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Monico Episode Four: Revelations

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  • Monico Episode Four: Revelations

    Tales from the Monico, Episode Four:

    Disclaimer: Oz does not belong to me, but everyone else does. I am making no profit from this, and am writing purely for my own amusement.
    Feedback: By all means, bring it on.

    Previously in Tales from the Monico:

    Emma: "Emma Gibson, and this idiot is my husband, David."
    Charlie: "I'm Charlie."
    Elli: "Elli Murphy."
    Oz: "Oz." (off their looks) "Daniel Osbourne."

    David: "The staff walked out and left me in the lurch?you don't want a job, do you?"
    Oz (shrugs): "Okay."

    Oz: "You do know that the theatre is haunted, right?"
    Emma: "You're actually serious, aren't you?"

    Elli rescues Oz from the cage in the secret lab.
    Elli: "I could hardly just leave him there?he's a shape-changer. Werewolf."

    Elli: "I honestly think you'd be better off staying out of this from now on."
    Oz: "I ? we can't just walk away from this now. In too deep, and all. Maybe we can help."

    David tackles the Master, and Oz and Emma rush to help him.

    Oz and Charlie rush to the lake. Oz throws the bomb in and the lake explodes.
    Charlie: "So, um. Hello again."
    Oz: "Hey."

    Charlie: "I'm looking for a local to call my own."

    Elli: "So you banished a shade? I'm so impressed?As far as I can tell, whatever was here is gone as banished. So you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done."

    Emma: "You can't live in stables."
    Elli: "Why not? They're already partly converted, so it won't take that much to finish the job. And I can do the work myself, most of it."

    Elli: "What would you say if I told you I don't come from here?"
    Oz: "I already knew that."
    Elli: "No, I don't mean this country. I mean this world."

    Oz: "Safety in secrecy. That's pretty much the game plan."




    Every month, the full moon brought with it certain inherent complications.

    Oz had approached his second full moon in San Francisco with equanimity. The previous month had gone well, apart from the little hiccup with being attacked and the concussion causing his inner wolf to manifest. Some circumstances were just always going to be out of his control, and running into a maniac bent on taking over the whole universe definitely fell into that category. He'd decided not to let that worry him too much, focusing instead on the positive. Before the head injury, he'd had no trouble at all keeping the wolf at bay, using the techniques taught him by the monks in Tibet. He'd simply taken the time off work, figuring that there was no point courting trouble, gone through the routine of herbs, meditation and all the rest of it, and stayed human.

    It was reassuring to know it could be that simple.

    Buoyed by this success, he'd decided to stick to the same routine this month: time off and general ease taking, plus of course the rigorous mental exercises necessary to maintain human form while the call of the moon was at its strongest. But he realised that nothing was ever as simple as it should be when Emma came barging into his room, just as he was fixing his herbal wolf-cure.

    "Oz? You left your jacket downstairs?"

    Her voice trailed off when she saw what he was doing, and although she didn't say anything, she eyed the stash of herbs with blatant suspicion, and just a hint of worry. Oz looked down his preparations, and realised how it must look.

    "Herbal tea," he told her calmly, although mentally he was cursing people who knocked and then just walked in without waiting for an answer. This was the downside of renting from your employers.

    "Is it legal?" she asked, a little suspiciously.

    This was great. Now she thought he was a drug addict, or something.

    "It's not illegal," he assured her, fiddling unconsciously with the charm he wore on a band wrapped around his hand. He caught himself doing it and made himself stop.

    Emma wrinkled her nose at the smell, which Oz could sympathise with. His own initial reaction had been similar, but he'd grown used to it now.

    "What kind of herbal tea?" she asked, coming closer to have a proper look.

    "Picked up the recipe in Tibet," he replied with perfect honesty. She hadn't asked what it was for.

    She took another cautious sniff, and then apparently decided to trust him. "Can I have a taste?"

    Oz had to think fast. He didn't see any reason why she shouldn't ? there was nothing harmful in the recipe. It was simply designed to be relaxing, in order to help with the emotional control that kept his inner wolf subdued. And the taste should put her off taking more than a tiny sip.

    It did.

    "Eew." Emma pulled a face and handed the cup back to him. "You're welcome to it!"

    "It's an acquired taste," he told her, relieved to have overcome yet another hurdle in his seemingly never-ending struggle to reconcile being a werewolf with living a normal life.


  • #2

    Part One


    The lunch hour rush at the Monico Coffee Bar was dying down at last. As Oz handed his most recent customer her change, Charlie arrived at the counter and gave him a cheerful grin.

    "Morning, Oz," she remarked as he turned to greet her, sitting down on a stool and resting her chin on her hands. "Did you know there's a pancake house near here that serves waffles with strawberries and whipped cream? I just saw it on my way in."

    Oz regarded her evenly. "Would you like me to make you waffles with strawberries and whipped cream?"

    Charlie laughed. "No. I really wouldn't. It amazes me what people in this country will eat."

    Oz nodded. "The dynamic of American cuisine makes it impossible to brand," he agreed. "Let's just say that not even tree bark is safe."

    "And on that happy note, I think I'll settle for a straight black coffee," Charlie decided.

    As Oz turned to make the coffee, David appropriated his customer with a broad smile.

    "Charlie," he greeted her warmly, sliding straight into 'genial host' mode. "Hello again. Fast becoming a regular. Have you taken a flyer?"

    As he spoke, he presented her with a leaflet advertising his impending promotional evening. He'd booked a band to play live the following week and was advertising like mad. No customer was allowed to escape without a flyer and full explanation.

    Taking the leaflet, Charlie twisted her wrist around to read it the right way up. "Flyer about what?"

    David seemed mildly appalled that she didn't already know. "You haven't heard about my musical promotion night? Next week. You like music don't you?"

    Before Charlie could answer, he cut her off again, continuing to wax lyrical about his plans. "It's going to be great," he told her. "Just picture it ? a band playing live up on the gallery, low lights, lots of people spending lots of money on food and drinks? Unmissable. You have to be there. You'll love it."

    Seeing Charlie's eyes start to glaze over as David enthused, Oz rescued her by handing over her drink.

    "One straight black coffee."

    "I thought English people all drank tea," David remarked, successfully distracted from his advertising spiel.

    "Not all of us," said Charlie, taking a sip and regarding them mischievously. "And not all the time. So tell me ? have you all been saving the world again while I wasn't looking?"

    "Not today," said Oz. "No."

    "Emma doesn't want us to make a habit out of it," David explained, cheerfully. "She thinks it could be bad for the health."

    "What's bad for the health?" asked Emma herself, who had come into the caf? without any of them noticing. She leaned across the bar to give David a quick peck on the cheek.

    "World save-age," Oz explained.

    Emma sat down. "Well, you're walking proof of that, aren't you? Not a career worth pursuing." She shook her head, decisively. "No, that was definitely a one off. Never again."

    "When do you get that thing off, anyway?" Charlie asked, gesturing to the cast on Oz's wrist.

    "Couple more days," he told her. He was looking forward to that day immensely.

    "I'll have a coffee please, waiter," Emma said to David, looking smug. "I have an afternoon off, and nothing important to do with it. Don't you just love leisure time?"

    "I wouldn't know," said Charlie, cheerfully. "And I can't stop long enough to find out. I've got loads to do, and semester hasn't even started yet."


    Leisure time lost its appeal fairly swiftly as Emma found that she had nothing better to do than hang around the caf? for the rest of the day. It was either that or shopping, and she didn't think the bank balance could stand it this month. Talking to Charlie killed a bit of time, but she couldn't stay long, and both David and Oz were too busy working to be much company. So when Elli wandered across from her studio behind the caf? for a coffee break, Emma seized on her at once as potential distraction from boredom.

    "Elli," she called. "Come talk to me. I've got the afternoon off and hanging around here watching everyone else work is getting boring now."

    "Haven't you got anything better to do?" Elli teased.

    Emma shook her head firmly. "Upstairs needs cleaning and I'm heavy into avoidance."

    Elli grinned, and then glanced past Emma's shoulder.

    "Oh, look out," she remarked, nodding towards the door. "Here come the M&Ms. Again."

    Behind the counter, Oz frowned slightly, and as Emma twisted around to see what she meant, she heard David asking, "Who?"

    "M and M: Mike and Mat," Elli explained, and indeed, the two police officers were just pushing the door open to come in. "Ergo, the M&Ms. Honestly, I don't know how they ever get any work done. They're always in here."

    "Look who's talking," Oz put in.

    "Hey, I'm a student," Elli protested. "Or, I will be when the semester starts. I'm not supposed to do any work in the day. I think I'll have something to eat, please Oz," she added as an afterthought. "I'll just be over there by the window."

    David suddenly chuckled, getting it at last. "M&Ms."

    "It suits them," was Elli's parting shot as she slid from the stool and took her coffee over to a table in the corner, there pulling out her sketchpad and becoming focused on her work.

    Officers Mike Hanson and Mat?as Cordoba were regular customers at the Monico these days, so Emma stopped to chat to them while Oz disappeared into the kitchen to create something for Elli to eat and David was busy behind the bar.

    "Relief to get away from the station, to tell you the truth," Mat admitted, looking tired. "I'd rather drink anywhere but our canteen right now."

    "Police issue coffee is that bad?" Emma asked.

    Mat laughed, half paying attention to Emma and half watching a female customer walk towards the door. "Worse, if anything, but that isn't the why. Everyone's so on edge right now."

    "Why's that?" Emma queried. "Is crime on the up, or something?"

    "I'm surprised you haven't seen it in the news already," grumbled Mike, looking glum. "They've made a big splash all about it. Bizarre murders and mysterious disappearances."

    "A whole load of them," Mat added. "Far more than you'd normally expect."

    Emma sipped her coffee. "Personally, I never expect murder," she told them, primly. "I leave that to your lot."

    "Very wise," said Mike, nodding. "But we think we may have a serial killer on our hands. We're all working way overtime, and can't crack it. There's just no explanation we can find that makes sense."

    "So we're make the most of what little downtime we can get," Mat added, gazing across to where Elli was sitting. Typical guy, Emma thought. He'd eyed up every female customer in the caf?, and Mike wasn't much better.

    "Hey, stop drooling," she told them, indicating the oblivious Elli.

    "Well we can hardly drool over you, can we?" Mat protested cheerfully.

    "Why not?" Emma complained, mildly affronted.

    "Your old man might have a thing or two to say about it," was his comeback. From behind the counter, David grinned.

    "Drool over Shanei," Emma told them, knowing that Elli was still grieving for her lost love and might not appreciate the attention. Learning about her friend's sad past had brought out all her protective instincts.

    "She isn't here." Mike's expression said that he wished she were, and Emma's inner matchmaker rejoiced.

    "What's made you come over all big sister, then?" Mat wanted to know, eying her curiously.

    Emma was suddenly worried that she'd said too much, not wanting to break her friend's confidence. "She's had a rough time," she told them. "And she doesn't need you two ogling her."

    "We weren't ogling," Mat protested. "We were appreciating.

    "Takeaway snacks and coffees," David interrupted, handing over their order. "And one flyer for our musical promotion night next week."

    "Great." Mat glanced at Mike, picking up the food. "Make a move, then?" He nodded to Emma and David. "Till next time."

    Mike nodded, and as they headed for the door Oz reappeared from the kitchen and took Elli's food over to her, pausing for a quiet chat.

    Emma sighed, and looked at David, who was already serving the next customer and making sure they took a flyer.

    "Now I've got no one to talk to again," she complained to herself, wondering if Elli would mind being disturbed.


    Oz was busying himself in the kitchen once more when Elli wandered through and perched on the sideboard to watch him work.

    "David throw you out for taking up a table and not buying anything?" he asked, glancing across at her.

    "I think he would, too, if it got busy enough out there," she admitted. "No, I was just looking for some slightly more soothing company before getting back to work."

    Oz smiled, carrying on with what he was doing.

    "You don't mind me hiding out in here, do you?" she asked. "David and Emma kept going on and on about politics, 'cause of this election coming up. And then David started rambling about cars and the new football season, and I do know it's a different kind of football than they have in Australia, but still. And then they started on about music and bands, and it's all just so much double Dutch to me. I needed a break."

    "You don't have elections in your world?" he asked, curiously. She'd told him in strict confidence that she came originally from another world, but had let very few details slip about what that world was like, and even her reasons for coming had never been specified.

    "Not like this, no," she pulled a face. "We don't have cars or an National Football League, either." She sighed, kicking her heels against the counter she was sitting on. "You know, I spent the best part of four years learning how Australia works, and then I spent a few months wandering around Europe learning how that works, and then I got dragged into outer space. And now I'm here, and I don't really know yet how this country works and everyone expects me to. It's really tiring."

    "It's funny," Oz remarked, "'Cause you seem so at home here." He found it easy to forget that she didn't come from this world originally, so smoothly did she appear to fit in. But since her otherworldly origins were supposed to be a secret, he supposed she could hardly tell David, or anyone else, when they weren't making sense, and she'd taken to using Oz as her release valve ? someone she could let off steam in front of.

    "Camouflage skills," she grumbled. "I've got good at faking what I don't know. And I learn fast." She scowled. "Just not fast enough. And I'm not sure I want to know how the NFL works."

    "And you're supposed to be working, she added, seeing that Oz had now finished making up the order he was working on. "I'll let you get on ? you coming over later for some peace and quiet?"

    Oz nodded. It was relaxing to have that bolthole, and she was good company. "Could do."

    "Okay," she nodded. "I'll leave you to it then."


    Back in the caf? with his shift almost over, Oz made himself too busy with work to be drawn into David and Emma's teasing debates or yet another discussion of the up-coming musical promotion night.

    He was busily minding his own business when he noticed that an edgy-looking teenage girl had come into the caf? and was peering around, as though looking for something. Her eyes ran over numerous customers, and both David and Emma, and rejected them all. Then she spotted Oz and her eyes narrowed, as though comparing him to a mental picture. Apparently satisfied that he was the person she was looking for, she started towards him.

    Oz didn't like the look of that, and waited, warily, for her to explain herself.

    "Are you Oz?" She sounded nervous, as though unsure what to expect.

    That made two of them. Oz nodded.

    "Can I talk to you?" she asked.

    Oz refrained from pointing out that she already was. Wondering how she knew his name, and what she wanted from him, he took her over to a table in the corner, well out of earshot of anyone else, ignoring the puzzled looks David and Emma were giving him.

    "I'm sorry," the girl began. "You don't know who I am, and you probably think I'm a lunatic or something, it's just?the old man said you might be able to help, and I didn't know what else to do."

    Oz was confused now. "Old man?"

    "Yeah, you must know him. He knew you. The antique guy ? he's got a shop next door."

    Oz had been living here for a couple of months now, and he'd never noticed an antique shop next door, which was annoying in a way, because he'd always thought of himself as fairly observant.

    The girl was starting to look distressed. "I went to him because?well, someone told me he might be able to help, that he knew about weird stuff. And ?"

    She looked on the verge of breaking down. Oz quickly got up, headed over to the bar to pick up a handful of paper napkins, and handed them to her.

    "Who's that?" asked the ever-inquisitive Emma.

    "I have no idea," Oz murmured distractedly, as he went back over to the girl and handed her the tissues.

    "Thanks." She sniffed. "I'm Linda."

    Oz was about to introduce himself when he remembered that she already knew who he was, so instead he sat down and waited for her to explain.

    "Do you know Charleston Drive?" she asked in between sniffles.

    Oz shook his head. Much of San Francisco was still a mystery to him, as he hadn't explored the neighbourhood to any great extent since his arrival.

    "There's this old school," Linda told him. "It isn't used any more, and the caretaker's cottage is empty, too. And sometimes we?well, you know. Sometimes it's good to be alone, and there's this whole building to be alone together in, so sometimes we would go there and, and, y-you know?"

    Her voice tailed off, and she looked embarrassed. Oz decided to help her out. "I think I get the picture."

    "J-jimmy and I went there, the night before last," she went on, falteringly. "There was nowhere else we could spend time together. Not on our own. But?but it turned out we weren't alone there, either."

    She stopped to blow her nose, and Oz waited for her to get to the point.

    "W-we thought the place was empty. It always had been before. B-but then there were all these people there ? squatters, or something. And then they attacked us, and their faces were all ? all lumpy. It was h-horrible."

    She was shuddering at the memory, and her description told Oz at once who her squatters really were. Vampires. That was interesting ? there'd been remarkably little sign of vampire activity in San Francisco ever since he got here.

    "J-jimmy told me to run, so I did," Linda was beginning to break down again. "I thought he was right behind me, but he never came out. A-and I didn't know what to do! If I went to the police they'd say we were trespassing. And they wouldn't believe me about those things. And now his parents reported him missing, and I still don't know what to do!"

    It was a sad story, true, but coming as he did from Sunnydale Oz had heard other stories just like it many times. What was puzzling was where he came into it ? why had she come looking for him?

    "So, if I can ask: where did you get my name?" he asked, curiously.

    Drying her eyes, Linda looked back up at him. "The old man. You know ? the antiques man from next door. Only I found him at the library. He said he was too old to help now, and that the police couldn't do anything. And then he said to look for you, because you'd got rid of a ghost so he thought you might know something. You know ? that you could help me find Jimmy."

    "Shades of Angel," Oz muttered in dismay. It wasn't as if he was setting up in business here ? all he'd done was help some friends exorcise the ghost that was threatening to send them bankrupt, and that had been difficult enough. It hardly made him an expert in the field. And as for the vampires ? Linda's Jimmy was no doubt already dead, if not vamped out himself, and Oz was under no illusions about his vampire-hunting abilities. He'd taken them on in the past, but usually only as part of a larger group under the guidance of the Slayer, and even then it was still tough to avoid getting killed. He was no match for a whole gang of vampires. It would be suicide to even try.

    But then there was Linda, so young and tearful, and trusting him to help her somehow.

    "What?" she asked, drying her eyes and confused by his cryptic comment.

    "Never mind," Oz muttered, thinking hard.

    Linda watched him closely as he tried to decide what to do. "Will you help me?" she pleaded, again. "I don't know what else to do?"

    "I ? I'm not sure there's anything I can do" Oz admitted. "Not really an expert." Or any kind of vampire-slaying hero, he added to himself.

    "Please." She was all tearful and vulnerable, and she really did have no one else to turn to.

    "Okay." Oz gave her a long, hard look, deeply worried. "Now, I need you to promise me something."

    "What?" she asked, between sniffs.

    "Promise me you won't go back there." Whatever he decided to do about this, keeping Linda away from the vampires was vital.

    "Why?do you think??"

    "Could be dangerous," he told her. "Promise?"

    "I won't go there," she promised, shaking her head. "What are you going to do?"

    "I don't know," Oz muttered to himself.


    Having managed to fob Linda off with some vague platitudes, Oz went to look for the antique shop next door, ignoring David and Emma as they called after him, curious to know what was going on ? he had no explanation to give them.

    The antiques shop was easy enough to find. It was right next door, as Linda had said, set back off the street: a dusty old place that looked as if the door would fall off its hinges if anyone tried to go in. It was closed. Oz wondered why he'd never noticed it before.

    "This place is never open." Emma had followed him out. "I don't know how he stays in business. Oz, what's going on?"

    "I'm not sure," he replied, more to himself than to her, and headed back to the caf?, narrowly avoiding a collision with Shanei as she arrived for the evening shift.

    Back in the old days, when he still lived in Sunnydale, this was the point where he'd have called Buffy. Cleaning out a nest of vampires was, after all, pretty much her job. But Buffy wasn't here, and he needed a second opinion. Without waiting to see how Emma and David were taking his odd behaviour, he headed out back toward Elli's studio. She was the only other person in town that he knew who had any idea about this kind of thing.



    • #3

      Part Two


      Oz had taken to hanging out at Elli's studio when he wasn't working. He found her friendship relaxing in an equal and opposite way to David and Emma's. Because they were so blessedly normal, and believed that he was at least reasonably normal too, with them he could pretend that he was. He could just wear his human face and forget, for a while at least, about the other.

      Elli, in contrast, not only knew about but in fact belonged to the world of other just as much as he knew he did, when he was honest with himself, and in a way that David and Emma never could no matter how much they learned about it. Plus of course they'd been to a lot of the same places and could compare notes, but most importantly, with her he could relax completely. It was a complicated way of doing things, he knew that, but he was still too unsure of David and Emma's reaction if they knew about his secret identity mojo to come clean. And after keeping his lycanthropy secret for so long, he was no longer sure he even knew how to go about confessing it.

      When you lived and worked with nice normal people who barely even knew that there were monsters out there and had more than once implied that they didn't want to know any more than they already did, how did you even begin to explain to them that many people would consider you to be one of those monsters? Or that you really weren't? And the longer he left it, the harder it was to raise the subject.

      "Could really use a Slayer for a job like this," he admitted, after telling Elli about Linda's visit and the problem she had presented him with.

      Elli glanced up from the seemingly random looking bits and pieces she was turning into a mosaic mirror frame. "We don't have one handy, I'm afraid. So what did you tell her?"

      "Very little," Oz admitted. He'd been too taken aback to offer Linda anything concrete, and he still had no idea what he was supposed to do about it.

      "And this old man?"

      Oz gave a helpless shrug. He had no idea.

      Elli frowned at the frame she was working on. "You can't just ignore it. Not when that kid is trusting you to help," she told him. Then she looked up, as though something had occurred to her. "Emma said the M&Ms were complaining about there being a load of murders and disappearances lately. More than usual."

      Oz nodded. The connection was fairly obvious. "Vampires can have that effect on a town."

      Elli glanced at her watch and pulled a face. "We're going to have to go and check it out. They'll be out on the prowl soon. Your shift finished, didn't it?"

      "Yeah," Oz admitted, uncertainly. "Thanks, but ? us?" It was nice that she so automatically counted herself in, but two of them against a whole group of vampires did not sound like such a good idea.

      "Who else is there?" Elli sighed, not looking overly enthusiastic about the idea herself. "You said yourself, no one else around here seems to know anything about this. And sometimes, being the only one who knows makes it your responsibility."

      Oz had to admit she had a point there ? that was pretty much the reason he'd stepped in to help David and Emma with the ghost. He'd recognised the problem and realised that since there was no one else able to help, it was up to him. And deep down he knew the same was true here, too.

      "What harm could there be in going to take a look?" Elli continued.

      Oz considered that. "Potentially quite a lot, actually." Starting with vampire strength and ending with vampire fangs?

      "I've fought vampires before," he admitted. "But, seriously, I'm no match for them." His wrist was still in a cast, for a start, although he hoped to have it removed in a few days. And even if it wasn't, an entire potential nest of vampires was generally something to be avoided, not confronted.

      Elli looked ever so slightly surprised. "Well, for one thing, who said anything about fighting? You can do stealthy, can't you? We go, we check out the lay of the land, and we leave again before they spot us. Second, you wouldn't be on your own. I'm coming, too. And if we go now we'll still have daylight on our side. And third, even if the worst came to the worst, haven't you got that wolfy-strength going for you?"

      "Not so much." Oz had tapped into the strength of his werewolf side in the past, but that had been in extreme circumstances. He had no real idea how he'd managed it, and had never been willing to experiment.

      Elli looked curious, but didn't argue. "As long as we play it right we won't have to fight," she said. "This is a just scouting trip. We'll find out if they really are vampires, see how many there are and exactly where they're hiding out before they all disappear out for the night. And then we can always just go back tomorrow and set fire to them in their sleep. Or something ? we can work out a proper plan once know what we're dealing with."

      That sounded like a reasonable plan, potential arson convictions aside. But there was one other thing he thought he should mention. "David and Emma saw Linda talking to me. They're kinda curious."

      Elli snorted. "I bet they are!" She looked a little worried about this potential complication. "Do they know anything about vampires?"

      Oz shook his head. "Don't think so." He'd never really raised the subject of vampires and demons with them, since it cut a bit too close to home for his liking, and they'd never asked.

      "I didn't think so," she mused. "They've always given me the impression they preferred not to know any more about ? well, stuff like that. I think that ghost, and then everything with the Master, kind of put them off the idea."

      She thought about it for a bit longer. "I don't really think we have time to explain it all to them just at the minute."

      "Could be a long and tricky conversation," Oz agreed, frowning. It was also a conversation he really wasn't keen to have, given how much else it could lead to. Some cans of worms were far better left unopened.

      "Maybe we're better off leaving them out of it for now, then," Elli mused. "If they really want the gory details, we can explain it all later on, when we have a clearer idea ourselves. And then if they're desperate for action, they can always come and help with the burning thing. Do you know where Charleston Drive is?"

      He shook his head again.

      "Okay then," she said. "We'll have to improvise."


      There wasn't much to see on Charleston Drive when they found it. An apartment block at one end of the street, a patch of land left waste, and then the old school. Oz parked outside, and then he and Elli squeezed through the broken gate and looked around.

      "Linda said they were attacked in the caretaker's cottage," Oz recalled, looking over at the tumbledown building.

      "We'd better start there, then," Elli agreed, glancing up at the sky. It was late afternoon ? sunset would not be far away. "We'll have to make it quick, too. And quiet."

      She looked back at the school, and then the cottage. "Perfect place for a vampire hideout," she remarked, wrinkling her nose. "I really wish they wouldn't leave these empty buildings lying around like this. It's just asking for trouble."


      "Elli's disappeared, too," Emma complained to David. "And Shanei says she heard them talking when she was taking some junk out back. They were talking about us, saying they had to leave us out, and then something about burning. What the hell is that all about?"

      David looked as puzzled and annoyed as she felt, but she gave him no time to reply.

      "I hate being left out of stuff," she grumbled. "And Shanei also said they mentioned Charleston Drive. That's not far, is it?"

      "No, it isn't," David looked thoughtful. "We could catch them up and find out."

      "Let's go, then." Emma was resolute. She especially hated being left out of things by friends when she thought they trusted her. It was annoying, and just a little bit hurtful, and as a result her usual common sense was deserting her.

      Leaving Shanei to mind the caf?, they headed out.


      Inside the caretaker's old cottage, all seemed quiet as Oz and Elli very carefully and quietly searched the derelict house, both extremely tense and moving as stealthily as they knew how so as not to disturb any vampires resident and alert them to their present. However, although they found much evidence of recent occupation, there were no signs of current 'life', or unlife, even. The house was empty.

      In one room they did, however, find the blood-drained corpse of a teenage boy.

      "Linda's unfortunate Jimmy, I take it," Elli noted, grimly.

      "I guess," agreed Oz, closing the door on the unfortunate Jimmy and leaning against it. "I can feel an anonymous call to the police coming on."

      "That would work," Elli nodded, thoughtfully. "His parents, and Linda, would at least find out what happened to him."

      "More or less," Oz qualified that statement. The police were hardly likely to realise the truth of how Jimmy had died, far less explain that truth to his family. But at least they'd be able to lay him to rest.

      Elli looked up and down the corridor. "There aren't any vampires in here now, though. They must be in the school building."

      Oz looked at his watch. Exploring the cottage had taken longer than anticipated. "Yeah. And it'll be dark soon."


      David and Emma didn't take long to reach Charleston Drive in search of their errant friends.

      "There's Oz's van," David pointed out.

      "They should be around here somewhere, then." Emma looked all around, curious.

      "They must be in there," David suggested, pointing to the old school. "Why on earth would they be in there?"

      Emma had no explanation to offer. "Let's see where they are and find out."

      Sliding through the broken gates, the couple looked around, but there was no sign of which way Oz and Elli might have gone, or why they'd come.

      "Maybe we should split up?" Emma suggested.

      David looked dubious. "You sure? Safety in numbers, and all that."

      "It's an old school," Emma pointed out. She didn't usually have to talk him into things like this ? he was generally the one who wanted to go rushing straight in without thinking. "Derelict. Where's the danger?"

      David didn't look convinced, but he agreed. "Okay. Yell if you need me."

      "You go look at that old cottage," Emma suggested. "I'll check the school."

      She watched him head for the cottage, and then rounded the school building itself until she found a door hanging off its hinges. With no evidence as to why the others had come here, where they were now or what they were doing, her curiosity was running high. She decided to take a look inside.

      The old school had apparently been deserted for a long time, judging by the amount of dust. Emma sneezed, and fastidiously picked her way past the junk and debris that littered the hall. She almost walked straight past the footprints before she noticed them. She paused to examine her find. Footprints of dried mud could have been there God knew how long, and the same could be said for the scuffmarks in the carpet of dust, but it was still a sign that someone had been this way. She decided to follow the prints and see where they led.

      The footprints led her to a door, with raucous voices coming from the other side. It didn't sound like Oz or Elli, and for the first time Emma became nervous and started to realise that maybe exploring a derelict building all alone wasn't such a bright idea. She decided to go back outside and look for David, but as she turned, she let out a yelp of surprise to see a tall, greasy looking man standing right behind her. He smiled, nastily.

      "Well, well, well. What have we here?" As he spoke, something bizarre happened to his face ? his eyes turned yellow and his brow became horribly swollen and disfigured, and as for the teeth? Too frightened to make a sound, Emma backed away, only to find her back against the wall. Gasping with fear, she made to run away, but the odd-looking man moved too fast, grabbing her in a painfully strong grip and dragging her through that door into the room beyond.

      It turned out to be what had once been a staff-room, now hazy with cigarette smoke and smelling strongly of decay. And several other men were within, all dirty, all smelly, and all as unpleasant looking and disfigured as her assailant. They were scattered around the room in various attitudes of relaxation, gaming and smoking, but all looked up as the door opened.

      "My friends," her captor shouted out to the others, laughing as he dragged her into the middle of the room. "Dinner is served!"

      He turned back toward her, mouth opening wide to display sharp looking fangs. Finding her voice at last, Emma screamed, as loud as she could, as those sharp, sharp teeth descended toward her neck?

      And completely failed to connect. His grip on her broken, her attacker suddenly flew backward as though propelled by an invisible force. Her breath coming in short, sharp pants as she battled both fear and shock, Emma half-turned and to her amazement saw Charlie standing in the doorway.


      Charlie Stafford could barely remember a time when she didn't know that vampires and demons existed. Her upbringing had involved much taking of precautions, and as a result she tended always to keep an ear to the ground. It was a good habit: staying safe was easier if you were aware of what was going on out there.

      She'd recently become uncomfortably aware that a team of vampires had started operating in the area. One vamp, on its own, she knew she could deal with. Maybe even two or three, if she was lucky, given the element of surprise afforded by her fairly unique gift. But this seemed likely to be way more than that, far beyond her capacity to cope with. And yet, it was no good. Old habits died hard, and that nagging sense of responsibility refused to go away. She'd decided in the end that she had to at least find out how many there were ? and then after that she could worry about what to do about it.

      She hadn't expected to arrive just in time to find them about to chow down on someone, least of all someone she knew. She certainly hadn't planned for having to perform a rescue, and it was made harder still since, frozen with fear, Emma was just standing stock still, staring, and the vampires were regrouping.

      "Don't just stand there!" Charlie shouted, coming further into the room to grab her arm and pull her toward the door.

      Too late. One of the vampires had moved faster, slamming and bolting the door, trapping them both.


      Finally giving up on the caretaker's cottage, Oz and Elli headed back downstairs.

      "I don't think we're going to have time to check the school tonight," said Elli as they made for the front door. "They'll be active by now."

      "Tomorrow, then," Oz nodded.

      Reaching the door, they were flabbergasted to see David, who was just coming in.

      "David," Elli gasped, taken aback.

      All three stood and stared at one another for a moment, none of them knowing where to begin.

      "You are here, then," David remarked accusingly.

      "We are, yes," Elli replied, cautiously.

      "Why?" He sounded both angry and puzzled.

      While they were speaking, Oz noticed something a short distance away. Without a word, he grabbed both their arms and pulled them back inside, out of sight.

      "Hey?" David protested.

      "Shush," Elli fiercely urged.

      She joined Oz in peering back through the cracked door to see if the coast was clear. The vampire Oz had spotted hadn't seen them, leaving the old school house and striding away through the broken gates without looking around. It was now getting dark enough for them to become active.

      "I don't think he heard us," Oz quietly noted.

      "What the hell is going on?" David sounded angrier than ever. Oz exchanged dubious looks with Elli and nodded. They were going to have to come clean, although this was hardly the ideal time or place.

      "Vampires," he said brusquely.

      "What?" His explanation had taken the wind right out of David's sails.

      "There are vampires nesting here," Elli explained. "We came to find out how many."

      "Vampires?" David sounded incredulous. He shook his head, as though trying to clear some space for this new information, and then glared. "Okay. So first of all, our bar is haunted. Then we have space aliens landing among us. And now there are actual vampires on the streets?"

      He gave them both a hard look. "And I'm pretty sure that you two know way more about all this than you're letting on. In fact, I'm starting to think there's a lot you aren't telling us. And when this is over, we're all going to sit down and have it out. I thought we were friends."

      Having said his piece, he stalked back outside.

      "Ouch. That stings," Elli quietly remarked to Oz as they followed.

      "He came from the school building," Oz noted, trying to stay focused on the task at hand and not worry about potential recriminations or repercussions.

      "Who did?" David sounded anxious now.

      "The vampire we just saw," Elli explained.

      David was starting to look alarmed. "That's where Emma was looking around."

      "You brought Emma here?" Elli asked, anxiously, and at that moment a piercing scream tore through the air.

      "Oh god, that's Emma." David was fast becoming panic-stricken.

      "Inside," said Oz, sprinting toward the school building, the other two hot on his heels. Finding a way into the boarded up building, they looked around frantically to find out which way they should be going.

      In for a penny: in for a pound. Oz realised this was no time to be secretive, and took a deep sniff of the air, analysing the scents carefully. He'd never really trained his nose, preferring not to consciously remind himself of his werewolf abilities, but he had used those werewolf senses to track people before. And his nose did not let him down today, either. He could smell the vampire that had so recently come this way, and could tell which direction it had taken, and he could also trace Emma, knew that she was terrified?

      "This way," he ordered, taking off at a run and barely noticing that Elli was already moving in that direction.

      They pelted through the corridors as fast as they could, until Oz's keen sense of smell brought them to a large, thick door, which was firmly locked, immovable.

      "She's in there," he told them ? needlessly, as it turned out, as behind the door Emma was screaming again.

      Oz and David both tried pushing and kicking at the door, but to no avail. The shouting and screaming from behind the door was growing louder, and increasingly desperate. Elli shouldered them both aside.

      "You didn't see this, okay?" Standing in front of the door, she rested the palms of her hands against it, and concentrated for a moment. The door began to make creaking noises?and then unexpectedly exploded inward in a shower of splinters.

      By pure luck, a vampire standing on the other side of the door was impaled through the heart by one of the door fragments, and promptly exploded into dust.

      David was absolutely gob-smacked. "How did you do that?"

      "I'm very clever," Elli told him evasively, hurriedly heading into the room.

      Oz and David followed her, remembering the urgency of the situation. Inside they found a roomful of vampires who were just beginning to recover from the shock of the door exploding, and Emma cowering behind Charlie, of all people, who had a desperate expression on her face. As David rushed toward his wife, so did a vampire, who was unexpectedly flung aside by some invisible force.

      Charlie, Oz realised with amazement in some distant part of his brain, as he snatched up a couple of the larger door splinters that were handily stake-sized ? no sense in wasting them. Charlie's doing it. He wondered how it worked.

      And then he had no more time to wonder about anything much, with an entire roomful of vampires to fend off.

      It was tough to not get killed by this many vampires and still take note of what everyone else was doing, in case they needed any back up. A certain amount of attention had to be paid, however, since David and Emma, at least, had no experience of this whatsoever, and Oz couldn't be entirely sure of the other two, or them of him.

      He'd never seen Elli fighting before. She was strong, he noticed. Not in a Buffyish, Slayer-type way, but she could more than hold her own. And she certainly knew how to fight. And as for Charlie?

      Willow had been able to float things, Oz recalled, pencils and stuff. But she did it using magic, and it had taken her a long time to properly master the skill. What Charlie could do was way beyond that, he realised, seeing her flinging the vampires away from her just by looking at them, and he suspected it also had a completely different foundation. Charlie didn't seem the witchy type. She'd also thought to bring stakes and things with her, as had Oz and Elli. David and Emma, on the other hand, lacked both weapons and the knowledge of what to do. They were in the most danger here.

      David was trying, in an endearingly inept way, to protect Emma, and she, lioness that she was at heart, was doing likewise for him. They both seemed likely to get themselves killed at any minute, despite the efforts of the other three to defend them.

      Fighting with one arm in a cast wasn't the easiest thing he'd ever tried but, seeing his friends in danger, Oz stopped thinking and allowed instinct to take over. Seeing David and Emma on the receiving end of a bit too much punishment, he managed to toss the vampire he was struggling with aside and rushed towards them. Halfway, he stumbled over something ? it turned out to be the remains of an old overhead projector, and a rusting but still sharp metal plate had come lose. Seizing it, he sprang onto an old desk and, remembering the couple of sparring sessions he'd had with Elli, brought the makeshift blade around in a sweeping arc, taking the head clean off a vamp just about to sink its teeth into Emma's neck. The vampire dusted quite satisfactorily.

      Thus freed, temporarily at least, Emma turned to see who had saved her and gave Oz a quick smile of gratitude, which at once turned to a gasp of horror. Thus warned, Oz tossed his stake to her and whirled around, lashing out with his improvised blade ? sheer instinct saving him from the vampire about to take him out from behind. A second head rolled, and a second vampire crumbled into dust before it could hit the ground.

      Heart pounding, Oz turned back to see Emma driving the stake he'd given her into the back of a vampire attacking David in imitation of Charlie and Elli's stakings on the other side of the room. Emma was clearly a quick study, although the effect of her action left her trembling with horror as it turned to dust.

      "Oh God," Emma whimpered, appalled.



      • #4

        Part Three


        Eventually, it was all over and somehow they were all still alive, albeit slightly battered.

        Emma sneezed. "God," she muttered, picking splinters out of her hair and clothes ? as was Charlie, both of them having been in the room when the door shattered.

        The room was now dustier than ever, and the five humans, or not-quite humans, stood looking at one another, wondering where to go from here.

        "I-I don't know what to say," David stammered, looking shell-shocked.

        "Don't say anything," said Elli, wearily. "We'll go back to the caf?, and talk there. Okay?" She and Oz exchanged worried looks.

        "I left my motorbike around the corner," Charlie quietly told them. "I'll meet you there."


        Except for Charlie, who took her bike, they all went back to the Monico in Oz's van, in almost total silence. Still looking shaky with the reaction to it all, David sent Shanei home and closed early, and then they all sat around a table in the caf? looking at one another, still quiet, no one sure how to begin.

        "Okay." David broke the awkward silence at last. "Now I want answers, and we're all staying here until I get them, okay."

        Beside him, Emma was nodding vigorously.

        Elli nodded too. "Okay."

        "I don't just mean the vampires," David added. "I mean the rest of it. I want to know how you did that thing with the door." Turning to Emma, he explained, "She made the door explode! And then there were all the flying vampires."

        It was Charlie's turn to come under his scrutiny. "That was you, wasn't it? Quite a party trick."

        "Why were you even there, anyway?" Emma looked at Charlie with curiosity. "I mean, I'm really glad you were, thank you, but??"

        "Why were any of you there?" Charlie countered.

        "Oz and I were investigating the vampires," Elli told her, regretfully adding, "We weren't planning an all out battle, though."

        "Ditto," Charlie explained. "I keep my ear to the ground. Oh, I didn't go there to play the superhero and take on a whole nest of vamps all by myself," she hurriedly added. "I'm not that suicidally insane. I just wanted to see how many there were, if there was something I could do."

        She looked rueful. "It's hard, once you know what's out there, to just sit back and do nothing, pretend you haven't seen."

        Oz knew exactly what she meant. As Elli had pointed out earlier, just knowing about this stuff made you responsible for it, in a way. That was at least part of the reason for the Scooby gang. "We know, therefore we have to deal," he murmured. Slayer or no Slayer: that was just how it was.

        "Quite," Charlie agreed, sombrely. "I've been lucky so far."

        And it was Oz's turn for the spotlight now. David turned to him, bewilderment written all over his face.

        "And then you ? you did that thing. When you found out where Emma was. It was like you were smelling the air, or something, almost like a tracker dog."

        Oz the tracker dog. He might have laughed out loud at that, except that it really wasn't funny at all. The moment of truth was upon him at last ? upon them all. Judging by the looks on David and Emma's faces, they felt hurt, betrayed even, that their friends had been keeping secrets from them. He'd never meant for that to happen, and he was sure Elli hadn't meant it that way either. It was just that the truth was so hard to explain, and it had felt so good to be leading something approaching a normal life again.

        "It's all about trust," he explained, slowly. "That's why secrets are kept. You have to decide: do you trust these people to deal with the truth if you tell them? And, are you prepared to handle the rejection if they can't?"

        To tell, or not to tell, that was the question when making new friends. At first he hadn't said anything because he hadn't intended to stay long. But then he'd realised he was putting down roots, that he was going to stay, and that only made it harder to come clean.

        "Okay," David replied. "But it ends here. No more secrets. We want to hear it all."

        For a long moment they all sat quietly, regarding one another nervously: David and Emma on one side of the table, Oz and Elli on the other, and Charlie off to one side.

        "This all feels very clandestine," Elli remarked, sounding very uncertain.

        "No," Oz tried a quip in an attempt to reassure them all. "It feels like an AA meeting."

        Elli snorted in scornful amusement. "Yeah, right. The inaugural meeting of 'Freaks Anonymous'."

        There was another pause, as no one seemed willing to start the ball rolling.

        Oz had been dreading this moment for a long time, ever since deciding to keep his true nature a secret. The longer the secret was kept, the harder it became to confess the truth. He had no way of predicting David and Emma's reaction, and while they'd dealt with other menaces well enough, he couldn't be sure how they'd respond to learning that their friend and housemate would be perceived by many as a potential threat. And he'd never been prepared to face a negative reaction, not now he'd invested so much energy into building a new life here. A large part of him was almost paralysed with nerves about how this would go: he couldn't face starting from scratch yet again.

        Of course, another part of him was struck by the sheer absurdity of the situation, all of them sitting around here looking like the world was coming to an end. Although, in a way, it might: if this went badly, the cosy new life he'd built here could well come to an end. The same was true for Elli, he guessed, since she was so reluctant to talk about her mysterious otherworldly past and presumably had her reasons for that. Charlie had less at stake, since she barely knew any of them.

        "I'll go first." He looked David and Emma in the eye, steeling himself for their reaction, and decided to go with the AA analogy as a potential icebreaker. "My name is Daniel Osbourne, and I'm a werewolf."

        Yet another pause followed this statement.

        David stared at him in frank disbelief. "You?what?"

        "A werewolf?" Emma's tone was disbelieving. "As in, turns into a wolf every full moon?"

        "That's the usual drill," Elli confirmed, after glancing at Oz to see if he was going to field the question.

        "But?werewolf?" David still sounded confused. "I thought?that's just a legend."

        "You thought ghosts were just superstition," Oz quietly reminded him.

        "True, but?" Emma frowned. "How long has this been going on?"

        "Almost three years," Oz admitted.

        "Three years? But hang on," David protested. "You've been here a good couple months now. We'd have noticed if you went around turning into a wolf!"

        "I don't change," Oz told him. "Not any more. I can hold it in."

        "But?is-is that normal for werewolves?" David asked, thoroughly confused. "You know, in this 'enlightened age'." He rolled his eyes slightly.

        Oz shook his head. "I had it off a monk in Tibet."

        "Did you know about this," Emma asked Elli, accusingly.

        "Yes," she replied, simply.

        "And you didn't think to tell us?"

        "Not my secret to tell," she pointed out.

        Emma rounded on Oz now. "You told her but you couldn't tell us?"

        "He didn't tell me," Elli told her, calmly. "I knew."

        "I didn't," Charlie piped up, gazing at them all with wide eyes.

        But the spotlight remained on Oz, and he was feeling increasingly ill at ease with all the attention focused on that side of him he usually preferred to deny.

        "So how does it work, becoming a werewolf?" David wanted to know. "How did it happen?"

        Oz longed for a way out of the conversation. He was uncomfortable with being the centre of attention at the best of times. "I got bit."

        It really was as simple as that. One bite and your whole life was changed; your very self was altered, the supernatural had claimed you, and there was no way back. None whatsoever.

        "So, one day you're a perfectly normal human being and the next you're?not?" David pressed for more information.

        "Pretty much."

        There was another long pause, in which Oz was grateful for the sympathetic smile Elli gave him, seeing how discomfited David and Emma had become. He'd so hoped they could be open-minded enough not to judge him too harshly, to remember that he was their friend and not be frightened of him.

        "And how'd you come to get bitten by a werewolf anyway?" David asked. Clearly struggling still to take it in, he joked, "Was it an epic battle?"

        "I was playing with him." Oz answered. Seeing the funny looks they all gave him, he explained further. "Baby cousin. Looked human enough just then, but I guess so do I right now."

        That was absolutely the wrong thing to say in this emotionally charged atmosphere. Both David and Emma pushed back away from the table, suddenly wary.

        It was the reaction Oz had been dreading. He couldn't stand seeing the fear in their eyes, knowing that they were suddenly seeing him as a monster. He dropped his own eyes to the table, and pushed his chair back, the urge to run for it becoming overwhelming.

        Elli put a hand on top of his, preventing flight.

        "That's enough." There was a note of command in her voice that broke through the tension and pulled them all to order. "It's my turn."

        Glaring at David and Emma, she used the same phrasing Oz had. "My name is Eleris Talvalin, and?I don't actually come from this world at all."

        There was another of those long, awkward moments of silence.

        "Not from this world?" David repeated, blankly.

        "Not originally, no," she replied, looking calmer now she'd said it, but Oz remembered how adamant she'd been that no one else could know and knew this was as much of a big deal for her as his confession had been for him.

        Emma looked confused. "But when we talked about the Doctor, you said you didn't come from another planet like him, that you were from Australia."

        "I said another world, not another planet," Elli pointed out. "You can't get there in a spaceship. You have to travel through an inter-dimensional gateway."

        "My mistake," Emma murmured.

        "So where does Australia come into it?" David asked, perplexed.

        "Everything I told you about Australia was true," Elli insisted. "That was where I landed when I first came to this world ? a little beach on the west coast. I lived there, with a foster family 'cause that's what they do with unattached minors in this world, and then I went travelling, and then I came here."

        "Why?" asked Emma, frowning again.

        "Why what?"

        "Why any of it? Why come here?"

        "This was where the Doctor's Tardis landed," she pointed out, playing dumb.

        Emma rolled her eyes. "Not that. I mean why come to this world?"

        Elli hesitated, one hand rising to play with her necklace in an unconscious gesture of her anxiety. "Reasons are something I really can't talk about. Just that there was a reason for coming, and that one day, eventually, I will have to go back. Until then, I'm?" She shrugged. "Just filling time, really."

        "But I still don't get the other world thing," David complained. "If it isn't another planet, then where is it."

        "It's in another dimension," Elli told him in a matter-of-fact tone.

        "There are other dimensions?" He was starting to look dazed by all the new concepts he'd had thrown at him tonight: vampires, werewolves, dimensions ? Oz would have felt sorry for him, if he hadn't been so worried about his ultimate reaction once things had calmed down.

        Elli nodded, briskly. "There are lots of other dimensions, and lots of other worlds. Some of them are just like this world, with only tiny differences. And there are a whole load of heavenly dimensions, and hell dimensions. Worlds within worlds and dimensions within dimensions, it just goes on and on. And then there are worlds that are just themselves, and I come from one of those."

        Oz was grateful for Elli's chatter, knowing full well that she was, at least in part, doing it deliberately to divert attention from him, since when she wanted to she could be every bit as close-mouthed as was his usual habit. Even now she was talking a lot while giving very little away. And she'd certainly succeeded in cooling everyone down with her calm revelations.

        "And Elli isn't your real name?" Emma was asking.

        "That depends what you mean by 'real'," Elli told her, cautiously. "My birth name is Eleris, but nobody ever called me that. I've been Elli ever since I came here."

        "So what about that thing you did?" David wanted to know next. "When you blew the door up. What was that all about?"

        "We needed to get in, fast," she reminded him. "There wasn't time for finesse."

        "Well, yeah," he conceded. "So, gratitude, and all. But ? can you do other stuff like that?"

        Elli shrugged. "I can do a lot of stuff."

        That was a nicely vague answer, Oz noted. He could do a lot of stuff, too. He could walk, talk, play guitar, unscrew a can lid, although those last two were rather dependent on having two good hands. It wasn't exactly what David had been getting at, though.

        Emma's train of thought seemed to be on another track entirely. "So ? you said you'll be going back eventually. When is that likely to be?"

        Elli sighed, and looked slightly depressed. "This year. Next year. Sometime. Never. I honestly don't have a clue. And I'd rather not talk about it, if you don't mind. I wasn't even supposed to tell anybody this much."

        David and Emma looked at each other, then at Charlie, who was keeping very quiet, and then met Oz's eyes properly for the first time since the werewolf revelation. Looking back at Elli, David nodded.

        "Okay. I mean, my head's kinda spinning as it is. I'm not sure I can take much more right now."

        "Time to call it a night, then," Charlie suggested, quietly.

        "Almost." Emma looked at her sharply. "We still haven't heard your story. You know, about how you do what you do, which I am very grateful for, of course. Thank you."

        Charlie looked reluctant to join in the true confessions session, which Oz thought was understandable. She barely knew any of them, and she'd been plunged straight into this. She probably thought they were all crazy. But with all eyes on her, she went along with the format established.

        "Okay, okay," she said. "My name is Charlie Stafford, and?I think I'm mostly just a perfectly normal person. Except that I can do, well, this."

        As she spoke, the table they were sitting at started to rise into the air, tilting ever so slightly off balance.

        David, eyes wide with amazement, bent down to look under the table as if to confirm that there was nothing down there holding it off the ground.

        "How do you do that?" Emma breathed. It was certainly an impressive ability.

        Charlie shrugged, and the table slowly descended back to the floor. "I just do."

        "But how? Did you always know you could do it? How'd you find out?"

        Charlie looked uncomfortable with all the questions. "It's just something that I do, okay?"

        "You can't just stop there," David protested. "Everyone else has 'fessed up."

        "You haven't," she pointed out.

        "That's because we're just completely normal people," said Emma.

        Charlie looked offended. "I'm a normal person, too, so stop making such a fuss."

        David gave Emma a sharp look, the 'back off' message clear.

        "Okay then," he conceded. "My name is David Gibson, and this is my wife Emma. And until recently our bar was haunted. He fixed it for us."

        David nodded toward Oz as he spoke, and Oz felt himself releasing a deep breath he hadn't been aware of holding. It was just a tiny gesture, but it meant a lot. It meant that there was still a chance that they could all get past this, that they could work through these issues with their friendship intact. He nodded back, in acknowledgment of David's acknowledgment.

        And then Charlie gave in and told her story.

        "I was really young when it happened the first time," she started. "It was ? well, really it was because my mother was a vampire."

        That statement left Oz feeling nonplussed, since he knew that vampires did not have children. It came as a relief when Charlie hurriedly continued.

        "I mean, not when I was born, obviously. She was turned when I was eight."

        Everyone looked sympathetic as she carried on. "And then my dad went nuts and took off to go demon hunting all by himself, so we ? the kids ? all got farmed out to a load of different relatives, and don't worry, I will get to the point in just a moment."

        "You see," she explained. "The thing was that every now and then, she'd remember that she had kids and come looking for us. So we had to keep moving. And there was this one time. We were living with an uncle and aunt, me and my little sister. In Bath, I think it was. Or it might have been Bristol. But anyway, one night they went out, and she came."

        None of them needed to ask who she was.

        "T-the babysitter let her in," Charlie recalled, her voice starting to shake slightly. "And got killed for her trouble. And she came upstairs looking for us. We hid in the attic, in an old wardrobe, but she could smell us. She came looking?and Becky went to scream so I put my hand over her mouth and she bit down. I still have the scar."

        She held up her hand, palm outstretched, and sure enough there were tiny teeth marks visible as faint white half-moons. Oz found his eyes drawn down to his own hands, in particular that one finger his young cousin Jordy had bitten, almost three years earlier. There was no scar to show for it, not one that was visible. And yet he had a reminder of the bite that was far more permanent than any scar. It had taken his uncle and aunt a good long while to realise the implications of Jordy biting him, but it had been a hard lesson well learned.

        "And she heard," Charlie continued. "She would have killed us both."

        "What happened?" Emma looked distressed.

        "That happened," Charlie replied. "What I can do. I was terrified, and I didn't know what to do. I just wanted her to go away. And all of a sudden she went flying back, away from us: smashed into an old table. And then my aunt and uncle came home and chased her away. We moved house right after that."

        She paused. "It took a long time to realise I'd done it."

        Oz remembered something he'd read, back in his Scooby gang days. Poltergeists, said the memory, and he tried to recall the exact reference. So-called 'poltergeists' are paranormal activities mostly caused by persons who are unaware of their psychic powers; the cause is mostly trauma or strain. That sounded like a pretty good explanation for the events Charlie was describing and for what he'd seen her do. Except that whereas 'poltergeists' were blamed when this use of paranormal power was not controlled, it seemed Charlie had pretty much full control of her psychic abilities and he wondered how she'd managed it. Telekinesis was the other word that he'd seen bandied around: the power of moving things with the mind. It was a far cry from Willow's pencil-floating party trick: mind power, not magic.

        "What about your dad?" Elli asked, gently. "Did he ever come back?"

        Charlie shook her head. "We never saw or heard from him again. He wanted to find her, but he never did. He's probably dead long before now."

        "You don't know that." David suggested, sympathetically.

        "If he wasn't, he'd have come back," Charlie said, flatly.

        "Well, maybe he found her first." Emma's attempt at reassurance really didn't come off.

        Charlie shook her head. "No. I did that myself, years later."

        It seemed no one was quite sure how to reply to that. Oz wondered how he'd react if he was confronted by his mother as a vampire. It was a disturbing thought.

        "My foster father was killed by vampires," Elli said, quietly. "About four months after I arrived. It was the first sign I had that this world wasn't quite as safe as advertised."

        She glanced around the room at them all, straightening up in her chair. "I think we could all do with a drink now. Something soothing."

        "I'll do it," said Emma, standing up. "I could use a break."

        She headed for the kitchen.

        "Okay, so." David folded his hands on top of the now safely grounded table, and regarded the other three curiously, his expressive face saying clearly that he wanted somehow to put all this right. "I think I'm starting to come to grips with everything. Well, okay, not really. But I'm getting that there's a lot of stuff out there I don't know about. And I think it would be good to be prepared. So, to be going on with, if I come across a load of vampires again, what's the best way to fight them? 'Cause I had no clue out there tonight."

        Oz saw the incredulous looks on Elli and Charlie's faces, and had to agree with them. Given how David's first encounter with vampires had gone, the best advice he could receive on how to fight them was simply not to go there.

        "Okay, first lesson: don't," he told the other man.

        Elli nodded emphatically in agreement. "Never put yourself into a situation where you have to take on a vampire. Just don't do it."

        "But what if the vampire finds me?" David protested. "Takes me on? It might not be my call."

        "Okay then," Oz said. It was a fair point ? you could take all the precautions in the world and still not guarantee that you wouldn't run into trouble. "Things to remember. The vampire is stronger than you."

        "It's faster than you," Elli put in.

        "All its senses are much better than yours," Charlie added.

        "This is meant to make me feel better?" David complained.

        "No, it's meant to make you cautious," Elli told him. "You see a vampire coming at you, run like hell."

        "And yell," said Charlie. "As loud as you can. You never know, someone might even come and help."

        "Avoid walking around alone at night," Elli picked up the thread again. "If you really must, stick to populated areas."

        "They're less likely to attack in a crowd," Charlie agreed.

        "And if all else fails," Oz completed the lesson. "Carry one of these at all times." Fishing a stake out of a pocket, he tossed it to the thoroughly bewildered David.

        Elli grinned at the look on David's face. "Best of luck."

        "Hey," Emma arrived back at that moment carrying a tray of drinks. "What're you all talking about now?"

        David beamed, waving the stake at her. "The guys are teaching me how to fight vampires!"

        Emma was horrified. "Oh, you've got to be kidding me!"

        "It isn't as bad as it sounds, honestly," Elli assured her.

        Emma sat down, her expression grim. "No. Worse, I expect."

        While the two girls were attempting to convince Emma that learning vampire precautions really wasn't such a bad thing, David pulled Oz aside to talk quietly.

        "So," he began, uncomfortably. "Are we good?"

        "Well, I don't know." Oz told him. "Are we?"

        "I don't know," David admitted. "I want to be, but then I think that you held out on us, and that Emma could be in danger?"

        "I don't change," Oz reminded him quietly, before a fit of honesty compelled him to add, "Except in very extreme circumstances. But I would never deliberately put you or Emma in danger. I guess its up to you to decide if you believe that's enough."


        Later that night, Oz sat hunched up on Elli's sofa, staring at the floor, running the day's events over and over in his mind. Way to have his life blow up in his face yet again.

        Elli came over, placed two steaming mugs on the coffee table in front of the sofa, and sat down with a sigh. "Well, that went about as badly as we could have dreaded," she commented, wearily.

        Oz nodded, but said nothing, still contemplating the floorboards.

        "And yet, better than we could have hoped," she added.

        Oz nodded again, lifting his head to look at her. "They didn't kick us out on the spot, anyway," he acknowledged. For a moment there he'd been convinced they would. Him, at least.

        "Did you think they would?" Elli asked, seriously.

        Oz just looked at her.

        "Yes, it was a possibility," she conceded. "None of this is easy, for anyone, and we knew they weren't keen on finding out more. I suppose all we can do now is hope they can come to terms with it all, somehow."

        She hesitated, and then hopefully added, "I think they'll be okay."

        Oz looked at the floor again, and sighed, wishing he felt so optimistic. Maybe he would feel more positive in the morning.

        "They're good people," Elli reminded him. "Friends. Sooner or later ? I hope ? they'll realise that nothing's changed. Not really. I'm still the same person that I was this morning, and so are you. So's Charlie."

        A slow smile spread across her face. "Now that really was a bombshell. I didn't know she could do that." She looked almost delighted at the surprise. "I can usually tell."



        • #5



          By the next day, things had started to calm down, a little. Oz still felt a little uneasy, but he was pretty sure David and Emma trusted him again, or at least that they were starting to. He'd made it as clear as he knew how that he took very careful precautions and would never willingly put them in danger. He didn't know how else to convince them, but the fact that they hadn't kicked him out or fired him yet was encouraging. Their general attitude seemed friendly enough this morning, albeit a bit too friendly, as if they were trying too hard to pretend everything was normal. They were also very slightly wary still, even while pretending not to be. But all he could do now was hope that the wariness would wear off in time and that they could eventually get back to something approaching normal.

          A normal working environment would be a good start. David was the quietest Oz had ever known him while working, and he was trying very hard not to notice the worried looks the other man kept shooting across at him.

          At long last David broke the uneasy silence. "So, I was thinking."

          Oz looked across at him, eyebrow raised, wondering what was coming now.

          "When you kept taking time off," David explained. "Three days at a time. I worked it out ? it was always at full moon. I thought full moon was only for one night."

          Oz hesitated. That wasn't an aspect he'd expected David to think of, and it was a subject he'd never been comfortable discussing. "Not quite that simple," he explained. "But yeah. Yeah: precautions."


          Needing a break from the nervous tension, he wandered over to Elli's studio. With classical music softly playing in the background, she was laying a load of old newspapers across the floor to protect it while she worked, and gave him a worried look when she saw him come in.

          That wasn't a good start. Oz started to get worried himself, wondering what was wrong now.

          "Oz," she said, straightening up and looking very serious. "Do you read the newspapers?"

          "Not so much," he admitted. They were never as interesting when you didn't know any of the names in the obituary column.

          "A smart guy like you really should," she told him. "You can learn a lot."

          Crossing the studio, she picked up a folded paper from one of the work surfaces, and then turned back to him, tapping it against her hand nervously.

          "I only just saw it myself, 'cause I don't read papers, either. I got these from David. And I know it's the worst possible timing to show you this after last night, but?"

          Opening the newspaper, she held it out to him. Oz read the article she indicated, his heart sinking. Dated the previous week, it reported a spate of attacks by a large wild animal ? attacks that had taken place on the three nights of the full moon. According to the article, the police were at a loss to explain what kind of animal it was, or where it had come from.

          He felt very cold as he looked back up at Elli, trying to read her grim expression.

          "It wasn't me." He didn't know what else to say, how else to convince her, if she thought he'd done this?

          "I know that, idiot." She relaxed slightly on seeing his worried expression. "I just thought you'd want to know."

          He probably should, and yet he didn't. It certainly sounded like another werewolf was running around town, and his last encounter with a fellow werewolf had not been fun: Veruca had been the cause of so much pain, and not just for him. That memory was followed fast by another worry ? what on earth was he supposed to do about this now?


          ? J. Browning, October 2004; January 2005

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