Habits

You know the drill folks. These people belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy, not me. A pity, that.

Today he won't think of her.

That's the promise that he makes himself when he wakes up every morning. Today will be the day when she doesn't cross his mind once. He won't think about her eyes or her hair, or the way he loved to just watch her as she slept because he'd never seen anything more beautiful ...

Today, he tells himself. Today is the day he will be free of her.

The cabin is cold when he wakes up, but it's only the work of a few minutes to get the fire started again. Normally he wouldn't bother, but his guest is still sleeping soundly, and he lacks Oz's indifference to the weather. Devon is only human after all ...

Oz shakes his head as he trots ... no, walks outside. Humans walk. He has to remember that. He's gotten out of the habit of thinking like a man, moving like a human being. It's hard. He doesn't like it.

He hopes Devon will leave soon. Devon's making it hard to forget about things he'd just as soon forget.

Oz smiles slightly as he heads to the stream. He's not a man, but he's not a wolf either. A wolf wouldn't let memories trouble him ... wouldn't remember at all. And if a wolf was made uncomfortable by someone, it would just drive the source of its discomfort out of its den.

Not a man, not a wolf. He's a were, and he's spent years learning to find his balance, to become comfortable in both his skins. It didn't come without cost, but he's at peace ... most of the time.

No. Stop it. Don't think about her. Not again.

He runs naked into the cold mountain stream, letting the frigid waters knock thought out of him as the strong current almost knocks him off his feet ... almost, but not quite. He has never been large in either of his forms, but he's lithe and strong, his body agile and quick. He doesn't lose his balance.

After he washes, he stays in the center of the stream until the waters calm. He stays there for perhaps ten or fifteen minutes, waiting for his chance. Waiting for the right moment ...

Predator's patience. Hunting isn't all about fang and claw; it's about waiting for the right moment. He knows that now.

His hands are a blur as he throws two fish onto the shore. By the time he gets back to the shore, they're dead. He did that deliberately. There's still enough of the man he had been inside to hate to watch things die, even when he's what kills them.

She had always loved his gentleness ...

No. Not again.

If Dev wasn't there, he'd eat the fish raw, but human company requires human manners, so he prepares them for the spit and puts them over the fire. By the time they're done, his old band mate is awake and rubbing his eyes. Dev looks older now; Oz knows how much a life on the road can age a guy, so he's not really surprised.

"Geez, Oz. Put some clothes on, man!"

"Sorry." He's not, really, but he puts on a pair of pants anyway and takes down two plates and sets them on the small table in the center of the cabin. "Breakfast."

Dev says little while he eats, and Oz was never big on excessive conversation anyway, so nothing more is said until after they're finished. "I think you're even quieter now than you were before."

"I don't have a lot of company. I'm not used to talking."

"You never were." Dev looks at him. "I can't believe I found you here, out in the middle of nowhere. If you hadn't been in the bar last night, I'd never have known you were here ..."

Oz had been on one of his monthly trips to town for supplies. He'd seen a flyer for Dingoes Ate My Baby, and had given into the temptation to see his old friends once more. The others were gone, but Dev was still fronting the band, and he'd spotted Oz in the audience. They'd talked afterwards, had a couple of beers, and Oz had left himself be talked into letting Dev see his place.

"I never would have pictured you doing this, man," Dev says again, looking at the cabin. "Daniel Oz Osbourne, a freaking mountain man. You really sell furs."

"Guy's gotta earn a living somehow."

"What happened to your van?"

"Sold it."

"And your guitar?"

"Broke it."

"Broke it?"

"Smashed it against a tree, actually." He'd been playing, losing himself in the music, and then he'd started to play one of her favorite songs ...

Losing her is the one thing that he's never learned how to accept.

"So no van, no guitar, no radio ..."

"No. I like the quiet."

"Man ... you know what happened right?"

"What do you mean?"

"To Sunnydale."

"What happened to Sunnydale?"

"Man, the place sank out of sight."

"Hellmouth."

"What did you say?"

"Nothing. Did a lot of people die?"

"No. Most everyone was gone by then. It was like ... well, things got weird at the end, and everyone knew we had to get out."

He knows what Dev's waiting for him to ask, so he asks. "Willow?" It's like touching a red hot poker, but he does it.

"I saw her on a news report, I think. She and that Summers chick. And her sister. They got out of town in the nick of time in a schoolbus."

"Willow doesn't have a sister."

"No the other one. Buffy. Her sister. You know, she's growing up kinda hot. Heard she's a bit of a whiner, though."

He starts to say that Buffy doesn't have a sister, but then something seems to tickle the back of his mind, and he shrugs it off. "I'm glad she's okay."

"You aren't going to, like, go after her?"

"And do what? She could find me if she wanted to." He knows that she's more powerful now than she was when he last saw her. He'd heard rumors back in the days when he was looking for a cure among mystical types about the powerful young Wicca from his hometown ... "She's got a different life now. She doesn't want me." He shrugs as he says it, but inside he can still feel the pain.

"Come back on the road, Oz. It'll be just like old times. You and me. We'll find you a few groupies, and you'll forget all about her."

Oz shrugs. "Not my life anymore. It was good seeing you, Dev, but I need for you to be go, man. I need to be alone."

"Why?"

"I need to let something out you don't want to see. Take your stuff and go, man." He pauses. "Please." He turns away, knowing what he's going to have to do, knowing it'll be more effective this way.

"Oz--"

"Go!" Nothing about his face or voice is human when he looks back at Dev. His fangs ache with a terrible desire to taste human flesh, but it's a desire, not a compulsion, and he's resisted it before. He wouldn't have done this if he thought he would actually hurt Dev, but he needs for him to be gone ... and to never come back.

Dev's eyes grow wide with fear, and he stumbles about as though he's in some kind of nightmare, but he finally finds the doorway and runs out as though the hounds of hell were at his back.

Oz laughs.

Later, he'll regret scaring Dev.

Maybe.

But right now he doesn't want to act like a man. He wants power and grace, and strength. Most of all, he wants not to think.

He used to think of it as the wolf coming out, but it's really just letting another side of himself do what it wants. That's why he doesn't need the moon anymore. It's not a curse; it's just him.

It was always just him.

He runs. He hunts. He eats. And when he can do no more of those things, he becomes a man again and collapses on his bed, waiting for dreamless sleep to claim him. Just before the darkness swallows him, he makes himself a promise.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow he won't think of her.

But he knows that he will.