Tied to an actual feather bed, naked save for some sort of deerskin loincloth, with the world lit warmly fitful by candle and firelight, and, for Xander, the weirdest thing is Oz.

Maybe a rule of the universe: The weirdest thing in any given environment will be Oz.

The man himself is right beside him, seated beside the bed.... well, seated is something of a stretch. Oz has achieved a sort of focused loom. A scrunch of epic proportions, half-twisted to the side, where the inks are.


See, because he already has that jury-rigged looking electric Needle of Doom thing going on. Held firmly in his left hand, sparking all sort of prison movie images that Xander really doesn't need.

Oz is wearing massive Ray-Bans, real smoked glass, a large amount of jewelry, and a matching loincloth. And the world's most intense non-expression since Al Gore.



"Remind me why we're doing this, again?"

"You bought the cantaloupe."

"Ah. I... I didn't eat the cantaloupe. You know it's still in my bag."

Clatter of sound. Oz is running his rings over all the little bottles again and again. Strumming them with his knuckles. He was thinking. "Doesn't matter. You bought the cantaloupe."

"And so now I'm..."

"Prey. As soon as they track your scent back here."

"You do realize that I have no fucking clue what you're talking about. I was driving to work at the site. I saw a fruit stand. I bought a melon. You dragged me into a dark alley, conked me on the head, and... drove?"


"Carried me here."

"Yeah. Could you sort of press your shoulder to the bed?"

"Like this?"

"Yeah, right there." And the world's angriest wasps' nest starts up somewhere behind Oz, and his hand shakes for just a moment before he gets control. And then the ink, and then the first touch of the needle.

And it's like being burned, and it's like being bitten, and it's exactly like being tattooed.

"So... you know what you're doing, right?"

"Almost entirely."

And Xander considers laughing, but something about the muscle cramping stillness of Oz makes him reconsider. It wasn't as though he'd never considered being tattooed, and Oz is a nice enough guy, pretty much a friend now, through all of the Willowness. Brothers in partially requited Willowlove. Little bit of hyena, great big hunk o' wolf.

Xander resists the urge to check, make sure he's not tattooing Xander Dresses Funny in huge, Gothic print.

It's a lot like being pinched really thoroughly by someone with short, sharp nails. Like, if he closed his eyes, it would be Oz digging right into the meat of his chest. Ozwolf, halfway there and looking incredibly guilty as he tears Xander open.

Nudity, terror, pain... oh yeah. he's hard now. Could he maybe have just a dollop of shame for mindless obedience?

"It's like a Lottery thing." And Oz pauses, gets more ink. Pointedly does not adjust his tilting Ray-Bans.

Or, seemingly pointedly. Xander isn't really sure if Oz has a point to not straightening out his Elvis schtick, all he really knows is that he wants to adjust him and sizzlezinnng --

Needle's back, a good two inches from his nipple, but it's still standing at attention.

Loincloths. Why? Lottery?


"The Fruit Stand pack. Every month they pick a fruit to represent the sacrifice. The first person to buy the chosen fruit on the night before the full moon is the only human they are allowed to kill while in wolf form."

"And you couldn't just hide me for -- ow -- three days?"

"As a guest of the pack, I'd be obligated to hunt you down and share you with them. Trust me, this way is better."

Which really wasn't up for debate, even considering that the pain was making him sweat now. It didn't seem possible that any monster could bite down as long as that needle was doing and ow.

And also ow.

"So... where did you learn to tattoo?"


Leaving Xander to muse -- and it was hard to muse while gritting one's teeth, but possible -- on the nature of laconicism. Easy on the tongue wear and tear, brief, guaranteed to make one's conversational partner supply the images himself.

Tiny little woman, straight out of the Looney Tunes 'toons, sitting little Oz down to show him her body art from when she was Inside.

It was definitely distracting.

"Maybe another 15 minutes, Xand."

"Until you're done?" Xand?

"Until moonrise."

"Ah." Xander decided it would just be insult to injury to be eaten and tattooed in one night.

"They probably won't think of looking here." "First."


"But possibly second."


"I don't suppose you could do this any faster?"


"What happens when the moon rises? To you, I mean?"

"I have a momentary crisis of faith, and then I continue with what I was doing."

"By crisis of faith you mean the whole, 'want to go around eating yummy people' thing?"


"Am I in any danger? Well, from you. That is. Not that you... you know. Right?"

Oz pauses, needle paused just above skin that -- Xander peeks -- looks like it wants to cry. Xander mostly wants to curse. Maybe beat off. Chamois, as he'd learned from his shockingly brief career as a carwasher, feels really, really good.

A gift from whatever ancient demon first performed this ritual. 'I'm going to hurt you until you beg me to stop, but while I am, please feel free to hump the chamois.'

And then there's a hand tracing just around the edges of the hurting place, pausing for an incredibly noticeable fraction of a second before continuing over the nipple. And over it.

Xander shivers, jerks and Oz jumps back before he can ruin his work. But comes back. Puts his hand right back where it was.


And Xander thinks, you know, this is new, but hey, friends are friends, and when he's an old, grey failure as opposed to a young, fresh failure he can always disturb his grandkids with tales of his ever strange sexual adventures.

Or something. "Oz, I'm still not sure if that was a yes or a no."

"Revel in the ambiguity, Xand."

And as it happens, the Mark of Zirad, a good-time sorcerer of the late really long time agos who'd always invited wolves to his parties to eat his enemies -- and maybe just a few of his friends -- Well, as Marks go, it's kind of cool. Both squiggly and sharp.

Maybe would look even cooler when it healed up a bit.

Oz is silent, pink tongue caught between his teeth. There'd been a brief, full body shudder at what Xander assumed was moonrise. A lick of bitten lips, and then back to the pain.

Lots and lots of pain. And lots. A steady, pulsing throb now, as if the pain had spawned little pain children that were utterly independent of the source of the pain. Heh. King of Pain.

Over and over and over, filling in the squiggles and points to an absolute black, save for the dark-blood red at the tips of things.

Xander isn't looking anymore, but Oz provides a small sort of commentary. "Red now. Not much, won't take long."




Pain. "More black, Oz?"

"... yes."

And Oz pulls back just as Xander starts snickering, and he knows he needs to lay back, keep still, and definitely stop shaking like this but. But. He's getting a tattoo. A thing he will have for his entire life. And Xander isn't sure of much, but falling into commitment seems like such a bad idea.

No matter how Oz smiles with him and -- yes -- pushes the sunglasses back up on his nose.

Oz's own tattoo marches all over his body, like Oz has maybe been lying back in the tall grass for long enough that the constant itch is just a low-grade buzz at the back of his mind, just another part of the experience, the way this pulsing throb is most definitely not.

Nope, definitely not a pain junkie, and, really, Xander already knew that -- much to Anya's disappointment -- but it was never this ritualized, before. Knowing that the ritual still doesn't make the pain fun is... a relief. He definitely doesn't want Oz to hurt him.

Just touch him.

And in the end it's pretty anticlimactic. All over without even a scratch at the door. But hey, now he has a neat little -- not so little -- tattoo that will keep him from being eaten by a werewolf so long as he rips his shirt off before it rips his throat out.

And he's in a well-lit area.

And the werewolf pays attention to things like the Marks of long-dead sorcerers. Friend to wolves, now and forever.

But it's a pretty cool tattoo, not like anything he's seen on other people, which is a plus, and, without the old rags around his ankles and wrists, he feels a lot better.

More relaxed on the big soft bed. Granted, his arms and legs still don't want to move much, but it's the thought that counts. Good old meaningless freedom.

And it what it all boils down to is Oz, blowing out candle after candle, leaving the fire to burn itself out, and crawling into bed with him. And it's amazing how much of the darkness the candles held back, because the only thing Xander sees is an impression of pale.

Oz against him, warm and silky, and Xander has a sudden perverse urge to share everything he's learned about the feel of Willow's skin over the years, just to complete this circuit. Is it a love triangle when one point has forsaken points altogether?

Probably not. But it's certainly he and Oz, cuddled together on a bed, in the dark, and he can't prove Larry -- sorry, Larry, sorry... -- right yet because Oz is snoring.

Quietly and, yes, endearingly, but snoring just the same, one arm thrown over Xander's belly, head tucked up into Xander's armpit. "Oz?"

And it earns him a touch somewhere between a full-arm caress and a squeeze.

And more snores.

Willow's big gay life has to be more exciting than this.

But Xander can definitely deal.

"Tomorrow you're getting a naked mermaid on your bicep, wolf-boy."