Disclaimer: Joss Whedon's boys don't belong to me, unfortunately. This little conversation does.
Thanks to Tanja Kinkel for the beta-read.
Angel was in A Mood. It wasn't unusual for him; after all, being a singularly unhappy person was all that kept his soul attached. Most of the time, though, he was able to find some satisfaction in the knowledge that he was doing the right thing and working toward his redemption.
This was not one of those times. He was feeling his separation from Buffy acutely this particular day, wondering how she was and what she was doing. Spike's visit hadn't helped anything. The knowledge that some man had treated her badly hurt more than all of Marcus' hot pokers.
Angel tossed aside the book he'd been reading. Today, Sartre was enough to make the vampire want to spend some time in the sun.
The hum of the elevator caught his ears. Perhaps it was Cordelia. She was always good for distracting him from his moods. He turned on a lamp—he didn't need them, but it was only polite for non-vampire company—and waited for the gate to open.
When it did, it revealed just about the last person he'd have expected.
"Oz?" Angel said.
"Angel," the young werewolf responded. Something in his voice worried Angel.
"What's wrong?" the vampire asked.
For a moment, Oz said nothing while emotions roiled behind his normally impassive countenance. Then he said, "I need to talk."
Novel, thought Angel. "Come on in," he invited aloud.
Oz stepped in, obviously still in the midst of some inner turmoil. Angel worried about what might be behind it. He knew Giles would have called him if Buffy had been hurt, but there weren't many things that could throw Oz off-balance.
Oz walked in, wearing an abstracted look on his face. He entered the living room, scratched one ear, turned to face Angel, walked a few paces, turned away again, and finally came to a stop near the other side of the room. Angel, for his part, found a chair. His worry had stepped up another notch, and he was hoping that presenting a less-threatening aspect might encourage Oz to tell him what was wrong.
"I didn't know who else to talk to," Oz finally said. "I've done something . . . awful."
Angel had the feeling this needed to be handled delicately. If the taciturn Oz felt the need to unburden himself to a vampire, things had to be fairly high on the bad scale. He groped for words.
"Oz," he finally said, "you know I won't be shocked, no matter what you tell me. I won't judge you."
Oz nodded. "I know. That's why I came here. I can't talk to anyone else."
"Then talk." Angel indicated a chair near where Oz had finally stopped pacing. "Why don't you sit down?"
The werewolf took the chair and proceeded to simply sit there for a few minutes, brow furrowed in thought. One of the reasons Angel had always liked Oz was his verbal economy: Oz expressed no thought without making certain it needed to be said. The vampire settled in and waited patiently for Oz to formulate what he wanted to say.
And the story came out, very slowly and in short phrases, but never attempting to spare the ugly details. Oz told Angel about his strange attraction to Veruca, how they met, how she saw being a werewolf, about Willow finding them, and about killing Veruca and leaving Sunnydale and Willow behind. As the story ended, Oz fell into silence again.
Angel absorbed it quietly, suddenly understanding why Oz had come to him. "You're worried about the wolf in you," the vampire noted quietly. "You worry that he'll take over."
Oz nodded. "I wonder if Veruca started out like me. Tried to keep others safe from her. Why did she give up?"
"And you wonder if you'll end up like her."
"Yeah. What's to stop me?" Oz gestured toward Angel. "You're a vampire, Angel. Even if you've got a soul, you still fight that. I need to know . . . how you do that."
That quiet observation nearly floored Angel. Oz's quiet acceptance of him had led Angel to the belief that Oz simply didn't give Angel's vampiric side much thought. Instead, the werewolf was now betraying an uncanny understanding of Angel's dual nature—and his inner struggle.
"Oz . . ." Angel fumbled for words. "You're not really like me. You're very different from how I was before I became a vampire."
"I'm not so different from how you are now," Oz countered. "We've both got this thing inside us that makes us different. Now that I know the wolf's inside me full-time, I feel a temptation to give in to it." He paused again, searching for words. "Awhile ago—I don't know if you were back from Hell yet—there was a guy who had turned himself into a monster. Sort of a Jekyll-and-Hyde thing. I knew he beat up his girlfriend. He came after me after he saw me talking to her. It was during a full moon. When I saw the sun go down and knew I was about to change, I felt . . . I wanted to hurt him. As the wolf. When I fought Veruca, it was even worse. I wanted to kill her. Wanted to." Guilt and pain betrayed themselves as Oz fought for words. "I don't know if it was the wolf or me. I don't know if there's a difference."
Oz looked full at Angel. "Do you ever worry that . . ." Here, Oz's resolve seemed to fade. But Angel knew what the question was.
"Every time the vampire comes out," he answered softly, "I worry that I won't be able to stop him."
"What do you do?"
"I meditate." Angel shrugged slightly. "I do T'ai Chi. Mostly, I think about the people I don't want to let down. Cordelia, Doyle, Buffy, you guys—I know that if I ever gave in to the vampire, I'd hurt all of you again. I don't want to do that."
"Yeah," agreed Oz. "I left because I didn't want to hurt Willow any more than she'd been hurt."
The pain in Oz's voice was all too familiar. "It's the worst thing in the world when the only way you can be true to the woman you love is to leave her," Angel said softly.
Oz nodded, silently grieving. After a moment, Angel stood up and went over to his desk. He found a piece of paper and scribbled an address, phone number, and a few directions on it. He crossed the room to Oz and handed it to him.
"This is the address of a Buddhist monastery a few hours north of Los Angeles," the vampire said. "It might be a good place to go, just to get your bearings. It's quiet; you can think, be alone."
"Good idea," said Oz. His tone was noncommittal, but Angel knew better than to try to read anything into it.
The sound of the lift startled them both. Oz stood, looked at Angel. No words were needed. Angel gestured toward the bathroom, and Oz disappeared while Angel went to greet his guest.
It was Cordelia, telling him that Doyle had just called. Angel managed (with some difficulty) to persuade her he needed to "finish something up" in his apartment, and she should go back to the office. As she left, the bathroom door opened.
"I've gotta go," Angel told him. "You can stay if you want."
Oz shook his head. "No. I'll go."
"Oz, you're exhausted," argued Angel. "Crash here for the night. I won't be back until it's almost daylight. You can use the bed, take a shower, whatever. You're practically asleep on your feet; I don't want you to get in an accident because you fall asleep at the wheel."
The young man's shoulders sagged, and Angel knew he'd been right to talk him out of leaving. "All right," Oz conceded. "Thanks."
Some hours later, just as the sun broke over the horizon, Angel returned to his apartment. Inside, it was empty. The bed was made, with nothing to indicate anyone had slept there except for a faint, wolfish smell. In the bathroom, the inside of the shower was still wet, but no towels had been used. Angel guessed Oz must have brought one of his own in.
The vampire stripped out of his own clothing and showered, then headed to the kitchen. There, he drank a mugful of cow's blood and picked up the phone. He'd made the decision while showering that someone in Sunnydale ought to know about Oz's visit. Calling Buffy's room was out of the question; even if Angel had thought his talking to Buffy was a good idea, Willow lived there, too. And seeing as Angel didn't exactly trust Xander's judgment, that left only one person.
"Hello?" said Giles at the other end.
"Giles, it's Angel."
"Is something wrong?" asked the ex-Watcher.
Not exactly a surprising question, thought Angel. "Nothing's wrong, but I wanted someone to know that Oz was just here."
"Really? What happened?"
"Nothing. He just wanted to talk."
"That's—that's novel," commented Giles, unconsciously echoing Angel's thoughts.
"I thought so, too." Angel paused. "He seemed to think I'd understand about . . . what happened."
"Yes. There are certain . . . parallels."
"He thought so," Angel said. "I thought someone should know. I gave him the address of a monastery—think that might be his next stop."
"Indeed. Yes, thank you for letting me know. I'm not certain Willow should know, however."
"Me, either. Thanks, Giles."
Angel set down the phone. As he did so, a folded piece of paper on the desk caught his eye. Angel unfolded it to reveal one word: "Thanks."
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