Twenty Shadows

by Sheila Perez

"Each substance of grief, hath twenty shadows which shows like grief itself..."
-Shakespeare, Richard II

Cordelia frowned as she looked down at the ground, placing one foot in front of the other carefully. Oz smiled a little and wrapped an arm around her waist, steadying her as she walked.

"You okay?" he asked as they continued walking away from the club. He glanced up at her, shifting slightly so that her arm was not resting on the newly raised welts on his back. So, okay, pain was all well and good when necessary, but it was awful when it wasn't. Though, to be honest, pain almost always sucked. Because it was, well, pain.



"Is everything supposed to be moving?"

"Well, no. But yes. 'Cause we're moving. And stuff moves relative to us and looks like it's moving. So maybe. I don't know."

Cordelia blinked and tried to work the logic of that statement out in her head, failed, and decided to think about how Oz looked in black lipstick and leather. "How'd you meet Alexa?"

"She came to a gig. And uh, I think we talked." Oz shifted again, not really wanting to talk about his strange relationship with Alexa. It hurt too much to think about why they were together sometimes. "She really is nice."

"She whipped you, Oz."

"Yeah, but I asked her too."

"Did you like it?" She looked down at him and raised an eyebrow, stumbling over a crack in the sidewalk.

Oz frowned. "Like what?"

"The whipping?"

"Well..." he trailed off, trying to find the best way of explaining to Cordelia. "Yes and no. 'Cause it's pain, and so it's bad. But sometimes it's good." He ran a hand through his hair, rumpling it further and stretching his back. Oz hissed softly as the skin pulled gently, putting pressure on the welts. "It reminds me that I'm here. Which is a good."

"You have problems remembering you're here? Where is here?" She pouted at him. Pouting had never failed to get her what she wanted. Of course, she had never met a person who was so not impressed with her. Or didn't want her sexually. It took away a lot of bargaining power. "I wanna understand."

"I know you do, Cordelia. But I don't understand it." He frowned down at his hand, which now had blue pomade on it. Oz pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his hand off. "Damn, another perfectly good handkerchief lost to hair problems."


"Talking to myself."

"Oh. Does Elvis talk to you?"

Oz blinked. The hell? "Cordelia, Elvis is dead. Or possibly a vampire."

She giggled. "Or living in a trailer park outside Milwaukee."

"Uh huh. You're drunk."

"Oh, and you're so very sober."

He chuckled. They continued walking through the back streets of Sunnydale, giggling and laughing at each other as they told stupid jokes and stories. Everything would have been wonderful if someone hadn't shouted their names as they passed the Bronze.

Oz and Cordelia turned around, seeing the former objects of their affections walking toward them. Oz sighed. Great. Just, fucking great. He would have kept walking. He would have turned around and kept right on going. It was only Cordelia's hand on his arm, the pleading look in her eyes and his own innate sense of honor that kept him from bolting at the sound of her voice. He found it horribly sad that, one time, hearing her say his name had made him almost unbearably happy. Now, he just wanted to cry.

Cordelia could feel the tension in his arm. He didn't want to do this. He didn't want to confront them. She knew that. She followed as he walked over to the wall, very deliberately leaning back, putting pressure on the stripes on his back. Cordelia flinched in sympathy and put a hand on his shoulder. He grabbed her hand and slid it around his waist, pulling her closer. He smiled up at her and she squeezed his hand. They both turned to face the approaching group of people.

Oz smiled grimly. The stage was set. All that was left was for them to play out the scene.

Faith whistled as the group finally joined them. "You two look like the top of an S&M wedding cake." She looked them over carefully. "I like."

Cordelia smiled a little. "You would."

Xander had his arms around Willow, and he kissed her cheek, glancing over at Oz and Cordelia. Something inside of Oz wanted to rip Xander's heart out and feed it to him for touching his mate. If he were honest, a lot of things inside him wanted to do that.

She was his. His, his, his.

Cordelia glared. Willow pushed herself away from Xander and smiled at him before walking over to Oz.

Oz watched her move toward him. She stopped, looking at him questioningly. "Oz?" She touched him. "We need to talk."

He was vaguely aware of Cordelia stalking forward, already yelling at Xander, but he ignored that and focused on Willow. He could feel something dark and scary and angry rise up inside him. Something that wanted to hurt her and him and everyone.

Oz lifted Willow's hand, raising it to his cheek before turning his head and kissing her palm. She curled her fingers closed and opened her mouth to speak. He touched her lips, quieting her. Oz kissed her hand again, twining his fingers in her own, holding her hand tightly. He slid their hands across her waist, pulling her back against him. Willow gasped softly.


"Shh, Willow," he whispered. "I would not have chosen here or now to do this, but I promised Cordelia. So here goes."


"Oz, I..." Willow closed her eyes. "I want to make things right."

"Can't do it, Willow. Can't make this right." He kissed her neck softly, leaving a smudge of his lipstick there.

"I never meant to hurt you." She spoke in a whisper, tears welling up in her eyes. "I swear, I never meant to hurt you. "

Oz buried his face in Willow's hair, breathing in her scent. He hugged her close, letting her feel exactly what she did to him, what she always had done. "But you did."

Willow closed her eyes, trembling. "I didn't mean to..." She could feel his hand where it rested on that slim line of flesh left bare by her short sweater, stroking her skin softly. His fingers were rough from the calluses he got from playing guitar and the touch was feather-light, sending shivers down her spine.

"You know what they say about the road to hell, Willow." Dimly, he could hear Cordelia and Xander going at it. Cordelia was holding her own, despite being quite drunk, and Xander was backing away from her. Good. Couldn't have his little confrontation stopped too soon. He knew that this was bad, that he was taking out issues on Willow. But oh well. His mouth slid down the side of her throat, resting on the pulse. Oz was beginning to understand how vampires felt. Half of his mind was screaming that she was food. Prey, to be brought down. To be hunted. The other half of his mind was struggling between kissing her or throttling her.

She could feel his breath on her neck and she shuddered. He bit down lightly, soothing the tiny hurt with long, slow laps of his tongue.

Oz shivered, breathing deeply, trying to get himself under control. This close to the full moon, his control over the more...aggressive parts of him weren't what they should be. He returned to whispering in her ear, as he slid one hand down her arm, grabbing her other hand and holding it against his leg. "I can smell him on you, you know? Tsk, tsk...I feel cheated." A smile then, dark and dangerous. "Of course, I was cheated, so that makes sense."

"Oz...don't do this..." Willow tried to free her hand from Oz's. Tried to get away from what he was making her feel again. It was confusing. She didn't want to be confused. Confusion led to Bad Things.

"Don't do what, Willow? Don't kiss you? Touch you?" He let her hands go, sliding around her body until he faced her. "Don't do all the things you're letting Xander do to you?" Oz brushed his lips against the corner of her mouth, leaving a dark trail of lipstick behind. He put his hands on her hips, pulling her tight up against him. Willow's eyes widened.

"Oz...we can't..."

He kissed her, a light brushing of lips. "We can't what?"

"I'm with Xander now..."

"Uh huh." Oz pulled her arms around him, settling her hands on his hips. She didn't resist. "Not the best reason you could give, you know."

"Oz..." She closed her eyes. If she didn't look, she could say she wasn't expecting it. That it was a surprise. That she wasn't actively participating. Or resisting. Whatever. It wouldn't be her fault. It scared her, sometimes, to think about how very good she was becoming at justifications.

He frowned a little. There would be no hiding. "Open your eyes, Willow." Another chaste kiss. "You have to play fair."

She made a small sound. "Please don't...I don't deserve this..." Willow could feel the tension rise.

"I'm not raping you Willow. I'm not even holding you against your will. So don't make it out to be some grand scene where you get to play the innocent. You're not. You don't. And we both know it." The words were harsh, angry.

Willow's eyes snapped open and she glared at him. "What do you want from me?!?"

He slid his cheek along hers, until his mouth was just barely touching her ear. "I want you to wonder. I want you to wonder if things could have been different between us. I want you to wonder if you're going to be happy with Xander." She could feel his hand slide up her side, pushing the hem of her sweater up, so that his hand rested on bare skin. "I want you to understand what you did." Oz kissed her neck, scraping his teeth along that sensitive skin just below her ear. "I want you."

She whimpered and closed her eyes. "I love Xander. I always have."

Oz flinched, but didn't move away. He kissed her again, harder, deeper, punishing her for something that wasn't her fault. "Sometimes, baby, love isn't enough." He pushed her away, hard enough that she staggered back, off-balance.

They stared at each other, the few feet between them becoming a huge distance that couldn't be crossed.

Everyone else stood there, watching the nasty little drama unfold. Oz wrapped his arms around himself, staring at the group. Even Cordelia was standing with them. Them vs. him. It wasn't a new situation. He took a few steps back, putting more distance between them. He didn't need them. Didn't need anybody.

Cordelia took a step forward, holding out her hand. "Oz..."

He shuddered and took another step back. "Don't." Oz glanced from face to face, watching as Xander wrapped an arm around Willow, pulling her close and kissing the top of her head. He wouldn't flinch, wouldn't run. He'd finish what he started.

Oz rubbed his arms, trying to get warm. "You wanted to know what I want?"

Willow nodded silently.

"I want you to hurt."

She drew a shaky breath and looked at him, beginning to cry. He had made her cry. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He was a bastard. And yet, knowing that he was deliberately hurting her didn't make the words stop coming. They were vile, and horrible and hurtful and they wouldn't stop.

Willow watched him carefully. She was afraid. Of him. They all were. Shit. He could feel something that had been warm and happy inside him shrivel up and die. He couldn't do it. Couldn't hurt her anymore than he already had.

Oz turned around and very carefully, very deliberately, began to walk away. Maybe it was better to leave things alone. He could feel tears sliding down his cheeks, but he didn't acknowledge them, just kept walking. When he spoke again, it was a whisper that no one could possibly have heard. "I want you to hate me..."

Cordelia said his name. He walked faster, breaking into a run when he heard footsteps behind him.

What had he done?