Author: Michael K. Donovan
E-mail: mike@paladon.com

Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all the characters that appear on the show are the exclusive property of Joss Whedon, the WB and Mutant Enemy, Inc.


Oz slid his hands up Willow's back, his black-nailed fingertips pressing into her soft flesh.

"Aahhhh!." She gasped in pleasure, her eyes shut to allow herself to fully enjoy the experience. She pressed his face to her neck and cooed as she heard him make a low, barely audible, growl.

There wasn't a whole lot of room in the back of Oz's van, but at least it offered a bit of privacy. She stretched out as much as she could, pulling him down on top of her. Her head bumped painfully off the metal leg of the back seat, but she was too caught up in the moment to care.

Oz was enjoying himself just as much as she was. His breathing came in harsh, short pants and his heart pounded like a bass drum in his chest. Tha-thump. Tha-thump. Every instinct in his body wanted her, demanded that he finish what they had started. He closed his teeth over her earlobe and bit down with a passionate snarl.

"Ow!" she exclaimed, sitting up suddenly.

"Oh, Willow, I'm sorry." He apologized, caressing her arms softly from shoulder to elbow, his eyes full of concern.

"N-no, it's okay." She pressed her hand to her earlobe, and drew her fingers back, relieved that it wasn't bleeding, "Just a little accident. No biggie." She leaned in to resume their kiss.

Oz turned away. "I . . . should probably go." He said, uneasily, fishing around in his pocket for his keys.

"Wait." She placed her hands on his shoulders. "You don't have to go."

"I think maybe I should." He crawled into the driver's seat and leaned back to bestow a single, platonic kiss on her cheek. "I'll call you tomorrow. We'll do something. Maybe we can head down to the Cineplex and see 'Idle Hands' again. That guy with the bottle sticking out of his head is hilarious."

"You sure you're okay." She slipped out the passenger door of the van, pausing with one foot on the step. "You sound a little . . .I don't know, upset."

"No, I'm fine." He nodded, "Just a little worked up, that's all."

She drew a deep breath and sighed sympathetically. "I know what you mean. I'll see you tomorrow then."

"Bye." He turned the key in the ignition as she shut the door.

He watched her walk up her driveway in his rearview mirror as he drove away. He tugged uncomfortably at the collar of his shirt. His skin felt hot, like it often did just before a transformation, and his chest tightened with unfulfilled hunger. He remembered having her in his arms and I was as if the world had stopped, frozen in a single wonderful moment. Then he had bitten her. Not intentionally, just a little overzealous affection, but it had been chillingly sobering. Just one break of her soft skin and she would be forever changed, cursed like him. She would never be safe if he couldn't control his animal instincts. Maybe it would be best if they stopped seeing each other, he considered glumly.

A tiny, high pitched bell dinged and a red light flared on the dash. The van's engine sputtered a few times and cut out.

"Hmm, guess I should have invested a few dollars at the gas station instead of on that head bobbing dash ornament.." He realized belatedly as the van ground to a gradual halt on the side of the street. The ornament nodded continuously in agreement.

Popping the door open, he hopped to the ground. He considered locking the doors, but decided against it. If a thief had the foresight to bring a can of gas with him, he could have it. Peering around, he realized that he was quite a walk away from the nearest gas station. Hope they take credit, he thought, beginning what promised to be a long and boring trek.

A pair of dark, glittering eyes watched him from a stand of trees. A dark clad figure lifted his nose in the air, scenting the passing young man on the wind. He was one of them, he could tell. The pair behind him looked to their leader hopefully. He paused, watching the newcomer, and gave his companions the signal with a subtle movement of his body. It was time to make themselves known.

The leader started loping along the trail, letting his companions fall behind in their usual hunting pattern. One in front and two behind, that was how they handled all their prey.

Oz listened to the steady clopping of his shoes on the concrete sidewalk as he walked, absently piecing together the tune of a new song to the beat in his head. An oddly familiar scent reached his nostrils and he lost his train of thought. It smelled a little like his cousin Jordy had the last time he had seen him. It smelled even more like the way his own clothes did after one of the three nights a month he spent locked up in the cage in Giles' library.

He continued walking as if nothing was amiss, but his keen ears detected a soft padding of feet in the distance behind him. Something dark and impossibly swift exploded from the bushes ahead of him. Oz instinctively jumped back only to find his way blocked by two more similar beings.

"Note to self, " he muttered, turning cautiously to try and keep all three in his line of sight, his hands held out defensively. "Walking alone through Sunnydale at night: bad, bad idea."

One of the three, a gangly young man with a thin, black goatee, stood opposite him and his face broke in a wolfish smile. He was dressed in a close fitting black shirt as well as comfortable looking black pants and his shoulder length, chestnut hair was pulled back and tucked neatly behind his ears.

"Greetings, " he dipped into a deep bow, "On behalf of The Sons of the Moon I am here to welcome you into the fold. My name is Jeremy"

Oz eyed the pair behind him skeptically. One was tall, perhaps seventeen or so years old, with matted, dirty red hair and a mix of stubble and dirt on his face. The other was short and squat, but solidly built. He was older than the first, more around Oz's age' with stringy blonde hair and a long drawn out face. Unlike Jeremy, they were dressed in a mishmash of dirty furs and mismatched clothing. The two watched him with tense anticipation in their beady eyes. "Thanks, but no thanks. I joined the Boy Scouts once. But I didn't go for the restrictive structure system. That and, ever since I saw 'Evil Dead' the woods kinda give me the creeps."

Shrugging away from the filthy pair, he wrinkled his nose. "Uh, no offense, but you guys reek."

"You are one of us." Jeremy looked him over knowingly. "I know. I can smell you."

"Let me guess, you're werewolves, huh?"

"Not all of us." The leader explained, "Just me. The other two . . . maybe in time. We want you to join us."

"Again, thanks for the invitation guys," Oz shrugged, "But I gotta get some gas for my van. Send me a newsletter or something, okay?"

He started walking again and the leader held out a long arm across his path. "No one said you could leave." He warned, with no trace of his earlier friendly demeanor. The other two circled around behind their leader, their faces pulled up in toothy grins, growling low in their throats and urging him to attack.

"I . . . guess I could stay and talk for a while." Oz considered resignedly, "Any of you follow hockey?"

"You have no idea of what you really are." Jeremy spat, "You think you're just a human with a curse, or a disease. We are the next step in human evolution, my friend. Homo Lupinus."

"I think I'd rather just be called Oz."

Jeremy burst into a guffaw of laughter and, after looking to him for approval, the other two did likewise.

"I like you Oz." he declared, throwing his arm around Oz's shoulders. "That's why I'm going to let you hunt with us tonight."

"I'm not big on hunting," Oz shook his head in negation, "kinda on account of how hunting often implies killing. Why do you want to hunt, anyway? The full moon's not for eleven more days. Was the Burger Buddy closed or something?"

"We hunt because it is in our nature. The strong hunt the weak, that is the way of things." The other two nodded and murmured their assent. The dark eyed leader regarded Oz seriously, "Whether you kill or not is up to you. But I must insist that you come with us, at least."

"I thought you might." Oz allowed them to lead him away from the well lit street and into the forest. He saw his affliction as a responsibility and the idea of an obviously deranged werewolf prowling around and hunting when there wasn't even a full moon disturbed him greatly. For now, he would play along, learn everything he could about this new werewolf.

It was obvious that they weren't planning to let him go that easily, but maybe he could slip away through the trees at some point. He did not relish the idea of trying to outrun them in their home habitat, but, considering the circumstances, he didn't have many options.

"Alright. I'm surrounded by foliage." Oz looked to the leader, "Now what?"

"Now we run." The leader burst into action, bolting through the trees. His lackeys followed close behind, howling in their human voices.

Oz raised his eyebrows speculatively and started into a medium paced jog. To him, running was an activity best saved for when one wanted to get somewhere specific in a hurry, or, more frequently, when one wished to get away from somewhere specific. At the moment, he didn't feel either option fit the situation.

The leader dropped back until he was side by side with Oz.

"Come on, Oz." He grinned, "Run harder. Feel the wind across your face, the blood pounding in your temples. The wolf within you remembers these things."

Jeremy was right. He could feel his heart beating in a hypnotic rhythm. Tha-thump. Tha-thump. The blood rushed in his temples, thick with adrenaline and his lungs pumped with savage fury. Strength hummed through his bloodstream and sang along his bones. Senses sharpened with primal alertness, he drank in the experiences of the night. The cool, flowing air, the scent of the trees and the scattered moonlight from the bright crescent moon overhead, played in his mind, drawing his primal self to the surface.

He sensed something else as well, nearby.

Jeremy slowed to a stop and held up a hand indicating that the others should do the same. The two lackeys scrambled to a halt, falling clumsily over each other and themselves. Oz bounced twice and fell still, his eyes alight with feral intelligence. Jeremy cupped his hand near his ear and directed it toward the sky.

Oz could hear it too. In fact, he had sensed it earlier from much farther away. On the other side of a low hill, he could hear two soft, feminine voices.

"I think this is the place." Jeremy smiled greedily rubbing the palms of his hands together.

"I want to show you something, Oz." He beckoned with an outstretched hand as he crept up the side of the hill.

There were two girls, freshmen at Sunnydale High by the look of them, stumbling carelessly through the dark along a well worn trail on their way home. They were dressed in short, form-fitting cocktail dresses. One, a blonde with narrow, catlike blue eyes wore pink, and the other, a brunette with her hair gathered up into a pile atop her head, was in black. The giggled to each other as they walked, straining to see by the wan light of the moon. To Oz's eyes, they were as visible as if they had been walking along a shady path a t high noon on a sunny day. Stupid, he thought. Who walks through the middle of nowhere in this town at night? Unless, of course, they ran out of gas, which would be totally understandable.

"Can you smell that?" Jeremy peered over the ridge, hunger obvious in his eyes. "It's like honey in the air, isn't it?"

He didn't want to admit it, but Oz knew exactly what Jeremy was talking about. At times like this, when his feral side was closer to the surface, his senses, particularly his sense of smell, became incredibly sharpened. Beneath the coarse stink of designer perfume, his nose detected subtle cues in the air. One of the girls was ovulating, he knew, and the other had been with a boy recently. Both gave off the sweet scent of youth as well as a faint tang of alcohol. He could feel the warmth of their skin in the air. Tha-thump, tha-thump, his heart pounded in primal rhythm. They were young and free of disease, well nourished, too, he noted his keen eyes raking hungrily across their slender figures. Tha-thump. Tha-thump. He blinked, snapping out of his daze. Something was wrong here. He had never felt like this in his human form before. He made a promise to himself to cut the night short. Just as soon as the two girls were out of danger.

"The young ones are always sweeter." Jeremy whispered encouragingly, "Come on, I'll show you."

He stared through the bushes at the girls, his pupils dilated. Oz caught a whiff of something unfamiliar. Male wolf hormones, he realized. The scent made him feel angry and aggressive. Tha-thump, tha-thump, his heartbeat called to him with a timeless song of power. Unintentionally, his lip curled, exposing his canines.

The brunette stumbled with a burst of lilting laughter and grabbed onto her friend for support.

"Hold on a sec." She breathed with a toothsome smile, "I gotta pee."

"Out here?" the blonde was appalled.

"Who's going to see?" the brunette hiked up her dress and squatted next to a thick bush, less than six feet from Oz and Jeremy, "It's so dark here that there could be a hundred people around and they wouldn't see a thing."

She began to urinate and, immediately, Oz felt a jolt rush through his body. The girl's strong feminine musk filled his sensitive nostrils and he could barely contain the urge to pounce on her right there and then. Jeremy had no such self control. As the girl finished her business and straightened, tugging her dress back down around her hips, he leapt through the foliage, grabbing her by the shoulders and driving her roughly to the ground. The blonde screamed shrilly and took off blindly into the forest.

Tamping his toes into the spongy forest bed, Oz sprang forward with a sharp snarl. Hooking an arm around Jeremy's neck, he jerked hard, throwing him off the hysterical brunette.

Oz landed and rolled, quickly replanting his feet beneath him. He crouched in the leaves, his eyes locked on Jeremy, a low, rumbling growl in his throat. Jeremy mirrored him, his lip pulled back threateningly and his bony hands open and ready for battle. The brunette lay petrified with fear directly between them, the whites of her eyes glowing like a beacon in the night.

"Hey, he jumped Jeremy!" the stocky lackey cried, outraged, charging down the hill.

Without taking his eyes from Jeremy he drove forward powerfully with his legs, smashing the crown of his skull into the filthy young man's chin. The lackey's head snapped back and he collapsed, limply into the leaves. Oz glared meaningfully at the other lackey, the one with the red hair, and snarled violently. Without a moment of hesitation, the boy turned and fled into the trees.

"Don't think this is going to be any easier with them gone." Jeremy sneered as he leaned over the terrified girl, toying idly with a curled lock of her hair. "They were nothing, just a couple of loser wannabes. Not deserving to be true werewolves."

"And attacking a helpless girl makes you qualified?" Oz indicated the shivering "Man, have YOU got issues."

"I was qualified by birth." The dark eyed leader insisted, "My father was a werewolf. And when I was born, it turned out, so was I."

"She's not like us, Oz." Jeremy continued, his eyes boring holes into the other werewolf, "Not like you. Homo Lupinus, Oz, remember that. You may not have chosen to have been made into what you are, but that doesn't change what it is. It's time you learned to act like who you really are. Or die trying."

Oz arched an eyebrow at him, approaching him slowly until he backed off a little, "I'm pretty comfortable with who I am, thanks. Besides, you shouldn't make threats like that. I've got experience in killing off nocturnal troublemakers. You should see my references."

"Good luck." Jeremy sneered, "Only silver through the heart can kill a true werewolf. I'm practically immortal. Too bad you can't say the same."

He clenched his hands into tight fists and stalked forward aggressively. The texture of his skin changed, becoming dark and rough, sprouting thick, dark hairs, and his face stretched and shifted into more of a muzzle shape. Long, sharp claws sprouted from his fingertips and his eyes turned yellow and animal-like. Short, coarse fur covered his body, making him look like a man-werewolf hybrid.

"You see, I'm not limited by the phase of the moon. Fight me, Oz." Jeremy snarled, his sharp, elongated teeth bared in challenge. "Fight me and embrace what you truly are. Or I'll kill both of you."

Oz bent and took the girl by the hand and helped her to her feet, his eyes cautiously glued to Jeremy.

"You better go home." He suggested to the girl, urging her gently forward. "This looks like it could get messy." She started away with a few fearful steps, her wide, brown eyes flitting back and forth uncertainly between Oz and the half-were.

"I don't think so." Jeremy declared darkly. Lunging forward, he slapped her across the face, knocking her forcefully to the ground.

"Are you crazy!?" Oz crouched quickly by the brunette's side, rolling her over and helping her sit up. Her hair tumbling loosely into her face, she clutched his hand in fright and began to whimper. She squeezed something into his palm, looking to his eyes imploringly, a smear of red marring the soft skin of her lip. The smell of intermingled blood and fear tantalized him and he had to force his gaze away. Tha-thump. Tha-thump.

"Ahh," Jeremy commented knowingly, "You ARE like me. I can see the hunger in you. Kill her now and join me."

Oz smiled to himself and turned to face Jeremy slowly. Lashing out, her jammed his hand hard against Jeremy's furry chest. The dark eyed werewolf 's eyes flew wide and he yelped like a dog, sinking to his knees, his mouth working wordlessly and his hands clawing at a neat, bloody hole between his upper ribs. A short breath wheezed out of his throat and he fell face first, dead, to the ground.

"I guess you probably don't want this back, huh?" Oz held the girl's bloody silver hair pin out to her as he helped her to her feet. She made a disgusted face and shrank away from the gore-covered accessory. "Naw, I didn't think so." He tossed the makeshift weapon into the trees. "Come on, I'll walk you home. Just give me a minute."

He walked over to the unconscious blonde-haired lackey and, bending over him, slapped him awake. "Your buddy over there had an accident." He pointed to Jeremy's rapidly cooling corpse. "Tell your other friend that there's only one werewolf in Sunnydale now and he doesn't like either one of you. It's probably a good idea if you go back to wherever you came from. Got it?"

Oz straightened and backed off a little. "And take a shower, man. Please." He beseeched, pinching his nostrils together.

The stringy haired young man nodded quickly, his beady eyes wide and unblinking, then scrambled to his feet and ran in the same direction as his red haired companion. Offering his arm to the awe struck girl, he waited until she accepted and lead her back toward the road.

Almost an hour later, he stood under Willow's bedroom window tossing tiny pebbles against the glass. The window opened and she poked her head out, sleepily squinting into the darkness.

"Down here." Oz smiled, waving a hand in the air.

"Oz." She said, confused, "What are you doing here. I thought you went home."

"Actually, I didn't quite make it. I ran into some . . . friends." He climbed up the wooden lattice until he could lean across her windowsill. "You remember Jeannie Wilson? She says you tutored her in biology during first semester. She's a nice girl. A bit free about her bodily functions, though."

"Oz what are you talking about?" she watched him, puzzled. She would never have expected Oz to show up unannounced under her window in the middle of the night, not that that was out of character for him. Nothing was out of character for him really, except maybe being predictably IN character, she guessed.

"Nothing, I guess." He shrugged, "I just came back to tell you something."


He leaned in and kissed her carelessly on the mouth. "I don't think I'll have to go home early anymore." He smiled, his eyes holding hers for a long moment. Inside him, his heart was elated, yet obedient. Tha-thump, tha-thump. "Call it instinct."

He released her face and slipped quietly down the lattice to the ground.

"Tomorrow. Cineplex." He whispered clearly up to her as her walked around the corner of the house and quickly blew her a kiss from the tips of two fingers, a contented smile on his lips. "Don't forget."

Willow leaned out her window, watching him go, and sighed. She smiled as she faintly made out the sound of him talking to himself as he left.

"Hey, look at me! I'm Leatherface!" he crowed happily. "I LOVE that guy!"

Sometimes she wondered if she would ever understand him.

There's no place like home...there's no place like home....