It felt strange to find himself fitting semi-comfortably into this new world. It was just that Jason was so entirely welcoming that it made him feel like he was part of something again, something bigger than himself.
The last time he had really felt part of a group was with the Scooby Gang back when they were in high school, before they all started growing up and reality just made everything harder to deal with.
He quirked his lips a little at the thought that slaying vampires and running around the Hellmouth felt like such a kid thing to do. Like becoming an adult had made all that supernatural stuff too hard to deal with.
Oz sighed and turned his head to look at Jason, who was sleeping really rather close to him. So close their faces could have touched. So close he could feel the other man's breath sweeping across his cheek.
They had fallen asleep in Jason's bed, and though it shouldn't have felt so absolutely comfortable, it was. Just a relaxing nap with someone that was quickly becoming a real friend.
He thought about Devon and the times they used to lie together like this, back before the band had broken up. The only other real male friends he had had other than Devon were Xander and Giles, and he'd never been all that close to either of them. They were good to slay beside, but it wasn't like they would have had anything to do with each other if it wasn't for Willow.
It had taken him a cool minute to recognize why the magical energies imbuing that strange rift in time-space had felt so familiar, but now he knew. It had felt like Willow, that odd mix of hot and cold that had always left his skin tingling with pure Want.
Even during all the Veruca madness, he had still known that Willow was always and forever going to be under his skin. He'd just needed a little while to sort his head out. He'd always known he was going to come back to her, because in the end, Willow was his world.
He had never imagined that she would ever move on without him, that she would find someone else to love as much as she loved him, if not more.
He could still feel the shock of seeing her with Tara, the rush of primal rage and the urge to destroy the interloper. But after the whole Initiative, tortured in a little cage thing... he'd been forced to let the anger go, to recognize that he really wasn't as in control of himself as he'd fooled himself into thinking.
He was always and forever going to love Willow, there was no doubt about that. But he couldn't allow himself to be in love with her. Because that route ended with madness. They were different people now on different paths, and his love for her had always been way beyond his means to control.
But here in the quiet stillness of this bedroom with this guy he barely even knew... he felt more comfortable in his own skin than he had in a long time.
Oz traced his eyes over Jason's face, sweeping across the smooth pale skin, the delicate curve of cheek with a glint of new beard growing, the curve of his neck. And he felt peaceful inside.
There was no raging beast tearing to escape his skin. There was no restless wanderer craving to taste whatever the world had to offer. There was only Oz.
And for the first time in his entire life, he thought that maybe that was enough.
A little smile quirked his lips and he settled deeper into his pillow and let himself drift back to sleep, Jason's every breath a sighing lullaby.
* * *
"Okay, what the fuck?"
Those were not the words Nathaniel had expected to wake up to. In fact, he hadn't really expected to wake up at all, yet here he was.
He slowly opened his eyes, blinking rapidly to clear away the strange lassitude that wanted to drown him. They had obviously given him the good pain meds.
His gaze was inexorably drawn to where Anita stood, her hands crossed tight over her chest in that weird self-hug she liked to do, a dark frown curving her lips. Her eyebrows were drawn together so tight that it looked like that little line furrowing into her brow was never going to go away.
He was only glad that she was glaring angrily at Dr. Lillian and not at him. In his current state, he didn't know if he would have been able to deal with her anger.
As it was, her barely bridled rage was like a furnace blasting way too hot, way too close to his already scorched skin. He couldn't handle the burn.
"He was tortured by some incredibly sick individuals, Anita," Dr. Lillian said. "The necklaces of silver they hung off of him severely weakened his ability to heal and even now you can see that he's still got burns on over seventy percent of his body."
"Silver necklaces? Why would they use those instead of chains?" Anita asked, the even tone she used obviously taking a lot of her self-control.
Dr. Lillian sighed. "You know as well as I do just how expensive silver is. Regular silver necklace chains though... They used them to keep him weak and malleable so they could transport him from where they captured him to the warehouse where he was found."
Anita's lips were drawn tight. "I want to know why no one called me to help in the rescue."
Dr. Lillian shrugged. "You just called me in as a favor to check him over. You need to ask your own people why they didn't feel the need to come to you. And maybe you should think on some of the recent behavior you've been displaying."
"What the fuck are you talking about?" The scent of Anita's anger spiked.
Dr. Lillian stood firm in front of Nathaniel's Nimir-ra, her expression refusing to change. "You may need to see Marianne again, Anita. You have definitely not been displaying very good self control of late."
Anita's face twisted so fast into something ugly and back again that Nathaniel almost wouldn't have believed he'd seen it, except that that image was burned into his brain forever.
Dr. Lilliian took a quick step back to the door. "I think that I'm going to take my leave now," she said, her voice admirably even. "I really need to get back to the clinic."
Nathaniel felt Anita's attention turning toward him and hurriedly clicked his eyes closed, praying that she wouldn't know he had been awake.
"Fine, I'll walk you out and you can tell me what I can do to help him heal," Anita said. There was the sound of two sets of footsteps walking away from the bed, then a door opening and closing.
Nathaniel drew in a deep sobbing breath and opened his eyes to peer around and make sure that he was really alone. He could still smell the sudden whiff of Dr. Lillian's fear, but like Anita's anger it was already fading without them being in the room.
He pressed his cheek tight against his pillow for a moment, then forced himself to relax.
He couldn't really explain why his heart was pounding so loudly in his ears or why his breath was coming so fast, but he was only glad that Anita didn't have the advanced senses necessary to realize how terrified he had suddenly been.
Because in those seconds when her rage had taken her over, another face had peered out of hers. It was like something out of a movie, just a quick morphing affect that he wanted to believe hadn't been real, but that he was never going to be able to forget.
For a second, her face had been thinner, smaller, her lips a little less full. Her hair had been blond then too, a pretty shimmery gold that didn't lessen the impact of her snarling mouth and the glaring red hate of her eyes.
He knew that something was terribly wrong with Anita and that he was going to have to tell Jean-Claude about it. He was going to have to pretend that he hadn't seen what he'd seen and heal up enough to get out of the house without her knowing that he had seen what had been inside her.
Because he knew more than anything that whatever had worn Anita's body in that moment wouldn't hesitate to put him in the ground in the most painful way possible.
Nathaniel clenched his hands into tight fists of impotent fear, because for the first time in his life he had seen the face of pure evil. And when Dr. Lillian left, he was going to be alone in the house with it.
He had never been so frightened in his entire life.