyone stayed very still, as if afraid that the slightest movement would push Christian over whatever line he was currently on the sane side of.
"Aeshma?" Aka Manah said softly.
Aeshma grinned and moved the knife down Alexa's body, hovering just over her stomach. "I'll stab you here, love, and it will take you a long time to die." He pressed the point of the knife against her stomach, savoring the resistance against the knife. He didn't notice Faith walk up behind him. And he certainly didn't notice her pull a mace out of her bag and whack him on the head with it.
Aka Manah swore. "Well...fuck."
Alexa looked down at the shallow cut along her stomach, then back at Faith. "Thank you."
"No prob. Nice outfit."
"Thank you. You too." Alexa frowned, staring at the female demon. She crawled forward, wrapped an arm around the demon's neck and hauled her backwards. Druj struggled. Alexa tightened the forearm around her neck. Druj slumped in Alexa's arms.
Christian's eyes remained closed, the gun steady and unwavering. He didn't see Oz's struggling become weaker, until it stopped altogether. Alexa looked up at him, watching him warily. They all were; he just couldn't see it. He smiled faintly, then opened his eyes.
Buffy shivered at the look in his eyes.
Christian spoke softly, voice carrying in the stillness. "Your life isn't worth shit to me. Your death, however, is worth a whole hell of a lot." He pulled the trigger, and the gunshot seemed to echo in the sudden stillness, reverberating through the room. He watched the two bodies fall forward, off the altar, blood - and other things - spattering over him and Alexa, pooling on the ground. The gun fell to his side, and he looked down at Oz, eyes dark in a face gone dreadfully pale.
Alexa stood up, gently taking the gun from Christian. "Chris?"
"Is he all right?" whispered Christian. He looked up at her then. "It was a revolver...and not silver shot...I don't...I can't tell if he's still alive."
Buffy looked up at him, anger glittering in her eyes. "If he's dead, shouldn't you be?"
"He's not mine," Christian said softly. "Not by blood." He turned around, stepping carefully off the altar, turning his back on the group and picking up the unconscious Aeshma. Alexa looked at him, then jumped lightly off the altar, kneeling beside Oz, ignoring the blood pooled around her. She turned him over, holding her fingers over the pulse in his wrist, sighing in relief when she felt the steady beat. She turned back to Christian, raising her voice to be heard over the murmured conversations. "He's alive."
Christian nodded, but didn't turn around, dragging the bodies of the demons into the center of the room, piling them on top of one another. Ethan joined him, after Buffy gave Ethan a look that spoke volumes about her desire to beat him senseless. Ethan approached the werewolf carefully, hand outstretched and palm open. Christian watched him approach, face set in an expression of utter neutrality.
"May I help?" asked Ethan.
Christian shrugged. "There are chains in some of the other rooms. Get them, please."
Ethan nodded silently, and walked off.
Buffy looked down at Oz, noting the forming bruises on his throat, her fingers clenching into fists. She strode over to where Christian was patiently arranging the bodies, shaking Giles off as he attempted to restrain her. She reached Christian, grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him around long enough for her fist to connect with his stomach. He doubled over, gasping for breath, and she brought her knee up into his jaw.
He dropped to the ground, arms wrapped around his stomach as he lay on his back, looking cautiously up at her.
"You could have killed him!" She reached down and hauled him to his feet, only to knock him down again. "He's a friend and you risked his life for no reason."
Angel caught her by the waist, pulling her away from Christian. She curled against him, burying her face into his shoulder, and he led her back to the group.
Christian said nothing, sitting up and brushing himself off. Alexa joined him, putting a hand on his shoulder, sliding around until she was facing him. She cupped his face in her hands, speaking softly. "You didn't tell me about that link between us."
He shrugged. "Didn't matter. It's nothing compared to what we get in return."
"If you die..."
"Nothing happens to you. Unless I die by an action of yours. Then you won't be a werewolf anymore."
She nodded slowly, tracing her thumb across his lower lip gently. "And Oz?"
"Not mine, except by oath." Christian kissed her fingers lightly, nipping at the tips.
Alexa smiled, moving closer, until she was kneeling between his legs, still holding his face between her hands. Christian wrapped his arms around Alexa's waist, tugging her even closer. She slid her hands down, sliding them around his neck. "Can he be yours by blood?" she asked gently, leaning forward, curling herself around him.
"If I bite him." Christian shrugged, burying his face in her hair and breathing deeply, taking comfort in her strength. Alexa reached up, stroking his hair tenderly, offering him her warmth. He turned his head, lips brushing her throat and felt a familiar surge of desire. He nibbled on her neck, then licked it, moving around to her lips. She stopped him then, touching his lips and shaking her head. "Not here, honey. Not now."
He nodded, standing up, hands sliding down to her hips as he held her against him for a moment. She pulled away reluctantly and walked back over to Oz, pushing Buffy and Angel out of her way, pulling his head into her lap and stroking his hair. Christian watched them, fighting the urge to curl up next to them and forget the whole godforsaken night. He looked down at the demons at his feet and kicked the nearest one in the ribs, feeling some of them break. Ethan returned with an assortment of ropes and chains, and together they set about binding the demons together into a loose circle.
Ethan cleared his throat. "I need chalk and at least one candle."
Giles nodded silently and turned to Faith, who handed over her bag without a word. Giles pulled out a fat piece of chalk and a white candle, handing them to Ethan. "Can you send them back?
Ethan nodded. "I um...I also need blood."
Buffy crossed her arms, glaring at him. "Yeah, like any of us are gonna open a vein for you."
Alexa looked up at Ethan. "You can send them back."
He nodded. "Yes."
"Get a knife then - silver, or else it'll heal too quickly - and I'll donate." Alexa turned her attention back to Oz, fully expecting to be obeyed.
Ethan smiled. "It took a sacrifice to get them here."
Christian spoke up from behind him. "Then I'll donate too. Between the two of us, you should have enough."
The sorcerer nodded, then grinned in sudden humor. "Lycanthrope blood is more powerful than human. And far more powerful than a goat's." Everyone just looked at him. "Yes...I think I'll just get started now."
Faith gave him a disgusted look. "Yeah...why don't you do that?"
Oz opened his eyes slowly, tried to speak and failed. He squeezed his eyes shut, praying that when he opened them, everything would stop swimming around and come into focus. He opened his eyes again, focusing on the upside down face of Alexa. He opened his mouth and she covered it with her hand, shaking her head. "Don't try to talk, babe. You've got some nasty bruises on your throat."
He nodded and she took her hand away, sliding her arm under his shoulders and helping him sit up. Oz smiled at her, kissing her cheek lightly in thanks. She helped him stand, steadying him when his knees buckled. Buffy went over to his other side, wrapping her arm around his waist. "Thanks," he whispered, voice scratchy.
"No prob. Where are we driving to?" asked Buffy.
Oz nodded over to some crates near to Christian and Ethan. Buffy frowned slightly, but helped get him over there and settled onto the crates. She stepped back, her frown deepening as she looked at the two current banes of her existence. Oz patted her hand gently, smiling. Her frown grew deeper and she crossed her arms, shifting her weight to one leg, hip thrust to one side. "He could have killed you, Oz."
Oz blinked, turning to Alexa for confirmation. She nodded silently, then glared meaningfully at Buffy, who ignored her. Oz frowned at them both, then turned to watch Christian, a thoughtful look on his face.
Christian looked up, feeling Oz behind him. He turned around and walked over to the smaller man, touching his throat, lingering on the deep bruises along his windpipe. Oz tilted his head back and closed his eyes. Christian moved closer, ignoring Buffy and Alexa, focusing totally on Oz. He leaned forward, brushing his lips against Oz's ear, and whispered, "I'm sorry." He pulled back, staring down at Oz; then he leaned forward and kissed him softly. Asking for forgiveness - forgiveness for almost shooting him, for dragging him into the mess, for almost getting him killed - and Oz responded, parting his lips just enough for Christian to get the message. And he did. Christian smiled against Oz's lips, then slid his tongue inside Oz's mouth, teasing.
Buffy watched in confusion, trying to fit what she was seeing into something logical. Oz was kissing the guy. The bad guy. Oz had gone out with Willow. Therefore, the bad guy was forcing Oz to kiss him, and the bad guy had to be stopped. She ignored the fact that Oz was not, in any way, pulling back from the kiss. She walked over to the guy, and pulled him back.
Christian licked his lips and stared at the small, blonde Slayer. "Why did you do that?"
"There will be no taking advantage of my friends while I'm around." Buffy glared at him. "And that was some serious advantage taking."
Oz slid off the crates and walked over to Christian, pulling him around, all the while staring at Buffy. He stood on his toes, and licked Christian's mouth, pulling him down and kissing him deeply. Ethan cleared his throat, and the two broke away from each other after a few moments. Oz stepped back, his eyes never leaving Buffy's shocked face.
Buffy looked at him, forehead wrinkled in confusion. "Oz?"
He looked back at her calmly, expression, as always, almost impossible to read. Had Willow been there, she would have seen the fine trembling in his hands, the too-careful smoothness of his features, and told Buffy that he was not as calm as he looked. But Willow wasn't there, and the only other person there with the knack for reading Oz was not on Buffy's side.
Alexa joined Oz, wrapping her arms loosely around his waist. She lifted her chin, gazing coolly at Buffy, who continued on stubbornly. "But Oz...this isn't like you. I mean, I understand that you're upset and lashing out 'cause of what happened between you and Willow..." her voice trailed off at the look Oz gave her.
Oz nodded slowly. "Me and Willow...Willow who cheated on me, and betrayed me, and lied to me. Willow who could really give a damn what happens to me now. Willow who leapt at the chance to be with Xander at the first sign that he wanted her, despite all the crap he pulled." Oz tilted his head, a faint, mocking smile on his face. "And lashing out? This isn't lashing out, Buffy."
Angel spoke up. "Then what is it?"
"It's friendship," said Alexa. "Finding people who have seen the worst that you can possibly be, and not giving a damn." Oz nodded, then added, "It's about me. Not you, or demons, or Willow, or anything else. About being totally, utterly, and completely selfish."
"It's being not lonely anymore," said Christian, softly.
Ethan looked down at the small metal bowl he had found to hold the blood. He held the knife against Christian's arm, chanting quietly in Latin. " We drive you from us, whoever you may be, all infernal invaders, all wicked legions, assemblies and sects. May you be driven from this plane and from the souls and bodies you have stolen. Be gone, demons, I command thee." He cut across Christian's arm, catching the thin trickle of blood into the bowl as it trickled down the werewolf's arm.
He continued the chant, voice rising in volume. "By the power of this blessed circle, and the life's blood contained herein, I command thee. Be gone." The blood from Christian's arm began to flow faster, unstopping. Ethan held the werewolf's arm still, letting the blood fall into the bowl. "I command thee. In the name of Vohu Manah, the Good Mind, I command thee. In the name of Asha, and Sraosha. By their power, I charge thee to depart this place."
Christian fell to his knees, struggling to remain conscious as he felt his blood - his power - pour out of that small cut. Alexa touched his shoulder lightly, steadying him as she deftly replaced his arm with her own, barely wincing as Ethan cut across her forearm.
Outside the circle, the temperature dropped enough that a cloud of vapor formed with every exhalation of breath.
Ethan ignored everything, raising the power needed to end the game he had begun not- so long ago. "By this blood, spilled willingly in sacrifice, I command thee. I adjure you by the power Ohrzamad, and the Amesha Spentas, be gone."
A wind rose inside the warehouse, swirling around the chalk circle that contained Ethan, the werewolves and the four bound demons. Ethan's rich voice rose to a shout. "Be gone!" He dipped his hand into the blood, sprinkling it over the demons before setting the bowl down in the center of them. "Be gone!" The candle blew out. "Be gone!!"
The lights hanging from the ceiling began exploding, moving from the ones at the furthest edges of the warehouse toward the center, and the circle there. The last lights blew out in a shower of glass and sparks of electricity, plunging the room into darkness.
Finally, after a few long moments of silence, Ethan spoke, voice shaking. "Is everyone alive?"
A chorus of affirmative answers greeted him, along with one "Damn you to hell and back, Ethan."
"Good to know you survived unharmed, Ripper," said Ethan dryly.
Giles sighed. Then, grudgingly, "Well done, Ethan. I'm impressed."
"Why thank you, Ripper. I've worked hard to become proficient at some of the lesser known magicks and--"
"Shut up, Ethan."
Oz looked at the neatly folded pile of clothing sitting on the edge of the sink. A small bottle of antiseptic and several bandages rested on top. Oz smiled at the sight, picking up the bottle and beginning to apply the antiseptic to several of the cuts and scrapes still decorating his body, wincing at the mild stinging. He set the bottle down, picking up the Band- Aids and stifling the urge to snicker.
Muttley. Scooby-doo. Astro. Someone - and Oz was hesitant to guess who, given the people involved - had a bizarre sense of humor.
Oz slid into the clothing, sighing in relief at the simple cotton of the boxers and t-shirt. He rubbed the towel vigorously through his hair, drying it quickly and leaving it rumpled and spiky. He glanced at himself in the mirror, noting the fading bruises along his cheek and the dark circles under his eyes. Oz frowned, feeling like a five-year-old who had just woken up from a nightmare. He looked...vulnerable, felt that way too after the mayhem of that night.
Oz intensely disliked feeling vulnerable. He sat down carefully on the edge of the bathtub, looking down at the ground as he tried to figure out exactly what to do about the situation he found himself in. He was still sitting that way ten minutes later, when the bathroom door opened and Alexa walked in, seating herself next to Oz and mimicking his pose.
"Have you ever noticed," began Oz, "how odd looking feet are?"
Alexa looked down at their bare feet and frowned. "What goes on in your head?"
Oz shrugged, watching Alexa as she leaned over, grabbing one of the Band-Aids from the sink. She peeled the protective backing off and placed it on Oz's foot, smoothing it down with her fingers. Oz grinned. "And you ask me what goes on in my head."
She smiled at him, standing up and holding out a hand. "Come on, babe. We've got pizza."
"Thank God...I'm starved," he said, as he took her hand and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet.
Alexa nodded, twining her fingers with his and tugging him along. "Yeah, your body's gone kinda nuts trying to heal you. You should eat more, 'cause your metabolism is, or will get to be, greatly out of whack."
"I've noticed," commented Oz.
Christian glanced up from where he was sitting, propped up against the base of the couch. "Eat, drink and be merry." He nodded to the two boxes of pizza and the various drinks littering the coffee table. "For tomorrow we..." he trailed off, searching for an appropriate way to end the thought.
Alexa raised an eyebrow at him. "We die?" she said dryly.
"I would've gone with sleep late and do wicked, sinful things, personally." Christian shrugged and tossed a wadded up napkin at her. "But then, I'm terribly single-minded."
"As long as you realize that."
Oz chuckled, seating himself on the other side of the coffee table. "My, what a big ego you have."
"All the better to ravish you with, my dear."
Alexa smirked. "You equate ego with the size of your penis."
"Most men do, babe." Christian held up one the smaller boxes and smiled innocently. "Breadstick?"
Giles leaned against the wall of his bedroom, glaring balefully at the man laying so comfortably on his bed. "Get out."
Giles sighed, shook his head and walked over to the bed. He grabbed Ethan's arm and pulled, trying to get Ethan off the bed, out the door, and out of his life.
It didn't work.
Ethan smirked and leaned back, pulling Giles off balance and sending him sprawling onto the bed. "Surely you haven't forgotten..."
Giles sat up, shoving Ethan away. "Get out, Ethan."
"I wouldn't be me if I left so easily." Ethan put a hand on Giles' chest, pushing him back onto the bed. "Persistence is a virtue, you know."
"You don't have any."
"Tsk, tsk, Rupert. You've been spending too much time with your Slayer and her friends. They're a bad influence."
Ethan smiled. "You used to be so much more...fun."
"Why are you here, Ethan?" asked Giles.
"Because I want to be." He shrugged easily. "Besides, we're old...friends. And I don't have any other place to stay."
Giles sighed. "There's nowhere else you could possibly stay?"
"There are always places."
"So why don't you stay at one of them?"
Ethan frowned at Giles. "Don't you remember, Ripper? Spellcasting takes energy."
"You aren't buying it, are you?"
Giles smiled in amusement. "No."
"Damn," he muttered. "If I promise to behave myself, will you let me stay?"
Giles stood up, moving over to the closet and pulling a blanket down from the top shelf. He tossed it at Ethan. "You may sleep on the couch."
"I'm really much better in bed."
"Ethan?" There was a mild note of warning in Giles' voice.
Ethan nodded. "The couch sounds lovely."
Alexa leaned back against Oz, flipping the channels on the remote. "Fake," she said, pausing for a moment on Jerry Springer.
Oz looked up at the screen and tilted his head. "You think?"
"Yeah. Her breasts defy gravity."
Christian laughed. "They are...perky." He returned to painting Alexa's toenails.
"Mm." Alexa shrugged and continued changing channels. "Ooh, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes..." She set the remote down and smiled happily. "I love this movie."
Oz grinned. "I love the actual attacking bits."
"Oh! When they show the woman screaming, then cut to a shaking tomato, then show the screaming woman again, and then throw tomatoes at her from offscreen?"
"You scare me, 'Lexa. You really, truly do." Christian recapped the bottle of nail polish and scooted back until he was sitting next to Oz. "Your nails are done."
Alexa smirked. "You are so my bitch, Chris."
"Only for this week, babe."
"You are both scary, scary individuals," said Oz.
Ethan wandered through the kitchen, picking up various small jars of spices. "Why do I not believe that you use marnox root in a traditional stir-fry?"
"Put that down and go to sleep, Ethan."
"The night is young, Ripper."
"We're not," said Giles.
Ethan smiled brightly. "I still have some chocolate..."
Giles gave him a look. "Remind me to repay you for that mess tomorrow."
"Of course. Toadstone? In your kitchen? Really, Rupert..."
"Shut up, Ethan."
"Right...see you in the morning, Ripper."
"Good night, Ethan."
Christian woke up abruptly, feeling an unfamiliar presence curled up next to him. He blinked, and sat up partially, glancing at the glowing red numbers on the bedside clock. 4:20. In the morning. He sat up the rest of the way, looking down at the arm wrapped around his waist. He smiled faintly at Alexa, shifted her hand off his lap and slid off the bed. She sighed and rolled over, wrapping herself around Oz and burying her face in his neck. Christian grinned at the sight, then padded outside, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and lighting one.
He sat down in one of the chairs outside and propped one leg up on the patio wall, tilting the chair back and staring up at the sky. The night was almost over and the moon hung, nearly full, obscured by drifting clouds and dimmed by the streetlamps. He sat there, smoke drifting up into the sky in lazy tendrils until he finished the cigarette and put it out in the ashtray beside him. He closed his eyes, sitting motionless except for the slight rise and fall of his chest. Hiding until the sun came up two hours later.
Christian heard footsteps then, quiet, delicate, coming towards him. A soft rustle of clothing, a brush of air and then silence. Christian fought the tension in his shoulders and neck, refusing to move. If he moved, he'd open his eyes and the game would be over.
Another rustle of clothing. Then a hand, pressed lightly against his chest, warm and trembling slightly. Christian suppressed a shiver, feeling the heat of the other person's body against his skin. Then he felt the lips against his own, firm and parted slightly. He sighed softly, opening his mouth for the other person's tongue.
They kissed slowly, thoroughly, stopping only when the need for air demanded it. The other person stepped back, pulling away. Christian listened to the footsteps get further and further away. He waited until the footsteps were almost gone and then Christian spoke, voice barely above a whisper. "Oz?"
"Yes?" came the reply, just as quietly.
"Yeah. I need to go."
"No, you don't." Christian resisted the urge to move, but opened his eyes. "Stay here."
Oz smiled faintly. "With you?"
"I can't. I'm sorry."
Christian smiled faintly. "Worried about your virtue?"
"Something like that." Oz turned around, eyes glittering. "I can't stay here, Christian. If I do, things will happen. I don't want things to happen."
"Bull," he said softly. "You want things to happen and that scares you so you're running away."
"All right." Oz shrugged. "I...you..." he growled in frustration. "I need to go away. Last night was utterly ridiculous and I need time to adjust. I won't get that if I stay here."
"If you leave, will you come back?"
Oz's voice lowered and his hand tensed on the door knob. "I don't know."
"So why should I let you go?" asked Christian.
"Because I'd hate you for making me stay." Oz looked down at the ground. "So...can I leave?"
Christian nodded, closing his eyes again. "Lock the door on your way out."
Ethan watched Giles sleep. He lay curled up in the center of the bed, looking much younger than he was. After they had eaten, he had forced Giles upstairs and told him to get some sleep. Giles, unsurprisingly, had resisted.
"I will not go to sleep with you lurking about, Ethan. You go to sleep first."
"Just go to bed, Rupert. I won't take advantage. Not tonight." Ethan sighed, exhausted and wanting nothing more than to sleep himself. "Tonight...I owe you."
Ethan had settled himself into a chair, content to watch over his old friend. He smiled wryly, wondering where this sudden bout of affection and caring had come from. He watched Giles turn in his sleep, making a noise that sounded suspiciously like a name. Jenny. Who the bloody hell was Je--right, the lovely brunette from the messiness with Eyghon.
He stood up, wandering around the bedroom, picking up personal effects and examining them. His Ripper had changed, not as much as Giles had hoped, but enough. There were pictures on the dresser, Giles and Jenny in one of those silly little booths that took a strip of small pictures for a dollar. Rupert always did have exceptional taste in lovers.
Giles turned again, curling onto his side. Ethan moved over to the side of the bed and looked down at the still-sleeping Giles. He knelt, still silent, and stroked Giles' hair back. "Shhh, Rupert. It's all right..." he whispered. Ethan studied the other man's face, noting the new wrinkles around the mouth and eyes, wondering if they had come from laughter or grief, and betting on the latter.
Poor Rupert, unlucky in love and life and everything else. Ethan smiled, tucking the covers more firmly around Giles. "You never did have a sense of self preservation, Ripper. Pity, that," he said softly. No taking advantage, Ethan reminded himself firmly. He stood up, walking over to the desk and writing a note for whenever Giles decided to wake up.
He smirked down at what he had written, looked back at Giles for a moment, and walked out the door.
"Be seeing you..."