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Monico Episode Six: Hunted

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  • Llywela



    "Okay, so when you were calling us in all the time about the bar being sabotaged??" Looking uneasy still, Mat was trying to get everything straight in his head, but clearly not getting very far.

    "Ghost," David explained. "Oz got rid of it for us."

    "Uh-huh. And that time when Oz got beaten up ? I suppose you know what that was all about, too?"

    Emma looked amused now. "Oh yeah. He'd stumbled onto a secret laboratory where an evil mastermind was plotting to take over the universe. Elli did most of the solving on that one."

    "No, it was the Doctor really," insisted Elli.

    Mat clearly didn't have the faintest idea what they were on about. "Of course."

    "But we all helped with the saving of the day," Emma added.

    Mike looked completely nonplussed. "Yuh-huh. Anything else we should know about?"

    "Vampires?" David suggested.

    "What?" Mat looked suspicious now.

    "Any mysterious deaths where the victim has massive blood loss and usually so-called 'neck rupture'?" Charlie explained. "You'll never solve 'em, 'cause those are vamp attacks."

    Curled up in the corner of the couch feeling horribly weak still, Oz was nevertheless enjoying the incredulous expressions on Mike and Mat's faces throughout this little byplay. Maybe not quite worth getting shot dead for, but enjoyable nonetheless, and since Mike and Mat had agreed to keep his secret ? admitting that no one would believe them anyway ? that was one less thing for him to worry about. When he regained the energy to worry about anything, that was.

    "Okay, so I have a question now," said David. "How does it work that a guy who's, what ? five foot four? ? can gain that many inches just by turning into a wolf?"


    ? J. Browning, October 2004; January 2005
    Note: I bow in homage to Terry Pratchett's vision of lycanthropy, mortality issues thereof.
    Inspired by that moment in the Buffy episode New Moon Rising when Riley points a gun at Wolf-Oz and my immediate reaction was: are those silver bullets, and if not ? would they actually kill him?

    Authors need feedback

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  • Llywela

    The day wore on interminably.

    Emma couldn't settle. She felt numb, unable to believe what had happened, that it had all ended so badly. How could it have ended like this? How could their friend have been taken out so casually, by a policeman's bullet, when he'd tried so hard to keep all of them safe ? even when drugged almost senseless? Her mind kept returning to that horrific moment, filling her with anger, and grief, and guilt: guilt that she'd found the werewolf issue so hard to come to terms with, and now that she'd finally seen and at least partially understood Oz's struggles with it, it was too late to say sorry. She'd lived such a sheltered life, she told herself. She'd never known anyone her own age ? younger even ? to be killed like this.

    Now that the corpse had been laid out, no one seemed to know what to do next. They'd promised Elli they wouldn't bury him until the next day, and could only assume she had her reasons for that, but what were they supposed to do in the meantime? None of them had managed a wink of sleep all night, but despite their tiredness rest was the furthest thing from any of their minds. How could they just carry on with their lives as if nothing had happened, without even being able to follow any of the normal procedures in the event of a death?

    Charlie went home for a while, only to return later admitting she'd been unable to settle, while having boarded up the door, David kept the caf? closed at first, and then opened for a few hours purely for the sake of having something to do. Elli remained quiet and stayed out of their way, working alone in her studio. And Emma found herself wandering aimlessly around the place cleaning both apartment and caf? until they sparkled. And then she cleaned some more, just to stay occupied.


    It was one of the longest days Elli had endured in a good long while. She had seen far too much death in her relatively short life, lost far too many people that she cared about. It hurt just as much every time, especially when there was guilt and uncertainty attached. She was feeling very uncertain right now. She knew too little about the rules of this world as they applied to shape-changers: her knowledge in this field was sketchy at best and almost exclusively otherworldly. She was fairly sure she knew how the rules should apply here, but since when had Oz's werewolfism ever conformed to her expectations?

    The tingling at the back of her mind told her not to abandon hope entirely, not yet. That instinct had been right before. It had told her when she first met them that the trio of Oz, David and Emma had a part to play in the struggle she had then been involved with, and so it had proved. It had told her tonight that something was wrong, even though she hadn't been able to work out just what until it was too late. And this? She couldn't be sure how this would play out, and the waiting was making her tense, afraid even to get her own hopes up, never mind anyone else's. She couldn't tell them what she was hoping for. It would be too unfair if she was wrong, but she also couldn't bring herself to sit with them, to witness their grief, so she kept to herself, working quietly in her studio, trying not to think.

    Emma wandered over at one point during the afternoon, bringing her a welcome cup of coffee. Accepting it gratefully, Elli then returned to her work, whittling at a bit of wood with the tip of her tongue sticking out as she concentrated.

    Emma watched her in silence for a long time, and then quietly said, "It's a wolf."

    Taken by surprise, Elli looked at her handiwork as if seeing it for the first time. "Oh," she murmured. "Yes." She'd barely even been aware of what she was creating. "It was going to be a horse, but?I suppose I've got wolves on my mind today."


    The afternoon wore on so slowly. It was agonising.

    As sunset drew near, Elli picked up a warm blanket and went across to the Monico, slipping in the back way as usual. She peered into the caf? from the back passage connecting it to the kitchen: David had shut up shop again, and he, Emma and Charlie were sitting around drinking coffee and looking miserable. She decided not to disturb them, and quietly made her way down into the coolness of the cellar.

    The werewolf corpse lay on the table where they'd left it, bloodstains carefully washed out of the lank fur, the wound itself likewise cleaned up. That at least she knew how to do, although it had been a long time since she'd had to.

    Setting the blanket down beside her, Elli checked her watch, found a chair, and sat down to keep a quiet vigil over the body, still not daring even to think about what she was hoping for.

    She realised she was holding her breath in expectation as she glanced up at the tiny window near the ceiling to confirm that the moon was starting to rise. Then she looked back at the body, and released a very shaky breath when she saw that it was slowly morphing back into human form. Another long moment passed, and the body suddenly convulsed, gasping for air.

    Feeling almost giddy with relief, Elli leapt to her feet and hurried to wrap the blanket around him, an action that came complete with a strong sense of d?j? vu ? this was, after all, almost exactly how they'd first met. Except that the first time around he'd had bruises and broken bones, rather than a bullet wound that was still clearly visible, although closed over and looking reasonably well healed.

    Sitting beside him with a hand on his back, although she wasn't entirely sure which of them she was actually trying to reassure, Elli waited for Oz's shivering to subside and his breathing to even out before even trying to get any sense out of him.

    "It's okay, you're okay," she murmured over and over, giving him time to at least start to recover. "Everything's good now."

    He was beginning to come around, sort of, but seemed dazed and confused. Inevitable, she supposed, given what had just happened.

    "Do you think you can walk?" she asked, wanting to get him back upstairs into the warm, and to let the others know that he was okay, or, okay-ish, at least. He didn't answer, but his eyes said he could try.

    He wasn't what she'd have called steady on his feet, but between them they managed to navigate the stairs and make their way through to the main caf?, where three very shocked faces greeted them.

    Elli wondered how to even begin to explain this. "I wasn't sure," she told them, falteringly. "But I hoped. I thought ? isn't it only silver that kills them?"


    "We have werewolves where I come from, too," Elli explained. "And other weres, as well. They're just like anyone else, you know ? there are good ones and bad ones. But they're all hard to kill. You might think they're dead, or that something has happened they couldn't possibly survive, and then they revive. They always come back."

    "But why didn't you say anything?" Emma almost wailed.

    "How could I?" Elli protested, looking distressed. "What if I was wrong? Oz doesn't work like any other shape-changer I've ever met."

    Now clothed once more, Oz was curled up in the corner of the most comfortable sofa in the caf?, feeling decidedly disoriented still, and also very unsure about what had happened to him, although he was fairly sure it wasn't something he wanted to think about too deeply.

    His chest hurt. Not the blinding, searing pain he'd felt at the impact of the bullet in the split second before awareness vanished ? this was a duller pain, kind of like he'd been kicked in the chest by a horse, or maybe an elephant.

    Something tickled at the back of his mind, a memory demanding attention. He examined it fuzzily for a moment, and then realised. The blinding, searing pain he'd felt at the first impact of the bullet. And he'd been wolf-shaped then. He never remembered anything that happened to him as a wolf. Yet he remembered that, all too vividly, remembered the pain.

    He stiffened, almost afraid to breathe for fear of chasing away further memories before he was even aware of them. There was the pain, and before that?an all too brief assortment of experiences, seen through the mind of the beast: images, sounds, and scents ? memories without words or names. The wolf did not think, it simply experienced.

    He thought it was fairly ironic that his very first wolf-memory had to be such a bad one.

    "I'm just not sure what to do now," Elli admitted. "I mean, 'cause the hole is still there, but it's all closed over, so I don't know how well healed it is inside. And he lost some blood. At least it wasn't a heart shot or anything, because that would be a different matter again. But I'm honestly not sure a hospital would know what to make of him."

    "I still don't understand how it could be healed at all," said David, confused. "When he broke his arm it didn't heal straight away like this."

    "The concussion cleared up faster than it should've, though," Emma put in, looking thoughtful.

    "Different situation," Elli suggested, giving them what Oz considered her best 'I'm going to pretend I'm not making this up as I go along' look. "As far as I know, werewolves can revive after what should be fatal injuries, but the instant healing thing only goes so far. It's not like with vampires?"

    "Like what with vampires?" David interrupted.

    Not expecting the question, Elli hesitated slightly, catching Charlie's eye.

    "Way too sidetracky to go into right now," Charlie told David, firmly.

    "My point is that after that initial revival there's still a whole healing process to go through," Elli continued, eyeing Oz thoughtfully. "But I don't think he's in any danger now ? there wouldn't be any point to being able to revive if he was. Now, I'm guessing it takes a certain degree of injury?"

    "Like death," Charlie suggested.

    "Like death," she agreed, placidly. "For that to kick in, and now he just needs time to heal completely. It should be all right if he just rests up for a while. Maybe a good long while."

    "We can arrange that," Emma said, nodding, and somewhere at the back of his still fuzzy mind Oz noted that he clearly wasn't about to be thrown out into the street for going wolf in front of them, and was relieved.

    "And I can do some research," Elli added. "Try to find out if there's anything else we need to know or should be doing."

    David leaned back in his chair and let out a long, deep sigh. "This has been a hell of a day."

    "It's been a hell of a several days," Elli agreed.


    "I still don't believe it," said Mat. "Any of it."

    Mike kept his eyes firmly glued to the almost undrinkable coffee he'd been served at the shabby little caf? they'd holed up in after one of the worst days he'd had in a long, long while. Not bad because of anything specifically terrible that had happened today, just bad in general. Bad because of a long string of stupid, petty, inconvenient trivialities that he'd found himself completely incapable of dealing with. Unable to take his mind off the events of the previous night, he'd found it impossible to concentrate on anything else, and knew that beneath his flippancy and determination not to believe, Mat was equally troubled.

    Trying to be rational was all very well and good, but sooner or later you had to believe the evidence you'd seen with your own eyes. Didn't you?

    And the trouble was, the thing that was disturbing him most, that had prevented him from sleeping a wink when he finally got off shift last night and had distracted him from work all day today was?all the evidence suggested he had shot and killed an innocent person last night, a person that he knew. And the guilt was tearing him apart.

    "I mean," Mat continued, looking less and less convinced with every word of protest he voiced. "You're taking an awful lot on trust here." He lowered his voice, glancing around the caf? to make sure no one was listening to him. "Werewolves, and psychic powers, and God knows what else. Legends, and ghost stories. It just isn't real."

    "You saw it." Mike lifted his head to meet his partner's eyes at last. "You saw it with your own eyes."

    "I didn't see any werewolf," Mat insisted, belligerently. "Or wild dogs of any kind."

    "I did," Mike quietly reminded him. "Or, something, anyway."

    "Well, there's been some?some creature tearing the city apart for days now. Last month as well," Mat continued.

    "At full moon," Mike murmured. "Werewolf." It all made sense now, in a twisted kind of way. Unless it really was some kind of sick joke.

    "So you did a good thing," Mat suggested, hopefully.

    Mike shook his head. "I don't know. I just don't know. You saw them ? you saw what happened. It was real. Wasn't it?" He was no longer sure what to believe. Maybe Mat was right. Maybe it was ridiculous, and a lie, or the sick joke he'd really like to believe it was. Or then again maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was real. Which would he prefer?

    Mat sighed, running a hand through his too-long curls. "We're going to have to go back, aren't we?"

    "I need to find out," Mike told him. "I need to find out for sure."


    Sheer euphoria kept everyone sitting around the caf? talking non-stop for a long time, as their amazement at seeing Oz alive again slowly subsided into pure, giddy relief. Completely enervated after his miraculous revival, Oz himself kept quiet, dozing lightly from time to time, and listening to the chatter but not yet feeling inclined to join the discussion in any way. It was enough to just be here.

    It was a knock at the partially repaired door that finally disturbed proceedings.

    "Oh God," David glanced across to see who it was. "It's the M&Ms."

    They all looked at Oz to see his reaction. He had no idea what to think, beyond how ironic it was that it had always been their uniforms that bugged him, when really it should have been the guns. He wasn't sure how on earth he should feel about them now, though. How were you supposed to react to the person who'd shot you dead thinking you were a wild animal? Because, technically, he supposed he kind of had been a wild animal at the time. It made everything complicated, and complicated was really hard to deal with right now.

    "We're going to have to let them in," Charlie realised.

    "You told them about Oz?" Elli looked worried.

    As the others nodded and agreed that they'd had to, Oz wondered that he wasn't more concerned about the police officers knowing who ? what ? he was. It had, after all, been a subconscious fear of his for so long. But right now he felt too drained to worry about any potential consequences. After all, the worst had already happened, hadn't it?

    David slowly got up and went across to open the door, and the two officers came in, still very confused having had the whole day to think about what had happened and what they'd been told, and insisting that they wanted to know what the hell was going on.

    There was a long, awkward silence when they laid eyes on Oz, having been told that he was dead. Mike went pale.

    "I don't underst?"

    "I thought you said he was dead?" Mat interrupted, glaring at them for upsetting his partner.

    "He was," Emma told him, firmly. She nodded towards Mike. "He shot him."

    "I shot a wild animal," Mike protested. "Not a person."

    "And when Mike shoots someone, they stay shot," Mat added.

    "Well, lucky for you Oz takes a lot of killing," Charlie retorted.

    "Werewolves mostly only stay dead if the weapon is silver," Elli explained quietly. "Or in very extreme other circumstances."

    "Werewolf." Mike sat down, heavily. He looked at David. "You really were serious about that?"

    "Totally serious," David confirmed.

    "Welcome to 'Freaks Anonymous'," Charlie muttered under her breath.

    "Oh God." Mike looked almost sick, and turned distressed eyes towards Oz. "Oh man, I'm sorry, I didn't?"

    Oz managed a weak nod.

    "Is he okay?" Mat asked, frowning slightly at him.

    "Of course he isn't okay," Charlie answered sharply, giving Mat her best glare, which he returned with interest. "How could he be after what just happened?"

    Something else had occurred to Oz. He licked at his very dry lips to moisten them, and then tried to get a word out. "Paul?"

    "Well thank God, you are still in there," Emma turned to him, relief adding a sharp note to her voice. "You've been practically catatonic for hours."

    "Paul?" he repeated, more urgently. The fact that the other werewolf was nowhere in sight and had not been mentioned suggested bad possibilities.

    "Who's Paul?" Mat asked, curiously.

    "He was another werewolf, the one that was all over the news lately," Elli explained softly as she came over to sit in front of Oz and looked him in the eyes, full of regret. "I'm sorry. I didn't get there in time. The hunter already had him, and he knew what he was doing. I was way too late."

    Damn. Oz cast his eyes to the ground, bitter regrets flooding through him. Paul had been hunted and killed because he was a werewolf, and he'd become a werewolf because of him. "My fault," he whispered.

    "Oh, that's great," said Elli with a sigh, standing back up. "So now we're all feeling guilty. Mike feels guilty because he shot Oz. David, Emma and Charlie all feel guilty because they didn't stop it. I feel guilty because I wasn't here to help stop it, and because I didn't get there in time to save Paul. And Oz feels guilty that Paul became a werewolf because of him."

    "So the only one here who doesn't have any reason to feel guilty is Mat," Charlie noted. Turning to Mat, she asked: "Are you feeling left out?"

    "There was another one?" Mike asked, miserably. "The one from the news? So I shot the wrong one."

    Charlie scowled. "There shouldn't have been any shooting at all," she pointed out, indignantly.

    "It was dangerous," Mat instantly jumped to his partner's defence. "Attacking people and killing animals all over the city."

    "And we would have stopped it," Charlie insisted. "Without shooting first and checking the facts later. Whatever he did, he didn't deserve to die like that."

    "It's too late to worry about that now," Elli put in, wearily. She looked at the two officers, her expression serious. "What's important now is that you absolutely cannot tell anyone anything that's happened here in the last twenty-four hours. No one can know."

    Mike looked sheepish. "I had to file a report already. My weapon was discharged."

    "This report didn't mention that you shot a werewolf who was minding his own business at the Monico Coffee Bar, did it?" David asked, anxiously.

    "Not in so many words, no," Mike reassured him, but still looked uneasy.

    "So what did you say?" Emma asked.

    Mike hesitated. "The truth?" he began.

    "Dressed up as a big fat lie," Mat finished for him. "We said we'd encountered the wild dog that's been terrorizing the neighbourhood, and that Mike got a shot at it but it escaped into the sewers. We thought that'd save on awkward questioning, 'cause it's not like anyone would have believed all the rest of it, even if we did know for sure what had happened."


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  • Llywela

    Part Three


    What was the point of having instincts and intuition if they only worked half the time?

    Elli's frantic rush across town had led her unerringly to the hunter's campsite in a manner she hadn't come close to in the past two nights when she and Oz had been trying to find a werewolf that was running wild. That was perhaps the first clue that something was seriously wrong here. Even though she had now met and talked to him face to face, a werewolf that was out on the prowl should not be this easy to home in on.

    Some things she just knew, but she'd always noted that it was rarely enough. On this occasion she allowed her instincts to guide her, as fast as possible, and the next thing she knew she'd found the campsite, tucked away in a nice, secluded spot. And there was something seriously wrong.

    It took no time at all for that nagging sense of wrongness to be confirmed. The wolf howled again, but now that she was right on top of it, she knew what was wrong with the sound. It was a recording, set to play at full volume at irregular intervals: just enough to convince listeners at a distance that the wolf was out there somewhere and perhaps to come looking for it. And inside the hunter's van ? securely locked away, although she had little difficulty gaining entrance ? she found the full horror of his night's work and all the pieces fell into place.

    The unfortunate Paul had never made it to the Monico that night for a very good reason: by sunset he'd already been a prisoner of the werewolf hunter, and once the moon rose and the change came, he'd met his grisly fate.

    Which left the huntsman with one more target.

    That nagging sense of wrongness crystallised into full blown horror, and Elli rushed back to Oz's van with only one thought on her mind: to get back to the Monico as quickly as possible. She just hoped she wasn't already too late.


    "I don't understand," said Mike, falteringly.

    "You've killed Oz," Charlie repeated Emma's words, but with far more anger in her voice than the other woman had used.

    "But t-that isn't Oz," Mike protested, staring at the limp form of the dead creature. "I know Oz. Short. Spiky hair that keeps changing colour. Doesn't say much. I'd have noticed if he looked like this."

    "It's him." David sighed and stood up, anger and grief written all across his face. "He's a werewolf, and you shot him. What the hell did you have to go and do that for?"

    Mike opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, his brain attempting to formulate a response, but spluttering to a standstill as it processed David's words and connected them to the night's events. Werewolf?

    "I think you should go now," Charlie spat at him with venom.

    "But I ?"

    "Go!" she shouted, hustling him back up the stairs.

    David and Emma followed, arms wrapped round one another for comfort.

    "I don't think you should yell at the police like that," Emma murmured nervously, holding tightly onto her husband.

    "I really don't care," Charlie told her, furiously. "This is what you get for giving guns to the police. They think they can go around shooting at just anyone, just because they happen to be a werewolf."

    The conversation got no further, as a commotion in the caf? caught their attention, and they hurried through just in time to see Mat tackling the would-be gunman to the floor.

    "It's the hunter," David said with alarm.

    "Cain," the man said, pushing Mat away and struggling back to his feet, glaring. "I've come for the wolf."

    "Well, you can't have him," Emma told him quickly, choking slightly on the words.

    "You're too late, anyway," David added, bitterly. "He's already dead."

    Cain's disappointment was obvious, but he nevertheless took a step forward, eyes glittering dangerously. "I'll just take the pelt, then."

    "No." Charlie quickly stepped across to block his path, and the hunter suddenly went flying across the room as if hurled by an invisible force, crashing down onto a table, which shattered under his weight.

    Mat gasped, and Mike saw the incomprehension he already felt filling his partner's eyes.

    "Charlie?" David started, but his voice tailed off as Cain struggled back to his feet.

    "The wolf is mine," Cain insisted.

    "No he isn't," Charlie told him, fiercely. "He's his. And he's dead. And you're not having him."

    At those words they all heard a gasp from the doorway, and turned to see Elli, who had rushed in just in time to hear Charlie's impassioned statement.

    Charlie's lip trembled when she saw her friend's horrified expression, but as Cain made to move past her that invisible force flung him aside once again, ramming his back against a wall. He struggled to free himself, but was held firmly in place by the invisible force, as Charlie frowned with concentration.

    Mike leaned heavily on the counter and gave up even trying to understand it all, exchanging bewildered looks with Mat, who had even less idea about what was going on than he did.

    "You're not having him," Charlie repeated, glaring at the hunter. David and Emma were at her back, helping her guard the way through to the rear of the caf?, and Elli joined the trio.

    "You've already got the other pelt," Elli told him quietly, her voice filled with revulsion. "You're not having a second. Not tonight."

    "Get out," David added. "Now."

    Cain glared at them all in impotent fury as the invisible force pushed him irresistibly towards the exit. Giving up the struggle at last, he left, slamming the broken door behind him.

    David then turned to the two police officers. "You too. I'd like you both to leave now, please."


    "What happened?" Elli asked as soon as their unwelcome visitors had gone, the two officers too confused to argue against their dismissal.

    "It was my fault," said Charlie with a tremor in her voice. "I let my guard down, because it was Mike, not the hunter. I didn't react in time."

    "It wasn't you," David said, sadly, his arm tightening around Emma's shoulders. "It was all of us. We shouldn't have let Mike open the door."

    "But what happened?" Elli repeated.

    "The hunter came back," Emma told her. "He shot Oz through the window with one of those darty things."

    Elli bit her lip. "Damn."

    "We got him to the cellar before he changed," David explained, remembering that frantic rush with Oz seemingly sprouting hair and claws with every step.

    "No. He got himself to the cellar before he changed," Emma corrected him.

    "But then Mike came and shot him," Charlie finished the story, her face a picture of misery.

    "I should never have left." Elli sat down heavily.

    "Did you find Paul?" David asked, remembering why she'd gone in the first place.

    "What was left of him," she confirmed, her expression grim. It had clearly not been a pretty sight, and David remembered what Cain had said about the 'pelt'. He shuddered at the thought.

    "I'm sorry about the table," said Charlie in a very small voice. David remembered that she'd thrown Cain across the caf?, and glanced across at the broken table.

    "It really doesn't matter," he told her, heavily. "You got rid of him, that's all that matters."

    "It wasn't enough, though, was it?"


    "Things like this just don't happen in real life," Emma murmured, again. "I can't believe this has happened. How did this happen?"

    She'd made them all coffee, since no one was going to be able to sleep anyway, and the four of them were scattered around the caf? in various attitudes of dejection, mostly lost in their own thoughts, no one able to offer her any kind of comfort or explanation of how this had come about.

    "But it was Mike who did the shooting?" Elli asked, seemingly determined to get all the facts straight. "Not that hunter?"

    "It was Mike, yes," Charlie confirmed, quietly. "Bloody armed police sticking their noses in where they aren't needed."

    Elli stood up. "I need to see him. Downstairs, yes?"

    "Yes, but?" David's voice trailed off.

    "But nothing," Elli insisted, heading for the door. "You don't have to come."

    Emma looked at David and Charlie, tired and drawn after the events of the night. Neither showed any sign of wanting to follow.

    "I don't want to look at it ? him ? again," said David in a low voice. "Not like that, with the fur and the teeth, and the blood. I just can't."

    Emma nodded. "It's okay," she murmured, standing up to follow Elli down to the cellar.

    She found the other girl crouched beside the werewolf, who still lay just as he'd fallen in a pool of blood, examining the gunshot wound with clinical detachment.

    "How can you be so calm?" Emma asked from her vantage point halfway up the stairs, her voice wavering slightly at the sight of the blood.

    Elli looked up, her face pale but stern. "I'm not calm," she said, her voice almost glacial in its composure.

    "You sound calm," Emma objected. "You look calm."

    Elli studied her hands for a moment. "You have no idea what my life has been like," she said, sounding very, very tired. "How many times I've seen things like this happen. Lost people that I cared about, that I loved. If I let myself fall apart every time there'd be nothing left. So I do what has to be done, and I carry on. It's how it has to be."

    She looked down at the corpse again, her fingers absent-mindedly smoothing tangles out of the lank fur, and then looked back up at Emma. "Can't leave him here like this. Do you think you could get me some water, and any towels that you don't mind destroying? And ask David if he can bring himself to help me move him."

    After fetching the water and towels, Emma stood and watched while Elli carefully but thoroughly washed the blood out of the wolf's fur and cleaned up that awful wound.

    "When did you turn into a vet," she asked, sitting down on the stairs, unable to take her eyes off the procedure.

    "Anything but," Elli told her, grimly. "I've just seen a lot of this kind of thing."

    "Guns?" Emma asked, dubiously.

    Elli shook her head. "Not guns, no. We don't have those. Battle wounds," she explained, distantly. "It gets so you pick up the me****ing after a while, and the laying out. I was taught?" Inhaling deeply, she shook her head again and didn't continue the sentence, concentrating instead on what she was doing.

    Emma hesitated for a moment, and then continued down the stairs to join her. "Can I help?"


    The sun was rising once more as first Charlie and then David finally joined Emma and Elli down in the stairwell leading to the cellar. The four of them stood quietly and looked at Oz for a long moment, eyes filled with tears, each lost in their own thoughts.

    "What should we do about??" Charlie broke the silence at last, nodding towards the corpse.

    "We'll have to bury him," David realised.

    Emma was shocked. "Ourselves?"

    "Well, we can hardly ring the local cemetery and ask if they take man-sized wolves, can we?" David pointed out.

    Emma looked dismayed at the idea, almost choking as she suggested, "In the garden, then?"


    They all looked at Elli in amazement as she voiced that protest.

    "I mean, not yet," she insisted, falteringly. "Wait till tomorrow."

    "It's kinda warm," David pointed out, worried. "By tomorrow?"

    "We'll put him somewhere cool," Elli looked distressed. "Back in the cellar. But just leave it till tomorrow. Please."

    David realised this was one of those things she wasn't going to explain, that they were going to have to trust her, and nodded.

    "Okay then," he agreed. "Tomorrow."

    Oz had been a good friend to all of them, he reflected as he overcame his squeamishness to help move the furry corpse from the floor onto a table in the cellar, hastily clearing away the random junk that was scattered across the surface. It was funny that someone who was so quiet could be so central to the group, but he had been from the start. His arrival had been the turning point for the caf? ? before he came they'd been on the brink of ruin. But then Oz had come, and exorcised their ghost, and nothing had been quite the same ever since.

    Life had become a whole lot weirder, for one thing, but then again, they'd already had the ghost before Oz arrived so David had to admit he could hardly pin that one on him. Life had become more interesting, too, with a whole new world opening up before him ? a world that was weird, and wonderful, and dangerous. Their little group of friends had formed around Oz, the caf? had been saved, and given a new lease of life, and David had a new band to focus on. And now Oz was gone, and David realised that he missed that quiet presence and razor-sharp wit already.

    "We can't even tell anyone what happened," he said, dully, flopping back down onto a chair back up in the caf?.

    "No." Emma sat on the arm of the chair, and half slid onto his lap. "I know. I keep thinking we should call the police or something. Notify the proper authorities. And then I remember."

    "I just don't understand," David murmured plaintively. "Any of it. How do people cope, living in this world? I mean, it's like ? stuff like this happens, and it's so far outside the normal laws of society, I can't even begin to?"

    "You get used to it," said Charlie, sitting on a sofa nearby with a sigh. "Eventually. It's how the world works. There's the normal stuff, the ordinary way of living, and then there's the rest of it. They exist side by side. I know it feels weird. It is weird. But that's how it is."

    "It's too much," said David, holding Emma close. "It's all just too much."


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  • Llywela

    Part Two:


    "Claire loved the samples. They sold like hot cakes, so she says to bring the next batch over as soon as you're ready, and then you can talk about setting up a more formal arrangement." Emma passed her message on to Elli. Claire, her manager at the boutique, had fallen in love with the jewellery and other bits and pieces that Elli seemed to enjoy producing so much, and had agreed to display and sell them.

    "Is tomorrow good, or should we wait for the weekend?" Elli asked, nibbling at a cookie.

    While they half-heartedly discussed the arrangements, Emma found herself keeping an eye on Oz behind the counter, where he was showing the new waitress, Sylvie, the ropes. She knew that by her side Elli was doing the same thing, and so were David and Charlie, who were both hovering around the place. Oz was, by his standards, noticeably agitated, fidgeting and checking his watch frequently, and looking sharply up at the door every time it opened to see who was coming in, and his uncharacteristic display of nerves was affecting them all.

    He was waiting for the other werewolf to arrive, Emma knew, and felt distinctly uneasy about it. She wasn't sure she liked the idea of having an out-of-control werewolf rampaging around below stairs all night ? the last two nights had been unnerving enough having a totally in-control and non-changing werewolf under the same roof when he wasn't out hunting. But David had agreed at once when Oz and the two girls had explained their plan to lock it up in the cellar for the night. It was only for this one night, they insisted, until more permanent arrangements could be made, but it still made her nervous. There was nothing reassuring about the situation whatsoever, and there was nothing reassuring about the entire werewolf thing itself, period.

    Emma and David had spent most of the last month coming to terms with the fact that of their closest new friends, one was a werewolf and another came from a different world entirely. Emma hadn't known that either existed in real life ? werewolves or other worlds, and Charlie's bizarre psychic powers were yet another matter again. With hindsight, Emma was of the opinion that she might have guessed about Elli ? there was something distinctly otherworldly about the other girl's appearance, now she came to think about it. The purple eyes, for a start, were decidedly less than normal, plus there was that white streak in her hair that was clearly natural rather than done for effect, and her general attitude could be almost detached at times, as though she were observing the world from a distance and not really a part of it all.

    That said Emma was honest enough with herself to admit that she would never have put any of those things down to otherworldliness if she hadn't known about it. She'd always just thought her friend's appearance was unusual and manner slightly eccentric, and thought nothing more of it. And she never would have guessed about Oz. He looked so normal. The werewolf thing was something she still preferred not to think about. It was just too creepy. The fact that this other werewolf had become a werewolf because Oz had bitten him while in his own werewolf form was creepier still. Emma hadn't been able to prevent herself reacting to that piece of news, and had seen the disappointment in Oz's eyes when he noticed.

    Everything had become so complicated. Emma wondered if things would ever really be right again. Would she ever be able to come completely to terms with the secret lives of her new friends and the shadowy underworld they inhabited? She was trying so hard to accept it all, to pretend this was normal, but she still felt as if she was failing at every turn.

    Seeing Oz glance at his watch again, Emma checked her own, and then peered over her shoulder at the window. The sun was setting, which meant the moon was already rising, and the werewolf had not arrived.

    "Shouldn't he be here by now?" She hadn't intended saying that out loud, and several anxious expressions turned her way.

    Elli nodded. "He should, yes." She paused, looking worried. "Something feels wrong."

    "I shouldn't have left him." As he spoke, Oz suddenly went rigid, listening intently, and from somewhere outside, Emma heard something she'd never expected to hear in the middle of a big city like this: the howl of a wolf.

    Without another word, Oz quickly moved from behind the bar and strode towards the door. Exchanging anxious looks, Emma and Elli both hurried after him.

    "Where are you going now?" Having had the mental discipline he used to prevent the change explained to her, Emma was fairly sure fretting like this could not be a good thing for him.

    "I need to find him," he tossed over his shoulder.

    "Not on your own," Emma insisted, getting worried now. "Elli?"

    "I'm going," Elli nodded. "Chas?"

    "Coming." The other girl was following them outside, David hard on her heels.

    Outside the caf?, Oz paused and looked around, sniffing the air and looking very uncertain.

    "It came from that direction, I think," Elli suggested, gesturing to the left.

    "Yeah." Oz still looked worried. "I'm not ?"

    He broke off with a gasp as a muffled retort sounded. The other four all exclaimed at the sight of a dart sticking into his arm.

    "I'm okay," he began, his other hand moving towards the dart as if to pull it out, but then he staggered, and four pairs of hands hurriedly grabbed at him as his knees buckled and he sank to the ground.

    "What is it?" Emma gasped.

    "Tranquilliser dart," Elli told her, looking all around trying to see where it had come from.

    "A what?" David asked.

    "He doesn't look tranquil," Charlie pointed out. "He's ? he's tripping!"

    That seemed like an accurate description, for Oz was indeed fast becoming as panic-stricken as Emma had ever seen him, struggling to get back to his feet, and scrabbling away from them, eyes wide and frantic.

    "No, worse," Elli said, her tone grim, and Emma suddenly realised what she meant. Oz's hands were elongating before her eyes, sprouting fur ? and claws. She muffled a shriek, and scrambled to get away.

    "Oz, look at me," Elli ordered, crouching in front of him and holding his shoulders to force the eye contact. "Look at me. You can do this, you can fight it." She touched the tip of her third finger to the centre of his forehead as she spoke, her tone firm. "You're not going to change."

    Emma's eyes went wide as the tip of Elli's finger seemed almost to glow, just for a second, as she made the contact. Oz's hands returned to normal and he seemed to calm down, just a little.

    "What did you do?" Emma breathed.

    Ignoring the question, Elli turned to David. "David, I think you should close the caf?. Send everyone home, quickly."

    Without a moment's hesitation, David nodded and rushed back inside, and as Elli and Charlie helped Oz back to his feet, Emma hovering around unsure what to do, they could hear him chivvying the customers to drink up and leave, announcing that the caf? was closing early.


    Cain couldn't believe it. All the effort he'd gone to in order to lure Osbourne out of the caf? and into the open ready for the hunt, and it had all gone wrong again. He knew his aim had been sure, had seen the dart strike home and the potion had clearly at least started to have the desired effect. But then it had stopped. One of the girls with him had done something and he still hadn't changed. What was it about this werewolf that attracted such protectors? Worse, they'd taken him back inside and locked the door. That wasn't following the rules of the hunt.

    Aggravated beyond belief, Cain decided he'd have to conclude his other business in town, and then return later to see what he could do about Osbourne. If he couldn't get the werewolf away from his protectors, he'd have to try and lure the protectors away from the wolf; he was determined he shouldn't be thwarted again.


    As the new waitress, Sylvie, and the customers filtered out of the caf? and David locked the door behind them, the girls steered Oz into a chair and they all watched him, cautiously. Elli had pulled the dart out of his arm and was holding it, very carefully.

    "What just happened?" Charlie asked, shakily. "What did you do?"

    "I didn't do anything." Elli sounded almost as uncertain as the other girl. "I just?I reinforced the discipline he's already got, it was?" She sniffed cautiously at the tip of the dart, shaking her head. "I don't know what this is, some kind of drug. It's done something to him."

    Emma eyed Oz worriedly. His eyes had glazed over, and he was shivering.

    "But who? Why?" David was asking.

    "I don't know!" Elli bit at her lip anxiously, as she carefully put the dart tip down into an empty glass. "Forcing him to change, maybe, but I don't understand why. I don't know how anyone would even know."

    "He's not going to change, though, is he?" Emma asked, nervously, glancing anxiously at Oz and forcing herself to remember that he was her friend and would never knowingly harm anyone. But the knowledge that he'd bitten and thus transformed Paul, albeit unconsciously, refused to go away.

    "I don't think so," Elli assured her. "I can hold him long enough for the drug to wear off, whatever it is."

    "And then what?"

    "We should find out who the hell was shooting at him in the first place," Charlie said, grimly.

    "Agreed," said David.

    "I didn't see anyone," Elli mused, thoughtfully. "They must have been well hidden. And they were a good shot. So, some kind of professional hunter, maybe."

    "A people-hunter?" David asked, wrinkling his nose in distaste.

    "Werewolf hunter, more like," Charlie guessed. "But how would they know? Nobody could know."

    "None of us has said anything," David looked around at the three women, who all shook their heads in agreement.

    "Paul," said Elli.

    "He knew," Charlie agreed. "And he isn't here."

    "He will have changed by now," Elli pointed out. "But his wolf-self has had plenty of coverage in the press, this month and last."

    "You think this hunter came looking for him?" David asked.

    "I don't know," Elli told him. "I'm guessing. But it seems likely."

    "So where does Oz come into it?" Emma asked.

    "Either someone said something," Elli suggested, slowly. "Or the hunter already knew him somehow."

    "Hunted before," Oz surprised them all by murmuring.

    "You were hunted before?" David sounded amazed.

    Oz nodded, levering himself upright in his chair and starting to look a little more awake.

    "Obviously not successfully," Charlie noted.

    "This just gets worse and worse," Emma muttered under her breath.


    Oz couldn't remember ever feeling like that, even when he was concussed ? and that had certainly been enough to bring on the wolf. Whatever substance had been on that dart was not something he ever wanted to encounter again. It had robbed him of all coherence, all control, and he knew that without Elli's intervention, however and whatever she'd done, he would have been entirely incapable of preventing his transformation. And aside from the fact that he would then have been fair game for the hunter, the thought of what could have happened to his friends had he changed right in front of them was terrifying.

    It was only now, hours later, with the drug working its way out of his system, that he was beginning to think clearly again. And now that he was beginning to think clearly, he was also beginning to worry. If the hunter had come to San Francisco looking for Paul, and Paul had become a werewolf because of him?

    "I don't think we should leave you," Elli told him, looking troubled. "And you definitely can't go back out there."

    "Would you be able to find him?" he insisted, feeling sure somehow that she could.

    Elli looked even more anxious. "Possibly. Probably," she admitted. "Now that I've met him?especially if he keeps doing that."

    As she spoke, the sound of a wolf's howl could be heard from somewhere outside the caf?, away in the distance, but close enough to be audible. A tiny voice at the back of Oz's mind wondered what the general population was making of it, those of them not getting chomped on, that was. He felt responsible for anyone Paul hurt, as well as the danger Paul himself was in: no matter how unpleasant the man was, like it or not he was Oz's responsibility.

    "The hunter hasn't got him yet, then." Charlie looked relieved.

    "He will if he keeps making that noise," Emma observed. "Couldn't miss."

    "Can't let it happen," Oz reminded them, anxiously. "El, please."

    He knew she didn't want to leave him because she was afraid of releasing whatever control she had used to prevent his transformation while drugged, but he also knew that she was the only one beside him who had any chance of getting to Paul before the hunter did.

    Indecision was written all over her face. "I don't think I should leave you just yet."

    "I'm okay," he assured her. He'd had Emma bring down his herb stash from his room, prepared and taken the mixture he used to help with his self-control, and ? not caring about the audience ? had gone through the full routine of chanting and meditation taught him by the monks. He felt shaky still and it had been a very close thing, but he knew that the wolf was back safely under his own control now.

    "The rest of us can stay here to make sure no one gets in," David said quietly. "Unless you want one of us to go with you?"

    Elli shook her head, biting at her lip, trying to decide what to do.

    Outside, the wolf howled again.

    Oz dug into a pocket and pulled out a set of keys, holding them out to Elli. "The tranq gun is in the van," he reminded her. It had been one of his more expensive ? not to mention tricky ? acquisitions since he came to San Francisco, but once they'd learned of the existence of his fellow werewolf it had become a necessary investment. How else could they safely secure it if they found it roaming loose at full moon? And if it helped them secure Paul before the hunter got him, it would be well worth it. "Unless you can hold him like you did me?"

    Elli shook her head. "It wouldn't work with him, nothing there to reinforce. He doesn't have the same discipline as you."

    She then sighed and nodded, and took the keys, her decision reluctantly made. "Okay then. I'll be as quick as I can." Turning to David she added, "Keep all the doors locked and don't let anyone in. Except me, of course. And be careful."

    "You think the hunter might come back here?" Emma asked, nervously.

    "He darted Oz for a reason," Elli pointed out. "I can't see him giving up just because the first try didn't work. And it still all feels wrong. So be careful."

    With that final warning, she was gone.


    With Elli off searching for Paul, Oz and the other three were left alone, to wait and wonder, and eye one another awkwardly.

    From Oz's point of view, this was just about the worst thing that could have happened. The first wolf-moon since they learned about his werewolf issues, and after he'd invested so much effort into assuring them that he could prevent the change, that they were in no danger with him around, and then bang. One hunter, one dart gun, and but for Elli's intervention he'd have wolfed out and could easily have killed them all. If the hunter hadn't killed him first, that was. How were they ever supposed to trust him now?

    He forced himself not to think about it, firmly running through his mental exercises, making himself stay calm.

    "Anyone else want a drink?" Charlie eventually asked, breaking the long silence.

    "I'll do it." Oz got to his feet, deciding that it would probably be a good idea to move around a bit since he was getting stiff from sitting still for so long. Besides, there was only so long he could stand having them all sat there watching him like an unexploded bomb that could go off at any second. Distraction was good so, trying not to think too hard along those lines, he wandered behind the bar.

    "I'll have a coffee, while you're there." David grinned at him, trying very hard to pretend everything was normal.

    Oz had got as far as switching the coffee maker back on, when the stillness of the air was abruptly broken by the muffled retort of a tranq gun. Again.

    He felt the sting of the dart almost before he'd registered the sound, but the next thing he felt was panic. Blind panic.

    He wasn't alone in that. He saw the faces of his companions paling as they realised what had happened, even as he glanced up and saw the open window, noted a dark figure outside, striding toward the locked door?

    And already his thoughts were sliding away from him, scattering like leaves in the wind as he tried frantically to grasp at them. That tingling sensation he knew so well tugged at every nerve ending: the moon calling to him, insistent, refusing denial. Somewhere deep inside the wolf was roaring, sensing freedom at hand, and at last one thought crystallised: to find safety, before it was too late.

    Holding onto that thought took almost everything he had. Pushing everyone away as they crowded around him, he staggered away from the bar, unable to focus enough to hear what they were saying.

    "Cellar." He managed to get the word out as he stumbled through the hallway out back, and almost fell down the stairs in his rush to get there in time, seeing his hands begin to change before his swimming vision, tumbling headlong onto the ground in that darkened room.

    The door slammed shut behind him. Just in time.


    Officers Mike Hanson and Mat Cordoba were midway through an unusually dull and routine nightshift when they drove past the Monico Coffee Bar. At this late hour it, along with most other places, should have been securely locked up for the night. It came as a surprise, therefore, to see that the place was lit up like a beacon, and as they slowed to see what was going on, to their alarm they saw a disreputable looking man shooting at something ? or someone ? through an open window.

    Protocol said not to approach anyone armed and dangerous, but sometimes protocol had to be abandoned in favour of preventing tragedy. Leaving the car, they rushed over just in time to stop the man breaking the front door down.

    "There's a wild animal in there," he shouted at them as they disarmed him with little difficulty ? so focused was he on the task at hand they'd taken him completely by surprise.

    "We'll handle it," Mat told him firmly, dragging him away from the door while Mike tried to see what was going on inside. He couldn't see much, but there was certainly a lot of shouting. One quick look exchanged with his partner and their course of action was decided. After all, the gunman had already got at least one shot off ? someone could be seriously injured in there. One well-aimed kick was all it took to get the door open and, trusting that Mat could contain the now disarmed gunman, Mike rushed in to see what was going on.

    The caf? area was deserted, so Mike went deeper into the building. He found David and Emma, and one of their friends ? the girl who played drum in David's band, Charlie ? coming up a flight of stairs leading from the cellars, all looking decidedly shaken.

    "Everything all right?" Mike asked, unable to fathom what was going on. Who or what had the man outside been shooting at?

    As if to answer his unspoken question, from down in the cellar he heard a dreadful snarling noise, followed by a series of bangs and crashes, as if something was throwing itself against the locked door. The three jumped, all very much on edge, but tried to make excuses.

    "It's a ?" Emma began.

    "Dog," David interrupted, hurriedly. "We're dog sitting."

    "Dog?" Mike allowed his scepticism to show.

    "He's a bit over-excited," Charlie put in, glancing nervously down the stairs as the snarling and banging continued.

    A wild animal, the man outside had said. It certainly sounded wild, wilder than any dog he'd ever known. And there had been a spate of attacks by a large wild animal recently, Mike recalled. He'd always known there was something strange about this place ? what on earth were they involved in now?

    Venturing down the stairs despite their feeble but very anxious protests, Mike listened curiously to the crashing and snarling, wondering what in the world could be making such a noise. An extra loud crash made them all jump and both girls squealed, but then there was silence. No snarling, no banging. Mike thought that should have been a good thing, but they all looked more alarmed than ever.

    "What the hell was that?" David murmured, distractedly.

    "Do you think he's all right?" Emma anxiously asked.

    Mike peered through the keyhole, wondering if the dog ? or creature, or whatever ? had knocked itself out or something. He couldn't see anything, and made a swift decision to find out what was going on. With one hand on his gun ? just in case ? and before anyone had time to say anything in protest, he slid the bolt back and pulled the door open.

    The biggest, most vicious looking creature Mike had ever seen came flying out of the door heading straight for him. He reacted on instinct with the most rapid draw he'd ever managed, and fired.

    Even as the shot rang out, Mike heard yells and a piercing scream from behind him, and staggered as something shoved him to the side, the gun abruptly ripped from his hand although there was no one near him. The creature slumped to the ground, and then Mike was pushed aside by solid human hands as the other three ran forward.

    "You bloody stupid idiot!"

    That was Charlie, he noted dazedly, as the three of them crouched over the motionless form.

    "What is it?" he asked, confused.

    "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," Emma was whispering, over and over.

    "What is it?" Mike repeated as he retrieved his gun from the floor, but no one was paying attention to him.

    David looked up at him, white as a sheet, his hands shaking and covered with blood. "You've killed him."

    "He can't be," Charlie protested, still fussing over the creature.

    "No heartbeat, not breathing," David told her, angrily, and turned that shocked expression back to Mike. "You killed him."

    "What is it?" Mike asked a third time. Something was seriously wrong here.

    Emma stood up, tears running down her face. "You killed Oz!"


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  • Llywela

    Gib Cain was a hunter. He'd always been a hunter. As a youth he'd trapped wild game locally, rejoicing in every kill. Then as an adult he'd moved onto larger, more challenging targets overseas ? in Africa and South America. And then he'd discovered that there was a whole other world out there of demons and monsters to hunt and kill. Werewolves were his favourite, if only because of the price their pelts could fetch. He'd become an expert werewolf hunter. Only one had ever escaped him.

    The growth of the worldwide mass media made werewolf tracking so much easier. A series of vicious attacks by a large and fierce but unidentified creature were reported in San Francisco one month, while he was fully occupied on the other side of the globe, and by the next full moon he had set up shop there, ready, willing and able to find the creature and separate it from its pelt.

    On the first night of the full moon, the hunt had not been successful. That was not entirely unexpected, however, since it was a big city with lots of ground to cover ? city-dwelling werewolves were often the hardest to track. But there were still two nights left of the hunt, and news reports the following morning had assured him that the werewolf was still in town, as well as providing him with clues for narrowing the search. And then it had happened: he'd wandered into a local caf? for a quick meal, and seen a familiar face serving behind the bar. Osbourne.

    After his embarrassing failure in Sunnydale almost three years earlier, Cain had made it his business to find out exactly who the werewolf was before he left town, furious at having been so thwarted by that unnaturally strong little blonde girl. He didn't think the wolf had ever seen him, though, and rejoiced at spotting him here in San Francisco with no unnaturally strong little blonde girls in sight. At long last, he had the chance to put that disappointment behind him and finally capture and kill his prey.

    Assuming that this was the same werewolf referred to in the reports that had brought him here, Cain had spent the rest of the day tailing him, furious with that girl, the Slayer, for allowing such a dangerous creature to run wild. It came, therefore, as a considerable shock to him when the full moon rose high into the sky and the werewolf did not change form.

    Cain briefly considered the possibility that he might have misidentified the Sunnydale werewolf, but dismissed the thought almost at once. He knew he had the right guy ? he was definitely a werewolf. But he wasn't changing.

    Only once previously had Cain encountered a werewolf with the ability to control its transformation and prevent it taking place. It had been one of his most difficult kills. He'd gone to a shaman for help with that one, considering the creature's self-control something of a personal affront. You'd almost think it still believed it was human. The shaman had given him the perfect solution, and although the price had been high, it was well worth it once he'd been supplied with a powerful, mystical drug that disrupted the creature's self-control sufficiently to trigger the transformation when the call of the moon was at its strongest. And he'd kept a small supply of the potion ever since, just in case of such an eventuality as this.

    It was obvious now that Osbourne was not the same werewolf that had been reported running wild in the city. It was also obvious that Osbourne knew about the other werewolf and was hunting for it himself, for what possible purpose Cain couldn't imagine. He snorted in derision as he watched the werewolf and his companion ? another little blonde girl ? take out a vampire with little difficulty, thus saving an idiot who should have known better than to get into such peril in the first place. As they headed back to their van, Cain nodded to himself, acknowledging that he now had two targets ? and a lot of work to do before the full moon was over for the month.


    Two wolf nights down, and no werewolf to show for it.

    When not prowling the streets by the light of the full moon searching for the evasive werewolf, real life had to go on. Part of that process involved the start of a new semester at a new university.

    This was Oz's third attempt at going to college. The first had ended before it even began, since the number of incomplete classes he'd achieved in high school had prevented him graduating with his classmates. He hadn't minded too much, since it meant he could repeat his senior year with Willow. But then his second university attempt had lasted only a couple of months before the whole werewolf situation blew up in his face big time, and he'd panicked and bailed in search of answers and a solution. With hindsight, he still wasn't sure it had been the right thing to do, given how things had turned out, but the solution he'd found was what now allowed him to live a relatively normal life at this time of the month. He'd spent far too many nights locked up and unconscious of his own actions, and was grateful for every wolf-night of freedom.

    Elli was also a newcomer to the San Francisco college scene, but their other friend Charlie was an old hand, having been here for a year or two already. Today, she had bounced off somewhere to meet up with her archaeological buddies, leaving Oz and Elli to catch up on how the settling in process was going.

    "Did I tell you about the dreadful thing I did?" Elli glanced sideways at him as they walked across campus together.

    She hadn't. He looked at her curiously.

    "I signed up for Staunton's math class," she admitted with rueful amusement. "As if that has anything to do with a degree in fine arts."

    Oz had to agree with her 'dreadful' categorisation of this decision. He'd only run into Professor Staunton once on campus so far ? since their first, rather less academic encounter, that was ? and had been greeted with a look that was pure poison. Apparently dissatisfied with life as a university professor, Staunton had spent his summer plotting with an evil would-be mastermind, and had clearly not forgotten Oz's part in thwarting their plans. Since Elli had also been up to her neck in that encounter, he had to assume Staunton would be equally not fond of her, unless of course the majority of his bile was due to the fact that he'd seen Oz transform into wolf-form and was bearing a larger grudge for that reason.

    "Okay," he replied. "I've gotta ask why on earth?"

    "I was overwhelmed by a wave of self-sacrifice," she sighed. "I thought, what better way to keep an eye on the creep? There's no way I can pass this class."

    It made sense, in a way. At least part of her reason for staying on in San Francisco was because she'd promised her Time Lord friend the Doctor she'd keep an eye on Staunton, just in case he started hatching any more dastardly plots. Actually taking one of his classes and putting herself into such close regular proximity to him seemed a little extreme, though; Oz had resolved to stay as far away from the professor as possible.

    "Well, my math isn't exactly college level," he offered. "But I'll help if I can."

    "You're a star." Elli brightened instantly. "I was hoping you'd say that. I'll need all the help I can get."

    They both automatically paused as they passed what had once been a small but very pretty lake, and was now a large, muddy hole in the campus with no sign of any repair attempt in progress.

    Elli looked at Oz, eyes dancing with mischief. "Hey, so did you know there used to be a lake here?"

    It was kind of funny, in a way, but that didn't mean he had to rise to the bait. He looked at her, deadpan. "The lake may no longer be a lake, but the city is still a city."

    "Touch?," she grinned, but Oz was no longer paying attention. He could feel something, sense something?a presence, somewhere nearby.

    "Oz?" Elli sounded concerned now. "What's up?"

    Oz ignored her, trying to home in on the sensation. It was a familiar feeling, although not one he'd experienced often, tugging at senses he was usually barely aware he had. It was also a sensation he'd been waiting for, hoping for, for almost a month now. He started moving, almost unaware of his own actions as he was concentrating so hard on finding the right direction. As the sensation grew stronger, so he moved faster, heedless of the students thronging all around, pushing past them, almost running, until he bumped headlong into someone going the other way.

    "You know, this really isn't funny any more, Oz." It was Charlie, but the note of annoyance in her voice faded as she saw how distracted he was. "Not that it ever was?what's wrong?"

    "It's the werewolf," Elli told her quietly, coming up behind them.

    "Where?" Charlie spun around, scanning the crowds of students eagerly, as if she had any way of identifying the werewolf in its human form.

    "Over there," Elli murmured, gesturing very discreetly. She was the only person Oz had ever met who could spot a werewolf in human shape just by looking at them. "The shifty-looking one."

    Oz was barely aware of the conversation, eyes fixed on the other werewolf, who in turn was staring back at him, eyes filled with recognition ? and anger.

    Of course the man recognised him, and not just because he could sense another werewolf in close proximity in the same way that Oz could, but also because it was only natural that he should remember the guy who'd bit him.

    "Damn," Oz whispered under his breath.


    Three months he'd been in San Francisco now ? almost three whole full moons ? and in all that time he'd only changed once, the loss of control and resultant transformation brought on by a head injury when he'd run into Staunton and co. for the first time. He'd changed right in front of them and the next thing he remembered was waking up in a cell the following morning, all bruises and broken bones. He'd never known for sure what had happened, beyond the obvious assumption that the wolf had been beaten into submission ? although why they hadn't just killed him outright he'd never worked out. He'd also never been sure how much the damage the wolf had caused before losing the fight. Now the proof that he'd got at least some biting in was standing in front of him.

    This particular hired ? or possibly no longer hired ? thug didn't look like such a thug any more, although he still loomed way over Oz's head. This was his second full moon as a werewolf and he was clearly not coping.

    Devastated at this turn of events, Oz stayed out of the conversation as much as possible, listening in anxious silence as the two girls persuaded the man to come with them into a quiet room to talk. His name was Paul, they learned. He worked for Professor Staunton and had clearly had no qualms whatsoever about helping build the Master's secret weapon.

    "I was on to a good thing," he excused his actions, belligerently.

    "The guy was plotting with an evil megalomaniac to take control of the entire galaxy if not universe," Elli pointed out, annoyed.

    "And he was paying me real good." He really didn't seem to care what that payment had been for or what the potential consequences might have been.

    Now, though, Paul was at a complete loss. His world had been turned upside down.

    Oz could sympathise entirely with the bewilderment in Paul's eyes as he described his initial werewolf experiences and gradual realisation of what was happening to him, remembering only too well how it felt to discover you'd been transformed in this manner.

    Oz had no memory at all of the first night it had happened, not even of where he'd woken up or how he'd explained it to himself. Good old fashioned Sunnydale denial seemed to have wiped the whole experience from his memory, which was funny, in a way ? he'd thought he was past denial by that stage, what with hanging with Willow and the rest of Team Slayer and all. But Xander and Cordelia had encountered his wolf-self, thus setting everyone else on the trail, and when the next morning he'd woken up naked in the forest, he could no longer deny the truth of what had happened to him. His entire world had been rocked to its core in that moment.

    But he'd been lucky. He'd had people around him, friends, who knew and understood about this stuff, who could explain it to him and help him deal with the practicalities of the matter ? specifically, providing him with a secure cage to lock himself up in come full moon.

    Paul had had no such support, and no one to turn to. This was his second month as a werewolf and he was becoming desperate, unable to control himself in any way, and lacking even the common sense to find some way of securing his wolf-self.

    And Oz felt responsible, completely and utterly responsible. Whether knowingly or not, he had bitten the guy and thus caused this, and he'd never turned anyone before, at least that he knew of.

    Paul considered him to be responsible, too ? never mind that he'd been engaged in decidedly illegal and immoral activities at the time.

    "You bit me," the man snarled at him. "You did this to me."

    "You put him in hospital!" Charlie instantly leapt to Oz's defence,

    "And he only wolfed out in the first place because of the head injury that you gave him," Elli weighed in. "If you hadn't done that, you'd have no problems now."

    "Plus, you were the one who was up to no good," Charlie added. "Karma."

    Guilt weighing him down, Oz hung his head and stayed out of the argument as the increasingly belligerent Paul refused to be dissuaded from his central point: that his current woes were all Oz's fault.

    Oz almost envied him. He'd wondered, from time to time, what it would be like to have someone to blame. His situation had been so different. It was hard to lay blame at the feet, or teeth, of an infant. He'd had a few bad moments, in the early days, where he felt angry at his uncle and aunt for allowing it to happen, but he couldn't even keep that up for long. They'd been more upset about it than he was, when they finally put two and two together and came up with the right answer. It had certainly taught them to be more careful, albeit too late for him.

    Paul hadn't dared admit to his boss, Professor Staunton, what had happened to him: in fact, he confessed, he'd gone out of his way to pretend that nothing was wrong, although the pretence was increasingly hard to keep up.

    "Should've seen him when you changed shape like that, right in front of him," he said, leering at Oz. "Like Christmas had come early. He wouldn't let the Master just shoot you ? oh no. Didn't care that we all almost got torn to bits. He'd never seen a werewolf before and he wanted to find out how you worked. A nice new biology project for him."

    The thought sent a shiver down Oz's spine. Finally finding out the reason why he hadn't been killed that night was not comforting at all. That was twice this year that he'd only narrowly avoided being dissected like a lab rat, and he could completely understand why Paul wouldn't want his boss to know he'd become a werewolf himself. Being on the payroll might not save him from becoming Staunton's newest biology experiment.

    The two girls looked grave.

    "You'd better stay well out of his way, Oz," Charlie warned.

    He'd figured that much out for himself.

    Paul refused to go anywhere with them there and then. He had work to do, he insisted, and he needed to keep pretending everything was okay even if he was in fact falling apart completely. Also, Oz suspected, he wasn't entirely inclined to trust the werewolf who'd caused his transformation in the first place, and who could blame him? But he did agree that locking himself up during the full moon was sensible. They just needed to find a suitable place.

    "There are cellars at the Monico," Oz noted, quietly.

    "Yes, there are." Elli nodded, thoughtfully. "And they aren't all used, are they? Apart from storing junk."

    Oz nodded. The cellars all had good stout doors and sturdy locks. He'd taken note of them in case of emergencies, and had decided they would probably be able to hold a werewolf secure in a pinch.

    Given the shortness of the notice, Paul rather grudgingly agreed to come to the Monico before moonrise that night and be locked up. A more permanent solution could then be sought before the next full moon. That agreed, he then slunk away, clearly glad to be rid of them for a while at least. Oz could only hope that he would keep his word and allow them to help him by coming to the Monico before moonrise as agreed.

    As they left the little room after their tense meeting, Elli stiffened and cautiously scanned the corridors around them, suddenly looking uneasy.

    "What's up?" Charlie asked, also peering around to see what was wrong.

    "Ever get the feeling you're being watched?" Elli asked.

    There was no sign of anyone paying especial attention to them, however. Elli decided she must be imagining things, and the three of them headed off to the cafeteria for a drink and meal to help them relax after their oh-so tricky Paul-encounter.


    Cain smiled to himself as he watched Osbourne and his friends walking away down the corridor. Their reaction to the man they'd been talking to, and the way they'd hustled him off to a more private spot to talk, had been very telling. Cain was in absolutely no doubt who the other man was. They'd saved him a major chore ? identifying the second werewolf. That put him at two for one. Now all he had to do was finalise his plans for the night, and set them in motion.


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  • Llywela

    Part One


    Oz had been trying to track down Piers Mainwaring, the old antique dealer they'd dubbed 'the Old Fella', for several weeks now, with zero success. It was amazing that a guy who lived and worked just next door could be so hard to find. And it was especially frustrating because several people that Oz knew had seen the old man during that time.

    The antique store looked just like it had every other time he'd come to look at it, except that this time the faded sign in the dirt-encrusted window said 'open'. Oz cautiously pushed at the door, feeling flakes of ancient paint coming off under his hand and half expecting the entire door to fall off its hinges at any moment.

    Inside the store, his first impression was one of general mustiness. The air was thick with dust and tobacco smoke, while junk of every shape and form was piled up all around, including a large number of ancient books. Giles would be in heaven, Oz thought as he peered around, and so would Willow.

    "Well now, this is a surprise," a quavering voice came from the back of the store. Oz made his way in that direction and saw a very old, frail looking man, who was slumped into a worn, faded armchair and carefully stuffing tobacco into a pipe that was probably as old as he was. "Hello there, young man."

    Oz had never been one for small talk. He got straight to the point.

    "Hey. So, funny thing the other week," he started, eyeing the old man curiously. "Met a girl called Linda, said she'd got my name from you."

    "Ah, yes." Mr Mainwaring nodded. "The sad little girl with the vampire problem. You didn't mind, did you? I'm afraid my vampire-hunting days are behind me, now, and she was so anxious." He gave Oz a quizzical look, as if the thought that Oz might indeed have minded had not occurred to him before.

    "I'm curious," Oz told him. "Since when did the supernatural troubles of San Francisco become my responsibility?"

    "Since I got too old to do it myself." Mr Mainwaring lit his pipe, leaning back in his chair. "And since you're one of the few people I've seen in this town with their eyes open to what goes on out there."

    He took a deep puff from his pipe and then leaned forward, regarding Oz earnestly. "You see, people come to me when they have problems that the regular authorities won't understand," he explained. "Always have, and they still do even now. But, although it pains the ego to have to admit it, there's very little I can do to help these days. You have any idea how frustrating that is?"

    The old man sighed, indicating his fragile frame. "And then you come along and move in next door, and within twenty-four hours that ghost of theirs is gone. That was very impressive. And then I've still got people coming to me. Not all that often, it's true, but they come. So I figured, if you could do that, you might be able to do something for them, too."

    "Only I don't think fighting evil is necessarily one of my strengths," Oz argued. Taking part in that fight as part of a larger group headed up by a Slayer had been one thing; attempting it without possessing that sort of strength felt kind of...reckless. He'd do what he could for what he saw, always did, but...actively going out and seeking a fight? Without possessing the capacity to do much more than get himself killed?

    He had enough problems of his own, without having more sent straight to him, although he supposed he could hardly tell the old guy to 'stop sending stuff over 'cause I can't handle it', when the fact was ? he had. They had.

    "No?" The old man raised an eyebrow. "But your point is taken, I'm sure."

    Did that mean he wouldn't send any more people with problems next door? It was hard to tell. What else the old guy was supposed to do with them if they came to him was something Oz refused to feel bad about. It wasn't his fight and he was just one guy without any special strength or skill, but he could only hope the Old Fella didn't want to argue the case. He wasn't sure it was an argument he could win, since responsibility for ridding the world of badness was such a hazy subject at the best of times: the Slayer couldn't be everywhere, and at the end of the day ? whose job was it? Really? The Old Fella's place in the grand scheme of anti-evil things was another hazy area.

    "So, how do they come to you, anyway?" he asked, curious about the old man's background. "We haven't really been introduced?"

    The Old Fella shook his head. "Perhaps we'll leave the storytelling for another day. Did you want something else?"

    With that line of enquiry well and truly shut down, Oz switched to his other query.

    "I have a question," he said slowly. "What do you know about werewolves?"

    It was kind of ironic that having tried to hide from his werewolf issues for such a long time, they had now become one of his foremost concerns, and relatively publicly, too, now that the whole of his new circle of friends knew about him. They were now slowly coming to terms with having a werewolf in their midst. Principally David and Emma, that was, since Charlie didn't seem that bothered by it in the same way that the Scooby gang had never really been bothered by it beyond what was necessary to keep him safe. Elli had known from the start, and had always been intrigued by his werewolfiness. She seemed to think he should be able to do things that he couldn't, or had never allowed himself to try.

    David and Emma's coming to terms process was easier than it might have been had Oz still required locking up each full moon. Those days were long gone. He'd sacrificed a lot to gain the control he now had, knowledge acquired from monks in Tibet allowing him to keep the wolf buried deep within, except in extreme circumstances.

    Extreme circumstances were something he worked hard at avoiding these days. His inner wolf had already disrupted his life so much, now that he'd worked so hard to gain control over it he had no intention of allowing it to do so any further.

    Therefore, the news that there had been another werewolf prowling around San Francisco during the last full moon had been decidedly unwelcome, especially since this other wolf had simply run wild in a manner that Oz had never allowed himself, creating mayhem and destruction on a large scale. Oz had grudgingly realised that, like it or not, it was his responsibility to at least try to find the werewolf and help it in whatever way he could, simply because it was like him. His kind, much though he hated admitting even to himself that he really wasn't human any more, not entirely. It couldn't be allowed to run riot like this, and who else was going to help it if not one of it's own?

    As if he didn't have enough on his plate already, what with holding down a job, rehearsing with his newly formed band, and being a student again now that the new semester was getting under way.

    Of course, helping the other werewolf was dependent on finding it. Mr Mainwaring raised his eyebrows. "That's a very interesting question," he said, slowly. "What, I wonder, makes you ask?"

    Oz hesitated, unwilling to go into detail about his own personal stake in this. "Well, the thing is, I ? I think there could be one here. In San Francisco."

    "Indeed," the old man agreed. "Yes. I had seen the reports and reached a similar conclusion, I must admit. But I have to wonder what it has to do with you."

    "I kinda?" Oz could feel himself floundering, and struggled to find a suitable explanation. "I have an interest in finding it. Before it causes any more damage."

    "Indeed," the old man repeated. "And yet a mere moment ago you insisted that other people's problems were not your concern."

    Oz pulled a face, but only on the inside, where it wouldn't show. The Old Fella had a point.

    "This is different," was all he could think to say. The old guy had an air about him that was almost Giles-like: scolding with something approaching amusement, a bit like an old fashioned schoolmaster. It was interesting how it made Oz feel like he was in kindergarten all over again. Maybe that was the point. But anyway, thinking of him as an older, frailer, San Francisco version of Giles was almost reassuring, in a funny kind of way.

    "So tell me," said the Old Fella after a moment's pause. "What exactly did you want to know about werewolves?"

    "Well, I don't need to know how they work," Oz told him, relieved to be back on something approaching stable ground. "Already got that part down. I'd kinda hoped you might have an idea where to start looking??"

    To his disappointment, however, the Old Fella was unable to help, having no more idea where the werewolf was or who it might be than Oz did. Certainly no one else had approached him asking for werewolfly assistance.

    All of which brought Oz back to square one: hunting.


    "Are you sure this is such a good idea," David asked, nervously.

    Elli paused on her way out to Oz's van. "If it carries on like it did last month, then yes. This is the only way to find it. While it's changed and out there on the streets."

    "Just the two of you?"

    "It doesn't need an army." She looked at him, eyebrows raised. "Would you rather I let him go on his own? Because he would."

    David pulled a face, and shook his head, worriedly.

    "Someone has to go with him, and really speaking, that has to be either me or Charlie," she continued. "And I've seen werewolves before. She hasn't."

    "I still don't see how it's any of our business," David insisted. "As long as Oz is safe to be around at full moon, why are we worried?"

    "Because an out of control werewolf roaming loose around the city every full moon is bad news for everyone," she told him, severely. "And because it matters to Oz."

    David sighed, and followed her out to the van, where Oz was already waiting. "What are you planning to do even if you do find it?" he continued. "I mean, how do you catch a werewolf?"

    Hearing the question, Oz cocked an eyebrow and held up a lethal looking rifle. David was taken aback.

    "You're going to shoot it?"

    "Tranquillise it," Elli corrected him, frowning. "That's a tranquilliser gun."

    "Oh." David still looked worried. "And then what?"

    "Got chains in the van," Oz told him. "That'll hold it till sunrise."

    "Chains?" David wrinkled his nose. "I don't even want to know why you'd have those?"

    "They're left over," Oz explained, looking slightly embarrassed at the inference. "From my less safe full moon days."


    The full moon was actually kind of cool, if you were able to stay human enough to appreciate it. It called to him, tugging at every nerve he possessed, his skin tingling all over, but he could resist it. Finally, he could resist it.

    Trusting in Oz's ability to prevent the change, he and Elli had spent half the night, their second in a row, driving around San Francisco searching for the elusive werewolf. Despite his instincts telling him as usual to deal with the problem alone, Oz was very grateful for her offer of help. She had a sharp eye, could handle herself in a tight spot and, unlike just about anybody else he'd ever met, would have no trouble recognising the werewolf if she saw it, no matter what shape it was currently in. But most importantly, and despite all go-it-alone instincts, werewolf hunting was definitely not a sport he felt he should attempt solo, even with his newly acquired tranquilliser gun. Backup was definitely desirable in this situation, not least because it would also provide him with a witness in case of doubt.

    The werewolf was definitely out there. The first night of the full moon had been followed by reports of still more attacks by a large, fierce wild animal, just the same as the previous month. The location of these attacks had narrowed their search slightly, but not a great deal, and so far this was the second night of hunting that had produced a definite lack of results, at least in the werewolf stakes. There was plenty of other stuff going on.

    "Who knew this place was such a hive of activity?" Elli sighed and rolled her eyes as they rounded another corner only to spot trouble, and not for the first time, of a non-werewolf variety.

    "It's who's doing the hiving that worries me," Oz solemnly quipped back, eyes fixed on a struggle that was taking place in the shadows. San Francisco didn't have a huge vampire problem, but they did pop up from time to time, and serving Scooby time seemed to have installed a 'must rescue' instinct in him that Elli also apparently possessed.

    Two of them versus one vampire: that was just about doable, since they both more or less knew what they were doing. Oz pulled over and the werewolf hunt was briefly abandoned as they hurried out of the van, crosses and stakes in hand, to help the vampire's stricken victim, hoping it wasn't already too late.

    Neither had noticed that they were being tailed.


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  • Llywela
    started a topic Monico Episode Six: Hunted

    Monico Episode Six: Hunted

    Episode Six:

    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: Gratefully accepted, whatever the flavour.

    Previously, in Tales from the Monico:

    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?"

    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: "I think I've done enough travelling, for the time being at least. It might be nice to stay in one place for a while, and here seems as good as anywhere."

    Emma: "David and I met at college?He changed everything. Before that I was like?the stereotypical spoiled LA rich girl who'd never lifted a finger to do anything her whole life. I went to college to learn about a few dumb ologies just for the sake of having something to do while I kicked back and enjoyed Daddy's money? There was so much that I took for granted?He worked in a place like this all through school, and it was kinda his second ambition. To have a place of his own that he could run how he wanted?He's worked so hard to make it a success."

    Elli: "What have you got against Mike and Mat? You get? jittery every time they're around."
    Oz: "Have you ever heard of the Initiative? ? It's the uniforms. I see them, and it's like ? just for a second, something inside me remembers. Waking up and seeing the soldiers, and?then the rest."

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

    Mike: "I just?I want to keep an eye on the place."
    Mat: "Can you say paranoia?"
    Mike: "Well, you explain it then. All the weird stuff that happens around that place."

    The gang fight off a roomful of vampires, then stand around staring warily at each other.

    Oz: "It's all about trust. 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?"
    David: "It ends here. No more secrets."

    Oz: "I'll go first. My name is Daniel Osbourne, and I'm a werewolf? I don't change. Not any more. I can hold it in."
    Elli: "My name is Eleris Talvalin, and? I don't actually come from this world at all."
    Charlie: "My name is Charlie Stafford, and?I think I'm mostly just a perfectly normal person. Except that I can do, well, this." (She floats a table in the air.)

    Emma (shivers): "It's really creepy."
    David: "He's still Oz. Same guy he always was. And Elli is still Elli."
    Emma: "And Charlie is still Charlie. I know that. And it's still creepy."

    Elli shows Oz a newspaper report about a werewolf running loose in town.
    Oz: "It wasn't me."
    Elli: "I know that, idiot. I just thought you'd want to know."

    Linda: "The old man said you might be able to help, and I didn't know what else to do? The antique guy ? he's got a shop next door."

    Oz: "If I can't even find a man who lives next door, how am I supposed to find a werewolf that could be anywhere?"
    Elli: "He does seem kind of elusive."




    David was in a foul mood.

    Oz was watching with great interest as David stormed around the Monico. He'd never seen this side of his employer before, and thought it was probably a good thing business was relatively quiet this afternoon ? David ranting away quietly to himself while he cleared tables was very likely to put off any potential customers who walked in.

    Except of course, for their regulars. While Oz was watching David in fascination, Elli wandered in from out back, where she had her art studio and apartment behind the converted theatre. His attention was transferred from David to her as she calmly helped herself to a drink and put the money for it in the till without a word spoken. Amused, Oz reflected that teaching her how the cash register worked might not have been such a smart move after all.

    Elli joined him behind the bar, and they both watched David in silence for a moment, elbows resting on the counter, chins resting on hands. Then Elli leaned towards him slightly.

    "What's up with him?" she whispered, nodding at David.

    Oz whispered back. "In-law issues."

    "Oh?" She looked curious.

    "Emma's mom is in town," Oz elaborated, still whispering. David's muttered monologue had been ongoing ever since Emma and her mom had vanished in the direction of the mall post-lunch.

    "Ah." Elli nodded, understanding.

    Having run out of tables to aggressively wipe down, David stormed back over to the bar, still ranting quietly to himself: Diana this and Diana that, work, money, Emma.

    Oz decided it was best to keep quiet and ask no questions. It was clear that there was no love lost between David and his wife's parents, although the original source of this antagonism appeared to be on their side rather than his. The impression he got was that they had never considered David to be good enough for their daughter, and David resented being made to feel inferior.

    "Did you tell her about the band?" Elli asked, picking nonchalantly at a cookie she'd appropriated and taking her life into her own hands by interrupting the monologue.

    Oz and David, plus their friend Charlie and the Monico's chief waitress Shanei, had recently joined forces to set up a band. Although the original agreement was that their performance was for one night only, to salvage an emergency situation, it had been such a success that David had talked them all into something more permanent, and a semi-regular gig at the caf? had been agreed on. It was a dream come true for frustrated musician David to be playing on an almost regular again and he was hugely excited about it. Oz had to admit that for him, too, it felt good to get back into his music after too long a break.

    David looked surprised by Elli's question, as if he hadn't even noticed she or Oz were there.

    "Waste of time, according to her," David recovered from his surprise and continued ranting. "So's all this." He gestured around him, indicating the caf? into which he'd invested everything he had. "She's still pissed I wouldn't take the job with 'Gordon, darling'." He rolled his eyes and gestured dramatically as he quoted his wealthy mother-in-law.

    Elli looked at Oz for a translation.

    "Emma's dad," Oz explained quietly as an aside, not wanting to interrupt David's funk.

    "Okay," Elli murmured in reply.

    "Could have made my fortune if I'd stayed with Gordon." David started slamming mugs around behind the counter. "According to her, that is. Never mind that I'd've been bored comatose within a day. They wouldn't give us a cent to help with this place, you know."

    He scowled at the two of them. "Not even when we were desperate, about to go under. But they made sure I knew how they felt about Emma taking that job at the boutique, didn't matter the slightest that she likes it. Said it was my fault, I'd got in over my head, should've listened to them in the first place. Damn!"

    David's mini-tantrum was ended abruptly when a mug went crashing to the floor at his feet. He stood there glaring at it for a moment.

    "I've got it," Oz said quietly, and headed out back for a dustpan and brush to clean up the mess with.

    He returned to the bar just in time to see Emma arriving back minus her mother, but loaded down with bags from the shopping trip Diana had taken her on.

    "Your mother bought all this stuff for you?" Elli looked amazed.

    Emma looked almost on a high from all the shopping and seemed completely oblivious to David's obvious discomfort at her mother's display of wealth. "You know how mom's are," she replied, blithely.

    "Not really," Elli told her, casually. "I never had one."

    That took the wind out of Emma's sails completely. She looked flustered, and said, "Oh. Oh, well, I guess I better take this lot upstairs out of the way."

    As she left the room, Oz crouched down to sweep up the broken china, all this talk about parents or lack thereof reminding him that he hadn't spoken to his in a while and should probably call them. As parents went they were pretty undemanding, but they did like it if he acknowledged their existence once in a while.

    Elli gave the morose David a quizzical look. "Is her mum not staying here, then?"

    "God, no." David snorted. "She wouldn't dream of it. No, she'll have checked herself into the most expensive hotel she can find by now, and be gone again by morning. She only does flying visits."

    "By the way, Oz." Emma popped her head back around the door at that moment. From his position down on the floor, Oz looked up to see what she wanted. "I just went past the antique shop next door and it's open. You might be able to catch the Ol' Fella this time."