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Monico Episode Eight: Rose

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  • Monico Episode Eight: Rose

    Episode Eight:

    Disclaimer: Oz isn't mine; everyone else is.
    Feedback: Yes, please tell me what you think.

    Thanks, Sue.

    Previously in Tales from the Monico: Read the other stories!

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

    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."

    Emma: "You think the hunter might come back here?"
    Elli: "He darted Oz for a reason. I can't see him giving up just because the first try didn't work."

    Elli: "What happened?"
    Voice Over as images show: Oz is darted with the drug, and just barely makes it to the cellar before he changes; Mike opens the door and shoots when the werewolf jumps at him.
    Emma: "The hunter came back. He shot Oz through the window with one of those darty things?He got himself to the cellar before he changed."
    Charlie: "But then Mike came and shot him."

    Elli watches as the dead werewolf revives at moonrise.

    Elli: "I wasn't sure. But I hoped. I thought ? isn't it only silver that kills them?"

    Mike: "I panicked. I remembered the reports about animal attacks and I panicked."
    Mat: "You didn't know. A wild animal jumped at you and you fired. Self defence. You didn't know it was Oz. There's no way you could've?"
    Mike: "God. Werewolves. Who'd have believed it? And I shot the wrong one."

    Mat: "I need some advice. About a case. Something?supernatural. I think."

    Charlie: "That's the trouble with the world of the mystical. Once you're in, it doesn't let go?.I was always taught, when I was growing up, how to take precautions, and to always do what I could, if it was reasonably safe to do so. Because, honestly, how can you live with your conscience if someone dies because you turned a blind eye?"
    Oz: "Definite lack of superheroes in this town."

    Mike: "You really think someone is trying to summon a demon? Seriously?"
    Charlie: "This thing your guy's trying to summon is definitely dangerous."

    Mat: "Charlie thinks I'm an idiot, doesn't she? ? I never really knew her before all this started ?.She isn't like other girls ? I mean, you saw what she did to that hunter dude."
    Mike: "Seems none of them are quite like other people."

    The team all dive to the side as the demon throws a fireball at them, and then chase the summoner, Kirschner, downstairs. Oz follows the others more slowly, holding his side.

    Charlie: "You okay?"
    Oz: "Guess I'm not ready to do the sprinting thing just yet."

    The demon Avnas incinerates Kirschner, and then tosses fireballs at the team. Oz and Elli complete the spell to banish him once more, and they all make their escape before the house burns down.

    Mike: "I think it's incredible. I mean that you can do this stuff; that you know about this stuff. 'Cause, it's like, it isn't real."
    Oz: "Oh, there's nothing special about me. The others, maybe. But I'm just trying to get on with my life. Only?stuff keeps happening that I can't walk away from."
    Mike: "I killed you."
    Oz: "Yeah. But, not properly, 'cause ? here I am."
    Mike: "I know, but?"
    Oz: "The other werewolf, Paul? He died because of me. Really died. [beat]We've all done stuff we wish we could change."

    Elli: "Have you ever killed anyone yourself? I mean directly, with your hands, and not including vampires and demons, because they really don't count.
    Oz: Not so much with my hands: more with my teeth?A werewolf. She was trying to kill Willow.
    Elli: Well, I have. Killed, that is. Consciously. With these hands, and more than once. There's always guilt, and there's always regret, but sometimes you really don't have any other choice."

    Elli: "I'd like us to hang out at full moon. Just the two of us: someplace away from here."
    Oz: "You're putting me into isolation."
    Elli: "I wouldn't have phrased it quite like that. But yes, in a way, I suppose. I didn't want to insult your intelligence by trying to be subtle."
    Oz: "I don't need a babysitter."
    Elli: "Yes, I know. But I think you do need a break. Recharge the batteries a bit. And I don't really have anything better to do."
    Oz: "Camping sounds like fun. Just for this month."




    There were long weekends that dragged?and there were long weekends that absolutely buzzed.

    Mid-afternoon on a sunny fall day, Charlie was dropped off by minibus close to her dorm room and lugged her bags inside. After a long weekend away with a group of fellow archaeologists, she didn't feel particularly inclined to waste what was left of the day indoors unpacking, so she decided to spend it indoors at her favourite caf? instead, and hopefully catch up with some of her non-archaeological friends at the same time.

    Arriving at the Monico Coffee Bar, Charlie grinned to see that situation normal was in full force: David and Oz puttering around behind the bar, and Emma and Elli sat in front of it nursing their drinks. As she entered the caf?, Oz saw her first, acknowledging her return with silent eye contact, before David also spotted and greeted her cheerfully.

    "Hey Chas! You're back."

    Charlie laughed. "Have you lot not moved at all since I left?" she asked, dropping onto a stool at the counter. "And, did you do that to your hair on purpose?" she teased Oz, and although his expression didn't change she had the satisfaction of getting a reaction when he instinctively raised a hand to touch the shocking blond spikes.

    Emma sipped at her soda. "How was your weekend?"

    "Oh, it was great fun," Charlie enthused. "Professor Schuyler gave a paper that?okay, none of you would be remotely interested in, so we won't go down that road. Can I have a coffee, please? Thanks. No, it was fun."

    She hesitated slightly before adding, "Apart from I was a bit worried about a girl I met." That was the bit she wanted to take advice on, unless she was just being paranoid.

    "I thought you knew everyone that was going?" said Elli.

    "Yeah, I did, except one of the lads brought his girlfriend," Charlie explained. "And that was odd for a start, because until then no one even knew he had a girlfriend. Didn't think he was ever likely to, either, because, to be completely honest, the guy is the biggest weed I ever met. Seriously, he's got all the maturity of a freshly laid egg. And then he turns up with this gorgeous girl."

    "Stranger things have happened," David observed. "And ? does it mean anything that the first thing you noticed about this girl was that she's gorgeous?"

    Charlie rolled her eyes at him. "Actually the first thing I noticed was her outfit. Which was stunning, by the way," she added mostly for Emma's benefit, as a clothes-minded person. "But very, very impractical."

    "But that wasn't the worrying part," said Oz, leaning against the counter.

    Charlie frowned, unsure how to put her gut instinct into words. "Maybe worry isn't the right word," she admitted. "But there was something?I can't quite put my finger on it. Something just wasn't right about her ? about both of them. I mean, for one thing, Craig introduced her as his girlfriend, but he didn't treat her like one."

    "How did he treat her?" asked Elli, curious.

    Charlie thought for a moment, wondering how to describe it. "Like his prize-winning performing puppy," she said at last.

    "Oh," said David. "Now that's?"

    "Kinda strange," Oz finished for him.

    "That's what I thought," Charlie agreed. "Also, he was incredibly possessive. I mean in a 'Rose must not talk to anybody at all unless I am with her' kind of way. And it wasn't as if any of the lads were coming on to her or anything. Everyone was just being friendly, or trying to, 'cause she's new and didn't know anyone except him."

    "Possessiveness is rarely a good sign," Emma mused.

    "And Rose ? she was?" Charlie sighed, exasperated by her inability to find words for what exactly had troubled her. "I don't know. Almost childlike, in some ways. It worried me."

    "So, are you going to do something about it?" asked David. "Because you've got that look in your eyes."

    Charlie shrugged uneasily, wondering if she was making a mountain out of a molehill anyway. "I don't think there's much I can do. It's their lives. But I'll keep an eye on Craig, and if I get a chance to talk to Rose when he isn't around, I'll try to find out more. Something definitely wasn't right."

    She frowned at Oz and Elli then, remembering something. "Shouldn't you two be off on your camping trip by now?"

    "Tomorrow," said Elli. "Just in time for the full moon."


  • #2

    Part One


    Next morning, Oz was helping get the caf? ready to open before heading off on the full moon camping retreat when Mat appeared at the door, knocked, and peered in looking exhausted.

    "I need coffee," he said the moment Oz unlocked the door to let him in. "Please. Man, I'm beat."

    "Now, this may just be a vicious rumour," said Oz. "But I've heard sleep can help with that too."

    "Sleep will come," said Mat, sinking onto a stool at the bar and looking around. "But after one hell of a night shift, plus overtime, coffee is the first priority."

    "Lost something?" Oz asked, seeing the officer peering all around the bar.

    "I thought Charlie might be here," Mat admitted. "She comes in here sometimes, doesn't she?"

    "It has been known," said Oz, knowing that Mat knew full well that Charlie spent most of her waking hours in the caf?. "But usually she waits till we're open."

    Mat looked startled, glanced around at the deserted caf?, connected its emptiness to the fact that Oz had had to unlock the door to let him in, and then buried his head in his hands. "It's worse than I thought," he sighed. "Sorry, man. Coffee, then sleep. Yes."


    "I scored full marks on the math assignment that Oz did for me," Elli gleefully announced, giving Oz a happy grin as she bounced in from college to have lunch before setting off on the camping expedition. The caf? had just opened, and as she passed she spared a quick glance sideways at Mat, who was still half dozing over his now cold coffee. "His annoyingness couldn't find anything to mark me down on. Apart from the fact that I didn't do the work myself, and he didn't have any way to prove that even if he suspected."

    David looked at Oz, shaking his head incredulously. "For a class you aren't even taking? Your teachers must have hated you so much. I can just picture the report cards: 'Mr Osbourne is capable of achieving great things, if only he would apply himself.'"

    The funny thing about that was just how many of his report cards really had run along those lines. And that he really hadn't ever been interested in applying himself. Schoolwork had always come easily to him. A little too easily, in fact ? easily enough that he'd found much of it boring, which had been a slippery slope down to slacking off and failing to graduate. Now that was a mistake he didn't intend to make again. He'd wasted enough time as it was.

    "I have to get to work," said Emma, coming through from the back. "Enjoy the trip."

    "We will," Elli cheerfully replied. "You won't forget to feed Jones?"

    David frowned. "You know if you stopped feeding that wretched cat it might go away."

    "I don't want him to go away," she responded placidly. "We've adopted each other."

    "It's okay," said Emma. "I'll feed him. Have fun. Make smores!" She headed for the door.

    Mat raised his head and regarded Elli sleepily. "Why is your cat called Jones?" he yawned.

    "It isn't her cat," David muttered. "It's a stray."

    "Because David said he was jonesing on me and I shouldn't encourage it," Elli cheerfully explained, and then turned to Oz. "If you're just hanging around here watching the world go by, I assume that means you're all set to go and waiting for me."

    "Van's packed," he confirmed.

    "I can take a hint," she said. "Lunch, then the off."

    As Elli disappeared out back to collect her things for the trip, the last bite of a hastily grabbed snack in hand, Charlie arrived. Despite being half asleep, Mat had hung around waiting for her, and from the vantage point of the table he'd commandeered to wait at Oz watched him talking to her at the counter only briefly, before finally giving in to his fatigue and heading home. It was amusing, that he'd wait for her for so long, but then barely say two words when he finally had her in front of him. Especially so since he'd always come across as such a ladies' man. Having barely even glanced sideways at another female since he noticed that Charlie existed, he was fast ruining his reputation in these parts.

    Charlie came over to Oz's table and slumped into the chair opposite with a huge sigh.

    "I don't think Mat's ever going to make a move," she grumbled morosely.

    Having seen the way the two behaved around one another lately, Oz had guessed that something like this was brewing, and was mildly surprised that Emma didn't seem to have picked up on it yet, unless she was practising tact and discretion for once. He also suspected that Mat might be a little intimidated by the whole extra-sensory powers angle.

    "Well, maybe you should do the first-moving thing, then," he suggested, leaning back in his chair and wondering exactly when he'd turned into an Agony Aunt ? or Uncle, technically ? and how it had happened. With his track record he could hardly be considered an expert on how to make a relationship work. Okay, there'd been a couple of girls before Willow, but the only one that could really be considered serious was Rachel. Not serious on a Willow level, but serious enough for a high school romance?until the day she disappeared without warning or trace. Not such an unusual event in Sunnydale, although it had been a long time before he realised the reason why. That had been rough, but nowhere near as rough as everything that came later, with the wolf and with Willow. No, he was definitely no expert to be seeking advice from.

    "No," Charlie protested. "No, I don't want to be the move-maker. That's his job. It's how I know for sure he's interested."

    "Oh, he's interested," Oz assured her. Mat had made it rather obvious, unless it was just another of those nebulous wolf-things: being able to sense, or maybe smell, that emotion. It could be hard, sometimes, to tell where human awareness ended and werewolf senses extended out beyond. "And if he won't make the first move, maybe you should show him how it's done."

    "Maybe?" Charlie still looked unconvinced as she pulled a few books out of her bag, clearly intending to settle in for some study.

    "I should make a reserved sign for this table," said David, bringing fresh coffees across to them. Oz murmured his thanks as he took one of the cups.

    "You'd do that for me?" Charlie exclaimed in mock delight. "I'm so touched. Hey guys, give me some advice."

    "Never trust a dog with orange eyebrows," Oz instantly suggested, deadpan.

    David chuckled. "And always look both ways before crossing the street," was his contribution.

    Charlie poked her tongue out. "I meant something a little more specific. How to get out of something you've unwisely agreed to."

    "Sounds intriguing," David remarked. "What kind of something?"

    "The extreme sports kind of something that you say yes to while under the influence."

    "Under the influence?" David shook his head in pretence at dismay. "I'm shocked."

    "I was only a little bit drunk," Charlie cheerfully defended herself. "The conference, you know."

    "Educational standards really are slipping," David sadly observed. "First we've got Elli defrauding the system with Oz as her accomplice and facilitator?"

    Oz almost smiled at that, meeting David's eyes in mild acceptance of the teasing and leaning back comfortably in his chair.

    "And now there's you imbibing alcohol when you should be studying," David finished.

    "Haven't you ever been to an academic conference?" Charlie protested.

    David just looked at her.

    "No, I suppose not," she sighed. "They go like this. During the day you've got lectures and workshops. And then in the nights, there's the bar."

    Returning all four chair-legs to the floor and leaning forward once more, Oz rested his chin on a hand, elbow leaning on the tabletop, regarding her evenly. "What did you agree to do?"

    Charlie grimaced. "Rock climbing and windsurfing," she explained, and David laughed. "Think they'll let me off? I don't need any more action in my life right now."


    Finally arriving at the remote little beach they'd decided on for the full moon retreat, Elli drew in and let out a few long, deep breaths, slowly revolving on her heel with head thrown back, apparently soaking in the remoteness of the place, while Oz got on with unloading the camping equipment they'd brought with them.

    "Perfect," she declared at length. "And secluded enough for a worst case scenario. Don't you think?"

    Oz stopped unloading for a moment to likewise look around. The little bay they'd chosen was small, isolated and beautiful. Satisfied with what he saw, he nodded. "Should be."

    "So, tell me. Have you ever built a fire?" Elli continued as they started to set up their camp. "A proper one, as opposed to just heaping up a load of old sticks into a pile and then putting a match to them."

    "Can't say I have," said Oz. It wasn't the kind of thing generally taught at Californian high schools. At least, not in any of the classes he'd taken.

    "I'll show you then," she offered. "It'll come in handy on all those many occasions when you never need to know again."

    The remainder of the afternoon was spent setting up camp and gathering driftwood, which Elli carefully divided into two piles: one to keep, for her to work with, and one for firewood. And then she painstakingly taught him the best way to build a campfire and cook over it, keeping him so thoroughly occupied that he was barely aware of the passage of the almost full moon. Barely, but the awareness was there nevertheless. It never left him, no matter what phase the moon was in. He could always feel it; for almost three years now it had been a constant presence in his life, and he could no longer remember how it had felt to not have that ever present lunar awareness.

    "Emma thought it sounded dead romantic, you know," Elli commented, poking at the fire with a stick. "Camping out on a secluded beach for a few days. Full moon, just the two of us, middle of nowhere, not a soul around for miles..."

    She glanced sideways at Oz with a cheeky grin. "So then we had a long conversation about sand, wind, sleeping bags and absolute lack of modern hygiene facilities, and she decided to reverse her opinion."

    Oz had to smile back, amused. And yeah, he had to agree with Emma, up to a point: lounging around on a beach in the middle of nowhere at full moon did sound kind of romantic, under the right circumstances, which these weren't really.

    "You know, I'm glad Mike didn't manage to kill you permanently," Elli remarked.

    "Oddly enough, so am I," said Oz.

    "I would've had to come out here on my own, for one thing," she continued, a mischievous glint in her eyes. "Which would be?well, it would be okay, actually. Solitude can be a good thing. But it would've been less interesting and companiable."

    "So, you still would've done this retreat thing without the wolf-isolation?" he asked. She'd hinted as such before, although the wolf isolation was definitely the main purpose of the trip ? or at least for the timing of it, and his inclusion: the aim being to take at least some of the pressure off him while he was still recovering from being shot the previous month and slightly unsure whether his control would actually hold firm again or not. He was pretty sure it would, but a few nagging doubts remained, mostly connected to potential triggers and what else might go wrong. It had been too easy for that hunter to force him to change, endangering everyone around him. And he'd been feeling so woolly and tired so easily, ever since.

    And Elli was with him for the isolation because?well, because someone needed to be there, just in case, and she at least partially understood some of the issues he was dealing with. And also because something deep inside him recognised that his wolf-self would be somehow far less dangerous to her than anyone else, if it did get loose. She'd been able to stop him changing once before, and could do so again if it came to it. Or so he hoped, anyway. His independent streak might protest ? and it did ? but common sense recognised the necessity of taking precautions and was willing to go along with it in the best interests of everyone. The pitfalls of going it alone was a lesson he'd already learned the hard way, and if the whole Veruca situation and his time with the monks had taught him anything, it was when to ask for and accept support. Friends willing and able to help were not to be taken for granted. The next thing you knew, you'd turned around and they were all gone.

    "Sooner or later. You're not the only one who needed a break from civilisation, you know." Elli looked across at him again, her eyes very serious now. "This is as much for me as it is for you," she admitted. "I needed to get out of the city. It gets so claustrophobic after a while. I can only take so much."

    Nodding, Oz looked into the fire for a moment, a myriad of thoughts burning through his mind, the desire for clarity strong. Then he looked back at her.

    "If I?if I lost it. Turned." Finding the right words wasn't usually this hard. But he'd never enjoyed asking for help. "Could you stop it? The change."

    Elli let out a long breath before answering, but then looked him straight in the eyes. "I think so, for a while at least. If I really had to, like before. But I'm betting I won't have to. This is just a precaution, right? And it'll be better all round if you can manage it yourself."


    "Hi, Rose." Coming into the university canteen for a drink after her last class of the day, Charlie was surprised to see her new acquaintance sitting alone at a table in the corner, staring into space with a wistful expression, and went over to talk to her.

    Rose jumped, startled, and maybe not expecting anyone to talk to her, and turned to see who was calling her. Still wearing that long, flowing, very beautiful but very impractical dress she'd worn constantly on the weekend away, she was every bit as gorgeous as Charlie had described her the previous day, with big dark eyes, clear pale skin, and silky straight hair ? overall a combination that Charlie could only dream of, cursed as she was with wiry curls that frizzed uncontrollably and the kind of skin that freckled rather than tanned in the Californian sun.

    "Oh, Charlie." Rose looked nervous, as she had throughout the weekend away.

    Charlie tried giving her a friendly smile, leaning against the back of a nearby chair. "All on your own?"

    "Craig just went to the men's room," Rose told her, earnestly. "He'll be back in a minute. He doesn't leave me alone for long."

    "Don't you like being on your own?" asked Charlie, curious. "Or does Craig not like you being alone?"

    "Craig worries about me," said Rose, wide-eyed. "He doesn't like me being on my own. I might get into trouble."

    "Well, you can't get into much trouble just talking to me, can you?" Charlie tried to reassure her, wondering again why the other girl was so nervous all the time. "Did you enjoy the conference?"

    "Oh yes," Rose smiled for the first time. "Yes, it was lovely."

    Lovely wasn't quite the word Charlie would have chosen. Fun: yes, not to mention rowdy at times. Educational: certainly. But lovely? No, not really.

    "You haven't been in town very long, have you?" said Charlie. "I hadn't seen you around before the conference."

    "No. I haven't been here long," confirmed Rose. "Everything is so new. There's so much to take in. That's why Craig stays so close always. To help me adjust."

    "So, are you staying with Craig?" Charlie asked, feeling even more curious than ever. "How did you meet?"

    Before Rose could answer, Craig himself returned to the table. The biggest weed she'd ever met, Charlie had described him as, and he'd never yet given her any reason to change that opinion of him: all lank hair, dodgy dress sense and childish attitude. He scowled a less than friendly greeting at her. "It's time to go, Rose," he said, his tone curt. "See you in class, Charlie."

    With an apologetic half smile, Rose followed him out of the room, leaving Charlie somewhat bemused, and even more convinced than ever that her gut instinct about the weirdness of their relationship was well founded.


    The almost full moon hung high in the sky.

    Oz closed his eyes, feeling the call of it pulsing through his veins, and knew that coming out here had been the right decision. Every full moon now felt a just a little bit like being torn in half, ever since he'd learned to repress the wolf. A balance issue, he guessed, and one he was still working on insofar as he knew how. Which wasn't much, admittedly. But it was a tug of war that Oz-the-human was winning so far, mostly. The monks had taught him well, although they'd only been able to help him up to a point.

    Out here in the quiet, away from all other distractions, he could use the techniques he'd learned from the monks to their fullest and hold it at bay, resist that call. But he could also feel that he was still seriously weakened from his recent fatal shooting and subsequent revival. Staying in the city, surrounded by people ? by his friends ? feeling their anxiety and worrying about maybe putting them in danger if it all went wrong again, would have taken so much more concentration that he couldn't afford right now, and made his resistance that much harder. He could only hope he'd be back to full strength by the next month. Being almost-but-not-completely recovered was going on way too long.

    "There was something I wanted to ask you," Elli sleepily told him, lounging idly at the fireside. The math textbooks they'd spent some time studying from earlier lay discarded beside her. "Do you think we should talk to the M&Ms about Staunton? Because, I know technically he hasn't done anything they can lock him up for, not that we can prove. But he's definitely not stable and, honestly, what's the point of having our very own tame cops around if we can't set them on him?"

    Oz opened his eyes and turned his head slightly to look at her. "He's not making trouble for you, is he?"

    "Well, he doesn't like me," she admitted, rolling her eyes. "But he hasn't done anything all that terrible so far. Except for all the impossible work he keeps giving me."

    "It's not that hard," said Oz with a half smile, closing his eyes again. He'd been the one actually doing all the impossible work so far.

    "Maybe not for you," she grumbled. "And I only see him in class, so it's hard to really judge what he is or isn't doing. So what d'you think?"

    "You're the one with the secret agent gig going on," Oz pointed out. Enrolling in Professor Staunton's class to keep a close watch on him had been entirely her own idea.

    "But I respect your opinion," she told him, only half-teasing. "And bow to your superior knowledge of the American legal system. Or, any legal system, in fact."

    Oz wondered just how bad Staunton could be ? after all, he'd crumpled fairly completely under very little pressure from the Doctor. Maybe there was no real need for Elli to put herself through a math class she hated so much after all. But, on the other side of the coin, he remembered the plot Staunton had been up to his neck in back in the summer, and how terrified his werewolf assistant Paul had been of the professor finding out about his lycanthropic condition. Staunton might be a coward with delusions of grandeur, but in the right circumstances he was still capable of some pretty bad things. Hence the necessity of keeping an eye on him, just in case, the responsibility for which Elli had mostly shouldered so far.

    Having to stay out of Staunton's way himself made university life more complicated than he'd have liked, but the memory of what had happened to Paul, and the knowledge of the professor's 'scientific' interest in his lycanthropy, made the complication more than worthwhile. Oz had every intention of hanging onto his skin. Maybe having Mike and Mat also keeping an eye on the professor would be useful.

    "It might be a good idea to run it past them," he agreed.



    • #3

      "Hey Chas."

      Coming toward the end of a long evening of half-hearted study, Charlie opened the door of her dorm room on hearing a long overdue knock. Her friend Sook was standing outside, grinning like a Cheshire cat, her funkily styled jet-black hair today shot through with hot pink streaks. Grinning back, Charlie stood aside to let her enter.

      "Did we decide yet?" Sook continued, dropping her bag beside the bed and flopping onto a large beanbag. "Was this going to be a study session, or a slob session?"

      "My conscience says study," Charlie airily told her, going over to the fridge to get them a drink each. "But everything else is telling me to slob out."

      "We're entitled," Sook cheerfully agreed. "We had a big, study-full weekend."

      "Which doubled as a major jolly," Charlie chuckled, handing Sook her drink and throwing herself onto the bed in the absence of any actual comfortable chairs.

      "But, of course," Sook laughed. "Speaking of which, are we going to set a date for the climbing thing?"

      Charlie groaned. "You're seriously going to hold me to that? I was drunk!"

      "You weren't that drunk," Sook teased.

      "Drunk enough to say yes," Charlie retorted. "I never would have done that if I'd been in my right mind."

      "Not good enough." Sook shook her head, chuckling.

      "I'm injured." Charlie gestured at the sterile dressing adorning her upper arm.

      "You can't use that as an excuse," Sook instantly protested. "Not when you've been telling us ever since it happened that it isn't that bad. How did you do it again, anyway? You never did say."

      "It was just a stupid accident," Charlie hurriedly brushed it off, wondering how Sook would react if she told her the truth: that a demon had flung a fireball at her and she hadn't ducked in time. "You aren't really going to make me go through with the climbing thing, are you?"

      "I'm absolutely going to make you go through with it," Sook cheerfully insisted. "You promised."

      Charlie groaned. "I never would have gone to that wretched conference if I'd've known I was going to be forced into dangerous sports."

      "Forced, my eye," said Sook. "You said it sounded like fun."

      "I was drunk!"

      "It's totally your kind of thing," Sook insisted.

      "Since when is hanging off a cliff face my kind of thing?" Charlie grumbled, knowing there was no way out now.

      "You're going to do it," Sook told her. "And you will love it. And, speaking of the conference, which we almost were, I saw Craig this afternoon, with lover-girl Rose tagging along like a good little shadow. Now there's a turn up for the books, huh?"

      "Isn't it, though," Charlie agreed. "I'm not sure I ever saw him speaking to a girl outside of class before."

      "What on earth does she see in him?" Sook wondered, with a tiny shudder. "He's so weird."

      "You're telling me," Charlie agreed again. "He just whooshed her off when he saw me talking to her earlier. Barely even acknowledged I was there."

      "She just appeared from nowhere, you know," Sook continued. "Nobody had even heard a whisper about her before the conference ? and a girl that looks like her is going to be noticed, you know? And no one ever sees her on her own, and he never lets her talk to anyone. Where d'you reckon he found her?"

      Charlie shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine."

      "Hey, maybe he's got some kind of hold over her," Sook suggested. "D'you reckon?"

      "Anyone else, I'd doubt it," said Charlie. "But him ? I'd believe almost anything except that she's with him willingly and happily. Because she so obviously isn't."


      Early the following morning, Elli lay flat on her stomach a little way down the beach from the camp, chin propped up on her hands, communing with what she could only describe as a gaggle of seabirds. Definitely a gaggle ? flock was too orderly a word for them. It was wonderfully soothing. She'd always felt happiest outdoors in the wild, and being so divorced from most things natural was the hardest part of her new life in this world. Living in such an alien environment as a large, crowded American city for an extended period of time could be overwhelming at times. She'd needed to get away for a while before she imploded. Camping out in the wild like this was the perfect antidote.

      And since Oz so clearly ? to her at least ? also needed a break, it had seemed only sensible to make the getaway a joint venture timed for the full moon, during what for him was the most trying period of the month. He'd never say so out loud or in so many words, but having his own inner control so completely taken away from him by that hunter's drugged dart had shaken his confidence in his ability to hold the wolf in, just enough to play on his mind, and the full moon was always a strain on him even when he wasn't recovering from a briefly fatal injury. Out here in the middle of nowhere he at least didn't have to worry about harming anyone if he did change. She was fairly confident his wolf-self was little threat to her even if the worst happened.

      While Oz softly strummed his guitar over by the fire in between bites of breakfast, she'd been experimenting with how close she could persuade the birds to come to the 'dangerous wolf', using breadcrumbs and chips as bribery and bait. She was concentrating so hard that she barely noticed when the music stopped, becoming aware of her surroundings once more only when the birds all flew away as Oz wandered down the beach to join her. This beach was, after all, fairly remote, and the wildlife here would be unaccustomed to any disturbance, whether human or werewolf. Elli herself was a slightly different case, she knew. Rolling onto her side, she gave him a half-hearted scowl for the interruption.

      "One time in Tibet," said Oz, sitting down on the sand nearby. "Ran into a?an I don't know. Wild deer, I guess. And it knew, what I was. Could see the look in its eyes?and then, whoosh. Gone."

      He nodded to himself thoughtfully, and then looked across at her. "A question. Why is it that your cat lets me pet it, but these birds are all about avoidance?"

      "Okay, David would want me to point out right away that it isn't my cat," said Elli, sitting up and folding her legs beneath her. "He's a free spirit who finds me a convenient source of food and a warm bed. And, I don't know. Maybe he's willing to tolerate you because he's brighter than the birds."

      Oz gave her a quizzical look, wordlessly encouraging her to explain further. As if she was any kind of authority on how animalistic senses and hierarchies really worked, especially in this world. She was willing to hazard a guess, though.

      "It doesn't take much to scare a bird, you know," she continued, warming to her subject. "Or a deer, for that matter. They look at you and their eyes say 'human,' which puts them on their guard to start with, and then every other instinct they have is screaming, 'Wolf! Danger!' And that to them is the most important thing; they keep their distance. It's a survival instinct. But the cat, now, he looks at you and his senses say 'wolf, danger', but his eyes say 'human, potential source of food'. And he's arrogant enough to believe that he could get away with no trouble if you turned out to be dangerous after all."

      Oz considered this suggestion for a moment. "Do you actually know all that," he asked. "Or are you making it up as you go along?"

      Elli laughed. "Educated guess," she admitted. "But it's a good hypothesis, no?"


      Singing for your supper ? or lunch, as the case may be ? had to be easier than fishing for it.

      "Do you know what they're called?" Elli asked, laughing, as they came splashing out of the shallows. She held up the pair of fish they'd finally managed to achieve after a peaceful, if a little too early, morning breakfast had rapidly turned into a surprisingly entertaining but considerably more tricky than anticipated fishing session out in the shallows of their remote little bay

      Oz thought about it for a moment, but then shook his head. "No," he had to admit.

      "Never mind." She shrugged. "As long as they taste all right, it doesn't matter what they're called."

      Stashing the fish away to cook for lunch later, Elli took her sketchpad off down the beach in search of suitable subjects, apparently happy to let her clothes dry in the sun. Oz wasn't quite so patient where comfort was concerned and only a quick change away, and headed into his tent to change.

      Pulling the salt-spray splashed shirt over his head, he could feel the scar on his chest pulling slightly, just enough to remind him that it was there. It was a strange thing, that neat little hole that had killed him only not. How did that work? How did you go from being human to being something else, just with one bite from a small child?

      Shrugging the question off for probably the thousandth time since his transformation, Oz pulled on a fresh shirt and headed back outside, picking up his guitar en route. What couldn't be changed was best not dwelt on, and there was time for some chill-out chord practice before facing the next tricky question: exactly what they were supposed to do to those fish to turn them into lunch.


      "Don't you ever go to work?" Charlie teased when Emma joined her at her adopted study table.

      Emma pretended to be affronted. "Some days, not others," she protested. "That's the whole point of a part-time job."

      "Sounds good to me," Charlie had to admit, slightly distracted by the arrival of Mike and Mat for their lunchtime coffee.

      Twisting around to see what had caught Charlie's eye, Emma gave her a knowing smile and got back up, heading over to the counter to talk to Mike, which left Mat free to approach Charlie. Sighing, Charlie mentally gave the other woman a few points for at least trying to be subtle.

      "Hiya," Charlie breezily greeted Mat as he approached.

      Amusingly for someone who had always given the impression of being such a play-the-field type, Mat struggled yet again to make small talk, coming over all tongue-tied as he hovered near the table.

      "Hey." He smiled back, just a touch awkwardly, and sat down opposite Charlie, who waited to see what his next gambit would be.

      "So, uh?" Spotting her books, he seized on them as a potential topic for discussion.
      "How was your weekend away?"

      "It was good, thanks," she told him, amused. "I had fun."

      "Good, good." He paused again. "And?it was an academic thing?"

      "More or less," she nodded.

      "So ? books, and talks and stuff? All about history?"


      "Archaeology. Right." He became awkward again, visibly trying to get his tongue to work. "So, uh?how did you come to get into that in the first place?"

      "I was sixteen," said Charlie, wondering if he'd ever pluck up the nerve to actually ask her out, and ? again ? whether or not she really wanted him to. "And I've no idea how the teacher managed to swing it, but a group of us got to go on a field trip up to the Hebrides."

      "Where your sister is moving." Mat looked proud of himself for remembering that detail.

      "Different island, but yeah." Charlie nodded, giving him an encouraging smile. "We spent a fortnight assisting on a dig at a Viking site at Bornish on South Uist, and I've been hooked ever since."

      "What did you want to do before that?" he asked, looking both fascinated and delighted to be having an actual conversation after so many false starts.

      "Lorry driver," Charlie admitted with a grin. "Or motorbike delivery person. Either would have done."

      "Well, you're halfway to the delivery thing, with that bike of yours," Mat pointed out.

      "That might come in handy if I had to fall back on it," she admitted, laughing. Then she abruptly became serious. "Mat, can I ask for some professional advice?"

      "Of course." He looked at her with wide brown eyes, his unruly curls falling into his eyes, and, uniform aside, looking in general about as absurdly non-professional as you could get.

      "What would you do if you suspected someone was in a?a damaging relationship?"

      "Ah." He frowned slightly, becoming very official. "Actual suspicions, or hypothetically speaking?"

      "Actual suspicions. Someone on my course."

      "Any details you want to share?"

      "I don't know." Charlie squirmed, wondering if she was being interfering. "Maybe I'm reading too much into it."

      "Gut feelings are usually based on something," Mat pointed out. "You should trust them."

      Charlie nodded. "Well this guy on my course has a new girlfriend, and he seems?I don't know: a bit too controlling. He never lets her talk to anyone, and no one ever sees her on her own."

      "That could be a bad sign," Mat agreed, looking thoughtful. "Abusive relationships aren't just about violence, you know. Bullying and controlling behaviour can be just as damaging, and extreme jealousy isn't a compliment ? it's a problem."

      He was starting to sound like a page from some kind of 'domestic abuse support' pamphlet, but it was good advice and what Charlie needed to hear, confirming her suspicions. "That's what I thought."

      "Without knowing any specifics, I think the best thing you could do for this girl right now is to be there for her as a friend," said Mat. "Let her know there's a way out if she needs it. I can give you a couple numbers to call, if you like."

      Charlie nodded. "That would be great, thanks."


      "Okay. Here's a question," said Oz. "Why art?"

      Cooking their hard-won fish over an open fire had seemed a challenge, for Oz at least, but he got the distinct impression that Elli had lived like this before. She seemed to know exactly what to do, so he was content to sit back and let her get on with it.

      "It was just something to do," she replied absent-mindedly as she poked at the contents of the frying pan. "Something I could do, that I enjoy ? because, you know, there's precious little in this world that I'm good for."

      "You think that?" He regarded her curiously.

      "No, really," she insisted, paying more attention now. "It's true."

      She gave him a long, serious look for a moment, before settling into lecture mode for a full explanation. "Oz, I grew up in a completely non-industrial world and, okay, I've learned a lot since I came here. I can work a microwave, drive a car ? although I should probably mention, since I've driven your van a couple of times now, I'm not actually sure my licence is valid in this country."

      "Thanks for the warning," he commented lightly, paying close attention. It was rare to get her onto the subject of anything approaching the differences between this world and hers.

      Elli nodded. "I can pick up a telephone and talk to Maggie on the other side of the world," she continued. "As long as I don't try to think about the mechanics of how it works, because that makes my brain hurt. I even know how to work a computer if I really have to, although I'd never cope if I had to use one all the time."

      She paused to turn the fish for the umpteenth time, her expression thoughtful.

      "I learned how to do all those things because I had to," she went on. "But I'm never going to be comfortable with any of it. It just doesn't come naturally to me the way it does people who grew up with it."

      She poked at the fish again, nodding. "But I can draw. I can paint. I can sculpt, and carve, and put bits of wire and glass beads together to make jewellery that, according to Claire at the boutique, people actually like enough to pay good money for. So that's what I do. And it's keeping me going, for now at least." She smiled to herself. "And I enjoy it."

      Oz had to agree with the logic of that. He'd seen her work; she really was a talented artist. But she didn't seem to regard it with the same passionate intensity that Charlie, for example, had for her chosen field ? hence his question. Her explanation made more sense of it all.

      "Of course," she added, scooping the cooked fish onto a couple of plastic plates. "I'm also fairly well trained in various arts of combat, but those skills aren't really transferable into any meaningful position in this society."

      Oz felt a smile touching the corners of his mouth at that, taking his plate from her.

      "Anyway, you're a fine one to talk, aren't you?" She turned the tables back on him again, something she was very good at. Any confiding had to be reciprocated. "I hardly even know what you're studying, really."

      "Oh, nothing exciting," Oz casually replied. "Just?keeping busy."

      Ironically enough, it seemed they each regarded their college courses in much the same way, for their own separate reasons. He'd picked most of his classes fairly randomly, based on his own interest, and what he knew he was good at. He wasn't really looking to make a career out of any of it. It was just something to do, something to focus on, right now when he needed a focus in his life.

      Elli regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, picking at her fish with a plastic fork. "Tell me what you see in your future."

      Unsure exactly what she meant, Oz gave her a questioning look.

      "I mean, the Monico is a nice place," she elaborated. "And I'm sure it's a pleasant working environment, but I'm also sure waiting tables wasn't your lifelong ambition."

      "Not quite," Oz admitted, dragging patterns in the sand with a foot. "But it'll do for now." Glancing up and seeing her raised eyebrows, he elaborated slightly. "Got a job, roof over my head, finishing school. Can't ask for more than that." It was a lot more than he'd had six months ago.

      "And then what?" she prompted.

      "After that?" Oz thought about it for a moment. "Well, I don't really know yet what comes after that."

      Elli nodded, evidently understanding the need not to make long-term plans, since she was completely unable to. She was waiting for a summons to return to her own world, she'd told him, but had always been reluctant to go into any detail about what that would actually mean or the reasons behind her exile.

      "And you?" he asked, his turn now to turn the tables back on her and wondering just how much she'd be willing to share.

      "What do I see in my future?"

      Oz nodded, and Elli considered the question, looking thoughtful.

      "Lots of things," she said at last. "Always changing. Which of them will come about, I've no idea."

      Oz got the distinct impression they were no longer talking about career ambitions. "You actually see that?" he asked, curious. "See things in the future?"

      Elli pulled a face, and stabbed at a piece of fish. "Not really," she said. "Kind of?" She hesitated, searching for the words to explain.

      "My mother was a visionary," she said at last. "Is a visionary. But what I have is only the tiniest fragment of her power. Flashes and feelings, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that won't fit together."

      "I thought your mother was??" said Oz, puzzled by her switch from past to present tense. She'd always given the impression that she'd never known either of her parents.

      "Dead?" Elli finished the sentence for him. "No. No, she was still alive the last I heard, and that's unlikely to have changed. She's just never been in my life."

      She looked him straight in the eyes before continuing. "She isn't human, you know. In case you hadn't worked that out yet."

      No. Oz had never consciously realised it before, but no. No, of course she wasn't human. Not with the things she could do, and not with those iridescent purple eyes?

      "I look mostly human," she said, thoughtfully. "Except for the eyes, I suppose. Not much human about those."

      "Well, I think they're nifty," Oz assured her. All the more so for knowing they weren't really human, which was fascinating at the same time as making perfect sense.

      "Thanks." She smiled gratefully. "Mostly people don't like to comment, you know, so I've always been able to pass. And I may not be completely human, I inherited a lot of not-human abilities from my mother, but my human relatives raised me. I've always lived with humans. So I've had to find out what I could and couldn't do on my own. And I'm still finding out."

      Oz nodded. Learning about yourself was something he absolutely understood, after his round-the-world travels in search of werewolf solutions. There was still so much he didn't fully understand about what being a werewolf really meant. "I can relate to that."



      • #4

        Part Two:


        "I still don't understand phones, to be honest," Elli admitted, lounging close to the fire with sketchpad in hand, doodling. "Not really. Or TVs. I just don't get how they work. Please don't try to explain," she hurriedly added as Oz opened his mouth to comment. "The science really doesn't mean much to me."

        Oz closed his mouth again. No sense wasting breath. He focused once more on the wolf-cure he was brewing over the fire in preparation for the full-full moon tonight, still listening with amusement to her rambling chatter.

        "Cars, too," she mused. "I mean, I can look at one car, on its own, and think yes. It's a useful thing. It gets you from A to B nice and quick. But then you take that one car, and multiply it by what seems like most of the entire population, and then all of a sudden you've got line after line after line of people just sitting around in these cramped little metal boxes waiting for their turn to move. Strings of them, winding all around the land. And it's just really weird. Whose bright idea was that?"

        "I think that was Mr Ford," said Oz, stirring his concoction.

        "Ford?" She frowned.

        "Production line guy," he elaborated. "It was this whole revolution in manufacture."

        "Ford as in the car?" Elli nodded, thoughtfully. "That makes sense."

        Oz glanced across at her, pouring his vile smelling and not so pleasant tasting but nonetheless pretty much essential 'herbal tea' into a chipped mug. "You never talked to Stephen about stuff like this?"

        "I did, for some things." A wistful look came into her eyes. "But if I said the word 'car' to Stephen, he'd come over all glassy eyed and start talking about transmission and fuel consumption, and horse power, and that was?really confusing. Best not to go there."

        Certain key words had had much the same effect on Willow, Oz remembered. But he'd always enjoyed listening to her babbling, so it had always been good. Except perhaps when she started talking about magic stuff, which at the time had meant very little to him ? much of it still didn't, to be honest ? and he'd found some of that just as confusing as Elli found technical car talk. Worrying, too, the deeper she got into it. He guessed his own enthusiasm for all things music related had had a similar effect on Willow at times, only without the worry.

        Elli glanced up from her sketching as he got to his feet, mug in hand. "Say one for me," she absent-mindedly remarked.

        Oz nodded, heading into his tent for a spot of pre-full-full moon chill-out and meditation.


        "My Mom called earlier."

        David looked up from his paperwork in alarm at these words. "Oh God."

        Concentrating on emptying out and tidying her purse on the armchair just behind his desk, Emma ignored him. "She was talking about maybe coming over for a visit."

        "Oh God again," David groaned.

        "Don't be like that. We were thinking maybe for Thanksgiving. I could cook."

        "You mean she actually wants to come here?" David turned around to regard her incredulously. "Here here, to the caf?? I thought you meant her usual fly-by-night 'take Emma shopping and buy her pretty things' thing."

        "Daddy might come, too," Emma blithely continued, still ignoring his pessimism. "If he can get away from the office."

        David let out a hearty sigh and buried his head in his hands at the thought of both in-laws descending upon him. Frowning, Emma leaned across and smacked his shoulder.

        "Hey! At least they make the effort to come once in a while," she protested.

        "What's that supposed to mean?" David was instantly on the defensive.

        "Let's not go there." Emma backed off hurriedly. "Make an effort, please."

        David pulled a face. "Do I have to?"

        "Yes," Emma firmly told him. "I was thinking maybe we could make an occasion of it. Invite the others."

        "You think that would be a good idea?" David looked dubious.

        "Why not?" Emma was getting more and more enthusiastic about the idea. "I've never thrown a big dinner party before. Oz lives here, so we can hardly not include him, and Elli's just out back. It makes sense to share it with them."

        "Expose them to your parents, you mean," David scoffed. "Like a buffer zone, between me and the hostility. I suppose that could work."

        "And we could have Charlie over, as well," Emma continued. "Don't you think it would be great?"

        "No, I really don't." David shook his head. "Your parents and our friends in the same room? Something weird would happen. You know it would."

        "Thanksgiving isn't anywhere near full moon," said Emma. "I checked. So no wolf issues to contend with, unless something really drastic happens. And they're all pretty discreet about that stuff ? they have to be, don't they? So why should it be a problem? And anyway, I already told Mom it would be okay."

        David gave in. "Fantastic," he sighed.


        Oz hadn't felt so at peace with himself at the full moon since, well, ever, not as a werewolf. Certainly not since leaving the monks in Tibet.

        Lying here, out on the beach, gazing up at that beautiful full moon, he felt completely relaxed, completely at ease, almost untroubled by the lunar pull. Almost, although the ever-present tug on that morphological switch somewhere inside him was there nonetheless, at its strongest at this phase of the moon. But it was so peaceful here. He felt stronger, better, more whole, than he had since the shooting, and knew that had a lot to do with Elli making him come out here away from the stresses and strains of normal everyday life. There was less need to worry about the worst happening out here. Preventing the change took effort, but was proving easier than he'd expected it to be in his weakened state, and he half suspected she might have put her whammy on him again, just to make this one month easier while he was still recovering from the last one?

        But he still had next month to face, and the month after, and then the one after that, for the rest of his life. Maybe just living from one full moon to the next was the way to go after all, focusing on the here and now, and not worrying about what tomorrow, or the next month, might bring.

        Elli came out of her tent and sat down beside him, leaning back to likewise lie on the sand. She gazed silently up at the night sky for a moment before speaking.

        "How are you doing?"

        "Kinda just taking in the moon," said Oz.

        Elli nodded, looking thoughtful. "That's actually a wiser move than you'd think," she remarked, still looking up at the sky. "You remember all that werewolf research I did after you got shot?"

        Oz nodded.

        "You know," she continued, going off at a tangent. "While I'm on the subject, there really isn't that much written down anywhere about werewolf issues."

        Oz frowned very slightly, contemplating that statement.

        "Oh, if you look in the right places there's plenty of stuff out there about how to become a werewolf," she explained. "And what that means in very basic practical terms. And also about how to kill one, for people who feel so inclined. But there's next to nothing about actual issues that affect day-to-day life for a werewolf." She flashed a sudden, mischievous grin at him. "Now there's a hole in the market you could exploit if you wanted to."

        That was actually a valid point, he realised. Not the book proposal, but about the werewolf writings or lack thereof. He'd come up against similar problems when he left Sunnydale searching for his werewolf cure that time. Finding something even remotely close to what he was looking for had proved almost impossible.

        "So anyway, I was trying to remember everything I knew about shapechangers from back home?" Elli continued.

        Curious now, Oz turned his head to look at her again, wondering what she'd come up with.

        She sighed. "I've come to the conclusion that I never paid enough attention to the subject. I never needed to before." She hesitated slightly before continuing. "But, getting back to the point, one thing I do know is that the moon is very powerful: especially so for a werewolf, and especially so right now. Full moon. It can have healing properties, for someone with the kind of connection you have to it. So you being out here basking in it is probably a good idea. It'll do you good."

        That was interesting. Oz looked up at the moon again, considering the possibilities. If the full moon could heal, as well as draw out the change, that could explain why he was starting to feel so much better at last. Not anything Elli was doing. Of course, last time, when she had put the whammy on him and stopped him changing, had been an emergency. Thinking about it, he was fairly sure she wouldn't do it again, not under these circumstances, not without asking permission first. No, that was an emergency measure only.

        "It would work better, you know," she continued, a little hesitantly. "If you would let yourself change even for a little while. But I can't see you agreeing to that, which is why I never mentioned it before."

        No, that was definitely not an option, she was right about that.

        "I'm not going to change," he said, firmly. Bad things happened when he lost control and changed. Bad things like waking up in cages surrounded by people who wanted to dissect him, or getting shot dead. Maybe even ripping a few people apart along the way.

        It occurred to him that Elli, with her otherworldly magic and affinity for wild things, might be able to help control the wolf if he did allow it to come out. That was, after all, half the reason they'd come out here together in the first place: just in case. So just maybe, if he could allow himself to allow her?but the very idea of deliberately allowing his control to slip filled him with dread, never mind suggesting it ? and certainly never mind actually doing it. And to his relief she didn't press the subject, simply nodding. "That's what I thought you'd say. But I wanted to mention it. Just so you'd know."

        They both fell silent for a moment, contemplating the moon once more, Oz thinking about what she'd told him. She'd mentioned the shapechangers of her own world before, and while she may not have paid all that much attention to the subject before meeting him, she did know some things about shape changing and how it worked back in her world, he knew that. There had to be more information that could be useful for him, surely. Deciding he'd never get a better opportunity to ask her about it, he rolled onto his side to look at her and quietly said, "Tell me about shapechangers."

        She was quiet for a moment, gazing up at the sky, and then likewise rolled onto her side, propping herself up on an elbow to meet his eyes. "I'm not an expert," she said. "I can't do it. Enys was a shapechanger."


        "A herbwoman," Elli explained. "Or an enchantress, or witch. People used to call her all those things, but what she was, is, is one of the old ones, left behind from an earlier age. She used to teach me?" her voice trailed off, remembering that past life she'd left behind.

        "And she was a shapechanger?" Oz prompted.

        "Yes." Elli nodded, visibly forcing her mind back to the here and now. "She could take any form, but mostly she became a bird. But it was different to your kind of transformation. She always remained herself, in whatever form. I mean she carried her consciousness with her in a way that you don't seem to be able. I wish there was a way for you to meet her."

        Oz remembered Veruca, remembered that she'd apparently had perfect recall of all her actions in wolf form, something he'd never mastered, although he'd had a few odd flashes of wolf memory after his last, very brief and ultimately fatal, transformation. He wondered what it must be like to not only remember your actions while changed, but to be able to control them, to remain yourself even in that changed state. For him, it seemed, that was impossible. Or at least, no one yet had been able to show him a way of achieving it.

        "Oz, can I ask you something?" asked Elli, neatly switching the subject away from her own thorny past before he could ask any more questions. "Why didn't you go back to your monks in Tibet after the big bust up in Sunnydale?"

        Now that was a good question. Shame he didn't have a good answer to give for it.

        "I don't know," he admitted after a long pause. "I guess?I kinda thought they'd already taught me all they could."

        And it hadn't been enough. There was no cure for being a werewolf, and that was something he had to accept. Wandering the globe over and over, searching for something that didn't even exist, was no kind of life. Settling down and starting over had felt healthier. "And I got tired of chasing shadows. Time to face reality."

        Or maybe he just hadn't wanted to go back there feeling like a failure. It was hard to say. Maybe he would go back one day. Eventually. When he was ready.


        "Hiya, how's it going?" Spotting Craig and Rose scurrying along as usual while on her way to her first class of the day, Charlie made haste to intercept, and offered them both her friendliest smile.

        "Good morning, Charlie, goodbye, Charlie," Craig muttered, trying to steer Rose around her.

        Charlie frowned as she got a better look at Rose. The other girl didn't look at all well: far paler than usual, with dark shadows under her eyes; she seemed exhausted. "Is everything all right?"

        Craig scowled. "Everything's just dandy, stop sticking your nose in."

        "I'm just trying to be a friend," Charlie pointed out. "I was wondering if you'd like to come for a coffee later. Both of you." Including Craig in the 'let's make friends' invitation felt like a huge sacrifice on her part, but first steps had to be taken somehow.

        "That sounds nice." Rose smiled with genuine pleasure, her whole face lighting up.

        "No," Craig muttered. "We're busy and we don't need help."

        His attention was abruptly diverted as Rose stumbled slightly, and both he and Charlie hurriedly reached out to steady her.

        "Thank you," Rose whispered.

        "Everything doesn't look dandy," said Charlie. She turned her attention back to Rose. "Are you sure you're okay? Do you want to??"

        "No." Craig glared at her. "I can look after her myself. She's fine. Come on, Rose, let's get going."

        "If you change your mind," Charlie got in the way again, determined to get her message across before they made their get-away. "I'll be at the Monico Coffee Bar on South Street from lunchtime on." Looking at Rose, hoping she would understand the 'I'm here if you need anything' message, she continued, "I'm there most days when I don't have class. You're welcome to join me, any time, for any reason. Sometimes it's good to talk."

        "Just leave us alone." Craig took Rose's elbow and hurried her away, leaving a dismayed Charlie gazing after them, worried that she'd handled the encounter all wrong.


        "Good afternoon. Almost," Elli cheerfully remarked when Oz finally emerged from his tent. "The day's half over, you know."

        Blinking blearily at her in the bright midday sun he grunted something that might have been a greeting before wandering off in the general direction of his van. Elli watched him go, shaking her head in amusement that he could be up at the crack of dawn one day, and then sleep till noon the next ? although, being up at the crack of dawn one day could well be his excuse for sleeping till noon the next ? before returning her attention to her work, attempting a sketch of the campsite using bits of almost-charcoal carefully picked out of the bottom of the fire.

        Once he'd fully awoken Oz was in charge of cooking lunch, which he seemed to find an interesting experience, what with the open fire and the wind blowing sand into everything, and all. Elli left him to it, taking her sketchpad down to the water's edge. She'd spent most of her free moments since they arrived sketching just about anything that caught her eye: random rocks, passing boats, Oz trying to be a fisherman, the campfire ? anything.

        She was putting the final touches to a sketch of a seagull bobbing up and down on the waves when Oz appeared beside her, having apparently decided that lunch was safe to leave for a moment or two while he stretched his legs a bit and came to see what she was drawing now. Or it could be that he just felt like some company. It could be hard to tell with him.

        Giving the drawing a final tweak, Elli turned a few pages for him to have a look at the day's other creations, including a caricature of him frowning in deep concentration over the frying pan, which brought a smile to the corners of his mouth in spite of himself. But the smile turned to a frown as the smell of burning imposed itself on their noses, and he abruptly realised he'd abandoned lunch just a little too long. Elli dropped her sketchpad and hurried back up the beach with him to salvage what they could.

        "I'll tell David he wants to watch you," she teased. "He thinks you can cook."

        "Me?" Oz gave her his best deadpan look, the one that generally signified his own particular brand of quiet mischief. "No. He hired me for my looks."

        Elli chortled softly. "And your ever valuable ghost-busting skills, let's not forget."

        "Well, those too," he agreed.

        "Every haunted caf? should have one." Glancing back down the beach, she gasped and leapt back to her feet. "Ah, damn. My book."

        Left to its own devices at the water's edge, the sketchpad had been taken by a wave while they rescued their lunch, and was drifting out into open waters. They both promptly rushed back down the beach once more and into the water. Oz waded out to retrieve it, and then apologetically handed the soggy mess back to her, their hands brushing slightly as she took it.

        "That was my fault," he said. "Sorry."

        "No, I shouldn't have left it there," she replied philosophically enough, trying without much success to turn a few pages. Both the book and all its contents were pretty much destroyed. "It doesn't matter. I can make more." She gave a wry chuckle. "We're not having the best day, are we?"

        Oz gave her an apologetic smile, glancing back up the beach toward the remains of his attempt at cooking, and then suddenly looked back at her, his eyes sombre and thoughtful.

        "You said you'd killed people." The words were very quietly spoken, and came out of nowhere ? something he'd clearly been mulling over and realised there would be no good time to ask about. He was nothing if not direct, when he wanted to be.

        Elli inhaled sharply, taking a step backward and turning slightly, not letting him see her face as she reacted to that unexpected comment. When she turned back to him, she was fully in control once more, her tone rueful. "I knew you wouldn't let that one lie indefinitely. My own fault for mentioning anything."

        Oz nodded, waiting patiently to see if she would to offer an explanation and giving her that quizzical look she found impossible to resist. Almost anyone else she could brush off, but not so much him. He was a good listener and easy to talk to. That was the trouble. It was too easy to say too much.

        "There was a war going on," she said, very shortly, reminding herself of all the reasons she wasn't supposed to get too close to anyone here, or talk about her past and where she came from. They were all good reasons in theory, but theory rarely amounted to much in practice, when you had a real person standing in front of you who cared enough to want to understand. Someone you really didn't want to lie to. "It happens sometimes in war that you find yourself in a kill-or-be-killed situation."

        He considered that, watching her closely with eyes the same shade of light blue-green as the ocean behind him. "Is that why you came here?"

        "No. Yes." She was starting to get flustered now. It turned out that living in hiding got harder instead of easier the longer you had to stay there, keeping things hidden from the people around you. "Maybe that was part of the reason, but it was complicated."

        "And you don't really want to get into it right now." Oz nodded, not pushing for any more answers. But then, he had baggage of his own that nobody could accuse him of over-sharing, so he could probably understand something of her dilemma about how much detail she was willing to pass on.

        Elli was grateful for being let off the hook like that. "Not really."

        Oz held the eye contact for a moment longer, nodding to himself. "Time for lunch, then," he suggested.

        Elli smiled, relieved. "What's left of it," she agreed.



        • #5

          "Mind if I join you?"

          Charlie was concentrating hard on her latest assignment when Emma materialised at her table and sat opposite with a coffee. But she'd brought a refill for Charlie, too, which couldn't be a bad thing.

          "Yeah, go ahead," she murmured distractedly, glancing up as Emma slid the mug across the table. "Thanks."

          With her assignment due in, Charlie didn't have a huge amount of time for idle chat, so concentrated on what she was doing while Emma flicked through one of her textbooks.

          "I thought archaeology was all about bones and pottery," Emma remarked at length.

          "It can be," Charlie agreed.

          Emma tapped the book she'd been looking at. "This book is all about soil composition and rock structures."

          "Sometimes it's about that, too." Charlie gave Emma a hard look. "Are you bored?"

          "Yes." Emma sighed. "I nearly went mad in work this morning."

          "I thought you liked your job," Charlie noted, trying hard to study despite the distraction. Deadlines were deadlines, after all.

          "I do, most of the time," Emma admitted. "But then there are days like today and?why is it that everyone I know seems to be doing what they love except for me?"

          "But I thought you liked your job," Charlie repeated, frowning at what she'd just written and wondering if it made sense.

          "I mean, David loves this place," Emma continued. "And don't get me wrong, so do I, but it's his dream, not mine. And you ? you love all this archaeology stuff, don't you?"

          "Well, yes?" Charlie put her pen down, giving up on the study for a minute or two.

          "And, and?" Emma sighed. "Okay the argument starts to break down here, because Elli's just hanging around waiting to go home, but she does love her art work. And Oz?okay. The argument really does break down now, because Oz?"

          She trailed off, apparently not having the words to describe Oz.

          Charlie helped her out. "Oz is?hard to make out."

          "Isn't he, though," Emma agreed.

          Charlie thought about it for a moment. "Some days it almost seems like he's looking for something, only not even he knows what. And then other days I get the feeling he'd be quite happy to just bum around for the rest of his life."

          "But he loves doing music stuff with the band." Emma was quick to return to her point. "So does David. So do you. See, everyone loves what they do except me."

          Charlie looked at her for a moment, having no further comment to make, and picked her pen back up.

          Emma sighed. "Ignore me. I had a bad day in work. Hey, what's the latest on that girl you were talking about, what's her name??"


          "That was it."

          "I don't know." Charlie wrinkled her nose; feeling worried all over again. "I saw her this morning and she didn't look very well, but when I asked how she was Craig was really rude and just hurried her off before she could say anything."

          Emma frowned. "Weird."

          Charlie sighed. "I don't have a maternal bone in my body. But there's just something about her ? she seems so?so helpless. Vulnerable. Brings out all my protective instincts. I just don't know how to help. I don't even know for sure what's wrong."


          In the absence of her sketchpad Elli spent the afternoon finding alternative ways of entertaining herself, from creating patterns in the sand to carving some of the smaller pieces of wood she'd collected, tossing the off-cuts into the fire. Oz watched what she was doing with fascination for a little while, before settling in to practice some new music he was learning for the band, taking time to appreciate David's song-writing skills. Some of the chord changes were fairly complex, and he became completely engrossed in getting them down. Finally completing a run through to his satisfaction, he looked up to find Elli sitting watching him, smiling.

          "That sounded good," she told him. "But you have to eat some time."

          It was getting late, he realised, glancing up at the sky and then checking his watch, surprised to see how long he'd been at it. Elli held out a plate bearing a sandwich, bag of chips and some fruit.

          "Thanks." Oz took the plate with a little nod of acknowledgement.

          Elli took a bite out of an apple, and then nodded toward the guitar. "So, do you play anything else?"

          Oz paused to chew a mouthful of his own before answering, mulling over his high school musical career, which had been briefly varied. Since leaving he'd focused solely on his ever-favoured guitar. "Fiddle, kinda," he admitted. "Also tried my hand at brass for a while there, but that kinda blew."

          Elli rolled her eyes at the lame joke, but also grinned, amused. She glanced back at the guitar. "Do you think you could teach me?"

          Oz shrugged, considering the idea. "Could try."

          The post lunch impromptu guitar lesson proved highly entertaining for both of them. Elli had never attempted to play guitar before, and Oz had never really tried to teach anyone. She laughed out loud at herself as she tried to get the finger positioning right, and it was infectious; Oz found himself softly chuckling under his breath with her.

          "No, like this," he explained, kneeling close as he moved her hand to the proper position and glanced up at her face to check that she was taking it all in. Sitting there on the beach in the twilight, with the post-full moon rising, their eyes met, full of the mixed emotions of the past few days, his hand still resting over hers. Already very close, both leaned in closer, their lips almost touching, and for a long, frozen moment a whole universe of possibilities hung in the air?

          And then the moment was gone.

          Elli broke the eye contact, chuckling softly and setting the guitar aside as she moved away just enough for comfort. "Now that was a dangerous moment," she remarked, her tone light, but those otherworldly eyes very serious as she looked back at him again. "Blame it on the moon."

          She was beautiful, he realised consciously for almost the first time, in an unusual and vaguely otherworldly way. He still felt almost as if he were betraying Willow by even thinking that, but not quite as much as he'd have expected, instantly reminding himself yet again that Willow was in the past. It had been a whole year since they were last together in any real sense. Maybe a part of him would always love her, and miss her, but she'd moved on now, with a whole new love ? and a whole new sexual orientation too, apparently, which was?confusing. Not a good subject to dwell on. But now at last it seemed he was finally beginning to move on as well, in part at least. As for getting involved with someone else, even falling in love with someone else?maybe that would eventually happen too. One day.

          But he didn't think he wasn't quite ready for that, not yet. Not if Willow was still so much on his mind when he came close. And Elli probably wasn't the right person to move on to anyway. It would make things complicated, and complicated was the last thing he wanted in his life just at the moment. He knew he liked her a lot ? the physical attraction had always been there, unacknowledged, and an emotional bond of close friendship had formed more slowly. And she was as attracted to him as he was to her ? the wolf in him was sure of that. But he was also fairly sure she wasn't interested in a romantic relationship at this stage, and there was no point ruining a valuable friendship by complicating things. Now was kind of a bad time to be thinking along those lines anyway. Blame it on the moon, indeed.

          Maybe there was a reason life and love were so complicated?

          "We're good friends," he said, slowly.

          "Yes. We are." Elli was watching him very closely, her eyes hard to read. "Our friendship is really important to me. It's one of those attachments I'm not supposed to have." She smiled. "I love how you think so differently than most people. But, maybe that friendship itself is a good enough reason for not getting into something else that I don't think either of us is really ready for."

          Oz nodded, still holding her eyes, knowing that this decision was mutual ? the timing was bad for both of them. "Not ready," he agreed, feeling oddly relieved at being able to admit it. "But?getting there."

          "Yes," Elli admitted. "But also?" She hesitated slightly, clearly trying to decide whether or not to go on, but then slowly continued. "I promised myself when Stephen died that I wouldn't get involved like that with anyone in this world again. It felt too much like a punishment."

          Oz gave her a searching look, remembering that he'd had a similar reaction to Willow's choosing Tara ? that it was no more than he deserved for leaving her, for hurting her. Why Elli would feel that way he couldn't imagine, though. Stephen had been on her mind quite a bit over the past week or so, he knew, what with the anniversary of his death and everything, but he didn't think that was the only thing that was bothering her. And what with that and their near kiss?well, if she needed to talk it all out, this was probably a good time for it, while they were alone and still in something approaching share-mode.

          Elli studied her bare toes for a moment. "When he died, it was?" She hesitated again, struggling to explain. "I'm supposed to always be ready, for when they send for me. Just strap on my grandfather's sword and go: once more unto the breach. But I couldn't ? I couldn't live in limbo like that, you know? I couldn't live and not have a life. And then there was Stephen, and he was so sweet, and we loved each other so much. And I wanted to have that, even though I had no right."

          "Everyone has a right to love," said Oz, and was privately amused at himself for sounding so philosophical. And also kind of pleased, that she was opening up to him like this.

          "But I shouldn't," Elli insisted, clearly feeling it was important that he understood this. "I had no right to commit myself to someone here, knowing that I could be summoned at any time. But Steve knew that and he still wanted to. We were in love, and he didn't care that I might have to leave. And I was so, so?angry. Rebellious. It had been such a long time, and learning to live here was so hard, and I'd been trying so hard to do the right thing. And then there was this one thing that I wanted to have for me."

          She sighed, and shrugged. "So we got married."

          Oz sat back, curling his legs beneath him, watching her closely. "And then he died."

          "And then he died," she murmured in a very low voice, with just a hint of unshed tears in her eyes. "I kept thinking I could see him. Every time I went around a corner, he'd be there. Someone with the same hair or build, or a jacket like the one he used to wear. And just for a second, my heart would stop and I'd be convinced it was him. Just for a second. And then the next second I'd realise, and it would be just like that first moment when I knew he was gone.

          Oz almost felt guilty at that, guilty about pining over Willow for so long, when she was still alive and well in the world. But then again, he'd lost her just as completely as Elli had lost Stephen, only in a very different way. He felt he was entitled to mourn the loss of that relationship, and the future they'd once hoped to share. But he also felt that it was now time to at least start to put all that behind him and stop living in the past so much. Which would be easier, it was true, if he had a clear idea of the way forward. He didn't, so it looked as if playing things by ear would continue to be the drill.

          "And it felt like a punishment," Elli quietly continued. "For daring to presume. So that made me rebel even more, and that was why I had to leave. I couldn't stay there like that. So I took off and left all my stuff behind."

          Oz knew how this part of the story ended. "And then you met the Doctor."

          She nodded again. "Got swept off on his travels ? and I saw some absolutely incredible things ? but then I panicked." She gave a wry chuckle. "Rebelling was one thing; being completely unavailable if they called was another. I realised I couldn't keep running forever. Time to stay in one spot and wait for the call. And I landed here, so here I stay. I sent for my stuff, and now I'm waiting again. And I'm really, really not getting involved like that with anyone again. Not here and not now."

          A warm smile lit up her face, and she regarded him fondly. "Not even you, since we've already agreed that would be a bad idea. It's too hard, and you've got issues of your own, and I still can't say how long I'll be around. It wouldn't be fair on either of us."

          "Deal," Oz softly agreed, eyeing her thoughtfully, his curiosity piqued all over again about where she came from and her reasons for coming. "Do you even want to be here?" he asked, very carefully.

          Elli answered just as carefully. "I don't regret the life I've had here. But?I don't know. I can't believe my life sometimes. How did I end up here?"

          "Well, I don't know," Oz reminded her. "How did you end up here?"

          "It was Tol's idea," she admitted with a scowl, evidently in an unusually expansive mood. "And Olan's decision."

          Information. Like the 'not fully human' admission, she was letting actual information slip for once. If only a tiny bit.

          "Tol, and Olan?" he queried, and watched the walls slam back down again, as she realised she'd let too much slip.

          "People you are never likely to meet," she told him, severely. "So you needn't worry yourself about who they are."

          The 'back off' message in that statement was fairly clear. Oz nodded mildly, and set about clearing up the remains of their meal.

          "I'm sorry," Elli quietly told him a moment later. "That was rude. It's just?I really want to go home. But I can't."

          She looked so miserable, Oz wished there was something he could do that would help, but there really wasn't. He didn't even know that much about her situation, or the circumstances that had brought her to this world, other than the little she'd said about being at war.

          "Half of me is desperate to go back and find out what's happening," she mournfully admitted. "I want to know if everyone's okay. But the other half of me is dreading it, because I know they won't be and I know what I'll find when I get there. And so I stay here and tell myself I'm following orders, which is true. Not that I've ever really made a habit of doing what I'm told, but sometimes it's too important not to."

          "I'm sorry," Oz quietly told her.

          "Thanks." She gave him a watery smile. "So, that's why I'm all screwed up. What's your excuse?"

          That was a fairly blunt change of topic onto a subject that was personal for him instead of her, which was a smart move on her part, psychologically speaking.

          Oz hesitated before trying to frame an answer, eyes fixed on the sand and absent-mindedly scratching the back of his neck. His instinct was to evade the question completely, but there weren't really any boltholes available here and anyway, that kind of attitude had worked out badly for him in the past. So maybe trying to talk about it even a little bit for once instead of continuing to bottle everything up as usual would be good. But then again maybe it wouldn't.

          "Tell me about her," Elli softly continued. "The girl you left your heart with. I mean, I've got the basics, but what really happened between you? If it's okay for me to ask, that is."

          "Willow was?" he hesitated, unsure how to describe what they'd had and how it had ended. Baring of the soul wasn't something he usually went in for. "A beautiful dream, that I woke up from," he finished at last. "No happy endings. Except maybe for her."

          Elli was watching him closely, hugging her knees to her chest. "You think she's happier now?"

          "I hope so," he murmured. "I hope she's happy?"

          He usually tried hard not to think too much about Willow, especially around the full moon, when he was more vulnerable to strong emotions than in between times. It was still painful; he still missed her so much, in so many ways. Also, thinking about her inevitably brought him back to thinking about that huge decision she'd made the last time they met, the decision that had separated them so completely.

          "She fell in love with another woman," he quietly admitted. "While I was away."

          He'd never said that out loud to anyone before, and was grateful that Elli didn't say anything, just sat back and listened.

          He wondered if it would have been easier to accept if it had been another guy, if it would have mattered less somehow. But for her to have fallen for another woman?he didn't know what that meant. Their original separation had been entirely down to him, after what happened with Veruca, and his snap decision to remove himself from town, however well intentioned that had been. Was it his fault, then, because he'd hurt her so much it put her off men for life? But that was probably giving himself too much credit. So, was it a side of herself that she would she have eventually discovered anyway, even if he hadn't left her? And if so, what did that mean for the relationship they'd had? Because he'd believed so strongly in their love, and it hurt to think that he might have been an experiment in straightness before plunging into the gayer side of things.

          And, quite besides usually leading to him chiding himself for being unfair to Willow, thinking about that generally led him to start asking questions like: 'if she was gay all along, then what was I?' which was pretty much self-defeating from the start. He could argue that one around in circles all day ? and had done, many times, over the past few months. Maybe he should have seen it coming, should have known it somehow, if he'd really known her as well as he thought he did. But then, she'd had that crush on Xander for years, hadn't she? So how could he have known? He wondered if anyone had, even Willow herself. And that brought him back around to wondering again if it would have happened even if he hadn't left her. Would he have lost her to Tara, or some other girl, anyway? And if so, did that make him feel better or worse about the events that had caused them to separate? He honestly didn't know.

          He never came to any real conclusions beyond reaffirming the few things he was sure of out of the whole mess. The first was how much he'd loved her, pretty much since the day they first met, and how a part of him would always love her and regret how badly things had gone wrong between them. The second was a certainty that she had loved him back, even if not quite in the same way. But the emotional connection they'd had had been real, he was sure, and it had still been there on that last day, the last time they'd talked. But by then everything else had been so messed up that there'd been no way back. Because he'd hurt her, and left her all alone, and she'd found love with someone else, someone he could only hope would never hurt her the way he had. Did it matter that the someone else was a woman? Maybe it did, maybe it didn't. Perhaps for Willow it was the person that counted, rather than the gender. From his point of view, that was the most comforting way he had been able to find to think about it.

          "And you aren't even a tiny bit jealous?" Elli quietly asked at last.

          "No, I'm a lot jealous," he admitted. "Or, I was?"

          It was funny how the rage he'd thought would consume him in that first moment of realisation was now completely gone, leaving only bittersweet regrets.

          "Now, I just hope she's happy," he said very quietly, eyes fixed on his own feet. "That they're happy together." If they were happy together, that meant that Willow's rejecting him hadn't been for nothing. If she was happy with the choice she'd made, he could live with that. Just about.

          Elli smiled sadly, acknowledging the complexity of life and love in general, and maybe still remembering her own lost love. "Do you miss her?" she asked, glancing up at him again.

          "In lots of ways," he acknowledged with a heavy heart.

          Elli nodded. "I miss Stephen," she murmured, sadly. "He made me feel like I belonged."

          Oz looked back at her. "You don't feel like you belong here?"

          She gave a quiet chuckle that was laden with irony, sitting up straighter as if to physically push aside the melancholy that had settled over them. "Well, I don't, do I?" she said in a matter-of-fact tone. "I'm a refugee."

          "And, your folks didn't mind the getting married from school thing?" Oz asked, likewise opting for a light tone and diversionary tactic.

          "No folks," Elli reminded him.

          "Your foster mom."

          She shook her head. "Maggie was used to me by then. Stephen's parents were the ones we had to convince."



          • #6

            Part Three:


            "But most people in this world don't even see the dark things that are out there," Elli sleepily observed. "Never mind getting stuck in there to fight them. For the ones that do ? like you, f'r instance ? you have to wonder why."

            They'd talked for most of the night, about anything and everything, dozing lightly from time to time, and enjoying the peace and companionship of this last night of their retreat.

            "Conscience, mostly, I guess," Oz suggested, equally sleepily. Of course, he could only speak for himself, not for anyone else out there who'd got caught up in this world. He thought about it for a moment, watching the moon slowly sinking lower on the horizon. So often, he decided, you tended to just act without ever questioning your own motivations. "Now, anyway. At first it was just about Willow."

            He glanced across at her, curled up on the other side of the campfire, gazing into the fire. It had died down during the night, the embers glowing in the half-light. "You?"

            Elli shrugged. "Keeps my mind off other things," she admitted. "Being able to fight battles here makes me feel better about?well, enough said. I just hate walking away from a fight. And there are times when something just has to be done, and there's no one else to do it." She yawned. "I suppose it's about taking responsibility, whether you like it or not."

            "Conscience." Oz nodded, still watching the moon. It still called to him, although with the full moon period passing the call grew slightly fainter. And with his full strength now returning at last, it wasn't quite so hard to resist that call.

            Another comfortable silence came over them. Elli seemed to have dozed off, but after a while she stirred once more, shifting position to look up at the sky, before drowsily speaking again.

            "It's beautiful, isn't it? How are you doing?"

            "Good." He inclined his head slightly to look at her. "Thanks."

            She smiled. "Glad you came?"

            Oz nodded. "It's been good," he acknowledged. "I think?I needed it."

            "That's good. And, so did I." Elli half sat up, leaning on an elbow and glancing up at the dawn sky. "The big danger period is just about over now, isn't it?"

            Oz nodded again. Of course, there was perhaps still a possibility that the wolf could emerge at times other than the full moon, but that had never happened yet so there'd be no sense in worrying about it. So far, the change had only ever happened when the call of the moon was at its strongest, and only one time ever during the day.

            The sun was now rising, the last night of the full moon over. "Time to go home," he murmured softly.


            "So, no wolf problems then?"

            "Not even a hint of wolf."

            "And there was no taking advantage? Not even a little bit?"

            Emma looked almost disappointed that her chirpy interrogation of them on their return was returning no juicy gossip whatsoever.

            "No," Elli cheerfully confirmed. "No taking advantage on any side. Which, thinking about it, was a bit of a waste of a lovely romantic setting, really."

            "Definitely," Oz agreed, equally willing to tease while keeping his expression studiedly neutral.

            Emma looked from one to the other. "So what on earth did you get up to for three days, then?"

            "We kept ourselves busy," Elli assured her. "There was the camp to look after, and hunting-gathering to be done. And we talked."

            "Talked? For three days?" The look Emma cast at Oz was deeply sceptical. "What about?"

            "Oh, you know," said Oz, enjoying her bemusement. "Life. The universe. Everything."

            "And homework," Elli added. "Math, you know? And I did some lovely sketches, if I do say so myself. Except that most of them had an unfortunate accident with the tide, so I can't show them to you, sadly."

            "Too bad." Emma was still looking perplexed.

            "I should really head over to my place," said Elli. "Shower, unpack, and all that."

            She made for the back exit before Emma could ask any more questions. Oz looked at Emma and shook his head. "Me too," he said, quickly heading upstairs toward his own room.


            Lunch was the first port of call after dumping his bags. Unpacking could wait till later. Of course, a huge advantage of living above a caf? was having food on tap throughout the day. Returning downstairs, Oz sat at the usual table to eat with Emma and Charlie, who made the supreme gesture of packing a few books away to make room for them. While the two girls chatted and Oz listened, he noticed a young man rushing into the caf? towing a worryingly limp looking girl by the elbow. Interested, and slightly concerned, he watched as the boy hurried over to David at the counter.

            "I'm looking for Charlie Stafford," the boy frantically told David. "I think she?"

            Hearing her name, Charlie's eyes went wide and she turned around to see who it was, giving a little gasp of recognition. Seeing her, the boy pulled the girl over to their table, a worried looking David tagging along behind.

            "Craig," Charlie greeted him, rising to her feet to take the girl's other arm. "What happened?"

            "You said you wanted to help," he reminded her, urgently. "And I don't know what to do. Something's gone wrong, and?I'm sorry. I can't?I don't know?" He turned to look again at the girl with him ? clearly the girl Charlie had mentioned previously, Rose. She was deathly pale, her eyes glazed: clearly very ill. "I'm so sorry," he told her, releasing her arm and bolting toward the door.

            David stopped him. "Hey, hold it."

            "What happened, Craig?" Charlie pressed, lowering Rose onto the chair she'd just vacated. "Why haven't you taken her to a doctor?"

            Craig laughed, bitterly. "A doctor can't help her. I don't think anyone can. This isn't a medical problem. It's mystical."

            "What?" Charlie sounded alarmed.

            "Mystical?" Emma echoed, coming around the table to help Charlie with Rose.

            "I knew no one would understand," Craig cried. "I shouldn't have done it!"

            Evading David, he fled, escaping out into the street before anyone could stop him.

            Oz, David, Emma and Charlie all gazed at one another in dismay.

            "What the??" David began.

            Emma took charge. "This is Rose, isn't it, Charlie? Looks like you were right to be concerned. Let's get her through to the back."

            Oz helped Charlie to gently help Rose back to her feet and guide her through to the back passageway, while David went on ahead, reassuring anxious customers along the way, before disappearing into the kitchen in search of his hired help.


            In a small, rarely used lounge room behind the caf?, Oz stood to one side feeling useless while Emma fluttered around trying to make Rose comfortable. Charlie brought her a drink of water, and she gulped it down thirstily.

            "Can you tell us what happened, Rose?" Charlie anxiously asked. "Why doesn't Craig want you to see a doctor?"

            "Craig says a doctor can't help me," Rose murmured, faintly. "He says it's his fault."

            "Why?" Emma pressed. "What did he do?"

            "It isn't his fault," Rose insisted, her eyes wide and frightened. "He tried to take care of me, he did. But I just kept getting sicker. Am I going to die?"

            Emma looked stricken. "No, we won't let that happen."

            "I sent Sylvie out to watch the caf?," said David, reappearing at that moment. "How is she?"

            "I still think we should call a doctor," Emma worriedly told him.

            "Craig said that wouldn't help," Charlie reminded her. "This is a mystical thing."

            "But what does that mean?" Emma wanted to know.

            "What d'you think we should we do?" David looked at Oz expectantly, apparently still regarding him as his first point of reference for all matters mystical. Oz had no idea what they should do, although experience suggested that all possible avenues of research should be explored, and ? judging by Rose's condition ? as quickly as possible. And research generally began with assembling the entire team.

            "I think we should get Elli," he suggested for starters. She knew as much about this stuff as he did, even if three-quarters of her life experience was otherworldly. And she was good with intuitive matters, which this could well be.

            "That's a good idea," David agreed, heading for the door. "Another head for the brain-storm."

            While waiting for him to return, Emma continued to fuss over Rose, grumbling about how unorthodox this all was and muttering that they really should just call a doctor anyway. Charlie hovered nearby, looking both worried and unsure what to do, and Oz leaned against the wall by the door and waited, patiently.

            David returned a few minutes later with Elli in tow. Apparently fresh out of the shower, she was dressed but barefoot and rubbing at damp hair with a towel. She stopped dead when she saw Rose, dropping her towel onto the floor in astonishment.

            "Mother of mercy!" she softly exclaimed, completely taken aback.

            Charlie looked even more worried than ever. "What is it? What's wrong?"

            Elli continued to stare at the oblivious Rose. "How would??" she murmured, bewildered.

            "What?" It was Emma's turn to question.

            Elli couldn't take her eyes off Rose, who seemed too faint to care about the attention. "Can we talk outside for a moment?"


            Out in the corridor, everyone took turns to peer back through the door at Rose, struggling to absorb what Elli was telling them.

            "Are you saying she isn't a real person?" David asked, dumbfounded.

            "No." Elli looked equally perplexed. "She is a real person. Only not."

            "That doesn't make sense," Emma complained.

            "I know," Elli admitted, murmuring to herself: "It must be a spell, somehow. Transforming living matter from one form to another."

            "Transforming living matter?" David repeated, bemused and disbelieving.

            Oz had seen too many incredible things to doubt that this was somehow possible. "What kind of living matter?"

            Peering back into the room where Rose was now resting peacefully, Elli's eyes went wide with horror, her hand rising to cover her mouth, as if at a sudden realisation. "The clue is in the name, isn't it? Rose."

            "Say what?" David looked blank.

            Charlie looked more upset than ever. "She isn't real?"

            "She wasn't real," Elli corrected. "She is now."

            Emma frowned from one to the other. "I still don't understand."

            "You're serious?" Charlie protested. "A rose?"

            Elli peered back in at Rose again. "Very serious. She's a person, but she was created not born, probably quite recently, too. Created out of flowers ? and they're wilting fast."

            "But how do you know?" Emma plaintively asked, still confused.

            Elli looked uncomfortable at the question. "When I look at something I always see its true nature," she explained, hesitantly. "I don't understand why other people don't."
            She sighed, musing: "Probably the spell wasn't done properly. That would be why it's going wrong now."

            "There's a legend like that, isn't there?" Charlie murmured. "A magician who turned a bunch of flowers into a wife for his son*, or something?"

            "How does it end?" Emma asked.

            Charlie grimaced. "Badly, I think."

            "So what you're saying is," David slowly said, trying hard to understand. "She's less a girlfriend to this guy, and more a science project? Or, magic project, or whatever."

            "I don't know what she is to him," said Elli. "I can only tell you what I see."

            Emma let out a deep breath. "Okay. We've established that she was created instead of being born the normal way, weird though that is. But she's real now, and she's really sick. So, is there a way to fix that? What can we do?"

            They all looked at each other, dismayed and unsure, but before anyone could make any more suggestions, Mike and Mat approached, coming through from the caf?.

            "Is something wrong?" called Mat as they drew close.

            "You could say that," Charlie sighed.

            "The waitress?Sylvie, isn't it?" Mike explained. "Said there was some kind of medical emergency."

            David looked grim. "You could say that, too."

            Focusing on the problem at hand, Oz looked from one officer to the other. "Think you could do something for us?"

            "Of course," Mike instantly told him.

            "We need to track someone down," he explained. "Fast. Name's?" Hesitating, he looked at Charlie to supply the details.

            "Craig Hoyle," she obliged. "He's an archaeology student, lives on campus at Manson House."

            "On it," Mat agreed. "You aren't going to explain?"

            "Later," said Charlie, firmly. "We need you to get him back here, as fast as."

            The two officers exchanged puzzled looks, but nodded.

            "Will do, then," Mike smoothly agreed, and they took off once more, leaving the others to eye one another worriedly.

            "Now what?" Emma asked.

            "Now we look for more information," Oz told her.

            "How?" she protested. "Where?"

            "We could ask the Old Fella if he's got any ideas," David suggested.

            "I've still got some of his books in my studio," Elli put in.

            Emma turned to look at her. "You have? Why? Since when did we turn into demon-busters are us?"

            "Since we busted the demon Avnas and put out his fire the other week," said Charlie. "I'm good for book research."

            Oz nodded. "I could sign up for that, too." Book research into mystical oddness was an area he had plenty of experience with.

            "I'll tackle the Old Fella, then," said Elli.

            David looked dubious. "What if he's all locked up again?"

            "There's always a way in," she blithely assured him.

            David frowned. "I'll come with you, then," he firmly told her. "No blowing up the doors."

            He turned to Oz as Elli indignantly muttered that she wasn't going to. "What about that friend of yours? The one who told you how to get rid of the ghost?"

            Giles, in other words. Oz only hesitated for a moment. There was a life at stake, and what harm could it do now even if he got the wrong person on the phone? "Worth a try."

            "And I'll look after Rose," said Emma.

            "Talk to her," Elli suggested. "Try to find out how much she knows, how long she remembers being here ? anything."

            With that, they all headed off to go about their allotted errands.



            • #7

              Later that afternoon, Charlie sat at a table in that little lounge-room that had become a makeshift sickroom. She was surrounded by ancient tomes, researching fiercely and, so far, fruitlessly. Nearby, Emma was still diligently looking after a fast wilting Rose, while on the other side of the table Oz also had a couple of books open in front of him, but was concentrating on the cordless phone held to his ear.

              "About a week or ten days, near as we can make out," he said into the phone, and then there was a long pause while he listened. "Yeah."

              Another longish pause followed. "Okay," he said, and then paused to listen again. His brow furrowed ever so slightly as if in surprise at an unexpected question. "Oh. Yeah. Totally de-spooked now. Thanks." He sighed. "Thanks for trying."

              Hanging up, he contemplated the phone for a long moment, before laying it aside. Charlie exchanged glances with Emma, who had also been watching him while he talked.

              "He couldn't help?" she prompted at length.

              Oz shrugged. "Says he'll keep looking, but there's other stuff going on he has to take care of as well."

              "Helpful," Emma muttered.

              "It's Sunnydale," he mildly pointed out, as if that should explain everything. "Always something going on."

              Mat appeared in the doorway before the girls could question further. "Got your guy," he announced.

              He came into the room, and Mike followed, shepherding a sullen and nervous looking Craig, who looked in dismay at the semi-conscious Rose.


              "So," said Mike. "Now do we get to hear what's going on?"


              "She's going to die, isn't she?" said Craig in a very small voice.

              Everyone was now back in that crowded little lounge room, all sitting around in attitudes of dejection, except for Rose, who was barely conscious and fading fast despite everything they'd tried. Their various angles of research had thrown up information regarding several different spells similar to that Craig had used ? all extremely complex and certainly not the kind of thing a novice like Craig should be attempting just to see if he could. But they had been unable to find any way of repairing the damage caused when the spell wasn't cast properly.

              "Not if we could find a way to fix the spell you used?" said Charlie, despondently. "But no one seems to know how."

              "I told you everything I know," Craig pointed out, defensively. "I just did what the book said. I didn't think it would work?"

              "How could you be so irresponsible?" she asked him, angry now. "Just creating a living person out of nothing like that??"

              "Not out of nothing," he protested. "Out of something else. The book said the base matter had to already be living. The spell transforms life into life; it doesn't create it. So I thought, a flower?"

              "Well, you couldn't have done it right."

              "Don't you think I know that?"

              Rose stirred slightly. "I don't want to die," she murmured, plaintively.

              Charlie felt another stab of pity for her: so pitiful and helpless, and so afraid of what her future held. She'd been alive for little more than a week, and had been able to experience barely anything in that time, Craig having kept her cooped up in his dorm most of the time mainly because he was so frightened of anyone finding out what he'd done. And it seemed she'd been closer to the mark that she realised when she said that he treated her more like a pet than a girlfriend.

              "Shh," Emma murmured, trying to comfort her. "It's all right."

              "I'm so sorry," Craig sighed. "You didn't get to see anything."

              Rose smiled weakly. "I liked the conference."

              "Where you barely even let her speak to anyone." Charlie pointedly directed that comment at Craig.

              "I was scared," he admitted. "I didn't want anyone to know what I'd done."

              "So why did you do it?" Mike chipped in, looking totally bemused.

              "Yeah," Mat added. "Couldn't you get a girl the normal way?"

              "No," Craig admitted, hanging his head. "But it wasn't like that! Not really. I mean?well, okay. Maybe at first." He risked a glance up, his face now flushed with embarrassment. "None of the girls in college ever even knew I existed. I just wanted someone?someone who would be mine. And then I read this thing in a book, a spell. But I didn't think it would really work!"

              "Only it kind of did," Oz quietly observed.

              Craig nodded, staring at the floor again. "And then I had Rose?but I never touched her! I never took advantage of her."

              "Wouldn't know how," Charlie muttered under her breath, and Craig shot an angry glare sideways at her.

              "I couldn't've," he hotly protested. "I looked after her. I had to. She was?she was like my child. I made her, and she needed me. No one ever needed me before. And now she's dying, and it's my fault."

              "It isn't your fault." Rose whispered, stirring slightly again. She tried to sit up, her eyes sunken and hollow in a face that was starkly white against lank dark hair. "You tried?everyone tried. And it was good, just for a little while. Thank you?for giving me the time that I've had."

              Eyes rolling up into her head, she fell back against the cushions, limp. The deathly still form blurred, and then all that was left was a bundle of dry, wilted flowers, lying where the girl had been just moments earlier.


              "It's so sad," Emma murmured. "She was only alive for such a short time."

              The sombre little party had re-grouped out in the yard behind the Monico to bury the wilted bouquet that had once been Rose in the strip of earth Elli had taken in hand and turned from a long neglected mess into a proper garden.

              "Next summer there will be the most beautiful rose bush in the city here," Elli softly said, patting the earth down over the 'grave'.

              Craig knelt, wringing his hands and crying. "I'm sorry, Rose."


              The next day, Oz sat with a mournful Charlie at the study table, catching up on some of the work he'd missed while on retreat.

              "Mind if I join you?" Mat appeared at the table and, receiving their assent, sat down with his coffee. "So, are you okay?" he asked Charlie. "You kinda just took off last night, after?"

              "I took my bike out for a ride," she replied. "Needed to clear my head."

              "I'm sorry about your friend," he told her.

              Charlie let out a heavy sigh. "She wasn't really a friend, you know. I didn't know her long enough. But she could have been ? if she'd had a proper shot at life."

              "So weird," Mat sighed.

              "I know," she agreed.

              An awkward silence fell over them. Oz looked from one to the other, and then across at the counter, weighing up his chances of being able to make himself scarce without being too obvious about it.

              "So, I was wondering?" Mat said before he could attempt his move. "I mean, I just got off shift for the day, and I, uh?"

              He threw a 'help me out here' glance at Oz, who could only shrug. Getting his act together, or not, was Mat's own problem, surely.

              Mat turned back to Charlie. "I'm sorry. I'm usually really good at this."

              Charlie smiled at that, for the first time all day. "I have to say, that's not the most encouraging line I've ever heard."

              "I was just wondering," said Mat. "Did you want to go out for a drink? Someplace else ? change of scene."

              "I thought you'd never ask," she told him. "When?"

              Mat grinned with relief. "Now, before I lose my nerve."

              "I'm that scary?" Charlie chuckled. "Why has no one told me this before?"

              She quickly packed up her books, and they headed out to get a drink together someplace else. Oz watched them go, amused at their antics, pleased for them that they'd finally got their act together, and feeling kind of philosophical about his own chances of future happiness in the romance stakes. Finally letting go of the past had to be a good thing, painful though the process was, and for the first time he was starting to feel optimistic that he would one day find again that special something he'd once had with Willow.



              • #8



                "Nothing too exciting," Charlie told Oz as they walked together through a corridor at university the next day. "We just had a drink and talked. Agreed to see each other again. I'm in a bit of a 'let's take it slow' mood right now, so we'll see how we go. But he's really nice."

                She couldn't quite keep the smile from her face as she talked about Mat, and could see both understanding and amusement in Oz's eyes; he was clearly wondering just how long 'take it slow' intentions would last. But she was saved from embarrassing herself by gushing non-stop about her new potential romance by Sook's approach from around a corner.

                "Hi Sook," she greeted her friend. "You've met Oz?"

                "Seen each other around," Sook acknowledged as Oz nodded a greeting at her. "Do you know where Craig is? He was supposed to hand in an assignment for Townsend, and she's going mad that he hasn't shown."

                "I don't think he'll be in today," Charlie slowly told her. "He's had some?personal issues."

                "With lover girl?" Sook looked interested. "She's disappeared again, you know."

                Charlie exchanged a worried look with Oz, wondering what to say. "Yeah," she began, carefully. "About that."

                Sook raised an eyebrow. "You've heard something?"

                Charlie nodded. "I spent a bit of time with them both. Rose was?someone very special. She was visiting Craig just for a little while. But she was really ill, and?and then she died."

                Sook looked horrified. "Oh my God."

                "So, if you see Craig, be nice to him, okay?"

                "Of course," Sook agreed, still looking aghast, and took off for her next class.

                Oz looked at Charlie. "Hope-for-the-best time, huh?"

                Charlie nodded. "Something like that," she murmured, hoping that putting out a partial truth would make things a little easier for Craig now. "I think he's learned his lesson ? the hard way."


                ? J. Browning, April 2005

                *The legend Charlie refers to does exist ? the story of Blodeuwedd can be found in a collection of Welsh myths and legends called the Mabinogion, available from all good bookstores.

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