He had this stupid look on his face, as though he was wondering if she was crazy or not. More than anything she wanted to reach out and squeeze his throat until his mouth was open in soundless screams and he was never able to get anything out again.
She felt the prickle of staring eyes on the back of her neck and turned sideways. "What the fuck are you all staring at? Fuck off and mind your own business," she snarled.
"Whoa," Oz said in that infuriatingly even tone, "maybe you should chill out a little."
Anita jabbed a finger at him. "Don't fucking tell me what to do. I know you've been scheming against me with this little piece of shit." She kicked Jason, who grunted and curled around himself before trying to inch back against Oz for protection. It made her even madder, that Jason had dared to turn against her along with all the others.
Jean-Claude came striding out of the crowd with a disappointed look on his face. He frowned at her. "Ma petite, you need to calm down."
Anita scoffed. "Don't tell me what to do. You don't have the right to tell me what to do."
"Perhaps you need to leave," Jean-Claude said, his eyes blazing with sudden anger until all there was was blue, a crackle of power overcoming everything else.
"What, you're trying to kick me out?" she asked, honestly surprised. She had never imagined that Jean-Claude would ever kick her out. He wanted her, needed her. Without her he was nothing but just another vampire. It was her power that had enabled him to become Master of the City. Without her he would still be nothing.
Jean-Claude looked at her for a long moment, long enough that she wondered if he had somehow managed to read her thoughts even though she was currently Shielding them. "Of course I would never do that," he said. "But perhaps it would be best if you went home and had some rest. You are weary and it shows with your temper."
"Don't try to handle me," Anita said, shaking her head. "I don't want to go home and I don't want to rest. I am having a conversation with Oz and I think you should back the hell off."
Jean-Claude's lips compressed into a thin line. "And yet your 'conversation,' as you call it, entails that you physically abuse Jason?"
Anita felt her lips twisting in a snarl and didn't even try to stop it. "He decided to get himself involved. If he had just stayed out of it, it would have been fine."
"And what exactly is 'it'?" Richard asked, stepping up beside Jean-Claude.
It was stupid, she knew it was, but it felt as though they were ganging up on her. They hated each other; they weren't supposed to getting along just so they could yell at her and try to make her feel small.
"They're trying to take away your power," Buffy said, laying a hand against her back. Anita glanced at her in surprise. It was the first time Buffy had ever touched her. She had actually begun to think that Buffy was completely incorporeal, yet she was feeling that touch against her arm.
Buffy was real. And she was the only one that believed in Anita.
Anita drew in a deep breath, knowing that if Buffy believed in her, then she had to be right. Buffy had never lied to her, the guilty expressions of the people around her when they talked about her told her it was true. "Oz has been working against me," she said. "He came here to try and wreck my life and everything that I've ever done."
"I think you're doing a fine job of that all by yourself," Richard said.
She glared at him. "Shut up, Richard."
His skin flushed with anger, and he opened his mouth to say something else, but Jean-Claude laid a hand on his arm, stopping him. "It is not worth it for you to lose your control again," Jean-Claude said. She's not worth it, went unsaid, but Anita picked it up loud and clear.
A big part of her wanted to rip into Richard like usual, but instead she turned toward Oz. "Why did you come here? Is it some kind of plan to fuck up my life?" she demanded her hands clenching into fists at her sides.
Oz had half-knelt to check on Jason, but couldn't get the other man on his feet. "Seriously, I have no idea what you're talking about. You've been pretty aggro since I showed up, and honestly, I haven't wanted anything to do with you."
Anita felt like it was a verbal slap to the face. She just wasn't used to someone not seeing her as being important.
For the last few years she had become used to all men wanting her and all women being a bunch of jealous bitches. What she was not used to was being ignored. She was Anita Blake after all, and even the people that hated her guts still had to think about her to do it.
Looking at Oz, so worried about Jason that he was barely paying her any attention, Anita couldn't help but to think that maybe that's why she didn't like him. He didn't see her as being important, as someone he needed to respect and curry favor from. To him, she was just another person on the street, and really, that wasn't something she liked being anymore.
Have I become that much of an egomaniac? she wondered. Am I so petty that I want to kill someone just because they don't want to show me the respect and consideration that I think I deserve? Have I really become that kind of person, and when the hell did it happen?
Buffy's hand tightened on her shoulder and she glanced at the blond questioningly. "He's playing you," Buffy said as though it were perfectly obvious, and when she thought about it, it really was. "He's making you question yourself because that's what he does. But inside, he's laughing at you and calling you a sucker."
Anita looked back at Oz, seeing that same stupid "I'm so innocent and confused at your jerkiness" look on his face. But she wasn't a fool and she could see beyond that look to the fact that he was mocking her, trying to get her to doubt herself.
Just seeing that look--and knowing what it hid--she felt her uncertainty being washed away by a fresh surge of anger.
She was no one's sucker.
* * *
Oz would never say that he liked Anita, but there was definitely something going on with her. And it wasn't anything good.
"I really don't know what your problem is with me," he said, standing upright, "but Jason is my friend and I don't like that you're treating him so bad just to get to me."
Anita sneered at him. "Think pretty highly of yourself, do you? Well, it's not all about you. Jason is the one being a spineless whiner." She pulled back her foot, aiming to kick Jason again with her pointy shoe.
Oz didn't hesitate a second and stuck his own foot in the way, blocking the kick. "You seriously need to not do that anymore."
"Where did you learn your English, in Astonia?" Anita asked.
He raised an eyebrow at the question, really not sure how he was supposed to respond to that kind of childish, elementary school taunting. Then he felt a flash of regret when, by the expression on her face, he could tell that his non-answer was just making her madder.
He really didn't know what her problem was or what he was supposed to do about it, but there was no way he was going to let her hurt Jason any more. She'd already shot the guy once on accident, and he hadn't really bought her half-assed apology about it either.
He didn't know why she seemed to hate him so much, but he was going to protect Jason. Any way that he had to.
* * *
He knew quivering on the floor was absolutely pathetic and more than anything he wanted to be able to climb back up on his feet and prove he was not a "spineless whiner." The only problem was the fact that Anita was still focusing straight up Alpha displeasure at him and his beast wasn't letting him stop submitting to her. It just wasn't smart enough to handle the human side of things and kept insisting that if he abased himself enough, she wasn't going to kill him.
His wolf was pretty stupid sometimes, but he couldn't really blame it. It was working with a bunch of behavioral rules that usually only applied to other werewolves.
Sometimes he really wished that Richard hadn't made Anita his lupa. She didn't follow the rules, and even though she had a degree in so-called preternatural studies, she still just did whatever the hell she wanted to do, stepping on toes all the way. And the fact that she was still mostly human meant that she could pretend like she didn't notice that what she was doing was wrong. She just didn't get that jangling, discordant feeling most "monsters" got when they broke the rules.
Jason couldn't help thinking about Life Before, back when Marcus and Raina were leading the pack. Sure, life sucked, but the city was different then. Anita had brought aggression and danger to the preternatural world in the city, changing the inherent structures and the rules they all lived by.
From the minute she started rising up the city's hierarchy, that was when all the trouble started. As she gained power, everything had kind of shifted and all the clear-cut lines of "lycanthrope" and "vampire" and "everyone else" was blurred out and in some places broken completely.
He may not have been at the center of things when Anita had started her rise to power, but he knew how to read and he talked to people. So he had a pretty clear idea of what was going on.
He'd never said anything, but he could definitely read between the lines: Anita's move to St. Louis had been the start of a lot of stuff. And sure, she and the people she "cared" about came out on top in most every situation, but there were tons of other people that ended up as collateral damage. Tons of people that she didn't spare even a single thought for as she went about doing whatever she wanted.
When the Council had shown up was when things really started getting bad, because it was like a giant sign for all kinds of vampires and baddies to test the Master of the City and his human servant. And every single time there was a big blow up, it seemed as though Anita got yet another power up, and a bunch of other people got raped and abused in the sidelines. Most of who never should have been drawn into the bad situations in the first place. Just people minding their own business, swept up in whirlwind Anita's wake.
Anita attracted trouble. He had realized that fact early on in their relationship, and it hadn't taken him long to decide that he was going to stay on her side, because people she didn't really like somehow always managed to end up dead.
He realized it made him seem schemy, but even when his life sucked, it was still his life and it was the only one he had. So he freely admitted it, if only in his own head, that sometimes he gave up on self-respect and played the loveable fool just so he could stay on Anita's good side.
He had read her the first time he met her as one of those people that made snap decisions about other people, then never tried to look any deeper. Once she decided what someone was supposed to be, that was all they ever were to her. Depthless as a puddle of water.
He knew she saw him as a stupid stripper boy that let vampires drink his blood. And that was all she ever saw him as, nothing more. It was the same way she saw Nathaniel: as a helpless, easily victimized sex-pet--she had sex with him and set chores for him to do, but he was never good for much else than that, certainly not to be talked to or really cared about.
Sometimes Jason was frustrated by how Anita treated them all as two-dimensional paper dolls--she fucked the pretty ones, shot the mean ones, and ignored all the rest. And he had always refused to be ignored, because even though he'd known life around Anita wouldn't be the best, there were tons of worse people out there just waiting for the chance to use and abuse him.
It was just one of the facts of his life that he was never going to be alpha. And after he'd gotten over that fact--yes it sucks being everyone's bitch but there's nothing you can do about it--he'd settled in to make the best of his life. Which meant Feeding Jean-Claude, working in a strip club, and trying to keep Anita happy. And what made her happy was being able to look down her nose at him since he was nothing more than a sex-craving, mouthy, largely non-threatening fool.
But he'd read books and he'd seen plays--and in all the good stories, the fool was usually the smartest character.
He had been playing his part and playing it well for years. He had gotten handling Anita down to a science. It had reached the point where he didn't even have to think about it anymore, he knew what words or gestures to use to placate her most ever mood.
So the insane hate-on she had for Oz didn't make any sense to him and he didn't know what he was supposed to do about it. Oz hadn't done anything to her, yet she was going out of her way to push the guy.
It was kind of like being controlled by Marcus and Raina again--only worse in some ways. Because even though they could rape your body and make you do things you didn't want to do--Anita could force you to want to have sex and do all those things. And even while you screamed in your head, she'd keep raping you, and the whole time your body would make you want it.
In some ways Anita was worse than the vampires, and Jason had first hand proof about why all the old stories warned against necromancers becoming human servants of vampires. Because in the end, they weren't the servants anymore.
And the funny thing about it all, he didn't think Jean-Claude even realized what was happening to him. Jean-Claude thought he was still in control, but Anita was in his head all the time, pulling the strings and making him dance to her tune.
So lying on the floor with Anita's power pressing down on him like a choking, heavy blanket, Jason made the decision to stand up for himself for the first--and probably last--time.
With his whole body trembling and a whining-moan burbling up out of his throat, he managed to crawl across the floor to position himself behind Oz's legs.
He couldn't speak, not with her power flattening most of the defiance out of him, but was able to press his forehead against Oz's ankle a couple of times to show that he was there.
And even though Anita was probably going to end up killing him for being disloyal or something, it felt like he was a little bit free for the first time since he had been infected.
* * *
He hadn't really known what Jason was doing, though it had caused an ache beneath his breastbone when he saw Jason's muscles quivering and shaking and all the strain on his face as he crawled across the floor. There had been solid determination in those blue-blue eyes, just this will to move and keep on moving.
So when Jason crawled behind his legs, showing his support, it had been a really powerful moment. And when Jason had nudged his leg, it had actually made him madder at Anita.
There she was playing the indignant wronged party, while at the same time there hadn't been a single break in her using her power to punish Jason. He could still feel it pressing against his skin, trying to dominate him, and even though he was strong enough to shake it off, Jason was not. And she knew it and didn't care.
Oz realized that both his inner beast and his inner human were really not happy. And it was the kind of not happy where the last time he'd felt it, Veruca had ended up dead.