As alternate realities went, Oz had to admit that this wasn't such a bad one. Sure, it would have been better to be home, but if he had to live in a new world... this might have been the one he would have picked after a couple of stiff drinks.
Jason seemed nice enough and it felt good to have a local for a friend. At least he didn't have to face up to all this strangeness alone, and that was always of the good. It made him almost think of the "good" old days with the Scooby Gang. They had always been there to back him up, even when he was turning all furry and had to be locked up for three days out of each month, back when he was being controlled by his inner weird and had no idea how to make his life any different. The days of Willow were behind him and there was no going back.
The room he'd been given in the Circus of the Damned was large and comfortable with an attached bathroom. He was relieved that it looked like a rather normal guest room, and hadn't been decorated in the latest vampire fashion. He'd been afraid for a minute before Jason had opened the door, but after he'd walked in, everything was good.
"We'll go pick you up some clothes tomorrow," Jason offered.
Oz looked at him for a moment, then shrugged. "I don't have any money. My wallet was in the glove compartment of my van."
Jason made a shooing gesture with his hand. "Doesn't matter. Jean-Claude offered up a little money to help you get started on your wardrobe. He said he didn't want you to be walking around dressed like a homeless person."
"Gee, thanks," Oz said.
Jason laughed. "Hey, he's old-fashioned French. His clothes mean more to him than our lives."
"Typical vampire," Oz said, shrugging.
"Wow, you must have been around your fair share of the paler, blood-liking folk," Jason said.
A little smile quirked one side of Oz's mouth. "Never for too long."
Jason gave him an almost nervous look. "It's not a good idea to suggest stuff like that around all the vampires here at the Circus, especially Jean-Claude."
Oz shrugged. "What'll be, will be."
He knew he should have been completely freaked out about being in another dimension, but he couldn't really get up the fear factor. It was almost like being back on the Hellmouth... which meant all the strangeness and nerve-wracking situations were pretty homelike to him. Which just went to show how messed up he really was.
"Can I borrow some clothes to wear for tomorrow?" he asked. He tugged on his shirt. "These ones are pretty rank." He hadn't had a chance to shower at the last truck stop and it was really beginning to show, plus, his last load of laundry took place at least three weeks ago and he was on his third run through his clothes.
Jason looked him up and down, then quirked a laughing eyebrow. "Sure. We're about the same size clothes wise. No big."
Oz granted him one of his rare, bright smiles. "Thanks."
Jason blinked quickly, his mouth opening a little before closing tight. "Yeah... yeah. You're welcome. Yeah."
Oz shrugged, not even noticing the sudden turmoil he had caused in Jason. He was too busy contemplating how weird his life had become, Sunnydale weirdness seeping into every aspect of his existence even when he wasn't in Sunnydale anymore. Very strange.
He walked over to the bed and threw himself across it, testing the bounce-factor of the neatly made up queen-sized mattress. "This is pretty nice," he said. Better than a night spent on the mattress in the back of his van, that was for sure. The only trouble with the place was knowing that he wasn't in his home dimension anymore. He was somewhere else starting his entire life all over and he didn't even know if he was ever going to be able to fit into this world or not. But any way that he looked at it, there was probably no way home so he would just have to deal.
* * *
"Something happened last night," Anita said without preamble, bracing her hands on Jean-Claude's desk as she leaned forward with unconscious aggression. "I don't know what it was, but I was having seizures for nearly two minutes straight. If I hadn't been your human servant, I might have died. Several powerful magic users out there did die, and we have to figure out why."
"And good evening to you, ma petite," Jean-Claude said with that oh-so-casually non-sarcastic tone, though his eyes glinted dangerously.
They were still together, but it was an iffy thing, mostly because of recent mistakes she had made, but also because the blush had faded from their relationship and they were both coming to terms with the fact that other than sex, they didn't really have anything in common. Especially since Jean-Claude had pointed out the fact that she was more violent than he was, and he was the vampire. She really hadn't liked hearing that, especially since it had become true in recent years.
She had lost all perspective, and it showed in the way she had come charging into his office like it was a right and not a privilege he had granted her. They weren't even in a real relationship anymore, not since they had stopped having sex with each other and begun focusing their attentions on other people. She had Micah and Nathaniel, while he had Asher and a slew of others. They had pretty much given up on being together, and if it wasn't for the Marks, they probably wouldn't have had to cross paths either.
"Come on, Jean-Claude, cut the crap. Do you know what happened last night, or not?" she demanded. He could feel her poking at the Mark between them, trying to force the truth out of him with her usual lack of charm.
Looking at her, he couldn't help but to think of the woman she was the first time he saw her: beautiful, intelligent, a little self-righteous in her morality, but certainly more compassionate than this creature she had become. It was hard to admit it, but over the years she had become more of a vampire than he was, and he wasn't the only one that had noticed it.
For the last few months he had been receiving gently worded inquiries about what was making Anita so testy. Basically, everyone wanted to know why she was being such a bitch, even more of one than usual. He hadn't known how to reply, because he really didn't know.
A lot of things had happened in the past five years that could explain the differences in Anita, but she had taken the changes to a drastic degree and become a completely different person. A raging psychotic was what one of her recent denigrators had called her just before she had put a bullet between his eyes and he hadn't been able to say anything more.
It had gotten to the point where someone merely had to say something she didn't like and she had her gun out. And more often than not, she wouldn't hesitate to shoot someone.
The final straw in their relationship came because she pointed her gun at him for daring to correct one of her misconceptions. It was a few days after that--when she had had a chance to realize that what she had done was wrong and realize that she should regret it--he had told her that he didn't think they belonged together anymore. And thus the sexual portion of their relationship had died and they had begun trying to build some other kind of relationship, since the Marks meant that they were going to be together for as long as they lived.
He had come to the unfortunate realization that there was nothing about Anita that he liked anymore. She was still pretty, but there millions of women out there much prettier than she would ever be. She was just another dangerous predator in a world filled with them, and even though she was a little more dangerous than most, the spark of uniqueness had been wiped from the image that he held of her by the fact that she was more of a monster than he was.
"I do not know what has happened," he said, though the mental flash of an elfin face and spiky blue hair gave him a suspicion. He wasn't going to tell Anita though. Her shoot first, ask questions later approach would see the young man dead with no answers revealed. And young Daniel Osbourne had piqued Jean-Claude's curiosity, and he wanted some of his questions answered.
She gave him a disbelieving look. "You always know when something's happened in the city."
"This time I do not."
She snorted. "Well that's just great then. There was some big quake on the psychic plain, and there's no clues about what caused it or if it's going to happen again. For all we know, this was some elaborate scheme to off a bunch of wizards and spell casters."
"I do not know, ma petite. I will ask some questions and have my people try to find out what happened, but what else can I do? You are the one with ties to the police and knowledge of magic."
She snorted, a rather unattractive sound. "Fine, I
will figure out who did this and what happened, then I will handle the situation. You can sit around being useless yet again."
Jean-Claude's lips drew tight and his eyebrows wanted to furrow angrily. "I think that your experience last night has left you more out of sorts than you thought. Perhaps you should go now and rest, before you say something that you really do not mean."
She blinked at him, then jerked a nod and left without saying good night, the very set of her shoulders proof of her directionless anger.
Once she was gone, he allowed himself a tired sigh. It was getting harder and harder for him to deal with Anita.
There were few times that he truly regretted giving Anita the Marks, because it was her power as a necromancer that had allowed him to become Master of the City. Lately, though, he found himself wishing that they had never met. To be bound forever with Anita... he didn't know how he was going to withstand it.
He had thought that he loved her, had burned with a passion that he had thought was never going to be extinguished. But maybe the very fact that he had desired her so powerfully was why it hadn't lasted... the brighter flames often burned out fastest.
After only a few short years of dealing with "ma petite," and he was ready to move on to brighter pastures. It did not bode well for the eternity before them.