The Party That Time Forgot
by glossolalia

One of those days.

One of those days when the corporate rat race feels more wearying, less reassuring, than the worst of his nights in the alleys and subway tunnels of New York.

One of those days.

Angel drags himself into the penthouse, tugging his shirt out of his waistband, rolling up his sleeves, wanting nothing more than a big mug of good blood and never to leave this place again.

Oz is sitting sideways in the big armchair by the window, legs over the arm, book on his lap. He works regular hours, always home by five. Angel envies him.

"Got something for you," Oz says, pointing to the open wardrobe, where a garment bag hangs off the door.

Angel unzips the bag and finds a tuxedo in there, fine light wool and razor-sharp lapels.

He sighs, fingering the lapels, not turning when Oz joins him, but grateful all the same for the company. "I really have to do this, huh?"

"Yeah. Kind of what a leader does. Leads. A CEO executes and officiates."

"What about you?"

Oz hums through closed lips for a moment. "A consort," he says slowly, "consorts, far as I can tell."

"You're not --"

Rubbing his jaw, Oz shrugs. "Just call me Ivana."

Strange kid: when Angel thought of Oz back in Sunnydale, a rare enough occurrence, it always took the same form. Strange kid. Weird boy.

Now, it's no different; he catches himself thinking about Oz like that all the time.

Everything else is different, though, from the rate at which he thinks of Oz (near-constant) to the fact that this strange kid has moved in with him. Taken a job in the form, taken the left side of Angel's bed, slipped into...everything.

It's been just two months. Maybe three; he would have thought necrotempered glass and keeping human business hours would make him more sensitive to time's passage, but that hasn't been the case.


"Yeah?" Oz is back in his chair, book open again on his lap.

"How long has it been?"

"Since you wore a tux? Couldn't say. You fill 'em out nicely, though. As I recall."

"No, how long's it been -- Oh. Thanks."


"How long since you -- I mean, since we --. You know."

Oz never smiles. Or, maybe, he's smiling all the time and it's such a familiar thing, like sun and climate, that you don't notice.

He smiles now. Broadly, eyes dropping, and Angel wants to be over there. Is there, right next to the chair, touching Oz's cheek and hair, smiling back.

"Couple months," Oz says, leaning into Angel's hand. "Ten weeks?"

"Thought so." On his knees, arm around Oz's waist, and Angel likes this angle. Looking up, watching the shadows of clouds pass over Oz's face. Likes how sharp and clean Oz is against the stormy brightness outside, how still he is. How he murmurs, chuckling, when Angel straightens up and kisses him, how he tastes like candy canes and closes his hand in Angel's hair and pulls him in.

Angel sighs when the kiss breaks and rolls his forehead against Oz's.

"Pretty good try," Oz says, fingertips brushing up and down the nape of Angel's neck. "Not going to work, though."

"What's not --?"

"This," Oz says, kissing Angel again, then pulling back. "Nice distraction technique. You're still going."

Angel sits back on his heels, then pushes himself to his feet. "So how's this going to work?"

"You meet and greet, I guess. Wish everyone the best of the season, happy ought-four, that kind of thing."

"What about you?"

"Nobody cares about me." Oz holds up his hand before Angel can say anything. "Seriously. I'll just -- dunno. Find a corner, some comfy spot, chill."

"You're going off with Fred and Gunn, aren't you?" Angel asks, stripping off his shirt, reaching for his towel. He might have to go play corporate host, but he's getting a good shower in first. He can't quite keep the bitterness out of his voice. "Getting high, enjoying yourself."

Oz nods, tossing Angel his favorite towel. "Distinct possibility. Fred's lab's doing some good work on THC delivery."

"While I get to make small talk with the scum of the earth. And other earths."

Nodding again, Oz holds out an arm so Angel can balance as he pulls off his shoes. "Why you get the big bucks and your name on the door, yeah."

Neither will say what they're talking about.

Angel kind of likes that, how they can talk around something and never actually have to mention it. The topic, though, is something like why Oz is with Angel. Whether anyone outside the old circle knows. What would happen if word got out; Oz isn't worried. This is LA, he's said, and Angel knows he's right. What's more, shamans who feast on babies and demons with a taste for slow-release genocide, and the rest of the client list, can hardly object to the head of their law firm shacking up with a guy.

Angel knows Oz is probably right, but he still likes to be careful.

Oz took over Numero Cinco's old job pushing the mail cart around. He doesn't wear the mask, but he does usually wear a Rena Titanon or Vicki Gloria t-shirt. Today it's Rena, disappearing as Oz undresses to join Angel in the shower. Oz's body is spare and thin, and he dresses like a little kid with those old t-shirts and his big pants, and it just heightens Angel's sense of him as someone vulnerable and fragile.

Oz isn't either of those things, however, and Angel knows that better than anyone. He's thin as someone half-grown, but he's as strong as Spike (with whom he, unaccountably and entirely mysteriously, gets along very well).

"Chop chop," Oz says, handing Angel the shampoo. "Time's, you know. A-wasting."

Scowling, Angel cuts the shower short, rushing through the routine he usually likes to linger over. Oz stays slightly out of reach, even when bending over to soap his legs. Skin gone pink as flowers in the heat, and Angel chews his lip in frustration at not being able to touch.

He used to love dressing up. Take out a tailor in Savile Row after several fittings, and he'd have a full wardrobe for the season, a full belly, and be none the poorer, never mind the threads invariably caught in his teeth. Dressing up back then meant splendid things, Darla and Dru cooing over him, young gentlemen straightening their postures and hoping to catch his eye.

Dressing up now means just another costume. Just another image, like the fake T'ish Magev said years ago, only this costume's not half so comfortable as his old coat and boots.

"Looks good, though," Oz says, pulling on his own suit jacket. No tuxedo for Oz -- no one expects it of him. "Natty."

"Yeah?" Angel shoots his cuffs and catches Oz's eye.

"Dapper, even." Oz's cheeks are still pink from the shower and he tilts his head as he looks Angel over. "You good with the tie?"

Angel fingers the ends of the tie. "Nothing to it --" he says, but Oz moves in, going up on his toes and taking hold. "Oz, I've done this before. Ties're old as I am."

"Good with my hands," is all Oz says, wrapping and knotting the tie, plumping it out. "There."

Oz isn't wearing a tie. Just a nice white shirt and a black suit cut narrow as a scalpel that somehow makes him look more boyish. Someone named Hedy Sliman gave it to him, Angel thinks he remembers that right.

"Thanks," Angel says, hands on Oz's shoulders, holding him there.

"I --" Oz stops and glances over his shoulder. "You should go down first, right?"

"Probably." But Angel doesn't let him go.

It's not that he's ashamed of Oz. He might be ashamed of himself, since he clearly doesn't deserve someone half as kind and gentle as Oz, but Angel thinks something else is at work. Selfishness, maybe, wanting to keep Oz all for himself. Protectiveness, definitely, wanting to keep Oz out of the spotlight, out of harm's way.

More than anything, Angel thinks as he paces the lobby, watching caterers set out steam tables and four fairies, here working off a community service decree, weave strands of firefly-lights up the banisters, it's about privacy.

He's done far too much, at such a high pitch, over his life. Grand, magnificent gestures and emotions and lovers, Darla and Drusilla and young William and Buffy and Darla all over again: everything keyed high and wailing and huge.

Living like that drives the innocent mad, lands you crouched over your own kid with a knife in your hand and regret in your mouth.

All that volume, so much energy, he needs to direct into the job now. Into doing something good, however remotely, with this lush, well-cushioned purgatory that's still hell.

At the end of the day, he likes coming home to the weird, quiet kid with the crooked smile and small quick hands and soft pale skin. Angel likes resting there, with Oz. There, where it's quiet and serene, where no one needs to make grand words and grander gestures.

He just needs to get through hosting tonight's party. Then he can go home with Oz and forget that "home" is just an apartment over hell.

If he can get through this.

Lights hung, the fairies -- tall as humans, but thinner and prettier -- move on to their real specialty. Two squat, facing each other, stoking a green fire while the other two rub their palms together and blow thin streams of gleaming light that they roll and shape into a giant crystalline globe. Its surface is smooth but somehow, simultaneously, multifaceted, so it catches every light and bounces it back.

Entranced, Angel watches the fairies easily lift the globe that's ten times their size and set it over a simple clockworks. Six charms and turning index fingers, and they have created a lovely, oversized clock to hang from the ceiling.

With much squeaky cursing, the fairies hoist the clock into place. Next to Angel, Lorne clucks his tongue admiringly. "Very debs at the Biltmore, wouldn't you say?"

"I guess," Angel says, not at all following. Within the globe, there are three major gears, turned in response to emissions from a tiny hourglass. A grain drops and a tiny burst of energy pushes forward the gears, which are arranged in an inverted triangle. Each burst of light is a minuscule flame that plays out over the interior of the globe. "It's pretty, though."

Lorne pats his shoulder almost consolingly before moving away. As the guests filter in and the room fills, Angel sticks to his spot by the reception desk, long flute of untouched blood-champagne by his hand. Fred swears the carbonation "tastes just like the real thing", but Angel's not willing to try.

He hates being on display like this. He hates the clients, hates the small string band jangling through Pachelbel's Canon in D. He hates meeting and greeting.

He loathes all the guests. The Sub-Prefect of the Ether, all floating gauze panels and transparent, hook-nosed face. Lyle den'fernel with the scarlet leathery skin and barking voice. State senators still high on that bodybuilder's gubernatorial win, snakeskin-suited minor demons, sprites and hobgoblins making a racket and a half.

The loathsome, perpetually-decaying Jikininki, smoke in her eyesockets and fire in the gash where her mouth should be, used to be, greets him warmly. Skeletal fingers on his arms, she tilts in for a kiss.

Angel steps back out of range. "Welcome, Jiki."

She licks her absent lips with a tongue of flame and laughs at him. "Dear old Angel. Still crawling around among the living?"

"Basically, yeah." He averts his eyes from her tongue. "Hungry?"

"Always," she says, leaning in again but Angel blocks her with one raised arm.

He's known Jiki since he left Beijing and went to Tokyo. When she was just a three-hundred-year old ghost and, as long as he didn't get too close to her, she was fairly good company.

"Canapes and snacks're over there," he says and she laughs as she turns away. Odd that laughter from a fiery mouth should be so cold.

"Of course," she calls over her shoulder -- her clavicle, draped in filthy gauze -- as she floats away from him. "We'll see each other soon."

A Danish elven-girl with sharp nails and hollow back, the Japanese proconsul for the paranormal with his sleek tanuki on glittering leash. Nice badger, but it's not housebroken and people keep slipping in the mess.

They're all freaks and Angel's the worst of them all. Bound in this tux, same as the soul sitting over the monster within, and his cheeks ache with the effort of smiling just like his hands burn from all the shaking.

"Quite the menagerie," Wes says, sliding next to him, a cup of punch in his hand. He catches Angel looking at it and laughs uncomfortably. "Just ginger ale, don't worry. We won't have a repeat of the last party."

"Couldn't be much worse," Angel says. Lorne is around here somewhere, having changed into his costume as Father Time, Harmony as Baby New Year stumbling in his wake.

"No, I expect not." Wes drains his cup and sets it down. "Where is Eve, by the by?"

Angel scans the room desultorily. "Haven't seen her." He adds, as casually as he can, "Seen Oz?"

Wesley looks very smart in his tuxedo and Angel tries not to think of the last time they were all in formalwear. Prom, and pink dresses. Goodbyes that lasted too long. He tries, but he fails.

"Lab, I expect. I could check, if you like."

"Nah," Angel says. "Just wondering. You know, curious."

Wesley's expression doesn't change, but his eyes seem brighter. Sharper. "Of course."

Two brownies, hardly as tall as Angel's knees, tear past them, fast as anything and three sheets to the wind, shrieking as a goblin gives chase and elbows Wesley into a matron stately as any drawn by Hokinson.

"Nice party." Angel helps Wes up and brushes champagne off his arm.

"Going splendidly, yes."

The room is warm, and crowded. Bright with laughter and music, and Angel should relax.

He can't, however. He circles the edges of the room and everything seems fine. Demons, spirits, humans, all dancing and flirting. His staff, almost all of them, are in evidence -- Lorne in that ridiculous get-up, Spike trying to chat up Nina the werewolf girl (blonde like Buffy, wolf like Oz: the boy's never had an original idea in both lifetimes. No wonder his poetry's so awful), Gunn at the top of the stairs, checking over his shoulder like a double-agent before letting himself into the lab -- and everyone seems to be having a good time.

Except Angel.

He stares at the giant clock suspended over the party.

Then he looks away, considers his drink, and grinds his teeth. If he watches it too closely, he knows that time is only going to slow, go even more tortuous.

He can't help stealing little glances at it, though. Just to be sure. Just to count down until this thing's over.

It was a horrible year. He will be better off once it's officially consigned to the past. He lost his soul, and Cordy, and Connor; he lost the mission and took up this (fake) one. He lost the pink-glowing memories of Buffy and saw a warrior far stronger and more righteous than he ever dreamed.

All that loss.

All that loss, and all he got was Spike.

And Oz. And getting Oz -- that was none of Angel's doing. That was a second wolf snarling in its bonds at Crane's dinner party -- Nina the before, this one the after-image -- chewing itself free in the melee and following them out afterward.

"Hey. Got an extra shirt?" Soft hoarse voice and Angel felt a tug on his sleeve; turned and saw a ghost. Oz, naked and shaking from the change, hugging his knees to his chest. "Angel, hey. What's kicking?"

The party is splendid. Wes said so. Angel can afford to slip out for a minute; no one will notice. Slip out and see Oz, just check him on for a minute. Like Oz's extra calls with the mail trolley in the middle of the afternoons when Angel's slumped behind his desk and desperately grumpy.

"Mr. Angel!" A booming voice repeats the call when Angel's halfway up the stairs, heading for the lab.

He stops, grinds his hands into fists, and sighs before he turns. "Yes?"

Some demon he's never met before -- and he'd remember this one, cyclopean and scaled and five-feet nothing.

"I've been trying to set up a meeting," it says, grasping his elbow and leaving a smear of slime as it pulls him down a step. "This is a matter of the utmost urgency, Mr. Angel."

"Yeah," Angel says, sighing again, and following the demon.

Drilling rights in the lunar sea are, apparently, urgent. Highly urgent and cannot wait until the next business day. As are the five furies' intellectual-property dispute over the name "The Three" and a Narkagian's dowry and pre-nup.

It feels like hours, days, eons and centuries later before Angel manages to extricate himself from the knot of needy clients and reach the lab unmolested.

Maybe it's his imagination, but the band's finally playing a nice tune, too, a Bobby Darin number, as he pushes open the door.

Layers and wreathes of smoke, like garlands, in here, and he edges between the cluttered tables toward Fred's windowed office.

"This the real party?" he asks, leaning in the doorway, surveying the silly, half-guilty faces on one and all. Oz is poured into Fred's desk chair, one leg up over the arm, his suit immaculate and his face flushed. Gunn is -- Angel checks again, just to be sure -- yes, he's thumb-wrestling with Nina the werewolf girl over on the couch, and Fred and Knox are poking each other and passing a joint back and forth behind their backs.

"Real party, yes, sir," Oz drawls, lifting his arm and reaching for Angel. Angel's not going to think about what being called "sir" by this particular boy, in that particular position, is doing to him. "Glad you could drop by."

"Wouldn't miss it," Angel says, sitting on the edge of Fred's desk, apart enough from Oz to look casual, close enough that he can swing his leg and brush Oz's.

He can't hear Bobby Darin any more; the radio is tuned to something Oz probably chose, burbling and complicated, and even with a monster's perception, Angel is having trouble seeing clearly in here. Everything's soft around the edges, blurred and muffled by cotton-wool, stinking like the sixties and early-seventies.

"I-I should get back downstairs," Knox says, standing up too fast and stumbling, arms windmilling for balance. Fred giggles behind her hand and Oz raises an eyebrow.

"You sure about that, son?" Angel asks.

Knox gulps, pushes his hand through his over-long hair, and nods emphatically. "Yes, yes. Downstairs. Fun. No smoke. Bye."

"Paranoia," Gunn singsongs from the corner. "Will-destroy-ya."

"How is it downstairs?" Oz asks, sliding the chair closer to Angel and running his hand up the outside of Angel's thigh. "Rollicking barrelhouse of corporate fun?"

"Something like that." Oz's touch is soft and private, too private, and even in the haze in here, Angel feels like it's burning and glaring. He clears his throat. "So, Fred. You got -- Fred?"

She's bent over, coughing and laughing simultaneously, the joint dangling in her fingers dangerously close to her long hair.

"Fred, your hair's on fire," Oz says.


"Yeah." Scooting the chair over, Oz douses her with his big bottle of water while Fred keeps laughing. "There you go."

Fred looks up, wet hair sticking to her grinning face as she plucks at the wet silk of her bodice. "Angel! The Boss Man. The Man. I'm working for the man."

"I'm the man," Angel agrees, moving aside as Oz scoots back toward him. "You okay there?"

"I'm good! Very good!" Fred flops back on the couch. "Where'd my lackey go? Where's Knox?"

"Had to see a man about a horse," Oz says.

"Running scared," Gunn says, reaching over Fred's shoulder. "Hand over the goods, Freddie."

Fred widens her eyes at Angel. "I don't have any goods, officer. Promise I don't. Just going home to do my homework, yes sir."

Coughing, Oz digs in his pocket and tosses a tiny packet to Gunn, who catches it one-handed. "Don't think Angel cares much, Fred."


Angel shifts and uncrosses his arms. "No."

"Promise?" Fred asks.

Angel opens his mouth -- he doesn't care, but somehow, with everyone's eyes on him, he feels like he should.

"Promise," Oz says. Low and distinct, looking at Angel from the corner of his eye.

"Yeah," Angel says.

"Want some?" Fred asks, leaning forward again, getting hair in her eyes. "It's amazing stuff, it'll blow your mind. Wait --" She frowns and taps her chin with her forefinger, tilting her head in that way she has of thinking everything over. "Will it, though? Would you feel it? You can't get drunk, can you?"

"Spike drinks," Nina says from somewhere behind Gunn. "Smokes, too."

"Spike does a lot of things," Angel says and stands up. He turns to Oz and says more quietly, "Can I talk to you?"

Gunn's laughing at him, muttering, making Nina and Fred laugh as Oz stands and follows Angel out. Angel doesn't want to think about what they're saying about him. It's not flattering, he knows that much. Probably involves bossmen and killjoys and other pejorative terms.

He used to be a champion. Now he's -- a CEO. A corporate monkey in a monkey suit, and he'd sigh again, only they're in the dark lab and Oz is wrapping his arms around him and pulling himself up on a table until they're eyelevel and Angel can't think of much of anything.

Oz tastes like weed and laughter when he kisses Angel, and the skin on his neck is slightly humid from sweat and he's so warm, wriggling backward against a million-dollar microscope and pulling Angel with him.

"This okay?" he asks in Angel's ear. "Private enough?"

When Oz tips back his head, sighing as Angel squeezes his waist, silvered shadows like the mottled streaks in old mirrors slide over his face.

Oz is not someone for the spotlight; Angel knew that before he ever knew Oz. Saw him playing at the Bronze, keeping to the side, deferring to his glittery, hoarse-voiced friend. Nor is he -- and Angel understands this, looking at Oz now -- someone to hide away. Pack up in cotton-wool and protect, save, hoard, whatever Angel's best intentions might be.

Oz is just himself, chewing his lower lip while Angel touches his chest through the silk shirt, still and very beautiful.

"Would you like to dance?" Angel asks, pulling away and offering his hand.

Eyebrows thinning as they knit together, Oz doesn't say anything, just takes Angel's hand and slides off the table.

And Angel himself is more than a killjoy, not just a CEO. When Oz looks at him like this, he's...anything. Everything, maybe, or close to it.

Oz's hand in his own is warm, soft at the palm and a little rough over the fingertips. Familiar. They make their way down the stairs and someone wants to talk to him, needs his time, but then they're on the dance-floor, Oz is against him, and all Angel hears is the music and the gentle tympanum of Oz's heartbeat.

Oz's head against his chest, hand in Angel's, and things feel clear. Even here, in the midst of the party, duties and obligations pulling at him, Angel feels...right. As if this is where he should be, with clover-sweet hair tickling his nose and a sparse strong body in his arms, moving with him. Right here, with Oz, and they're dancing. His body knows what to, light shuffling boxstep, and no memories drag him down.

Dancing with Oz.

Ridiculous, the two of them dancing, but not right now. It would be ridiculous if Angel thought about it, but he's not. Not thinking, not doing anything but feeling. Not as Oz molds against him and they sway and the room passes in a slow, distant streak of light.



He hears it, hears his name, but Angel doesn't respond. He can't respond, not until Oz steps out of his arms and says it again. "Angel."

Oz glances to the left then, and the room snaps back into focus around Wesley's face and shoulders.

"What is it?" Angel asks.

"Very sorry," Wesley says and Angel's not sure if that's irony in his voice or just real apology. "But we have a problem."

You have a problem, Angel thinks, I was doing just fine, but says instead, "What's going on?"

Wesley looks up at the clock and doesn't reply.

"Don't have time for this, Wes."

"I dare say you do," Wesley says and points upward.

Angel squints, but he can't see whatever the hell it is that Wesley's indicating. The clock seems fine, as pretty and sparkling as ever. The delicate braided-glass second hand sweeps around the face, just like it should. The minute hand hovers at seven to midnight, just as it did when he and Oz descended the stairs --

That can't be right.

"Not moving," Oz says. "That's impressive."

"So the clock's broken?" Angel's collar feels too tight suddenly. "And this has to concern me why?"

"Not just the clock," Wesley says and damn it if he doesn't sound almost smug about it. "All the clocks in the building are affected."

Angel stares at Wesley. Building-wide clock failure is hardly an emergency.

Sighing, Wesley rubs his forehead. "It's not the clocks that have stopped."

"Time," Oz says.

Without looking at Oz, Wes nods. "Yes."

"Lorne," Angel says.

"You called?" Lorne appears at Angel's right, the long beard of his costume tossed over his shoulder like the top of a sari.

"You're Father Time. Time's screwed. You -- You --"

Raising his hands, Lorne takes two steps back. "Oh, no. Not me this time, no. I've been seeing someone --"

"Your love life's not the point, Lorne." Angel pinches the bridge of his nose, the weight of everything -- memories, duties, this whole fucking horrible year -- swelling in his skull.

"Therapy," Oz says quietly and Lorne nods emphatically. Oz gives him a slight, kind smile. "Stress management."

"Regardless," Wesley says. "Something or someone is interfering with the time in the building. Possibly around the building, as well."

Oz walks a slow circle under the clock, hands stuck in his back pockets as he peers upward.

"Someone. Definitely a someone gumming up the works."

Wesley is pondering aloud the properties of spacetime as local phenomenon like weather or erosion, and it takes him a moment to join Angel, Lorne, and Oz as they stare up into the clockworks.

"-- if Fred were available, I'm sure she would -- Oh, my."

"Yeah," Angel says.

The grains in the hourglass are stoppered up, stuck halfway to the bottom, frozen in place; what's more, the three gears no longer mesh.

Not with an elongated scrap of filthy gauze wound through them, topped by a silently shrieking face, all fire and smoke. It, too, is frozen in time, the fire caught glowing hot and unmoving, the smoke billowing in the skeletal eye sockets.

"Jiki," Angel says. "Christ, it's Jiki."

"You know -- her? That --?" Wesley asks, then clamps his mouth shut and reaches up to adjust spectacles he no longer wears. "Angel, you invited a Jikininki to the party?"

"Not me! I didn't -- it's the client list, I didn't invite anyone --"

"'cept me," Oz says, then looks between Wesley and Angel and steps back. "Not the time."

"Cut it down," Angel tells Wesley, shrugging off his jacket. "Clear the room and cut that thing down."

"Fairy-glass," Wesley says, catching Angel's jacket and handing it to Oz, who just flattens his lips together and slings it over his shoulder. "If it breaks --"

Angel rubs his palms together. This is rapidly becoming much more his kind of party -- a little violence, lots of breaking glass, the certainty that he can actually do something. "Of course it's going to break."

"-- then anyone in the room will be marked," Wesley finishes.

"Small white feet, Sunday morning dew," Oz sings in his light, broken tenor. "When last I saw you, ne'er again shall we meet --"

"Yeah, yeah," Angel says. "I know the song. Fairy-glass breaks, it marks any breathing soul in the vicinity. Clear the room, get me Spike, and we'll take this down."

"Why's she up there?" Oz asks, craning back his head again. "It's like a Buster Keaton movie."

No one answers him.

"We'll adjourn the party to --" Wesley pauses and thinks. "An adjacent dimension, I suppose. Shouldn't be too difficult."

Oz, Angel, and Wesley clear the room, apologize to the confused guests and soothe ruffled egos and feathers, both literal and metaphorical. Lorne digs Spike up from -- somewhere, Angel would rather not know -- and when the cater-waiters have departed and the weapons cabinet has been opened, Angel selects a long, ancient dagger for himself.

"You cut it down," he tells Spike, "and I'll take care of Jiki."

"Hell if I care," Spike says, sprinting up the stairs, swinging his sword over his head.

"On three!" Angel calls after him. "One -- two --"

The gossamer threads snap under Spike's sword and Angel jumps back out of the way as the globe drops. It shatters, and it's hard not to find that sound beautiful, even through his anger.

"Three, damn it! What did I say?"

Spike hangs over the banister, grinning. "Almost got you that time, too. Shit."

Shards of glass crunch under his feet like snow as Angel approaches the gearworks, still intact. The hourglass lies on its side in the mess, its grains floating perpendicular to the floor. The three major gears are upright, dusted with bits of glass, and Jiki remains trapped between them.

Angel drops to one knee. "Jiki, honey. What happened?"

"You're talking to it?" Spike calls. "Fuck are you on about, Angel? Stab it. Let me behead it. Don't talk to it."

He mutters on about Angel going soft, taking the term "fat cat" literally, but Angel tries not to hear him. Jiki's face is trapped between the gear and the parquet floor, and she moans out flame.

"Hungry," is all Angel can make out, and he yanks back his hand. Jiki gives him an eerie grin. "Angel. Hungry -- can't. Help it."

Spike kicks the back of Jiki's skull. "Old flame? If you can't do it, I'd be more'n happy to --"

"Get back."

"What? Why?" Spike lifts his foot to kick her again and Jiki writhes off the gear, teeth gnashing and mouth yowling, making for Spike's knees.

"Jikininki --" Angel throws himself at Spike, pushing him out of Jiki's range and rolling with him through the glass. "-- eat corpses."

"Bloody --" Spike spits out glass and swipes his hand over his bloody mouth. "Why'd you invite her, then?"

"I didn't --"

Hunger and pain seem to activate Jiki, give her the strength to wrench her body free of one gear, and she rises over them, mouth open and eyes storming with smoke.

"Think you'd better do something," Spike says. "She looks --"


"Your bird." Spike shrugs and hops to his feet. "Your problem."

Jiki wavers, trapped from the waist down, and yowls Angel's name.

"Not my problem," Angel says. "Well, it is my problem, but not because -- not like that -- damn it, Spike."

He's known her too long for it to end like this.

"Jiki," Angel calls, tilting his head back and thinking for half a moment of Oz. "What's the matter?"

"You," she says. "You and your pain. Guilt. It's delicious and I'm so very hungry --"

"Spike's dead," Angel says. "Why don't you nosh on him?"

Another belly-deep yowl that sounds like thousands of cats in heat and Jiki wrenches herself free to the knees, swooping down over Spike. As she passes, a gust of foul air, the air of graveyards, hits Angel right in the face. She's closing in on Spike and -- "Damn it --" He switches the dagger to his other hand, drops to a squat, and jumps on Jiki's back, dagger at her throat. Where her throat would be, anyway.

"Jesus, woman!" Spike bats at the air blindly, coughing and cursing as Angel pulls her back, her bones grinding under his hands.

"Angel," she hisses.

"She wants you," Spike says. "Stuck herself in there to keep you here."

"Got that --"

Struggling to hold onto her back, Angel doesn't have time to parse the situation. Overwhelmed by the stench, he can barely see, and the shreds of her wrapping stick to his face like nettles. Her fingerbones grip his forearms as she bucks and flails, digging in as she screams out her hunger.

Deafening as that scream is, it reassures him; it's the silence, when that ramora-like mouth fastens on flesh, that he fears.


He can't see past the wisps of gray hair clinging to her skull and the floating, filthy gauze, thousands of blurs of gray and ivory, as Jiki bucks again and the dagger slips a little in his hand.

Through her scream, he hears a heavy swooping sound -- sword through air -- then the rattle of bones as it makes contact, and the vibration almost shakes him loose -- the dry snap of old wood as the bones break. Jiki pitches forward, Angel clinging to and riding her as she plummets, the howl dying in her old throat, to the floor.

Angel shoves the dagger through Jiki's temple. Her skull cracks, oozing ash and rotten brains, sulphur-rotten, over his fist. Spike whacks her arms with the flat of his sword until Angel can pull free.

Jiki's not screaming any more.

Angel crouches over her, gauze and ash and bits of glass clinging to him, coating his eyelashes and tongue. He should apologize. He should say something. But she is at peace now. Relative peace, at least, released from this foul body back into another class of preta.

"She wanted you," Spike says again, like he can't quite believe it. He offers his hand and pulls Angel up to his feet. "Poor crazy ghost. What would she want from you?"

"Couldn't say." Angel sheathes the dagger and looks around the wrecked lobby. He knows, of course; she wanted him here, stuck here in hell with her. Wanted to feed eternally on the guilt animating his stinking corpse. "Let's get this cleaned up."

Spike never knew when to leave well enough alone, however, and he kicks at the pile of bones and gears. "Good old Angelus, got a woman in every port, but he'll never kiss and tell, no, sir."

He should be exhausted, and Angel is, somewhere -- in his bones, down the back of his throat, the pits of his hands -- but frustrated anger at Spike is so habitual that he says, "Fuck off, Spike, and get a push-broom, would you?"

Spike mutters, and smokes several cigarettes, and keeps eyeing him, but Angel hauls the garbage and ignores him.

Finally, when all that's left is the fairy-glass, Spike stops and cocks his head. "Looked picture-goddamn-perfect out there, you know." He stabs at the glass, makes it scatter, before adding, "You and your boy."

"He's not --"

Grinding out the latest cigarette with his heel, Spike cuts his eyes over. "Not your boy? Really."

Not like that, Angel should say. And thinks, not that he'd ever tell Spike this, Not like you. Not like -- anyone. "What're you doing, Spike?"

"Cleaning up, massa," Spike says and pushes more glass into the pile. "You?"

"Yeah," Angel says, because he is tired and the exhilaration of the fight has all but drained away. All he's got now is a trashed lobby and the company of fucking Spike and he just wants to disappear upstairs. Yet he feels -- locked here. More surely than any spell or ravenous ghost could hope to accomplish. "Happy New Year."

Spike toasts him with two fingers and grins.

He keeps ending up alone with Spike, and it's not fair. The cleaning is all but done, but here they are, just standing, barely looking at each other but together all the same.

"Nice to have someone at midnight," Spike says after a bit. He chuckles. "Or what should've been midnight, at any rate."

"Sure," Angel says. If he doesn't engage, Spike might just lose interest and wander away. It could happen.

"Good for the soul, some'd say."

"Yeah." When Angel closes his eyes, he can see his apartment. Oz in bed, arm over his eyes, thin chest exposed by a slipping sheet.

"Love, I mean," Spike says, as if Angel hadn't said anything.


All these years and Angel will never, ever understand Spike. How petulance and sentimentality coexist inside him, how he's at once impatient and insightful.

Worst of all, he'll never understand how he ended up here. Talking to Spike about love. It'd be bad enough to have to talk about it with someone he likes, Wesley or Fred.

"It's not like that," Angel says and turns around.

"'course not," Spike says. "Only it is. Exactly like that. You love that little wolfboy like --"

"Shut up, Spike."

"-- and it's killing you, of course, because -- well, 'cause you're you. Glutton for self-punishment, oh no, not I, I don't deserve that."

"I don't --"

Angel doesn't love Oz. He's fairly sure of that -- he loves any number of things about Oz, sure. But it's hard to imagine love for Oz. Oz is too...slight for that. Too self-contained. He doesn't need anything, not like that.

Love is -- other things. Girls, and golden hair. Big things, bigger emotions.

Spike's laughing at him. "Not to mention your totally backwards notions of what's right and proper and counts as love."

Angel sinks onto the steps, fighting the urge to slap, kick, pummel and otherwise shut up Spike. "He put you up to this?"

"Oh, ho, yes. Me and the little guy, we're just two clucking hens in the yard." Spike kicks the broom away from himself and whirls around. "No, you big git. You think that's something he'd do? That I'd do?"

Angel doesn't know. Doesn't know what anyone's capable of, not after this year, not any more.

"I'll see you Monday," he tells Spike, rising wearily and heading for the elevator.

"If you're really good," Spike calls after him, "and eat all your vegetables and say your --"

The doors close then and Angel's that much closer to home.

Home is empty, wreathed in shadows, and he showers off stray bits of glass and foul ash, and sinks, naked and exhausted, into Oz's favorite chair by the window.

Party's in another dimension and Angel's facing the new year alone. It's appropriate, all things considered. The city below could be tinsel and Christmas lights, the apartment is silent, and he's staring until he dozes.

Until a scent like trampled clover and musk flits past and he slits open his eyes to -- Oz.

Oz, shirt untucked, one brace up, the other dangling, slowly advancing on him. Looks like he's floating, shirttails lifting, bare feet white against the carpet, hair disordered. Settling on his lap and kissing him.

"Morning. Evening. Something," Oz says.

"Hey." Angel's mouth is thick, his limbs heavy, but he's holding Oz. "How're you?"

"Good. How're you?"

Quiet words, mundane ones. Easy.

"I'm okay," Angel says. Oz's mouth tastes like champagne, his tongue slick with it, pushing against Angel.

"No," Oz says, pulling back. "You're not."

"Talked to Spike."

"Never a good idea."

Angel sighs. Oz is right; Oz is usually -- always -- right.

Oz settles back a little, hand on Angel's neck. His voice is light, almost casual. "How's Spike?"

He's heard Angel rage and complain, nearly every day, and Angel can feel Oz holding himself alert. Careful.

"C'mere," Angel says lowly and pulls him back in. "Enjoy the party?"

"Sure," Oz says, wriggling a little. He's thistledown, weightless and pale, alighting on Angel and he can't be held. The harder Angel might hold, knuckles cracking, the faster Oz will crush and disappear. "You?"

"Liked dancing. Hungry ghost wanting to eat me, not quite as much."

Oz laughs soundlessly, chest lifting, trembling under Angel's hands. "Understandable."

"Bad year --"

"Mostly, yeah." Oz drops his hips and pushes forward, and Angel's hands tighten on his waist as he forgets everything he was going to say.

"Do that again --" he gets out.

"Not such a bad year, all things considered," Oz says and rolls his hips again, hand drifting down Angel's bare chest. Skittery-hot touch and strong, rocking thrusts making Angel freeze and jump all at once.

Horrible year. Angel knows that, but the fact of it is smashed to pieces with Jiki, swept away, and all he feels right now is Oz moving over him, mouth on his throat, hot hand on Angel's thickening cock.

Hand that stills when Angel catches Oz's eye. It just goes still and Oz is more still, white and waiting.

"Teasing me," Angel mutters and closes his fist in Oz's hair.

Oz drops his head forward. He likes the burn, likes hair-pulling. "I don't tease," he says, lips on Angel's shoulder. "Promise."

"Yeah?" He shakes Oz's head lightly and strokes four fingers fast, nailsfirst, down Oz's spine. "What do you promise?"

When he looks up, Oz's eyes are hooded, his cheeks hot and pink, and he smiles knowingly. "Promise -- promise anything you want."

"Yeah?" Harsher, unsteady, like he's feeling vertigo though he's sitting down. Sitting, with Oz in his lap, rocking oh-so-lightly against his cock. "Anything?"

Wet mouth sliding up his neck to Angel's ear. "Want me to suck you off? Hmm? Suck so hard you want to scream? Could promise that." Oz's voice is -- fuck, it's still as moonlight, cutting through Angel like he's not even there. But he is here, hands ripping at Oz's shirt, pulling at his fly, stopping when Oz moves again. "Want me to fuck your mouth? Push you down on the ground, yank your head back and forth?"

Angel chews his lips and tries to look away, drawing this out, but Oz runs his finger over Angel's mouth and says, "Got such a good mouth. Like coming in it. Like feeling you swallow it all down even more."

He speaks -- fuck. Oz's voice is sweet, a little hoarse but so sweet, like his skin, so young but knowing. Talented. And his words weave something around Angel, wrap him up and hold him here and he can't imagine being anywhere else.

Fingers digging into Oz's hips, head tipped against Oz's shoulder, Angel just mutters. "Yes" and "Yes" and agrees to it all. Everything, so long as it happens now.

"Promise -- hmmm --" Oz mimics Wesley's thinking noise as he pulls back and thrusts hard against Angel's stomach. Falls forward into kissing Angel. Full, open mouth, hot and slick, as he squirms in Angel's lap. "Want to fuck me?"

Heat crackles up through Angel at that, tossing and spitting like a snapped power line. "Yeah -- fuck. Oz --"

Oz is laughing, slow and kind at him, as he goes up on his knees and undoes his fly. The absence of his weight feels cold on Angel's thighs, and Angel's hands are too thick and clumsy to do anything but tug at Oz's trousers, pull them down off skinny legs.

Oz doesn't talk much, not in public. In private, though, where it's quiet and safe, he'll say anything, and it's that contrast that Angel -- needs. That he loves.

Everything's inside Oz, galaxies and mysteries, and Angel can see them, feel them all, when Oz looks at him, kisses him, touches him just like...that.

Nails up the insides of Angel's thighs, cruelly skirting his balls, teeth in one nipple and ass pushing back against Angel's hands, against lube and probing fingers and it's a rattle of gasps and exhalations in Angel's ears as he holds Oz's bony hips to steady him.

And Oz looks at him, curving knowing mouth and flush-mottled face and chest, and then he pushes back and down. Onto Angel's cock, taking him and cursing him simultaneously, hands on Angel's biceps squeezing harder than bruises.

"Fuck," they're both saying, agreeing, discoursing and debating and exploring. All one word -- "multipurpose word. I like it", Oz has said on one more than one occasion -- and everything's in that word. In Oz, deep in this clenching slickness that goes deeper and deeper until Angel's sure half his backbone is buried inside Oz and his hips are snapping like a teenager's to drive just one more centimeter more.

Oz's teeth in Angel's neck and his hips grinding down and up and Angel pushes into the bite, into Oz, growling.

Oz is whipcord-strong, thin as steel and bright as platinum as he leans back and Angel holds him there, thrusting up and in, his hand on Oz's brick-red cock, shocking against all that moon-pale skin, hotter than fire.

Oz is a whip, slashing around and against him, fucking Angel's hand, eyes squeezed shut and sweat shining on his face. On his narrow chest, and Angel tries to hold him still, grunts with the effort of it as he brings Oz forward and sucks one tiny nipple, bud-small and -hard, then the other.

Keening, Oz kneads nails into Angel's shoulders, his scalp, his arms, whipping and Angel fucks harder.

He doesn't love Oz. Not like Buffy, Spike, Dru. Darla. Not like Connor. He doesn't, he can't -- but rules and strictures snap and flame away, insubstantial in the face of this.

This, redfaced boy with sharp green eyes, hand on Angel's neck, fucking himself hard on Angel's prick. Taking Angel deeper and tighter every time, panting like this, looking at Angel like that. Just like that, full of knowledge and --

"Fucking love you --" Angel grunts and Oz's eyes widen, flash white and green. Streaks of stormridden skies, wide as his red, wet mouth as he answers that back.

He's going to come, empty the yearning filling his balls, fuck himself dry into Oz, and Oz will take it and come in his hand and shout with the joy of it, and that's why Angel repeats it, now, and later, too, the words that don't make any sense but they're the only ones he knows.

"Love you," he says now, and will say then, again and again until he believes it and Oz's eyes drift shut and he sleeps against Angel and does not move, will not leave.


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