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Getting Bent 2: Wilder Than You Think

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Prologue: The familiar GB (Getting Bent) Network studio set.

SG, in Oz' costume for the first scene, reads from a teleprompter.

SG: Welcome to the GB's New Tuesday. Tonight on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xander saves Willow's ass and stops me from being an ass, Spike thinks longingly about Xander's ass, and I get a piece of offscreen werewolf ass, for which Willow doesn't kick my ass.

SMG storms in from camera right, holding script in hand.

SMG: Okay, this wasn't funny the first time, dammit. That's not in my script. You guys… [Shouts offstage.] Hey! Bleach-Head and Snoopy-Dance! Get out here!

JM and NB slouch into camera-range from the other side of the set.

JM: What? What did we do this time? Allegedly?

SMG [Points to teleprompter, then her script, then the one NB is holding in his hand.]: Somebody messed with the scripts again, and I have a stinking feeling it was you two. Let me see your script, Snoopy boy.

NB hands her his script with a shrug. She flips through it, and points to something in the first third of the manuscript.

SMG: See! What did I tell you. Here I am fighting, and then it's just Spike thinking about your ass! Just try to tell me you had nothing to do with this.

NB: Hey, I'm innocent. Just picked up the script this morning, didn't touch a thing.

SMG turns on JM.

SMG: Then it has to be you, Bleach-for-Brains.

JM flips through the script, then shakes it in her face.

JM: I have one friggin line in the entire episode, and I get to spend most of it naked and strapped down to a gurney, being shocked and probed and other oh-so-enjoyable activities, and you think I wrote this into the script?!!!! And you call us pervs!

SMG: Fine. Somebody's responsible for this, and I'm gonna find out who.

She heaves a deep sigh and stalks offscreen.

SG [grinning] : So… you think she noticed how many times I put the word 'ass' into the promo?

____________________________________________

For the seventh time in as many days, Xander Harris stood on the sidewalk in front of YingLing Cleaners, holding a beat-up leather coat over his arm. Looking at the prices stenciled in puffy paint on the window. Sniffing the leather duster. Smelling menthol and peroxide and dead cow, in equal parts. And, of course, dried Xander-juices, which were the reason for his daily pilgrimage to the cleaners.

For the seventh time in as many days, Xander turned around, unfolded the duster, and slipped it on, shaking his head as he walked away from the dry cleaning shop. Maybe tomorrow.

*****

Little blonde girl. Big ugly vampire. Yeah, been there, done that. Spike watched from the shadows, trying to summon up enough of an interest in the proceedings to say something clever and biting, pun intended. Unfortunately, the only thing he could come up with was... "Oh, look. It's the Slayer." Lacked a bit of the classic Spike brilliance, that.

It might've helped if his brain were working in the accustomed manner. Slayers are annoying. This one took your damned Ring of Amara and gave it to the Great Irish Poof, and you'll see it nevermore. Therefore.... And the correct answer was supposed to be: kill the bloody Slayer. Goodbye Buffy Summers, hello... well, whoever the next one was, but Spike could just about guarantee she wouldn't be as much of a hot poker in his side as this little bit of stuff.

The current line of thought seemed to go like this, however: Slayers are annoying. This one... is friends with Xander Harris and his amazingly round little backside---Slayer, kill the--- so...gah...squeezeable---took the bloody Gem of---tight little hole---Spike want?---strong arms---right, Slayer, kill the Slay…---dark eyes, shaggy hair, rueful grin, tongue in my mouth, licking my fangs....

 

"Hell, Harris, what the fuck are you doing to me?" he muttered into the night, which was about the time the bolts of electricity came surging through him. If Spike thought he was distracted before... well, "Ack!" was looking like a pretty complex thought-process at the moment. The last image in his head before he blacked out completely was the Slayer's little Snoopy-dog sidekick, smiling up at him from the ground, trousers and shorts round his ankles--Spike want? Er, possibly, but hold that thought, kid. And by the by, where the hell's my dus....

Darkness.

*****

The Bronze. Home of high school wannabe's, college neener-neener look at me's, and townies in leather coats who wonder if their higher-learning friends will ever catch on to the fact that they couldn't afford this duster if the Sunnydale National Bank announced that it was giving a two-for-one-deal on trading in old dollar bills.

Epidemic cluelessness has some advantages, after all... Xander thought as he poured himself another Coke from the pitcher on the table and listened to Buffy, Willow and Oz chat about how great the place was since they could see it from the collegiate perspective. Yeah, whatever. Nice to just be hanging with them, townie or no townie, listening to the band, thinking about...

Being wild and rough, smelling things on the wind. Older memories, of the blood-hungry animal in him, the laughing scavenger, but this had been clearer, cleaner. Human and animal in one, mind and body working together. Bad things trying to eat him, and what did you do with bad things? You killed them. Easy. So damn clear, want-need-take.... Well, actually, it had been more like want-need-ask nicely-take at one point, but there was still that simplicity to it. Driving force. This was the way things were supposed to be, this was... the right place. And we're not gonna think about what happened after cave-boy took a header back into Xander's subconscious, and it was still the right place, are we. No, and thanks for asking, please come again.

And what the heck? Giles. Giles was here. Guess somebody else was feeling a little left out of the old college circle. Stammering about how he was "down with the new music" and trying to be cool. Chill, G-Man. You may be in a strange place, but you're among friends. Clueless friends, but what-the-hey. Xander made room for Giles to scoot in next to him, and the Watcher gave him weak smile. Eyed the duster. Well, at least somebody still had some interest in where Xander had been while Buffy was off re-enacting "Ten Million Years B.C." Too bad Giles was so damn smart, and didn't have a lot to distract himself with these days. Xander might end up having to answer some pointed questions, sooner or later. Preferably later. Much later. When he didn't have way too many questions buzzing around in his own head.

This music wasn't helping a lot. It was almost as primal as the feelings that had been surging through his blood a week ago. The dirty-blonde lead singer was practically giving the microphone head, and the way the bass was pulsing out of those amps, it was like she was grinding herself against every man in the room without setting foot off the stage. Big hungry animal eyes. Want-need-take and no questions about it in the morning. Really weird feeling: the music was getting Xander a little twitchy, and a little uncomfortably warm, but the girl. She was good-looking, definitely on the slutty side of hot, but... nah. Nada. The music though...made Xander's eyes dance around the room, looking for... something. Maybe somebody, who wasn't there, whoever it was.

Oz noticed it too, though his eyes seemed to be fixed on the girl. In fact, Oz didn't seem to be noticing anything else. Made sense; if Xander, with his memory of having been something wild and strange for a few short hours, was picking up on it, what must Oz, the werewolf on the --shit-- night before the night before the full moon-- be hearing? Smelling? Enough to perk up his own animal urges, apparently, because Xander could catch a hint of Oz-ness in the air that reminded him strongly of the reason he was supposed to have had that duster dry-cleaned. Which was highly disturbing, since he'd never figured his non-cave-guy sense of smell was that good, and he'd certainly never imagined he'd be using it as a Horny-Oz-Detector, Patent Pending.

 

Xander wasn't the only one paying attention to the werewolf. Willow was visibly noticing Oz noticing the lead singer. Veruca, that was her name. After nineteen years of knowing Willow Rosenberg, Xander could recognize that lost little girl look on her face in an instant; he'd seen it directed at him for most of their high-school days, pre-Oz, and he'd been as helpless to do anything about it then as he was now.

 

*****

Bright lights. Flash. Pain... something like fire and lightning shocking through Spike's body. Darkness. Pain again. Silver sweet pain in his head, and trying to fight. Roaring at them, whoever them was, bodiless hands holding him down. Snapping at them with fangs that never got anywhere near. The red blood hunger tearing through him. Pain, fear! Fear? Never afraid of anything! Fear. Darkness. Lights. Blood hunger sated, but heavy. Tainted. Thoughts...sluggish, primitive, but there. Dark. Alone. Want what's mine. Mate. Afraid. Want him. Him? Him.

Growling and spitting, even against the lead weights in his limbs, and --shock--fire--- PAIN! And darkness again.

*****

Getting out of the Bronze had been a good thing. Getting that music out of his head. Even if, a night and morning later, it seemed to still be pounding its slow rhythm inside his veins, red and black and whispery... Xander shook his head, trying to knock the feeling away somewhere. Maybe... Maybe he should go get the coat dry-cleaned after all.

He turned as he passed the campus on his daily trip to YingLing's, and thought about stopping in to see Willow. Maybe he could reassure her about Oz and his horndog attraction to Veruca. There was just something ancient and animal and deep about that music, and a werewolf on the night before the first of his three days-of-the-month... was bound to be a little whammied by it. Didn't mean the guitarist was any less in love with the girl who'd won his heart two years ago, and been with him through everything, including his transformation into wolfiness, and Xander and Willow's own moronic Senior Year whatever-it-had-been. They'd made it through that, they could make it through a little innocent girl-watching on Oz' part.

There, on the sidewalk, walking away from the main quad, was the little innocent girl in question, wearing some tight black sweatery thing that should have been doing something for Xander, but wasn't. She didn't look all that innocent, with a bitchy little smirk on her face, like she'd done something to put somebody in their place. As she passed Xander, he caught a whiff of her scent. Strong. Familiar. Not attractive, not to him, but... he knew it, somewhere, or a different version of it. Absently, he fell into step a few yards behind her. Following her, and half-aware of it. What's she do when she's not making the Ozinator drool in his drink? Rehearse in a cave somewhere?

A few blocks later, she started off the main streets towards the Simmons Nature Conservancy. Which had trails, and woods, and, as Xander recalled from an Eighth Grade field trip, caves. One of which had been the scene of a memorable Xander-de-pantsing by Larry the soon-to-be-football-player and some of his more Neanderthal buds. Ah, the sweet memories of lost youth. Larry, if you'd just come out of the closet sooner, I would've had a much easier life. Caves-- she really did rehearse in a cave? He dropped a bit further back and followed her into the trees, dark except where streaks of gold sunlight penetrated the gloom from above.

He was walking easily, quietly, not crunching pine needles under his feet or anything, but he still lost sight of her for a moment as she walked behind a tree, and when he caught up, she was waiting for him. Her hand shot out to grab him by the throat, and, without a conscious thought, his body reacted by grabbing that deceptively feminine arm, yanking it away, and shoving her up against the tree. Hey, the last time he'd done this... Nope. Zilch. Not even a little ping in the Dockers. Nothing at all except a twitchy feeling in his bones and blood and skull, like this was some kind of creature who shouldn't be screwing around in his territory, so he'd followed her into her own. Pissing wars, if she'd been a guy.

She gave him a little growl, then changed her tune. "Hey, you want something? Don't have to take it the hard way. We could have some fun. You got the moves, like the walk, like the coat. This doesn't have to be about me kickin' your ass. "

Xander stared at her. She thought he was trying to rape her? She was offering herself up? No, she was playing with him, ready to scratch his eyes out as soon as he let go of her-- he could sense it. Crazy bitch. He didn't want anything from her except to figure out what she was and why she was messing with his people.

"Hey, no ass-kicking required. My ass appreciates the offer, but no thanks. Just a fan. Saw you in the Bronze last night, thought I might get to know you a little better. You guys sure have the sound." Polite. Easy. Xanderspeak. Which was ludicrous with his hands pressing her up against this juniper tree, with the scent of the forest in his nostrils, and the blood pounding in his ears, and this little girl-thing licking her lips at him like she thought he had any interest in her body.

"I know you. You're Oz' friend. You were at the table with him last night. You and the blonde girl, and the old guy, and Oz' little groupie... Maple-something, right?"

Oh. There. Surge of pure, hot anger. His people. She was playing with Xander's family. His pack, if he'd still had the hyena in his mind, but he didn't. That animal was gone, just a faded memory. Xander was a man. A man who knew exactly how wild a man could be, and this bitch was fucking around with his family.

"Willow. Her name's Willow, and I'm her friend too. Just remember that. I don't like seeing her hurt," he snarled, the threat undisguised. "And you don't know me." Veruca's eyes widened for a moment, like she hadn't expected this from him. From Xander in the tropical-print shirt and Dockers, hiding under the dead-cow coat like it made him any less of a geek. He let her go, dropping his hands in disgust. He didn't need to prove he was a man by pushing a girl around, no matter how...wrong she smelled, no matter what an obvious bitch she was.

"Just stay away from Oz," he told her. "They've got a good thing, and they don't need you in the middle of it." He turned his back and walked a few feet up the trail towards the entrance to the forest. Black leather swinging nicely behind him, and yeah, the geek-boy still living inside him loved it. Look at me--I'm mini-Spike...Or should that be extra-large Spike, since I'm taller than him?

She called out to him, then, like she'd got her piss and vinegar back, here in her own space. "He's a big boy. He can make his own choices. And..." like she was desperate to have something to throw at him, as Xander turned back to look at her, "you should really have that coat dry-cleaned. Smells like you've been jerkin' off on it. "

He blinked, and nodded with an ironic smile, before turning back to his path out into the sunlight.

*****

Whiteness and blackness, and redness when the blood came, and that's it. Moments of clarity that filtered into his head, when Spike could think a quick... Dru...should've killed me when I asked you to... or Happy now, Ponce? Somebody's got me under control... . Mostly though, when he could think at all, behind his shut eyelids, he was seeing the dopey little Slayerette. Honey-brown eyes, wavy hair so dark a brown that it was almost black. Hidden power, shy smile, and that... good, right smell. What there was of Spike that could think rationally, between the light and the dark and the pain, gave a frustrated mental snarl every so often. Great shag, yeah, but (eoarrrrrrggghhhhhhhh! Fuck, that hurt!) why still on the (Shiiiiiiit! Get that OUT of me!) brain now? He faded in and out of consciousness, between darkness and light, between death and unlife.

*****

Another day, another early-morning walk to the cleaners. This time Xander was wearing his tightest pair of jeans, and a black t-shirt that was maybe half a size too small for him, or he would've considered it too small last week, anyway. The coat kind of deserved not to be worn with a Hawaiian shirt and baggy pants. Spike would be insulted. Maybe... maybe he could get them to spot-clean the duster? Get out the soaked-in Xander-smell, without taking away the cigarette and peroxide and indefinable something that marked it as Spike's? A week and a few days later, and the vampire still hadn't come back for his coat. Which was good, in the sense that Xander hadn't had it cleaned, as he was supposed to. Bad, in the sense that Xander really wanted to see Spike again. Good, in the sense that he wasn't entirely sure why he wanted it.

Got a little primeval, fucked a guy. Who happens to be a vicious killer, sure. Survived. Not my fault. Nobody blames Buffy for wonkin' Parker Abrahms over the head with a big stick while she was under the influence. Which was a perfect excuse as far as it went, but didn't take into account the little second act to his and Spike's performance, where Xander's brain had been back in action, and he'd pretended to still be Cave-Xan, in order to get Spike to fuck him. Didn't take into account the fact that Spike figured out who was asking, somehow, and had gone through with it anyway. Sure as hell didn't cover the fact that it was the best sex Xander had ever had, in his admittedly limited experience. Didn't explain why, on the three occasions he'd seen Anya since then, he'd politely put her off, leaving her more and more bewildered and upset each time.

As usual, he turned from the window, spun on the pavement, and headed back past the UC Sunnydale campus. He never did talk to Willow yesterday. The encounter with Veruca had left him edgy and full of questions. About what he smelled, about the fact that he was seeing and hearing and smelling things that he'd never noticed before. Touching, too. He kept finding himself absently stroking the soft battered leather of Spike's coat... as if it were the soft icy-blond hair of the other man.

He strolled across the plaza behind the Engineering building, and spotted Oz sitting on the back steps, staring distractedly off into thin air. Wearing clothes that even Xander would think twice about putting together on the same body, on the same day.

"Hey," he said, walking up and taking a seat on the cool stone steps. Oz nodded.

"Hey." Still looking off somewhere.

"Nice threads, there. You been raiding my closet?" Xander nudged the smaller man with his elbow, and Oz at last snapped back into something like focus. Smiled, still not quite all there.

"Had a bit of a problem with the cage last night. Ended up playing mix-and-match in the student laundromat this morning."

Oh. Werewolf on the loose. Bad things. "You think you, well, the wolf, did anything you'd regret in the morning?"

Xander hoped not. No more guilt about bad things done under the moon. Buffy lived with that every day of her life; they didn't need another mopey lost soul trying to take responsibility for things that hadn't been under his control. And we'll just pretend that doesn't imply that Angel somehow deserves to be forgiven, won't we.

"Don't know. Don't think so, not in terms of ripping anybody a new anything. I hope not. If you hear anything..."

"Yeah. Definitely. Hey, Oz..." If anybody would know what he was feeling, it would be Oz, right? Laid-back guy with the whole guitarist vibe going for him, had to have some... experience with this kinda thing. Wouldn't laugh at Xander, anyway, or condemn him, and if he didn't get this thing out of his head and into words, it was going to eat a hole in his skull.

"Yeah?" Easy hazel eyes finally fully focusing on him, which was both good and bad, of course.

"You ever done anything really, really stupid...and still kind of not regretted it the next day?"

The pale red-head snorted softly, then smiled with the most irony Xander had ever seen displayed on a human face. "Did you want a list, or would 'Yeah,' do?"

"Wouldn't want to ruin your Guinness Book record for least words spoken in an entire lifetime," Xander cracked nervously. Working his way up to it. Oz just looked at him. Waiting. Right. Because he might as well have said, 'Hey, can I tell you something really embarrassing about myself?' Here goes everything….

"I...uh...think I may be gay." Shit! What the hell did I just say? But Xander really wasn't all that panicked. It had even tasted right as it came off his tongue, and the echo of the words in his ears didn't sound wrong either. Natural, like it was just part of him, like the new sensitivity to smell, touch, taste, sound, the unthinking use of his own speed and strength to stop Veruca's hand at his throat. Something that had been there all along; he'd simply never been able to look at it before.

Oz blinked slowly, and nodded. Didn't say anything.

"Is that a 'Hey, that's cool, didn't know but thanks for sharing' nod, or a 'Duh, you moron,' nod, or a 'Help, Xander's flipped his lid and I've gotta get out of here before he goes into vamp-face and rips my throat out' nod ?"

Another blink, and then a laugh. "Well, not the last one. It's daylight, for one thing."

So it was. Oops. "Good point. What about the other two?"

"Which would insult your manhood less?" his friend replied with a half-grin.

Xander couldn't help grinning back. Something about Oz could do that to you. "What... you knew? And you didn't tell me because?"

Oz shook his head. "Would you have listened?"

No, probably not, on reflection. Harrises are pretty thick-skulled. It took wild cave-sex with William the Bloody to pound the little fact that he liked boys more than girls into Xander Harris' brain. He nodded himself, conceding the point.

"So...the stupid thing... you're okay, right? You didn't...not use protection or something?" Oh. That.

Oz had broken into polysyllables, for the sheer purpose of saying something that did send the blood rushing to Xander's face. Protection? He'd been cave-guy. Protection hadn't exactly been first and foremost on his mind. Suddenly the panic did set in... What if... No. He'd had sex with a vampire. That was the dangerous part. He was reasonably sure that Spike's dead body couldn't carry any of the big scary things into Xander's living one. Eew. Undead body. Sounds so much better. Or… immortal. Yeah. Much less necrophilia implied. Immortal. There was a brief secondary surge of panic as he considered what could've happened if it had been anybody but Spike... He could be dying inside, right now. But he wasn't. It hadn't. If he had to make the admission to himself, with the smell of menthol cigarettes and old leather swirling around his head...it probably wouldn't have happened if it had been anybody but Spike.

Oz was probably having internal hysterics, since Xander hadn't answered yet, and God knew what expressions had been passing over his face while he debated safe-sex-with-the-undead in his mind. Of course, internal hysterics on Oz looked like "Hmm… should I watch Friends, or flip on over to ABC?" on anybody else.

"No. I think I'm covered on that score. It was just the who that was probably..." Probably?????? "...stupid."

Xander wasn't quite ready to share that much yet, so when Oz didn't press, he didn't volunteer. They sat in silence for a few minutes, each lost in his own thoughts, the rising sun warming the steps, the students beginning to appear in little groups, grumbling their way towards the first class of the day. At last Oz cocked his head at Xander and smiled.

"At least you found your cool thing," he said, tapping the sleeve of the duster.

"Cool thing? Really? You think?" Geek-Xander made an appearance. He hadn't really thought of it before, but yeah. The duster, the new appreciation of his senses, his own body... It was pretty cool. The new Xander laughed at himself. Yeah, it was cool, now that he didn't really need to be cool. Still, nice.

"Definitely. Whole new look. Very... wild. Primal, even."

Primal. Right. Little blonde wench sticking her skanky ass into his territory.

"Hey Oz...this Veruca chick. She's bad news. Really bad." He fixed his friend with a stare that he hoped said 'Don't fuck with me here...'

Oz rubbed his hand roughly through his spiky hair, without answering. Finally... "Yeah. I noticed."

"Talk to Willow."

Oz shook his head. "No. My problem."

Xander stood up and looked out at the awakening campus. "Talk to Willow, Oz. Or I will. She loves you, man. You love her. Don't fuck it up." He walked down the steps slowly. Time to go home. Back to the basement. Maybe... time to think about getting his nineteen year old ass out of there and into an apartment.

Quiet. A quieter quietness than Oz' usual quietness, if that made any sense at all. Finally, just when Xander was afraid he'd gone off back wherever he'd been when Xander had sat down, he spoke.

"Yeah. I guess maybe I should. Hey, Xander?"

"Yeah?"

"There's another wolf around. Could be dangerous. I'll tell Buffy, but everybody who's anybody should probably know too. Don't want to see...whoever it is... get hurt, but don't want to see innocent people get killed either, you know?"

Another werewolf. Yeah, that could be serious bad Hellmouth karma. "Gotcha. I'll call Giles, you tell Buffy. And Willow."

"Right. And Willow." Oz agreed softly, staring at his hands. Then he looked back up. "Hey, Xander?" Again.

"Yeah?'

"It's cool. Really. You. But..."

There was a but? On the Xander gayness issue? From Oz, of all people?

"But what?" Xander answered warily.

"But you might want to get the jacket dry-cleaned," Oz said with a wink and a wrinkle of his nose.

*****

Spike was asleep. He'd finally fallen into that simple place, after what seemed like centuries of half-aware pain and delirious thoughts. This was easier. Dark, cool. Dreaming of simpler days. Blood in his mouth, a laugh in his throat. Drusilla on her knees, sucking him off, Angelus behind him, ploughing into him with that ruddy great monster of his, and it was all good. Easy. They belonged to him, he belonged to them. He had a place. In the middle.

If he could've seen his own body, he would've been disgusted. Laid out naked on a hospital gurney, strapped down, white-coats poking into his brain with nice sharp shiny things. Carefully ignoring the raging erection he was sporting. Mechanical hardness. That was all it was. Just a thing, reacting to the stimulus of something poking it in the brain. Not a man, if he ever was one. He couldn't be dreaming.

He couldn't be dreaming of watching his family break apart, of losing his place in the middle. He couldn't be dreaming of a dark little wicked princess in his arms, all he had left, or of her laughing at him when she said they could still be friends. Monsters don't dream. He couldn't be dreaming of a warm human body somewhere out there, full of blood and life and smelling so damn good, fighting like an animal, touching Spike like a man, and like Spike himself was still a man, not a monster. Monsters don't dream, and they certainly don't dream of Alexander Harris.

*****

Xander was sitting on the couch in his basement, reading the newspaper. Looking at apartment-for-rent ads, specifically. Enough was enough. A light knock at the interior door, and Willow was walking down the stairs, an odd look on her face.

"Hey, Will. Mom let you in? "

Amazing, since his mother's last words to him about an hour ago had been, "And if I see any of your little friends around here, I'll just tell them you're packing, and they can catch you at your new place, right?"

Willow nodded. "She seemed cranky. "

"Yeah. We're having a little landlord-tenant dispute, so I'm withholding rent. Precursor to actually getting my stuff together, moving out, and getting a life, I might add." He held up the newspaper, showing her the apartments circled in red.

"How come?" Willow asked, sitting down on one arm of the couch.

Xander snorted. "Aside from the whole 'Norman Bates living in the basement at forty' image I carry constantly in my head at this point? She won't let me put a lock on my door. I suspect she's afraid I'll start having the sex. "

"Little late for that, isn't it?" Willow asked, grinning and blushing at the same time.

More amazing. Willow making a sex joke. Giles shaves his head, Buffy takes Trig, and we'll have definite proof of the apocalypse.

"Probably, yeah. Though that doesn't seem to be a real issue at the moment."

She looked concerned. "Things with Anya not so good?'

He shook his head. "There is no thing with Anya. Which she doesn't seem to want to hear, but... She's so damn gung-ho on being a real girl, she wants to build a little house with a white picket fence and move the kids in before she even finds somebody she loves to pay the mortgage. But enough about my lack of a life. What can I do for the lovely lady?"

Willow smiled, then frowned, then smiled again. "Oz... we talked. And he said that was partly because of you. So thank you. I guess. I mean, officially, stay the heck out of my love-life, but unofficially, thank you, and I love you, Snoopy-Butt."

Xander managed to retain some dignity, even in the face of his kindergarten nickname. "And also with you, Peanut Butter Breath. So... you talked..."

She nodded. "He's afraid... of being the wolf, I guess. Of the blonde Slut-Bomb, too. But he doesn't love her, and he doesn't want to want her. It's just pheromones or something. Especially with him being wolfy right now. So I'm blowing the Wicca group for tonight, and doing the traditional Oz-sitting thing, just like old times."

Good. They needed to be together. Needed to talk. Nobody was breaking up his family.

"Xander?"

"Mmmm?" Oh. Had Oz mentioned the entire context of their conversation? He hadn't actually asked the werewolf not to, but it would be nice to know if he was supposed to blush now or not.

"He loves me. He really does."

Xander studied her. Quirky-sweet face, shy smile, warm greenish eyes beneath that fringe of too-red hair. His sister, in everything but blood, who had taken care of him when the idiots upstairs had been too drunk to notice him, or, occasionally, patched him up when they had noticed him too much. Who had gotten him through Trig and French and Jesse's death and his ill-fated crush on Buffy, his insane lust-in-the-dust-and-regret-it-later with Cordelia... And Willow had never hated him because he couldn't feel the same way about her as she thought she felt about him. Been hurt, yeah, but always came back with a smile. God, she was beautiful.

He goggled his eyes at her. "You doubted? You really are a big Goober Head!"

He pulled her off the sofa arm onto his lap, and began to tickle her mercilessly. Thanking whatever gods happened to be listening that A) He still had his real family and B) He had a while to figure out how to tell most of them about his little journey into self-discovery... And a big thank-you goes out to Daniel Osbourne...

 

*****

There's a difference between dreaming and being out cold. When you're out cold, they stick things in your head. Spike was out cold, and likely to remain that way for a while.

*****

The sun was sinking, and Xander was helping Oz put the finishing touches on his new, improved WCU (Werewolf Containment Unit). New chain and lock on the gate in the underground room, stronger hinges. Willow sat on top of a huge Igloo cooler, munching on a cheeseburger, and watching them. The old familiar tranquilizer gun lay by her side. The newer one that Giles had gotten from God knew where was on patrol with Buffy, tonight.

"That should do it. And Buffy's out looking for this second werewolf, so I don't think you need to worry on that score. She'll bring it in, and she knows it's a person in there, so no stakings or Lone Rangerings to occur." He shut the barred door firmly with Oz inside, and locked it, handing Willow the key.

"Thanks. I owe you one. Or three." Oz smiled and sat down on the pile of blankets in the corner, leaning back against the wall.

"I'll leave you two alone, then," Xander said, nodding at Oz, who didn't owe him a damn thing. "I'm sure you've got some fascinating..."

Willow held up a large textbook.

"...Analytic Geometry to discuss. Okay, whatever..." Xander shook his head. If he were going to be stuck on one side of a cage with his lover on the other, he'd be reading... Wait, what lover? And what would he be reading-- the liner notes to "The Best of Sid Vicious" ? Gulp. Thoughts not to be thunk.

He left the little bunker with a wave, and snuck out through the manzanita growing thick around the entrance, pulling leaves from his hair as he went. So much easier when they could do this in the library book cage, with Oz-sitting rotation duty and easily available pizza delivery...

Jogging toward home as the sun faded from view, he caught a familiar scent. That kind of wild, kind of wrong, kind of... Veruca. Back on his turf, and the scent stronger than it had been when he was inches away from her, his arms pressing her up against the tree. In a split second, it hit him. Moron! Moron!

Better get that coat dry-cleaned. Bitching at him because she couldn't think of anything else to say. Then the echo in Oz' mellow drawl. The scent, familiar and wrong. Familiar, because it smelled like werewolf. Wrong, because it was female. Wrong, because it wasn't family. It wasn't his. Veruca. Who thought Oz was a big boy and could make his own choices. He was. He had. He'd chosen Willow.

And Willow was alone in the bunker with him, on the outside of a set of steel bars, and Veruca was on her way there, or was already there, and all Willow and Oz had was the tranquilizer gun and maybe a few minutes, if they were lucky. No, they had more than that. The two of them had Xander, who was racing back through the brush towards the bunker, Spike's black coat flying behind him, moving with a speed he would never have thought his body capable of.

Face pressed up against the stone wall next to the entrance, Xander listened., and felt around inside Spike's coat for something, anything, he could use as a weapon. There were more pockets in there than in a pita factory, he discovered. Inside left breast pocket: Very cool Zippo, and a pack of unfiltered Camels, menthol. Nice to know, just in case he wanted to light some incense and create a Spikey kind of mood, but fucking unhelpful at the moment, unless he wanted to attack her with second-hand smoke. Left inside hip pocket: ball of twine??!! Okay, useful if he ever got lost in a labyrinth, but unless the werewolf woman needed to floss… Right inside hip pocket: hip flask with something sloshing inside it that he'd have to investigate later, and he couldn't believe he hadn't checked the pockets before now. Spike would rip him a new one if he did have the coat dry-cleaned and ruined what might very well be everything the vampire owned. Of course, Spike might rip him a new one on principle, anyway.

Strange how his thoughts seemed to be going a mile a minute, but he could hear the silence and the breathing inside the underground room as if he were right in there with them., and apparently only seconds had passed, unless Oz and Willow and the stranger were breathing in slow motion. Another little pocket sewn into the lining of the right side, near the waist, or what would be the waist on Spike, so a little higher on Xander… In that pocket, a crumpled little white bag of what looked like Gummi Bears, except they were shaped like little people. Gummi Bears, Gummi Worms… Didn't know they made little Gummi Humans for vampires to munch on, but it makes sense. Come on Spike, my family's in danger. Don't you have anything useful in here?

Yeah. Right inside breast pocket. A knife? What the hell does a vampire need with a knife? But it wasn't a knife. As he unfolded it, accidentally cutting his finger at the slightest touch, Xander realized it was a very long, very sharp, straight razor. With a blade that looked like silver. Couldn't be and hold an edge, could it? Maybe it was plated? It wasn't a big damn stick, but it had potential. Thank you for shaving anachronistically, Spike. And soooo hoping that's what you actually use this for.

Then there were words… the low voice of the werewolf bitch. And you could take that last word any way you wanted, Xander didn't care.

"So this is your habittrail? Very cosy. Very... domesticated. She get you a little collar and a big bone, too? Or do you only get big bones for your own kind?"

Oz' reply was... a little jumpy. Which, for Oz, meant he was scared shitless. "Veruca, get out of here. There's someone out hunting you, and maybe you should let her find you. She should be in Reder Park about now. She won't hurt you, and we can figure out some way to keep you safe."

"Safe?" the dark voice laughed. "Who the hell wants to be safe, Rover? Can't you feel it? The tingle? The cool of the moon, the heat in the blood? Right before sunset, I get a little buzzed, you know?"

"He asked you to leave." Willow's voice trembled, but there was Xander's brave girl. Oz' brave girl. "I'm asking you to leave."

"You care about what your little honey wants, fetch-boy? Does she even know what I am? What we did? Because I'm thinking... you in there... me out here.. I bet there's a key on her somewhere, and things would sure be easier if she weren't in the picture at all... "

The moon was rising. Xander slipped in through the doorway, and Veruca whirled around to face him.

"What, like I couldn't smell you? You're bleeding, for God's sake. What kind of moron are you?" she growled.

"The kind who wants your skanky ass away from my friends, now," Xander replied, going for the tranq gun as Veruca's eyes began to turn black, and Oz howled helplessly from inside the cage, throwing himself against the bars.

"Don't let her hurt Willow!" was the last thing the male werewolf managed to choke out before he too became a snarling, spitting, fur-covered beast-- like the one that was launching itself at Xander. No, not at Xander-- at Willow. Oz was right.

Xander pulled the trigger on the tranq gun…and it jammed in his hand. Shit. Piece of useless… Knocking Willow out of the way, he shoved the butt of the gun into the Veruca-wolf's face, but the creature ripped it from his hand like it was a plastic bottle of suntan lotion and Xander was Malibu Ken. Sharp teeth snapped at him, and he kicked out without thinking, landing an Adidas-shod foot in the werewolf's face. Okay, body--work now. The wolf fell back for a moment, and then sprang forward onto him. They tussled, Xander mostly trying to avoid getting his throat completely ripped out, and incidentally hoping he didn't get bitten at all, since if he survived, one werewolf in the group was probably enough. The leather coat seemed to be protecting him from the worst of the werewolf's claw-swipes, but it was only a matter of seconds before she would manage to tear her way through it or bite his head off.

Willow had scrambled back into the corner, and as Xander and the wolf played a deadly game of Twister, she began chanting something.

"Silver spun by three times three, one of moon and two of sun. Creature of the darkened tides, let your strength be now undone. Silver spun by three times three…" Nothing seemed to be happening, except that the wolf noticed Willow again, and scrambled off Xander with a fierce howl, diving at the corner where Willow was curled into a ball, still chanting.

"Silver spun by three times three, one of moon and two of sun. Creature of the darkened tides, let your strength be now un-DONE!" On the third repetition, at the end of the last syllable, there was a moment. Just one bright, silvery moment, when the monster that had been Veruca was airborne, hurtling at Willow with the speed of an Olympic sprinter on uppers… and then there was nothing. No movement, just the wolf frozen in the air, and Xander flipping open the silver-bladed razor, and diving in slow-motion himself, slicing it across the darkness, across the thing that was trying to hurt Willow, across the werewolf's throat. As time became itself again, blood spattered the coat, the floor, and Xander, who ended up in a crumpled heap beneath the motionless furred body.

*****

"What do you think you're doing?" Xander asked from the doorway of Oz' room in the house that the guitarist shared with the rest of the Dingoes.

"Packing," Oz replied shortly. Pun intended, on Xander's part. The small, thin guy was shoving clothes and a few books into a carry-all, looking at nothing but what he was doing, certainly not at Xander.

"Why?"

"Because I've got to get out of here. Willow doesn't need anybody as dangerous as me in her life. If I'd been on the other side of that cage, it could've been me whose throat you had to cut." Which may just have been more words than Xander had ever heard out of Oz' lips at one time.

"And I would've," Xander answered simply. "Because that's what you'd want me to do. But it wasn't you, because you were willing to go into that cage in the first place. Veruca wasn't. She knew what she was, and she knew she'd hurt people, and she wanted to, Oz. "

Oz turned to face him. "And you stopped her. "

Xander nodded. "Well, me and Glinda the Ass-Kicking Witch. And you."

"Me?" The human werewolf, one night left of his three-day danger zone, looked at him in confusion.

"You. You probably don't remember the spell Willow cooked up out of her own pointy little head, seeing as you were out of yours at the time. Silver spun by three times three. You. Me. Willow. You and Willow. Me and Willow. You and me. Three times three. One of moon and two of sun. Us, together. Family. You don't get to walk out on this because you think she's better off without you. That kinda shit went out with Deadboy."

Oz sat down on the bed, carry-all on his knees. "I slept with Veruca. That first night."

Xander wandered into the room, not looking too closely at Oz, examining the posters on the walls, the weird little art objects on the shelves, and what he was pretty sure was an elaborately disguised bong on the milk-crate coffee table next to the stereo. Finally, when he thought it was fair to look Oz in the face, he did.

"Yeah, I kinda figured that was what 'Does she even know what we did?' meant. But that was the wolf, not you."

"The wolf is me, Xander. Veruca was right about that. I don't know how much of me was there, or how much of it is in me right now." Oz tossed the bag of clothes to one side and stood up. Walked to the door. Walked back. Like a caged werewolf.

"So you stay here and find out. And we help you. Giles. Buffy. Me. And Willow. Just like before. You don't stop being family just because you go off to college. Willow won't stop loving you just because you broke out of your cage. And you haven't stopped loving her."

Oz was still pacing, the laid-back guy looking more and more lost every minute, replaced by… somebody who was afraid.

Xander walked over to Oz, and just… hugged him. Wrapped his arms around the thin shoulders and stood there. That was all he could do, all he had to offer, besides whatever he could coax out of his mouth. "Don't wimp out on us now, Oz. I had the balls to come out to you, you can have the balls to stay here and work this out with Willow. With yourself."

They stood there like that for a minute or so, until at last Oz pulled away, just a little, and grinned faintly. "Yeah, I guess that was pretty ballsy, coming from you."

"Thank you, I think. Or I'm insulted. Or thank you," Xander replied with a laugh just as tentative.

"Am I interrupting something?" Willow asked from the doorway. Xander jumped quickly back, then laughed at himself.

"Yeah, I guess it's about time you knew, Wills. Oz and I are engaged." He waggled his ringless left hand at her, and she giggled, until she noticed Oz' bag lying on the bed, clothes spilling out onto the comforter.

"Oz?" she asked, the confusion and fear evident in her eyes, on her furrowed brow, as she walked up to her boyfriend. "You're leaving?"

Oz shook his head. Took her in his arms, as Xander leaned on the doorframe and watched. "Thought so, but somebody convinced me that would be a stupid idea."

Willow looked over Oz' shoulder at Xander, who shrugged, with a silent 'Who, me?' on his face.

"Really? Who?" she asked, rubbing her face against his hair.

"You. My whole life, I've never loved anyone else."

*****

Xander stood on the pavement in front of the dry cleaner's. Again. He'd done the best he could with leather cleaning solution from the expensive leather goods store in the mall, but the coat still carried the scent of his own pleasure, in addition to the strange smoky-bleachy-minty something that was Spike. Now there was an additional smell, of death and fear and family. Some of which should probably come out, if Spike was ever going to take the duster back.

Again, he glanced at the prices. It wasn't that he couldn't afford it, though money was going to be tight for the next few weeks if he wanted to get out of the basement and into a real apartment. It was just… He slung the coat over his shoulder and began walking towards Giles' place. They probably charge extra for getting werewolf blood out, anyway… he thought as he strode down the street. Wondering, for the most part, just where the hell Spike was, that the vampire hadn't come to claim his precious leather, or the guy who was still wearing it.