He felt guilty and afraid, but he knew there really wasn't anything else to be done.
Nathaniel had known for nearly his entire life that he wasn't exactly the hero in his own story. Whatever chance there might have been that he would be one of the brave, alpha types had been beaten out of him long ago. Still, he knew when something just had to be done, and that was why he was currently hiding in the walk-in closet with the phone handset.
"Mon chate, please tell me why you sound so afraid," Jean-Claude asked.
Nathaniel knew that it was kind of ridiculous to be so relieved by the concerned attentions of a vampire, but he just couldn't help himself. "There's something really wrong with Anita," he whispered.
"What are you speaking of?"
He crouched a little tighter in the space between the shoe rack and the plastic storage bin, hanging dresses and jackets just barely brushing the top of his head. Even though Anita had left the house for the night, he still felt safer behind the closed closet door. "When I woke up Dr. Lillian was checking me out. Anita was in a really bad mood," he said softly. "Dr. Lillian said something, and Anita got really mad, and when she did..."
"What happened?" Jean-Claude asked after the long moment when Nathaniel couldn't speak.
"There was something wrong with her face," he whispered, his voice cracking and breaking in the middle. He felt tears burning in his eyes, but he wouldn't let them fall. "It was like someone else was looking out of Anita's face, and it wasn't a very nice person."
"What does that mean?" Jean-Claude sounded worried now. "What did you see?"
"You need to do something," Nathaniel said. "It's almost like when the munin would take her over, but it's so much worse too." He couldn't help looking around, as though someone was going to come jumping out at him. There was just this sense of being watched. "I think she's possessed."
* * *
He'd called together his top lieutenants and they were currently filling up his living room with nervous energy and no little trace amounts of fear. They probably thought he was going to come across all aggressive on them, maybe ream them out for a bunch of petty non-issues.
Looking around at them, he felt guilty for having been such an asshole for so long.
"Does anyone want anything to drink?" he asked, just to break some of the tension. Then he felt like a jerk after receiving their disbelieving looks. He sighed and gestured for them to sit.
Shang-da and Jamil had been his loyal bodyguards for years, and Sylvie had been the kind of second-in-command most packs could only dream of. And he'd been a complete and utter dick to them all.
"What do you want, Richard?" Sylvie asked in her usual direct way. There was maybe a whiff of unease about her though, not-quite fear peaking behind her stoic mask. She had left Gwen safe at home, he noticed.
"It's not anything bad," he said, holding his hands up. He threw himself back into his chair and blew out a deep breath. He really didn't know how he was supposed to do this, but he had to do something to bring his pack back to where it was supposed to be. Finally he decided that he was better off just being honest.
"I know that I've been a real asshole for awhile," he said. "It's just, for the last couple of years I kind of felt as though I was trapped behind a layer of plexiglass and I just couldn't beat my way through it. I knew that I was being unreasonable, just really crazy, but I couldn't do anything about it, which just made everything even worse. And last night... everything came to a head and Jean-Claude finally had to step in and help me."
"What are you talking about?" Jamil asked.
Richard rubbed his hand over his face. "It was pointed out to him that something was really wrong with me and he took a look in my head. He found out that because of the Marks, Anita has been able to kind of pour all of her negative feelings into me. Anything she didn't want to handle herself, she dumped on me.
"Now look, Anita was affecting my emotions, I know that. But I'm not going to use that as an excuse for how I've been acting. I fully realize that I haven't been the leader I could have been, and I promise that changes will be made."
He could see that they didn't believe him, and he had to be honest with himself and admit that it hurt. But he knew that he had damaged a lot of the relationships in his life. He hadn't been the man he wanted to be for a long time. But he was going to make a difference, starting right now.
"I know you don't really trust me anymore," he said. When Jamil opened his mouth to make the lie and deny it, Richard held up his hand. "You don't have to try and appease me. I know that I've been a total jerk. I've hurt people, I've ruined a lot of my relationships with other people, and I've just basically been running around like a crazy person. And even though a lot of that had to do with all the craziness going on in my head, some of it was me too. And I'm going to own up to that, because that's the first step in making things better."
He felt a bit like he had joined AA, and that was kind of how he was going to handle things too. One step at a time.
* * *
Creeping out of the closet, Nathaniel felt both as though a weight had been lifted off his chest, and as though it had been replaced by a knife stabbing him in the heart. He just couldn't help thinking that maybe he was betraying Anita's trust in him. But something really needed to be done, because he was totally freaking out.
He had just slipped the phone back on the charger when Micah suddenly popped up in front of him. "What are you doing?"
He couldn't help his startled squeak, but tried to play it cool. "Nothing. I just had to make a phone call, that's all."
Micah gave him a weird look, evaluating him in that way he had. "Seriously, what's going on with you? If something's happening, I think you should tell me about it."
Nathaniel chewed on his lips nervously, his hands twisting together behind his back. He bowed his head a little, unable to even look at Micah. "Nothing," he mumbled.
"I don't even have to smell you to know that you're lying," Micah said. He reached out and brushed a strand of Nathaniel's hair off his face. "Tell me." It was an order given in the undeniable voice of a Nimir-raj.
Nathaniel looked around the living room nervously, half-expecting Anita to pop up out of nowhere and accuse him of being disloyal. "I'm scared," he whispered.
Micah grabbed his hand and pulled him over to the couch, forcing him to sit down on it. Then he cuddled up close to him, brushing his hand up and down his back. "Why are you scared? What's going on?"
Nathaniel peeked at him, taking in those green-green eyes and that almost too-pretty face. "Anita's different lately," he said. "She makes me frightened."
Micah's hand paused and there was a thoughtful look on his face. "Me too. And I really don't like that."
"She's not like Anita anymore. I don't know who she is, but there's something wrong with her." Nathaniel curled his head and shoulders and pressed close to Micah, seeking a safety he hadn't been feeling lately.
"I've noticed something too," Micah said. "She's been changing a lot, turning into someone I never thought she'd be. But lately... just in the last few days it's like she's become someone totally different. It makes me think of the days of Chim..." he stopped himself, shaking his head. "There's just something going on with her, and I really don't like it."
"But we can't say anything to her about it," Nathaniel said softly, "'cause then she'll get really mad. And when she's mad, I get really afraid."
"Because someone usually ends up shot," Micah said.
* * *
He was lying in the middle of the big bed he'd been given, just kind of staring up at the ceiling. He felt completely adrift, his entire world ripped out from under him, and he had no idea how to get back home. Or if he even wanted to go back at all. Which was actually kind of disturbing.
He thought that maybe he should have been more upset about being lost in a world not his own, but really he wasn't all that bothered. Which actually kind of bothered him a little. Irony.
It was just that in recent years he hadn't really had a place to call his own. He had been wandering around, doing the whole "have van, will travel" thing, searching for some nameless something that he just hadn't quite come across yet. And sure, he'd gained a lot of control over his inner wolf, but that didn't really do him a lot of good when he didn't have anyone to be in control for.
Life in Sunnydale had been hard, and there'd been no guarantees that he'd lived to see another day, but it had been home. Right up until he'd thrown that all away along with the one girl he'd truly thought he was going to spend the rest of his life with.
He was just glad that the myth of wolves mating for life was just that, a myth. 'Cause he couldn't really see wasting the whole of the rest of his life pining away for Willow, who had totally moved on from him and probably wasn't feeling an ounce of regret about it.
His semi-Angelesque brooding was interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Come in as long as you're not someone here to kill me," he called.
The door opened and Jason peeked around the edge, a disbelieving grin pulling his lips. "'Come in as long as you're not someone here to kill me?'" he said, amused. "Really?"
Oz did a laying down shrug. "Hey, if you were someone here to kill me, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have bothered to knock. What can I do for you?"
Jason gave him a naughty eyebrow wiggle. "Really?"
"Not that," Oz said. "What's up?"
Jason came into the room, the guitar case in his right hand bumping against his leg as he closed the door. "I got this from someone I know. I thought maybe you were missing your own."
Oz sat up on the bed, his hands itching. "You got me a guitar?"
Jason smiled. "Yeah. I thought maybe you could play me a few songs." He brought it over to set it in front of Oz on the bed. "Open it up."
Oz looked at him for a long moment, not quite sure what to say, then slowly reached out to unlatch the case and lift the lid. The guitar wasn't really anything special, was just a normal acoustic. But it was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. "You didn't have to..."
Jason waved it away. "Of course I didn't have to. I don't have to do a lot of things in my life that I do. I wanted to give this to you."
Oz ran surprisingly trembly fingers across the strings, not yet ready to pick the guitar itself up. He was happy to hear that it was in tune. "Thanks, man," he finally said. He really didn't know what he was supposed to say. There were no words for how grateful he was to have music back again.
Jason just smiled at him for a long moment, seeming to hear all the things he couldn't say. Then, almost too fast for him to feel it, he darted in close and pressed his lips against Oz's. Just a peck, barely anything at all really. And yet...
"You're welcome," Jason said, then turned and walked back toward the door. "I've gotta get to work."
Oz watched him go, his lips tingling. He just didn't have the words to explain the fact that the world had stopped spinning for a moment. Everything had just gone still and perfect and for once in his life the quiet hadn't made him want to freak out and pack up all his stuff and run away.
It had felt good.
* * *
"They're all talking about you, you know."
Anita focused on sterilizing her machete, getting ready for the raising she was supposed to be doing. A humorously named "Mr. Burns" that had left a pretty questionable will. There was a group of lawyers standing by, just waiting for her to bring back the dead man so they could hound him about every little issue he'd left unresolved.
"They're saying they think you're losing your mind. There's real big concerns going around that you're going to totally nut out or something."
She turned to glare at Buffy, glad that the lawyers were far enough away not to be able to hear. "What the fuck are you talking about?" she hissed.
Buffy smiled at her, that oh-so-sweet expression that made her back go up. "Everyone is talking about you," she said. "They're making plans about what they're going to do when you totally lose your cool."
"Who?" Anita demanded.
"Nathaniel, for one," Buffy said.
Anita scoffed. "No way, he's too loyal for that."
Buffy smirked. "Not anymore. He told Jean-Claude and Micah that he's scared of you. He thinks there's something wrong with you."
"There's nothing wrong with me," Anita said. She felt hurt well up inside at the thought of Nathaniel betraying her like that, which just made her angry. Everyone in her life always turned against her at some point, but she'd actually deluded herself into thinking that she'd found some kind of equilibrium, that she could trust the people she'd chosen to keep in her life.
She could feel the lawyers giving her strange looks and she really didn't care. To them it just seemed as though she was talking to herself, but she knew she was talking to the only person she could really trust right now.
"Tell me what everyone's saying," she ordered, giving her machete a test swing.