Laconic

Lunar Caustic

Every full moon night, the loup-garou will run.

The pack assembles before moonrise, red tongues lolling, panting their hot rank breath into the clear air, silent death waiting to be unleashed. They sit and wait for the moon to climb overhead, for Luna to be fully bared. And as they sit, they wait in silence not only for the moon, but for he who runs at the head of the pack.

When the moon is a hairsbreadth away from her fullest, then comes the leader of the loup-garou, proud and tall, looking through the pack, seeking his mate and finding her gone. For the mate of the leader is Luna herself, wild and free, who travels through the sky, taunting the chase of the loup-garou.

The leader then raises his eyes from the earth to the sky, perceives his mate and gives tongue, full-voiced and loud. There, look, there she runs, we will give chase and capture her. His pack howls back, long and lustily, eagerly straining to be let loose on the hunt.

On the night of the full moon, therefore, the pack will run, through streets and woodland, wherever they be assembled, and woe to those who roam abroad that night, for they chance the dance of the loup-garou, who hot with the chase and eager to slake their lust will redden the earth with the heartsblood of any living creature they come across.

This is the tale of the full moon, that the leader seeks his mate and pursues her on earth while she wheels merrily through the sky. He never catches her, of course, though around him his packmates will dance and leap and prance and love so that every full moon night, there will be loup-garou to run.

Why they run on the nights when there is no moon, is still a mystery.

 

"I told you, we don't handle divorce cases, Cordelia."

"But, but, at least take a look at this!" she held out a piece of paper with the words '...$ 5,000/- only payable to...' and shook it enticingly. "Isn't it marvellous?" pressing it to her lips. "A retainer! They paid up front! And look - they can pay more!"

Angel shook his head. "No."

"No?" she looked at him woefully, trying the wobbly lip and teary eyed stare that had got her 'Queen C' license plates on the first try from her father.

"No." he said firmly.

Wesley came in, blowing dust off a book. "Ah... the Goldman case?"

Cordelia looked to him for support. "He doesn't want us to take it!"

Wesley smiled a little. "Pay up please."

She sighed and turned to Angel. "Give him a twenty."

"Who me?"

"Well you're the only one of us with any money here, so pay him twenty bucks and take it out of my pay."

" I don't have any money!"

She flashed a triumphant grin. "Ah-ha! So we can't afford to NOT take the case!" she waggled the cheque again.

Angel sighed and Wesley grinned. "No."

Cordelia shrieked and swayed. Wesley rushed forward to support her, while Angel remained on the other side of his desk, arms stoically folded. "Cordy, faking a vision is not going to work."

"She's not faking, you ninny!" Wesley snapped. "Can't you tell the difference?"

"She's a good actress!" Angel defended himself while waiting for the bone of their contention to recover.

In a dark alley something scrabbled for purchase, as a roughly bipedal figure attempted to rise to a crawling position. Two paws became hands, elongated nails still tearing into the stone. Grunting with effort, the boy willed the nails to disappear.

They remained for a while, taunting him, before retreating into their casing. Next, he willed his features to return.

Slowly, molecule-by-molecule, the agonizing transformation was complete. He knelt on all fours, breathing hard and trying to remember.

He looked up and saw the bodies.

She opened her eyes. Two worried faces loomed over her. "Cordelia? Are you alright? Would you like-"

"Oz."

"Oz?"

"He's back. He needs help."

"What kind?"

She took a deep breath and willed her voice to be steady. "The let's-keep-him-from-being-jailed-for-murder kind."

Angel stood stock still for a second before asking one final question. "Where?"

She had enough self-control left to tell them before being promptly and violently sick.

 

The wolf was hungry. So was the boy. Unfortunately, they disagreed on the definition of edible.

Though he felt his teeth and hair elongating, the boy dragged himself reluctantly towards the tattered remnants of human flesh and bone. He needed clothes.

Eat Prey, suggested the wolf. Eat. Rest.

No.

He carefully edged around the remains, towards the dumpster where he thought they may have trashed his clothes.

Luckily his memory of events leading up to the transformation was accurate. He found the clothes, reeking of fish and McDonald's ketchup, and was thankful for the pungent odours that momentarily overpowered the stench of blood and quelled the beast.

He dragged on his jeans, blinking angry tears as he tried to remember how to manipulate two legs instead of four. The shirt... went so over his head... the jacket he put on, twisting the buttons anxiously, wondering what they were for. Shoes... he stared at the shoes and nearly decided not to wear them. Then training reasserted itself and he put them on as well, fumbling with the laces before deciding to leave well enough alone. Clothed, as humans should be, he stood up, and warily began walking backwards, half afraid that one of the bodies would jump up to accuse him.

When he reached the mouth of the alley, he started to run and got as far as two blocks, before the uneasiness crept up on him.

He stopped, and sniffed surreptitiously. Clenching his fists inside his pockets, he walked to a wall and leaned against it; to all intents and purposes, a native deep in thought.

What did humans need to live? Food, clothes...He had clothes. He was wearing them. Food on the other hand, he couldn't buy food because he didn't have - money.

Money.

Wallet.

Oh shit.

Breaking away from the wall, walking slowly then faster, finally jogging back to the alley. When he was halfway there, the sound of sirens split the air. Barely checking in his stride, he turned fluidly and began running in the other direction.

Too late.

 

There were two squad cars parked near the alley, one blocking the entrance. This wasn't a good part of town, so there possibly wasn't any need for the barriers or the yellow tape that marked a police line.

The photographs had been taken, the chalk outlines drawn carefully over the blood. Body bags were being zipped up and Forensics was in consultation. That gave Kate Lockley time to go over to the dumpster and valiantly hold in the contents of her roiling stomach.

Eviscerated. Mauled. Beaten. Eaten. Words to describe the indescribable.

She'd seen worse; kids with black eyes and purple scars who tiptoed around the house because Daddy might hear them and get angry. Ten year olds forced into prostitution so Mommy dearest could get her fix. This was nothing. She would not be sick

An animal. It had to be an animal. God, could any human have done this? Maybe some sick bastard who saw the Texas Chainsaw massacre and decided to do a repeat? A die-hard (bad pun) fan anticipating the release of 'Hannibal'? God, no, not a human being.

She was definitely a vegetarian from tonight on. And a trip to our Lady of Perpetual Hope might be in order as well.

Forensics glanced behind and saw her hunched casually over a dumpster. Muttering "Ut-oh," under his breath, he finished his discussion.

Too soon. Too bloody soon for her to be out on the streets. Think fast...

"Scully!" yodelled the detective in the nondescript jacket, jogging up to Kate Lockley.

She sighed and gave him a brilliant, obviously faked smile. "Shut up Powell, or I'll have your ass for my trophy window."

Good girl. I like a girl with spirit. God, she'd kill me if she knew what I was thinking. The man made a delighted face. "Don't say it unless you mean it."

"Shut up or I'll have to class you with that prick Kendrick."

Powell whistled. "Ooh, a rhyme. Sexy."

Twit. Irritation surged and gave her new strength. "This has not been a good day. So spit-"

"- Or give up the spittoon. Ok, ok." He held out an evidence bag. "Nail clippings and hair. Found prominently embedded in one of those poor fucks. Don't ask where we found them," obviously hoping she would.

She didn't. Obnoxious twit. "Oh wow. Nail clippings and hair. How original. We can run DNA tests if we ever find the perp."

"Don't insult me, Lockley. Take a look at the nails and tell me what you thought when you first saw the bodies."

She took the bag and held it up to catch the light. Powell continued a running commentary. "Kinda coarse to be human dontcha think? And the nails... someone must really have been taking their calcium supplements. Thick, chunky -" he waggled his eyebrows and did an Ivana Humpalot impression. "Horny...like animal." He whistled a few bars of the X-files theme.

"You think an animal was responsible for this?"

He sobered. "Yea. The - the erm," he clawed the air vaguely, "the way the bodies were -"

"Mutilated?" She didn't wait for his nod. "I'm a big girl, you can tell me."

"Didja get a good look at the bodies?" Bad question, bad question, back up, back up quick. "The heart was almost torn out of the chest. We'll need to perform an autopsy of course, but I'm guessing that we've got all the evidence we'll need."

"Animals in the inner city? Any zoo escapes?" He shook his head. She sighed. "City pound reported any strays?"

He made expansive gestures. "There are always strays. But something ... to bring down five guys... they weren't pansies, y' know. Street kids, called themselves the Hombres, armed to the teeth... Dawson there-" indicating the man he'd been talking to a while ago, "brought one of them in for questioning a month ago. Acquitted of course, he's a minor."

"Rival gang?"

"Nah," he looked sad. "The Hombres rule this area."

"Still it's worth looking into."

"Maybe. But I'm thinking more on the lines of private collections. Any private collectors you know of in LA?"

"If there are, they aren't telling."

"Dumb fucks the lot of them. Think they'd report an escape?"

She shrugged and after a while, so did he.

"Dumb fucks," said with resignation. They were silent for a while, just brooding.

I think that's enough quiet time. Hey, c'mon Lockley, gimme that famous 'I'm gonna beat your ass if you don't shut up now' look of yours. He glanced at her, then up at the darkening sky. "Hey, look, it's gonna be full moon."

"Aww c'mon," she snorted. "You're not gonna suggest that a werewolf did this are you?"

Powell was silent and she looked back to catch his gleaming toothy grin. Uh-oh.

"No," she raised a warning hand but he wasn't paying attention.

"I didn't say nothing about werewolves!"

"Powell-"

"Ah-ah-ah-ah! Gotcha Scully!"

"Mulder -shit, Powell -!"

"Lockley!" He crowed triumphantly, pointing a dramatic finger at her. "Lockley," he intoned, "You want to believe!"

"A slip of the tongue," she tried to recover lost ground. "And YOU were the one who came up with the big animal theory anyway."

"Betcha fifty bucks that the autopsy supports me and we all have to start looking for big dogs in the area." He lowered his voice. "Better yet, betcha dinner and a movie. If you lose, I win, if you win, I win."

She stopped for a moment and really, really looked at him, irritatingly endearing grin, puppy dog eyes and all. Then she shook herself mentally. "You have rotten timing Sherlock. Back to work."

"Does this mean you'll say yes if I ask you some other time?"

"Shut up Powell."

"Aww Scully..." His complaining voice trailed all the way down to the sewers where Angel stood, attempting to avoid the advances of an over inquisitive rat, attracted by the smell of blood on calfskin.

He shook his head, in unconscious imitation of the woman above, amazed at how close they'd come to the mark. What would Kate Lockley do if she knew just who was new in town?

The obvious answer would be not to tell her.

The rat attempted to jump up and bite the fingers still clutching Oz's wallet. Angel flicked it off and placed the wallet into his pocket for safekeeping. Might as well turn back. Nothing more to be learnt from eavesdropping on the LAPD.

Except that there appeared to be a new man in Kate Lockley's life. And he found himself wanting to give the man the third degree, needing the man to know that he wouldn't go unpunished if he lifted so much as a finger against Kate.

She's been hurt enough. She doesn't need more - whoa, stop. Backtrack.

Cordelia, Wesley, Kate and now Oz. Talk about relationship problems. Wasn't his life complicated enough before?

 

The boy hunched his shoulders, and drew into himself, trying to pack his already diminutive bulk into as little space as possible. Head down, fists in pocket, he strode calmly, purposefully, trying to look as though he knew where he was going.

It seemed to work. No one paid much attention to him as he walked on through the endless drab cityscape. Occasionally billboards winked on the periphery of his vision, enlivening the atmosphere for a while. Once he stopped and checked out an electronics store with thirty TV screens in the window.

The news was on and he forced himself to watch the clip about the bodies in the alley. The reporter said nothing about any incriminating evidence that might have been found on the scene.

He breathed a little easier. No picture. No wallet. They hadn't found anything.

Then who had?

On cue, the wolf whined. Cold. Alone. No Pack.

I have no pack, he thought. I have no one.

Head down again, evading the suspicious glare of the store owner who had come out to check on the scruffy guy outside - it's always the short, quiet ones - he moved on.

Alone, whined the wolf. Cold. Hungry.

I know. Oz kept moving.

I know.

 

Angel walked in as Cordelia hung up the phone. Wesley swivelled to meet his eye.

"Where's Oz?"

He shrugged off his coat. "Gone," tossing the wallet onto Wesley's lap, "But not forgotten."

Wesley took out a kerchief from his shirt pocket and lifted the wallet fastidiously. "Did you-?"

"NO!" he swung around furiously. "Who the hell do you think I am?" He stopped mid-snarl and deflated. "This hasn't been a good day."

Cordelia followed him into the office. "So he wasn't there?"

"Yea." He grunted, settling into his chair.

"But did he-?"

"I don't know." He stared at his fingers. "I had a look before the LAPD showed up. Pretty ugly. Could have been."

She sighed and shifted a little. "I called Sunny dale. Talked to Giles. Seems Oz hasn't been around for a very long time."

Angel quirked an eyebrow. "I'm listening."

"He went wild. Apparently there was this bitch who had a catfight with Willow and Oz couldn't take it so he left."

Angel stared. "Oz left because he couldn't stand to have two women fighting over him?"

"No he left because he killed her," at Angel's startled gasp, "Not Willow, the bitch. He killed her."

Wesley came in. "Allow me to set the record straight. Apparently a female werewolf-"

"A bitch, see, I told you she was a bitch!"

"Thank you Cordelia. Apparently this female -"

"Bitch."

"You kind of learn to tune her out after a while," offered Angel.

"Yes. Well. Apparently this young woman tried to get Oz to ah, tune in to his wild side, and she attacked Willow as being a negative influence. Oz, erm -"

"Tore her throat out," supplied Cordelia helpfully. "Killed her and drank her blood - no sorry, that's you."

"ANYWAY," said Wesley, with a repressive glance meant to put the office help in its place, "Oz felt that this incident proved he couldn't be trusted around other people, and left for parts unknown. Giles was actually quite relieved to have some information about him. He sends his regards by the way."

"You didn't tell him about the vision."

Wesley harrumphed. "Not - not in a detailed manner."

"Hmm." Angel was silent for a while.

"God!" Cordelia exploded and banged on the table. "I can't believe they didn't tell us! You'd think preventing the Apocalypse together would mean something to them." She looked at Angel and a startled Wesley. "Well go on, say it, I know you want to."

A corner of Angel's mouth lifted in what could be a smile or a grimace. "Think he'll come to us?"

Wesley stared at his employer. "Excuse me? You wish a potentially homicidal werewolf to visit us?"

"He didn't do it." Cordelia folded her arms and glared at the former Watcher. "Oz didn't do it."

"You lost the contents of your stomach over my best blue shirt after seeing the destruction he caused and now you're defending him? He's dangerous, Cordelia, you heard what Giles said -"

"Giles didn't say anything! He said Oz felt he was 'a potential danger'. There's a difference!"

"Cordelia, no one appreciates friendship more than I do, but the fact remains that Oz is implicated in carnage of serious proportions! Or are you going to disbelieve the evidence of your eyes? Disregard your own vision? This is a very irresponsible attitude that I would not have expected - "

"Wesley," Angel stopped him in mid-tirade. "Whether he did it or not isn't the issue here. We still have to find him."

Wesley sighed. "Very well. But we contain him before asking any questions."

"I'll sit on his head if you want," promised Angel. "Now, where should we be looking?"

Wesley scratched his chin. "Wolves are highly social animals. If Oz is indeed turning wild, he will want to join a pack."

Cordelia broke in at that. "So he'll try and find us?" She turned to Angel. "Can I stay in your apartment?"

Wesley glared at her. "You are welcome to stay with me. I am quite capable of defending you should the need arise."

"Yea," she said sceptically. "When you've torn out as many throats as he has, then we'll see. Sorry," this to Angel, "I was defending your masculinity."

"Then don't. But it might be a good idea for the three of us to stay in the same place for a while."

"Concentrate the scent? Good idea." Wesley challenged Angel to comment. "A rogue demon hunter needs no protection, of course, but it strikes me that you might need my assistance in guarding Ms. Chase."

"Whatever." Angel rose. "Try and see what you can find on werewolf behaviour. I'm going to go -"

"You're leaving us? Alone?" said Cordelia incredulously. "Wait! Don't go! Where're you going?"

Wesley gave her a supercilious stare. "Isn't it obvious, Cordelia? He's going to look for werewolf packs indigenous to this city."

"Actually, I was going to pick up an extra mattress for you, Wesley, but now that you mention it, looking for werewolf packs is a good idea." He left, and Cordelia smirked at Wesley.

"That means I get the bed." She sighed dreamily. "It has the most wonderful sheets you ever felt. Soft, black, silky, mm." her voice trailed off in ecstasy.

Wesley stared at her goggle eyed.

"What?" she asked sharply, breaking his concentration.

He cleared his throat. "Nothing. Er, nothing. Perhaps we should get started on the research."

 

The wind carried it to him. Scent of same-but-not-self.

Pack, the wolf cried joyously. Pack!

He lifted his head and sniffed.

"I think he's found us," said the shadow. "What shall we do, sir?"

"Bring him in," said the voice on the other end of the cell phone, before signing off.

The shadow put his phone away, then tapped on the tinted partition separating him from the chauffeur, signalling that they were to move forward.

The car drew level with him and the boy tensed. The door opened -

"Get in," drawled the man in shadow.

He hesitated, and the wolf took the opportunity to sniff. Pack! Pack!

"Get in, frere," the man insisted. The word was unfamiliar, but the scent it brought was not.

Pack, insisted the wolf.

"I don't have much time to waste. You getting in or not?"

Oz got in.

The car drove off.

 

There's a place like this in every city. Here the bartender recognizes his patrons, not by name, but by scent and doesn't mix metaphors when serving a Bloody Mary. Here race, sex or age is no bar to entry, all you need to qualify is species.

It has no name. Let's call it The Bar. Trust me, you don't want to know the name. You don't want to go there. Not ever.

Angel found it a comforting place and spent hours brooding there, running up large bills that the bartender extended easy credit for. He knew he'd get paid eventually. Besides, he could afford to wait longer than usual.

There weren't many people around at this time, so the bartender lavished a little extra attention on the six-foot vampire who was one of his best paying customers. "Another of the same?"

"Nah. I'd like the house special if that's ok."

The bartender started wiping the surface of the table below Angel's nose. "Cost ya," he said neutrally.

"I know."

"So what'll it be?"

"I have a friend who needs to meet with people. I'm worried for him. Word is that some of them can be real dogs."

The bartender winced. "I see. You'd be wanting to check out pedigree?"

"A list actually. Want to keep my options open."

"Nuh-uh," the bartender shook his head. "No paper. But I'll tell you there's only one house of any importance here. The rest are all small timers. Nothing big but it all connects back to the royal house."

Angel leaned forward. "The name?"

He told him.

Angel raised both eyebrows. "That makes me feel stupid."

The bartender nodded. "It's common knowledge among the loup-garou. Surprised you didn't know."

He shrugged. "Didn't think. How much?"

The bartender concentrated on an already gleaming spot. "Let's just say you owe me a favour."

"Can do." He put some money on the table and stood up.

"Be careful," muttered the bartender. "Mean mother-fuckers there. Don't want to tangle with them."

Angel smiled and left. The bartender kept wiping the same spot over and over.

"I didn't give you permission to say that last bit, Sam," breathed a voice in his ear. "Though it did add verisimilitude."

"Yes sir," whispered Sam the bartender. "Very-similitude, that's the word. And it fooled 'im into thinking I meant it too."

A light current raced through his frame, a reproving tap, a small reminder of the 10,000 odd volts that could electrocute Sam at a movement of this person's finger. Sam held himself still after the first involuntary jerk. He fancied he could hear light laughter in his ear.

"Take off the button, Sam," said the voice gently, "but remember who owns you."

"Can't forget it sir." Sam divested himself of the little device and placed it in a drawer for safety. "Not for a single fucking second."

 

Dream-like, the boy settled into the velvety softness of the seat. The man hadn't even glanced at him since he had entered the vehicle; just tapped on the partition to let the driver know they were ready to move. Oz didn't much feel like speaking anyway. He was tired, confused and the wolf was jumpy.

The streetlights flashed surreal patterns on the car windows. They must be travelling pretty fast. Wherever they were going.

He became aware that someone was looking at him. He turned and caught the man's eyes with his own.

Sitting down he couldn't estimate height, but the man appeared to be taller than he was. No biggie, practically everyone was taller than he was. Dark, clean-shaven, executive look... Oz filed that away and kept looking.

The man drew his lips back slightly; apparently irritated that Oz would look at him so familiarly. Then he relaxed into the seats.

"Not long now."

"Where are we going?"

"Someone wants to meet you."

The wolf whined. Oz wondered if he had made a mistake. "Who's someone?"

The man inclined his head slightly and sniffed. "You're not afraid. That's either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid." He shrugged. "Well we'll soon find out."

Oz stared, heart beating a soft, uneven rhythm. He let the sound of the heartbeat fill his ears, let it drown his thoughts and overcome his confusion. "Do we know each other?"

The man lay back among the cushions. "No."

"Huh." He turned and began watching the cityscape flash by.

After a while, he heard the man speak again. "You don't ask many questions."

"Would I get any answers?"

The man paused. Maybe he smiled. Oz didn't bother turning his head around to see. The lights were prettier anyway.

The streets swept by, an endless progression of lights and people, huge winking billboards and the towering bulk of skyscrapers... after a while he noticed a change in the view outside. There were more high-rises and fewer billboards. They must be entering the business district.

"We're here." He sat up at the man's words, and paid more attention to his surroundings. The car went up an enormous slope, past a huge complex of skyscrapers clustered together like any other office complex, then down into a basement parking lot. They were moving too fast for Oz to register more than impressions... grey, dark, smooth, COLD...

They got out of the car and waited for the elevator. When it came, it was grey and sleek cold metal, just like the building itself.

Hungry... Was that the wolf whining or the structure whispering?

The man pressed a button hidden somewhere. The elevator door closed.

Whoosh!

The elevator was smooth and moved fast. Too fast. His ears were buzzing to the point of pain, so he was glad that the man didn't speak or look at him until they stopped and the electronic voice spoke softly, "75th storey."

"One word of advice, cub."

"Oz."

"Straighten your collar."

Oz pulled up his collar, and followed the man out of the elevator. The doors closed silently.

The floor was tiled in early smooth grey, as were the walls. Discreet doors were set in at intervals, but not so that they clashed with the colour scheme.

"Nice décor. I'm noticing a recurring theme here."

The man smiled and led him to a door at the other end of the passageway. He paused outside, straightened his own collar and knocked twice.

The door opened.

The man at the desk looked up as they entered. Oz stood stock still, almost in shock.

He had no name for what assaulted his senses... scent, smell, pheromones, whatever they were, his inner wolf was receiving them loud and clear and screaming that he was in terrible danger.

Fear Run Stay Down Submit Submit Submit the wolf looked fearfully from side to side, realised he was trapped; cowered and whined.

Yes, down boy. Good boy. Stay.

The man behind the desk looked at Oz and then at his companion. "Yes," he said simply.

"I brought the new one, sir." The man stood straight, almost at attention. Oz could smell his awe and had to choke down a reciprocal urge to whimper and show his belly.

He's just a man. A big man, yea, maybe... Then he realised it wasn't bulk so much as the aura radiating off the man his (guard? captor?) was calling 'sir'. A lot of personality there. Overwhelming. Hmm.

Old eyes met young and a flicker of emotion touched his lips. "Thank you, freitna. You may leave us now."

"Sir." The man turned and left without a word, yet a certain pride in his bearing that indicated he had received some sort of accolade.

The one called 'sir' looked at Oz for a moment, considering. Oz stared back, registering scents, sounds, and impressions. Sharp, grey, smooth...I'm noticing a pattern here.

He fought back an overwhelming sense of fear as 'sir' looked straight into his eyes and through him, ruthlessly cutting into his id.

The wolf whimpered and put his paws over his eyes. Down boy, down. The boy stared straight back and tried to keep his knees from buckling. As though the man had heard, the power gauging him yanked him upright, mercilessly standing him at attention.

Wow. He stood paralysed, melting under the glare of the eyes, which he could have sworn turned deep yellow. I wonder if this is how moths burn.

Submit whimpered the wolf. Submit, Submit, Submit

Suddenly the eyes released their hold and he was free to totter unsteadily on his feet. Apparently 'sir' had completed his inspection, for he leaned back and exhaled.

He looks pleased. Lucky me. Sarcasm only thinly veiled the surge of relief running through his veins. The wolf was having more of an effect on him than he liked.

Smiling, the man indicated a seat in front of the desk. "Sit down cub."

Why is everyone calling me cub? He sat down anyway.

The wolf whined and turned over, presenting its neck.

Stop that.

 

"I want pizza."

"Cordelia, I am making coq au vin for dinner. A gourmet dish that has won me praise from the crowned heads of Europe. No one has lived to regret eating it."

"That's why I want pizza."

Wesley pushed his hair back, exasperated. "Don't you think it would be a nice gesture to offer to cook dinner? Angel is giving up a great deal to let us stay over and it's only polite to show our appreciation by cooking a meal."

Cordelia looked at Wesley as though he had sprouted another head. "Are you mad? Angel doesn't eat coq au vin, he drinks blood!"

"Ah, but I have known him to appreciate a fine wine, so" Wesley fished out a bottle triumphantly, "He can have the rest of the vin! Now be a dear and start dicing." He motioned her towards the kitchen table.

"You are mad." She said with conviction and would have elaborated had not Angel popped his head in. "Angel!" She ran towards him, brandishing the knife.

"Er, ah," he held out his hands protectively. "Give me the knife Cordy, before you hurt someone."

She relinquished it cheerfully. "Thank God someone here understands. I told Wesley I couldn't dice. I'm gonna go see what's on TV. Call me when dinner's ready."

"Cordelia!" Wesley called out after her, frustrated, but she was out of hearing range. He shook his head, muttering, "I should have known pizza was her cunning stratagem to get out of helping me in the kitchen."

Angel looked at the knife and put it down. "Cooking?"

"Coq au vin. Any news?"

"Mm. I need a shower first." He went into his room and came out again, frowning. "Cordy, where are all my clothes?"

She came back in. "Drawer near the bed."

"ALL of them?"

"You wanted us to share a closet?"

"Not really. Is it too much to ask if you at least put the shirts and pants separately?"

Cordelia threw up her hands defensively. "I didn't think you'd appreciate me going through your personal items."

"Oh." Angel took a look inside his ex-bedroom and looked back at Cordelia. "Why didn't you think of that before you touched my closet?"

She was surprised by the question. "I figured you'd have done the same, only you didn't have the time, so I just..."

"Never mind." After a moment of quiet contemplation, he smiled. "By the way Cordy, thanks for helping Wesley cook dinner. I love coq au vin." He went back in, Cordelia staring after him, speechless.

She found her voice at last. "Did he just try to punish me?" appealing to Wesley, "You didn't hear that, did you?"

Grinning, Wesley handed Cordelia the knife. "Dice. Small cubes please."

Pouting, she complied.

 

"What's your name, son?"

"Oz."

"Oz. Do you have a last name, Oz?"

"Just Oz."

"Alright, Oz . Seems like you've marked your territory rather clearly haven't you?"

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

'Sir' leaned back. "Don't you?"

Oz stared back, unblinking.

Abruptly, the face before him was fuller, pointier, and a lot more hairy. The hand raised towards him had sharp curved nails - claws. Then -

"A trick of the moonlight." 'Sir' appeared to be laughing at some private joke. "What do you say Oz?"

Oz got up.

"Sit!" The voice was sharp, cutting deep down to some obedient core of his canine personality. Oz sat and resisted the urge to beg for a doggy treat.

'Sir' leaned forward, not threatening, but making a statement. "You come into my town. You kill within my territory. You know pack law. You know what you are." If the words hadn't been so chilling, he would have succumbed to the hypnotic effect of the voice, gentle though reproving.

However, he knew enough about wolf behaviour to understand a bit of what was being said. He classified as a lone wolf, an outsider, not part of the group. Not-pack.

That made him fair prey.

'Sir' must have marked his slight shudder, because he smiled before continuing in an even gentler tone, "Youngster, don't be rude. Have we been anything but polite to you?"

He shook his head.

"Good. Then you will treat us with the same respect as we have showed you. Is that understood?"

Oz nodded.

'Sir' drew his lips back and bared his teeth. "Cat got your tongue?" He cocked his head like a man used to people appreciating his jokes. When he got no response, he sighed. "You're safe here, cub. No one will harm you."

Yea, sure. Oz matched stare with blank stare.

The man smiled disarmingly. "Alright then. Let's start again. Your name is Oz. Hello Oz. My name is Wolfram. You can call me Mr. Wolfram."

Oz blinked. " Wolf ram?"

The smile remained in place. "Amusing, isn't it?"

Oz shrugged. "Why am I here?"

Wolfram looked at him. "Do you have somewhere else to go?"

He shrugged again. "Not really."

That got him a measuring stare. "You're young... and not born to the blood." It was a statement, so Oz didn't bother affirming it.

The man - 'Sir' suits him better than 'Mr. Wolfram'. He looks like a 'Sir'. - tapped a finger on the table. "So. Oz. Half-blood Oz. Why did you kill five men in my city?"

He lifted his shoulders to shrug again, ready to deny involvement, but the memories flooded back.

 

"Hey, we got us a raw one!"

"Pretty too..."

"Small and soft... here baby! Come here to papa!"

"Lookit 'is nails! Shiny red too..."

"Ooh, someone's lookin' for some action eh?" Lips smacked loudly. "Dontcha worry pretty boy, you found some."

He heard lewd chuckles and sniggers. Muttered comments, "I'll bet he rides well." "Lookit that skin. Soft as a baby's. Can I cut 'im Lou? Huh? Can I?"

Backing off into the wall. "Please. I don't want to hurt you."

Guffaws all around. "He don't wanna hurt us. Aww, ain't he cute? C'mere honey and let's see if Uncle Louie can't teach you how to play with the big boys."

Anger grew, trying to control it. Moment of weakness. They converged on him in a flurry of blows, smashing a fist into his ribs first to send him down. He held off as they stripped him, a blow here, a hit there, sweet satisfaction as someone cursed and reeled back, "Damn sonofabitch got me in the eye!" fought back weakly all the while trying, trying so hard to control the change.

Another fist in his ribs and his back arched, coughing up blood. God help me, I'm drowning... let me go! Let me GO!

"I get to go first," muttered the biggest, shoving at the rest. "Here, hold 'im down, he bucks too much."

Rage swept over him, coppery red, dark and painful, terrible hideous anger at what they contemplated and he opened his mouth to scream...

...

...

...And knew no more until he awoke in an alley, the memory of bones crunching and skin tearing and the sweet, delicious screams that flow hot as blood substantiated by five mangled bodies a foot from where he lay.

Killer.

Veruca had been right. He was a beast.

A Killer.

 

Disgust and nausea shot through his system again and he retched violently.

He became aware that he was throwing up into a steel basket, his head steadied by a compassionate hand.

"Thanks," he gasped and pulled away roughly. The basket withdrew and he looked into the unreadable eyes of the man called Mr. Wolfram. Their gazes held for a second, then Wolfram withdrew into some inner chamber.

Oz heard the sounds of water running, and braced his forehead against the table, quickly sitting up again as Wolfram came out. "You may wish to use the facilities," he indicated the room he had just come from.

Oz got up unsteadily, ashamed and not sure how to respond. He settled for, "Uh, thanks," and escaped.

When he walked into the room again, Wolfram was filling two glasses. "Drink this." It was an order. He turned and offered a glass. "It's only brandy. Won't hurt you."

Oz took the glass and held it, not drinking. Wolfram took a healthy swallow and looked at him. "As I see it, Oz, you have two choices. You can leave here, alone, in which case I estimate your chances of surviving the week to be somewhere near zero. Alternatively, I make you an offer. You can join my pack. Stay here and learn the ways of the loup-garou. Which will it be?"

"Loup-garou?"

"Middle French for our kind. Were-wolves."

"Huh." He put the glass down. "Well, thanks for the offer, but I should get going."

" M'c'sheeda b'khoy, " growled Wolfram, setting his glass down savagely. Oz jumped. For a moment, Wolfram snarled at him, lips drawn back and teeth bared. With his back arched and bristling, he seemed a hell of a lot bigger in the moonlight. Run. Shit, can't. Door closed. Oh heck.

Then as soon as it had begun, the change was over, leaving the suave man in place of the wolf.

Wolfram straightened up from his half crouch and poured another glass. "You've never run with a pack."

"Not... really."

The compassion was back. "I thought not." He took a swallow of the brandy. "Have some, it calms the stomach."

Oz took his advice and coughed as the liquid burned into his intestines. "Gurrh..."

"Not so much, cubling." The amusement was back too.

Oz looked up, annoyed with his own naiveté. "Why does everyone call me cub?"

"Because Oz, you came into my city and killed five people. No one, not even pack marks their territory in my city. Ergo, you are either incredibly stupid, or an uneducated cub. Now that you tell me you've never even been part of any pack,"

"I'm guessing that's a disadvantage."

Wolfram set his drink down. "You really don't know, do you?" he breathed. "Well I'll be damned."

"I'm done with the self-pity. Cramps my karma."

The man chuckled. "Brave little cub showing its teeth. That was only half a joke," he held out a hand, "On my word as Wolfram."

Oz touched the proffered hand. "Uh, that's all right." He let it go. "I should be going."

Wolfram looked at him, down at his hand, and then back up at Oz again. "I keep forgetting you don't understand. Sit."

"I really should go."

"We're back to that again. Where do you want to go? You don't have anywhere, do you?"

Oz shrugged. "I'm driving around."

Wolfram poured another drink. " Frere, sit down and listen to me. You're loup-garou and our kind is not exactly welcome in the world." He snarled again. "Unless we're someone's dog."

"I'm guessing that's not a good thing."

"Your ignorance would be funny if it wasn't so tragic. No, no true loup-garou can tolerate what the 'pure' humankind demands of us. We rarely form stable relationships with them." He looked carefully at Oz. "You may know what I'm talking about."

"Sort of."

"Yes. Now, listen very carefully. Loup-garou must form pack. That is fundamental to what we are. If you leave now, keep driving as you say, who knows what will become of you, a cubling all alone?" He shrugged eloquently. "Stay here and become one of us. If you had been taught correctly - as you should have been by whoever made you, but that's another story - you'd know this is not something I offer lightly."

Oz regarded him curiously. "Then why are you inviting me in? What's in it for you?"

Wolfram stared back, amazed. " M'c'sheeda b'khoy, how badly has the world hurt you? What's in it for me? Nothing. Not a single thing. I offer you the shelter of my pack-"

"Out of the kindness of your heart?"

Wolfram looked at him steadily. After a while, Oz lowered his eyes.

The man spoke quietly, "I thought we had an understanding about courtesy."

Oz winced. "Sorry," he said after a while. "That was rude."

"Forget it." The man walked behind his desk and pushed a button. The doors swished open. "You're free to leave, if you want. You're equally welcome to stay."

Oz lifted his head and looked at him squarely. "Wolves don't just invite loners into their packs."

Wolfram returned his gaze. "We're not just wolves. We're also human. There's a difference."

"Why are you looking out for me?"

"Because half-blood or not, you're one of us. Loup-garou. We take care of our own."

Oz thought this over. Wolfram waited, the door still open.

He took a deep breath. "You know I'm a ..." his throat stuck on the word and he had to compromise. "I killed those guys in the alley."

"You defended yourself. There's a difference."

Oz shook his head slowly. "This offer of yours - it's legit?"

Wolfram sighed. "Wolves are better at this. They rely on scents and don't complicate the world with issues of trust or betrayal." For a moment, the shifting change, then the man was back. "Well?"

Pack, pack, pack, chanted the beast. Not run alone. Safe. Pack!

The boy struggled. The man watched him, eyes hooded. "Something troubling you?"

Weakness forced him into honesty. "This whole - listen to the wolf thing is... where I come from, that was a big no-no."

Another muttered curse from Wolfram. "Your maker did very badly by you, cub. Now listen to me. The wolf is not a demon or even a god; it's just another part of you, like your stomach, or your brain. You listen to your stomach when it tells you that you're hungry don't you?"

Oz closed his eyes, warring with new ideas. Remembering old ones.

Remembering it all...

 

"Lookit the baby, Lou." "He could use a bang or two to loosen 'm up."

"Take the money and let me go."

Raucous laughter. "It ain't a boy, hombres, it's a girl!" "Know what we hombres do to the ladies?" "Show 'im Lou, let's show 'im."

"Please. Don't make me hurt you."

"Shut up you sum-bitch. 'ere you take his hands..."

"Let me go." Dash at them and receive a fist in his guts. Down, down, the epicentre of a small earthquake with aftershocks jarring every bone in his body. "Kick 'im, the bastard nearly got me!" "Mother fucking - you guys sit on 'im 'e jumps too much." "Ow! My eye! My eye!" "You're dead, mother-fucker!"

NO!

 

He willed his heart rate to slow down. They would have killed me. I killed them first.

The wolf whined again, perturbed. Hunt. Kill. Fight. It didn't see much difference.

Not killed. Defended. There is a difference.

Killed.

Defended.

Defended? Or went berserk? How would I know?

The wolf is just part of you. Just another part of you. Like your stomach. Or your brain.

But my stomach hurts.

He opened his eyes.

"Well?"

He suddenly wanted to get away, far away from this man and his strange kindness. All too strange.

Wolfram was still watching him, still as stone. He wanted to reach out and touch that stone. Touch stone. Touchstone. No, not that. Hungry. I'm hungry and hallucinating.

Maybe.

The door was open and Oz looked towards it, rather than at the man with the yellow eyes who was waiting for his answer. My answer? Like he'd ever need anything from me.

Touchstone.

"I get your point. Sir. And thanks for the offer. Can I sleep on it?" Crude, crude. Gauche. You're better off without me in your pack.

Pack! The word rolled over his tongue, cutting a red hot swathe through his mind. Pack was a leaping fairy bright word in a world of darkness, too precious and intimate for him tonight. Or ever.

No, he told himself. No.

Yes.

Wolfram gestured. "Door's open. Elevator's outside. Do you have a place to spend the night?"

"Yea. Yea I do."

"Good. Then make your way to it and be careful, young Oz. This is not a city to be alone in." He touched a button. "There will be a car outside to convey you wherever you wish to go. The streets are dangerous at night."

Oz nearly smiled, nearly spoke again, thought better of it and walked out silent and alone.

Jared Wolfram waited till he heard the swish of the elevators, and then turned back to his intercom. "Send Stevenson down to the lobby to take care of the boy."

"Yes sir."

He cut the connection and his expression hardened.

A far more interesting night than he could have imagined. Now all he had to do was wait and see.

This time he wouldn't lose. He couldn't lose.

He went to the window and smiled at the sky.

Luna was rising. Full moon tonight.

 

"Wolfram and Hart are what?!"

"The royal house of werewolves. Kind of clan."

"But that's ridiculous!"

"Can someone pass me the bread?" Cordelia looked at the two men. "What? I'm listening, I just want more bread!"

Angel passed it to her, continuing his conversation with Wesley. "I know, the name is sort of a dead give-away."

"It's preposterous!" Wesley poured another glass of wine for himself, and took a delicate sip. "Oz could be in terrible danger."

"Why's that?"

"Well-" Wesley speared another bite of chicken and ate it first, chewing each mouthful thirty times.

"You know, Wesley, there are situations that call for a little less etiquette and a lot more talking."

"-Excuse me for having had a decent upbringing," he washed down the mouthful with another sip of wine, "Anyway, yes, as I was saying, Oz has killed -"

"Oz didn't do it!" interjected Cordelia.

Wesley sighed. "Oz has marked territory in an already established pack area. That targets him for retribution of some sort."

Angel looked puzzled. "I thought wolves marked territory by-"

"Wolves, yes, werewolves no. And I hardly think this is suitable dinner conversation with a lady present -" indicating Cordelia the oblivious.

"Does anyone know where the TV clicker is? I want to watch ER. That is, if we're done with the discussion. Are we done?"

Angel turned to Wesley. "You were saying?"

"No TV until you've done the dishes, young lady." Wesley told her sternly, then continued his conversation with Angel, ignoring the outraged "What?!" from Cordelia. "If we want Oz alive, we have to find him before they do."

"And just how do we manage that?"

"His van." This suddenly from Cordelia. All eyes turned to her.

"His van?"

"Well, how else did he get here? Giles said he drove away in it. Shouldn't be too difficult to find a zebra striped van in a city full of... strange people. Anyway, he's bound to be somewhere near it."

"Good call, Cordy." Angel smiled.

"Thank you. Are we done now?"

The men rolled their eyes. "Apparently." "We're done."

"So you do the dishes, and I'll watch TV - for news, I swear! You guys want to know what's happening in the news, right?" She looked to them for confirmation. "Besides, I did the dicing and my hands are tired. I might break the dishes. Please?"

They gave up with a sigh. Cordelia Chase versus a vampire and a rogue demon hunter. It just wasn't a fair fight.

 

" - And in another groundbreaking speech, Senator Matheson - click " Cordelia flipped channels.

" - the only freshener you'll EVER need - click "

" - There's a bomb on the bus! -"

"Ooh Keanu!" She settled down happily.

Knock, knock.

"Someone else get it!" she yelled.

Angel came out, wearing an apron, drying his hands on a towel. "Cordelia, get inside the bedroom."

"But I'm watching Speed!"

Wesley appeared behind Angel, adjusting a crossbow. "Cordelia, has the reason for our presence here completely slipped your mind?"

"What? Oh! Oh!" she jumped off the couch and ran into the bedroom. The men heard the door close, the snick of the lock and heavy dragging sounds that indicated she was forming some kind of barricade.

Angel looked at Wesley. "Think she'll be safe."

"In that case, would you care to do the honours?"

He sighed, and checked that the chain was still firmly on the door. Opening it partway -

He flung it wide open. "OZ! Come in."

Wesley merged into the shadows, crossbow at the ready.

The red-haired boy stepped in carefully. "Nice outfit."

Angel looked down. "What? Oh-" he stripped off the apron. "I was doing dishes."

"Cool." Oz swayed slightly as the door closed behind him. Angel drew back ever so slightly, then moved to support him as he sagged against the wall.

"Oz?"

The boy leaned into his shoulder for a while then stood upright again. "I'm good. Just... haven't eaten anything in a while."

"And you're not going to start now," Wesley came out of the shadows, crossbow at the ready. "Let go of him you fiend!"

Oz looked at Angel, then back at Wesley. "It's ok, he's not holding me."

"I MEANT you! Angel, step aside, it's a trick." Wesley motioned with the crossbow, which Angel took from him the next second.

"Wes, did anyone ever tell you that you have a real trust issue?" he tossed the bow away.

"Angel, NO! How do you know - oh," as the vampire tapped his nose. "Well, yes, it's a mistake anyone could make."

Oz looked at the two of them. "Guys?"

A muffled thumping could be heard, and Cordelia burst out of Angel's room. She took one look at the scene, then screamed and ran into Oz's arms. "OZ! You're here! You're safe!" she broke away long enough to glare at Wesley. "I TOLD you he was good!"

"Uh, thanks," the subject of her validation tried to wriggle out of her embrace. "It's just that... you're choking me. Height difference."

"What? Oh. Oh, sorry," she jumped back. "Did you just get here? What happened to you? Why were you next to all those bodies - help!" she ran behind Angel. "He growled at me!"

Oz looked sheepish. "Sorry. Stomach does that if I haven't eaten all day."

Wesley looked at him. "You haven't eaten?"

Oz nodded.

"All day?"

Puzzled look; then another nod.

"Well that's a relief!" said Wesley, beaming. All was apparently right with the world.

Angel spoke to the bewildered Oz. "Dinner's in the kitchen. This way."

He followed them. "Um, you guys were expecting me?"

"Sort of." Angel was putting plates into the microwave. "Cordelia had a vision."

"Cordelia?" he looked at her. "Cool. And Wesley."

"Oh, he doesn't have visions." Cordelia dismissed him airily. "He's the rogue demon hunter."

"Wow." Oz was silent a while. "How's Doyle?"

Angel and Cordelia froze. After a minute, Angel spoke very carefully. "He's - gone."

Oz closed his eyes. "I'm sorry."

"It's ok."

"I mean about this-" his voice gave out as he crashed to the floor.

 

He could hear whispers in the dark. "Think he'll be ok?"

"...over-taxed, I suppose, if he really went through a lycanthropic conversion with no sustenance...

"... Hello! He fainted dead away! Doesn't that convince you WUSS-ley! He didn't eat those people!"

"... Cordelia, at some point in time you're going to have to accept that he did kill them..."

"You're just saying that to be mean!"

"It could have been self-defence."

"Still he wouldn't ..."

The sounds faded and he became aware that he was lying on a bed and someone else was in the room with him, a dark shape pressing against the tiny sliver of light that came in from the other room... as the light was cut off completely, he realised that someone had been closing the door.

He was grateful. He didn't want to think of what the voices had been saying.

Someone moved to the bed. "You're awake."

Angel. "Yeah."

"Think you could eat something?"

"Uhh..." his head really hurt.

"Hold on."

Door opened, closed. Sounds, as if in argument, then Angel was back, carrying something that smelled good, even though his stomach rebelled.

He tried to sit up as Angel put the bowl on the side table, but was prevented by strong vampiric hands that lifted his head and adjusted his pillows so that his head was almost upright.

"You shouldn't eat too much at first, so I'm going to feed you."

"That's really not..." the darkness swam with the effort of speaking. "Thanks."

The room was quiet for a while, except for the clink of spoon on bowl and the soft sound of swallowing. At last, Angel put the bowl away and stared at Oz, whose night vision had returned.

"So. Are you up to answering a few questions?"

He shrugged. "Now's as good a time as any, I guess."

"Good. I found your wallet -" Oz held up his hand, and Angel fell silent.

His strength was returning quickly, but not that quickly. He leaned back and closed his eyes, counting the seconds. At ten, he spoke. "It was self defence. They were going to ..." His throat was too tight to continue.

After a while Angel broke into the silence. "I see."

"No you don't! You weren't there!" Shocked by his own desperation, he wrested control of himself and began watching his breathing. One... two... three... Angel waited in silence.

...four...five...six...

Oz spoke calmly to himself. No need for any of this now. Nails; go back in. Teeth, stop growing. Hair, fall out. No, not all the hair!

His hair was red this week.

Willow.

God, he missed her so much, his insides hurt. But even that was healing now, or maybe the pain was dulled by the fresh scabs he'd been accumulating through the months of loneliness, away from any companionship, just driving around, alone.

Werewolves can never form stable relationships with humans.

How did he know that? Maybe he guessed.

...fifteen... sixteen...seventeen...breathe

He spoke softly. "I tried. I tried so damned hard to control it. But they were gonna rape me. It was either them or me."

Angel nodded. "Self defence."

He laughed bitterly. "Yeah. Self defence."

Angel got up from the bed. "You need to sleep. We'll talk more tomorrow."

"Wait. Cordelia, Wesley... they know."

He could see Angel's shoulders hunch, then relax, knew he had disturbed the vampire's equilibrium. It wasn't a comforting thought.

"Cordelia is the seer. She saw you with your... with the bodies."

"She still doesn't believe I did it."

Angel laughed softly. "She has the scourge of Europe for a boss and still demands a pay raise every Thursday."

He couldn't grin, though he knew he should appreciate Angel's attempt to lighten the situation. "They're afraid of me. Or will be."

An almost imperceptible shrug from the vampire. "They're afraid of me."

Oz leaned back against pillows, feeling somehow incredibly old. "It's not the same."

Angel made as if to shrug again, then moved off. "Sleep now. You're tired."

"Angel..." the words didn't come out and after a while the vampire left him alone in the darkness.

The words came then, raw and unheard. "You were going to say, 'my kill', weren't you? 'She saw you with your kill.'" Damn. Damn bloody damn. I thought you might understand. Hell. He made a fist and thrust it into the mattress beneath him, once, twice.

It was times like this he wished he knew how to cry.

 

They looked up guiltily as he entered. "Is he...?"

"Sleeping now. Don't talk too loudly," he turned to the kitchen and they followed him.

"Angel, Wesley says..."

"Look Cordy," Angel spun around and glared at her, "He did what he had to do in self-defence, ok? Get this straight; He Did It. Do I have to spell it out for you? He was being brutally attacked, he did his best to control the beast, but it was either their lives or his. Which would you have preferred anyway?"

She looked at him in total shock. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that sometimes... there are grey areas. When what's wrong and what's right don't really make sense. Right now, Oz doesn't need you to question his humanity, he doesn't need you to keep pretending that he's incapable of killing someone; he needs you to understand that he could have, he did and it's over! Deal with your issues on your own time and don't, for G - for someone's sake, don't keep saying 'he didn't do it'. He did do it and the sooner you can accept that, deal with it and move on, the sooner you're gonna stop hurting him."

She opened her mouth, snapped it shut, and left the room. Angel followed her. "Cordy,"

"Well, we've found Oz and obviously you know what to do next, so I'm just going to go home to my OWN bed and try and get some sleep."

"Cordy, listen,"

She flung up a hand. "No, no, me and my big mouth, we're obviously in the way, so I'm just going to butt out and let Mr. Sensitivity and Tact handle the situation."

"Cordy, you know that's not -"

"I'll walk you home." Wesley cut in quietly.

"What?" He glared at Wesley who silently formed the words "Give her time" with his lips. He shrugged and waited as Cordelia glanced around for her things, realised they were all in Angel's room, and gave up.

"I'll get my stuff later. Let's go before he-man here decides to flex his muscles again." Cordelia stalked out without so much as a glance towards Angel. Wesley gave him an apologetic look before catching up with her.

"Good night," he called, unheard as the door closed behind them, cutting off his words. "Walk carefully," he muttered. At least Wesley had the crossbow.

He knew Cordelia wasn't really angry with him. She had had to cope with a tremendous shock and her inability to deal with the situation adequately had transformed itself into frustration at his high handedness. It wasn't like they had really left him all alone to deal with this. They'd be back in the morning. For now, they just needed some time. Some space. Yea, yea, he thought sardonically. Then why do I feel like my best friends are dumping me? Oh wait, that's because they are dumping me.

He went back to the kitchen and found the remains of the wine that Wesley had brought over. Drank it and threw the bottle away. Getting Soft, Angelus, ex-big bad mean mother... time was when you needed nothing and nobody. And now look at you. This is disgusting. He went into the living room and sat down on the couch, forcing himself to concentrate on specifics.

It had been self-defence. He trusted Oz to tell the truth. Self-defence.

Against a gang of kids?

Self-defence.

The brutal mutilation of five boys who were barely in their teens justified as self-defence. No, not justified. Just... hell, rough or no, they'd had souls worth saving too!

Souls worth saving... what kind of soul saving am I doing anyway? Who'm I kidding, a vampire saving souls? I should have listened to my Father and studied for the priesthood. Maybe then I'd have some idea...

Punish me Father, I've been a bad boy.

He laid his head back and closed his eyes.

It would almost be funny if it weren't so tragic.

 

They walked in silence for a block, neither wanting to be the first to speak.

The chilly wind made that decision for them. Cordelia shivered, and Wesley pulled off his coat and offered it to her. "Shall we see if we can find a cab?"

She put his coat on and shook her head. "At this time of night? I'd be afraid of any cabbie who'd take us for a fare."

"It's still some way to go. Are you sure?"

She nodded. "I can do it if you can."

He smiled and they continued in almost companionable silence.

"He walks a tight rope, our Angelus."

His voice was so soft that she wasn't sure she'd heard him correctly. "Excuse me?"

"Angel," he clarified. "This entire business with Oz is striking a mite too close to home, if you ask me."

She tightened her lips. "Can we not discuss this?"

He shook his head. "Unless you plan on taking the rest of the week off and not seeing Angel for all that time."

"No," she refused to elaborate.

"Give him a chance, Cordelia. You know-"

"I KNOW that I don't need you to mediate for me."

"Someone has to!" He stopped and glared at her. "Grow up, Cordelia. Oz and Angel need your help and you're going to have to give it to them. Now admit that this situation scares you and get it over with!"

"Admit - what, it doesn't scare you too?" she flung it back in his face.

"I'm petrified," he agreed softly and she was disarmed. "And I never knew Oz as well as the two of you did. But I trust Angel." He gave her a sidelong glance. "Even though he is still a vampire and straddles a very narrow line."

For a moment when she looked at him, the fear in her eyes made his heart stop. Then the moment passed and she was Cordelia again. "Yea, and if he crosses the line, there's a bottle of blessed Evian in my drawer to push him back."

Wesley smiled. "I'm sure that strikes the fear of God into his heart." As well as laughter into the heart of whichever priest you got to bless it. Evian? He kept that thought to himself.

"Hmm."

Silence for another block.

"If it makes you feel better, I have a silver adze head -" he offered.

"I won't need it," she said a shade too quickly.

He stopped and grasped her by the arm. "Cordelia, it's alright to be afraid and it's only sensible to take precautions. You don't fight demons by pretending they don't exist, you fight them after taking self-defence classes."

"Wow."

"What?"

"That almost made sense," she said, awed. "Though the precaution bit sounded like sex-ed to me."

"Harrumph. Thank you. I think," he muttered as an afterthought.

"Can we keep walking now?"

"Sorry."

After another few minutes,

"So this axe head?"

"Adze."

"Whatever. This ads head,"

"It'll be in your desk drawer tomorrow morning."

"As long as Angel doesn't see it."

"What kind of ninny do you think I am? No, don't answer that."

She laughed a little; then sobered. "I won't apologize to him," she warned.

"You won't need to," he promised, relieved. "Just... come in to work on time. And make the coffee?"

"That's pushing it."

He shrugged. "I had to hope."

 

So have you decided yet, cub?

Grey haunted his dreams and red coloured his nightmares. He tossed and turned on an alien bed, trying to escape his own memories, but deep yellow eyes insisted on calling him back to face them.

The boys lay before him in tragic splendour. He fought against the restraints of the dream.

No, no, it wasn't that way. They weren't, they weren't... they would've killed me!

Killer. Murderer. Beast.

Frere, called the spectre of his dreams. Have you decided yet?

Self-defence! He pleaded, fighting against the faceless men who were bearing him away to the scaffold. He saw the hanging tree stark and bare against a blood-red sky that waited to swallow him whole and struggled with all his might. Self-defence! He screamed.

Not bloody likely, laughed the beast, standing over his prone and shivering body, opening its mouth to reveal a fanged, dripping maw. Not... bloody...likely...

And as the first drop of blood rolled off the wolf's tongue, he awoke, straining bolt upright in Angel's bed.

Fear aroused the wolf. Why are we not with pack?

He couldn't answer that on an empty stomach, so he went looking for food.

There was nobody in the apartment, but a note on the fridge that said, "Oz, we're upstairs. Eat and join us. A."

"PS - Do-nuts on top of the microwave. Cordelia."

He smiled a little shakily, and fixed breakfast.

 

Riding the elevator upstairs, he heard the sounds coming through the door of the office, but assumed it was just Angel, Cordy and Wes talking. So the petite blonde woman standing next to Angel was a complete surprise.

"Uh, you're busy," he said inanely. "I'll just -"

"No, no, really, I'm done," the woman jumped to her feet. "I don't want to keep you from the paying customers, Angel. Thanks for your time."

Angel waved his hand. "Oh, that's alright, Kate. Kate, Oz, Oz, Kate. Oz's a friend from... back where I used to live."

They shook hands and then Kate turned to Angel again. "I really should get going, but if you find anything... you'll let me know?"

Angel nodded, a bit cagily, thought Oz. "Sure."

"Thanks. I know it's a stupid idea, but..." she shrugged. "Nice meeting you Oz."

Exit Kate, Stage Right. Leaving me with three extremely silent people. Hmm. Very silent.

"Thanks for the do-nuts," he said after a long pause. The sound of his voice seemed to jump-start everyone's machinery because -

"Oh, that's ok. Angel, can I go get moccachino?" That was Cordelia.

"I'll go with you," said Wesley at once, and the two of them disappeared.

And then there were two. Angel hadn't said a word yet.

I can wait. He watched the sunlight hit against the blinds, and attempt to barge in. Uh-uh. Vampire office. Keep out Sun.

Angel finally met his eyes. "Sit down Oz. There are a couple of things you need to know."

"Ok," he sat down and waited. Obviously not good.

Angel looked at him sombrely. "You're in terrible danger here."

Oz didn't blink. I kinda thought it wouldn't be good.

"Two things. First, Kate is a detective with the LAPD. She's also had some experience with the underbelly of life here in LA."

"Underbelly?"

"My kind of underbelly."

"Got that."

"She's investigating -"

"My kind of kill."

Angel glanced up, startled. "Yea," he said after a beat. "And given that she knows vampires and demons aren't exactly fairy tales, the autopsy convinced her that maybe werewolves weren't too far out of the ordinary either."

So. His stomach plummeted and he wished he hadn't eaten all the do-nuts. "What's the second thing?"

"I didn't tell her about you."

"I figured. So what's the second thing."

"Oh. Right. The second thing is that you've marked territory within another pack's area. That's the real danger here - see, there's this werewolf pack that thinks they rule my city,"

"Wolfram."

"Wolfram and Hart-" Angel paused. "You know them?"

He shrugged. "Wolfram offered me a place in the pack yesterday."

"They what?"

"It's an unusual thing to happen, I know."

"This makes it worse."

Oz blinked. "Excuse me? I thought this would be good news."

The vampire was pacing around his desk. "No, no. You don't know these people. Wolfram and Hart run a prestigious law firm that covers up most of the shady deals in this city. They defend demons, drug lords, the scum of the universe... we've had some altercations before."

"Really."

"Yea... they offered you a place in the pack? I've never heard of such a thing, but I'm not the expert," Angel looked up. "How long does it take to get coffee anyway? Excuse me a second." He disappeared into the inner office.

Oz closed his eyes for a second, trying to reconcile 'scum of the universe' with the man who had held him as he vomited into a trash basket and then offered him the shelter of his own roof.

The wolf whined softly. Pack.

That's all you can think of. Pack.

He had to admit though, that he was feeling some serious irritation here. He just wasn't sure with whom.

What kind of proof do you have against Wolfram anyway? Down boy. You don't trust Angel, who can you trust?

Thanks for the do-nuts Cordy. I ate them all so it's safe for you and Wesley to hang around the office.

Down boy. It was a nice gesture.

Or a precaution.

We rarely form stable relationships with humans. They demand too much from us.

Angel isn't human.

Don't tell him that. He might be hurt.

Um. Is this my mind and am I alone here?

Angel came back in, holding a huge book the size of the telephone directory. "Tell me what happened, exactly. In your own words."

"Exactly what happened, but in my own words." It was pitiful compared to the real thing, but the memory would have to do. At least until he met Wolfram again and -

And what? Cowered at his feet? Licked his boots? Face it man, you want to see him again.

Pack, affirmed the wolf. Pack.

There was a difference in the way he visualised the word today. Yesterday, 'pack' had been a wistful hope; 'pack-that-should-be'. Today, it was 'pack-that-is' or 'pack-that-will-be'.

His loyalties were shifting and for a moment he felt guilty. Wolves are better at this. They rely on scents and don't complicate the world with issues of trust or betrayal.

Get out of my mind. It's gotta be unhealthy.

"Oz?" Angel had his finger in a page and was waiting for him to say something.

Introspect later. Interrogation now. "Sorry, what was that?"

"He called you 'frere'?"

"Rhymes with 'fair', but the extra 'r'? Yea."

"You sure about that?"

"Yea. What's it mean?"

Angel looked like he'd bitten something and he wasn't sure what it tasted like. "Cub of the pack litter. Cousin."

"Cousin."

"A term of acceptance, I think."

Acceptance. For the Not-pack. For Not-we.

Imagine that.

Sunshine flooded his heart and he had to force himself to pay attention to the next question.

"It's obvious why they invited you in," declared Wesley over a late lunch. He'd taken over the questioning due to his 'superior knowledge of werewolf customs'.

"It is?" he asked, toying with the lettuce and wondering if he could have ordered his steak any rarer. Superior knowledge my eye, do you know that we - they prefer to be called loup-garou?

"Yes," Wesley chewed meticulously, swallowed, then spoke again. "They must know of your connection to Angel and are hoping to manipulate it."

"Huh." Ice water froze in his veins. "They'd know something like that?"

"Indubitably." Wesley speared another piece of lettuce. "Wolfram and Hart have fingers in every pie of note. Angel Investigations has been a thorn in their side for six months now."

"Six months?" he had to keep calm, he couldn't go berserk in a public place. Maybe he could and call it self-defence. Anyone who'd had lunch with Wesley would sympathise.

"That's how long we've been in operation," coughed Wesley modestly. "I remember this one time," he was off and running into a long tale about how he had bested W&H single-handed and rescued Angel from their clutches with a little help from Cordelia. Oz listened hungrily.

"... so though we haven't yet gathered concrete evidence, it's obvious that they are, as you would put it, the bad guys."

Haven't yet gathered concrete evidence. That left room for reasonable doubt. Doubt that the man who'd helped him had been lying ... or was it all an act? All of it? To manipulate him?

Then why had he been allowed to leave?

To manipulate him.

Oz realised that he'd shredded all his lettuce and was beginning to dice his steak. The knife was a shade too blunt for that, and he could feel his nails growing in response.

None of that. Down boy. Good boy.

Wesley was eyeing him curiously. "Aren't you hungry?"

He put the knife down. "Not really."

Wesley looked sympathetic. "Not to be wondered at considering... ah, hem. Yes, well."

Be cool, Wesley. I don't bite. Not you anyway. You make me sick, accusing Wolfram without any proof - Get a grip! he told himself savagely. This was a man whom he'd met for maybe one hour -

Who'd seen right through him and held him through a nightmare.

Who'd be within his rights to kill me but offered me shelter instead.

But wait. I forgot. That was to manipulate me.

He wondered, as Wesley sipped his coffee, if he could take down a man like Wolfram and survive. He'd killed Veruca and that had been difficult enough.

No, he decided, as they paid the bill and walked back to the office, no he probably wouldn't survive an encounter with Wolfram. The man was tough and canny, and probably had more experience staying alive after battles than Oz had winning them.

He was still going to visit Wolfram tonight. The man owed him an explanation.

Did you want to jerk Angel's chain? Is that why you offered me -

Understanding. Belonging. A place with you.

Stop that.

Breathe. Breathe again. Inhale. Exhale.

I need to know. I need to know why you're doing this to me.

You just want to see him again, don't you?

Yea, I do. Damn it, I'm angry and confused. I want an explanation. Maybe I even want to kill him.

Inside, the wolf grinned and hung out his tongue. I want to see him too. And you won't kill him.

Maybe. Maybe I won't.

Stop lying. We'll go tonight.

Tonight. The word drummed like a promise, dizzying in anticipation.

Tonight. He'll be there.

Yes.

Waiting.

For me?

Don't get your hopes up.

 

"For the night watch-"

"Wesley, we don't need to do this."

"Angel, it is imperative that one of us be with him at all times."

"Wesley. We've been hovering over him all day. He might start thinking we don't trust him to be alone."

"But we DON'T trust him alone!"

"Wesley, Oz is not a prisoner."

"He's a werewolf whose morphic functions are not subject to the lunar calendar!"

"Whosa wassa?"

"He can change when it's not full moon, Cordy."

"Right. I knew that."

"Cordelia? You're here?"

"Just came in."

"Then where's Oz?"

"He went for a walk - hey watch out!" She flattened herself against the doorway as Angel and Wesley stampeded out; then turned to the empty room for a clue. "Did I miss something?"

 

He knew the car would be waiting for him at the same corner, and he wasn't surprised that the guard of the previous evening was missing.

They took the same route as yesterday, only this time his heart hammered with sick dread, nausea and expectation. Kind of the way he felt on his first date with Willow, only without the love.

He fought hard to maintain his habitual calm, trying to control anticipation and disgust amidst the bubbling sea of questions. He was here to ask questions. Here to find out the truth.

Here to speak with Wolfram.

Down boy.

The elevator seemed slower today, or maybe it was just him. He would have run through the doors once it stopped, but he had a feeling that Wolfram might appreciate decorum.

The man looked up in welcome as he walked into the room. "Oz."

"Did you offer me a place in your pack to get back at Angel?" Rudeness works too.

Wolfram showed no rancour. "I take it you've been speaking to him."

"Did you know?"

Wolfram half-smiled. "Oh, we knew of the connection alright, but that's not what the offer was about." He leaned back comfortably and looked at Oz. "If you thought that was it then why would you come here?" Smiling. Teasing.

Oz couldn't smile back. "So your offer has nothing to do with Angel."

The man leaned back. "Nothing at all. The vampire thinks too highly of himself. This is purely a pack matter. He's just a-" he dismissed Angel with a wave of the hand.

"Ma-sheeda burk-hoy?"

Wolfram's grin had a lot more teeth in it. " M'c'sheeda b'khoy. You have to click your tongue in the middle. And I have only your word that he's a flea ridden offal feeder."

"You called me that twice last night."

Wolfram waved him to a seat. "You've never used a swear word before?"

Oz remained standing. He wanted to sit. He wanted to smile. But one more question first. "Angel said you're involved in drugs. Shady deals. Is he mistaken?"

Say yes. Say yes.

"No."

No. No?

He shook his head, as if to clear it. "Would you mind repeating that?"

Wolfram laughed. "What, you expected some other answer? No." He stood up and crossed the desk, moving towards Oz, stopping only when the two of them were almost touching. "We are predators. We prey. On occasion Angel has interfered with our business because he has some antiquated notions of morality." The hand was right above his shoulder, almost touching. "He knows nothing of pack. All we do is for the pack. Does that make us evil?"

Cold water. He was drenched in freezing cold water. Dogs hate baths.

Oz repressed an urge to shudder. "You - what?"

"Come now, Oz." The hand on his shoulder was unbearably light, almost caressing. "Wolves prey upon other creatures. So do humans. We're not saints, and I never pretended we were. We are loup-garou. We survive the way we can."

He moved back. "Tell me you're lying." Wolves don't lie. They can smell it a mile away.

Wolfram shook his head. "No. I never have yet. Not to frere ."

"I'm NOT your frere ." He took another step back. "Tell me the truth. This is to get back at Angel, isn't it?"

Wolfram watched him move. "No. This is a pack matter. That is all."

A pack matter. What the hell does that mean?

Oz shook his head slowly. "You actually thought I'd join you."

Hooded topaz eyes stared at him, unblinking.

"Jesus." It hit him then.

Still no words from the man.

He laughed, ugly and sick. "And I thought killing those kids would make people hate me."

A tiny shrug. "We are predators. Hunting is only natural. And in any case -"

"Oh Jesus." I thought you understood. I thought you accepted. Oh Jesus. I didn't think you'd approve .

"Oz. Killing without reason is wasteful. It's against our laws."

"WASTEFUL?!" he spat out. "So what's a good reason to kill?"

Wolfram was calm. So bloody calm. "In defence of yourself, or pack, that's one."

"How about money? Is profit a good reason?"

"All we do is for the pack."

"Pack."

The word was supposed to be a jewel lighting the darkness. Tonight he only felt the weight and none of the fire.

"You don't know what pack is about. If you knew-"

"No. The answer is no."

"Oz. Consider what you are saying."

"No."

"You will set yourself against the pack."

"Yes." NO screamed the wolf. NO. not alone, not alone, not alone he died into confused murmuring.

"You'd rather castrate yourself to humankind? Become their dog?" the man was sneering at him. The man whose approval he wanted above all else was sneering at him.

Because he was unworthy. Not-pack. Just Oz.

"Don't do this." An abrupt shift in tone. Oz shuddered. "Cubling, don't do this."

No. No, YOU don't do this. Don't be kind. Don't pretend to be kind.

"Oz -" The hand was out again, Wolfram's hand, the hand of the alpha male inviting him into the pack. His pack. Where he belonged. Without which he would never belong anywhere.

The pack that would accept him as a killer.

No, not killer. It was in self-defence. Fucking self-serving shit.

"Oz, you know we are pack. You've known it since last night."

His voice was a whisper. "How can you ask me to join..."

"Can you honestly tell me you wish to remain alone? That you can face the rest of your life without - this pack?"

Without me? That's your question, isn't it?

No.

Yes.

That's your answer.

But yet -

Wolfram's voice was so soft and low. Cutting straight through to his heart. To all he'd ever wanted. "Is it so hard to believe, Oz? Yes, we are predators. But even predators can love. Predators can have family. That is pack. That's what this is all about. How can you turn your back on it?" The hand was squeezing his shoulder now, the grip almost painful, but a searing pain that sent fire lancing through his groin. "Can you walk away from what I can show you Oz? Can you really turn your back on me?"

I can't.

I must.

But why? Why me?

He never knew what he might have said, because at that very moment, a familiar voice drawled. "Is this personal or can anyone cut in?"

Two men in black stood in the doorway, one holding a crossbow, the other stone hard and unyielding. Wesley and Angel. Why was it getting so hard to think?

Wesley trained the crossbow on Wolfram. "Oz. Move."

Wolfram smiled at him. "Gentlemen. I don't believe we've met?"

"I'm Wyndham Price and my crossbow fires silver tipped darts. Do you require further introduction? I didn't think so. Oz, move!"

Angel stepped forward. "Let him go."

Wolfram moved back, palms open disarmingly. "The boy is free to leave at anytime. I don't make a business of constraining people - as you well know from the number of times you've walked through my building."

Oz didn't move.

Angel snarled. "What have you done to him? Is it a spell?"

"Perhaps he doesn't want to leave?"

"Oz?" He knew that voice. It was Angel. The vampire. He had something important to tell Angel.

"He isn't using me against you, Angel."

"Oz, you don't know what you're doing, he's-"

"I know, Wesley." Silenced, the vampire and the demon hunter watched Oz move towards Wolfram.

Oz didn't stop until he was close enough to reach out and touch Wolfram's hand. But he didn't. Reach out. And touch.

He spoke so that they couldn't hear. "Why me? Truth."

Yellow eyes looked at him. "I've only been truthful with you."

"It was never about him. Only a pack matter."

Wolfram nodded. "Yes."

"You wouldn't lie to me about that." He knew that. It was a statement. For the sake of saying something.

God, why didn't you lie to me about the - recruitment? You should have lied.

But wolves can smell a lie a mile away.

" Frere -"

"No. Don't call me that." He swallowed convulsively. "I'm leaving."

An infinitesimal pause when their eyes met and he nearly gave in -

Ask me. Ask me again.

I may still say no.

- before the man shrugged. "Your choice. If we find you against us at anytime, we will kill you."

He nodded, throat dry. The wolf whimpered. It was a choice he understood.

But damn him, damn his soul he had to speak again, but this time softly, so only he would hear. "And Oz, if ever you choose to join us again, at anytime, you will be welcome. That is pack."

Oz closed his eyes and shuddered. No. No, don't make it this way. Give me an ultimatum. Don't be this cruel.

Unnoticed, Wesley made an urgent move towards Oz, but Angel, who understood the laws between sire and child motioned him to stand still.

Wolfram just waited.

Oz spoke again. "Thanks. Thanks for ... for yesterday."

"That too was pack," said Wolfram softly.

Oz nodded. Once, twice. Reached out to touch hands, thought better of it.

Damn you.

He turned around and left, without looking at either of the two men still standing guard, watching over his exit, unmoving as he passed through them, through the doors and into the sleek grey elevator that was shaped like death.

Damn the pack.

The wolf cowered. no

This time, he didn't dignify it with a reply.

 

Wesley gave Angel a startled glance as he heard the sounds of the elevator in use. "Did he just -?" He realised the crossbow wasn't pointing at their adversary any longer and swiftly moved it back into position.

Silence filled the room, magnetic and charged, sparking off the words that were still hanging in the air. Angel held Wolfram's gaze and neither was giving an inch. Wesley gulped and wondered if he should interrupt. It seemed impolite.

At last, Wolfram growled low in his throat. It may have been a laugh. It may have been something else.

Angel looked at him and slowly, carefully, allowed himself to smile.

Then Wolfram looked away. "Gentlemen, I believe your presence here is superfluous." His tone was polite, courtly, as though he were pressing them to another cup of tea. "I assume you killed my guards -"

Angel grinned. "They're gagged in the restroom. Sorry, but you won't be having the pleasure of defending me in court just yet."

Wolfram stared at Angel, expression indecipherable, then let out a long breath. "Well done. For that, I give you thirty seconds to leave the building."

"We'll take our own time, thanks." Angel felt in his pockets and handed Wolfram a card. "My card. Feel free to drop in for a doggy biscuit anytime. We'll keep some especially for you."

The man snarled. ( A hit! thought Wesley. But why? ) "That cub doesn't belong with your kind!"

"That cub has a name, and it's Oz, thank you."

"He isn't yours," said Wolfram, with a kind of triumph.

"He's not yours either. He's his own man. Always will be."

Wolfram smiled savagely and turned his back on them, insolently moving behind his desk. "What do you know of pack? He cannot be alone. Sooner or later, he will seek out his own kind."

"You're not his kind." Angel, deadly sure.

The smile remained on Wolfram's face while the rest of his expression melted away. "I gave you thirty seconds to leave. I am not known to be a generous man."

Angel bowed elaborately. "Don't bother to show us out, we'll find our own way." He nudged Wesley, who hefted his crossbow and stalked out after him.

Behind them the doors closed.

"What was that all about?" asked Wesley, jogging to keep up with Angel.

"Later," terse and anxious, one fist drumming against his side as they run to the elevator. "We have twenty seconds to get out of here."

"What? But I thought you -"

"Machismo," he shrugged and jumped into the elevator as the doors opened.

Fifteen seconds to ride down. Thump, thump went Angel's fist.

"Are you expecting something to happen?" Wesley refitted the darts in his crossbow. On cue, the elevator stopped and the doors opened.

"JUMP!" Angel grabbed Wesley and thrust him out into the car park, following hard on his heels. The two men rolled and rolled... (5...4...3...2...1...)

And the world exploded.

10

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

1

"Wesley?"

His ears were ringing.

"Wesley?" The vampire had hold of him and was shaking him awake. No, not awake. Alive. They were alive.

"What happened?"

Angel grinned. "Elevator was rigged to blow. We got out in time."

"Oh thank God. I thought we were dead." He looked at Angel, his face a mask of horror. "Oz! He -"

Angel shook his head. "Oz'll be fine. He's probably at home by now."

"What? How can you be sure?"

"I'm not. But right now, we need to get out of here before Wolfram decides we've overstayed our welcome."

"What was that then, a friendly warning?" grumbled Wesley. But he followed Angel's lead and sprinted out of the car park.

They reached the office without further incidence. Cordelia was waiting up for them, full of questions. But for once, she listened to Angel and went home without demanding the answers.

Wesley was a little harder to shake off. But he went too, after Angel reminded him that Cordelia couldn't walk back on her own.

Then he was free to go back down and rest.

He stayed up in the office instead, thinking.

The sky grew darker, and the moon was hidden behind the clouds.

No moonrise tonight. Perhaps it was just as well.

 

When he finally went down, his apartment was darker than usual. Possibly because of the person sitting in his favourite chair.

"Cordelia calls that my brooding chair," he said, lightly dropping onto the couch. "Glad you made it back in one piece."

Oz didn't look at him. "I didn't expect you to follow me there."

Angel shrugged. "I didn't expect you to attempt suicide."

He looked up at that. "You knew."

Angel wrinkled his nose. "You're not the only one with a keen sense of smell."

The boy didn't move. "I really thought he'd use it." His voice sounded harsh. Raw.

"Then it's lucky for you he didn't." At least not on you. But no need to tell him about that. Must tell Wesley to keep quiet too. "Yea, lucky for you he didn't."

"Was I lucky?" Was I just lucky ?

He was quiet for a while, considering the question and the one behind it. "No. No, I really think he meant it. That he cares for you."

"Don't say that." The boy's eyes were anguished. "Just makes it worse."

Angel shrugged. You asked. I answered. And of all people, I should understand the attraction you feel towards him. At one time, I used to be able to inspire that kind of devotion.

He permitted himself a tiny grin. Oz was looking away and didn't see. "So," he said after a while. "What happens to me now?"

Angel took his time about the answer. "You could stay here," he offered finally. "We could always use help." And you wouldn't be alone. That might be good for you. Even though we may not be your kind, I think we could try to make it work.

"My help." He laughed bitterly. "Against Wolfram? Are you sure I won't run away and join his pack?" Stay here. Help them. See the fear in their eyes and hold the wolf in control. Stay with them. Domesticated. As someone's dog. I've never known what it's like to be free. Run free. I'll never dare. Will there be chains on the full moon?

No. No chains. Except for the ones you put on yourself.

As always. Alone.

But Angel deserved an answer. Angel who did the right thing even when it hurt like hell.

"I wanted to join him, Angel," he said with abrupt honesty. "If you hadn't come in when you did -"

"Oz. Wanting and doing are two very different things. You made the right choice tonight."

The boy bowed his head, exhausted, near tears. "So when will it stop hurting?"

He had no answer for that. He had never stopped hurting. Yet he couldn't say that tonight; so they just sat quietly in the dark.

And waited for the moon to rise.

After a while, the boy fell asleep.

The vampire went to the window and looked out on his city.

No moon could be seen in the sky that night.

Perhaps it was just as well.

 

There was no moon to be seen in the sky that night. But the pack ran anyway.

They always run on moonless nights.

Did I say that Luna was their leader's mate? I chose the wrong words. Perhaps she is merely the symbol of their desire and the ultimate quarry.

But one thing is certain; on the nights when Luna doesn't rise, the pack still assembles for the other run.

See how she pirouettes through the sky when she rises; taunting and teasing, but cold and alone.

Perhaps the loup-garou can run for other reasons than we imagined.

On nights, you see, when the sky is moonless, they run through streets quiet with fear, on roads that both men and demons fear to roam, and they run though the night is moonless, when there is nothing and no one to pursue.

They run through silent haunts and ghostly alleys, shunning the abode of living creatures, seeking only the dark and the desolate where they might run free and not be forced to stop and kill as their nature demands. For the moonless night is not for lust celebrated, but for the other run, for other things, in the darkness, in the silence and the cold.

They run through the city cloaked by the dark, not killing, not taking, soundlessly loping, tongues lolling black in the stillness of night. They run, not for the chase, but for the pure joy of speed and the ecstasy of pack; for togetherness and oneness and yet through it all

On occasion one throws his head back, letting out a soundless cry, a huge knell of mourning

That heralds their leader

Is running

Alone.

.

That always.

The leader

Must run this

Alone.

.

For to lead the loup-garou

Is to run

Alone.

.

.

.

And whether moonless nights or moonlit, it is always the same story.



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Oz