Title: One Last Stop
Disclaimer: All characters owned by Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy; no copyright infringement intended
Pairing: Oz/Giles friendship
Rating: K
Plot: Post Wild at Heart, Oz makes one last stop before leaving Sunnydale

He can't say why, but he makes one stop before leaving Sunnydale. Once he's standing outside the heavy wooden door, it feels like he's made the right decision – like this is the place he should come, this is the conversation he should have. Except that it takes, like, a full five minutes before he can get up the guts to knock. He'd been crying in the van, but now the tears are done. He's the Hollow Man – definitely one of his favorite poets, not one of his favorite poems. Still, it fits here. He takes a breath, stands up taller (not that it makes much difference) and finally makes his move.

He can hear music inside, and it's not so much uber werewolf hearing as the fact that he just *knows* music, that tells him it's a record playing, not a CD. Leonard Cohen on vinyl – nice. Once he knocks, Oz hears footsteps walking across the apartment. The record stops, and the footsteps approach the door. Giles checks the peephole before he finally opens up.

"Oz." He's clearly surprised. "Is – is everything all right? Nothing's happened to Willow…?"

Oz shakes his head. He's still standing on the doorstep, and every ounce of resolve he had when he walked out the door at Sunnydale U is leaking out his faded Chuck Taylors. "No, Willow's fine – I mean, no Big Bads or anything."

Giles steps out of the way, motions him inside. His apartment's a little ransacked – like he started cleaning about a day ago, and gave up halfway in. There's a stack of records on the floor, and the old Oz would have headed straight for them. The idea makes him sad, like he's lost or… broken, somehow. Giles looks at him and he seems to get it, though. For some reason, Oz knew he would.

"Something's happened," Giles says. It's not a question, which is weirdly reassuring.

Oz swallows. He wonders how much Giles already knows, but the look on his face suggests not much.

"Uh – yeah. I… um." He looks around, afraid he's about to lose it. He's showered and scrubbed, loofah'd himself raw, but he can still smell Veruca on him. Can't get the sour copper of her blood out of his mouth, no matter how much he rinses. He thinks he might be sick, and swallows thickly.

"Do you have anything to drink?"

He means water, but Giles gives him scotch – which seems odd at first, but then not so much. The older man motions him to the couch, and Oz sits obediently. He still feels sick, but at least the feel of the glass in his hand gives him something solid to focus on.

There's a couple of seconds' worth of silence before Giles finally prompts him. Oz realizes suddenly that he hasn't slept – except for the were-naps during the full moon – for going on seventy-two hours. Hasn't eaten, except… well, it's probably best not to go there. He looks up, and manages to look Giles in the eye.

"I've gotta get out of town for a while. I thought I should let you know, so you could…"

"Look after Willow?" Giles guesses. He's got such clear understanding in his voice that Oz thinks maybe they already had this conversation, and he's just so screwed up he forgot. He takes a sip of the scotch, feels it warm him on the way down. For a second he has to work to keep tears back, and he knows his eyes are swimming.

"Uh – yeah, actually. We had a… well, I guess a fight would be kind of an understatement. I messed up. And now I have to take off – try and fix things."

"This has to do with the wolf?"

Oz nods, and he's grateful that Giles doesn't look too sorry for him. The Watcher is worried about Willow, and that's good – it's why Oz came to him.

"Yeah. There was this other girl – "

"Veruca," Giles guesses immediately.

Oz feels his eyebrows go up a little. He nods, takes another drink. "Yeah. Veruca." Even the name tastes like blood. "It turns out she was a werewolf too, and…"

"You got together."

"Did someone already fill you in on this?"

Giles shakes his head, with a smile that's just a little sad. "No – no, everyone's a bit too busy to fill me in of late. But I sensed the connection at the Bronze the other night."

Oz nods. "Right. Well, stuff happened, and she went a little beyond Fatal Attraction on me."

"Did she hurt Willow?"

The scotch is beginning to have an effect now, but it's not actually a good one – he feels about ten times sicker, weaker, and emptier than he did when he walked through the door. He sets down the glass and shakes his head.

"No, Willow's okay. I stopped Veruca before she could do anything." The 'stopped' hangs heavy in the air, and the way Giles lowers his eyes tells Oz that he gets the meaning.

"I'm very sorry to hear that – for both of you. But you know, you may not need to leave Sunnydale. It sounds as though this was patently self-defense. I could do a bit of research if you're concerned – perhaps we could find a way to provide some better controls for you."

Oz shakes his head yet again. He learned the resolve face from Willow, and he's pretty sure he's doing a good impression right now.

"No, I need to be… Not here. At least for a while. I've gotta figure out how to get this thing in check – find out what I am."

Giles gives him that sad, sympathetic smile again. "You're a man, Oz – first and foremost, you are a man. But I will agree, perhaps it's best if you do explore this part of yourself. Merely suppressing it is clearly not a viable solution for the long-term."

Oz manages a dry smile. "Yeah, I think I got that." The younger man stands. "So… You'll look out for her? I mean – nobody really gets what goes on in her head, how deep things go. And I…" It's the longest speech he can ever remember making, to anyone besides Willow. But he has to make sure someone else sees her, before he leaves.

"Everything that happens? You feel it, and I feel it, but Willow *feels* it. Bone deep. And she doesn't like that, so she tries to make it go away. And so what I did – " he feels that ache in his throat that he used to get when he was a kid trying not to cry, and swallows past it. "She's gonna be feeling what I did for a long time, and she won't talk to you guys the way she talks to me. She needs someone to be strong – to let her know she's not gonna get lost over this."

Giles nods. He looks a little glassy-eyed himself, and Oz looks away to give him a second to pull himself together.

"You're absolutely sure leaving is the best thing for her?"

"It's the only thing for her," Oz answers quickly. "I can't be the man she deserves, if I don't understand this deep a part of who I am."

At this, Giles goes to the bookshelf. "I have a book I've been meaning to give you, but I was waiting… It's a bit graphic, and delves quite deeply into the metaphysical." He chooses a thin brown volume, then re-crosses the room and hands it to Oz. The title reads, "Of Beast and Man" in gold-leaf, and there's a picture of a man with a full Grizzly Adams beard in a military uniform, inset on the front.

"You may find some useful information there." Then Giles goes to his desk, takes a scrap of paper and writes something down. He doesn't look up from his writing when he asks the next question.

"You have money?"

Oz nods immediately, but the truth is he thinks he's got a twenty-dollar bill somewhere in the van and he's pretty sure Veruca ate his credit card in her were-frenzy the other night.

When Giles returns to him this time, he hands Oz a check that the younger man tries to push back at him.

"You don't have to do that. The way I – what I did… Trust me, I deserve a little scrounging right now."

"Don't be a fool – what you did, you had no control over." He looks the younger man square in the eye, and Oz has an overwhelming urge to curl up in the corner and cry like an overgrown baby. He looks away, trying to get a grip.

"What you are doing now shows how much you care for Willow, demonstrates the caliber of your character. You are a good man, caught in a difficult situation. And you are doing what a good man would, to protect the woman he loves."

Oz swallows hard, takes a breath. Before he can even try to find some way to thank him, Giles hands him a slip of paper with a name and number scrawled on it.

"This is an old friend of mine. He's studied elements of the man-beast union for some time – tell him Ripper gave you his name." Oz nods obediently, and takes the scrap of paper in a daze. Once he has the check and the book and the paper, he realizes there's nothing else to do – he kind of has to go now. He stands. Squares his shoulders. Breathes in. Breathes out. Heads for the door.

Giles hugs him, just before he leaves. It's a weird moment – for one thing, Giles is like a foot taller than him, so the older man has to lean down for it to work at all. The thing that's weirdest about it, though, is how *not* weird it actually feels. Giles claps him on the shoulder, and Oz imagines that this is probably the closest he'll ever get to a father-son moment with anyone (unless he has a son of his own, of course). He manages to piece himself together enough to offer up a smile – or something like it, anyway.

"I – uh, I really appreciate this. I mean, all of it. Not just the cash, though that – well, you know, it'll definitely come in handy. But looking out for Will…" He swallows past the anvil in his throat, one more time. "I really appreciate it, Giles."

They shake hands, which is even weirder than the hug, and finally Oz is out the door. The sun is brighter than he remembers it. The road seems longer. His heart, strangely enough, seems just a little bit lighter.

He goes.