NOTE: things get a little darker for awhile. Brace yourself for the badness to come...
He felt a little out of place interacting with Jason's friends since he knew most of them were his Pack mates and the rest were wereleopards. Surrounded by lycanthropes, and he knew he had a secret to keep if he wanted to make it in this world.
They were hanging out at Stephen's apartment. The guy was a friend of Jason's and seemed to be one of the only ones present not currently living with Anita Blake. Which was kind of weird, but as Jason explained it, "She offered protection and she was part of the Pack. You know, before she went psycho-bitch and started killing people for no reason."
All Oz had been able to say to that was "Huh." He just didn't have the words.
Instead of saying anything, he munched on pizza and watched the others interact. There was just this huge family vibe about it that made him think of the Scooby-gang. If the Scooby-gang was comprised of porn stars, since that was pretty much how everyone dressed.
"What are you thinking?" one of the women, Sylvie, asked, leaning against the side of the couch next to him.
Oz didn't look at her, his eyes glued to Gregory and Jason wrestling over the last Dr. Pepper. "Don't any of you own any normal clothes?"
Sylvie snorted a laugh. "What's the fun of that, huh, little man? Besides, we're monsters. We might as well dress the part."
"You don't dress like monsters," Oz said.
"And how do we dress?" she asked.
"Psychedelic porn stars. I didn't know leather came in so many colors before I came to St. Louis."
She slapped him on the shoulder. "You're a good man. Just don't try to be lupa, and we'll be all right."
Sylvie laughed and walked away, heading over to the table and more pizza. It was all very confusing.
Then the phone rang, and without knowing why, Oz felt a chill shiver over his skin. He just had this sense of impending something, maybe not doom, but something.
"Hello?" Stephen said, lifting the receiver. "All right, all right, slow down, take a breath. Okay, yeah, he's here. Gregory?" He offered the phone to his twin brother.
"Who is it?" Gregory asked, already taking the phone. "This is me."
It was strange how they all just kind of stopped what they were doing, just froze and stared, straining to hear what the other person was saying as Gregory went pale and began babbling.
"All right, I'll be there in a little while. Just hold on and keep trying to reach someone else, okay? I'll be there, but it's going to take me about half an hour. It's all right. It's going to be all right." He hung up the phone and just stood there for a moment, his shoulders slumping.
"What's going on?" Stephen asked, wrapping his arm around Gregory's shoulder and leaning against him, offering comfort.
Gregory rubbed his cheek against Stephen's shoulder, scent marking him. "That was Cherry. Nathaniel was picked up by a bunch of guys and she wants me to find whoever I can to come help save him. The guys have guns. They know he's a were and that he has friends."
"What about Anita? Why didn't Cherry call her?" Stephen asked.
Gregory shook his head. "No one can reach her. She's not answering her phone. It's just me, Cherry, and Zane. Everyone else is out of touch."
"I'll go with you," Stephen said.
"Don't," Gregory said, looking at him. "This is Pard business. Richard won't like it if you..."
"This has nothing to do with the Pack. This is me helping my brother," Stephen said, "and Nathaniel."
Sylvie cleared her throat and Stephen flushed, looking at her. "Did you forget I was here?" she asked.
Stephen bowed his head. "Please , Sylvie. My brother is going to go help Nathaniel and he could die. I can't..."
Sylvie's lips twitched. "You can't go by yourself."
She stood up. "Come on, let's get ready. You're going to need some help."
"What about Richard?" Stephen asked.
"I'll handle Richard," Sylvie said, her voice going hard. "Maybe it's time his ass received a wake up call from reality."
Oz didn't know what was going on, since there was an almost overwhelming history-vibe flowing through the air, but he stood up with the others and grabbed his jacket.
"You don't have to come with us," Jason said. "Stephen won't mind if you wait here for us."
Oz half smiled. "It's cool. I'm coming with."
Jason grinned at him. "Okay."
* * *
Riding in cars with weres. It should have been a movie or something. Though he didn't think Drew Barrymore would have been able to handle the drama of the moment, not his reality's version of her anyway. The one here might be totally bad ass.
They headed toward the warehouse district where the lights weren't quite as bright and the pedestrian traffic was nearly nonexistence. It was like entering some other kind of world, like he had left yet another reality behind.
"There, that's Cherry," Jason said for Oz's benefit, pointing to the figure of a woman standing near the curb, her arms crossed tightly against her.
Stephen pulled the car to a stop in front of her and they all piled out.
"Where is he?" Gregory asked her.
Cherry turned to the building behind her. "They're in there. Zane went in, but he said he was just going to look around, not do anything stupid."
"We better hurry," Sylvie said. "Zane isn't bright enough to not actually do anything."
Cherry glared at her. "He said he wouldn't."
Sylvie growled at her, then snapped her teeth. "Let's go."
Walking close behind Jason, Oz followed the others in through the side-door, the shattered lock telling how Zane had gotten in. He guessed that were strength really came in handy for breaking-and-entering.
The inside of the warehouse was dark, the echoing sound of distant screams and whimpers surprisingly loud as they wandered their way toward the main floor area and the light.
Sylvie held up her hand, stopping them as she peered around the corner. She cursed under her breath. "We better hurry."
"Yeah, things are getting really bad," Zane said, appearing out of the shadows with a silent tread.
"How many guns they got?" Jason asked.
Zane shrugged. "About ten, all loaded with silver."
"Shit. So how are we going to handle this?" Cherry asked.
Sylvie looked back around the corner, then drew in a deep breath. "They're very involved in what they're doing. We've got surprise on our side. So we'll hit fast and we'll hit hard. Jason will make a distraction so Zane and Cherry can come around at them from behind. Stephen, Gregory and I will come on them from above," she pointed up at the rafters.
"What about Oz?" Jason asked.
Sylvie looked at Oz for a second, squinting her eyes a little. "You untie Nathaniel and get him out while the rest of us handle the situation."
Oz nodded. "Okay."
Jason clapped him once on the shoulder, then everything really started moving into the action part of the story.
Oz watched as Cherry and Zane crept around to the opposite end of the warehouse to wait for their cue. Meanwhile, Sylvie, Stephen and Gregory climbed the rickety ladder upward to the rough metal platform along the wall, and once there they leapt across the intervening space to the framework of rafters. The metal creaked and groaned a little under the sudden weight, but the human men didn't hear it over the sound of their "play."
Suddenly there was a loud BANG! and everything really started.
Moving in a blur of speed, Cherry and Zane lunged forward grabbing the nearest men and throwing them as hard as they could toward the walls before moving on to the next. Always first, Sylvie jumped down from above to land on one man, clawing him viciously with a Changed hand, ripping his throat out in a burst of blood. He didn't even have time to scream and she was already moving on to the next. Stephen and Gregory, moving in tandem, jumped down on their own victims, animal snarls of fury escaping their still human throats.
Once most of the men were down, Oz hurried across the floor to the chained figure he had tried so hard not to look at.
What must have been an incredibly good-looking man was now nothing more than ground meat. His face had been smashed into a pulpy wreck, his almost purple eyes rolling in their sockets, so pain blurred that he probably had no idea what was happening. He had been wrapped in silver chains that were attached to loops on a large steel frame that kept his arms and legs spread wide.
From the "toys" scattered around, it was obvious that he had been whipped, slashed with a knife, burned, had his fingernails ripped off with pliers, and had had various objects stuck into every orifice until blood, shit, urine and tears were spread everywhere on him.
Wrinkling his nose at the sharply unpleasant smell and barely keeping himself from gagging, Oz grabbed the chains. Ignoring the burning pain in his hands, he began to pull with all his strength, his teeth clenching so hard his jaw ached.
Everything in him screamed for him to Change and cause some damage, but he knew he couldn't do that. He had to help Nathaniel here.
With a groan of effort, the chain bent and broke. After that, he moved onto the next, and the next, and the next until Nathaniel finally fell limply to the floor. The guy didn't even have it in him to scream.
From the sounds of gunfire and screams, the human men had finally pulled themselves together enough to go on the offensive.
Oz raised his head up long enough to see that the lycanthropes were being pressed back by the hail of gunfire, but the men shooting smelled strongly of panic since they knew it was only a matter of time before they ran out of bullets and were killed. All they could do was try to take as many of the "monsters" down with them as possible.
Oz quickly unwound the chains from around Nathaniel and threw them from him. He could feel his hands crackling with burns, but that didn't matter. He had bigger things to worry about right now.
Moving behind Nathaniel, Oz gripped the guy beneath the armpits and began dragging him across the floor toward the door and out of the line of fire. Once there, he hunched over him, trying to see how bad the damage was.
He was surprised when Nathaniel moaned and weakly twitched his tortured fingers against the ground. "Sh, it's all right," he whispered, ignoring the tears that wanted to fill his eyes. "Everything's gonna be all right."
He had seen some pretty messed up things in Sunnydale, but those had all been done by soulless demons. This had been done by humans.* * *
Waking to agonizing pain, all he knew was that he needed Anita. She would make everything all right. She would protect him and make him better.
"Hey, I think he's trying to talk!"
"How is that possible with the kind of damage he's got?" a man asked.
"Dunno, but he's trying." A surprisingly cool hand touched his shoulder gently. "What are you trying to say, Nathaniel?"
"Talk slower, form your words. It's all right."
"A... Ani'a. T'ke me to Ani'a," he managed to get out through the pain in his scream-scarred throat.
"He wants us to take him to Anita," the man said.
"Dammit!" a female voice cursed. "You know how she's going to react. This isn't going to be pretty."
"Ani'a," he insisted.
"He wants Anita," the man said. Gentle hands soothed him, wiping away the blood with a cloth. "We'll drop him off and make sure he's going to be all right."
"Fine," the woman growled. "But if she goes nuts... it's on your head."
When the sense of motion changed direction under him, Nathaniel realized that he was in the back of an SUV or van. And from the sense of warmth around him, he could tell that there were several members of his Pard around him, holding him close in their presence, keeping him safe.
Soon he would have Anita with him and she would keep him safe from what had happened. She would save him from the monsters that had hurt him.