It doesn't feel so much like leaving her when you're driving. Because you can pretend that it's just another road trip. Another gig. Another city. But that really only works for so long, when the destination is unknown, the duration is uncertain and you can still smell the salt from her tears on your lips.
It breaks your heart so many times that being broken becomes a comfort zone. Pain is your bed of satin. The dark place, your friend. You tell yourself pointless justifications over and over until thoughts are just words. Neither numbing nor annoying, just words; simply existing in your head. And then you can rewind the mental tape again, and pretend it doesn't feel like leaving, because you're driving.
Duffle bag in hand he entered the familiar office of Angel Investigations. Cordelia was playing secretary on the phone with a non-customer and she held up a finger to Oz after waving him to sit down. She finished her heated conversation about the ethics of unsigned paying agreements and, slamming the phone down, made her way around the desk.
"Oz hey!" Cordelia exclaimed with a smile, throwing her arms around him. Then she pulled back with a frown, her tone almost scolding. "Hey! Last time you came here you brought priceless jewelry and bleached badness, if you come bearing mystical accessories again..."
"No worries." Oz smiled weakly. "This isn't a business trip."
"Oh, well it's great to have you back then. Here. For no apparent reason." Her smile was sincere. "After just having you here a couple weeks ago."
"What she means is it's nice to see you again an' you're welcome anytime," Doyle shook his hand warmly as Angel emerged from his apartment below. Oz nodded at the Irishman and then turned his attention to the vampire.
"Duh," Cordy retorted to her co-worker, rolling her eyes. "I just said that."
"Oz," Angel began, "how are things?"
"They pretty much just are right now," he replied in usual stoic manner. Angel looked at the packed bag, Oz followed his gaze. "I was hoping I could stay the night. I'm hitting the road tomorrow and I need a place to stay until morning."
"Don't you have the van?" Cordelia asked.
"Yeah, but I haven't had a chance to clean it out yet. I just left this afternoon so..." He stole a quick glance to Angel, who caught it with much understanding.
"Of course. It's not a problem," Angel replied. "What's wrong?"
"Wrong?" Cordelia's features became as confused as she was. She looked from her old friend to her new boss. "What makes you think something's wrong?"
Oz clenched his jaw as explanations rose in his throat. Explanations were very similar to justifications. Excuses. Reasons to leave. "Like I said, I left Sunnydale this afternoon..."
"Left? As in left left?" The girl raised her brow in surprise. "As in left college? Left Willow? Left..."
"As in left everything left," he confirmed tersely. He wasn't being rude, he just couldn't handle hearing things bluntly right now.
"Come on downstairs, I'll fix you some tea," Angel turned and disappeared from where he had only emerged moments ago, Oz followed.
"How'd he do that?" Doyle finally spoke. "I mean Oz isn't exactly signal guy, how'd Angel know something was wrong?"
"Don't feel left out," Cordelia sighed watching the empty doorway before turning back to some paperwork. "It's not our fault we don't speak Brood."
Angel leaned against the stove sipping the bland, heated liquid from the mug; politely diverting his gaze from the boy's face to his own hands. Having crafted it to an art form, he understood the necessity of silence. So he let Oz break it comfortably, after all, it was Oz's silence.
"Thanks for this," Oz said quietly while watching the steam rise from his cup.
"It's no problem," Angel shrugged nonchalantly. "It's a new flavor actually, Jasmine Rose."
Oz, who was seated at the kitchen table, glanced at him curiously.
"Cordelia bought it," he added before taking a quick sip.
"I meant for letting me crash here," the boy corrected with something that might have been the hint of a smile, it was Oz amused. "But, yeah, great tea."
"Oh, like I said, no problem," Angel continued. "So..." He inwardly rebuked himself for shifting the silence into something less than necessary. Something awkward.
"I cheated on her," Oz almost says. But those words aren't right, they're reality, but they're not the right way to begin this; he swallows them down with a gulp of pride and jasmine rose.
"I had to leave," is what the boy finally said. "It hurt her bad, but I had to go." This startled Angel, because it sounds so familiar that it could be echoes in his head, yet he's sure the words came from Oz.
"Had to or needed to?" It ended up coming out more like a challenge than he intended it to, even though, in a way, it was.
"Is there a difference?" It was hard to tell if Oz was throwing the challenge back or if he was just being Oz.
"Sometimes." Now it was Angel's turn to become entranced with the contents of his cup. "If one turns out to be easier than the other. It doesn't always come down to staying or leaving."
"I guess not." Oz hadn't really thought of their being a third option, let alone more. "Shades of gray, huh?"
"Yeah," Angel said, dumping the mug's contents into the sink. "Those are the worst kinds."
"How do you know which is the best choice?"
"You don't," Angel replied. "You just make one and pray it works out okay in the end."
"You lived on the Hellmouth for how many years and you still hope for best case scenario?" He paused. "Never pegged you an optimist."
"I'm not. I look at the glass and I kind of just see water in it," Oz commented.
Angel nodded, "I can tell. You being the casual observer and all. But it must have hurt that much more to be the source of the disturbance. It's a lot harder to be that way and then have to step out of yourself and make a judgment call."
Oz watched Angel intently now, it moved something in him that this vampire got him. Truly got him. He knew that's why he came here. It put him a little at ease because it made coming here feel right. It made leaving feel a little more in the direction of right. Now was the time for explanations.
"I couldn't control it. I thought I could but when it came down to it I saw how little power I had over myself. I let the wolf take over, make the calls." Oz searched for words, seemingly around the room as his eyes systematically raked over his surroundings. "And I put her in danger, almost got her and others killed because I was selfish and couldn't keep it together." He took a deep breath, he was pretty sure that was the most he ever said all at once.
This produced a wince from Angel as the boy's words cut him again and salted it. Definitely not echoes, yet so damn close.
"She came out of nowhere. I didn't think anything could surprise me anymore, and then there she was." Oz gestured to the empty air in front of him. "After all I've been through, you think I'd learn to never let my guard down, but I really didn't see anything like that coming."
"You never can. No matter how prepared you are, the Powers can always up you one. I've been around for two hundred plus years, I've seen a lot of apocalypses, been the cause of a few of them." He knew about shock value, after not having a reflection for over two centuries and then suddenly seeing himself in a nineteen year old boy was just an example. "I don't care how prepared you think you are, some things just can't be anticipated."
"But I want to be ready. Maybe I can't be fully, but I need to..." his voice trailed off for a moment. "I need to know the beast."
Angel knew it was true. There were things that polite philosophical discussion couldn't grasp, things that bled onto the outskirts of what men were, flirting with evil. Angel looked away.
"I still don't fully know the beast," Angel muttered. "What makes you think I can help you?" Oz rose from his chair and moved towards the vampire calmly.
"Show me," his tone was direct, yet his eyes were pleading. Angel hesitated a moment and looked away, but the magnetism of this boy's desperation pulled his gaze back. He searched the boy's eyes for a fragment of uncertainty, a thread of anxiety, he searched him for a reason not to do it. What he found was resolve and the fact that, if you leave everything behind, all you can do is try for forward.
Angel nodded slowly, "okay."
Feet pounding wet grass and mud. Dirty, hairy feet. Not feet, but paws and claws. A large, fur coated body matted with filth and night and freedom and hunger. The hunger. It's a feeling that breeds above the stomach and a little to the left. An ache. A biting aggression. It makes you howl and hunt. It moves you to kill. Something. Anything. As long as that something bleeds.
The sound of teeth gnashing into flesh. The noise of a scream so shrill that it's a weapon. The almost cooing, soothing gurgle of blood as it bubbles in release, escaping through the bite marks. The violent spasms of a body, a vessel, attempting to resist something it cannot refuse; the cold, breathless chill of death.
"Can you feel it?"
Oz nodded in reply. "More than that."
"You can taste it too?"
He nodded again.
"You need to realize that, as much as you hate to admit it, you share yourself with an animal. It has your mind, your body, it knows your every weakness. Imagine you were in a cage, dying to get out, and all the time you're just watching and waiting. Now imagine your captor is so close you can barely breathe. The beast is motivated on survival. You're at war inside."
At this, Oz opened his eyes. They'd been meditating for a few hours. And slowly the Wolf's memories were translating to his own. He had convinced himself that he couldn't sustain memories of those three nights a month because he wasn't the same as it. Because they were different. Now he saw that the blackouts weren't about him being better than this creature. It was denial repressing them.
"Close your eyes," Angel instructed after watching the realization bleed into Oz's features. "We'll try again."
Obediently, Oz returned to the darkness behind his eyelids and let the memories lead him.
Scratching and biting. A wail of pain, a mating call. A beast below him, inside him, him inside a beast. Snarling and growling. Hours of movement, a power struggle, dominance retained. Animals knowing each other, tasting and fighting. Scratching and biting. Release, collapse. The transformation of fur to flesh while two entwined bodies sleep.
"How do I defeat it?"
"In warfare, you don't just stand there waiting for them to strike first. Lying to yourself about your true nature is the same thing. Pretenses will be your undoing. You can't pretend that you're a normal person, because then you're defeating yourself. That's why your guard falls, that's why you do."
"So you're saying I am separate from it?"
"Yes and no."
Fleeting sunlight, warm on the face; causing breath to become rapid and plasma to sing. Muscles tensing for the fight. Flesh retreating in defeat. Fur emerging in victory. Like electrical current paralyzing you, your control, but the body still moves. Twitching and writhing, but only the first few times. The sound of your mental scream is drowned out by the rhythm of the chase.
Oz felt like he was hyperventilating. His chest was rising and falling in rapid waves and his head was buzzing. He knew this. But there was no sunset, it wasn't even dark yet and the moon was not nearly full. His terror-filled gaze found Angel.
"Don't worry," Angel assured him. "You won't change. You're just remembering."
He couldn't take it, the strength and hunger in him from all these years, for it to come flooding to him all at once. Shakily, Oz got to his feet and stumbled forward. Angel rose to catch him. But Oz caught the vampire's arm instead. There was a decisive moment, and Angel saw it pass through the boy before his arm was released.
Oz staggered to the wall and clung to it for stability. He slid down to the floor and began to shake like a junkie. Angel hadn't expected this but he wasn't exactly surprised.
"Oz..." Angel tried to keep his voice low and assuasive but it was returned with a feral growl.
Oz stood up again and turned to his teacher. There was a gleam in his eye, a violent and uninhibited luminance. Still twitching from the energy in him, he reached out and grabbed Angel by the shirt and threw him against the wall. Then moved to him and held Angel in place.
It startled Angel, but not by much, what really caught him by surprise was his own reaction. The jolt of pleasant familiarity that the sudden, intimate violence invoked. It had to be the adrenaline.
Instinctively, Angel fought his way out of Oz's grasp; forgetting that this was just a confused boy, he worsened matters by throwing him to the ground. Oz snarled and pounced on Angel, pinning him down. Angel's head smacked the tiles and the impact brought forth his demonic visage. Tossing his weight to the side, Angel managed to reverse the situation and was now atop the boy.
Scratching and biting. A wail of pain, a mating call. A beast below him, inside him, him inside a beast. Snarling and growling. Hours of movement, a power struggle, dominance retained. Animals knowing each other, tasting and fighting. Scratching and biting. Release, collapse. The tired transformation of nightfall to sunrise in the sleepless city of Los Angeles.
The darkness behind his eyes faded into black and white images. Oz. The wolf. Oz as the wolf. Three entities braided into one. He was all of them and each. He was the shades of gray in between. He couldn't entirely separate himself from the wolf, but he wasn't one with it. Not completely.
Angel's pale, naked body was next to him. For someone too manly to hug another man, this was new. The internal boundaries had been broken and reestablished. His tryst with Veruca had brought the beast out because it had been shoved into a place that it didn't belong. This had been about getting to know it. You have to know what you're dealing with before you can fight it, growing up on a Hellmouth taught him that.
Duffle bag in hand he stood at the doorway to the apartment, shaking Angel's hand. It seemed like a cold gesture after the night they had spent. But it was a mutual understanding of sorts, how the beasts know only passion for the kill and how last night was something different.
This was the unnaturally polite way two creatures of the night say goodbye.
Stepping out into the sunlight and heading to my van I feel something turn over in its slumber inside me. Something quelled. Sated. For now.
I'm not fool enough to entertain the fantasy that I'm ready to go back. That I've changed. That I'm even close. After one night, that would be too easy. Too wrong. But now I know that I'm ready to learn how.