His trouble with the world, Ethan had recently decided, was that 'pretty' is far too subjective a term. And he'd always been one to take to the more marginal perception of things.

Twenty people's rubble was his glittery playground. Ear-piercing shrieks of terror were musical to him, and the facial expressions that usually accompanied them were priceless works of art.

No one had ever called him pretty, though he rather fancied his own sharp features and smirking eyes. He thought himself to be...magnetic, in a way.

The evidence was there, certainly. Ripper for one, always determined to have Ethan be the one to break him in, as though he were a prize to be won, and hadn't he just loved that little game? The stakes of the spells and pranks pulled on dares had escalated, with a taunting intensity and speed that was delightful for the simple expressions of doubt on Ripper's face fading into reassured confidence in the wake of Ethan's most meaningful winks.

And so he'd gone along with it all, and in the breathy aftermath of being the only one of the bunch to be caught and jailed overnight for crashing some git's party, he gave in, pulling Ripper aside and teaching him things he could never have dreamed of learning in his spell books.

Then Ripper had the nerve to lose his nerve, and hightailed it away so easily Ethan wondered how he had failed to see it coming. Or going, as it were. Even in the stream of lovely young scraps of flesh that followed, he couldn't quite forget that particular blow to his ego.

God. He was oozing his way through his forties far too rapidly for comfort, with only the realization that he'd practically become an accidental pedophile along the way to keep him company. He kept getting older, and he'd hit a rather dreary -- but necessary to what morality he had left -- obstacle in that the average age of his conquests had leveled out at around eighteen.

Not that he wanted them younger. That was young enough, and often tiresome enough.

He must be getting old. He was becoming one of those people who watch their neighbors with hawk-eyes and file away every transgression for lack of anything better to do, and he was doing it to himself, berating himself for being a pervert even as he calculated all the possible options for seducing the young man in front of him.

And what a young man. Scrumptious little thing, with a wiry frame and clear eyes, and a calm smile that tickled Ethan to his very core with its perfect exuding of wisdom beyond his years.

It was what Ethan wanted, really. Someone whose skin was still as soft as he could vaguely remember his being, but without all the nerve-grating...chipperness. Someone with the vibrance of the days with Ripper, and the cleverly engaging bite Ripper used to have.

Before he got so damn...normal. Well, as normal as you could call what he did nowadays, but Ethan himself enjoyed a life with havoc aplenty.

What Ethan would right near kill for, was to be back with Ripper like it used to be. Long ago, in a land far, far away, and all that crap. A bloody story book, his dreams had become. He kept waiting for a dwarf or two to show up.

And if this boy were just a bit shorter...but no. Just another in a long line of pretty things. Though this time there seemed to be...something else. Something more than the vague reminiscence of "the old days" he could catch in that smile. God, that smile...And just the look, the cool, analyzing look he could give with a glance.

The guitar bit helped, too. If he could just get the kid to sneer; but that seemed to be asking a bit much. Mockery didn't seem to be a natural part of this mellow face.

Ethan tipped his head as the boy's fingers stilled on the guitar strings, which he'd been strumming so quietly Ethan couldn't even pick up on the sounds. "Hello."

"Hey." A voice just as wry and soft as Ethan had imagine, wavering just slightly at the end to show his curiosity. "You lookin' for Giles?"

"Giles...Rupert, yes, I suppose. Would he happen to be in at the moment?" Creeping closer was almost difficult; he felt rather sure that mauling the kid would not be the best possible course of action.

"He would happen to be...not. In, that is. Want me to tell him you were here?"


"'Kay, then. Nice not meeting you, I guess." Oz adjusted the tuning of two strings and tried them out, nodding slightly even as he glanced up and watched, eyebrows raised, while Ethan stepped carefully closer and leaned against the table, only feet from the chair Oz was lounging in. "Oka-a-y...need something else, do you? We have donuts."

The frown wasn't fully voluntary; it tugged Ethan's mouth down before he actually realized it, but he knew at once it must look terrible. He always looked like a disappointed child when he frowned -- rather ungraceful for a man his age, and a sickening reminder of his age.

"I don't eat donuts."

"Whatever floats your boat. But seriously, is there something you came for? You may want to come back later...Giles won't be around for a few hours."

"You know him well? Rupert, I mean?"

"Well...nah, not really. Not him himself, anyway. We're around him a lot...You got a name?"

"No. Do you?"

"Sure. Oz. No name, huh? How very...Prince, of you. Got a symbol?"

His arm actually nearly twitched. "Why...yes, of a sort. Nothing you need to see, though. So you're Oz?"

"That's me." A pause, long and pulsating with hesitancy and doubt. "Anyone ever tell you you're kinda not normal?"

"Quite a few somebodies, I'm afraid."

The smell of Ripper was not helping his planning along; it was difficult to think of just how to get the young man to his knees with the biting scent of lightly fragranced soap and soft-toned cologne lingering in the air. Strange, how he'd sworn to never be in this library again, after the last time, and oddly enough for a similar reason.

Smelling Ripper was just depressing. Especially now, when there wasn't that distracting little we're-in-danger-of-dying tidbit in the way.

He didn't know why he'd come back -- no good reason, that was for sure. A bit of masochistic indulgence to while away the time, perhaps; to be ridiculed for being one and the same as he always was, not a two-faced hypocrite.

Just a down-and-out liar, which he could live with just fine and well. Honestly, he could.

But this one, this...Oz. For all his wild dreams of fulfillment and fantasy-laced endeavors, it certainly fit to have the one who struck him so acutely be named Oz. He suspected he was still in trouble, though; he'd never seen a yellow brick in his life, and no way in hell should he hold out hopes of ever getting a clue.

If he had even a glimmer of a chance of that, he wouldn't be so entranced by the movement of those delicate lips. "You sound more than a little proud of that."

"It has its benefits. Normalcy can be...a hindrance, if you don't know how to play your cards right."

"I got you. Point taken."

"I doubt it."

"Believe what you will. No fur off my back."


Ethan could have sworn Oz's cheeks flushed slightly. "Nothing. A joke. You wouldn't understand."

"Try me."

"I don't think so." Oz stood up, his chair shoved rapidly backwards. "I gotta go. Wait for Giles if you want, but like I said, it will be awhile."

"Is he out training his Slayer?"

It was satisfying, to see the feet cease to move away with such rapid deceleration. "You know about --"

"Of course I do. I've known Rupert longer than you've been alive, child."

"Oh...Whatever, then."

"Does it bother you, Oz? To be an accessory?"

"I don't think I get you," Oz said quietly.

"Ah, so few people do." Ethan smirked, pushing off the edge of the table and grasping Oz's wrist. "Is it a regret you have? To always be fringe on that infernal destiny of theirs?"

Oz's eyes fell to the floor; he didn't even bother tugging his arm away. "It's not an issue."

"Right, right. Well, then, off you go. Maybe running an errand or two. Just like Rupert, to garner all sorts of little helpers."

"You don't know what you're talking about."

"Well, then, go on, boy." Ethan forced himself to release Oz's wrist. "Maybe we'll run into each other again; we'll see if I'm right after all."

Oz stepped back, staring hard into Ethan's mocking face and nodding slightly. "Maybe we will."

Ethan watched him go silently, and scrawled out a note before he wandered out of the library, as well.

"Ripper: Having fun saving the world? Thinking of you, Ethan."

The streets of Sunnydale had a way of being creepy once the set began to set; far too deserted and ominous for such a cheerful little town.

Pretty, Ethan thought to himself. Quite pretty, indeed.