It wouldn’t have been a problem if he’d stayed away from California.
It wouldn’t have been a problem if he hadn’t taken responsibility for Jordy.
It wouldn’t have been a problem if they’d gone into the mountains for the full moon.
It wouldn’t have been a problem if they’d been anywhere except for Neptune.
So in the end, it was just a coincidence. A coincidence that got him and Jordy discovered, nearly got them killed, and that led to this dinner, with this awesome girl.
And he wouldn’t change a moment.
Sunnydale fell into the center of the earth while he was somewhere in a plane over the Pacific.
The pilot announced it, sounding shaken. They were re-directed to Vancouver International in Canada, in case of “aftershocks”. Oz wondered mentally just what Buffy registered on the Richter scale, then pressed the button for assistance.
It was amazing how well an airline treats you when your hometown has just disappeared.
He was whisked right from the gate to a quiet room, given a phone to try and contact his family. He got Aunt Maureen on her cell on the first try.
It didn’t take long to get the important stuff said, but he still felt drained when he hung up the phone.
Xander had gone to his parents' house a week earlier to warn them something bad was happening. Of course he had. Despite whatever was hanging over them, despite the issues Oz and Xander had had in the past, he was still a good guy. And so he took the time to talk to Oz’s parents, to warn them to get out of Sunnydale. And to take everyone they knew and loved with them.
They didn’t go far, Aunt Maureen told him. They’d moved to Neptune, just an hour or so south of Sunnydale. There was a warm bed and a hot meal waiting for him, just as soon as he got home.
He just had to get there.
It took two days on a train to get there, but he managed it. And it was still a week to the next full moon.
That was the whole point of coming back.
Jordy’d just been a kid when he’d been bitten. For the first few years, his transformations were easy – a locked door could keep him and everyone else safe during the full moon. But over the past year, his increasing strength had tested, bent and finally broken all of the security measures they’d come to rely on.
It didn’t stop there, either. The pull of the moon made him irritable for a week on either side of the full moon, and he’d been expelled from school for the year, or until he could control his behavior.
So when Oz called home for the first time in a few months, his parents asked if he could help.
There was no magic that could turn Oz and Jordy back to what they’d been. Oz had discovered that in less than a month. But there were techniques, methods, and yes, a little bit of magic, that would let you control the wolf, let you be the wolf and not be the monster. Let you have a life.
It had taken Oz four years to master his wolf. So he said his goodbyes, packed his bag, and headed back to California.
Because if it took Jordy four years, they’d better get started right away.
It seemed to go well, at first. He settled into the family, staying with Aunt Maureen and Uncle Dave so he could be close to Jordy. He settled into a life where coffee was available on every corner, and cars were the most dangerous things on the street.
Most importantly, Jordy learned quickly. The breathing techniques calmed him, so he no longer jumped and growled at unexpected movements or loud noises. His irritability decreased, even as the full moon drew closer.
Everyone relaxed, thinking this would be one of the easiest transformations since Jordy’d been small.
The key to control was to recognize and accept the wolf. That’s what gave you the eventual ability to turn it off and on, to tune into those senses and choose to ignore or engage them as desired. It took time to understand yourself so deeply.
And no one realized how close to the surface Jordy’s wolf was.
Oz, out of everyone, should have known. After all, he was the one who’d been bitten when Jordy lost his temper all those years ago. But they’d all written it off as the temper of a six year old, not the roused defense of a wolf.
So when Jordy tuned into his wolf, a few hours before moonrise on the first night of the full moon, Oz could do nothing as he watched his cousin transform, howl at the sky and race off towards the distant mountains.
There was nothing to do but chase him.
He was easy enough to follow, at first. Sprinklers had left damp lawns, and wolf prints sank deep into the thick grass, and stood out sharply against dry sidewalks. But further from the center of town there were large estates, huge homes with huge lots, including areas left wild. Jordy passed through these like a shadow, until Oz had to tune into his own wolf to track him with scent, and to gain enough speed to catch the smaller wolf.
It was just Oz’s bad luck that he tuned into his wolf at the back of the Echolls property, between the tree line and the beach, and within sight of Veronica Mars.
He heard the startled shout of a young woman, but there was no way to reverse his transformation now that he’d tuned in, especially on a full moon night. Nothing he could do but loll his tongue apologetically and fade into the tall grass, following in Jordy’s wake.
They ran to the nearest good sized forest, and Oz watched as Jordy hunted small game. Now that Jordy was fully wolf, there was nothing to do but keep him away from people for the night and try and figure out how to get themselves home in the morning when they turned back into people – naked, cell phone-less people.
Eventually, Jordy slept, and Oz lay his muzzle over the smaller wolf’s back to make sure he couldn’t leave without warning.
Kids wake up ridiculously early, and Jordy was no different, even given his activities of the night before. Mentally, Oz amended their situation to naked, cell phone-less and un-caffeinated people – an even bigger challenge than he’d realized the night before.
And it only got worse from there.
Worse, because when they reached the edge of the trees and started looking for a way back that wouldn’t get them arrested for indecency, there was a blonde girl sitting on the hood of a car that was parked by the side of the road, with Oz’s clothes beside her.
“I can see you, you know. All that white skin stands out against the trees.”
She spoke matter-of-factly, never looking up from the book she was reading.
“I don’t suppose you could throw us something to wear?”
“What, fig leaf doesn’t do it for you?” She gibed. Even as she taunted them, she tossed Oz his t-shirt and jeans, but kept his shoes on the car.
Oz handed Jordy his t-shirt, which was just long enough for decency, if the boy hunched over a bit, and put on his own jeans. “Stay here,” he hissed, and walked out to talk to the blonde.
“Really? That’s what you’re going to start with, given what I saw last night?”
Oz shrugged. “Seemed friendlier than ‘how the hell did you find us?’”
“You must be new. Neptune isn’t exactly known for its friendliness. I’m Veronica, by the way. And you changed into a wolf last night.”
“That’s it? No trying to convince me I didn’t see what I saw?”
“I don’t think that would work on you. So I went with honesty.”
“That worries me far more than lies.”
“Probably wise of you.”
They might have gone on all day, if Jordy hadn’t called plaintively from the trees.
“Oz? I’m getting bitten by bugs and I’ve got fur in my teeth. Can we go home?”
“Oh my god, you’ve got a kid out here with you? It’s okay, kid, I’ll take you home and away from this guy.”
Jordy walked to the car, hands trying to pull down the t-shirt to try and cover himself up. “Oh, I don’t want to be away from him. Oz is my cousin, and he’s teaching me to control myself. Only I’m not real good at it yet, so he had to chase me out here to protect me and make sure I didn’t hurt anybody. We’re from Sunnydale, and stuff like that happens all the time there. I would like to go home though. I think I ate a rabbit last night, and I really want to brush my teeth.”
She drove them home.
What else could she do?
The next two nights of the full moon were uneventful. Oz had learned his lesson, and worked with Jordy inside a locked room. Jordy still changed into a playful, if strong, wolf pup, but he didn’t tear the room apart or howl the way he had been.
They were all hopeful.
Of course, Veronica showed up the next day.
She was waiting for him outside, sitting on the hood of her car again. “Got some time, Oz?”
“Would you go away if I said I didn’t?”
“Probably not. And if I did go away, I’d be back.”
“Want to grab some coffee? It’s been a long few days.”
She drove them downtown to a coffee shop, but they ordered coffee to go. Neither of them wanted this conversation overheard.
They stayed quiet until they parked at the beach and turned the car off. He got out and leaned against the hood. This wasn’t something he could talk about when he was confined.
“Jordy was six when he got bitten. I never asked my aunt and uncle who bit him, I was too busy dealing with the fact that he bit me. I was in high school, and in Sunnydale. Jordy wasn’t kidding when he said stuff like that happened all the time there. I had some friends who knew enough to lock me in a cage three days out of the month.”
He took a long sip of coffee. It had been a while since he’d had to tell the story, but it was easier now than it had been four years ago. “The cage worked fine, for a while. I was me, and the wolf was the wolf, and I didn’t have to deal with it. But then I met a girl who taught me I was the wolf and the wolf was me, and I didn’t know how to deal with that. She thought that because we were stronger than everyone else we should take whatever we wanted, and she wanted to kill my girlfriend.
“I killed her before she could.”
From the corner of his eye, he could see Veronica flinch. All he could do was finish his story and deal with the fall out. “I realized then that Veruca was right about the wolf being part of me, but I didn’t want to be controlled by it. I left town, travelled the world, looking for a way to control the wolf instead of the other way around.”
“And you succeeded, right? That’s why you’re back here, trying to teach Jordy the same things.”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“And what happened three nights ago?”
Oz shrugged. “Jordy was faster than I was at getting in touch with his wolf. Turned him unexpectedly.”
“So you chased him to make sure he didn’t hurt anyone. Just like he told me the next morning.”
They sat silently for a few minutes, staring at the ocean and sipping at their coffees.
“You realize this is impossible, right?” Veronica finally burst out. “What you’re talking about can’t possibly be true.”
“You’re the one who saw it happen. If you say it didn’t, I guess it didn’t.”
“Right. It didn’t happen, it was a bad dream, whatever. I’m going to drive you home, and I’m going to forget all about this.”
He was sure she tried. But even from their two short meetings, he could tell she wasn’t built that way. Wasn’t built for denial. Wasn’t built to ignore the truth.
So he wasn’t surprised to see her at the door a week or two later. He was surprised that she’d brought friends.
She smiled sweetly at him. That was always a danger sign with pretty, confident and dangerous blondes – he’d learned that from Buffy. “Wanna hang?” she chirped.
“I don’t think I have a choice,” he muttered, and followed her out to the car.
“Meet my posse, Oz.” Veronica said. “Logan owns the back yard we first met in, and Mac is a very good friend with a very good computer. We’ve been talking.”
Oz just looked at her. “About how nice it would be to introduce the new guy to some people? Or about things that never happened?”
“The second one. The first one is just a happy accident.” Veronica’s smile never dimmed.
“I find your enthusiasm worrying.”
“A wise man,” intoned the tall guy.
“Logan, right?” Oz asked.
“In the very flesh.”
“An admirable attempt, but the tiny blonde is rarely distracted when on a case. At least, not for more than a few hours,” he said, leering at Veronica.
Veronica stepped on Logan’s foot, but otherwise ignored him. “So I went digging on the internet. At first, all I found were novels, stories, myths, tv shows and all that usual stuff. I’d have given up right then if Mac hadn’t called. What a convenient coincidence, don’t you think?”
“Because I have skills, Daniel Osborne. And when I started looking up things about Sunnydale, you wouldn’t believe the stuff I found. And when I started breaking the encryption on that stuff… well, you really wouldn’t believe it.”
“Oh, I think I would,” Oz mumbled, staring at the short brunette. She had a blue streak in her hair and excitement in her eyes. Oh damn. He definitely had a type.
Just at that moment, Jordy came running around the corner of the house, cell phone in hand. “Hey Veronica! Thanks for driving us home from the forest last week. I promise I haven’t eaten any more rabbits. Oz, your phone rang, it’s Xander Harris.”
Oz had the phone in his hand before he even realized. “Thanks, Jordy.” He looked at Veronica with what he hoped was apology in his eyes. “I really need to take this.”
Veronica waved him off with a smile.
“Xander? You okay, man?”
“Oz? God, it’s good to hear your voice. When did you get home from… wherever you’ve been?”
“The day Sunnydale collapsed.”
There was a long silence before Xander spoke again. “Talk about timing.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t call, but thank you for letting my family know they needed to leave. It’s… I can’t even tell you.”
“Man, don’t mention it. You’d have done the same.”
“Maybe so, but you still saved them. Thanks.”
“No problem. Listen, Will… we found some weird hits on your name when we were doing some online cleanup.”
“You can say her name, Xander. What did Willow find?”
“There were some hits that she tracked back to your new homebase in Neptune.”
“Yeah, I… met some people. They’ve done some research.”
“Really? Well I hope you know what you’re dealing with. The thing is, the stuff they found, someone else used their trail to find you too. Remember Cain?”
“Oh damn indeed. Buffy said if you need backup to meet us in Oxnard, or she can send a couple of slayers to you.”
“Wait, what? A couple of slayers? What happened when I was away?”
Oz could hear Xander take a deep breath. “I… it’s too much. You’ve got to give me some time before I tell this story. But I can send you a couple of slayers. You know Faith, I could send her and Rona, if you need help.”
“Faith’s back with the Scoobies?”
Xander laughed. It sounded hollow and kind of cold to Oz, but that could have just been the phone. “Yeah, like I said, a lot’s happened. And most of it really sucks.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”
“You got the wolf under control?”
“Then you did the right thing. So, slayers?”
Oz thought for a long moment. “Like you said, I’ve got the wolf under control. I can handle Cain. But let me know if you need anything at all. I’ll be there, you know.”
“Thanks, Oz. And I’ll tell you about everything soon, I swear. I just… got to get my own stuff sorted out first.”
“No problem, Xander. Say hi to everyone for me, and tell them I’m here if they need me.”
“All right. And same goes for you if you need us.”
Jordy was still talking to Veronica and Logan when he finally looked up from the phone, telling them some exciting story that had Logan laughing and Veronica looking a little sick. Mac was standing beside him, looking at him in concern.
“You okay?” she asked.
“My friend from Sunnydale. He’s the one who told my family to get out before the collapse. Did you find that when you were digging into my past? That Sunnydale didn’t collapse due to an earthquake?”
“Hey, I’m sorry. Veronica was on a mission. You don’t know her that well yet, but when she’s on a mission you can’t stop her.”
“Sorry. I know it’s not your fault, it’s not even her fault. It’s just…he didn’t sound so good. I don’t know who is okay, who’s not okay, what’s going on… and I was too scared to ask.”
“And it sounded like you have trouble of you own.”
Oz shrugged. “No worries, I can handle him. Nothing but a werewolf hunter with a grudge.”
“How’d he find you? It’s not like you’re rampaging through the woods, leaving a trail of destruction in your wake.” Oz stared at her. “Veronica also made me watch the Ginger Snaps trilogy.”
“Followed your trail, according to Willow.”
Mac looked horrified. “I wasn’t expecting to find anything, so I wasn’t really covering my tracks. Oh god. I’m so sorry. Damn it, I know better than that.”
“Hey, it’s okay. He only wants the wolf, and so I just won’t change. It’ll be fine.”
Mac didn’t look convinced, but Jordy had headed back to the house and Veronica and Logan joined them.
“Jordy seems like a nice kid,” Logan said.
“Yeah,” Oz replied. “He does love to chase rabbits though.”
Logan laughed as Veronica turned a little green. “He was telling us all about the one he caught the last full moon.”
“He’s a bit of a messy eater, no matter if he’s a kid or a wolf. You should see him when Aunt Maureen makes spaghetti.”
“Okay, enough.” Logan and Oz shared a laugh at Veronica’s expense. Jordy had obviously been very descriptive about his catch. “I wanted to apologize for freaking out on you at the beach.”
“It’s okay, Veronica. You should have seen me when I found out about all the stuff in Sunnydale.”
“You’ll have to tell us about it some time. Anyway, we should head out. People to see, pictures to take. But give me a call sometime, we can all hang out!”
Veronica headed back to the car, Logan in tow and looking dangerous. Oz didn’t quite get the relationship between them, but he knew it wasn’t one he wanted to get in between.
Besides, Mac was way more interesting.
She smiled on her way past him back to the car, and waved as they pulled out.
He couldn’t help but smile and wave back.
He was with Veronica and Mac, and another friend of theirs, Wallace, when it all went to hell.
It was still a few days to the full moon. Oz had been meditating a lot in anticipation of Jordy’s transformation, and had been working with Jordy to keep him calm as the moon grew large and called more insistently. When Veronica called to invite him to the movies, he’d jumped at the chance, happy for a bit of a break before the full moon, and, if he was honest, happy for a chance to see Mac again.
He’d turned his phone off for the movie, and didn’t think to turn it back on until they were at Java the Hut for a post-movie coffee. It started blinking at him immediately, demanding he check his messages.
Jordy was missing.
He wasn’t sure how Veronica, Mac and Wallace ended up back at the house with him, but he was grateful for it. The police were taking details, reassuring Maureen and Dave, but they were looking for a missing child, not a missing werewolf pup only a few days before the full moon.
The four of them ended up in the backyard while Jordy’s parents sat tense in the living room, hoping that someone would call to say Jordy was safe. It wasn’t their phone that rang though.
It was Oz’s.
Mac looked at him when the phone rang, and he remembered what she’d overheard in his conversation with Xander. He went cold, looking at her. He knew who was calling, and he knew what he’d have to do.
Oz could hear Jordy in the background, crying and frightened. “I know what you want, Cain. I’ll go wherever, whenever you want, just bring Jordy home.”
“Jordy, is that his name? I’ve just been calling him puppy.”
“Just bring him home.”
“Not nearly so brave without the slayer to protect you, are you wolf? Meet me at Dog beach at midnight tomorrow, and the puppy will be safe and sound with Mommy and Daddy.”
Mac looked horrified. “You can’t, Oz. You can’t trade yourself for Jordy. We’ll find another way.”
“I have to. There’s no time, no way to find out where Jordy is.”
“Veronica will find him, I know she will. Just tell us everything you know about Cain.”
He tried to tell them about Cain, tried to keep it to just the pertinent information. But he couldn’t describe Cain without explaining about Willow. Couldn’t explain Cain’s grudge without telling them about Buffy. Couldn’t tell them about Buffy without describing the Slayer, Watchers, and vampires.
His throat hurt by the time he was done talking.
And he had 24 hours before he had to trade himself for Jordy.
He’d kept hope right up until he got in the car at 11:30 the next night. The moon was high, close to full. He could feel it pulling at him, and for the first time in four years, wanted to give into it. Wanted to run to the woods, run away from Cain and away from the responsibility of saving Jordy.
But, with only thirty minutes to the trade, he hadn’t heard from Veronica, and hope faded quickly.
The beach was deserted when he arrived. He sat on the hood of the car, watching as the moonlight lit the edge of the waves as they rolled up to the beach.
He sat quietly, not looking behind him even as a vehicle pulled up behind him. He didn’t turn until he heard Jordy crying and calling his name.
Cain looked much as Oz remembered; tall, dressed in leather, with trophies of his kills on a thong around his neck, and a long gun in his hands, trained on Oz’s heart.
“Silver bullets, wolf. You won’t be getting away this time.”
“I never said you didn’t know your job Cain. Let the boy out. I’ll go quietly, no need for the bullets yet.”
Oz heard the door on the far side of the truck open, and soft footsteps in the sand. Jordy’s cries had softened to whimpers.
“Get in the cage, wolf.”
“Jordy! Come over here.”
“Stay where you are, puppy, until the wolf is in the cage.”
“Jordy. My phone is on the hood of the car. Call your Mom as soon as we’re gone, okay?”
“Get in the cage now, wolf.”
Oz climbed into the back of the truck, into a low cage, and swung the door shut behind him. The lock clicked shut behind him, but it was the second click that got his attention.
“Turns out, there’s quite a market for snips and snails and wolf puppy tails,” Cain said, waving the iPod he’d used to make Oz think Jordy was safely out of the truck. “No point in giving up the wolf in the cage when you can build a second cage.”
Oz howled while Cain laughed.
When he opened his eyes, he saw Jordy.
The 10 year old was in a cage about 20 feet away, watching and wiping tears away. “Oz? You okay, Oz?”
Oz’s mouth was dry but he managed to cough out a response.
“What are we gonna do, Oz?”
“I don’t know, Jordy.”
“Do you think your friend Buffy will save us?”
“Not this time, kiddo. I think we’re on our own.”
He knew it was near moonrise when Cain came in again. He couldn’t hold back a rumbling growl when he saw the hunter.
“What’s that, wolf? You want a piece of me? Not this time. This time there’s no pretty blonde to drive me away. So you might as well get it over with, and turn. I’ve heard you can control your change, so long as you aren’t angry. You angry now, wolf?”
Oz just sat, in the bottom of the cage, watching Cain and holding back the anger that would kill him.
They stared at each other for long moments, until moonlight streamed in through the open window, and Jordy’s puppyish whines broke the silence.
“Will you lose your temper when I kill the puppy, wolf?” Cain raised his gun towards Jordy. “Or will it take watching me skinning him to turn you into the beast you really are?”
Oz breathed deeply, closing his eyes.
The inattention seemed to infuriate Cain. “You will watch me, wolf! You open your eyes and watch me!” The rant went on and on, covering the sounds of sirens.
Sirens, and booted feet, and “drop the gun, Cain!”
Oz opened his eyes.
The cops let him take Jordy with him. Oz didn’t think much of their intelligence, believing that Jordy was a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy, but wasn’t going to complain.
Outside the cage, Oz could see they’d been held in a big warehouse. The Pacific Coast Highway roared nearby, and just beyond the flashing lights of the police cars sat a familiar car, with a familiar blonde sitting on the hood.
But he only had eyes for the brunette with the blue streak, beaming at him from beside the blonde.
Something he’d done with Jordy had worked. Instead of a ravening, if small, wolf, Jordy sat in the back of the car with Oz, tongue flapping in the breeze. Jordy may not be able to control the change yet, but he definitely had control of the wolf. It was only a matter of time until Jordy had more control than Oz himself.
When Veronica pulled into the drive, Jordy bounded out of the car like the puppy he’d been mistaken for. Maureen and David never hesitated as he ran towards them, despite knowing the damage that had been done in the past. They dropped to their knees, hugging Jordy-the-wolf joyfully and letting him lick their faces.
Oz watched from the car as they disappeared into the house.
“How did you find us?” he asked Veronica.
“It wasn’t me,” Veronica said. “This one was all Mac.”
Mac looked shy and pleased. “It wasn’t all me. Veronica told me where to look, I just did the typing.”
“Hardly,” Veronica scoffed. “I gave you some ideas, but you found the information we needed, and you came up with the plan.”
“There was a plan?” Oz asked.
There was a plan, a couple of them, in fact. At first, they’d planned to plant evidence online that Cain was a pedophile, but as the full moon rose, they realized that wouldn’t be the smoking gun they initially planned on, as Jordy wouldn’t be a kidnapped child, but a crated dog.
Instead, they went with plan b. Instead of pedophilia, all the evidence pointed to Cain as a the leader of an animal smuggling ring. It explained the weaponry, the cages. And Oz was just an innocent witness, a victim of the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Don’t worry,” Mac assured him. “Veronica will tell you exactly what to say to the police.”
The next two nights of the full moon were uneventful. Jordy still changed into a wolf, but he was still the playful puppy he’d been after rescue. There was one tense moment, when a rabbit ran across the lawn and Jordy gave chase. He ignored the frantic calls, but came to a screeching halt just before he crossed the property line when Oz whistled.
He swore the next morning that the rabbit dared him.
The only other event was Oz’s interview with the police. They’d let slip that between the online evidence and Oz’s report, Cain was going away for a long time, provided he didn’t end up in a psychiatric hospital. Apparently, he’d been ranting about werewolves.
It was over. No more Cain, Jordy was well on his way to controlling his wolf, and Oz was home and settled.
He stared at the phone in his hand, and dialed a number he’d had memorized since he first saw her.
“Hey Mac? I wanted to thank you for everything you did for Jordy and I. Can I take you to dinner tonight?”
There’s something about Southern California that always made him feel at home. Something about the quality of the light and the way it glimmered even miles from the ocean. Something about the feel of the breeze with its slight grit of salt as it cooled on his skin. Something about the scent of crushed vegetation and fresh earth on a moonlit night.
It’s one reason he was gone so long. After all, when you grew up in Sunnydale, feeling at home was synonymous with being terrified.
But as much as Neptune feels like Sunnydale, it isn’t.
And that’s terrifying in a whole new way.