AN: I know it's short, but more coming when I wake up.
The sound of the incessantly ringing doorbell pulled her up out of her stupor. She had been sitting on the couch staring at a book without blinking. One of her few nights without work, and all she had been able to do was not read. It was pretty pathetic.
The interruption was almost a relief, but that didn't stop her from jerking the door open. "What the fuck do you..."
The sight before her made her close her mouth with a snap. Sylvie standing in front of her with a firm chinned look while behind her Cherry and Zane held up a blood covered Nathaniel wrapped in the tatters of a blanket.
"What the fuck happened?" Anita demanded, opening the door wide and gesturing them in.
Sylvie paused for a moment at the threshold, looking her up and down with an evaluating gaze. "Your leopard got himself into some trouble. We helped him out of it. Now take him so we can go. I've got stuff to do."
Cherry and Zane carried Nathaniel inside, taking him upstairs to the spare room. She could hear them clattering around up there, trying to get him comfortably laid out.
"What happened to him?" Anita glared at Sylvie.
Sylvie smirked at her. "Looks like you haven't been looking after your kitties the way you're supposed to. He got used a little roughly by a bunch of men. But don't worry... we fixed things for you so you don't have to bother yourself at all."
Anita could feel her lips twisting. Sylvie had always kind of rubbed her the wrong way, but her current better-than-thou attitude was really pissing her off.
"Thank you for helping Nathaniel," she managed to grate out.
Sylvie shrugged. "Nate's a nice guy," she said. "We didn't help him for you."
"Thank you anyway. I'll take care of him from now on."
"Better than you have been. That's one kitty that shouldn't be out and about by himself. Unless you want him to be someone else's chewtoy." With that, Sylvie turned and walked away.
Anita watcher her head down the sidewalk, feeling her lips draw back from her teeth at the deliberate way Sylvie had turned her back.
"She's a bit of a bitch, isn't she? You should teach her her place."
"What are you doing here?" Anita asked Buffy, who was standing next to her.
Buffy shrugged and crossed her arms, leaning against the doorjamb. "I'm always here for you. But right now, check out who's in the car."
Anita peered at the car, and when Sylvie opened the door, she caught a flash of two pale faces in the backseat. Oz and Jason both.
"What the hell is Oz doing with them?" Anita demanded, feeling her temper rise.
"He's taking your place, pushing you out of your own life," Buffy said. "He's deliberately turning them against you."
"What... what am I supposed to do about it?" Anita asked, hating how unsure she sounded.
"You're gonna wait, watch, and when the time is right..." Buffy left it hanging. She looked over Anita's shoulder. "Oop, here comes Cherry."
Anita turned to look at the wereleopard coming down the stairs. "How is he?"
Cherry looked surprised for a moment. "He's hurt, but already healing. He's going to be sore for a few days, but he'll get better."
"Good," Anita said. "Now why the hell was he trolling the streets for abusive idiots?"
Cherry looked straight at her. "Because he wasn't getting something he needed from you."
It felt like she had been struck hard across the face and she didn't know why.
For years Nathaniel had lingered at her side. She knew he had been badly broken by abuse and put back together in all curves and bent angles. But she had become used to his loyalty, and the fact that he would always be there, never straying.
"What could he have needed?" she asked, hating the pain in her own voice.
Cherry shrugged. "Nathaniel may look easy to read from the outside, but he has more to him than that inside. He can be pretty complicated. Then again, that can pretty much be said of anyone. Stuffs happening that you just can't see."
"Yeah, Anita," Buffy said. "All kinds of stuff is happening that you just can't see." The blond sounded amused.
Anita rubbed her forehead, feeling a headache forming right between her eyes. "I'm going to get a cup of coffee, then I'll check on Nathaniel."
Cherry nodded. :I'll go back up with him. Zane'll need help cleaning him up. He's a mess."
Anita watched Cherry walk up the stairs, then sighed and went into the kitchen.
She thought it was maybe a problem sign when she constantly dreamed of escaping from her own life.
* * *
Oz had seen Anita look right at him and it sent a chill through him.
"You think she's gonna blame us for what happened to Nathaniel?" he asked.
"Probably," Jason said. "She really doesn't understand him all that well. She's been feeding the aurdeur on him and has started having sex with him, but she doesn't really listen to him. He's like her pet."
"That she has sex with," Oz said.
Jason laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. "You're gross."
"It's a gift called testosterone," Oz said.
Jason leaned against his side, a comfortably warm weight. "I know you're probably missing your home, but I'm glad you're here." His voice lowered, "I really needed a friend. I haven't had a real one in a long time."
"Glad to help," Oz said, and wasn't even surprised that it was true.
Underneath the clothes and the irrepressibly sexy attitude, Jason was actually a pretty nice guy. And even though he wasn't quite ready to admit it out loud, Oz thought he was kind of cute.