Author's Note: This is very old. Someone gave me the prompt "moose" and I took it in a rather unorthodox direction. I also made use of an epic-length fanfic I've been working on for years now as the setting. It might not altogether make sense, and I actually like it more for the character used in the flashback than for the B/A part, but I didn't see a reason not to share it. Rating for this one is general, though it does get a bit gory.
"It's so beautiful out here." Buffy looked around the woods and up at the moonlit treetops. She had a city girl's appreciation of the wilderness, having grown up in the frantic sprawl of Los Angeles as it once was. Sunnydale had been flanked by moderate forests, but the difference here was vast. She inhaled deeply. "Smells good, too. All fresh and green. Like salad, but without the chewing."
What she was smelling, Angel thought, was the absence of car fumes and concrete and human sweat, so typical to her old life that she had ceased to notice them. He was glad she was enjoying the comparatively fresh air of the woods, but the aroma in his own nostrils that evening was telling him something entirely different. He grimaced. She was breathing in blood and decay and she didn't know it. That just didn't seem right.
"What?" she asked, peering at his face suspiciously as they walked.
He blinked. He hadn't remembered her being this adept at reading him, especially in the dark. Or maybe it only came as a surprise because he had just been thinking about her lack of enhanced senses. "I smell something," he admitted.
"A hydrogen demon?"
"Hydra," he corrected absently. "And no, I think it's…" He sniffed again, feeling self-conscious. "It's a moose."
Buffy looked nonplussed. "You have moose up here?"
He nodded. "They're pretty common, actually. The girls tell me they graze in the yard sometimes in the morning. You'll probably see one or two before you…" He winced. Neither of them wanted to hear the end of that sentence.
"Wow," she said, somewhat forcefully. "Here I was getting all excited about the birds and squirrels." It was obvious that she was trying to keep the tone light, and he was grateful for her efforts—until she went on to say, "Can I ask you a personal question?"
He emitted a short laugh. "You ask permission for that now?"
"Fine." She shot him a glare. "I'm going to ask you a personal question. You've got all these ginormous mammals roaming around, and all this space"—she waved a arm to indicate the expansive forest surrounding them—"to let you keep your secrets, so why don't you hunt for your food? Wouldn't it be a lot less complicated?"
It would have been easier to just answer with a 'no.' She would have let him, too, as a token of respect for his wish to keep certain old truths neatly contained. But if she had asked, it meant she wanted explanation, and shutting her out didn't come so naturally anymore. Not now, when she had so little of her own life left to her. The least he could do was share his.
He had stationed himself in the Green Mountains years ago, but there had been plenty of time beforehand, between Buffy's departure and the establishment of his school here, for traveling. His destinations had been varied, usually focused on business rather than pleasure, but when an old friend resurfaced—in Yellowstone of all places—he had seen nothing keeping him from paying a visit. It wasn't meant to be a vacation so much as a chance to catch up and compare notes on the good fight, but Angel was sure that his rediscovery of the world outside of civilization had hinged on that time.
Oz had carved out a good life for himself, finally accepting the necessity of getting a job and managing to find one that let him work from home. He was single, as far as Angel heard, but he spoke casually of a number of friends he had in the area and even shared his house with some of them. Most impressively, he had mastered his lycanthropy to the point of almost complete control, far greater than any other werewolf that Angel had known.
There was little perceptible change in Oz's calm temper and persistent sense of humor, but Angel noted a certain passion in his attachment to the woodlands of his new home, and wondered if the wolf within had brought it about. It took a few days for either of them to suggest it, but it was almost inevitable that they would take the opportunity to go out hunting together. Oz no longer depended on the lunar cycle to bring about his transformation, but they chose a night with a full moon anyway, and set out sometime past midnight with the illumination casting shadows over shaggy fur and black clothing.
Angel was equipped with only a small lockback knife, and he let Oz lead the way, ranging out in front of him like a bloodhound. They were on a hot trail in almost no time—an elk, Angel learned later, though at the time he didn't know his fauna well enough to identify the scent that accurately. The closer they got to it, the more his excitement heightened, and Oz's animal intensity was a clear demonstration of the thrill of the chase. The experience was not entirely unlike the days when he and Darla had used teamwork to corner their prey, always taking the time to cultivate some fear before dispatching it, and though that thought alone should have made him step back and review his motives, it didn't.
The wolf stopped cold just before the elk came into visibility, and the two hunters exchanged a glance before Angel nodded and posed for a sprint. They had come this far with barely a sound from either of them, and the silence was broken now only by the rapid tread of paws for a few seconds and then the whoosh of air as Oz made his leap.
There were a few impressions of the kill that Angel retained and mused on later: that the animal was an adult bull, bigger than some horses he had ridden; that his hands were at some point fastened on its antlers so it couldn't escape; that the wolf showed no sign of knowing or caring when it was dead; that his little knife remained in his pocket the entire time. But mostly he remembered the scent of warm blood, and the easy flow of it in his throat as he once again fed on a living creature, at last.
He finished first and left Oz tearing at the dead elk's stomach. Things were no different between them the next day than they had been previously, but no mention of that night was ever made again, and it was the last time Oz used his wolf form for hunting while Angel was with him. Angel stayed for another two weeks and had no regrets about making the visit.
Nor did he have any concerns about the way his werewolf friend handled his condition. Oz's Mr. Hyde had a bestial shape to go with it, and he had learned to safely use the transformation as an outlet for the changes it had made to his inner self. Angel could make no such distinction between his opposed drives. When he killed, it was his own true being who killed, and for all his years of battling the urge, he was still learning about it.
These days, things were more peaceful inside his head than they had been for a long, long time, and having Buffy nearby again was no small part of that. It didn't make it any easier for him to confess the tenuous balance he still held, though, or the choices he had made to ensure that he remained Dr. Jekyll at all times. He had been silent for too long, he knew, and she was still waiting for him to answer her question, but she said nothing to urge him on. She knew him, probably much better than she realized, but the only way she was going to understand exactly why hunting his own food was so complicated was if he killed her and let her body be taken over by a demon.
"Hunting isn't very good for me," he replied finally. It was far too vague, but he couldn't tell her the story about Oz, or her thoughts would have strayed to Nina in no time. She had become frustratingly insecure about his former girlfriends, always fixating on some trait of theirs that she couldn't match, and it didn't do any good to assure her that he never wanted her to be anything but human. "And it's a bad idea to leave animal carcasses around here," he added. "They attract the hydras."
"Oh." For a moment there was no sound but their footfalls in the dead leaves padding the ground. "Are we going to see any tonight, do you think? I'm really itching to get my slay on."
"You miss the vampires?" he teased.
She gave him a playful shove. "Probably about as much as they missed me."
He juggled the possible meanings that answer could have and liked all of them. More serious matters loomed, though, and he quickly brought himself back to business. "We should probably take a look at that moose," he said reluctantly. "It might have been killed by a hydra."
"What moose?" she started to ask, then switched to a reproachful tone and said, "You didn't tell me it was a dead one."
"Sorry." He shrugged, and in the middle of it his arm lifted up to point the way. They had already been heading toward the moose, and it was close now. He didn't really want to see it, and he didn't want Buffy to see it. If it was the work of a hydra demon—and he was fairly certain that it was—it would be dismembered and splattered across the foliage, fifty feet in every direction. And then, of course, there would be a hunt. That's why they were out there, after all.
"Onwards," said Buffy. "Let's have a little funeral for Bullwinkle. And then seek vengeance on his killer." She sounded chipper. He had to remind himself that this was her life's work, and she would be the last woman in the world to get squeamish about a mangled corpse.
Still, he wished this could have remained as it began: a moonlit walk in a beautiful forest. For once he allowed himself to get a little angry about the unfair hands that had been dealt to Buffy and himself, and he channeled it willingly into anger at the hydras, and the damned portal that kept spawning them, and the damned animals they kept leaving strewn about his terrain.
Why did everyone have such complicated eating habits?