This ridiculously long and time-consuming to write fanfic was born out of a desire to tie up the loose ends of both shows, so there will be the occasional crossover with Angel. Naturally, it was also born out of a desire to end things on my terms, at least in my own imagination, and I suppose for whoever else wants to join me on the ride.

Now, Oz is one of my favorite characters of the entire Buffyverse, so, since he wasn't killed off, I'm bringing him back to rejoin the main titles cast. However, since we also haven't heard from him for three seasons, I took this first episode to fill in the blanks and set up the setting for the whole season. This is, by the way, a proper, twenty-two episode season, complete with big bad, big love, battles, angst, humor, discovery, and death. Please let me know if I'm getting it right in the form of reviews.

Now, obviously, this is not the official Season 8. That would be the comic. Which, yay for continued Buffyverse stuff, but frankly, I don't like it (though I pretty much adore Jo Chen's cover art). All Buffyverse characters, lore, backstory, and especially the dialogue in this opening scene here (which will probably be my only direct episode quote scene) belong to Joss Whedon. This story, fun bonus characters like Alex, Cole, Lorin, and others to come, are mine. Enjoy!

As of April, 2011, having just finished another marathon rewatch of the entire series and with a couple more years of writing experience and English major-ness under my belt, I'm going through this again and editing where I feel it's needed. Hopefully this will help streamline it all and give me an inspirational boost to help me finish the last few episodes of "Season 9" in top form.

Episode 1: The Wolf

Thursday, May 18, 2000

"I missed you, Oz. I wrote you so many letters, but I didn't have any place to send them, you know?" Willow paused, and when she began again, her voice shook slightly, "I couldn't live like that..."

"It was stupid to think that you'd just be waiting," said Oz. He hated himself for what he had put her through when he left, for being selfish enough to think she would have kept that spot in her life vacant for him, and especially because he already knew what he would have to do next, and that it would re-open the wounds they both had. He tried to convince himself that nothing else mattered as long as she was happy. Tried not to let overwhelming jealousy ruin this.

"I was waiting," Willow objected earnestly, "I feel like, some part of me will always be waiting for you. Like, if I'm old and blue-haired, and I turn the corner in Istanbul and there you are, I won't be surprised."

He let out a small, sad chuckle.

"'Cause," she continued, "you're with me, you know?"

"I know," he said. Just like she was with him. Always. He was slightly surprised to hear his own voice cracking as he went on. "Right now is not that time, I guess."

"No," she said sadly. "What are you going to do?" she asked hesitantly.

"I think I better take off," he said, almost whispering. His chest felt tight. He saw her eyes sparkling with tears.

"When?" she asked, her lips trembling despite her best efforts.

"Pretty much now," he said. There was no point making this harder by dragging it out, even though it was already impossibly hard.

Willow looked down and nodded, trying to keep a brave face, but failing. Oz instinctively leaned towards her. She met him halfway and they held each other tightly for a long moment, both reluctant to let go. He turned his head so he could smell her hair, clinging to her, wanting to permanently etch every detail of her into his mind. He felt her chest heaving against his in silent sobs. When they pulled apart, they simply looked into each other's eyes, both now tear-streaked, until, with a watery smile, Willow got out of the van and began to walk slowly towards Fischer Hall, wrapping her arms around herself tightly, as though she feared she would fall apart if she didn't.

For Oz, there was nothing left to hold together. His whole torso was gone again. He waited until she was no longer in sight before starting the van. He inhaled deeply. Willow's scent was still so strong. He breathed each lungful of it slowly, savoring the scent that was sweeter to him than any other, and began to drive. He had no idea where he was going except that it would be away from Willow.

Something inside him had broken. All those months of careful training and meditation, and he had still missed something. He didn't know how, but he had to fix it. He tried to convince himself that it would be for Willow, that somehow if he succeeded, they could be—but deep down, he already knew that he was never going back to Sunnydale.

Oz had vague memories of all the state signs he had passed. Nevada. Utah. Colorado. Nebraska. Iowa. Illinois. Indiana. Ohio. Ohio...that's where he was now. Distance and time had all passed rather fuzzily as he simply drove and drove, only pausing for gas, not caring where he would end up, not yet wanting to stop. He was afraid that if he stopped too soon, his resolve would crumble and send him straight back to California. He wasn't sure if he had eaten anything since he left. It was hard to tell. Eventually, he found himself entering the city limits of Cleveland. The phrase "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" flashed dimly through his mind.

He didn't particularly want to stop here, but his van, which clearly did not appreciate its second long-distance journey in less than a week, had other ideas. It had begun to make horrible repeating clunking thud noises. Oz tried to ignore it, which would already have been a challenge if the noise had not then changed to a loud, shrill screech. Conveniently, that happened just as he passed a place called Erie Auto Repair, so, before the van could do anything worse, he turned around and pulled into one of the three empty garages, he hopped out, and looked around for a mechanic. Though he couldn't see anyone, he did hear the unmistakable sound of drums and an electric bass, which he followed, intrigued, into a separate room.

Inside it, he found two people. One was a tall, thin boy who looked about Oz's age. He had dark brown hair that fell almost into his eyes, and wore glasses, a plain black t-shirt, and heavily grease-stained jeans. He was playing the bass. The other was a girl who looked a few years younger. She was on the drums. Oz was intrigued by the statement she made with her appearance. Two clumps of her black hair were pulled up in pig-tails, while the rest hung loose at chin-length, including bright green dyed bangs, which matched her sleeveless, hooded green shirt. Her arms were covered in fishnets, and she wore black fingerless gloves, baggy black jeans, and heavy black boots. She hammered on the drums with reckless abandon. It sounded incredible. The two of them noticed his presence after a moment, and silence fell.

"Nice going, Cole," said the girl. "Reg won't be happy if he hears you made another customer wait—"

"'Come practice with me, nobody's going to show up,' you said," Cole replied dryly.

"Oh, hey, it's no problem," said Oz, "That's some serious sound you've got going on."

"You play?" asked Cole.

"Yeah," said Oz. "Guitar."

"Hey, cool," said the girl. "We're trying to form a band, but it's just us two so far, and neither of us can sing, so that doesn't work." She had been twirling the drumsticks between her fingers through the entire conversation.

"Well, I definitely don't sing," said Oz, "And I don't think I'm staying in town long." He paused. His ability to function depended on two things: Willow and music. The former might be out of reach, but there was absolutely no logic in depriving himself of the latter as well. "Or I might," he amended. "Either way, my van has issues."

"All right, then, let's go find the problem," said Cole, carefully propping his bass in a corner before picking up a red toolbox and following Oz to the van. "So, what're the symptoms?" he asked.

"Well, about ten minutes ago, it started making this weird rattling clunk sound, and when that stopped, it started...shrieking."

"Okay, let's take a look," said Cole.

Oz tossed him the keys, and he popped the hood. As Oz watched him poking around, the girl came up behind him.

"So, you guys serious about the band thing?" he asked her.

"Definitely!" she said.

"Awesome. And I got that he's Cole, but—" he began, only for her to cut him off in magnificent Italian, complete with the elaborate gestures.

"Ah, perdonate! Ch'iamo Alexandria Giovanna Maria Romano!" She then switched with alarming abruptness back to completely accent-free English, and added, "But seriously, man, call me Alex."

"Nice. Very subtle way of trying to get him to ask about your heritage," said Cole dryly without looking up from what he was doing. Alex made a face in his direction.

"I'm gonna go with Italian," said Oz.

"Good guess," said Cole as he dug around in his toolbox for something, and went back to work under the hood.

"As long as we're doing the name thing, I'm Oz. Also, I've sorta been out of it. Is there a college here, that would be relatively easy to get accepted to? Had some issues with a...highly fragmented freshman year."

"Well, I'm just finishing my sophomore year at East High," said Alex in a tone of irritation, "but Cole goes to Cleveland State."

"Yeah. If you're interested, you shouldn't have much trouble enrolling," said Cole. He walked over to a room next to their makeshift practice room, and returned holding a long rubber belt and something Oz couldn't identify. "I'm guessing you're new in town?"

"Entered the city limits twenty minutes ago," said Oz.

"Record-breaking new, then," Alex observed.

"Know anyone here?" asked Cole.

"Well, as of now, the two of you," said Oz.

"Ah," Cole responded in a slight grunt as he twisted hard on something. He emerged, holding broken versions of the objects he had just put in, and shut the hood with an air of satisfaction. "Need a place to stay? James is transferring out of state, so his room's yours if you want it."

"Sounds good," said Oz. One less thing to worry about, then.

"Awesome. Really wasn't looking forward to paying the whole rent once he left," said Cole. He patted the van's hood. "Well, you can start her up. The idler pulley just seized up and burned through the serpentine belt."

"That was my first guess," said Oz.

Cole snorted. "Sorry," he said, "that was mechanic-speak for 'it sounded a lot worse than it was, but it's fine now.' And, if you want to hook up your guitar, you might play yourself a discount." He faltered, then said with an uneasy laugh, "Just, uh, don't tell my boss about it."

For a week that had included some of the worst experiences of his life, from losing control to being poked and prodded by creepy men in lab coats to leaving Willow, things were now turning out better than Oz could have hoped, lack of torso notwithstanding. Maybe he was supposed to be here after all.

Oz gently retrieved his red guitar from the back of the van and followed Alex. She indicated the unused amplifier where he could plug it in, which he did.

"Alright! Let's hear it," she said. Cole stood next to her to watch.

"You got it," said Oz. He hesitated for a moment. He had almost begun to play "She Knows", but that was Willow's song, and there was no way he'd be able to get through that this soon. It might have even triggered a transformation, and Oz felt that would have rather ruined the audition. Instead, with an ironic smirk, he began to play "Pain". He almost missed a chord when he looked up and saw that Alex had her eyes closed, her face contorted into an almost violent expression, miming drumming in mid-air. Cole seemed to be used to this. He was nodding his head in time to Oz's guitar. Oz finished, and gave a small bow.

"Good stuff," said Alex approvingly.

"Wanna practice with us sometime?" asked Cole.

"Sure," said Oz. "But right now I think there's someone else with car trouble."

"I'll just go act like I actually work here, then," said Cole.

Tuesday, July 25, 2000

"Okay, say again what you did to your car," said Cole, frowning down at the hopeless mess of metal that had somehow made it all the way to the shop without a tow-truck.

"Look, man, I just got out o' the airport. I'm still right banjanxed from the flight, an' some great dolt in an old truck hits me, head on," the owner of the scrap heap complained in a heavy brogue. "An' nothin' even 'appened to the truck!"

"Irish, huh?" asked Oz as he helped Alex load their instruments into the van. Reg had finally realized the proportion of auto repairing to alternative rock going on in his shop, which had swung dramatically towards the latter ever since the arrival of Oz. He had then told Cole rather loudly that he didn't care how good a mechanic he was; either he took the music elsewhere, or he was fired. Elsewhere it would be.

"That I am," said the Irishman proudly. "Me name's Lorin Anderson. Came 'ere fer school. I started back in Dublin, but I was getting' a bit sick o' the 'omeland."

Alex stared at him in disbelief as she deposited one of the amps into the van.

"Anyone in Ireland explain to you that we drive on the right side of the road here?" asked Cole, managing with some difficulty not to smirk as he continued to analyze what was left of the car. The left rear tire looked salvageable, but that was about all he could say for it. He was amazed that Lorin himself was so unharmed.

"Ah, that'd explain it, then," said Lorin, running his fingers through his shaggy black hair before letting it fall back into his eyes. "Though I did run that stop sign right before the crash."

"Yeah, you'll want to stay on the right side of the road from now on," said Cole.

"And watch out for those illogical stop signs," said Oz.

"Aha!" exclaimed Alex, making the Lorin jump. "Band name!"

"What? You lot're in a band, are ye?" Lorin asked, recovering.

"Sort of," said Oz, as he closed the back doors of the van, just having secured Alex's drums.

"Need a singer," said Alex.

"That so?" asked Lorin. "Well, 'ow'd ye feel about an imported one? I've got some decent pipes, m'self." He looked around at the three of them hopefully.

"Just promise to learn how to drive American style first," said Cole. "This thing," he pointed to the car, "is scrap metal."

"Ah, no worries. I've got a motorbike."

"You sure that's a good idea?" asked Oz, nodding at the car. "I mean, we were kinda hoping the singer would last a while."

Lorin laughed. "Well, now I know which side o' the road to be drivin' on, 'opefully I've got a good long while to go!"

"Good to know!" said Alex, looking as though she was resisting the urge to edge away from him. "Uh...Cole? Where exactly do we set up now? And it can't be my garage or basement, by the way. The opera crap Mom's always got playing might be distracting."

"I've been asking around," said Cole, "there's a club a few blocks away. The manager said we could set up and practice over there, even if we didn't have a singer. They don't get a lot of bands...he was kinda desperate."

"Nice," said Oz.

"I thought so," agreed Cole.

"Well, cool! We can go unload there, and see if Ireland here is any good," said Alex. She turned to Lorin. "You don't have anything going on this afternoon, do you?"

"Nothin'," he said, "woulda needed to find a place to stay, but I got a spot in the dorms."

"Good luck with that," said Cole, shuddering at the idea of dorms.

"Anythin's better than me old dorm. Trust me," said Lorin darkly.

Thursday, February 8, 2001

Oz leaned back from his desk, stretching the kinks out of his neck and shoulders. So much for Music Theory being a major that required no effort. He looked wearily down at his completed ten-page essay on the Baroque style. At least he was done with it, and hadn't even had to stay up past midnight! This might have been a source of pride, if Oz cared at all. At that moment, Cole poked his head through the open doorway.

"Hey, Alex and I are going with Lorin and his girlfriend to see if anything good is playing at the theater. Wanna come?" he asked.

"Thanks," said Oz, "But I think I'll just hang here."

"Okay, then," said Cole, "See you later." And he left. That was one thing Oz liked about Cole. He never tried to get him to come out of his shell, and he minded his own business. Oz stood, the legs of his chair snagging a little in the tough carpet as they raked backward across it. He winced, and put a hand to his stomach. The run-in with a lone vampire the night before had left him a bit battle-scarred, but at least the vamp was dust. He lifted his shirt and examined the place where the vampire had slashed him with the jagged piece of wood, which Oz had then grabbed and used against it as a stake. The wound wasn't deep, but it ran all the way across his stomach, and still stung whenever he moved.

He thought of calling Giles. He would have to call him about this. The very night after Illogical Stop Sign had played its first gig as an official band, Oz had run across a group of demons. He hadn't dared try to fight them; there were enough that he doubted whether Buffy would even have tackled them alone, but he had watched them closely, and upon returning to the apartment, called Giles before he could rationalize himself out of it. Once the former Watcher had recovered from the initial shock of hearing from Oz after months of his absence, Oz related his account of the demons he had seen. Giles had warned him not to try fighting them on his own, and informed him that such an occurrence would probably be fairly commonplace, as Cleveland was also on a Hellmouth. Oz had then taken a moment to appreciate the irony of the situation, and told Giles he would call again the next time he saw something.

With a sigh, Oz sat on his bed, picked up the phone, and dialed.


"Giles," said Oz.

"Oz! Oh dear, I do hope it's not dire," said Giles, sounding as weary as Oz felt.

"No, just a vamp," said Oz. "Which is dust."

"Good. Because I've got a rather full plate here."

"What's up?"

"Oh, well, in short, Dawn is actually a mystical key that unlocks portals to other dimensions, a deranged, psychopathic hell-god is searching for her and causing no end of chaos, and Spike is in love with Buffy," said Giles resignedly.

"That all?" said Oz lightly, inwardly relieved that the Cleveland Hellmouth wasn't quite so active at the moment.

"Thank you for calling, and please keep me informed if anything else happens, but if that's all, I really need to be off," said Giles.

"Yeah, that's it. Good luck with that uh, hell-god, and...Spike's hormones," said Oz.

"I'm afraid we're going to need it." They both said goodbye, and hung up. Oz looked over at the clock. Only seven-thirty. He looked out the eastward-facing window on the other side of his bed at the full moon, which had just risen. Looking at it made him feel weirdly tingly, and the longer he stared, the more he felt like something monstrous was struggling to get out of him. He forced it back with grim resolve and began his daily round of meditation. So far, he had made no progress beyond what he thought he had achieved when he returned to Sunnydale, but he wasn't about to stop trying.

He had trained himself carefully not to think too often of Willow, as that invariably seemed to drive the wolf crazy, but it was always harder to avoid after contacting Giles, and the full moon wasn't helping. The wolf had only gotten out once since he moved to Cleveland, and he had managed to repress it before it did any damage, but all too often, he felt it prowling inside of him, looking for a weakness—a crack in his defenses through which it could burst out of his skin.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

"I think we've got it down, guys," said Cole smugly.

Lorin grinned his agreement, bumping his fist against Cole's.

"We are so playing that one at our next gig," said Alex. They had just finished practicing "She Knows", which Oz had shared with them a week before. Cole suspected Oz had known that song for a long time, but that it was connected to something painful from his Sunnydale past, about which they still knew virtually nothing. Lorin's accent, in Oz's opinion, added an interesting new twist to the song he had originally written for Devon's voice. He liked it. A certain amount of residual pride for his old band (as well as a desire not to risk a copyright debacle) meant that the song would never be released in an album by Illogical Stop Sign, but merely playing it crossed no musical territory lines.

Little did the rest of the band know Oz's reason for finally teaching them the song, though Cole's guess was closest. After nearly two and a half years, his meditations and the whole Zen thing, and even a fair amount of Tai Chi, were still yielding very little progress. Giles had called just before summer break to inform him of recent events, most of which concerned Willow. Knowledge of her grief and what it had made of her had set off the wolf like nothing ever had, and Oz had only managed to resurface a whole day later. To his overwhelming relief, no reports of mangled bodies or wild dog attacks had appeared in any of the many papers he had frantically searched afterwards, nor on any of the local news stations, though several signs requesting information about missing pets had been seen in neighborhoods near Oz's apartment for the next few weeks.

The wolf's success at overpowering him had at least had one good effect, however. Oz had come to the unpleasant realization that everything he had been doing was only trapping the wolf, making it restless and ever-more ferocious. This past summer, therefore, he had tried a different angle. Rather than bluntly suppressing the wolf, he sought to understand it. This meant he had begun to indulge himself, cautiously, in the things that he knew brought it out, such as thinking more freely about Willow. He was able to achieve a wistful sort of happiness through his memories of her, and sincerely hoping that she would be able to recover from what had happened. To his relief and slight surprise, his new strategy had, thus far, been quite effective, as not even playing "She Knows", which was more inextricably linked to Willow in Oz's mind than anything else, had provoked the reappearance of the wolf.

Or, not entirely. The wolf hadn't come out...exactly. Since he had first played the song for Alex, Cole, and Lorin, Oz began to notice a few not-so-subtle changes. Things that shouldn't be happening, like overhearing snatches of conversations in the apartments surrounding his. That had only ever happened in the feverish moments before the wolf overwhelmed him in the past, or near the full moon, back when that had mattered. Never full-time. He also found himself able to easily distinguish the separate individual scents of everyone he came across, which sometimes trailed where they had been and over things they had handled for the past day, or longer. The only person whose scent he had been able to recognize before this was Willow, but now it seemed to apply to the general population. He had even managed to track down a vampire that way, somehow knowing by the strength of the fittingly dead scent that it would be alone when he caught up with it. He had come away from the fight, which had been briefer than most, unscathed, leaving his enemy a harmless heap of ash. It was as though the wolf had become his ally.

"When's our next gig?" asked Oz.

"Saturday, I think," said Lorin. "I'll see you guys later. Got a date with Sam," he said, his smugness almost tangible as he left the building.

"I can't believe that nutcase has held on to a girl for this long," said Alex, shaking her head. "And she seemed normal enough when we doubled with them, didn't she, Cole?"

"Yeah," said Cole, "Maybe it's just the luck of the Irish working for him."

"That would explain it," said Oz.

"Might also explain how he comes off his monthly car accident without a scratch," said Alex.

"If you can call totaling five cars in two years luck," said Cole, who had long since given up attempting to explain American driving to their eccentric lead singer. "I'm surprised the insurance company hasn't sent a hit man after him by now."

"I think I'm gonna head home," said Oz, looking over at the faint glow of the setting sun filtering in through the windows. "You two need a ride?"

"Nah, we're gonna practice a little longer, and then go across the street to the café to study a while for the Psych test," said Cole, smirking at Alex, who groaned.

"I can't believe Professor Brown is giving us a test this soon," she grumbled, banging her head down on one of her drums with a hollow thunk. She had just started her freshman year at Cleveland State, and the one class she managed to share with Cole, who was still only a junior (for he, like Oz, had taken an unnecessarily laid-back approach to higher education), was Psychology 201.

"Good luck with that," said Oz, and headed out to the van, which was parked in its usual place in the alley between the club and a neighboring bookshop. As Oz turned the keys in the door, he glanced over at the brilliant sunset, just as the last sliver of red-orange sank below the horizon. Without warning, his whole body went rigid.

Oh, no..., he thought, trying to hold back what was coming, but it would not be beaten down. He fell to his knees and grunted in pain as his bones shifted, his mouth and nose extending outward into a snout, hands and feet reshaping into clawed paws, while thick gray and brown fur sprouted all over his body. And then it was over.

Oz stared down at his paws, bewildered. He was still there. Still Oz. He soon became aware of how very uncomfortable it was to still be wearing clothes in this form, especially as his newly grown tail did not at all agree with pants. Unceremoniously, therefore, he tore his clothes off with his long, sharp teeth, leaving them in a tattered heap by the driver's side door of the van.

Well, this is a new experience, he thought. He leapt lightly onto the hood of the van and examined the faint reflection in the windshield. And one I could get used to. Looking back at him from the glass was not the hellish beast he had seen in the pictures Giles had shown him four and a half years before when he had explained to him the finer details of lycanthropy. No; Oz was now looking into the face of a wolf resembling those he had seen on National Geographic programs, albeit somewhat larger.

"Huh," he said interestedly, but it came out as an odd sort of growl. As he stared at his reflection, fascinated, he noticed that color had all but faded from his vision. The vibrant hues of the western sky now appeared muted and gray. His ears twitched as he picked up the sounds of Cole and Alex resuming their practice of the song. He jumped back down to the grubby pavement. Spotting the sad pile of his shredded clothes, he picked them up in his mouth and deposited them behind the dumpster. While the van shouldn't be too difficult to explain later, the clothes might have led to awkward questions.

Oz wrinkled his nose, which was now being assaulted by all manner of unpleasant alley smells. He padded around the back of the club, away from the street full of passing cars—but more importantly, away from the overpowering smell of dumpster. Though the alley had been lit by the remnants of daylight, this gap was much darker—but that was less of a problem for Oz's new black-and-white night vision. As he wended his way aimlessly between the crates packed into the narrow space, a new smell grew into dominance, even over the assorted contents of the crates. It was weirdly chalky, somehow, and he didn't recognize it. Whatever it was, it caused the fur to bristle on the back of his neck. He continued along the narrow gap between the back of the club and the building behind it, the smell growing steadily stronger. Then, there was a noise—almost too faint even for his keen hearing to detect. The squeak of leather shoes a few yards ahead, and the soft rustling of cloth. Someone else was back here among the crates. Apprehension-tinged curiosity pulled Oz towards the source of the noise and chalky smell. His paws made no sound on the dirty concrete as he crept on, past the back door of the club.

As he cautiously poked his head around yet another stack of crates, he could clearly distinguish two cloaked figures within the deepening shadows. There was no question that they were what had caused the sound, as Oz saw the leather shoes beneath the cloaks, and the horrid smell was definitely coming from them. All Oz knew was that, though they were human-shaped, they were far less human than he was. What were these things doing behind a club? One suddenly turned and looked directly at Oz. Or, it would have, had its eyes not been grotesquely sewn over with thick black stitching. Oz recoiled in horror. The second figure also turned, revealing similar disfiguration where eyes should have been. From beneath the cloaks, both simultaneously withdrew long, jeweled, curved daggers and advanced on Oz.

In a split second, he made up his mind. Normally, he would have retreated, preferring not to risk a fight with two unidentifiable malignant creatures bearing sharp weapons. Not this time. A loud, snarling growl escaped his throat as he launched himself at the closer of the two before it could react with the dagger. The force of his impact sent it bowling over into its fellow. Trying not to think about what he was doing, but only to concentrate on the fact that these things would definitely kill him if they could, he sank his teeth into the throat of the violently struggling form he still had pinned, closed his powerful jaws, and twisted. He heard the sickening snap of the thing's neck breaking, and it lay still.

Before Oz could do anything other than feel intensely revolted, a sharp pain lanced across the top of his head—the second creature had recovered from its fall. His fur seemed to have stopped the worst of the blow, and he leapt back to avoid a second swishing attack from the jeweled dagger. Oz crouched, snarling at the remaining cloaked figure. Without warning, it kicked out at him, knocking his head around with the force of the blow. Oz staggered back, dazed, whimpering slightly, blinking and trying to recover from the pain shooting from his muzzle. Trickles of hot blood now leaked from his nose and ran through the short fur of his upper lip.

Instead of taking advantage of Oz's temporary incapacitation to attack him again, the cloaked figure had sidestepped him, and headed for the back door of the club. Through which Oz could still hear the sounds of Cole and Alex, who were currently in the middle of the second verse of the song. The figure continued to ignore Oz as it attempted to open the door, which Oz knew was always bolted shut from the inside. Oz allowed himself the absurd idea that this thing wanted to get at his fellow musicians. Whether that was the case or not, if it got into the club, it would find them, and he wasn't going to let it happen.

Not eager to be stabbed again, Oz aimed his renewed attack on the thing at the hand holding the dagger, which clattered to the pavement as his fangs tore first through cloth and then the flesh of the creature's forearm. It staggered back, trying to force him away with its other arm, and toppled into a stack of crates, knocking them over with an ear-splitting crash. Oz thought he heard the music inside falter, but might have imagined it, as it went right on through the chorus. Oz and the eyeless thing had fallen to the ground, and it was groping blindly around with its uninjured arm for the dagger. It never found it, as Oz seized the opportunity to repeat what he had done to its companion. The thing now lay as motionless as the other, blood still seeping from its neck and through the tattered remains of its right sleeve.

Oz quickly ran to the other end of the crate-filled path, but he could neither smell, hear, nor see evidence of any more of the creatures. He sprang up on top of a stack of crates, then to the roof of the club, and scoured the area, and confirmed that the two now laying harmlessly dead in the back alley were the only ones around. Jumping back down, Oz returned to the alley with the dumpster and his van. He was still panting heavily from the fight, but felt relieved. He didn't want to think what might have happened had he not transformed. The final chords of "She Knows" faded. Oz heard, but did not pay attention to the casual chatter of Alex and Cole as they put the instruments away. When he heard the creak of the side door opening, however, he quickly ducked out of sight around the back of the club, his tail whipping out of view just as the two of them emerged into the alley.

"Okay...," said Alex's voice, sounding perplexed, "Why did Oz leave his van?"

"No idea," said an equally mystified Cole. "Maybe he just wanted to walk."

"Sure, and left his keys in the door?" said Alex.

Oz winced. He had forgotten about those. There was little to be done about it now, though.

"You don't think something could have happened to him, do you?" Alex continued, sounding worried.

"To Oz?" said Cole. "Doubt it. He can handle himself."

"Okay, but if we haven't heard from him by the time classes start tomorrow, I'm filing a missing persons report," said Alex.

Oz heard the jangle of keys. "I'll keep these safe until he turns up," said Cole, sounding confident that they wouldn't be disappointed in that area. Oz's eyelids crinkled in the closest thing to a smile he could manage in this form. Those two had long since felt like family to him, and he was glad to hear that the feeling seemed to be mutual. Once they had left the alley and headed for the café, he emerged once more, then opened the side door of the club with some difficulty. He would definitely appreciate having thumbs again.

Having gotten inside, he walked through the darkened room, around the tables upon which spindly chairs had been stacked upside-down, across the dance floor, and to the bathroom, where he jumped up onto the counter. He turned on the faucet by working the lever up with his nose, and ran his long snout through the water, which quickly turned red as the blood of the evil creatures washed out of his fur. He also made sure to thoroughly wash out his mouth to get rid of the disgusting chalky taste of their blood. After doing so, he gratefully swallowed for the first time since he had fought them.

Knowing the owner would arrive soon to open the club, Oz once again waited in the alley, until night had truly fallen and he could sneak down the streets under cover of darkness. The yellow street lamps provided little enough light that this was not difficult. Not fond of the idea of being caught outside up a random street when the sun rose and he was human once more— and, more problematically, naked— , Oz made his way back to his and Cole's apartment complex, the short two miles taking longer than usual, as he moved slowly, carefully avoiding being seen by the people in cars, or the occasional pedestrian.

Once he arrived at the building, he waited in the bushes for at least half an hour. Finally, someone emerged; the old lady who lived a few apartments over. Before the door could close, Oz whipped through the gap and was finally inside. The door of the actual apartment presented a significantly greater challenge, as it was locked, and nobody would be opening it for him any time soon. Resignedly, Oz padded back down the hall to the stairs, and descended two flights to the basement, which served as the building's laundry room. He spent the rest of the long, very uncomfortable night on the hard tile of the supply closet floor, hidden behind the janitor's cart, only managing to sleep for a few broken-up twenty minute intervals.

It was eleven-thirty in the morning. The phone rang, and Willow reached automatically to answer it. "Hello?" she asked. There was a sharp intake of breath on the other end, and then the line went dead. Willow frowned. The old-fashioned phone didn't have caller ID. She sighed and walked out of the house, breathing in the sweet country air of Westbury. Giles had gone riding. Willow hadn't known he could ride horses until he brought her here, let alone that he owned any. She spotted a tall, sprawling tree atop a hill and made her way slowly towards it, feeling cold inside despite her jacket and the mild warmth of the breezy air. She didn't want to go to her lessons today. The women of the Coven had that subtle way of looking at her that made her feel like she was being crushed beneath the Mount Everest sized weight of what she had done, and she didn't need anyone's help to feel that way. The lessons could wait.

Oz held the phone with trembling fingers. Willow's voice. It was the first time he had heard it since he left, and the very last thing he expected to hear on Giles' end from his home in England. The events of the previous evening would have to wait until later to be recounted to Giles. Oz's thoughts inevitably returned to her voice. His memory of it had clearly dimmed; it was so much sweeter than he had remembered. But even in that one word, and through his utter shock, he had heard despair, which was reflected empathetically now in him; real emotion that he rarely felt in his Willowless world. He hated the thought of Willow in pain, with him unable to go to her. But why not? said a bold, unbidden voice in his mind. The one thing keeping me from her for the last two and a half years looks like it resolved itself last night. What's to stop me from going to her now? Oz grimaced as he forced the idea back. It was what he wanted more than anything, but he wasn't going to go barging back into her life after so long. It would be reckless and selfish. Willow didn't need that.

He contemplated throwing something heavy at the wall, but, knowing that would probably wake his snoring roommate in the adjacent bedroom, contented himself instead with running his fingers through his currently dark brown hair. He glanced at the clock, which told him it was only six-thirty. It was Thursday, which meant his earliest class was at one. Gratefully, he stretched out on top of his blue plaid comforter and fell asleep almost instantly.

For those of you who are impatient to get to the rest of the Scoobies, fear not. This thing isn't called "Season 8" for no reason. Anyway, I'm just going to ramble about this episode for a bit here. Why, you ask, did I get rid of the wolf Oz transforms into on the show? Simple. It looks nothing like a wolf. If he's going to be classified as a werewolf, he should at least look like a wolf when he transforms. I have similar issues with the tailless, furless thing Lupin turns into in the Prisoner of Azkaban film (though at least that one succeeded in being creepy). I appreciate the obstacles of special effects funding and animal rights, but since I'm merely writing this, I don't have to worry about those things! On a less personal vendetta motivated, more story related point, Oz's new wolf form is a symbol for how far he's come. In other news, I kidnapped Alex, Cole, and Lorin from one of my independent projects because I already know them, so they're easy to work with. Anyway, reviews are deeply appreciated.