Small Illuminated Dying Things

Notes: Title and summary from Lorca's "Ode to Walt Whitman", which I can't seem to stop reading. Thanks to Kit, Abbie, & Chris Lee for encouragement at various points, and to Kita for inspiring the Angel in this.

 

X

She leaves Spike in the alley and takes the next bus to Los Angeles.

She is filthy. Whatever's left inside of her is rotting godawfully slowly, slimemold sliding over the rot, doubling and thickening it. She isn't herself, and she hasn't been since they brought her back.

She's worse than a corpse, she's a walking carcass rolled and kicked in the dirt, fucking another corpse, trying to remember what it's like to feel.

So she goes to the only other *thing* who can possibly know what this is like.

Tips her cheek against the cold window and watches the black slab of night sliding past outside. Above the rest of the traffic, shaking with the bus's motor, the headlights and taillights are streaking demonic eyes. It smells like lemon disinfectant in here, splashed over puke, cutting through years of soursweat, wreathing her hair.

She'll see Angel and together they will figure out how to fix her. Make her herself again.

X

The shampoo bottle squirts air and a few bubbles into Oz's hand, so he climbs out of the shower and wraps a towel around his waist.

"Be right back," he says.

Angel, leaning against the wall, directly under the spray, nods but doesn't open his eyes. His cheeks are pink, humidity and some of Oz's blood.

Oz hurries into the bedroom, across to the closet, trying and failing to minimize dripping. He weaves around their clothes, tossed and left behind when *something* - finally a moment alone, quiet, the hotel to themselves - got the better of them. His hips and wrists are bruised, his body full of postsex heat. His mouth can't stop smiling.

He grabs a new bottle of shampoo, turning back toward the bathroom, when there's a soft, quick rap on the door.

"- Minute!" Oz stumbles and grabs his cords from under Angel's armchair. Yanks them right-side out and pulls them haltingly over his wet legs. No one's supposed to be around, but obviously someone is. Someone who knows which room they're in, someone -.

He pulls open the door, already to starting to shiver from the cold air and wet, worrying what Cordy's seen this time.

Not Cordy.

Smaller, slighter. Far sadder than Cordy.

"Buffy?"

She looks up at him - she's the only one who was ever smaller than Oz - terribly slowly, her face gray, eyes sunk in charcoal smears. "Oz. Sorry. Um, I was looking -. I need -"

"Come in." She looks like she might just fall over, like those stacks of twigs used to kindle a bonfire.

He hasn't seen her since she came back, since that horrible visit to Sunnydale. Since she clawed her way out of her own grave.

"I interrupted -" She lets him take her arm, help her sit on the little couch by the window. "Sorry. I -"

Oz crouches in front of her and takes her hand. Twigs in skin. "What's wrong?"

Her lashes are black, short harsh streaks when she squeezes shut her eyes and shakes out a high, scary laugh. "Me. Everything. Nothing's right, I -"

He's getting scared; cold water on his back, in his eyes, and Buffy so sharp, like a tuning needle, vibrating in front of him. Oz swallows. "What's wrong? Buffy."

Planting her fists in cushions, she tries to stand up, but Oz grips her hand and squeezes. She slumps a little and the laughter keeps slowing down. "I was looking for Angel. Sorry I bothered you, I forgot -"

Forgot Oz was here, probably. Angel didn't tell anyone in Sunnydale about Oz, about them: Not the right time, none of their business, didn't seem right. And Oz gets that. He does his thing, drives his van and provides back-up in the fights, and sometimes he gets a night alone with Angel and it's all good. No need to go talking and informing everyone under the sun.

One of the hardest things to take when he lived in Sunnydale was how everyone knew everything, was expected to know and stay informed and offer their opinions. The constant missiles of judgment and thought that zoomed around the library made his head hurt.

"Yeah, see -" Oz starts to say.

The shower switches off and Oz holds his breath.

"Oz? Where'd you -?"

Angel's coming into the room, naked, scrubbing a towel over the back of his head. Oz sits back on the floor, sliding his hand from Buffy's, wrapping his arm around one bent knee.

Buffy's body stills, her face smoothing out for a moment. "Angel?"

"Buffy?"

Angel's backing up, twisting the towel over himself, and Buffy's face tightens as she looks from him to Oz, then back again. "Angel?"

Right, Oz wants to say, now that we know everybody's present and accounted for, let's move on. He pushes himself to his feet, rubbing the goosebumps from his arms as he crosses them over his chest.

"You and Oz -" Buffy's saying. "With Oz. You with -"

Angel's looking at the floor, damp licks of hair falling over his forehead. "I -"

He looks ashamed, caught out, trapped.

Oz *feels* it, feels Buffy's fear now joined by confusion, and Angel's embarrassment and discomfort, and it's all filling the room. Static off insect swarms, buzzing flies and wasps and gnats, clouds of them.

"I'll go," Oz says and moves toward the door.

They're still turned towards each other, Buffy on the couch, Angel covering himself with the towel. You could draw a perfectly straight line between their two pairs of eyes.

"Buffy," Angel says, lifting his pants off the back of the bathroom door. "Buffy, what's wrong?"

Oz pauses to grab a shirt - Angel's, but it doesn't matter - and has his hand on the knob when Buffy touches her throat, right at the base, and says softly, "Me. I'm dirty."

He turns back.

Here in their midst, things are light and dark. Clean and filthy, right and wrong. Even if - maybe *because* - both of them violate every matched pair, doublecross their boundaries just by being who they are.

Souled undead, superstrong warrior. Oz figures they need the center and the matching opposites; everyone wants the world to make sense.

It's just not his world.

Oz sits on the foot of the bed, cross-legged, palms resting on his knees. Watching and listening as Angel and Buffy curve toward each other on the loveseat, big and small, dark and light, voices almost hushed.

X

Angel can't do this. Can't hold her again, memory realer than real on his hands, in the back of his mouth, girl and love.

He couldn't do this, not unless Oz was here. Oz is always here, quiet and present.

Angel glances at him, breathes in calm and certainty.

"You're not," he tells her. Again, the hundredth time. "Not dirty, nothing like that."

Her eyes are wide, flecked and rainwashed dark green. Across the room, far as Tibet, Oz's eyes are steady, somehow at once brighter and blacker.

Angel can't compare them; he will not. He's not allowed that choice, the luxury of comparison and regret.

Buffy follows his eyes. Even with both of them looking at him, Oz doesn't shift. Oz persists, and Angel thinks of soup stirred in a single endless spiral, of fires in huts that burn blue and orange all night long. Warmth and quiet.

"You and him -" she says again. "Oz."

Angel flexes his hand. Nightmare, retribution, worse than hell because it's closer, it's in his home: Both of them here. Her broken heart and whiplash trembling, Oz's steady heart and unearthly stillness.

Between them, just him, over-large, with hands that break things and a black knot of rotten muscle where Liam's heart used to be.

"Yes," he says. No shame in that, nothing to hide. He thought she knew.

"But you can't have -" Her voice a broken thing, crockery and dust.

"Curse doesn't work like that."

"Oh." Buffy pushes the hair out of her eyes. Marble-round and -big, widening more with each breath. "So we -"

"No."

He knows that much at least. That time has moved - whether forward or just around, he's not sure - and Oz is here now. Oz, almost as small as Buffy, just as strong, but different. So quiet. Oz lets him be, never wavers, and Angel is enough of a selfish, needful man to take that, bask in it, feel a measure of relief from high-pitched destiny and crossed stars.

Buffy will not cry. He sees tears in her eyes, smells salt under her skin, but she holds herself back.

"Great," she says. "Just great."

"Buffy -" Angel swallows, showerwater and hints of girltears, opening his arms, and she comes into them, trembling.

X

Oz doesn't feel jealous. Even with Will, with the scent of her clinging to every pore on Tara's body, it was about not being loved, about being abandoned. Never about envy.

He thinks there's a difference.

Watching them now, embracing and murmuring, he knows all the better about the absence of jealousy. You can't be jealous of what you could never have, never be. He could never be Buffy, and just the thought of being that strong, that beautiful, is enough to drive him even further inside his own skin.

Shrink and retreat in the face of what's bigger: That's what he does.

And this is what they do to each other. Neither is quite recognizable, like mountaintops wreathed in clouds, blurred by altitude. Oz loves Angel, cares a lot about Buffy - especially now, thin as a stick stripped of its bark and sadder than anything - but what they make together erases him. Whatever he feels vanishes; he's not even sure if he's feeling anything.

Maybe - definitely - it's better for him this way. This is their world, they're the ones with feelings and destinies. Better for him to be reminded of that, to pluck out the gaps and sidelines where he belongs from the grandeur of their conversation, the hallelujah chorus and final movement sadness of their looks and gestures. He is jazz and rock, ugly primitive things, simplistic and degenerate compared to capital-C culture of themes and variations, orchestras and Beethoven.

Oz is what comes after. He wasn't Xander, he's not Buffy. He might have come first for Giles, but he was too scared; it's better here, simplistic and small, in the afterwards.

X

It's not just her, and it's definitely not just Spike. Buffy's starting to see that now. Scott, and Parker, definitely Riley, even Billy Ford, even *Xander*, of all people, standing stockstill while she danced against him, writhing and weaving her hands over his chest.

It's not her. It's Angel.

"It all started with you," she says, as quickly as she realizes it. As knowledge forms and firms in her mind, she says the words. "You. You were the first."

She doesn't know how to talk to Angel. She never did, and for a long time, she didn't have to know. She wishes she could go back, slap that chubby-faced girl she used to be, shake her by the shoulders and make her *see*.

It wouldn't help; that girl would fight her, pull her hair and cry and laugh, explain that it doesn't matter. She *loves* Angel, that's all that matters.

After he went to hell, after he came back, she still tried to believe that.

"Buffy," Angel says. "No -"

She nods, decision made, and the calm that follows it is something she hasn't felt all year long. "Yes. If you hadn't been there, if we -"

She'd be better now, if she'd never known him. She wouldn't be fucking Spike, she wouldn't have this cold ooze inside of her all the time, she'd be in college and Dawn would be happy and they'd be all right.

"That's when it started," she says. "With you."

"I'm sorry," Angel says.

X

Angel can never do enough penance for her, for this. For a hazel-eyed girl with golden hair who just wanted his love.

Murder and rape: There are penances for these, and he does them. Every fucking day, he wakes to regret and penitence. His life is a walking rosary, like Oz's strange version of meditation. Like the climb from Gethsemane, every morning and every night.

But not her.

He can never be sorry enough.

X

They forget, again, that Oz is here.

They've always succeeded in this, their mutual gaze creating the world anew, an Eden, unpopulated save for them.

"I came back wrong -"

Oz sits quietly, cross-legged, on the bed, hands clasped and eyes in his lap.

In his palms, he sees lines and small things. His world: Rest stops and sidewalk curbs, small trails down grand mountains. Seeds blown forward by the wind, carried deep in birds' gullets, dropped in splashes of excrement that spatter the sea.

In their conversation, in their world, things are large, imposing, more significant than anything he could dream.

"You're not wrong," Angel tells her. "You're not wrong and I'm so sorry."

"It's all right," Buffy says. "You're happy now."

She and Angel are talking the way Angel and Wes talk, short heavy phrases full of portent and meaning that Oz is too small, too stupid, to really understand. That he's never really cared to understand one way or the other.

Oz has never minded the periphery. Always kind of liked dwelling on the margins.

Quieter here, better sightlines, more room to think.

But there are margins and then there are places like this, no-man's lands, dragon-waters, ancient minefields sown with salt.

He doesn't have to swallow the sting. So when Buffy turns to him, pink mouth curving as she tries to understand, and says, "So you're the girl here, right?", Oz knows she's not being deliberately cruel. He knows she is understanding as best she can. In Buffy's world, at the top of the mountain, there are men and women, and that's what love is.

He also knows he should nod, preserve this grand and simple pattern they both operate on. Angel's eyes are hot and black on him. Asking for something - for Oz to play along, to be gentle and kind, to keep the pattern rolling and whole.

"Nah," Oz says. "Still got my cock and balls, far as I know."

Buffy's lips part, her eyes drop.

X

Angel's arm tightens around Buffy.

In the silence, Oz's voice continues to shake the air, tissue paper sliding over more sheets, thin and opaque. Angel can hear water settling in the pipes, smell shame and discomfort clogging Buffy's pores, hear her breath punching through her lungs.

But he can't smell anything off Oz. Just Oz, clean from the shower, nothing more. Green eyes, dark-ginger lashes.

He doesn't know Oz, he thinks. The thought slices upward from his gut, rough and fast. Ragged as hara-kiri.

But then Oz is unfolding, rising from the bed, and crouching before Buffy again. Loosening her fingers from where they clutch her knee and rubbing her hand between his.

That is Oz, calm and helpful. If he just watches Oz, follows him, he'll be all right. Oz always knows what to do. Oz is touching her. Angel can't.

X

Buffy clears her throat and tips up her face from Angel's chest. When she looks at him, Oz feels her gaze like she's placing pebbles on his skin. "So why didn't I feel dirty those times with you?"

"With -" Angel asks. "Oz?"

Oz does not look away from Buffy. Her skin is cold as fruit under his palm.

"Why not?" she asks again. Almost demands, and he remembers that tone. In the library, when she was making strategy, forming decisions.

"Couldn't say," he says.

"Oz." Angel's darkened voice, slick with promised blood and just as heavy.

Oz glances over at Angel. "Couple times, summer after you left. With Will."

"I should have felt dirty," Buffy says. "That was -"

"Was fun," Oz says. "Nothing bad."

She's rubbing her palms together, studying them as she interlaces her fingers, spreads them out, presses them together. "Didn't count, maybe?" she asks softly, like the thought's just occurring to her. "Because it wasn't really sex? Just -"

Angel sits forward, the leather creaking a little beneath him. Listening.

"Felt like sex to me," Oz says.

Buffy looks at him, quickly, then back down. "No, I mean, because -"

Because it was girls, because it was fingers and mouths, tongues and friction, because they laughed a lot. Oz knows what she meant. He just doesn't see how he can agree.

X

She'd nearly forgotten those times with Willow and Oz. It couldn't count, it didn't count. Not the same as Angel, or Parker, or Riley. Not even dancing with Xander. With them, she felt thick as honey, cough syrup, bitter and red, but with Oz and Willow, everything was paler, brighter, sweeter. Just fun.

Easy to forget. She needed to forget, especially after Oz left and Willow would just *look* at her, huge eyes and empty hands, and Buffy didn't know what to say. How to help.

"You and Buffy -" Angel is saying to Oz, and Buffy twists against his arm.

"It wasn't anything," she says. "Just fun. Nothing dirty."

She can't get the image of Angel and Oz out of her head. *That* is dirtier than anything she's tried or thought of trying. Spike and handcuffs, doggy-style, his fingers up her in the middle of the Bronze. Corpses who can move.

But Oz is so small and Angel, Angel can't have sex, Angel had sex once - his face twisting into a smile, raindrops running down the window, painting his cheeks with silver light, and he moved inside her and it hurt but she was *happy* - and everything went to hell after that.

Oz is half-smiling. At her, at Angel, she never could tell what Oz meant.

"It's the wolf, isn't it?" Buffy says. She made Angel smile once, when she was chubby and innocent, and that was the curse, making him feel human. He'll always cling to the demon, though, mutter about being a monster and hide there. Of course he'd fuck Oz and it wouldn't mean anything. Monsters love monsters.

Oz shakes his head, but he also looks away. Down. Ashamed.

"Does he bite you?"

"Buffy -" Angel says, but she ignores him.

"Lost my scar when I came back," she tells Oz. "Do you have scars?"

He touches his thigh, then his neck. Shows her a red hickey, puncture wounds, high on his throat and nods.

"Do it for fun, right?" she asks. She *saved* Angel, he was going to die without blood. Cold marble floor, hot blood and his hotter mouth, and she came harder than she's ever come. She can understand why you'd do it for fun. "That's what you do."

Oz's lids are so pale. He blinks and doesn't open his eyes.

"So it is the wolf." Decision and strategy and fighting: That's all she's ever been good for, good at. She puts her hand on Oz's shoulder, moves it up to his neck. "Show me."

X

Angel's told himself, from the moment he stepped into Oz's hut, that this isn't an exchange. He's not saving Oz because he failed Doyle, Darla, Dru, Buffy, everyone. He believes that.

He has to believe that. Believe that Oz is what he says he is, different, incommensurable with anyone else. Undeserving of the curse. Different.

It's easier to believe that than to know, as he does in his sick, twisted heart, that he'll warp and break Oz just like he did everyone else.

Belief is altars and moonrise, blood and incense. Angel dwells in belief, feeds on it. Always has, whether Liam was stealing communion wine or swilling ale, or Angelus was eating nuns and fucking priests dry, then dead, or he was crawling through alleys, slow as a worm and more loathsome, gnawing the carcasses of rats.

Knowledge is Wesley's domain. Angel wants to believe.

But. But.

Buffy and Oz, human, laughing, touching and kissing, pale hands on tan breasts, matching nailpolish glittering as they get each other off. Children's shouts, giggles like seltzer water pumped full of bright syrup. Mouths sliding over each other, tongues licking at each other's sweetness, ice cream and chocolate.

He believes he wants to see that.

Buffy wants to see, and if this helps Buffy, all the better.

"Show me," Buffy says.

"Go on," Angel says. Oz came over, held her hand; Oz knows what to do. He just needs to know it's all right with Angel.

"No," Oz says, trying to back away, away from the couch, away from Angel. Pale fear, moonlight caught in the underbrush, tangled and confused. Angel follows him, seeks to steady him with control in his voice and a hand on Oz's shoulder.

"You like girls, don't you?" Angel asks. It's not a question, but a challenge, just like pulling a gun on someone, just like shaking down his demon's face. "You should like girls."

"I like girls." Downcast eyes, fists at his sides. Little boy, half-petulant and all the way scared. Beautiful.

Angel kisses Oz, sucks the shame and fear off his tongue, tugs his pants down his hips, and pushes him onto the bed, toward Buffy. "Then do it. For her."

X

For her, Oz hears, again and again, touching Buffy.

He remembers all over again - but it's not memory, it's something much more immediate, sharper and thinner, than memory - the picture he saw, the whoosh of air and dimensions displaced, when he knew that Buffy had died. Golden hair, flying in joy, and then nothing. Not dark, not grief, just absence. Shadow without subject.

When he saw her again in Sunnydale, she was fragile, a paper doll caught in the rain and smeared with mud. Unreal.

She's real now. White cords of strength, dark eyes and pale hair, solid and quick like some compound in chemistry. Very real, highly unstable.

Maybe she did come back wrong.

Maybe, he thinks, his face in her hair, on her neck, hands moving over her chest, she's just changing. Different. Apple blossoms, thick and white as the snow they replace, have to hurt when they burst from the buds, when the buds poke through dead wood and cold bark.

She's back, and it is, sometimes, just as simple as this: You leave, you return. Return and recover joy, become something to celebrate. She shouldn't be back, but she is, and celebrating her, winding his arms around her and pulling her down and kissing her, is not the same thing as approving of what Willow did.

Buffy tastes like asphalt, cracked and stained with motor oil. He held her, the few times they fooled around with Willow, leaning against the wall with Buffy against his chest, Willow in front of them, kissing Buffy and touching her breasts, kneeling between Buffy's legs. Happier and surer than she ever was with Oz alone. Those times, Buffy tasted and smelled like all the things Angel claims Oz is, reminds him of, makes him thirsty for. Sun, citrus, laughter.

Oz lies on his side, kissing her neck, cupping her breast. Hair trails and tangles over his face; it smells like lilacs and creosote. She used to be soft but strong, and his hand, all his senses, are confused. Now she is hard and thin, thickened resin, sharkcartilage. Ropy.

Buffy twists away from his touch. "Not what I want -"

"Ssssshh," he breathes against her neck. Her pulse jumps under his lips, dizzy beeflight.

"No, it's -" Her head shakes and she pushes at his shoulder.

"Buffy. Relax, it's cool -"

She twists, tangling and flipping, until she's on her hands and knees, butting back against him. Rubbing, raising her ass, and the gritty painful lust he felt with Veruca, when Veruca did just *this*, springs out over his skin, down his throat.

Rubbing, presenting, pulling her skirt to her waist - slash of red skin, dark hair, between her legs - and laughing. "Easier?" she asks, over her shoulder, and Angel's eyes are black and wide on him. On them. "Boys and dogs, you know how to fuck like this, don't you?"

Questions. They both keep asking him questions, never stop with the questions, but they don't want to know. Questions curlicuing into shame, into challenge.

Behind his lids, it's a little cooler. Dimmer, and calmer, and he grips her waist and rolls onto his side again.

Not like this. Not Veruca, not him, not even if he can smell the knifewhip crackle, sharp and strong, of lust and need that's coming off Angel, threading and pulsing through Buffy's scent and clawing fingers.

Thin bony fingers grab his shoulder, shove him onto his back, and Buffy straddles him, nails in his chest, then on Angel's mark on his thigh, on his throat. "Do it. Let it out. Let me see."

"Buffy, no."

Pressure on his windpipe; of course she knows where to touch, how to hurt. It's who she supposedly is. Air comes in choppy knifestrokes and he tries to push her off. She can't know how hard this makes him, losing breath. Angel shoving him against a wall and biting him past breathing, opening his legs and fucking him full.

"Oz." Angel, close by. Blackened voice.

"I -" Oz's mouth opens, no air, Buffy's hair falling in yellow rivers over his face.

"Give her what she wants."

*She* doesn't know what she wants, Oz wants to say, I don't know. No one does.

But Angel's hauling him up and Buffy's spread against the dark red quilt, quivering, her eyes flat and hard.

She's shaking her head when Angel kisses him again, hard tongue and scraping clack of teeth, hand on his dick, pulling until Oz pitches forward, gasping and boneless. Angel clamps the muzzle on Oz's face, kneels beside Buffy and wraps his chain with the mistletoe twice around her neck. Strokes back her hair with one large hand, then withdraws.

"Now," Angel says. "Daniel."

Moons and cold empty space in his voice, on his face, when he says the secret name. Oz writhes, cannot fight it.

Buffy laughs like a witch when the claws spring bloody and sharp from Oz's fingers and his jaw snaps against the muzzle's cage.

X

Angel sits back against the headboard, tugs down his fly, grabs his hard cock. Yellow heat of power, false suns hotter than the real thing.

She isn't Buffy. Buffy is a good girl. This girl is angry, angrier than Faith ever was, more beautiful for the rage in her eyes, contorting her body, for her resemblance to Buffy.

Buffy in a funhouse, Buffy as Darla, as Oz, whorish and hungry, and he's not so hypocritical that he hasn't dreamed of this, countless times, Buffy naked and laughing cruelly like this, Buffy unleashed.

Buffy writhing over Angel's own pet wolfboy, Oz slipping between states, growling into the muzzle, half-pelted chest heaving. Not so quiet now.

Not Buffy, not Oz. Pretty and feral, the both of them. Claws sinking into round little girl-ass, tiny breasts tipped with rosethorn nipples bouncing as she grinds against the monsterboy. Oz whining, hips working helplessly against her, head thrashing.

Clouds of scent - wolf's musk, Oz's desperate shame sharp as icicles, Buffy's cloversweet arousal and fierce anger, gritty with smashed glass and pottery sherds - billow through the room, around Angel, speed his hand on his dick, fill his mouth nearly as well as blood.

X

Fight and fuck. Buffy knows she's dirty, knows now more than ever that she came back wrong, always was wrong. Death isn't her gift, this is her gift. Close to death, muscles clenching and desire rocketing through her veins, but not dying. Moving, always moving.

Oz is half wolfed-out, face ugly and thickened with fangs and snout and hair behind the iron muzzle. He claws at her back as he thrusts inside. She rides his prick and twists her hips, makes him yelp and yowl and she can feel it. Feel everything, darkred light tearing and wrapping her tight, edging her closer and closer to the brink. Everything thick and dirty, better than Spike's attempted caresses, his sad pathetic whispers she pretends not to hear. This is not living, but it's not dying, either, it's fighting and moving and feeling and fucking.

She can *feel*.

She's worse than she ever was, that *this* is getting her off, that Oz touching her and cupping her and kissing her neck made her want to puke but this is just right.

Angel's got his hand down his pants and his eyes are moving as fast as her hips are, faster than Oz's thrusts and scratches, and she stares at him, mouth open, performing. Dark eyes, contorting face, and she loves him more than she ever did. She's never seen him like this.

He's so beautiful like this.

Buffy reaches for Angel, just to touch, just to feel.

He slaps her hand away.

X

He wants to come.

In the dark place, under his lids, within his ever-tightening skin, the pelt's pain thick as a callous but sharp as a full-body blister, Oz wants to come. Wants to shake apart and shoot and then run, flee, howling like Veruca did when he sank his teeth into her throat.

Human thoughts in wolf brain, wolfish needs in human brain: Their rapid, oscillating jig makes him sick, makes him thrash and push deeper. Into *her*, her slick hot hole and stuttering laughter, away from *him*, slap of skin on skin, palm on prick, palm on her arm, his on hers, and Oz has only hide and fangs and a cage over his face. Can't bite, and his gut twists empty and hungry.

When Angel bites him, fucks him, things go indigo and gold inside Oz, dark and deep and shining and it's never quite enough. Angel always stops - fills his belly, shoots his load - and that yanks Oz out of the bluestar place, back into his body, back to the world.

He wants to come and break and fuck hard enough that he'll never get back to the world, never have to return.

He wants to go.

X

Buffy's back arches and arches, cathedrals and suspension bridges, and the slap he gave her still stings Angel's palm. Pain and beauty sing across his skin.

She's coming, over and over, pleasure washing her face like joy, like Annunciation, her hands on Oz's scarred porcelainwhite throat, her back and neck arching, up and back, and Angel grunts, twists his dick harder, racing to catch up.

Every beat of her heart, full and red and sweet as the first apple, beats inside his cock, against the base of his skull. Tasted her once, he's tasting her again, slayerblood and impossible love, and Angel shouts when the heat finally bursts at the bottom of his spine and he's coming. Into his hand, the quilt, at the sight of joy gracing Buffy's face, at the strangled howl from Oz.

X

In sleep, there's nothing like the secret depths of gold and blue. Oz just passes out into black. Black where sharks move slow and silver and the moon is very far away.

He wakes, hours and hours later, at the foot of the bed. He's hugging himself, cold and aching, his skull pounding like it used to when he hadn't eaten for a couple days. Someone's tried to wipe him clean - blood and come, pinkish and sticky, streak his thighs and waist - and removed the muzzle. He's naked and the bed is soft but otherwise, he might as well be in the cage, years ago, alone and hungry.

Buffy sleeps curled against Angel's long bulk, wearing his shirt, hair over her face. Tiny, at rest. Oz never knows if Angel is awake or asleep. He'd check now, but there's no point; better to leave them alone.

Sun's coming up.

He pulls old jeans over his bruised and aching legs, splashes hot water over his face and winces against the shuddering memory of the change. Everything hurts, pores to marrow, and he washes his face, arms, chest as slowly and gently as he can. He stinks, of sex, blood, pain. Yellow, feverish stink, old and clinging.

Dripping and silent and aching, Oz makes his way up the back stairs to the roof of the hotel. One of his hiding places, right out in the open, shadows and light sharp on the gravel and tar paper. Black, gold, and blue of the cloudless sky. Almost like the mountains up here, everything stark and simple.

He sits against the low wall, right at the edge of the roof, eyes closed and head tipped up to the sky.

Dawn in LA. Already smoggy and hot and the sounds of traffic shriek through his skull like he has the world's worst hangover. But he is alone, as he should be, and the sun bakes his face, dries his skin, and he can pretend he's healing.

He sits motionless. Face to the sky, palms on his knees. Whispers the simplest possible mantra - *stay* - until he forgets he is here. Until it's all sun and sky, one star and no moon and endless, depthless blue. Until he bakes to dust and lets the wind take him.

Until Buffy joins him. Her hair blows across the face he just regained, branches on a windowpane. He's never alone.

"You'll burn up here," she tells him.

Oz leans his cheek on her shoulder and doesn't open his eyes. "I'll get over it."



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