The following night, Richard found himself again staring at the message on the computer screen, his mouse hovering over the reply button. Finally he steeled himself. It would be better to let the girl know he had received the message but had no answers than to leave her hoping.
Yes, I remember you and Oz quite clearly, you’ve reached the right Richard Zeeman. Unfortunately, I can not offer you any help in your search for Oz. I have not heard from him since your illustrious graduation ceremony. Did you know that made national news? Living in the only county declared a state of emergency with stake-on-sight orders certainly does make Sunnydale stand out.
For this reason, I can't help but inquire if now would be a good time for you to move away? Perhaps you will have more luck in your search if you leave that accursed town as well rather than waiting for Oz to return, for I doubt that will be happening.
I’m terribly sorry that you and Oz have undergone some difficulties in your relationship, I remember how truly special you were to him, and I can not believe he would do anything to jeopardize what you two had. I had truly hoped that the two of you would work out in the long run. Let me know if you find anything.
He hit the send button quickly, not wanting to fall into the temptation of writing more. The news that Oz had willingly left Willow left him feeling oddly hollow. If that young couple couldn’t make it, how could he ever hope to win over Anita? If Willow had been just a bit older, he might have even challenged Oz for the girl, or rather woman. She was everything Richard would have wanted in a mate, intelligent, sweet, beautiful in a classic sense, and most importantly, willing to embrace the beast along with the man without expecting the violence. He remembered the stories Oz would tell him once they had realized their common nature. In Sunnydale, there was no choice but to cage your beast, there was no pack, no safe wilderness to roam. Both Richard and Oz had to make due with prisons during the full moon. But while Richard was locked alone in the basement, Willow had stayed by the younger wolf’s cage all night, reading him stories like Call of the Wild and telling him her hopes and dreams, not realizing just how much the man in him could understand. How could Oz ever abandon such an angel?
He had no sooner logged off his computer when there was a knock on the door. He was surprised to see Stephen standing on the doorstep. “Were you on the modem again? We’ve been calling your line for the past twenty minutes, and haven’t even gotten the machine.” Stephen immediately went into his speech. “One of these days, you’re going to have to get a second line, because I won’t be around to pick you up for important pack business.”
“What sort of business?” Richard asked, grabbing his coat and keys.
“Not quite sure, we’re just supposed to be at the café ASAP.” Stephen replied. They drove the few miles in relative silence, both wary of the untimely summons. Richard should have been Ulfric which put him in an odd position. Being a secondary alpha always made unusual summons threatening, who knew who would challenge him this time.
Quickly making their way to the back room, they were surprised to see a relatively small group in place. “Ah, gentlemen, you almost missed out on the festivities.” Marcus drawled. He and Raina parted to show a small huddled figure. The other alphas were standing around looking bored or restless. “We’ve an unexpected visitor in our territory.” Having heard it, Richard and Stephen could both now detect that the body on the floor was a wolf, and a rather strong one at that. “He refuses to pay tribute. I thought it would be nice for us to teach him a lesson in etiquette. I’m afraid your tardiness leaves you with nothing but the scraps, but please, have fun. Let us see how you educate the rabble.” Marcus offered the challenge. Invading territory was a serious offence in the were-world, and Richard knew Marcus had set this up so that Richard would have to show fangs to keep the respect he had earned besting Marcus earlier that year.
The lump on the floor let out a snarl. “Bring it on mister etiquette.” The dry voice growled. The lump then lifted his head to meet the newcomers with a steely glare.
“Oz?!” Richard shook his head. If the name hadn’t been brought up recently, he probably would not have recognized his former student as the bleeding figure at his feet.
“Zeeman?” Oz asked, looking for a minute like he was either seeing a devil or an angel.
“Oz, man, what the hell are you doing here?” Richard held Stephen back, who was taking a step closer.
“Had to leave.” He gasped out. “Hellmouth was messin’ with me.” Richard knelt down and tried to staunch the bloody nose Oz was sporting.
“Jesus Christ, Marcus, what the hell were you thinking? He’s just a kid.” Richard yelled. “Stephen, get Lillian.”
“Stand down.” Marcus ordered.
“Get Lillian.” Richard snarled, glaring at Marcus.
“So, Zee, you got some pretty rough friends here. And I thought Sunnyd was hell.” Oz tried to joke, resulting in gagging on his own blood.
“Shh, I’ll take care of you.” Richard cradled Oz in his arms. Oz closed his eyes in momentary relief. Richard stared down Marcus. “I don’t suppose any of you bothered to ask him where he was from, or why he was here in the first place? Not a one of you stopped to think, you just smelled an odd alpha and went for blood. And then you wonder why we’re considered monsters.”
“Are we to understand that this trespasser is your doing?” Raina growled.
“Down bitch.” Richard snarled. “You don’t know what you’re dealing with here. He’s a different kind of wolf, you should have just left him.”
“And why is that?” Rafael asked, detached in his usual observation post. He enjoyed watching the politics in the other were-groups.
“He’s from Sunnydale, California. You know, the place where the vampires are so out of control the vampire hunters are given free reign? The magical energy there is so crazy that the shifters have no hope of organizing. Everyone is an alpha there. He’s never seen a pack at work since the wolves tear each other apart within a few minutes of meeting a new one.” Richard knew this well, he had moved from bottom of the pack to alpha status in that one year of student teaching, having to struggle for existence at each shift. He only made it three months before resorting to the prison. It was much safer considering the poachers and slayers supposedly loose there as well.
“And you know this how?” Sylvie asked.
“I student taught at his high school two years ago.” He looked up at Sylvie, perhaps the only compassionate face in the room. “The poor boy just broke up with his girlfriend, he’s just passing through St. Louis to get away from the memories. We’re probably the first true pack he’s run into considering how empty it is out West.”
“How’d you know, Zee?” Oz croaked.
“Willow emailed me last night.” Richard answered, relieved to see Stephen return with the rat-doctor.
“Fuck. I’m sorry.” Oz winced. The doctor began attending to his wounds, which weren’t too bad now that his healing had kicked in.
“But that still does not excuse him from trespassing.” Marcus began.
“Well, it's not like his Ulfric could ask permission. There is no Ulfric where he’s from. Don’t you get it?” Richard argued.
“You mean, you pummeled me just because I didn’t say Mother May I? Crap, do I have to ask permission to sneeze here too?” Oz muttered. In a louder voice, he uttered “Mother may I pass through your turf?”
“He’s mocking us now.” Raina snarled.
“Come on Raina, give him a break. You just got a piece of him, or course he’s going to say dumb things.” Richard pleaded with the sadistic Lupa. Finally the other alphas nodded in permission to let Oz pass, breaking down Raina and Marcus’ resolve.
Richard helped Oz to his feet then turned to him. “So Willow didn’t tell me, why did you leave her in Sunnydale?”
“I tried to eat her.” Oz never saw the right hook that sent him to the floor, although the rest of the alphas were laughing inwardly at Richard’s action.
“How could you?!” Richard yelled. “Did you loose your brain out there?!”
“Something like that.” Oz could only nod in agreement with the older man. He agreed that he was wrong. That was why he ran away in the first place, because some things just weren’t forgivable any more.
“You need to call her. Let her know where you are. She’s worried sick. I don’t understand how you could do that to the girl.”
“No, you probably can’t understand. I don’t even understand it all.” Oz nodded knowingly.
“Come on, Oz. You can crash at my place for the night.” Richard helped his once favorite pupil up from the floor. Stephen followed them out, taking the back seat as the two alphas conversed in the front. By the time they reached the house, Oz had neatly summed up the entire mess Veruca had made of his life.
“That’s so harsh. You had a girl who loved you and your wolf and now you don’t. That’s so sad.” Stephen sniffled a bit as they got out of the car.
“That’s life on the hellmouth. That’s why I have to learn how to control my beast. I can’t go back to her until I can be safe around her again.” Oz sighed.
“You should go back to her. You can’t just leave a girl like Willow, you’ll never find another.” Richard put in his advice.
“Come on Zee, you know what that place does to the wolf. I can’t be near her if I’m going to become that.” Oz argued.
“So what are you going to do?” Richard asked.
“I think I’m going to try Nepal. I hear they have more control over there.” Oz answered.
“Well, I can offer you a couch for tonight, but I’m not sure how much longer you’ll be welcomed in St. Louis.”
“That’s a welcome?” Oz asked skeptically.
“Oz, you know Sunnydale warped your wolf. Three years you’ve changed under that moon. Its wigging us all out. I mean, one year for me after I had already been changing normally for four years was enough Sunnydale to push me from beta to alpha. You reek of too much power. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself chased out of most of the East Coast cities. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about setting up an itinerary with the correct territory info to pass through, but no matter how much you take the wolf out of Sunnydale, you can’t take the Sunnydale out of the wolf.”