Disclaimers: I have no claim to the characters that I am about to portray here. They belong to The WB People, namely Joss Whedon and Jason Katims. Any problem with that? No? Good, then I'll continue.
Notes: So, this is a crossover between Buffy and Roswell. You know why? 'Cause they're my 2 favorite shows. And 'cause I miss Oz and I want to write a happy little fic about where the hell he's been for the last few months. But then again, do I really need an excuse? Like I said they're my 2 favorite shows! So I figure this takes place after "Blind Date" in Roswell land, and about 2 1/2 months after Oz has left Sunnydale.
The air was dusty and the road was long. Too long. Oz looked down at the odometer, surprised to find he'd traveled so far. He'd gone North at first- up to Sacramento and then to Seattle, where he'd had a great time checking out the clubs where some of his favorite bands got their start. He'd stayed for a while, then driven south again; not really caring where he went as long as he found someplace he could lock himself up 3 nights a month.
He'd been working odd jobs for cash. He'd turned into that guy- the drifter you see in old movies who ambles into town out of work and needing a place to stay for a few days. Ah well, anything was better than the thought of going home. He missed Willow so much, but he still wasn't ready to be around people. And who knows what she was up to now- he left her. For all he knew she'd gone off and met someone else. She deserved to be happy, and he couldn't give that to her now.
He turned up the radio as he passed a sign. Albuquerque- 25 miles. Roswell- 76 miles. Ahh, he was in New Mexico. Hence the dust. He pulled out his wallet, checking his fundage. $12.37 cents. Hmmm, he'd need to stop and make some cash soon. His gas tank was 3/4 full, so that wasn't a problem, but he had to think- was he in the mood for a city or a more out of the way place?
He thought about it. Albuquerque got points just for having Q's in its name. However, Roswell was the sight of the famed UFO crash. He liked the thought of Aliens. Yeah, he'd like to check Roswell out. Could be a good time. He stepped on the gas, Roswell his destination.
"I don't know, Maria. Give me a break!"
"Alex. Work with me here- you have to know someone who can fill in! Isn't anyone else you know any good?"
"I told you already. There is no one I know who is good enough to fill in. Everyone I know who plays guitar either just started or just plain sucks. They're never going to be good enough to play lead."
Maria threw up her hands in annoyance. "What are we going to do? We have a standing gig every Friday night- if we don't play, we don't get paid!" She grabbed the dirty dishes off the table she was bussing, and glared at her friend who was sitting at the counter.
Alex took a deep breath. "Maria. I realize this. This is why I brought these." He handed her one of the flyers he was holding. They read: "Wanted: Fill-in Lead Guitarist. To play upcoming gigs for "The Whits" for the next 3 weeks. Must have own guitar. Must be able to learn quickly. To schedule a tryout, call Alex." It gave his number at the bottom of the page.
Maria read the piece of paper. "Do you really think we're going to find someone by Friday?"
He walked over and hung one on the double doors of the Crash Down. "Here's hoping." He waved and left to hang them all over town.
Maria groaned and continued to wait on her tables, desperate for her Saturday shift to be over.
About an hour and a half later, Oz was driving down the main street of Roswell. He pulled up and parked in front of the UFO Center, a place he definitely had to check out at a later date. For now, though, he needed to find a job. And some food- he was starving. Exiting the van, he stepped out onto Main Street, which was liberally lined with Alien-themed establishments.
Besides the UFO Center, there was the Out of This World Laundromat, Little Green Men- the local tourist shop, and the flashing neon lights of The Crash Down Cafe. "Huh" was all he said, nonplussed, but interested in the whole Extra Terrestrial theme of the town. His stomach growled and he figured The Crash Down looked like as good a place as any to grab some eats.
Crossing the street, he pushed through the swinging door and entered the most bizarrely fun restaurant he'd ever been in. He looked at the waitresses dressed in their antennae and alien aprons. He smiled and went to sit at a table in the corner upon seeing the "Please be seated" sign.
He slid into the booth and grabbed a menu, chuckling to himself at the food choices. Saturn Rings, the Alien Blast, Men in Blackberry Pie? It all sounded appetizing. As he was perusing his menu, a blond waitress approached. "Hi, I'm Maria, welcome to the Crash Down. Can I get you something to drink to start?"
Grinning from ear to ear as he said it, Oz ordered his drink. "I'll have an Alien Slime Trail Shake."
Maria smiled at her customer, noting his spiky red hair and his casually laconic smile. He was definitely cute. What was it with her and guys with spiky hair? Mentally she shook herself, and pulled her eyes away from his. "Okay, Alien Slime Trail it is. You're braver than most."
"Yeah. Bright green slime shakes aren't exactly the most popular item on the menu. So, are you ready to order, or do you need a minute?"
"I think I need a minute. I haven't finished reading the menu, and some of these things look too interesting to skip over."
Maria smiled again as she put away her order pad. "Okay, I'll go whip up that shake, and I'll be back in a minute."
"Thanks, Maria. I'm Oz, by the way."
Surprised by his politeness, she shook the hand he was holding out. Most customers wouldn't bother to remember her name, never mind introduce themselves. Releasing her hand from his warm grip, she blushed a bit and stammered, "I'll, um, be right back."
He watched her walk away and went back to reading the menu. Maria slipped behind the counter, and began pouring the ingredients of his drink into the shake machine. A few minutes later she returned to the table carrying a neon green frappe. Placing the glass in front of Oz, she took out the order pad again. "Okay, Oz, what'll it be?"
"Well, I think I'm gonna have to go with the Captain Picard Special."
"Excellent choice. How do you want your burger cooked?"
"Rare." She raised an eyebrow, but continued to write. Personally she liked her burgers well done, but to each his own.
"What kind of cheese on that?"
"And for dessert, what kind of Pie do you want to go with your cup of Earl Grey?"
"Do you have Lemon Meringue?"
"Sure do. My mom made it herself."
"Well then I guess I'll have to try it." He smiled at her as he put away the menu.
"Cool. Anything else I can get you?"
"Yeah, actually I need some information. Are there any trailer parks around here?"
"You planning on staying for a while?"
"Actually yeah. I have a mattress in the back of my van I can sleep on, I just need someplace legal to park for the next couple of weeks so I won't get into any trouble."
"Yeah, there's a place off the old highway where they'll probably let you park it- really inexpensive, too."
"Sounds perfect. Thanks a lot, Maria. I appreciate the help."
"You're welcome. I'll go put your order in, okay?" She walked away without waiting for a response. He was sticking around for a bit huh? Well, she thought, I just might have to run into this guy again. Preferably while Michael is watching. That'd show him. Grinning to herself, she walked back behind the counter and hung the order slip on the rotating wheel for Jose.
Liz Parker came down the back stairwell to her family's restaurant in a good mood. An extremely good mood. Max Evans had kissed her last night. She could barely contain her enthusiasm.
"God, Liz, could you glow anymore?" asked her best friend, just exiting the main restaurant into the break room.
"I wasn't aware that I was glowing." she answered quickly with a grin.
"Oh please! Your cheeks are probably tired from smiling by now. It was exciting, yes, but it's not like you haven't kissed Max before."
"True. But let me ask you this. If Michael walked in here right now and professed his undying love for YOU and then proceeded to kiss you breathless, wouldn't you be smiling?"
Maria chuckled like she had a secret. "Maybe. Maybe not."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. It just means that maybe Michael is no longer of any consequence to me."
"Oh is that right? Has some other lucky young man grabbed our heroine's attention?"
"Maybe." Maria grinned and started to walk back into the main dining room.
Liz flew down the rest of the stairs and grabbed Maria by the shoulders. "You can't just walk away! I need details! Who is this mystery man?"
Maria burst out laughing. "Okay, so he's just some cute customer who happened to let it slip that he'll be in town for a while. Is it a crime to notice someone besides Michael Guerin?"
Liz shook her head. "No, absolutely not. It's just, well, he'd have to be pretty special to catch your attention. You have a hard time tearing your mind away from Michael thoughts long enough to deliver plates of food to people, never mind actually notice another male."
Maria giggled and playfully smacked Liz on the arm. "Oh shutup, dreamgirl!" Liz laughed at the reference to her dream date set up by the radio station.
"So what does he look like?"
"Well, he's still here. Wanna see him?"
Liz gave the blond a look that clearly read 'duh!' and Maria dragged her over to the diamond shaped window in the swinging door that led back to the restaurant. "Okay, he's the redhead in the corner." She pointed inconspicuously to show Liz where he was. The brunette peeked her eyes up through the glass and caught an eyeful of Oz sipping his shake.
Her eyes widened slightly. "Oooh, Maria, he is cute. And he looks like he's a little older than us, too."
"And he's so sweet- he remembered my name and even introduced himself. His name is Oz."
"Oz? Cool nickname. But what's with you and guys with erratic hair?"
"Again, I say, shut up!" Both erupted in a fit of giggles.
Oz was just finishing up his shake and fries out at his table. He picked up the bill from where Maria had left it and checked the damage. $6.25. Not too bad. He still had a little money left to get a bit of a snack later or maybe some gas. Good thing he always kept his reserve $50 for times when he had to pay to stay somewhere. Now, the task before him was to find a job that paid under the table.
Reaching into his pocket he put $8 even on the table. Not the best tip, especially since Maria was nice, but he was on a budget. He looked around the diner for her to say goodbye, but she was nowhere to be found. Ah well, it's a small town, he thought. And I know where she works.
He was headed out the door when an orange flyer taped to it caught his eye. It read: "Wanted: Fill-in Lead Guitarist. To play upcoming gigs for "The Whits" for the next 3 weeks. Must have own guitar. Must be able to learn quickly. To schedule a tryout, call Alex. 555-7835."
Hmmmm, he thought. It was a possibility. He had brought his guitar with him- couldn't go long without playing it. Addiction is tough. And he was definitely available to practice and stuff. As for being a quick learner, well, he wasn't Einstein, but he was pretty quick. Yeah, he figured it was worth a shot. Even if they didn't pay too much, it'd give him some much-needed practice, and it'd give him something fun to do at night. Cool. He pulled the flyer off the door and headed off to find a pay phone.
"So where is he staying?" Liz continued her interrogation of Maria in the back room.
"Well, he mentioned something about having a van and needing a place to park it legally, so I told him about the Trailer Park."
"The one where Michael lives?"
"Is there another one in Roswell that I am unaware of?"
"But, what if they like, run into each other, or something?"
"Who cares?" Maria shrugged her shoulders.
"Okay, apparently not you." Liz decided to test Maria's newfound Michael aversion. "Okay, if you're so over Michael, then why don't you just go ask this Oz guy out?"
Maria stiffened, her brave front crumbling. "Oh, well, I, he probably just wants to eat, and..."
Liz chuckled. "Chicken."
Maria spun on her heel to face the other girl. "Did you just call me a Chicken?"
"I did, yes."
"Okay, fine. I'll go ask him out right now, miss 'thinks she knows it all'!" Maria spun back around and headed through the swinging door followed closely by Liz. She stopped short when she realized he was gone. "Oh, no, he left. Oh well."
The blond turned to walk back into the other room to finish her break, but was quickly caught by Liz. "Not so fast. You said he'd be around for a while. Next time you see him, you have to ask him out."
"What? Liz, I don't even know the guy..." She rolled her eyes at the superior look on Liz's face. "You know what? I'm going to do it. Next time I see him. How do you like that?"
The other girl smiled. "I like it just fine." Liz held out her hand, and Maria took it and shook it. "It's a deal."
"Yep, it's a deal. Can I go finish my break now, boss?" Liz nodded and Maria walked into the back room. God, what had she gotten herself into now? As much as she had liked him, she hoped that she wouldn't run into Oz anytime soon.
"Hi, is Alex there please?"
"Hi, Alex. I saw your flyer- you're looking for a fill in lead guitarist?"
"Yeah, we definitely are. What's your name, man?"
"As in 'The Wizard of'?"
The redhead chuckled to himself. Standing outside the Trailer Park Office on the pay phone, he was desperately hoping this gig would work out. "Yeah, it's my nickname, but it's what everyone calls me."
"Oh, okay. Well, Oz, do you have your own guitar?"
"Yeah. Black BC Rich Warlock. I do need a stack to play through though."
"That won't be a problem. Do you have any experience playing with a band?"
"Yeah. Back home. I was lead guitarist in my band. We've been playing out for a few years now."
"Excellent. So you're not from around here?" Alex grinned to himself on the other end of the line at his own choice of words. Not from around here had such another meaning for him these days.
"Ah, no. Passing through. I can hang around for at least the next two weeks. Maybe three. What's the pay like?"
"Well, we usually get about $200 every time we play, so your cut would be $40. I know it isn't much, but it's a really small town."
"No, man, that's respectable. If you don't mind me asking, what happened to your regular guy?"
"Oh, well he decided he wanted to impress his girlfriend by skidding down a handrail on his skateboard. He fell off. Sprained his wrist so bad he can't even wiggle his fingers without pain."
"I can see where that'd be a problem. So, when can I come play for you guys?"
"Well, we were going to practice tomorrow afternoon anyway, at around 2. So why don't you come by at 1, and we'll see if it works out. If it does, then you can stay and practice with us. I just have to get a hold of everyone and tell them to come earlier. Is that cool?"
"Sounds good to me. Can you give me directions?"
"Sure, no problem." Alex spent the next minute giving Oz directions to his house, as practice was in the garage. "Alright, looking forward to meeting you. See you tomorrow."
"Yeah. See you then." Oz placed the receiver back on the hook and looked down at the directions he'd written down on a stray napkin he found. Didn't seem like too hard a place to find. And Alex seemed nice enough. Too bad the pay wasn't that great. Well, he'd find a day job to pass the time. He definitely had a good feeling about Roswell. Smiling, he headed off to his van to get some sleep.
At his house Alex was also smiling. The guy sounded cool, and it seemed like he had plenty of experience. He definitely had a good feeling about this.
Michael was holding her close against his chest in the Eraser Room. "Maria, I am so sorry I ever broke up with you. You're so beautiful. I think I am in love with you." She pulled him down to her mouth and left a searing kiss on his lips.
"Yeah, well, don't ever forget that again, buddy," she said as she pulled away, then began unbuttoning his shirt. Her hand was brushing over the smooth skin of his chest when his mouth opened, and a shrill sound came out. Reaching out her arm, she smacked the alarm clock's snooze button, hoping to continue the dream she was having. However, the shrill sound continued to invade her mind, and she realized it was the phone ringing and not the alarm clock.
Groggily, she reached over and grabbed the phone on her nightstand. Pulling it to her face, she mumbled "Hello?"
"Alex? What do you want? You know Sunday is my day to sleep in. It's only…" She popped one eye open to glance at the clock. "12:30. According to my calculations I still have plenty of time to sleep."
"Well, not anymore. I had a call last night from someone who wants to audition. I told him to come by at 1. So you have to get up now."
Groaning, she asked, "Why didn't you call and tell me this last night?"
"Believe me, I tried. You must have passed out as soon as your head hit the pillow, because I called like 5 times, but no one ever answered. Obviously you haven't checked your machine yet this morning."
"No I haven't. I was pretty tired last night. Sorry. I'll be over as soon as I can, okay?"
"Okay. See you soon." She hung the phone back up and stared at the clock, dreading the thought of having to get up. But such was life, and her Michael dreams would have to wait for another night. She pushed herself up into a sitting position and pulled back the covers, heading for the bathroom to take a quick shower.
Alex was just plugging in his bass when he heard a car pull up. The rest of the guys were already there, so it was either Oz or Maria, and since Maria had lateness tendencies, he figured it was Oz. His suspicions were confirmed when a short redhead poked his head into the garage. Alex stepped forward immediately, hand extended.
"Oz? I'm Alex."
Putting his guitar case down next to him, he took the younger boy's hand, shaking it firmly. "Nice to meet you. So, where can I plug in?"
A man who gets right to the point. I like it, thought Alex. "Um, right over here." He led the shorter male to a large Marshall Amp stack, and Oz smiled and nodded, taking his guitar out of the case.
He was bent over testing the reverb when he heard a distinctly female voice enter the garage in huff. "Oh god guys, I am so sorry I'm late. But my mom's car stalled again and…" Maria just stopped when she saw that the guys didn't really mind that she was late. "Okay, so where's this guy who cut my "Sleep-in Sunday" short?"
Alex smiled, then pointed to the guy bent over the amplifiers. The guy stood and turned around. "Maria, this is…"
"Oz?" she asked in disbelief
The redhead smiled. "In the flesh. Nice to see you again, Maria."
Alex looked really confused. "You two know each other?"
Maria smiled at her friend and then at her former customer. "He came into the Diner yesterday. Had the Captain Picard Special."
"Which was excellent by the way. You're in the band?" Oz asked.
"Lead singer at your service. So, we ready to give this guy the once over?" Maria looked over at the rest of the guys, each of whom nodded in succession. Maria stepped in front of the mic, and Alex took over.
"All right. Oz, we're going to play an original, you can just freestyle over it so we can get an idea of how you play. Guys, "Love Kills" on 4, ready? 1,2,3,4…"
"Isabel, I really don't understand why I need to go with you."
The tall girl spun on her heel to face him as she stood in the kitchen of his trailer pouring herself some OJ. "Because I don't want to look like a desperate groupie, okay? Besides, they're trying out a new lead guitarist and Alex said they needed impartial ears to give an opinion on how he sounds. I can't think of anyone more impartial than you."
Michael chewed another mouthful of his cornflakes. "Why couldn't you bring Max or Liz or one of your girl friends?"
"Liz is working the brunch shift, and Max is there ogling her. My friends would never be seen in Alex's garage with his dorky band mates, and you need to get out of here before Hank gets home all hungover and starts yelling at you."
He swallowed the last mouthful of his breakfast. "You make sense for once." He picked up the bowl and put it in the sink. He turned to look at her as a thought occurred to him. "Wait a minute, is Maria going to be there? This isn't some stupid idea you two cooked up to get us back together is it?"
Isabel rolled her eyes. Michael's denial of his feelings for Maria was getting old fast. "Michael, I have no idea if she's going to be there. And why would I care if you two are together or not? For that matter, why would I help Maria- you and Max are so adamant about not involving ourselves with humans." Inside she chuckled to herself. Both Max and Michael were far too gone on their respective love interests to ever be uninvolved. Good thing for her they were both too stubborn to see it, or they might tell her she couldn't hang out with Alex.
Michael thought for a moment, then conceded. "Another excellent point. Alright, let's go." He grabbed his coat off a nearby chair and followed Isabel out the door to her mom's car.
The fleeting strains of a "Whits" original song could be heard as the two teen aliens pulled up to Alex's house. As they entered the garage, they saw the familiar faces of the band, alongside a short red head. The new guy.
"Ohh, he's kinda cute. But too short for me." Isabel whispered to Michael as they sat down on a stray couch.
Michael looked at her pointedly. "Isabel, half the male population is too short for you."
She laughed as Alex bounded off the stage toward them. "Hey guys. Glad you could make it. What did you think?"
Michael answered sarcastically. "Well since we only heard about a half a note, I think we'll have to hear a bit more to judge."
Alex tore his gaze off Isabel to acknowledge Michael's answer. "Oh, yeah, sorry. Well, we're taking a 5 minute break, but if you stick around a little while, I think you'll really like it." He looked over at the red head who was putting his guitar on a nearby stand. "He's really good. Better that Jimmy by a long shot."
Isabel nodded as she watched the newest addition to the Whits make his way over to the corner of the room to talk to Maria. She smirked as she noticed Michael notice the same thing, and saw his eyes flash. Things were about to get interesting for sure. "What's his name?"
"Oz." Alex grinned.
Michael looked up at the bass player in annoyance. "Oz? What the hell kind of a name is Oz?"
"Hey. You've got a great voice." Oz had approached Maria after setting down his guitar. She smiled at him as she swallowed a generous amount of water.
"Thanks. But you're the amazing one! If Jimmy could play like you we'd be rich!"
He blushed a little bit. "Thanks. I appreciate it, but I really don't do compliments well- they make me all red and then I have to bail."
She chuckled at his modesty. "Okay, well I won't compliment you anymore, then but believe me when I say I think you got the job."
"Cool. Now I just need to find a day job. Something that'll pay under the table."
She grinned. "Well why didn't you say so? We need a dishwasher at the Crashdown, and if you explain your situation to Mr. Parker, he'll probably give you the job. He does it for people all the time."
Smiling, Oz asked, "You think so?"
Maria nodded. "Yeah sure. I've been working there forever. Mr. Parker's really nice- he's my best friend Liz's dad, and they own it. So he does what he wants. And he's usually really good to people who need help. Plus if I vouch for you, then you're definitely in."
"Are you sure you want to do that?"
"Absolutely. Liz has been looking for help for weeks." She thought about Liz and what she'd promised her she'd do the next time she saw Oz. Somehow it just seemed wrong to ask him out with Michael in the room.
"Wow. That'd be cool. I could use the cash." He looked around the garage, noticing the 2 newcomers. "Who are they?"
"Oh they're just some friends of ours. Isabel and Michael."
"If they're your friends, how come you're not over there talking to them?"
She looked up into Oz's very perceptive eyes. "It's a long story." She noticed Michael's proximity to Isabel. Those two seemed attached at the hip lately. It was annoying. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small vial, and unscrewing the cap, took a long sniff of the calming scent. Realizing what this must look like, she opened her eyes and started to explain to Oz. "Oh, it's-"
"Cyprus Oil. I know. To calm your nerves."
Her eyes widened in surprise. "How did you know that?"
"Oh, well, my gir... someone I know, she's into that kind of thing."
Maria smiled knowingly. "Ex-girlfriend?"
Oz shrugged his shoulders. "I guess. I'm not really sure. Things are complicated."
She sighed, gaze focused on Michael. "Believe me I understand complicated relationships." She took another whiff of the oil, and then meeting Oz's gaze offered the bottle to him. He laughed and shook his head no quickly and Maria laughed with him.
Michael looked at the two people over in the corner of the garage. What the hell was going on? Who did this little short dude think he was coming in here and making Maria laugh like that? Even if he had very cool hair, he had no right to walk into Roswell and just start hanging out with his Maria!
Isabel pulled her own gaze away from Alex long enough to notice where Michael was staring. She recognized the jealousy in his eyes. God, men can be so stupid, she thought. As soon as you find someone new, they get all possessive. She silently cheered Maria for moving on with her life. "Hey Alex, is it time for your break to be over?"
Alex looked at his watch then back up at Izzy. "Oh yeah. C'mon guys. We'll do a few more originals, then we'll jump into the covers, okay?"
Maria and Oz walked back toward the rest of the group, taking their appointed places. Pete's drumsticks clicked off the beat, and they started up another song as Isabel and Michael looked on.
Later that afternoon, Michael sat stupefied as he listened to Maria and The Whits churn out another great cover. Who knew Maria could sing? And look so cute doing it… He shook himself mentally. No need to go there. Maria meant nothing to him. He'd proved that by walking away from her that night at the Soap Factory Party. Yep, he was attached to no one. He forced himself to pay attention as they finished up their version of "Zombie" by the Cranberries. Not entirely his taste, but they did sound really good.
As Oz put the finishing touch on the lead, the song came to an end, and the redhead looked over at Alex who was simply beaming. Isabel stood up and clapped as they finished letting them know that they had impressed at least one listener.
"Alex, that was great!" The bass player blushed at her compliment, and shrugged it off.
"It wasn't me, it was Oz."
She looked at the redhead and gave him a winning smile, then looked back at Alex. "But it's your band. And you guys sound great." She looked to Maria. "You, too, Maria. You're a great singer. And you make the audience pay attention, you know? It was just…"
"Great?" supplied Michael sarcastically. Every eye in the room turned to him critically. "What? It was really good. I just wanted her to use another adjective."
Isabel smacked him on the arm playfully, as Alex and the boys put their equipment away. Maria was drinking more water, making sure her voice didn't get tired or strained. Michael watched as Oz approached her again, and they fell into an easy conversation. What was that about? Isabel was chatting Alex's ear off, so she didn't notice, but he was really getting pissed. He decided he needed to put an end to this once and for all. He stalked over to where his former Eraser Room companion was talking and abruptly inserted himself into the conversation.
"So, have you been playing long?"
Oz looked at him, unfazed by the interruption. Maria however looked mad. "Michael, you are so rude. Can't you see we were talking?"
He ignored her and looked at Oz, who answered the question. "About 6 years. Got a guitar for my 13th birthday, and I never put it down. I'm Oz by the way." He held out his hand, which Michael looked at it a bit hesitantly before taking it.
"Michael," he finally said and shook his hand. As his hand came into contact with Oz's, his mind suddenly flashed. He saw Oz in a cage, shirtless, talking to a shy-looking girl. He snapped back to reality, but he couldn't escape the overwhelming sense of unease the mental image had given him. Plus he'd felt a strange mix of emotions- fear, hunger, desire, and maybe a little bit of cunning. He couldn't place the feelings- they were almost animalistic.
"You okay, man?" Oz asked as he withdrew his hand.
Michael cleared his throat and straightened, putting the image out of his mind for a moment. "Yeah, sure. Just a little dizzy or something."
Maria looked at him pointedly, her eyes speaking volumes. "Well, if you're not feeling well, Michael, maybe you should go home?"
He looked at her, eyes bright with emotion, teeth gritted tightly. "And maybe you should…" he paused, biting back the comment he was about to make, "Forget it. See you later." He spun on his heel and headed for the door, calling out, "Isabel, let's go!"
Isabel took one look at him and knew he was in no mood to stick around making small talk. She was one of the few people who could read Michael Guerin, and right now, his body language was speaking volumes. Turning to Alex, she said, "I guess I have to go. But I'll see you in school tomorrow."
He smiled. "Okay, bye."
She turned to leave, but quickly added, "I'm really looking forward to the show Friday, Alex."
He blushed again and replied with a simple, "Cool," as he watched her walk out the door after Michael.
"What is your problem, Michael?"
They were driving back toward the Trailer Park so Isabel could drop him off, and he was sullen. Pouty, like a 5 year old who had been punished.
"I don't have one," he answered curtly.
"Oh yes you do, and I am guessing it has something to do with Maria and the new guitarist."
"What? Maria? Who cares about her? So what if she want to talk to every guy who shows up in town holding a guitar? I could care less what she does and who she does it with."
"Sure, Michael, keep telling yourself that." She smiled as he continued to pout. But he couldn't help it. There was something off about this guy. Something besides the fact that Maria seemed to like him so much. And he was going to find out what it was.
Back at Alex's house, Maria and Oz were standing outside talking by their respective cars. "So what time should I come by to talk to Mr. Parker tomorrow?"
Maria thought about it. "Well, I'm working the early breakfast shift before school. Is 6 am too early?"
"Not gonna lie to you- that's really early. But I do need the job, so I'll be there."
Maria smiled at his honesty. "Okay, well, just come around to the back door. I'll be looking for you."
"Okay. Do you work that early every day?"
"No. Every other. Liz and I switch off the before school shift- it's the worst. We have to be there at 5 am for all the truckers and stuff. And it's a really short shift since school starts at 7:30, but it's really busy from 5:30 to 7, so it's pretty good tips."
"Hmmm. New insight into the lives of waitresses. Interesting stuff." He smiled at her and she broke into laughter. He was really a fun guy. Maybe now would be the time to ask him out. She did promise Liz.
"Oz, I, well I wanted to ask you, if maybe you wanted to go out sometime?" She kind of stumbled over the words, unsure of herself. She wasn't used to asking guys out.
His smile widened. "Well, it depends."
"Are we talking a date? Because I really don't think that would be a good idea. Since I'm going to be leaving and, well, I just really can't get involved with anyone right now. I have too much… Well, lets just say I have issues. But anytime you want to hang out or go to the movies as friends or something, that'd be cool by me."
Maria exhaled the breath she was unconsciously holding. This was good. Very good. Because she hadn't lied to Liz- she did ask him out. But he was right- it would be too complicated to get involved if he was leaving. And she knew deep down she wasn't ready to date anyone yet. Her Michael yearnings were still too much intact. She smiled at the guitarist. "Cool. That sounds perfect to me. Just friends, hanging out, going to the movies. No dates. Perfect."
He smiled at her obvious relief. "Alright, well, I'll see you in the morning? I better practice my Trucker impersonation." He put on a silly face and said, "Does that sound good to you, little lady?" in a funny southern accent.
She laughed and walked to her driver's side door, "You're a goof. I'll see you tomorrow." Still laughing, she started the car and headed towards her house, as Oz hopped in his van, bound for the Trailer Park.
Oz rubbed his eyes as he heard his watch's alarm go off for the 5th time. Normally he wasn't a lazy guy, but 6 am wake up calls definitely got to him. Rolling over, he grabbed his little bag of toiletries and some clothes and headed for the Public Bathroom and Showers at the Trailer Park. Luckily this place was also a campground, so it had a place for him to tend to his cleanliness- wouldn't want to go meet a potential future Employer with morning breath and a 5 O'clock shadow.
20 minutes later, a slightly more awake and clean shaven (well, except for the goatee) guitarist emerged from the bathroom ready for his impromptu interview. He grabbed the keys to the van out of his jeans pocket, threw his PJ's in the back, and slid into the drivers seat ready to head off to the Crash Down.
Maria was delivering a plate of Eggs and Toast to a trucker at the counter when she saw Oz come in. Pointing to her watch to let him know he was late, he shrugged, and she smiled. It was okay; Mr. Parker wasn't down yet anyway. She slid the trucker's bill next to his plate as he picked up his fork to dig in, and grabbed her order pad as Oz took a seat at the end of the counter.
"Hey there. Glad you made it. Want something to eat?"
He smiled in greeting. "Definitely need food. And Coffee. Sorry I'm late, but I couldn't drag myself out of bed this morning."
Maria wrote coffee on her slip, and looked up at him. "Mr. Parker will be down soon. He and Mrs. Parker do the day shift while Liz and I are in school, so he'll take over right before I leave. What do you want besides coffee?"
Grabbing the menu from its holder in front of him, he perused it quickly. "2 Unidentified Fried objects, over easy, with side of ET Phone HomeFries."
"Do you want toast?"
"Bacon or Sausage?"
She finished writing and ripped the slip off the pad. Spinning she hung it on the little wheel next to the grill window and turned back to her customer. "It'll be up in a few minutes. I would love to stay and chat, but I have tables to take care of- we can talk later, before you meet Mr. Parker, okay?"
He grinned in understanding. "Sure. And thanks, Maria. I appreciate this."
She smiled back at him as she headed off to table 6 where three DPW workers had seated themselves. "You are very welcome."
Michael peered into the window of the Crash Down watching as Maria took his order. Damn that guy was quick. He'd only been in town like a day and he already had Maria wrapped around his little finger. Michael had intended to come to the Crash Down this morning for breakfast since Hank hadn't gone shopping yet again, but he'd be damned if he was going to go in there now. Well, he could always run over to Max's and have breakfast with the Evans', but that wasn't the point. The point was he had wanted to eat AND see Maria, and now this Oz guy had ruined his plan.
She won't stop smiling at him, he thought. I haven't seen her smile like that since before I dumped her. Of course, after he'd dumped her she had no real reason to smile at him, but again, that wasn't the point. What the heck did this guy have that he didn't? First off, he was way taller than the guy, and yeah, so he was a good guitarist and a little bit older and stuff, but that wasn't any reason for Maria to like him!
Of course he did seem to be nice to her, much nicer than Michael was in fact. But he had issues that prevented him from Human involvement- she knew that when they started their little fling, so she should have expected him to pull away. And just because he didn't show it all the time didn't mean he didn't care about her. Women! Always wanting things that they're never going to find. Except maybe Maria had found it with this Oz guy.
Damn- his head hurt. It was much too early and he was much too hungry for all this thinking. Stepping away from the window, and off the curb, he headed to Max's for some food. All Michael knew was the images he'd picked up on when he shook the guys' hand made him suspect. And he was going to find out what this dude's deal was before he hurt Maria.
It was about 7:15 when Mr. Parker finally came down the back stairs and entered his restaurant. The crown had mostly subsided by then, and Maria was chatting with a young man at the counter who was finishing up his breakfast. Upon his arrival she came bounding over to him, which usually meant she wanted something- time off, to switch a shift... something. He smiled as she approached, prepared to give her what she wanted. After all, Maria was his daughter's best friend and the most hardworking and loyal waitress he had that wasn't related to him.
"What can I do for you, Maria?"
She looked a bit taken aback. "What makes you think I want something, Mr. Parker?"
"You mean you don't?"
Her attempt at covering her motives blown, she acquiesced. "Okay, I do. But it's not what you think. We're still looking for a daytime dishwasher, right?"
"Yes, you know we are. Why? Did you find someone?"
Without responding, she grabbed his hand and dragged him over to the end of the counter where the young man was seated. "Mr. Parker, this is Oz. I thought the dishwashing job would be good for him since it's during the day and he's filling in for our band at night."
Mr. Parker extended his hand to the boy on the other side of the counter, and Oz shook it. "Interesting nickname. Have you done this kind of work before?"
Oz cleared his throat. "Um, no actually I haven't. But I've done other odd jobs. I'm travelling and I just need to make a little money to cover myself."
"Travelling? Alone? Where are you originally from?"
"How old are you? Shouldn't you be in school somewhere?"
Oz knew there was no real malice behind the questions, Mr. Parker was just trying to get a feel for what kind of guy he was, so he answered candidly. "I'm 19. I'll be 20 next month. And I was a freshman at UC Sunnydale, but some stuff happened and I needed some time away. By myself. To sort things out."
"Nothing to do with the police or anything?"
"No, sir. Just personal issues that I need to deal with."
Satisfied that the young man seemed trustworthy and honest, he decided to give him a shot. "Okay, Oz, I think you'll do okay here. We pay dishwashers $6.50/ hour, so it's not too much money. Are you sure you want the job."
"Definitely. And just so you know I'll probably be heading out again in 2 or 3 weeks. Is that okay?"
"Sure. We'll pay you under the table, so you can go whenever you're ready. Just let me know a day or two ahead of time. And Oz, one more thing?"
"You seem like a good kid, but I'd feel much better about this if I knew your real name?"
Oz chuckled. "Oh, sure. It's Daniel... Daniel Osbourne. My grandma calls me Danny, but she's the only one who does."
"Okay, son, just wanted to know. Oz it is." Mr. Parker smiled and headed into the kitchen, and Maria beamed at her new fellow employee of the Crash Down.
"See, I told you it'd be cool. Well, I have to jet. West Roswell High is calling me to it's halls of knowledge. And you need to get cracking on the breakfast dishes."
Oz looked up at her sheepishly. "Does this mean you're going to start ordering me around, now?"
"Every chance I get!" She headed toward the back room to change for school, and Oz smiled as he picked up his plate and followed Mr. Parker into the kitchen to get started on the pile of dishes he was sure were in the sink.
Later that day, Oz had just finished the last round of the lunch crowd's dishes when he gazed up at the clock on the wall. Almost 5 PM. Day over. Thank God. He took off the rubber gloves he had on and headed toward the front of the diner. Mr. Parker had looked at him a little strangely when he'd asked for the gloves, but when he explained how much it hurts to play guitar with damp fingers, well he'd understood and handed him a pair.
Mr. & Mrs. Parker were behind the counter, and walking over to the couple, he asked, "It's 5- am I okay to go now?"
Mrs. Parker smiled. "Sure, Oz. If you want- but I figured you might want some dinner first. On the house. Interested?"
The red head smiled at the woman. She was nice. And he could tell she desperately wanted to make sure he wasn't starving. So he accepted. "Okay. But I have to leave by 5:45- I need to get to practice for 6 PM."
"Well, we should have you out of here in plenty of time. What are you hungry for?"
Thinking about it, he decided he was in the mood for a chicken sandwich. Mrs. Parker leaned over the counter and told Jose to throw a chicken breast on the grill. Oz smiled at her as he made himself comfortable on his stool. Liz came up to him about 10 minutes later carrying his plate of food. "Oz, right? My mom told me to bring this over. I'm Liz. Nice to meet you." She put down the plate in front of him and extended her hand to him.
He shook. "You too. Maria speaks highly of you."
Liz gave him a quizzical smile as she walked away. "She speaks highly of you, too."
Maria DeLuca was taking a lovely, peaceful nap when she heard the tapping at her window. Thinking it was a branch she tried to ignore it. When it persisted, eventually becoming louder, she sat bolt upright in the bed, a look of fury on her face.
Michael was at her window. This was an interesting turn of events for sure. Groggily, she walked over to the window and slid it open. "In case you didn't notice, I was sleeping. What do you want?"
Michael ignored the tone in her voice. "I just wanted to say hi."
"Hi? Could you have perhaps called to say hi? Or do you always watch me sleep?"
"Well, I didn't know if you would be here, so I decided to just come over."
"Michael, that makes no sense. That is the purpose for which the phone was invented- to see if people are home before you make a wasted trip."
Gritting his teeth, he replied, "Well, you're here aren't you? So I guess it wasn't wasted, was it?"
"Why are you so defensive?"
"I'm not defensive." Rolling her eyes at him, she waited for him to reveal why he was there. When he didn't say anything she got a little annoyed.
"Michael, why did you wake me up? Did you have something to say to me or not?"
"I just wanted to know if you had band practice tonight."
"Yes, I do. Why?"
"Is Oz going to be there?"
"Yes... he's the guitarist for a while and we need to get used to him."
"So you'll be hanging out at Alex's tonight? All night? With Oz... And the band and all?"
"YES, I just said that, Michael. Why?"
"Nothing. I just wanted to know is all."
Her mouth formed an O as a bit of realization dawned on her. "You're jealous."
"What? You're nuts." He tore his gaze away from her so she wouldn't see the confirmation in his eyes.
"No. You're jealous of Oz. Cause he can play guitar so well. Michael, I'm sure he'd show you some stuff if you want to learn. He's a really nice guy."
He snapped. "I don't want to learn to play the guitar and I am NOT jealous. I have to go- bye." He turned abruptly and left.
"He is so weird sometimes," she muttered to herself as she looked over at the clock next to her bed. Immediately she bolted for her closet to grab some shoes as she saw that it was nearly 6. She was going to be late as usual. Alex was going to kill her one of these days.
Oz pulled into Alex's driveway at 5 of 6 and grabbed his guitar case from the back of the van. Entering the garage, he saw that everyone was there but Maria, all set up and ready to go.
Alex saw him come in and called out, "Hey! Glad you made it. For a second there I though you weren't coming back!"
Oz simply smiled and took his guitar out. Plugging into the Amp stack, he asked, "So what are we working on tonight? The originals again? Cause I think I have the lead down for Love Kills."
"Yeah, we'll go over those again real quick, but I think we really have to work on the covers. Especially where most of them you might not know how to play already."
"Let me see what you have." Alex handed him a list of the covers they played on a regular basis. "I can probably pull off most of these. How many covers would we play during the night?"
"Well really only a few, but it's best to know a bunch so you can get a feel for what the crowd would appreciate, you know?"
"Yeah. I think I'll be okay with these."
"Excellent. Now if Maria would just get here we can get started."
Behind the garage, Michael made himself comfortable near the window. He was right behind the drum kit, so they couldn't see him. He'd be able to make sure Oz kept his hands off Maria, and be able to see if he did or said anything weird. Plus, he'd have really good view of Maria's ... well he should try to keep his hormones in check, but lord knows he could only watch her backside so long before he got the urge to take advantage of her.
He shook his head. Now was not the time for that kind of thinking. He was on a mission. He had to protect Maria from this guy, and find out why he was getting this weird feeling from him. And if he was forced to stare at Maria's butt for 3 hours, well so be it. He settled in for a long night of watching and listening.
Friday rolled around rather quickly for Oz, Maria & the rest of The Whits. The week had been spent working or going to school all day, and practicing every night, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. Which they were all sure Alex's neighbors did not appreciate. But they had had such a great time working on the originals and perfecting the covers that they didn't mind the exhaustion. Oz was the perfect addition- laid back, easy to get along with and fun, he was also an amazing guitarist. He could play whatever Alex and the boys threw at him, and Maria was always ready to add her opinion and vocal talents. They had meshed and now they were ready for the big gig.
Friday's after school shift at the Crash Down was hectic as usual, but Maria welcomed the frantic pace. It kept her from getting nervous about the show. Even though she knew they were more than ready, she still hadn't completely conquered her stage fright. She glanced through the window at Oz scrubbing away at the pile of dishes in the sink. Jose had turned on the radio back there and the boys were working away to some random classic rock tune. Maria watched as Oz sang into the scrubber he was holding, and began to chuckle. He was so great- she was really going to miss him when he left. He'd become a very good friend over the past week. She'd even confided in him about her problems with Michael.
Spinning around as he heard the laughter behind him, Oz turned a little red, embarrassed at being caught singing Cream. Mischief in his eyes, he grabbed the spray hose and shot a stream of water in Maria's direction. It would have caught her in the face if she hadn't held up her hands, but that didn't prevent it from splashing all over her uniform. "Hey!" she shouted good-naturedly.
"That'll teach you to sneak up on me when I'm working." He grinned.
"Just you wait, Oz. Payback is a bitch!" Jose rang the order bell, letting her know that another one of her orders was up. She smiled at the red head. "Saved by the bell. But don't worry. I'll get you back when you're least expecting it."
As she turned to grab the food, he sarcastically asked, "Is that a threat or a promise?"
Giggling and shaking her head, she went to deliver the food to table 5.
Michael sat with Max and Isabel at Table 5 awaiting his Blue Moon Burger. The Evans siblings were chatting away excitedly about The Whits show at the Pizza Pan tonight. Max knew Liz was going to be there, so he was all excited, and Isabel was dying to see Alex and his band. That's what she always called them- "Alex and his band". She was so obvious!
Michael rested his chin in his hand, starving, but barely able to keep his eyes open at the same time. He'd been watching The Whits practice every night this week until all hours of the night, so he was exhausted. His butt was bruised from sitting behind the garage for so long, and he was angry because he hadn't gotten one shred of evidence that Oz was shady.
Isabel's voice interrupted his thoughts. "Michael are you coming to the show tonight?"
His head snapped up to see Isabel and Max awaiting his answer expectantly. They both looked so happy, it almost made him ill. "Yeah, I'm going," he grumbled.
"You don't seem too happy about it," Max noted.
"Yeah, well, it's not like I have much choice- there's nothing else to do on a Friday night around here."
Suddenly his ears perked up as he heard Maria's laughter float through the restaurant. She was in the back room- one guess who was making her laugh. Stupid guitarist. "Where the hell is Maria with my food?" he practically shouted.
As if on cue, the waitress in question appeared carrying 3 plates of food. She was smiling brightly, and trying not to drip onto their after school snack. As she was sliding the plates in front of the appropriate people, Isabel asked why she was so wet.
"Oh, Oz was embarrassed because I caught him singing Classic rock, so he squirted me." She grinned as she spoke, making Michael cringe.
Isabel returned the other blonde's smile. "You two seem pretty friendly. Is he doing okay with the band? Are you guys nervous for tonight?"
Maria slid into the booth next to Michael across from Isabel and started chatting. "He's the nicest guy, and he's doing great! He learned the originals so fast and he's amazing with the covers. I know we're going to do really well, but I'm still pretty sure I'm going to get one of my pre-show panic attacks. I'll have to bring along my Cyprus Oil. Well, I should get back to work- I'll see you guys tonight, okay?" She stood and waved, walking back toward the kitchen without even acknowledging Michael's presence.
He took a bite of his burger, grinding his teeth together as he chewed. Stupid guitarist. That guy is going down, he thought as he swallowed.
"Alex, I can't do this! I want to go home." Maria was clutching the chair she was sitting in the back room of the Pizza Pan. She had accidentally caught a glimpse of how many people had come to see The Whits play, including Michael, who was scowling in a corner. There was no way she could go out there.
Alex sat in front of her, hand comfortingly on her shoulder. "Maria, we've talked about this before. You can do this. You did great last time and you'll do great again."
"No, Alex, what if I mess up and everyone knows- what if I forget the words? Tell them I'm sick and cancel the show." Her face was white, as were her knuckles. He knew that right now there was no getting through to her. She was on the verge of hyperventilation. He stood and walked to the doorway where the rest of the band waited. Their instruments were all set up- all they needed was Maria.
Oz stared disbelievingly at the girl frozen in place in her chair. Looking at Alex as he approached, he muttered, "I know she said she has Stage Fright, but this is pretty extreme, man."
Alex looked him in the eye. "I don't know what to do. She won't let go of the chair. She's petrified. I can't get through to her."
Oz looked from Alex to Maria, and then back out the door at the waiting crowd. "Alex, give me 5 minutes alone with her. If she's not out there by then, we'll have to cancel."
Alex nodded, and hustled the 2 other band members out of the room to tune up. Oz approached the girl sitting rigidly in the room. "Maria? Hey- so you're not feeling well?"
Her eyes came into focus and her head whipped over to look at him. "Oz. I can't go out there. I think I'm going to throw up."
He squatted in front of her so that their eyes met. "Okay listen to me. I want you to take 3 deep breaths, like this." He began to inhale deeply, exhaling slowly. She followed his lead and took in some air. Her hands began to loosen on the chair, and he took them in his own. "Now look into my eyes." She complied, the terror still apparent on her facial features.
"Maria, you are an amazing singer. You know the words by heart. You are going to go out there and completely blow this crowd away. You want to know why? Because you are Maria DeLuca. And Maria DeLuca isn't scared of anything. You hear me?"
"Yeah, I hear you, I just don't believe you." She looked a little more relaxed, but was still nowhere near ready to go out there. He reached over to the table next to them and grabbed the small vial sitting there, and pressed it into her hand. "Here's your Cyprus Oil. Take a sniff, okay?"
She uncapped the bottle and held it under her nose breathing deeply. As she exhaled, she seemed to calm a bit more. "Now, he said, "I want you to repeat after me, okay?"
She nodded. "Okay."
"I am Maria DeLuca, and I'm not scared of anything. Say it."
Rolling her eyes, she mumbled it under her breath. "I'm Maria DeLuca and I'm not afraid of anything."
She smiled at Oz's wackiness. "I'm Maria DeLuca and I'm not afraid of anything."
"Once more, with feeling."
Chuckling, she said, "I'm Maria DeLuca and I'm not afraid of anything!"
"Good. Now, what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to sing."
"Are you going to forget the words?"
"Are you going to trip over a Mic cable?"
She laughed. "No."
"Are you going to go out there and kick a little ass?"
Oz gave her a stern look. "No?"
"No, I'm going to go out there and kick ALOT of ass."
"That's right! Cause who are you?"
"I'M MARIA DELUCA, AND I'M NOT AFRAID OF ANYTHING!" She shouted. "Let's go!" She stood and grabbed Oz's hand and dragged him toward the door.
The crowd had been a little restless when Oz had stepped on stage a little over a 1/2 hour ago, followed by a trying to be brave Maria clutching his hand. He had led her to the main microphone, given her a quick hug of support and stepped over to his guitar. Adjusting the Mic to her height, Maria looked at Oz, who smiled at her, then over at Alex, whom she nodded at. Alex looked to Pete, the drummer, who clicked off the beat with his sticks. "Love Kills" blared out of the instruments sounding better than ever, and Maria sang for all she was worth.
Now 30 minutes later, Michael watched as Maria exchanged a happy smile with Oz. He was ready to leave. First they'd been late getting to the stage in the first place. Michael wondered what the hell they'd been doing in that back room to make them late. Making out no doubt. Then they had to flaunt their new relationship in everyone's face by holding hands as they came out. And the kicker was that little hug he gave her- what was that about? Probably just another excuse to touch her before they started playing. This was just wrong.
They wound up another original and Maria seemed giddy. She couldn't take her eyes off Oz. He spun on his heel, about to head for the bathroom or something, when Maria's voice came over the Mic. He turned back around to hear what she was going to say.
"Hey everyone, thanks so much for coming. We're the Whits. And as you may have noticed, we have a new addition on lead guitar. Oz, come over here a sec." The red head looked surprised but stepped forward and stood next to Maria. She took his hand, squeezing it gently. "Okay, so this is Oz, he's our fill in lead guitar player. And I just wanted to publicly thank him for joining us and for helping me out earlier. See, what you guys don't know is I have really bad stage fright, and I was completely freaking out earlier. Oz was the one who convinced me to come out here. So thank you." She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek and Michael saw red.
Oz was a little embarrassed at the applause he received, and quietly stepped back to his position. Maria took the Mic again. "Okay, this is our last song before our break, so I wanted to make it a special dedication to my new pal Oz over there. I changed the words a little, especially for him. And I though it only appropriate since I'm a blonde singing with a bunch of guys that we do a little Blondie! 1,2,3,4..."
The band kicked into the pulsating beat of "Dreaming", Oz wailing out the lead. Maria stepped to the Mic and began to sing.
"When I met you in a restaurant
You could tell I was no debutante.
I asked you what's your pleasure?
A burger or the special?
You had a cup of tea
And I told you of my dreaming...
Dreaming is free.."
Oz chuckled at her changes, which only he would understand since they were a reference to his first encounter with Maria at the Crash Down. Maria grinned and continued to belt out the tune, doing Debbie Harry proud.
Michael watched their exchanges on stage and fumed. Walking back to Liz, Isabel and Max, he told them he was going to wait for the band back stage to tell them how good they were doing.
Isabel looked at him strangely, but asked if she could come to say Hi to Alex. Shrugging, he nodded, and walked to the back of the restaurant, planning to accost Maria and tell her exactly what he though of her and her new boy toy.
Maria stepped off stage followed by Alex, Oz, Pete & Johnny, only to meet the angry eyes of Michael Guerin. Standing next to him was Isabel Evans, who was grinning madly at her bassist Alex Whitman. "Hey Alex- great job out there!"
Alex blushed and smiled at the tall blond. "Thanks Isabel. I'm glad you came."
"Are you kidding? I wouldn't have missed it for the world. What songs are you going to play in the next set?"
"Oh, lots- want to see the set list?" He held out his hand to her and she nodded, accepting the offer and then his outstretched hand. Pete & Johnny rolled their eyes at the couple as they walked away. Maria still stood frozen in place, engaged in a staring contest with Michael. Oz, noting this, waved Pete & Johnny off when that asked him if he wanted to go get a soda. "I'll catch up with you in a minute guys."
Michael noticed Oz's reluctance to leave Maria alone with him and took it as jealousy. Good, he should be jealous of me, Michael thought- and not the other way around. "Maria, can I talk to you a minute? Alone?" he asked with a slightly superior tone.
"I guess." She answered. But before she got the chance to go somewhere more private for the conversation, Oz grabbed her arm and spun her around. "Are you going to be okay?" he whispered. "He looks pissed about something."
"I'll be fine, I promise. Michael may have a bad temper, bur he's harmless."
Oz nodded and stepped away from the singer. He turned to Michael. "See you later, man." He thrust out his hand to Michael. Michael reluctantly accepted it. "Yeah, later." But no sooner were the words out of his mouth than he got another flash- this time of Oz in the cage, and he was hunched over in pain. Low growls were coming from his throat and his thoughts were vicious- all blood and gore. Michael stepped away from the shorter man and let him pass.
As he watched Oz walk away, he grabbed Maria's arm and directed her into the nearest empty room, which happened to be the broom closet.
Michael slammed the door behind them and grabbed the string hanging from the light. Pulling it down he illuminated the closet, and noticed Maria's look of shock. "What?"
"What do you mean what? You dragged me in here and slammed the door. What is so important?"
Gnashing his teeth together, Michael started in one her. "Okay, I am only going to say this once, so let me say it. You are making a fool of yourself over that guy! He's all you ever talk about, and you laugh at all his jokes and you never shut up about how good a guitarist he is. And fine, if you want to be with some short stranger or whatever, it's your choice. But you don't have to throw it in all our faces- what were you two doing back here before the show anyway? And don't give me some bullshit story about stage fright. You came out there holding his hand- and what was that hug and kiss about? But whatever, fine, be with him. I just think you should know that twice now when I've shaken his hand, I have gotten really weird vibes from him. Animal-like vibes, like he wanted to eat someone for dinner, and there was a cage and some red-head chick who is in love with him I think- so just be careful." Having finished his tirade, Michael shut his mouth and stared at her, waiting for a response.
Her mouth had dropped open, and she was having trouble closing it. "A...are you finished?"
Closing his eyes and thinking for a minute, Michael responded, "Yes."
Maria stepped closer to him and leaned up to press her lips against his. Reacting with all the emotion he had put into his speech, he buried his hands in her hair and pressed her up against the back of the closet. Minutes later, they broke apart, and Maria looked up at him with amusement in her eyes. "I'm not with Oz."
Michael's eyes narrowed to slits. "What?"
"Oz and I aren't together. We're just friends."
"Then what… but… and… hand holding… hugs…I mean." Michael closed his mouth trying to form a coherent sentence. "You mean you really have stage fight?"
"Yeah, I do. I know it seems stupid now, but ask Alex. I couldn't even get out of my chair 10 minutes before we went on."
"So Oz calmed you down. That's it? No kissing?"
Maria laughed. "No, no kissing. He made me breathe and sniff some Cyprus Oil. But that's it, really."
Michael released the breath he had unconsciously been holding. "So, you don't you know, like him?"
Smiling, Maria stood on her tiptoes and kissed the tip of Michael's nose. "If I did, would I do this?" She tilted her head to the side and began kissing and licking a trail from his earlobe to the base of his throat.
Michael gulped hard. God, the thoughts this girl inspired in him with her kisses. "No, I guess you wouldn't." He grasped her shoulders and pulled her away from him to look into his eyes. "But I did get those weird flashes from him, Maria. I don't trust him. I mean how well do you really know him?"
She shook her head. "Michael you're paranoid! Oz is completely trustworthy- he wouldn't hurt me or any of us. He's cool I swear."
"How can you be so sure? What do you know about him?"
"I know enough to know that he's not dangerous. You are just jealous."
He frowned, then looked back down into her eyes. "Well maybe I am. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be careful around him, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'll be careful. But I am telling you, Michael, he's harmless. I am an excellent judge of character. After all I picked you didn't I?" She grinned up at him in a way that made him completely lose his previous anger. He gave her a self-assured grin.
"Oh you picked me, did you? Picked me over who exactly?"
Making a face at his cockiness, she exclaimed, "Over my own better judgement, which is reminding me at this very moment that you are so not worth my time!" She pushed him away, annoyed, but as she was about to exit, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her back to him. He caught her around the waist and pressed her tightly up against his chest.
"How long before you have to be back onstage?"
She gazed down at her watch, and whispered, "About 10 minutes."
"Good. Cause I can think of much better ways to spend 10 minutes than arguing about Oz." And with that his lips descended on hers, ending all rational thought in either of their heads.
After the second set, The Whits were breaking down their equipment while Max, Liz, Michael & Isabel waited for them. It had been decided, mainly by Maria, that the six friends would welcome Oz into their little circle by letting him hang out with them at the Crash Down after hours.
As Alex, Johnny, Pete, & Oz finished loading their equipment into various cars and trucks, Maria, being the lead singer and therefore exempt from heavy lifting in her mind, made her way across the Pizza Pan to Michael. "Hey," she muttered quietly.
"Hey," he responded, wanting to take her in his arms, but very conscious of the people around him.
She made the move for him though, reaching out and taking his hand in hers. "So, are you coming to hang out at the Crash Down with us?"
"I dunno. Do you want me to?"
Maria grinned at his uncertainty. "Of course I do. Why else would I ask?"
"Okay, then I'll come. Is Oz coming, too?"
"Yes, he is, Michael. I invited him. Is that going to be a problem for you?"
Michael shook his head vigorously. "No, no problem."
"Good. I want you to get to know him. He's a great guy, and I think that once you talk to him a bit, you'll see that. Then maybe you'll drop the whole jealousy/suspicion act. Does that sound like a plan?"
Rolling his eyes, Michael nodded. "Okay, fine. I'll get to know him."
Maria smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you. I have to go see if the guys need any help wrapping up cables or anything. See you in a little while, okay?"
He reddened at her public display of affection, and mumbled a goodbye as she walked away. Oh yeah, he thought, I'll get to know him all right. And I'll figure out what the hell the runt is hiding from us. He's dangerous, and I'll be damned if I let him hurt Maria.
Sitting in a booth at the diner an hour later, the group was making idle chit chat and stuffing their faces with appetizers and ice cream. Michael was sipping on an Alien Blast with his arm slung around Maria's shoulders. The lead singer of the Whits was talking girl talk with Liz and Isabel, while Max and Michael sat quietly listening to their chatter and eating. Oz and Alex were seated in chairs they had pulled over from an adjoining table and were talking music.
"No way, man, The 80's had some very cool music. I mean, don't get me wrong, the 70's were cool, but they just had too much disco."
Alex shook his head. "Dude, the 70's was where everyone took the music to another level. Forget disco. That was just a blip on the radar."
Oz smiled at the younger musician, nodding his head. "Okay, Alex, I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree here." Michael sipped the last of his drink and noticed the girls' conversation had also come to a halt. He took this as a sign and made his move.
"So, Oz, where are you from?"
All eyes turned to look at the guitarist. He was the stranger of the group, and they were all hungry for knowledge of the world outside Roswell, New Mexico.
"Sunnydale, California," was his short reply.
Michael, knowing the guy couldn't avoid a direct question, asked, "Why did you leave?"
Maria turned to face him. "Michael! Don't you think you're getting a little too personal?"
Feigning innocence, he looked at her wide-eyed. "What? You said to get to know him. I think knowing why he left his hometown and suddenly showed up in ours is a good start."
Gritting her teeth, Maria turned to Oz. "You don't have to answer him if it makes you uncomfortable."
Oz simply smiled. "No, it's okay. I knew it was bound to come up sooner or later."
Liz's inquisitive nature took over. "So why did you leave home?"
Oz cleared his throat and started to speak. "Well, to be honest, I needed some time away. To figure my life out and stuff."
Isabel leaned over the table, drawn in as well. "Why? Did something happen?"
Oz stared into his soda for a minute, then brought his eyes up to the group. "Yeah, actually something did happen. With my girlfriend."
Maria was hooked now, too. "She didn't die or anything, did she?"
He smiled. "No, she didn't die. She's fine. Or, at least she was when I left."
"What happened to her?" asked Max.
Oz thought about things for a minute. He wanted to be honest with them, but how could he explain the Veruca situation without telling them the whole truth? He began slowly. "There was this other girl. Who thought she and I should be together. She tried to hurt Willow."
"Willow is your girlfriend?" Alex asked, clearing up a little confusion.
"Yeah, Willow was my girlfriend. I don't know if she is anymore. Especially cause I just picked up and left her."
Michael looked confused. "But why did you leave? I mean, it's not your fault some chick went Stalker on you, right?"
"No, I guess it's not. But that doesn't mean I don't feel responsible for what happened. I just needed time away- to make sure that I'm what's right for her. Cause if all I do is cause bad things to happen to her, then why would I want to put her through that?"
Oz sipped his soda, then looked up into Maria's eyes, which seemed so sad. "But, don't you love her?"
"Of course I love her. But I want to make sure I can be what she needs. And that means finding myself first. Do you understand?"
Isabel nodded, not daring to look at Alex. "I do. You have to know yourself well enough first before you can commit yourself to someone else."
Oz nodded. Liz looked over at Max sadly, then turned back to the guitarist. "Did you tell her that before you left?"
"I tried but, you know, it's hard to explain to someone that you're not leaving because you don't love them, but because you want to make sure you're good enough for them. I want to be what she needs. I just hope she understands that."
Maria loosened herself from Michael's grasp and moved to hug Oz. "I bet she does. She was probably really hurt at first, but I bet she gets it now. Besides, anyone can tell that you're worth waiting for."
Michael looked annoyed at Maria's loyalty to the red head, but kept his mouth shut. She pulled out of his arms and looked him in the eye. "Besides, if this Willow chick doesn't understand why you needed to leave, then she's not worth your time."
Oz smiled at Maria's protectiveness. "Oh, she's worth it. Believe me she's worth it."
The girls were deeply interested in a guy who could be so sensitive. "What's so special about her?" asked Isabel.
Maria moved back to sit with Michael, as Oz though of a way to describe Willow's specialness to the group. "She's just... amazing. She's everything to me." He reached into his back pocket and withdrew his wallet. Opening it, he pulled out a battered picture. "This is her." He handed the picture to Isabel.
Izzy looked at the picture scrutinizing the slight red head. Oz was right about her. There was nothing specifically spectacular about her, but there was something special in her eyes. She felt the emotions coming off the picture. "She really loves you, you know." Max's kick to her shin under the table brought her back to reality. "I mean, it looks like she's really happy here- the way she's looking at you. I can just tell she loves you."
Oz smiled at the tall blond. "Thanks." Isabel handed the picture to Maria, who flashed it at Michael, then handed it on to Liz and Max. Alex got it last. Nodding in approval, Alex handed the picture back to Oz. "She's cute, man. Great smile."
"I know." Oz put Willow's picture back into his wallet and stood up. "Well, now that I have completely heavied you all out, I think I'll take my leave. Maria, Liz, see you tomorrow morning for the breakfast shift?" The girls nodded. "Alex, what time is practice tomorrow?"
"Is 4 okay? You guys will be done here right?" The three Crash Down employees nodded and Alex confirmed, "4 it is, then."
Oz held out his hand to Max. "Max. Nice to meet you, man." Max shook his hand, pausing briefly mid shake, then released. Oz offered his hand to Michael, who also shook it. "Nice to see you again, Michael." He put his hand on Izzy's shoulder. "You, too Isabel." He turned and walked toward the front doors. The three humans were quiet, and didn't notice the worried glances the Alien trio exchanged across the table.
As Max and Liz bid goodbye to one another, Michael and Isabel were seated in the jeep whispering.
"Did you feel that? I mean when he touched you?"
"Yeah. And I've felt it before. When I shook his hand for the first time at band practice and again at the concert. It's strange. I don't like it."
"Well neither do I. I want to know what it means. Who is this guy?"
"That's what I want to know," Max stated as he hopped into the driver's seat and started the car, pulling away from the curb. "I guess you two got the flashes, too?"
"Yeah, and Michael's gotten them before. Twice."
Max spun around to stare at the boy in the backseat. "You've gotten two flashes from this guy before and you didn't feel the need to mention it? What if he's an Alien Hunter or something?"
Michael scowled at him. "I don't think he knows about us. But there is definitely more than meets the eye with this Oz guy. I'm just glad you two got the flashes too. Now I know I'm not just crazy."
"Or jealous," added Isabel.
Michael made a noise of disgust and looked down at the floor. "Either way, I don't think he's after us. The flashes I got were weird, like he had all these other emotions that he was hiding. But not emotions, more like... evil impulses. Like he was going to..."
"Change. Turn into someone or something else," Max finished.
Michael's eyes lit up. "Do you think... he might be Nacedo?"
Isabel shook her head. "I don't think so. If he was, I think we'd have sensed that, too. Wouldn't we?"
Max shook his head. "I don't know. But we can't be sure of anything. Maybe he is Nasedo, or maybe he's something else. But in either case we have to keep an eye on him. He's dangerous. I could feel it. Those images... they felt... I don't know how to describe it."
"Scary." said Isabel.
"Primal." added Michael.
"Uncontrollable." Max stated. "I got the feeling that he didn't want to hurt anyone, but he can't stop himself."
Isabel too the opportunity to freak out. "God, what if he's some Serial killer? And he's sitting in the band with Alex & Maria. He could kill them- chop them into little pieces and bury them in the desert and we'd never find them again!" She exhaled as the last hysterical statement exited her mouth.
Michael leaned over the seat and squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. "We'll protect them Isabel. Nothing is going to happen to Maria and Alex. I promise."
Max took control of the situation again. "First things first. We have to find out where he's staying. Michael, see if you can't get Maria to tell you. And I don't want us to leave either Alex or Maria alone with him. That means one of us has to be at Band practice or at the Crashdown when he's there. And once we find out where he lives, one of us has to follow him home and see what he's up to, okay?"
Michael looked at Isabel pointedly. "And try to act normal around him- don't freak out and call him a Serial killer. That might let him know we're on to him."
Isabel ignored him. "And maybe we should find out more about what happened with him and his girlfriend. I mean, when I held her picture I could feel how much she loved him. She wasn't scared at all. So maybe something bad happened to her that made him crazy or whatever, and he blocked it out, and that's why he ran away."
Max nodded. "Good idea. Just try to find out as much about him as possible without letting him know we're checking up on him. And I don't want him to find out about us either, so no dreamwalking for now, Izzy."
She nodded, and he looked in the rearview mirror at Michael. "Do you think you can keep this low key? Not get upset when he's too close to Maria?" Michael nodded solemnly.
Max continued. "Okay, so we're agreed. We need to remain calm and rational and try to get as much information as possible without tipping him off. We start tomorrow. Isabel, you be at that band practice at 4, and Michael, call Maria earlier in the day and spend some time with her- see what she knows. I am going to talk to Liz and her dad to see what they know about him. Okay?" Isabel and Michael nodded again, ready for their coming mission as Max continued the drive toward the Trailer Park to drop off Michael.
Oz pulled his blankets up around him. Even though it was warm out, it always made him more comfortable to sleep with covers. Out the back window of the van, he could see the moon hanging in the sky above Roswell. The full moon was coming soon. He could feel it. Quickly he rolled to his side and grabbed the calendar he kept under his front seat. Tomorrow is Saturday and the full moon is Tuesday, he though to himself as he looked over the page. The picture was of kittens. Willow had given him this calendar to track his wolfy nights, and she had hoped the kitten motif made him smile. It always did. Everything Willow did made him smile.
He thought about the conversation he'd had earlier with the group at the Crash Down. He liked to talk about Willow, made him feel closer to her, even though she was so far away. And he knew he wasn't ready to go back. Someday, when he had things figured out and his wolf under control, yes, he would go home to her. But for now, he would have to be content to tell Maria and her friends about the amazing girl he'd left behind in Sunnydale.
Though it was hard to get into the story without them asking too many questions that he didn't have answers for. Better to keep things vague in the future. After all, he didn't want to lie to them, but he didn't need them finding out what he was. That would freak them for sure. He had 2 days to come up with an excuse for Alex as to why he couldn't practice Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday nights. Something vague but plausible. Maybe he could skip work too and say he was going to visit nearby relatives. Nah- he needed the money too badly.
He rolled back over to find a comfortable position to sleep in, finally curling one arm underneath his head and staring at the moon again. He'd think of something. After all, wasn't he the guy with the highest SAT scores to ever repeat senior year at Sunnydale High? He drifted off to sleep thinking of Willow and what she was probably up to back home.
The next morning Michael woke up around 10, and after having a bowl of cereal, reached for the phone to call Maria. He let it ring a few times before hanging up. No one was there. Then he remembered that Saturday mornings she and Liz both worked the breakfast shift. I guess I shouldn't have eaten that cereal, he thought to himself as he pulled on a shirt and a clean pair of jeans. Ah well, I'm always in the mood for Crash Down food, he figured as he stepped out the door of the trailer and started the walk to the center of town.
Meanwhile at the Evans house, Isabel and Max were both up and about as well. Isabel sat in her bedroom still in her PJ's when Max knocked on the door. "Izzy? You up?"
"Yeah, come in."
He opened the door and entered, closing it behind him. "I just wanted to tell you that I'm going over to the Crash Down now. It's late enough that the breakfast crowd should have died down a little, so maybe Liz'll have time to talk to me about Oz."
"Okay. I'm going to call Alex and see if I can go hang out with him this afternoon. I'll pump him for Oz information and then I'll invite myself to stay for practice. Not that I think he'd throw me out anyway."
"What makes you say that?"
She stood up and walked over to her closet, pulling out a new red, low cut spaghetti strap tank top. She held it up in front of herself. "Because this is what I'm wearing today."
Max smiled. Alex didn't stand a chance.
As Michael reached the diner, he started to think of some of the questions he needed to ask Maria, and how he could phrase them without her getting suspicious. This was not going to be easy.
He yanked open the swinging doors and stepped into the bustling restaurant. He quickly spotted Liz behind the counter and she waved to him. He raised his hand in acknowledgement and continued to scan the room. Liz pointed toward the break room, and Michael smiled his thanks. This would be easier of they were alone anyway, he thought as he walked toward the back room.
The sounds of female giggles greeted him as he got closer, and he peeked in the window before entering. Oz was sitting next to Maria on the couch laughing with her about something. It made him nervous. Before Max and Izzy had the flashes about him, too, he just thought he was overreacting or jealous when he saw Oz with Maria. Now he knew for sure that there was something off about this guy, and that fact had stirred up a protective urge in Michael that wouldn't go away. He was using all his self-control he had to not barge in there and pull her away from him.
Taking a deep breath, he pushed through the door and the couple on the couch looked up at him. "Michael!" Maria said happily as she bounded off the couch to give him a quick kiss. "This is a surprise."
"Hey, Michael." Oz said from his position on the couch.
"Hi." Michael said quickly to Oz, before looking down at Maria. "Hi to you, too. I hope you don't mind me stopping by. I called your house but there was no answer, so I figured you were working. I thought we could hang out after you get done here if you're not too busy."
Maria smiled at Michael, pleasantly shocked that he wanted to spend time together. "Um, okay, sure. I get out around 2. Want to meet me at my house?"
"Sure. Good idea. I'll be there at 2 then."
Oz stood up and headed back toward the kitchen. "I'll leave you guys alone for the rest of your break, Maria. Besides, I bet Jose's cursing me right now for letting the sink overflow with dishes. See you later, Michael."
"Bye." Michael said as he watched the red head exit. "So," he said turning back to Maria, "what's so funny?"
She looked up at him in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"Just that when I walked in you two were hysterical. I just wondered what was so funny?"
"You know I can't even remember. Seeing you has wiped all other thoughts out of my mind." She giggled as she said it, letting him know she was teasing him.
"When is your break over?" Michael asked.
Maria looked down at her watch. "7 minutes. Why?"
"I wanted to know how much time I had to waste before my favorite waitress could serve me Pancakes & Tabasco. Know any good ways to waste 7 minutes?"
Maria smiled as she drew him toward her for a kiss. "I know a few."
Later as Michael was wiping up his plate with the last of his maple syrup and Tabasco drenched pancakes, Max walked into the diner. He waved at Michael who nodded casually and walked to the counter where Liz was serving breakfast to a trucker. "Liz, do you have a minute?"
"Um, sure, Max. Just let me drop off one more order and I'll be right with you." She grabbed a plat of scrambled eggs off the counter where Jose had just deposited them and set them down in front of an elderly gentleman. She turned and walked toward the break room, Max following behind her.
"So what's up?" she asked as they reached their destination.
"Oh, I just wanted to ask you, how much are you paying dishwashers these days?"
She looked at him strangely. "Why?"
"Well, I'm kind of getting sick of the UFO Center. Thought I could use a change. And Oz is leaving soon, right? Like in a few days?"
Liz raised an eyebrow as she responded. "No, actually he'll be here for about another 2 weeks."
"Oh. But you'll still need someone after he's gone, right? I mean, he hasn't mentioned staying here for an extended time period, right?"
"No, no he hasn't and yeah I guess we will be needing a dishwasher eventually. I think my dad's giving him $6.50 and hour. But it's under the table so no taxes."
"Oh. I see. Under the table. So your dad never got his social security number or saw his driver's license or anything. No paperwork."
"No, when my dad hires people who need the cash and aren't going to be here long, he usually dispenses with the formal paperwork. Max, are you okay? I mean this is kind of out of the blue."
Max stumbled in his thought process. He thought for a moment before answering. "Oh, well, I know, but like I said, the UFO center is getting boring, so I might want to change jobs."
Liz laughed. "If you would rather wash dishes here that work at the UFO Center you have a strange definition of boring, Max."
He smiled. "I guess you're right. But have your dad keep me in mind for when Oz goes. In fact, is it okay if I talk to him about it at some point?"
She still looked confused, but she nodded in the affirmative. "I guess so, Max, sure. Well, I have to get back to work. See you later." Liz spun in her heel and headed back toward the dining room, leaving Max to ponder the fact that no one knew anything about Oz except for what he'd told them. And let's face it, a guy who gave off a vibe that dangerous wasn't likely to be telling the whole truth.
Isabel had made herself comfortable on the Whitman's couch. Alex was off getting her a soda. She let one of the straps of her tank top slide down her shoulder and leaned back on the couch, legs crossed. Her shorts were very short, and Alex was sure to be distracted by the amount of skin she was showing today. Distracted enough to not even think twice as she quizzed him about Oz.
Alex reentered the room and nearly dropped the glasses he held in his hands. Isabel... red... his couch... shoulder... legs... Isabel smirked. She could practically see the gears in his mind working overtime. Men were so easy to distract.
"So, Alex, are you going to give me that soda, or let me sit here thirsty all day?"
His eyes snapped back into focus. "Oh, sorry. Um, here." he walked over and handed it to her. She patted the cushion to her left, an indication that he should sit next to her. He gulped hard and then complied. His back was ramrod straight and he looked very tense.
"Alex? Are you feeling alright?"
"Oh yeah, I'm fine, Isabel."
"Are you sure? I wouldn't want you to be sick. I thought you might let me stay to watch band practice, but if you aren't feeling well..."
"Oh no, I swear, I'm good. You really want to stay?"
She smiled at him and ruffled his hair a bit with her free hand. "Of course, silly. I love the way you guys sound. You're all so good. Especially you. And Oz. He's really good, too."
"Yeah, he's great. You think I'm good?"
"Alex, it's your band! You are the mastermind. And the one who found Oz to fill in. You're so smart. I bet he's in a band back home, isn't he? In Sunnydale?"
"Yeah. "Dingoes Bit Me" or something weird like that. He used to live with them all in a house off campus."
"Off Campus? You mean he was in college?"
"I think he said he was a freshman at UC Sunnydale before he left."
"Was he studying music? Or something else? It was such good thinking to get someone with a musical background."
"Oh, well, thanks. No, he never mentioned his major. He just always talked about playing gigs at the school. I get the feeling he had a lot of fun."
"Really? He seems so quiet. If he had so much fun, why do you think he would leave? You think Willow broke up with him?"
"You know, I never asked. I got the impression something happened with them, you know, more than a regular break up or fight. Something major. But he doesn't talk about it much. What's with all the questions about Oz?"
Uh oh, she thought, I better pour it on thick if I want to fool him. "Just his story last night got me thinking. And I was thinking it might be nice if he stayed with the band for a while. I mean, you guys could be famous. Especially you, Alex." She traced her long finger over his knee as she spoke, and his eyes nearly bugged out of his head.
"I don't think he's staying much longer. A couple of weeks at the most. Do you really think we could be famous? Or are you just pumping me for info because you like Oz?"
Isabel feigned shock. "Me and Oz? Alex you've got to be kidding. After all, if I liked Oz would I do this?" She placed her hands on either side of his face and gently pressed her lips to his. She pulled away, amazed at the look of pure lust on Alex's face. She's never seen him so worked up. Maybe she'd overdone it...
Before she could finish the thought, Alex's hand reached behind her and gently pulled her face to his for a deeper kiss. Now wasn't the time for this- she was supposed to be getting info about Oz. She went to speak, but her lips just kept kissing. "Mmmmm, Alex..." was the last thing Isabel could say before her brain completely shut off.
Meanwhile, Michael waited in Maria's bedroom for her to get home from the Crashdown. Her mother wasn't home, so he figured he'd just climb in the window and wait for her. It was now 10 past 2. She should have been here already. I knew I shouldn't have left her there with him around, he thought to himself. He's probably already planning to kill her and bury her body out in the desert. He was about to go get her when he heard her front door open. "Mom?" she called out. "Are you home?"
He came busting out of her bedroom. "No, she's not here. What took you so long?"
"It's only 2:14, Michael."
"I don't care. You said you'd be here at 2."
"No, I said I got off at 2. I didn't know you'd be so eager to see me or I would have gotten here sooner. Besides, I was just talking to Oz."
"Talking to Oz? About what?"
"Oh, Michael, you're not going to start this crap again are you? Because I told you, Oz and I are just friends."
Michael crossed his arms in front of him. "Friends, huh? If you're such good friends, how come you don't know anything about him?"
"I know stuff about him!"
"Oh yeah? Like what? Where is he staying? Why is he in Roswell, anyway? How come he just left home on the spur of the moment?"
"Well, not that it's any of your business, but he's staying in the Trailer Park in his van. He's just passing through town, trying to make some money so he can keep going on his little tour across country. And I guess he left because he wanted to take a trip, okay? What do I care? I like him, he's fun and he's nice and he fits in great with the band. What else is there to know?"
Michael blew out an exhausted breath as she finished her tirade. "He's staying in the trailer park? In his van? And he's just passing through? Doesn't that sound a little bit strange to you? He's like 19 years old travelling across country by himself with only his van to sleep in. Which by the way, he better not have ever invited you back to because I'll kill him!"
Maria burst out laughing. "Michael, you are so paranoid. Which I can understand, because being what you are, yes there is a lot of danger out there for you. But Oz is normal. He's not some crazed killer or sex fiend trying to lure me back to his van to do who knows what with me! I swear you've seen one too many scary movies." She quieted and the steam of Michael's anger dispersed.
"I'm just looking out for you," he said quietly.
"I know, sweetie. And for that I thank you. But I hate having this conversation over and over again. Will you drop it?"
"Fine, I'll drop it. But first promise me 2 things."
"Number one, never, ever, under any circumstances go back to his van. Because if you like him so much I don't want to have to kill him. And second, please don't call me sweetie."
"Okay, I promise." She smiled at him slyly. "Honey." She added with a smirk.
"Oh, you're so gonna get it!" he yelled, grabbing her and throwing her on the bed to tickle her to death.
Later after the band had packed up their equipment, Isabel waved goodbye to Oz as he walked out of Alex's garage. She gave Alex a hug and a little kiss and walked out to her mom's car, which was parked in the Whitman's driveway. She watched the guitarist put his guitar in the back of the van, then hop into the driver's seat and take off. She grabbed her cell phone and dialed.
"Max, it's me. He just left. Did Michael find out where he's living?"
"Yeah. Maria says he's staying at the Trailer Park in his van. I'll call Michael and let him know to be on the lookout for the van. He's going to spy on him tonight to see if he does anything weird."
"Cool. I found out some good information from Alex. I'll be home in 10 minutes. Tell mom, okay?"
Max hung up and dialed Michael's number. He picked up on the 1st ring. "Michael, he just left Alex's."
"I'm on it."
"And remember, you don't have to do anything to him. Just watch him and let us know if he does anything strange, okay?"
"I won't touch him, Max." He hung up the phone and walked out of the trailer toward the entrance to the park. "No, I won't touch him. Unless he deserves it."
Michael watched with interest from the bushes as the van pulled into the trailer park. "Took him long enough", he mumbled as he watched it turn into a spot about 500 feet from the entrance in temporary parking. Slowly he crept over to the van and watched as Oz got out of the driver's seat and pulled open the side door revealing a mattress and a few pillows scattered around the back of the vehicle.
"Probably put it in there to trick groupies and beautiful blond lead singers into sleeping with him." Michael mumbled under his breath. "Stupid guitarist."
Oz reached into the recesses of the van and withdrew a large bag, from which he pulled out a toothbrush and a pair of pajama pants. He slid the door shut and walked toward the public bathroom. As he left, Michael crept closer to the van and peeked inside. Nothing seemed weird. His guitar case was in there along with a few bags that probably had clothes and stuff. Michael thought for a minute. What if they had evidence inside them- like weapons or something? He knew what he had to do.
Grasping the door handle he quickly opened the door and started looking through the first bag he saw. Nothing- clothes. He grabbed a second one and opened it. They all smelled like the Crash Down. That must be his laundry bag- gross. Checking to see that the little guy wasn't on his way back yet, he grabbed a third bag and attempted to drag it over to the door to look in it. He was surprised when he couldn't lift it.
Curiosity getting the better of him, he jumped into the van and unzipped the large duffel bag. What he saw inside shocked him so badly he nearly fainted. He zippered it back up and jumped out of the van, slamming home the door. He ran back to his trailer as fast as his legs could carry him.
Out of breath he reached his trailer and flung the door open, waking Hank. "Mickey, what they hell are you doing? I'm trying to watch the game here!"
"Sorry," he blurted out as he headed for his room, taking the phone with him. Quickly he dialed Isabel's cell phone, knowing she would have it on- she and Max were waiting for his report.
"Damn it pick up, Izzy!" He said out loud. He waited a few more rings and then hit the reset button. He dialed the Evans' regular number and Mrs. Evans picked up on the 3rd ring. "Hello?"
"Mrs. Evans. Hi. It's Michael. Are Max and Isabel home?"
"Hello, Michael! It's so nice to hear your voice. No, they're not home. Mr. Evans took them out to get some Ice Cream. They're bringing me home a scoop."
"Oh, that's nice. Could you have one of them call me when they get home?"
"Sure thing, Michael. I'll let them know first thing. Bye now!"
"Bye." He hung up the phone and sat down on the bed. Damn them and their Ice Cream. He had pertinent and frightening information to impart and they were out having Ice Cream! The freaking guy had a bag full of chains and stuff! Chains and manacles that he was probably using right now to chain some unsuspecting girl up in his van and slit her throat! Oh god- if someone got killed it would be his fault. He threw the phone down and ran back out the door, letting it slam behind him in his haste to get out.
As he ran back toward the park entrance he heard Hank scream, "Damn you Mickey! Stop making all that noise!"
Ignoring the man, he kept running, knowing that if he didn't get to that van before Oz did something horrible... god, he couldn't even bear to think about it.
As Michael reached the van again, quite out of breath and sweaty, he noticed 2 things. One, that the interior light in the van was on and two, that there were no screams of terror of any sort coming from within the van. Oh man, he probably had some girl bound and gagged and was slicing and dicing her right now! It was eerily quiet as he crept closer to the vehicle. He stood quickly and peered inside the passenger side window. He saw a red head climbing under some sheets and making himself comfortable on the mattress.
Quickly Michael looked past Oz and tried to survey the rest of the inside of the van. From what he could tell there was no one else in there. For now. Maybe he sleepwalked his murders! For all he knew he slept for a few hours every night before sneaking off to find some girl to kill. This was so bad. He ducked quickly as Oz reached up and snapped the interior light off. Michael's eyes adjusted quickly and it appeared as if Oz had rolled to his side to try to get comfy. Well, he wasn't taking any chances. If this guy went anywhere tonight, Michael Guerin would know about it. He moved toward the bushes at the rear of the parking spot and hid himself in among them. There was no way in hell this guy was kidnapping and murdering anyone tonight- not on his watch. He settled in for the long night of surveillance ahead.
Michael awoke to the sounds of birds chirping, with the taste of dust in his mouth and a rock pressing into his shoulder. Smacking his lips together to try to remove the pasty dirty taste, he opened his eyes and saw that he was still hidden in the bushes. Sitting up, he brushed the twigs & dirt out of his hair and the sleep out of his eyes. He cracked his neck, which had a bad crick in it, and pushed himself to his feet. His eyes bulged when he saw that Oz's van was no longer parked where it had been the night before.
He flung himself out of the bushes, scaring a cat that had been sprawling in the morning sun. Looking around the trailer park, he surmised that Oz had left for his morning shift at the Crashdown. Damn, he swore to himself. Why did I fall asleep? He'd managed to remain awake until the first light of dawn had appeared in the eastern sky, which he figured was sometime around 4:30 this morning. He must've conked out after that. Well, Max & Iz were bound to get to the trailer soon to pick him up for school; he could fill them in on the way. Right now he had a desperate desire to shower and brush his teeth.
He started the walk back to the trailer, his bones aching from a night spent on the hard ground. Why couldn't the guy have parked near some moss? In any case, Oz was in for it. Who kept a bag full of steel chains in a duffel bag in the back of a van, which just conveniently had a mattress in the back? The guy was a wacko killer for sure. Or at the least a big pervert who shouldn't be hanging out with his friends anyway. Especially Maria. The thought that Maria completely trusted the sicko made him so mad he wanted to break something. Like Oz's neck.
Nearing the trailer, he quelled his killing instinct. It wouldn't be good for Max and Iz to see him this mad. Maria either. As he opened the door, Hank roused from the drunken stupor he lay on the couch in. Noticing that it was daylight, and that Michael was just coming home in the same clothes he had on last night when he'd gone running from the house, Hank smiled.
"Well, boy, where you been all night? You get lucky?" Hank chuckled evilly.
"None of your business, Hank." Michael walked past the drunk to his room where he grabbed a towel and some clean clothes. It was as he was passing the nightstand on the way out of the room that he noticed the time. 9:53 am! Holy Crap!!! He'd been asleep for hours! He made a mad dash for the bathroom, and taking the quickest shower of his life, he rushed out of the house. His hair still dripping, T-shirt plastered to his wet skin, he started the long walk across town to school, occasionally sticking his thumb out to passing cars.
Isabel and Max Evans conferred at their lunch table some two hours later. None of their human compadres had arrived yet so they were free to talk about their stake out of Oz and Michael's whereabouts.
"Still nothing from Michael?"
Isabel shook her head in the negative. "Nothing since mom said he called when we got back from getting Ice Cream with dad. I knew I should have brought my cell phone with me."
"Dad would have said something to you if you did. I don't know what to do- I mean, he wasn't home this morning, it's almost noon, and neither of us has heard anything. Normally I wouldn't think anything of it, but since the last thing he was doing was following Oz around… I mean what if something happened to him? What if Oz caught him and did something to him?"
"Max, this is Michael we're talking about. He probably stayed up late spying on Oz and fell asleep without calling. He's probably in bed right now. I mean, just because he didn't come out when you beeped doesn't mean he wasn't there. How many times have we gone to get him and he's just ignored us so he could skip?"
"A lot. You're right. If we don't hear from him soon, though I'm going to get worried." Max cut off his sentence abruptly as Maria, Liz and Alex approached the table. Sitting down after a quick hello, the three newcomers began pulling their lunches out and getting ready to eat.
Max was about to take another bite of his sandwich when Maria asked, "Has anyone seen Michael yet today?"
Isabel coughed, then answered, "No. I bet he's just skipping again."
Maria thought about it a second, then shook her head. "Yeah, you're probably right. Nothing to worry about."
Max looked over to Maria. "Yeah, you know Michael. Hates school. Hates getting up early. For instance, he could never work your before school shift at the Crashdown. Was it busy today? Or did you and Oz just goof around?" He figured that knowing the suspects' whereabouts could only help them figure out if he'd done something horrible to Michael.
"No, it wasn't too bad. Though Oz seemed different today- kind of quiet. I asked him if he was feeling okay, and he didn't really answer me."
"He must be sick, cause he called me at home this morning before school and said he couldn't make it to practice tonight." Alex added.
Max's eyes widened in surprise and he exchanged a look of pure anxiety with Isabel.
Michael checked the big clock in the school hallway. 11:42 am. Good. They were at lunch. If he was going to talk to them now was the time. He guessed he should be grateful that no one had picked him up and he'd had to walk the 5 miles to West Roswell High. It got him here at just the right time of the day. Now, if he could just get their attention to come talk to him without tipping off Liz, Maria and Alex, he would be all set.
He stepped out of the empty hall into the alcove of the school that was set up with stone benches and tables. Looking around quickly, he spotted his friends over in the corner. But Max and Iz were facing away from him at the moment. He started to walk around to the other side of the patio, trying to be stealthy. When he reached the side of the room where Max and Izzy could see him, he started waving to them to try to catch their attention. They weren't looking, so he walked a little further away from the outdoor cafeteria to try to flag them down and get more directly into their line of vision. He was mid-wave when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Spinning around he looked directly into the eyes of Mr. Graves, the Vice-Principal and most devoted disciplinarian Michael had ever met. Rolling his eyes, Michael's shoulders sagged. He was done for.
"Mr. Guerin. How nice of you to come to school today! It's been a few days since you've attended any of your classes, hasn't it? And look at this, you're leaving school property in the middle of the day. This does not bode well, Mr. Guerin."
"But, I… I wasn't leaving… I…"
The stern man gave Michael a look that silenced him. "You what, Mr. Guerin? Are you trying to say that you are innocent of these offences? Should I let you go about your merry way, doing whatever it is you do on an daily basis when you're not here?"
Michael remained quiet, not wanting to dig himself in deeper with this guy. Mr. Graves waited for an answer, and hearing none, continued his tirade. "I'll take your silence as confirmation and admission then. Detention, Mr. Guerin. Today and for the rest of the week. And you will come with me now to the Principal's office so that we can have a little discussion about your attendance problem.
Aggravated, Michael followed the man down the hall toward the office. Max and Izzy chatted on at their table, unaware that Michael had even been there.
Later, at the Crashdown, Max, Isabel and Alex sat at a table while Maria and Liz worked their after-school shifts. Max and Isabel seemed agitated, so Alex decided to comment on it.
"Hey, guys, what's up?"
Max and Izzy looked at one another and then at Alex. "Nothing." Isabel answered. "Why do you ask?"
"It's just that you two have been acting weird since Lunch. You're both looking at your watches every 2 seconds. It's 4:30. It will be 4:30 for the next 60 seconds. I don't know about what it's like where you come from, but that's how time works on this planet."
"It's nothing. I'm just getting hungry. We ordered a while ago." Max replied.
"Ok, fine, if that's what you want me to believe, then I won't question you anymore. But I know something's up. And I'm guessing it has to do with Michael, 'cause no one has seen him all day."
"Michael? Who said anything about Michael?" Isabel fired at her quasi-boyfriend.
"I did. And speak of the devil." Max and Isabel spun around to see Michael entering the Crashdown out of breath and sweaty. He rushed over to their table.
"Where have you been all day?" demanded Max.
"No time. I'll explain later. Where is Oz?"
"He just left," supplied Maria, walking over to the table carrying a plate of Saturn Rings and Deep fried- ET Fingers (Mozzarella sticks to non- Crashdown eaters), "Why?"
"Damn. Where did he go?"
"Home I guess. His shift was over."
Michael looked at Alex. "Is he coming to band practice tonight?"
"No, he called me this morning and said he couldn't make it. Why?"
"Shit." He looked at Max and Izzy desperately. 'We need to find him. Now. Before something bad happens."
Maria stood dumbfounded as Max and Isabel jumped out of their seats, and following Michael's lead, ran out of the restaurant without eating or paying. In fact they nearly knocked her over in their rush.
Maria looked at Alex, asking, "What was that all about?"
"Beats me. What is their problem with Oz anyway?"
"I dunno. I thought it was just Michael, but I guess Izzy and Max don't like him either."
Liz made an appearance at the table; still staring at the door the three Aliens had exited through. "What's up with them?"
Alex shrugged. "Who knows? Michael came rushing in here asking all kinds of questions about where Oz was, and then the three of them took off in a hurry."
Liz's eyebrows knitted together. "Oz? What do they want with him?"
Maria shook her head in confusion. "I don't know. I wonder if it has anything to do with the visions Michael had about him."
Alex and Liz spun their heads to stare at her in unison. "Michael had visions about Oz? What kind of visions?" Liz questioned.
"Something about Oz and a cage, and some animal instinct feelings. I don't know- I thought he was making it up because he was jealous."
Alex looked at her intensely. "Maria, what if what he saw was real? You said yourself Oz was acting strangely today. What if there's something wrong with him? Are they safe?"
Maria's face fell. "Oh, god, I'm not sure. But this is Oz right? I mean- he's completely normal. What could be wrong?"
"The guy is a freak! We have to find him now, before he hurts someone!"
Max sat in the drivers seat of the jeep, speeding toward the trailer park in search of Oz. Michael sat in the front, raving, and Isabel leaned in from the back seat. Max, always the sane one, tried to calm his best friend. "Michael, please start at the beginning. What happened last night?"
"Okay, so I waited for him to pull into the Trailer Park, then I followed him to where he parked. I waited for him to go into the bathroom, then I started going through his things."
"Michael! We told you to watch him, not to go poking around his stuff."
"Look Isabel, the way I figure, the guy is so quiet it was the only way to find anything real out about him."
"Isabel, let him talk. What happened then?"
"You guys… I couldn't even believe it. I was going through some of the duffel bags he has in the back, and two of them were just clothes. But the third one I couldn't lift, so I jumped in and opened it. And you are never even going to guess what was in there!"
Isabel leaned forward. "Oh, god, it wasn't a dead body was it?"
"No, it was chains and steel handcuffs! I mean, obviously the guy is planning on chaining someone up for something. He could be getting a hostage right now and torturing them!"
Max again tried to be rational. "Michael, there could be a reasonable explanation for this, couldn't there?"
"Yeah? What is it? If he's not a killer then he's a major pervert. And I for one don't want a guy like that around Maria or Isabel- do you want him around Liz?"
Max gritted his teeth together. "Okay, good point. We better find him fast and get some answers."
Michael nodded and exhaled the breath he had been holding. Isabel sat back against the seat, then moved forward again to say, "Hey, if you've known this since last night why didn't you tell us sooner?"
Michael rolled his eyes. "I tried to, but the two of you were out playing happy family getting Ice Cream with your dad. I tried your cell phone, but there was no answer. So I went rushing back out to make sure he didn't go after anyone."
"And did he?" asked Max, more than a bit worried now.
"No, from what I can tell he slept in the van all night. But I fell asleep right after dawn, and I woke up in the bushes thinking it was almost time for school. When I got to the trailer it was almost 10, so I left to walk to school to get you guys. It was lunchtime when I got there, so I tried to get your attention, but Graves caught me and bagged me for not coming to school yet this week. He kept me in his office lecturing me until 12:45 and then sent me to the in-school suspension room until the end of the day. Then I had detention until 3:30 and by the time I walked to the Crash Down it was 4:30. Does that answer your question?" He finished angrily.
Isabel colored in embarrassment. "Um, yeah. Sorry about not bringing the Cell phone with us to get Ice cream. I just didn't think this would turn out to be anything serious."
They were silent the rest of the ride, and about 5 minutes later turned into the park. Michael directed Max to the spot where Oz had parked the van the previous night, but it wasn't there.
"Damn! I knew it- he's out kidnapping some girl right now!"
"Michael, we don't know that. Let's drive around to see if he parked someplace else." Max turned the wheel and headed out to make a circuit of the Trailer Park. 10 minutes later they arrived back where they started, no van in sight.
"Where the hell could he have gone? He doesn't know anyplace in Roswell but the Crash Down and Alex's house." Isabel murmured.
Max had a thought. "I don't know where he would go. But I think I know two people who might." He threw the jeep into 1st gear and started back toward the restaurant they had left in such a hurry 25 minutes earlier.
Oz felt good. He'd found someplace that was quiet, where he knew he wouldn't disturb anyone. Yes, he'd be safe here. He grabbed the duffel bag with his manacles in it out of the back of the van and began to wind them around the base of the tall radio tower. There was no way in hell he was breaking free tonight.
Maria was in the back of the café changing out of her uniform when Michael and Isabel burst through the door followed by Max dragging Alex and a very confused Liz.
"What the hell, guys? I'm kind of changing here!"
"Change in a minute." Michael said quickly. "We have to ask you some questions."
"About what? About how I'm supposed to make a living as a waitress if no one pays for their food?"
"Huh?" asked Michael, looking at Max.
"Never mind that now. I'll pay you and double your tip later. We need to know- where would Oz go if he wasn't going to Alex's for practice or to the Trailer Park?"
Liz had seated herself on the couch, having no answers, but extremely curious to find out what this was all about. Alex and Maria looked at one another in confusion. "I have no idea." Alex answered.
"Me neither. What is your problem with the guy?"
Isabel inhaled sharply. "C'mon you guys, think. You have to know something!"
Maria crossed her arms over her chest. "I am not telling you anything unless you tell me why you guys need to find him. Does this have something to do with the visions you had Michael?"
"Yes. A lot. Just tell me- do you know where he would be?"
Alex jumped in. "Isabel did you have a vision too?"
Max answered for all of them. "Yes, we all had a vision of Oz in a cage, morphing into some kind of beast. He wanted to kill. And eat. People."
"Oh my god!" Liz gasped from the couch in awe.
"So we decided to follow him. To try to find out if he was dangerous. Michael followed him home last night, and when he was in the bathroom, he went through his things."
"And before you say anything, Maria, I was looking out for you most of all so get off my case. I know you really like him but I wanted to make sure he was on the up and up. And let me tell you after what I found- he is most definitely not!"
Alex was taken aback at Michael's outburst, but found the courage to ask, "What did you find?"
Michael took a deep breath before answering. "I found a set of chains and manacles in a duffel bag. And after the visions I had, it doesn't take genius to figure out that the guy is going to chain someone up and do horrible things to them. So what we need to know from you two," he said, pointing at Maria and Alex, "is where would he go that's isolated, where he could take someone to… you know." He didn't finish the sentence, to grossed out to think about it.
Alex thought really hard. "I don't know. He didn't say anything but that he couldn't make it to practice. I figured he had a date or something."
"Yeah, a date to maim and murder someone." Isabel added.
Suddenly Maria gasped. "Oh, god, I think I know where he is."
"Where?" Max fired at her.
"He asked me if I knew someplace quiet and away from everything that he could go to think about things. He asked me yesterday- I thought he was still thinking about Willow. Oh god- what did I do?"
Michael grabbed her arms and looked her in the eye. "Where is he Maria?"
"Eagle Rock Military Base. It's deserted and it's really pretty at sunset. I thought he would like it there. Maybe feel less alone."
"Great, c'mon." Max said to Isabel and Michael.
"Not without us you don't." said Liz.
"Fine, we don't have time to argue. Let's go." The three humans followed their alien friends out to Max's Jeep and all 6 of them piled in to go find Oz.
The jeep sped along the highway, Max driving at a breakneck speed toward the base. Maria sat on Michael's lap in the front seat with Isabel, Alex & Liz squished together in the back. Maria was near hysteria with worry.
"Oh god! What did I do? I told him to go there. He's probably already killed someone! And it's all my fault!"
Michael rubbed her back to calm her. "Maria, it's ok. You didn't know he was a killer."
"Why didn't I know? It's always the quiet ones who turn out to be psychos! I spent so much time with him- and he seemed so normal. I bet he killed his girlfriend, too, and that's why he's so sad about her. Oh god, I hope he hasn't hurt anyone yet."
Liz leaned forward and put her hand on Maria's arm reassuringly. "We'll stop him from hurting anyone, Maria. I promise we will."
Isabel snorted. "And just how are we going to stop him anyway? Haven't you guys ever seen horror movies? It doesn't matter how many people try to stop the psycho he always ends up killing them all anyway!"
Max answered without having to think. "The people in those movies don't have powers. We'll do what we have to do to stop him, Iz." He glanced over at Michael who simply nodded in agreement and continued to soothe Maria.
"Okay, good. And if that fails, well then we could always call the Sheriff," added Alex. In response to the numerous inquisitive looks that were shot at him, he simply shrugged. "What? It's his job to stop psychos, not ours. And if we call it in, maybe he'll see that Max isn't such a bad guy."
Michael spun his head around to face the boy in the back seat. "Sure, Alex. The Sheriff won't think twice about the fact that we've all been hanging out with this guy since he got here. He'd probably think we were accomplices. No way do we tell the Sheriff. We take care of this ourselves." He turned back around. "How soon until we get there?"
"15 more minutes." Max replied.
"Good, it'll be almost dark. We can sneak up on him. He won't know what hit him."
The rest of the group quieted, waiting out the rest of the drive in silence.
Oz made the final weld, bonding his chains to the radio tower's base. He gave them a pull, and knew they weren't going to break. Putting away his tools, he looked up at the sky. Soon. He could feel the electricity shooting through his veins. He stepped to the van and opened the side door.
Placing the face mask and welders torch in the back, he grabbed an old pair of sweats and started to strip off his clothes.
"Where is he?" asked Michael impatiently as they drove around the deserted base looking for Oz's van.
"I don't know. I was sure he'd be here," answered Maria.
"Wait- I think I see something." Liz said, standing up in the back seat.
"Where?" Max asked.
"Over by the Radio Tower. I think I see his van."
Max stepped on the gas, flinging Liz back to her sitting position, and crossed the terrain between them and the tower in mere seconds.
Kicking up a cloud of dust, he slammed on the brakes, stopping the car in front of the van, which was parked sideways, blocking their view of the base of the radio tower. The group quickly piled out of the jeep.
"Where is he?"
"Shhh, Izzy. Be quiet. We don't want him to know we found him." Max blurted in hushed tones.
"Well, I think the screeching of the tires might have already tipped him off genius."
Suddenly a voice ripped through the air. "Hello? Who's there?"
"It's him," Alex whispered.
"Do we answer?" asked Liz.
"Maria, you talk to him. He knows you the best. He'd trust you." Michael squeezed her hand when they started shaking.
"I can't Max! I was friends with him before he turned out to be a killer- I can't talk to him now."
"Maria, you have to. We're all here with you- we won't let you get hurt."
Michael grabbed her other hand and faced her. "Please, Maria? For me?"
Taking a deep breath, she spoke loudly. "Oz, is that you?"
"Maria? What are you doing here?"
"Oz, listen to me. You can't do this."
"What? Maria you have to leave now. I can't explain why, I just need you to go."
"Oz, please, just stop what you're doing and come out here."
"Maria, I can't stop it. But I don't want you to get hurt or scared, so you need to leave."
Max, Michael and Alex had started to creep around the back of the van hoping that Maria's distraction would give them the opportunity to catch him off guard.
"What do you see?" Isabel whispered.
"There's someone chained to the tower. Keep him talking Maria, we'll try to do something." Max said.
Liz grabbed Max's arm as he went to leave. "Be careful," she said and quickly kissed him on the cheek.
Shattering any misconceptions about how she felt about Alex, Isabel grabbed him by the face and planted a solid kiss on his lips. "You too." she said. He nodded and the boys headed out to release the hostage.
"Oz," Maria shouted, "Please just come out here and talk to me. We'll figure this out. You don't have to hurt anyone. Think about it- what would Willow say if she knew about this?"
"She knew I couldn't control it, Maria. She loved me anyway. I don't know how you found out, but go away. I am too dangerous right now. Please just leave."
Suddenly the air was filled with groans and grunts. Fearing that Oz was actually killing whomever he had chained up, the boys sprinted over to the base of the tower. They were followed shortly by the girls, who had burst out from behind the van at the sounds of pain, fearing that Oz had attacked the guys.
Maria, Liz and Isabel nearly ran into Max, Michael and Alex, who had stopped short in front of the chained form. Oz stood, clad only in a pair of old blue sweats, chained to the base of the tower. He was doubled over in pain.
"Oz?" Maria asked, stepping around the guys to look at her friend.
He picked his head up to reveal animal eyes and a half-furry face. His mouth had sprouted longer, sharper teeth, and his brow was furrowed in pain. "Maria," he practically growled, "Get out of here, now! I don't want you to see this."
"See what Oz? What's wrong with you?"
"You don't want to know. Please, just go." Hair had begun to sprout up all over his chest and arms, which had elongated and grown claws. With every passing second, he became less human, more animal.
"Oz, we can't leave you like this. Please let us help you."
"You can't help. GO!" It was the last word he spoke, as the fur enveloped his body, turning the sweats into tatters. The beast that was Oz howled at the full moon, and railed against the chains that held him. 6 teens stared in horror at the monster that Oz had become.
The thing that was Oz snapped his jaws at the assembled masses, waking them from their horrified stupor. As one, the group took a huge leap backwards, away from the massive lupine creature shackled to the radio tower in front of them.
Maria, usually never at a loss for words, stood, mouth agape, jaws slack, trying to form a sentence. "Is he... it's him, isn't it? Oz is that thing?"
Liz stepped forward next to her friend. "I think so. I mean- we saw him. He changed into... that."
Max and Michael were simply too shocked for words. They had come expecting to have to save some unsuspecting victim from Oz. Now it seemed they had to save Oz from himself. Or whatever he'd become.
Isabel, ever the one to demand answers, looked at her brother and friends. "I don't get it. What the hell is he?"
Alex looked at her, then at Oz. "Isn't it obvious? He's a Werewolf."
5 pairs of eyes looked at Alex in disbelief. "Alex, there's no such thing as werewolves," Michael stated matter of factly.
"So says the Alien," he retorted.
Liz shook her head. "Alex, it can't be. A werewolf? Come on!"
"Liz, you're the scientist. Look at the facts. 1- it's a full moon." He pointed at the sky, and the others looked up to see the moon, round and full, beaming down on them. "2- we just saw the guy change into a wolfy-looking creature right in front of our own eyes, and I don't know about you guys but I haven't taken any mind-altering substances lately. And 3- he chained himself up, so he obviously knew this was going to happen. As in it happens often- say at least every month?"
The group looked around at each other, stunned. Maria looked at the snarling animal attached to the tower. "Oz is a werewolf," she stated, having to say it to make herself believe it.
Alex nodded. "Yeah, he is. Now the question is, what do we do with him?"
Isabel pointed to her brother. "Max, you can change him back."
Michael shook his head vigorously. "No way. He can't. Then Oz'll know about us. Plus, who says he won't change right back into that thing he is now?"
Max thought about it for a minute before answering Michael's oppositions. "Well, if I changed him back, then we could ask him how long he normally stays like this, and if we should do anything to make him more comfortable."
"Max is right, " Liz chimed in. "What if he normally stays an animal for days? He could break out and eat someone or die from exposure or something. I think you should try it Max."
"But then we'll have to explain how we did it. Does anyone else here remember agreeing that telling anyone else would be bad?"
Alex stepped in. "Michael, think about it. He'll know your secret, but you know his, too. You think he wants people to know he's a werewolf? If he did, he could have just mentioned it to us when he said he'd stand in with the band for 3 weeks. Obviously it's something he likes to keep quiet- he knows how to keep a secret. He'll understand."
"Fine. Do it if you want to. But let the record show that I am not happy with this."
"Dully noted," Max proclaimed. Then he held out his hand in front of him, directing his powers toward the snarling beast. Concentrating as hard as he could, he forced the molecules of Oz's body back to his normal size, blocking the lupine strands of DNA that wanted to takeover. Oz's body again cracked and popped, and the monster growled in pain. The wolf's body huddled into a pained ball, fur retreating and canines retracting. Moments later, Oz lay before them, back to his normal self. Also, naked.
The girls spun around, trying to avoid embarrassing the older boy. Oz picked his head up off the ground and looked into the eager faces of Max, Michael and Alex. Then looking up at the sky, he noticed the moon was still full.
"What the… How did you do that?"
"Never mind that now." Max answered hurriedly. "We'll explain it later. How long do you usually stay like you were? A day? A week?"
"I change on the night before, the night after, and the night during the Full Moon. I usually stay wolfy until morning."
"Okay, so should we do anything for you? Bring you some water or food?" asked Maria over her shoulder, concerned for her friend, but still embarrassed by his nudity.
"No, just stay away. I didn't bite or scratch anyone did I?"
"No, we're all fine," said Alex. "But we don't know how long you'll stay you. Is there anything else you need to tell us in case you change back?"
"Well, one of you can stay here and watch me tonight to make sure I don't get loose if you want. Other than that, there's really nothing to do. But what I really want to know is what the hell are you 3?" he asked pointing at Isabel, Michael and Max.
Michael started to answer, "Well, we're um, it's hard to say…"
Oz continued at Michael's lack of an explanation. "I knew I smelled something different about you guys. Your scent is so close to human, but it's slightly off. I know you aren't Vampires, cause I've seen you in the sunlight, and you're not werewolves either. I would have known right away. Are you demons?"
Max started to open his mouth for a response, but Oz once again doubled over in pain. "Looks like that didn't last very long. We'll explain everything to you tomorrow. I promise. But you have to tell us everything, too. Deal?"
"Deal." Oz moaned as his fur once again sprouted and covered his body. The sickening sounds of the change were almost too much for the group to handle twice in one night. Everyone but Michael turned away as the change was completed.
As the snarls started up again, the girls turned around, knowing Oz's modesty would remain safe. "So who should watch him?" asked Alex.
"I think Michael. He's the only one without any real adult supervision. Hank never notices if he's out all night." Max answered.
"Oh great. I don't even like the guy and now I have to spend all night out here watching him? Excellent," he mumbled.
Maria stepped over to Michael. "Take good care of him, and I'll take good care of you," she whispered in his ear huskily.
Michael gulped, then looked at the rest of the group. "Okay… so see you all in the morning? Dawn?"
"We'll be here," Max affirmed, knowing that the sooner explanations were given, the sooner they'd all feel better. He threw his arm around Liz and led her back to the Jeep, still parked on the other side of the Van. Isabel and Alex followed, leaving Maria to say goodbye to Michael.
"Try to get some sleep. And don't do anything to him, okay? I know you don't like him very much, but if you think about it, he's a lot like you three."
"Okay, I'll be good. See you in the morning?"
"Bright and early. And remember- take good care of him, and you'll be rewarded." She patted him on the butt and placed a quick kiss on his lips so she knew he wouldn't miss her meaning before turning to follow the others.
He looked at the werewolf, trying to prowl despite his chains. "You're lucky I like her so much, buddy. Otherwise you'd be the new rug on the floor of my bedroom." He walked away toward the van and lay down on the mattress. If Oz wasn't going to use it, he would. He settled in for the long night ahead as the Jeep roared away back across the desert to town.
Oz woke to the desert sun streaming down on his face. Stretching, he noticed that the chains had indeed held him securely to the Radio Tower. He also noticed that again, he was naked, and that he wasn't the only one in the area. A pair of jeans came flying at his head the moment he stirred.
"Good morning." Michael muttered. "How are you doing?"
"A bit sore, but I'll live." Oz found the shallow hole where he'd buried the key to his cuffs and quickly dug it out. Unlocking himself, he stepped into the pants Michael had tossed to him, and stood surveying the area. No one else was here yet. "Are they coming soon?"
"Yeah. We agreed on dawn, so they should be here any minute." Michael looked at the shorter guy intently. "So... you do this every month?"
"Yeah. It kinda sucks."
"Yeah. I would think so." He quieted, but before he could ask anything else, they heard the jeep in the distance. "Are you ready for a round of 20 questions?"
"As ready as I'll ever be. How about you?"
"I'll deal. I really didn't want to tell you at all, but everyone else seems to trust you, so... I guess it'll be ok."
Oz looked at the other spiky haired male, and knew that that was as close to an apology and an admission that they were cool as Michael would ever give him. "Thanks man. I appreciate that." Michael simply nodded, and the two stood silent as the others approached.
The Jeep pulled up to much the same spot it had the previous evening. About a minute behind it across the desert, they could see a second car. Max and Isabel hopped out and ventured over to where Oz and Michael were standing. "Where are the others?" Michael asked.
"You mean where's Maria?" Isabel asked with an eyebrow raised. She pointed to the other car. "Alex is driving her and Liz- they'll be here in a second."
Max looked at the red head. "So, how was your night?"
"I have no idea- I never remember when I get like that. It's kind of what got me into trouble in the first place."
"What do you mean?" asked Isabel.
"I'll get into all that soon. I promised I'd tell, so I might as well wait for everyone." Max nodded his agreement with that statement, and waited as Liz, Alex and Maria parked and walked over to join them.
Maria walked up to Michael and gave him a quick hug. "How was your night? Did you behave?"
"Yes. I'll be expecting my reward later today." He smiled and kissed her quickly on the cheek while drawing her into his arms.
"We'll just see about that." She grinned devilishly and turned to Oz. "So how are you today?"
"Fine." He answered. He turned to Michael, Max and Izzy. "Are you guys ready to have this conversation?"
All three nodded and he began. "Well, obviously you know my secret. I'm a werewolf. What are you?"
Max spoke for the group. "Oz, we're... Michael, Isabel and I... we're aliens."
Oz's mouth dropped open. "Oh." He sank to a sitting position on one of the beams of the steel tower. "Aliens. That's a new one." He took a deep breath and looked up at the three teens. "I'm not sure what to do with that."
"So, you don't know anything about yourselves? Must be rough."
"Yeah, well it'd be easier if we knew something, or if we could find Nacedo. But we get along," Michael responded.
"Wow. I've seen a lot of weird things. But Aliens is definitely... new. I hope you find what you're looking for." Oz reached out his hand first to Michael, who shook it, and then to Max.
He grasped Oz's hand and shook. "Thanks. Now, we were all wondering what your story is exactly."
"Yeah," Liz added. "Scientifically speaking, Werewolves shouldn't exist. But we know you do. So, how did all this happen?"
"Well, to make a long story short, I was bitten by my 5 year old cousin when I was tickling him. A week later, the moon was full and I woke up in the woods completely naked, and there were some werewolf sightings. I put two and two together. Talked to some people in the know. Started locking myself up every month."
"And Willow knew about this?" asked Maria, still wondering whether or not the mysterious girlfriend was alive.
"Yeah. Actually it was Willow and her friends that always helped me. Watched me when I was wolfy to make sure I didn't get out. She understood- knew I couldn't control it. She loved me. Never minded about missing out on moonlit walks and stuff. At least until... well until later."
"What happened?" asked Isabel, drawn in to the story again.
Alex looked at his band mate. "What the hell is a Veruca?"
"She was the lead singer of this other band. Also a werewolf. She tried to convince me that the Wolf was always in me, not just during the full moon. She tried to bring things out of me- bad things about that part of me that I didn't want to see. I broke out of my cage and we... well, I don't know what we did. Like I said I don't remember after the change comes. But I know what she said happened. I didn't want it to be true. So I didn't tell Willow about her. That was my first mistake."
Maria put her hand on his shoulder. "That doesn't sound like you."
"I know. I was just so confused. But my second mistake was worse. Veruca wouldn't lock herself up- she didn't care if she hurt people. So I tricked her into the cage with me. And Willow found us the next day."
Liz sat down next to him. "Oh Oz. That's horrible. I'm so sorry."
Oz wiped a tear from his eye and Maria sat down on the other side, hugging him close. He continued as she rubbed his back. "I tried to explain, I did. She was so hurt. Who could blame her? But there was another night of the full moon, and I had to stop Veruca. I tried to track her, but she tricked me- threw me off her scent, and went after Willow. Tried to eat her. I got there just in time. But to stop her, I... I had to kill her."
The group fell silent, letting Oz finish his tale. "I still can't believe I killed someone. I mean, Veruca, she was not a good person, but did she deserve to die just because she wanted me and I wanted Willow? I couldn't deal- I had to leave. Told Willow I loved her and left. She looked so upset- I think I ripped her heart out. I have to find a way to control this side of me, or I can't ever be around her again. I can't take the chance I could hurt her. I've been gone for about 3 months. Haven't found anything yet. I just want to go home to her, but I can't unless I fix myself first."
He fell silent and the group looked around at each other. Maria hugged him a bit tighter, comforting him. "It's okay, Oz. We understand. I'm sure Willow does, too."
"Whoa. That's rough, man. I'm sorry." Oz was surprised to hear Michael's sympathy. He looked up at the group, and saw that they all understood.
"Thanks for not judging me. I appreciate that. And thanks for all your help the last few weeks. You guys have been great to me."
"Well, you're an easy guy to get along with." Maria said.
"And the best guitarist I've ever seen in real life." added Alex.
Oz laughed. "I'll have to tell Devon that one. He's always telling me I'm good, but I never pay attention." He laughed to himself mirthlessly. "Man, I just don't know what to do anymore. I feel like it's hopeless looking for a cure."
Alex shook his head. "No way, man, you have to keep looking. If the only way you're going back is after you find a cure, then I suggest you find one soon."
"Yeah," Maria added. "Even if it takes forever, you just keep looking until you find something. Then you go home and get Willow back. And whatever happens, know that you'll always have a place here in Roswell with us, okay?"
"Thanks." Oz smiled, mostly at a loss for words regarding their generosity. "So, I guess we should get out of here. I have dishes to wash and guitar licks to learn if I'm ever going to make enough money to get out of this town."
Liz laughed. "Yeah, we better get there soon or my dad will have our heads. Can't keep hungry truckers waiting."
"Yeah. By the way, how did you guys figure out my secret anyway?"
"Oh well, we kind of didn't," said Max, blushing.
"Yeah, we sort of thought you were a serial killer," blurted Isabel.
"A serial killer? Where did you come up with that one?"
4 pairs of eyes turned to glare at Michael. "Well, excuse me for jumping to conclusions! What would you have thought if you found a bag full of chains in some guy who you didn't trust's car?"
Oz stopped and spun on his heel to look at Michael. "You looked in my van?"
"Yeah. Sorry, I freaked. I'll tell you the whole story later."
"Speaking of the whole story," Alex added, "what were you saying last night about Vampires and Demons?"
Oz grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, about that..." the conversation continued as the 7 walked back to their cars.
A week and a half had passed since the Full Moon had gone. Oz had played the remaining 2 gigs with the Whits, both of which secured a rosy future for the band in the town and surrounding areas. The final show had been the previous night, and now, Saturday morning, bright and early, Oz stood next to his van outside the Crashdown saying goodbye to his new friends.
"So, where you headed?" Michael asked quietly as he shook Oz's hand, standing near the driver's door of the van.
"Mexico, I think. I heard there are some Shamans down there who might know something. Or at least direct me to someone who does."
"Cool. Good luck. Don't drink the water. Or the Tequila."
Alex grinned at Michael's advice and shook Oz's hand tightly. "Thanks for everything man. You were amazing. If you ever need someplace to play, or just someone to jam with, definitely come back."
"Come back anyway. We're going to miss you." Liz said, hugging him quickly.
Isabel, never one for too many sappy words, hugged him also. "When you come back, bring Willow. We want to meet her."
"Ok. I'll try my best." Max stood before him, and as Oz reached out to shake Max's hand he looked the younger boy in the eye. "Max, I wanted to thank you for changing me back last week. That was the 1st time I've seen a full moon in over 2 years. I won't forget that."
"No problem. It was the least I could do after thinking you were a maniac waiting to kill us all. And I wish I could have done more- like changed you back permanently."
Oz smiled. "No, man, you did plenty. You all did- reminded me why I was away from home in the first place. Kicked my butt back into gear. I appreciate that."
"You're welcome." Maria answered for all of them. "Can I talk to you alone for a minute?"
Knowing Michael's possessiveness, he glanced at the taller guy quickly for permission. At Michael's slight nod, he answered the blond, "Sure." Together they walked to the back of the van.
"I just wanted to tell you that having you here to talk to for the past few weeks has been amazing. You're a great guy. I hope Willow knows that."
Oz blushed. "Ooh- don't do compliments. I get all red. It's no good."
Maria chuckled at his obvious embarrassment. "Well, it's true. And you know if I wasn't already in love with Space Boy over there, I'd have scooped you up in a second."
"Well you know the same goes for me. Only substitute Willow for Michael." He reached over and hugged her tight. "You're the best. I'm going to miss you so much."
She held on tight to her friend. "Ditto. Don't forget us. And really, come back and visit. Or at least write. I want to stay in touch with you. Find out how you're doing, and see how things turn out, okay?"
"Yeah. You got it." He pulled away and brushed away the tear that had spilled over and run down her cheek. "I gotta go." He walked backed to the driver's side door, followed by Maria. Opening it, he hopped up inside and turned the key. The 6 friends stepped away from the van as Oz threw it into reverse. As he stepped on the brake to put the car into gear, he looked out the window at the 6 people who had befriended him in this small town. He smiled and gave a final wave. As he drove away, he thought, "Man, I'm happy I didn't go to Albuquerque."
The 3 humans and 3 Aliens watched as their Werewolf friend drove away. "I hope he finds what he's looking for." Isabel said sadly.
"He'll find the cure. I know it. I just hope everything else works out. He deserves to be happy." She looked at her 3 Alien friends. "Just like you guys do." Smiling, the 6 friends turned and walked back into the Crash Down, happy in the hope that good things were on the way. For themselves and for Oz.