A woman sat next to Oz on the mystery house's curb about an arms-length away. He turned to look at her. She looked at him.
"Sorry for sitting on your lawn," he said after the silence had gone too long.
Her laughter was a deep throaty sound that would have hooked Devon or Xander in an instant, but had always sounded too practiced to interest Oz. Her smile was wry, a little chagrined maybe, and that lent some realism to the laugh.
"You're angry because Bran got you to talk."
He didn't answer her. He didn't need to: "He has a talent for getting people to do what they don't want, or more than they meant to do. Don't feel too bad about it."
"I betrayed someone."
She scoffed. "Is that all? I guess it's your first time." She looked him up and down, so Oz took the opportunity to study her in return. Dark blond hair long enough to create the braided crown she was wearing. (Something within him wanted to take it down and chase it.) A smooth, clear complexion put her age helpfully between 24 and 34. Her trim figure was softened by in a trendy track suit. From the way her head topped his even while sitting, Oz put her height at about woman-average.
And she was tense. Oz filed that away for later. A breeze had kicked up strong enough to flutter his loose shirt for a moment. He could smell her.
"You were at the house. You were the one who stood in the door. You were listening to us."
She scoffed again. "Obviously."
"Maybe you hate 80s hair bands, and only suffered through our set because you really needed to talk to the Marrok."
She stared at him for a heartbeat. Then she threw her head back and laughed. When she looked at him again, she was still smiling. It quickly faded into a smirk. "Suffering while waiting for the Marrok. How quaint.
"Don't tell him this, not that you need to, but Bran has a beautiful voice." She snorted. "I think he has actually sung birds out of the sky. You play against him pretty well, for a child."
Oz frowned. "Thank you?"
"You have an eternity to improve." The way she said it, it didn't sound like something to look forward to.
Silence stretched between them. It wasn't awkward, but it wasn't companionable, either. Before Oz could ask her why she was still sitting there she said, "If it makes you feel better, hurting a submissive hurts Bran, too."
"A submissive wolf. You. How new are you that you don't know you're submissive."
Oz's eyes narrowed. "How do you know?"
"When I threw my head back and laughed, what were you thinking?"
"That it wasn't all that funny," Oz readily admitted.
He shrugged. "Not really."
"And does it bother you that you can't look most wolves in the eye?"
That seemed to surprise her for a second, but she regrouped quickly. "Why?"
Oz shrugged. "Another sign I'm not human, mostly."
"It's annoying having one instinct always fighting the other one."
"But you haven't felt the need to challenge anyone because of it."
"Only if you were a dominant wolf. Bran's first instinct, every dominant wolf's instinct, is to keep a submissive wolf safe."
Silence fell between them again as Oz digested her words. He began to pick at the guitar strings. Eventually he said, "Why are you telling me this?"
"I'm not as old as some, but I'm old enough. I remember what it's like to be young and weak and powerless and scared. And I remember doing whatever I thought I had to so I would never be that person anymore.
"My instincts are screaming at me to help you."
"Even from the Marrok?"
"You know someone who’s more dangerous to you?" He did, but it didn't seem important.
She stood up and dusted off the seat of her otherwise pristine velvet bottoms. Turning to him, she said, "You haven't betrayed yourself yet."
"I think maybe I did."
With her hip cocked and arms crossed over her chest, she looked disturbingly like Buffy ready for a fight. "Trust me. You have a long way to go, kid."
She was walking towards a dark colored luxury car Oz hadn't noticed before he could respond.
Then she was gone.
Oz stood with the guitar in hand. He began to play, walking without direction. He had a lot to think about.