Being silent with the Marrok, Oz decided, was just as unnerving as it had been with Charles. Not because he emanated casually confident violence the way Charles did, but because he didn't and Oz knew he should. Like the way falling snow seemed eerily silent whenever he went up to the mountains -- he expected things that fell from the sky to make a sound, but snow never seemed to get the memo.
The day after his first change, Giles had sat him and Buffy down and explained werewolf culture in North America to the best of his ability. (More was known about the wolves of Europe, but the two cultures had become divergent enough since the Marrok had united the wolves of North America that Giles had deemed it not worth the effort of learning about them unless or until Oz decided to go overseas.) Under the Marrok's leadership, the North American wolves had kept a much lower profile than their European kin by aggressively policing their own. "You do not,” Giles had said, glasses off, “under any circumstances, want to come to the attention of the Marrok or, worse, his enforcer, Charles Cornick." That was before they had known that Charles was the Marrok’s son.
Buffy's eyebrows had gone up at that. "Worse?"
"Yes." Gesturing with his glasses, Giles had said, "There are any variety of reasons why the alpha over every werewolf in North America might be interested in Oz," nodding to him. "Not all of them are negative. The dearth of wolves on the Hellmouth might make you of interest to the Marrok for completely innocent reasons.
“Charles Cornick, however, is the Marrok's enforcer and assassin, among other things." Giles had replaced his glasses. "I very much doubt that you are involved in whatever those 'other things' might be. My dear boy, if Charles Cornick is looking for you, it is unlikely that you will survive the encounter."
Oz had nodded. "Cool. Well...not really, but I understand."
Nearly two years later he'd been hunted and found by Charles Cornick, then ridden for most of the day with him from the outskirts of LA to the outskirts of Aspen Creek. The first few hours had been spent in a quiet kind of terror – until he realized the equally quiet protection that Charles had been giving him. They stopped far more often than Oz would have expected: to eat, to refuel, to stretch their legs, and even overnight to sleep. Charles was as emotive as an Easter Island statue, but Oz felt his unspoken care. A few hours outside of where they would eventually pick up the Marrok on the road, Oz felt himself drifting off to sleep in Charles’ rental for the first time.
Then they'd picked up the Marrok disguised (to Oz) as a hitch-hiking college student. Except for one brief moment, it was the knowledge of the Marrok's power, not the sense of it, that hadn’t allow Oz to be as relaxed in his presence as he had become in Charles'. It wasn't a bad fear to have, not of the most dominant werewolf in three sovereign nations, but it was...it was... Oz wasn't sure what it was.
He felt like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. He’d felt it then and he felt it now.
"I do believe there's a car following us."
"Really? Are you sure?"
"Fairly, but do check for yourself. It's good practice."
"Surveillance is not a bad skill for a Slayer to have."
Giles' hand shot out before Buffy could turn in her seat. "A little subtlety, please."
"I am! I'm reaching into the backseat."
"And flashing everyone on the freeway?"
"Giles, this outfit is totally regulation."
"For gradeschoolers, perhaps. I thought babydoll had gone out of fashion."
"It is. And even though I'm kinda proud that you know that…"
"…the miniskirt is never going out of style." Buffy leaned between the seats instead of actually turning around, grumbling about Cordelia wearing shorter skirts, as she rummaged around in her purse for anything that might make for good cover as she scoped out the traffic behind them. She came back with a banana and a chirpy, "Let’s make with the bobbing and weaving. But, y'know, less obvious."
The Marrok raised his eyebrows as he turned and sat in his chair. “Henh?” he repeated as he gestured for Oz to take a seat on the other side of the fireplace.
Lowering himself slowly, Oz said, “There’s a fire.”
“So there is.” Amusement colored the Marrok’s voice but there was calculation in his eyes.
“Sage said you only light a fire in your study when there’s trouble.”
“I’d marvel at her observance, but I doubt it’s a secret by now.”
Oz didn’t know what to say to that, so he didn’t say anything at all. Except, “Is it me? Because I killed Veruca?”
“What if I said it was?”
“It’s nice to know that the prospect of having to kill someone you just met causes so much moral consternation?”
The Marrok laughed. “Actually, it would have been easier to have Charles kill you on the road, before I got to know you—“
“—but that’s not why I’ve lit the fire.”
“We’ll see.” The Marrok turned in his chair, reaching behind it for something. He pulled out an acoustic guitar. “You said you play.”
Instead of answering, the Marrok stood and brought Oz the guitar. “Do you know ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’?”
Oz frowned, taking the guitar. “Acoustic? Yeah. Maybe.”
Frowning, Buffy checked the mirrors. “I think our tail has peeled off,” she told Giles.
“Are you quite sure?”
“If our tail was that sand colored SUV, then yeah.” Buffy glanced at Giles. “Think maybe it was just somebody going our way?”
“Anything’s possible, but not everything is likely,” Giles said, returning Buffy’s glance through the rearview mirror.
Buffy shrugged. “What now? Evasive maneuvers?”
“Not a bad idea.” Snorting a laugh, Giles said, “Perhaps I should let you drive, then?”
Buffy’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“Good heavens, no!”
“Spoilsport.” She sank into her seat. “Oh hey…” Buffy popped back up in her seat. “Take a left at the next corner. Then it’s two lights and a right.”
An acoustic “Livin’ on a Prayer” went better than Oz had expected, helped in no small part by the Marrok’s rich voice. Which had segued into “Live and Let Die” and, somehow, a version of “Sweet Child o’ Mine” more like Sheryl Crow than Axl Rose. The shadows had made significant progress across the floor, and several people had come in and out of the house in the time they had been...
‘Playing’ sound corny. Rehearsing?
“Bonding,” Oz said.
“Or something like that,” Bran agreed.
Whoever it was that had come in and stopped in the threshold of the study walked away without ever speaking. Oz felt their presence go but only knew for sure that it wasn’t one of the three wolves he now knew relatively well.
Bran stood up and crossed the room. A cupboard turned out to be a hidden refrigerator, from which he pulled out two bottles of water. Oz set down the guitar, ready to catch his bottle. Instead, Bran brought it back and handed it to him. He waited until Oz had cracked the seal and taken a long drink before asking, “Good?”
Oz sensed the several question, and nodded. “Yes.” Yes, the water was good. Yes, their session was good. Yes, the bonding was good. Yes, he was good.
Smiling a little, Bran cracked the seal on his own bottle and settled in his chair. “I’ve been thinking about you, Oz. I have no intention of causing you harm. For a young, untrained wolf, you have a surprising amount of control. I suppose your slayer would have taken care of you long ago otherwise. You certainly wouldn’t have made it as far as Aspen Creek if you didn’t. Don’t think I didn’t notice the way you tried to stand for me with Charles when you thought I was a hitch-hiking kid.
“Which makes your reluctance to give up the rogue confusing.”
Oz blinked as he slowly switched out the bottle in his hand for the guitar. “You mean Veruca? I kind of tore her throat out. And then we burned her to ash and spread the ashes in the wind. There’s nothing to give up.”
“I mean the rogue that turned you.”
Oz’s languid calm began to evaporate.
Bran took a pull from his water bottle. “The interesting thing is that the Slayer refuses to give him up as well. At first I thought it was because she has a personal connection to him: father, brother, lover, best friend. But Charles has been able to uncover all of those. Which left me with an unhappy puzzle. One I’ve been working though since I left you in the secure room.”
“Oh?” Part of Oz rejoiced – not only had Buffy not given up Jordy (that was never in question, really) but she knew that he was danger. She would protect him.
But could he, Oz, do the same.
Giles pulled up across the street from the house address on Willlow’s printout.
Buffy swore. Profusely.
“What is it?”
“Our tail beat us here.”
“Then it occurred to me,” the Marrok said. “Perhaps I have the wrong family member. Maybe it’s not the Slayer with close ties to the rogue.
“Tell me, Oz, who is the rogue to you?”