Jason had to admit Jean-Claude always put on a good show. He had a fine sense of the dramatic. It was a skill that had served him well, making his position appear stronger than it was.
Too bad Oz seemed completely unaffected by it all. On his first sight of Jean-Claude, and after hearing that voice, all Oz said was, "Huh, that's different." There was no trace of fear in him.
Jean-Claude looked at the stranger, propping his elbows on his desk and tenting his fingers under his chin. "Who are you, mon ami? How did you get past security? Where have you come from?"
"Born in Sunnydale, California. I was driving in Oregon, a light came up out of the road, and here I am. Lost my van somewhere." Oz shrugged. It didn't even seem to bother him.
"That is very interesting," Jean Claude sat back in his chair. "I have never heard of this 'Sunnydale' in California. Where exactly is it?"
"Little ways down the highway from L.A. Certified mouth of Hell, otherwise known as El Boca del Inferno. Convergence of mystical energy holding a magnetic appeal to vampires, demons, and any loony that wants to plunge the world into apocalyptic doom. Kind of comic book-like really."
"How do you think you came to be here?" Jean-Claude asked.
One side of Oz's mouth went up then down. "This doesn't look like the St. Louis I've seen on TV. My guess is that I'm in an alternate world."
"And that does not surprise you? Frighten you?" Jean-Claude asked tentatively, his eyes on the strange young man before him. He sounded like he was humoring a madman, but Jason could smell that Oz wasn't lying.
"My ex-girlfriend's twin from an alternate universe showed up once. Kind of used to all the strange, Hellmouth and all. This world does have shrimp though, right?"
"Shrimp? What's that?" Jason asked, then laughed a little. "Yeah, there's shrimp. Though I can't imagine what your world's like that you'd think we wouldn't have shrimp here. Are you some kind of time traveler too? It's 2004 here. What year is it where you're from?"
"Huh, that's something. It's 2002 where I'm from. Guess I lost two years," Oz said. He was glancing around the office, taking in the paintings on the wall and the dark furnishings. "You must have gone to decorating school with Angel," he told Jean-Claude.
"Who is this 'Angel?'" Jean-Claude asked.
Oz shrugged. "Vamp from home. Has the same kind of taste in decorating you do. It's... nice."
Jason barely held back a snort of laughter. The voice had been as inexpressive as his face, but Jason could smell Oz's amusement at some private joke.
By the curl of Jean Claude's lips he knew he was being mocked, but he wasn't going to do anything about it. "So you actually believe in alternate universes, do you? What proof do we have that you haven't simply broken into our establishment? Why shouldn’t I call the police right now and have you removed?"
Oz shrugged. "Dunno. I don’t know how I got here, and I don't know how to get back. If Willow was here, I'd ask her or the rest of the gang to go into research mode. But it's just me. Sorry."
"Who's Willow and how would she be able to help you? And what do you mean by 'research mode?'" Jean-Claude asked.
"Willow used to be my girlfriend. She and her friends are the Slayerettes, or the Scooby Gang. I used to be one of them, but I left. Willow's a powerful witch."
"'Slayerettes?'" Jason asked. "What exactly do they slay?"
Oz shrugged, a look of vague discomfort crossing his features before he went back to his usual blank-faced state. "You know, monsters and stuff. It's a different world where I come from."
Jason cocked an eyebrow at him. "Monsters and stuff? What kind of monsters?"
"You know, ones eating people and causing trouble. No big. If it's not trying to kill a bunch of people or end the world, they leave it pretty much alone."
Jason had a feeling there was more to it than that. There always was.
Jean-Claude was giving the guy a suspicious look. He knew there was a lot Oz wasn't saying, but he wasn't going to push the issue, not yet. He was probably formulating frighteningly complex plans in his brain, all to take the place of asking a simple question that might or might not be answered truthfully.
"Who are you in your world?" Jason asked.
Oz shrugged. "Played guitar. Been driving around the last couple of years, seeing stuff and working odd jobs. Guess I'm revolting against the teen angst that used to be my life."
"You don't fight monsters?"
Something like amusement crinkled the corners of Oz's eyes for a moment, then was gone. "No, I don’t fight the monsters anymore. I live quietly now. I handed in my decoder ring and stopped playing hero with the rest of the gang after high school graduation."
"What happened then? Why don't you work with them anymore? Aren't they your friends?"
"I hung around awhile after graduation, but not so much for the slayage, more for the college and the higher education factor. Things got out of control, and I left. Went back months later to get my girlfriend back, but she found herself a girlfriend and didn't need me. Stuff got crazy, things got said, I left." Oz shook his head almost ruefully. "I should have left after graduation when the mayor turned into a giant snake. Things wouldn't have hurt so bad, maybe. And no, I don’t think me and the Slayerettes are still really friends. We're just people that used to know each other once. It's all right."
Jason bit the inside of his lip for a second, a bright bit of pain that left too soon. "That's sad, and kind of lonely."
"You were an executioner while you were in high school?" Jean-Claude asked in that purring sex voice of his.
Oz looked at him for a long moment, effortlessly meeting his gaze. He didn't even seem to know that he wasn't supposed to look a vampire right in the eyes. At least, he didn't seem to find anything strange about it. "We weren't 'executioners,' we were the Slayerettes, backup for the man, or rather, chosen girl. Supposed to be the only one in all the world, but she died, came back though. We watched her back and she kept us alive. Pretty fair trade, I think."
"You killed vampires without an order of execution?" Jean-Claude asked.
Oz shrugged. "Don't know what that is, but I can figure. No, we didn't need any special papers. Most people didn't even know monsters are real. It was just the Slayer and her Slayerettes against the creatures of the night. Everyone else lived in bliss."
"Bliss?" Jason asked.
"General ignorance to the creatures walking the night and killing them when they weren't looking. Seems like bliss to me." He sighed a little. "Sometimes I miss those days, when I didn't have to know what was out there, waiting to kill me. There was just something so peaceful about that."
"Your world sounds so strange," Jason said. "I can't imagine a world where everyone didn't know about supernatural creatures."
"That's the way it way," Oz said. "Even when someone saw something, they would just kind of suppress all memory of it. Selective amnesia is a way of life on my Earth."
Jason wrinkled his brow. "I guess in your world I probably wouldn't have any rights or anything."
Oz looked at him for a long moment. "Lycanthrope, right? Werewolf?"
"How'd you know?" Jason asked. "Are you a psychic?"
"Yes, Mr. Oz, do you have any... special abilities?" Jean-Claude leaned forward a little bit, a subtle shifting of weight and balance.
Oz looked from Jason to Jean-Claude then back again. He shrugged. "Everyone's got something that makes them unique from someone else. Really, though, I'm nothing special. Can play guitar, if that helps."
"That really does," Jason said. "If a music critic ever goes nuts in downtown St. Louis, we'll just toss you at him to handle the situation."
"Thanks," Oz said. "My three chords ought to send him into a frenzy of such frustrated sensibilities that his head will explode and everyone else can get away."
"You’re kind of a strange little person, aren't you?" Jason said.
"Little?" Oz raised an eyebrow.
Jason stepped close to show the fact that he was a few inches taller. "Yeah, shorty, you're kind of little. Though I noticed you didn't say you're not strange."
Oz shrugged. "Can't fault truth."
Jason grinned at him. Sure, Oz didn't say much, and some of what he did say was a little mysterious, but he was still a fairly likeable person, at least from Jason's perspective.
"Are you certain that you do not know how you came to be here?" Jean-Claude asked.
Oz focused on the vampire. "Obviously by magic, but I didn't see what happened."
"Hm." Jean-Claude tapped his chin thoughtfully. He turned to Jason. "Find him a room near yours. Show him around. I am certain our young visitor from another world will need all kinds of help to become used to all of this newness."
Jason nodded, then grasped Oz's arm. "Come on, let's go. We've been dismissed."
"Thank you," Oz said as he was dragged out of the office.
Once they were safely in the hall with the door closed behind them, Jason leaned against Oz with a breath of relief. "Wow, that was a good one, wasn't it?"
Oz raised a questioning eyebrow. "Huh?"
"You may not have known it, but things could have gone real bad in there. Jean-Claude may play it all civilized, but if push came to shove, he would rip your throat out before you could say 'Oops.'"
"Well that's certainly comforting," Oz said.
Jason shrugged. "It's the way of the world. Vampires, you know."
"Yeah," Oz said, something strange entering his voice for a moment, "vampires."
* * *
"Vampires!" the girl squealed.
"Yeah, they're kind of obvious with the pointy face thing going," Xander grunted as he swung his axe at the hulking demon he was facing. He was letting the girls handle the onrushing horde of vampires coming up behind him. He knew they had his back.
"I thought that after Sunnydale imploded we'd get a break, not even more of a workout," Buffy said, kicking a vampire in the face and plunging her stake into another's chest.
"Ah, come on Buff, you know you love this stuff," Xander said.
The new Slayer girl, Amelia, was looking at them like they were strange, but she was fighting like she knew what she was doing so that was all right.
With all the Slayers in the world it was getting hard to know all their names. Xander found himself wanting to call them all "Girls" as a group, and "Hey you" when he was talking to them one at a time. It was pretty ridiculous, but that was the way things stood now.
"I wish Willow was here," Buffy said, dusting another vampire. "I mean, we don't really need her for the slaying right now, but..."
"It's good to have her around," Xander finished. "I know. But Wills has things she's gotta work through and we gotta respect that, even though it sucks big donkey dick."
"Xander!" Buffy sounded outraged, though there was definite humor lurking in her eyes.
"What?" He gave her an innocent look.
She shook her head, incidentally staking another vamp and slamming her fist through a demon's stomach to rip out a length of intestines. She shook her fist clean and went on with the slaying. "Ever since you hooked up with Andrew you've been getting all with the weirdage," she said. "I don't know if I'm supposed to be worried or not."
"Not," he said. "Me and Andrew are good. We're having fun with the sexcapades and there's no worries on the anything weird looking to happen."
"Yeah, it's all fun and games till one of you loses an eye," she joked.
He rolled his one eye at her. "Yeah, it's gonna have to be Andrew, since I'm not looking forward to having to walk with a stick."
She snorted a laugh. "I can just see you guys now, with your matching eyepatches, his on the right, yours on the left."
"It would make for some good pictures," Xander said, swinging his axe.
It was strange to think, but the slaying had actually gotten fun again. Sure, it was still kind of a life and death struggle, but at the same time, not so much. They hadn't had to face an impending apocalypse in months, and with all the new girls around they could always delegate the responsibility for the end of the world. It was kind of like a vacation.
"You know, this kind of makes me think of how it used to be in high school," Xander said. "Sure, we were all with the serious when it was happening then, but now that kind of stuff looks kind of easy, you know? Giant bug people, people made out of bugs, being possessed every Tuesday, crazy Mom wanting to relieve her mad days as a cheerleader; easy stuff, you know?"
Buffy nodded. "Yeah, I know."
"And now things have gotten back to that kind of easiness. We go out and kill the baddies, and there's not quite as much angst. Very with the freshmaking. It kind of makes you think."
"Yeah," Buffy said.
"It makes me wonder how Oz is doing. I mean, after the news about Cordy..." He had to pause for a deep breath. It still hurt to think of Cordelia. Even though he hadn't seen her in awhile, it had kind of been a good thing to imagine her out and about in the world, causing trouble at the side of Deadboy. Then news had come that she was dead, and it was like all the fun was just sucked out of his week. He was tired of people he had loved dying. "Oz is the last of the runaway Scoobies. All the others are dead."
"Yeah," Buffy said, sounding subdued. "Maybe we should ask Willow to check around."
"Ya think?" he asked.
She nodded. "Yeah. We’ll have her run a little check to see how he's doing."
"Good," Xander said. "It'll be nice to know that at least one of the ex-Slayerette's is out there doing all right in the world. No violence and mayhem for him. Just relaxation and trying not to turn into a big hairy dog when it’s the full moon."
"You guys are weird," Amelia called, breathing hard as she grappled with a slavering grey demon. "Can you help?"
Xander and Buffy shared a look. "Amateur," they both said.
It felt great to be doing some everyday, non-apocalyptic slaying. Just a kill or be killed kind of fight without all the extra drama. Good versus evil and none of the rest of the crazy ass bullshit they'd had to deal with in the last days of Sunnydale.