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Oz already knew the mission was going to keep going. Section Four had given him a two week leash, trying to avoid the problem of full moons and werewolves without a pack to temper them. He and the other Section One operatives had hit the two week wall ten days ago. Three days ago Madeline herself had traveled from Section One to keep watch over Oz. And to make him an offer to defect from Section Four to join Section One.

Oz suspected she was also using it as an opportunity to reassert her dominance over him. He’d heard that werewolf packs were usually very patriarchal, but Section Four’s pack structure was based half on meritocracy and half on reward incentive. The biggest, baddest wolves who could also best dance to the scientists’ and handlers’ tune got to be in charge. Gender was less important – unless the scientists decided it was.

Otherwise, Madeline had done her research well. The mix of attention to his well-being and disregard for his personal boundaries appealed to his wolf’s need for a good leader. The deference to his superior knowledge of the supernatural and acknowledgment of his personal qualities appealed to his human need to be seen and valued for himself. And, unlike his Four pack-mates, after Madeline had made her appeal on the first night of his change under the full moon, she had refrained from bringing it up again though she had stayed with him over the next two nights.

The last day of the full moon had been the hardest. Not because of the impending physical change, but because he knew it would be the last he spent curled up around Madeline as she watched over him. Oz knew that members of his team who had gotten solitary cover details considered themselves lucky. Before this mission, Oz had never spent more than a day or two away from the thirty-some-odd members of his pack, and he had never been alone and untouched. Total isolation from the pack — which, to a certain extent, included the scientists and handlers over them — was reserved as punishment for only the most egregious behavior. Oz had never stepped so far out of line before.

The days had been easy enough during those first two weeks before the full moon. He had school every day. Human teenagers were more tactile than their adult counterparts, but not nearly as much as werewolves.

Oz had been further fortunate that the mission specs had called for him to fall in with a alt-rock/grunge band, Dingoes Ate My Baby, early on. The lead singer, Devon MacLeish, was both a charismatic and touchy-feely kind of guy. He was known for putting his long lanky arms around the necks of people he had only passing familiarity with, and most seemed to accept it. He also didn't seem to notice the way Oz physically gravitated to him. So long as Oz didn't get between him and any "babes" that might be nearby, Devon didn't seem to care who he was lying on, leaning against, draped across or falling all over. He was a tactile people person. Oz was sure that otherwise unimportant fact had saved his sanity.

Nights had been harder. He’d been able to "crash" at Devon's place once or twice a week. The young man either hadn’t noticed or cared when Oz turned out to be a cuddler. Or, at the very least, he had never mentioned it.

Then the mission had gone into a third week. He should have gone back to Section Four then, to prepare for the coming full moon along with his pack-mates, but there had been no talk of pulling Oz from the mission. By the end of it he had been ready to send himself back. Then Madeline had found a way to be in near-constant communication: a comm unit disguised as a cheap pair of headphones and discman.

It had helped. It had helped so much, but the full moon had still been bearing down on all of them, whether or not his teammates understood what that meant. While he knew their mission was to find and recruit the Vampire Slayer, whoever she was, Oz didn’t want their first encounter to be under the influence of the change. The Slayer had a reputation in the supernatural world for slaying first and asking questions never.

Between the isolation and his impending change, coping had become nigh on impossible. Until Madeline herself had shown up to help him through the change.

Oz had been afraid of ripping the humans around him to pieces when he completely succumbed to his animal half, and coming to the unwanted attention of the Vampire Slayer. But the presence of the alpha had made that moot. For three nights he had slept curled on and around her on the floor of a reinforced cave in the hills overlooking Sunnydale. No fool, Madeline had always kept a tranquilizer gun handy but there hadn’t been a need for it. The commanding presence of an alpha had kept Oz’s animal side as quiescent (or vicious, if she had chosen) as she had wanted.

Then it was over and Madeline was gone. But she hadn’t left him alone.

While he was in the field, the operatives from Section One (all human) had become his temporary pack. In his head they occupied ranks of equal or lower status to his own, particularly when it came to things of the supernatural. (Devon and the other members of the Dingoes were something like older adolescents to Oz – effectively occupying the same status in his head that Oz himself held in the Section Four pack.) And Madeline, was their (his) alpha.

The day after Madeline left, Chisholm, in his guise of a nerdy groupie Steven, had come up to Oz and spontaneously hugged him. “Thank you so much, dude. You, listen, when I talk and stuff, and you signed all my merch, and you have so much merch and—”

Devon had come over, then, intent on rescuing Oz from what appeared to be a stranglehold of fannish affection. Steven/Chisholm allowed himself to be pried off Oz easily, not once betraying the strength hidden by his ill-fitting clothes. Instead he made as if to hug Devon, as he loudly proclaimed, “And the music! Man it’s like—”

“Dude! Dude! That’s, like, my shirt!” Devon had protested, while Oz basked in the remembered warmth of Chisholm’s strength. He had smelled of amusement and curiosity and, of course, himself. Oz could tell that even trying to “hug” Devon had amused the young operative.

“Yo!” Devon had punched Oz’s arm, none too gently. “Y’see why I told you t’stop humoring the guy? Ugh! Now I’m covered in nerd.”

Oz had laughed.

Later that day, when Dale/JC-the-bully crowded Oz into a corner where he was, theoretically, trying to intimidate the smaller man, Oz could scent his teammate’s confused determination to follow what must have seemed like strange orders from Madeline. Oz still took a measure of comfort out of the forced proximity, though Chisholm/Steve’s good-humor made it…better.

The next morning Park/Jimmy made a bet with his “sister”, Weller/Angela, to go over and kiss Oz in full view of the homeroom hallway crowd. The kiss hadn’t been as important to Oz as the full-body press between them. It had been difficult to maintain the mild, gentlemanly cover, that required he gently peel his teammate away from him. He would have preferred to break the kiss so he could wrap himself completely around her and have the simple pleasure of her presence and scent.

The intrusion had the added bonus, however, of giving both “siblings” reason to accost him in the halls over the next few days: Park/Jimmy-the-class-clown to grab at Oz, and loop his arms around him, or punch him, or any other playfully annoying ways one human could touch another. Weller/Angela-the-deeply-embarrassed-sister often approached Oz, at first to apologize for giving into her “brother”, then later to apologize for him. She didn’t usually get much past placing a hand on his arm or grabbing and holding his hands, but often Weller’s touches were firm and long lasting. Of all of his human pack, she seemed to best understand Oz’s nature and his need. The relationship between their cover personas had always been the most friendly.

Nights were still hard when he couldn’t manage to crash with someone else, usually Devon. Madeline was always there over his hidden comm. And when she couldn’t be, he suddenly found himself with an invitation to dinner at Jimmy and Angela’s, or Steven pleading to let him hang out with Oz just this one night—even one memorable night when JC pulled him into a reasonable gentle headlock and made him tag along with him to a night game. Watching football in person had been no more comprehensible than it had been when he was still at Four, but the press of warm bodies and the wash of their scents had been a worthwhile tradeoff.

It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t warm skin against the ever-present cold, or mixed scents and echoed heartbeats that felt like his own, or wordless communication. It kept him going, though. And the longer he went without the ever-present press of his Section Four pack, the less it felt like a gaping pit in his gut, the more he could focus on the mission at hand.

Figure out who the Slayer was. Bring her in to meet his human pack’s alpha. Go back home.

Oz was sitting alone in his van one night almost two weeks after the team dynamics had changed. He was reviewing his and the team’s reports with Madeline when she suddenly said, “You seem less distressed.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“The team has been helping you.” She’d made it a statement, but he responded as if it had been a questions: “Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”

“I told you before, Oz, I protect what’s mine.”

Warmth spread through his chest. She had said that to him while she had been in Sunnydale for the full moon. The implication that Oz was already hers should have made his wolf protest, but it knew a good alpha. Protection and care where signs of an alpha worth following. The leaders of the Section Four pack did what they could for their members, but every single wolf there belonged first to the human scientists and handlers before they belonged to any wolf, including themselves.

Oz breathed in sharply through his nose.

“Tell me what has caught your attention,” Madeline said in her cool way.

And because she had already long ago established how she expected Oz to respond when asked a direct question, he answered with little hesitation: “I just realized that I want to belong to you.” That he already did remained unspoken.

Oz could hear her pleased smile over the comm when she said, “I’m so glad you’ve decided to take me up on my offer to defect from Section Four. You do realize that that’s what it means to belong to me.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Oz said quickly and quietly, as if the ties had already been severed.

“Good. I think you’ll do very well in Section One. Just as soon as we wrap up this mission. Let’s finish the debrief. I have a scenario for getting you in with the Slayer’s group so that you can out her without being outed yourself.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Madeline, Oz. Please call me Madeline.”

 

Fin[ite]