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Hold on Tight

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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."

"Very good."

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.


"Buffy..."

"Yeah, Giles?"

"I do believe there's a car following us."

"Really? Are you sure?"

"Fairly, but do check for yourself. It's good practice."

"Gi-iles."

"Surveillance is not a bad skill for a Slayer to have."

"Fine."

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…"

"Yes, well..."

"…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."


“Henh.”

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—“

“Figures.”

“—but that’s not why I’ve lit the fire.”

“Um, yay?”

“We’ll see.” The Marrok turned in his chair, reaching behind it for something. He pulled out an acoustic guitar. “You said you play.”

“I did?”

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.

“Very 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.

“Thank you?”

“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?”

 

Fin[ite]

Chapter Text

Buffy and Giles eyed the car that they were sure had been tailing them since Sunnydale, now sitting outside Jordan McIntyre's home in Scottsrose Township.

"There's always a chance that this is coincidence," Giles said, eyes fixed on the sand colored SUV.

"Uh huh." Buffy was watching it, too. "The real question is how did he beat us here and do you think he's already inside."

"He?"

Buffy turned away from the rental (license plated to West Virginia). "C'mon, Giles. Tell me you don't think this is anyone but Charles Cornick."

"I'm attempting optimism?" he said, eyes meeting Buffy's. Who snorted. Before she could respond, however, alarm burst on Giles' face. "Buffy--"

She was already out the door of the old Citroen.


"Tell me, Oz," the Marrok said, "who is the rogue to you?"

No one.
It doesn't matter.
None of your business.
Leave my cousin alone.
Nothing to you.
He's just a little kid.
I don't care.
I'll take his place

The pleas and denials crowded through Oz's head too quickly to choose which he would actually say to the Marrok. He didn't realize he was plucking at the guitar in his lap until the Marrok's hand was laid over his.

"Who is it?"

"You can't have him." Oz's whispered words belied the intensity of emotion behind them. As if saying them had unlocked one of Willow's spells, his senses were gone wild the moment the words were off his lips. He could now smell the wolf that had lingered in the doorway while he and the Marrok had been jamming. His skin prickled with faint movement of the central heating system. He could taste his own fear and anger. (Laced together, they were disgusting. He knew that now.) The Marrok's heartbeat was a steady counterpoint to the double-time staccato in Oz's chest.

"Who is the rogue to you, Oz?"

"You can't have him."

"Father? Brother? Lover? Best friend?"

None of the Marrok's pauses yielded an answer from Oz, because all of his options were all wrong. Even if they weren't, even if Jordy wasn't family, he was a little kid. A child. But that didn't seem to matter to the Marrok. He kept offering personal relationships as if they were the only reasons to save someone. Jordy could have been some kid on campus who happened to scratch Oz at the wrong time of the month. He hadn't done anything wrong. Oz wouldn't give him up.

"It doesn't matter who he is. You can't have him." He said it to the space behind the Marrok's shoulder, unable to look him in the eye as much from instinct as leashed rage. Close as they were with the Marrok's hand still over Oz's twitchy fingers, his scent even drowned out the mixed anger and fear until all that was left was the minty musk of werewolf and the sharp sweetness Oz had only scented on the Marrok.

"You can't have him."


Charles heard the car thrown open as Brother Wolf bristled. They both knew who it was, who they'd been tracking from her territory. Still, it was years of fighting that saved him from her flying leap over the hood of his rental SUV. Instead of bearing him down to the ground, where she would have the advantage, he turned her momentum into a throw.

She landed near the McIntyre window hedges in a crouch. But like a swimmer turning a lap, she used her landing to propel herself forward. Most creatures needed to pick up momentum before they could do serious damage. Charles knew better. He'd seen several slayers in action. This one might not be like any of those on surface, but they were all hunters, all killers. In that way, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was no different from her Sisters.

Two steps to get her footing together turned into a handspring, into a flying kick. Age gave Charles an advantage she didn't anticipate. He neatly side-stepped her kick, punching her in the gut instead. It wasn't as effective as a punch to the solar plexus would have been, but she still dropped to her knees, gasping for air.

Charles had her wrapped in his arms and off the ground before she could regroup. He underestimated this Slayer's ability to recover, however. She head-butted him with a surprisingly hard skull. Stars burst behind his eyes and Charles dropped her reflexively.

He heard her roll across the grass, her breathing harsh as she tried to get her lungs back together and, he hoped, recover from his equally thick skull.

She was up in a fighting stance when he opened his eyes. "I don't want to hurt you."

He bristled and Brother Wolf laughed.

"More," she tacked on. "Just go back to the Marrok and leave this to me."

"The Marrok is Alpha over all the wolves," came rumbling out of his chest. Brother Wolf might have found the little Slayer amusing, but she had tried to lay claim to what belonged to him and his father. Brother Wolf did not forget.

"Not this one. This one is under my protection." She shifted her weight to the balls of her feet. "He's mine."

Charles heard a distant, "Oh Buffy" as a snarl rolled up through his body. "We handle our own," he said.

"Not this one," she snapped again. "I'm not letting you hurt him."

"He's a child, Mr. Cornick," that other voice said. Watcher, his own mind supplied as Brother Wolf was very much occupied with keeping an eye the Slayer. Who was trying to sneak around him.

Charles turned to look at her. He gave her a wry look and she returned with a plastic smile to do a cheerleader proud. "Can't blame a slayer for trying."

"I could," he said.

She rolled her eyes. "Look, Grumpylicious. This isn't about you or me, it's about a little boy whose only crime is being a little boy."

"That's up for the Marrok to decide."

This time, she was the one growling.


"What if I don't want him?"

Oz's eyes snapped to the Marrok's, the words were so startling. At the same time, the other pulled his hand away and sat back, making it impossible for their eyes to really connect.

"I-I..." Oz's throat was tight like the moment before crying, but he was pretty sure tears were not what were trying to come out of him. "I know...what happens..." He swallowed and tried again. "Werewolves aggressively police their own."

The Marrok nodded slowly. “I do.” Then: “You’re about to change, Oz. Can’t you feel it? Tell me why.”

The pedagogical tone made Oz want throw the guitar across the room and try for the Marrok’s throat. He probably wouldn’t make it, but he was pretty sure the attempt would be just as satisfying as chasing a diminished ninth on his bass.

Oz reared back.

“What are you doing to me?” he asked.

“Proving myself right by poking at a sore spot,” the Marrok said. He reached for the water bottle abandoned on the floor next to his leg. “I guess Sam’s right. Mercy does get it from me.”

Busy trying to reign in his wild emotions, Oz ignored the non-sequitur. After a moment he was more aware of himself. The sense of the other wolves in the home was more of an awareness than a surety, and his skin didn’t goose pimple every time one of them exhaled.

“So. Who is he?” the Marrok asked the moment Oz was more or less himself again. “As you said, werewolves police themselves aggressively. Since uniting all the packs in North America, I have been especially stringent. It’s the only way to keep our secret.” Elbows resting on the arms of his chair, he laced his fingers together over his lap. “And it’s the only way we’re going to survive when we’re eventually outed.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“This way of life? Hiding in the shadows? It’s not going to work for the supernatural community forever. The lights of the modern world get brighter every day.” The Marrok cocked his head to one side. “How did you meet the Slayer. Did she spare you while you were still trying to control the wolf?”

Oz felt himself trying to smile, but his world was tilting on its all its axes, and seeming to find new ones to turn on every time the Marrok opened his mouth. He couldn’t make the smile stick, so he stopped trying. “I protected her and her best friend from assassins. Then I was her best friend’s date at her birthday party when she staked a vampire. They let me in.”

Somewhere a clock was ticking. The other wolves in the house had left. Oz shuddered. The guitar sang in discordant sympathy under his fingertips.

“Tell me who he is, Oz.”


The Slayer abandoned stealth and ran for Charles again. But instead of going high, she swept his feet from under him in a simple maneuver that would have been embarrassing if not for the force she put behind it. Her Watcher would have cracked his head open.

Charles went down and popped up, reflexively. And she was right there.

Her open hand on his solar plexus wasn’t as painful as a fist, but it still pushed him backwards as it knocked the air out of his lungs. She followed with a punch to his kidneys and a foot to his knee.

Charles went down. And clipped her jaw when she got close.

The Slayer stumbled backwards but didn’t quite lose her feet. It was enough for Charles to get back up. The knee wasn’t dislocated, and his kidneys were bruised but he’d felt worse.

It occurred to him that she wasn’t trying to take him out, but he was pissed enough that it almost didn’t matter.


“He’s a kid I was babysitting.”

The Marrok’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not telling me the truth, Oz. I don’t like lies.”

“I haven’t lied.” He hadn’t.

“You haven’t told me the whole truth, either.”

“He’s…” Oz shook his head. “It doesn’t matter who he is to me. I told you the truth. You’re not looking for a rogue, you’re looking for a seven or eight year old little boy who bit me by accident while I was babysitting.” Oz dared to look up, dared to look the Marrok in the eye even if only for a moment. “That’s the only truth that matters.”

The Marrok’s head canted slowly to one side and Oz found his eyes dropping away on his own. If he had fur, though…if he had fur it would still be bristled.

“What’s his name?”

“Jordy. Jordan McIntyre.”

“Where—“

“Why is this important?”

“I’ve sent Charles.”

Oz jumped up. “No!”

“I trust his judgement. If he says Jordy McIntyre isn’t a threat, then we’ll add it to the always growing list of reasons why we don’t allow packs to settle on or near Hellmouths. Now sit down.”

But Oz didn’t sit down. “And if he is? If Jordy is a threat.”

“Then Charles will deal with him.”

“How can you—“

“Please tell me you were planning on asking me how I could allow an uncontrolled juvenile werewolf loose in a civilian population? Especially one that’s already turned one unsuspecting person into a werewolf—from a bite.”

Oz snarled. The Marrok’s face was stone.

Oz stormed out of the house. He was yards away, standing on a stranger’s front lawn, when he realized he was still holding the guitar.

He sat down on the curb.


Charles’ phone rang.

 

Fin[ite]