Monosyllabic Eccentricity

Title: Interim
Author: Nari
Rating: R
Spoilers: Vague spoilers for Not Fade Away.
Summary: Three years later, Oz shows up on Angelís doorstep.
Disclaimer: This story is written for entertainment purposes only. The characters belong to Joss; Iím only playing with them for a bit. Probably traumatizing them in the process but it just makes them more interesting.
Author's Note: Light slash and talk of rape. These are two characters that I generally find the hardest to write, especially Oz, so go figure that this is the pairing a friend would pick for her Christmas story. Hopefully I didnít butcher them too much. Also, this hasnít been beta read so mistakes are mine and I apologize.


They had never wanted him dead. Even at the end of it all they hadnít wanted him dead. Had left him standing Ė though barely Ė and his teammates, his friends lying scattered around him. Illyria had been first, attacked with a force that showed their utter disdain for the God queen. Then Gunn, who had been lost from the start. Angel and Spike then, fighting back to back. They had hardly touched Angel even as his sword had run them through. Had pressed Spike instead until he could no longer hold them back. And that was it. Theyíd vanished Ė hordes of demons Ė as easily as they had appeared. Left Angel baffled and lost in an empty alley.

Three years after the disaster and Angel still felt lost. Heíd hunted down Lorne and been told in no uncertain terms to fuck off. Lorne wanted nothing more to do with him. Angel couldnít find it in him to blame the demon. He had turned and left without ever getting to say a word.

Back to LA. Not to Wolfram and Hart, not to the hotel Hyperion. Found himself a small apartment instead. There was no need for an office because he had no intentions of starting the agency back up. Though he had every intention of continuing to fight against the evil of this world. From the shadows and on his own. Because clearly this was something that he was meant to undertake alone. It only took everyone he had cared about dieing to clue him into this fact.

So when a contrite looking Oz showed up on his doorstep with nothing more than an almost not there smile, Angelís first reaction was to shut the door. Which worked for maybe two seconds before the light tapping of Ozís knocking sounded again.

He opened the door again, making sure he looked threatening, ready to tell Oz to get lost. Never crossed his mind that maybe Oz could be there for a reason. A somebody needs help reason. Or an I need help reason. Angel just wanted this little reminder of the past to go away so he could go back to his dark apartment in peace. Relative peace anyway.

Oz just looked at him. Didnít look intimidated, didnít really look anything. Just waited. The angry words died in Angelís throat as he looked at the boy. A moment later and the angry look was lost as well. Angel didnít say a word, just stepped back to let Oz entire if that was what he wanted.

He watched nearly warily as Oz stepped by, noticing the bag that was thrown over the boyís shoulder. Hoped Oz wouldnít want a place to stay. There was room but Angel simply didnít want the company, wouldnít know how to cope with it now.

A slight lift of one eyebrow from Oz as he let his gaze skim quickly over the apartment. At theÖ nothing that was in it. Angel didnít see the point in keeping mundane possessions. He was only here to sleep really. The apartment was only one room, a bed in one corner, tiny kitchen in another, small cubby for the bathroom. The rent was cheap. No one bothered him.

It was only a second before Oz settled his gaze on Angel. Gave that almost non-existent smile. "Nice digs."

Angel only nodded in reply. Waited for Oz to get to the point of why he was standing in the middle of Angelís apartment.

Oz looked as unflappable as ever, even under the vampireís less than thrilled attention. Oz must have finally clued in though because he got to the point.

"There are two Fyarl demons-"

Angel was already grabbing a sword that leant against the wall and heading for the door before Oz could finish speaking. He only just caught the words as Oz told him where they were. The door clicked shut after him and when he finally returned Oz appeared to be long gone.

As was the small stash of cash he kept in one of the kitchen cupboards for rent.

#

Angel didnít see Oz again for over two weeks. Didnít even really think about the encounter at all, just forgot it. That had been nothing more than a disturbance in his life that hadnít last more than ten minutes. He didnít expect and didnít want another one.

When he spotted Oz walking casually down the street, staring at the ground and hands shoved into baggy jeans pockets, his first inclination was to turn and walk the other way. Avoid a confrontation. A small part of him maybe wanted that confrontation though. Just a small brush with humanity. He hesitated a moment before briskly stepping into an alley and letting himself slip easily into the shadows.

Then swore inwardly as Oz reached the alley and turned down it uncannily. Froze in the hopes that Oz hadnít seen him. Had some other reason for coming down here.

Which is what seemed to be the case as Oz passed by him without so much as pausing. Angel frowned as he actually took a moment to look at the boy. Not really a boy nowÖ What was he? Twenty-five?

Oz needed a shower. A change of clothes, as the ones he wore were dirty and tattered. Not anything like what Angel would have remembered Oz wearing. Dollar a piece thrift store clothes was what these amounted to. Hard times. Skinnier than he used to be as well and Oz had never exactly been a big guy. Really couldnít afford to lose what weight he had.

Angel watched, eyebrows raised, as Oz set the bag he carried over his shoulder down onto the pavement. He took out a threadbare blanket from the bag and laid it down over the ground. Didnít bother to turn his head as he spoke lowly a second later.

"You donít have to hide, Angel." A tinge of amusement colored his voice. It seemed forced almost.

Angel frowned and stepped out of the shadows since he had obviously been caught. "Oh. How-"

"Werewolf." Still spoken in the quietly amused voice and Oz looked over at Angel with a small half smile. He didnít seem in the least perturbed that Angel was there and watching him bed down in an alley.

Angel gave a nod. Residual aspects. Just watched as Oz sat cross-legged on the blanket and watched Angel right back.

"You stole my money." Stupid but Angel didnít know what to make of the situation.

Oz shrugged. "Yeah." Not a trace of apology in his voice. At least he hadnít tried to deny it. Although clearly he just didnít care.

They didnít say more. Considered each other a moment before Oz seemed to dismiss Angel and turned back to his bag. Angel took the opportunity to slip silently away. Didnít want to know why Oz was on the streets. Angel didnít take in strays anymore.

#

Only now Angel couldnít stop thinking about Oz. Brushed it off as pity for the boy who was obviously living on the streets. Oz seemed to be doing okay though even if he was a little on the skinny side. At least thatís what Angel firmly told himself.

Angel did not take in strays anymore. He killed the demons and whatever happened to the people afterwardsÖ Well that was their problem. Because he had a job to do and couldnít have anyone getting in his way. He couldnít deal with it if another person he knew Ė cared about on any level Ė died. It would be better for Oz if he stayed where he was. Not like Oz wasnít capable of taking care of any vampires or whatever that might go after him.

It didnít occur to Angel that Oz was also capable of helping the others that were on the street with him. Which was why, when Angel heard screams not far off from where he was patrolling two nights later, heís shocked to see the problem already being taken care of by an irate Oz.

He stopped at the scene for a moment to watch Oz fending off the four fledgling vampires. Whoever they had been attacking was already gone, Angel could hear the fast receding noise of clicking heels.

They may have been just fledglings but it was still four against one and Oz was rabidly being overpowered. He threw a look in Angelís direction that fairly begged assistance. That pushed Angel into action and together it didnít take them long to deal with the vampires. They were smart but nothing against a Master vampire and a werewolf.

Oz was panting by the end. Angel could smell the blood that soaked through the boyís shirt. He masked the sudden spike of concern as he turned to head back to his apartment.

"Come on." Telling Oz to follow and Angel didnít get any complaint. He could hear the shuffle of Ozís feet as he was trailed.

Back at the apartment Angel motioned Oz to go sit on the bed, pretty much the only piece of furniture in the room. Oz complied, perching himself on the edge, holding himself carefully against the pain. There was silence while Angel found what he could to fix up Ozís wound a bit. Oz still hadnít moved when Angel came back and sat next to him.

"Your shirt."

There was hesitation from Oz at this as he moved his hands uncertainly to pull it off. Oz had never struck Angel as the self-conscious type but he certainly seemed to be now. Angel waited and was rewarded a moment later by Ozís sigh as the boy continued the motions of pulling the shirt off. He hissed as it pulled away from drying blood over the wound.

Older wounds were prevalent across the boys back and sides. He didnít Ė wouldnít Ė look at Angel. Seemed to be waiting for Angel to say something as he stared fixedly at a spot on the wall across from them. About the injuries, about the fact that his ribs seemed to jut out slightly, about the fact that he was sleeping in alleys.

Angel didnít. It wasnít his concern. He didnít want to get involved. He was already more involved than he ever cared to be by inviting Oz into his home. Twice now. He wondered if he had doomed Oz already just by this simple act.

Angel finished bandaging the wound quickly and Oz pulled his shirt back on, looking grateful if still unsure. He stood to walk out of the apartment. Angel didnít stop him.

#

No sign of Oz for over a month this time. A few days was all it took for Angel to get over the guilt of just letting him go. Occasionally Angel wondered if Oz was doing okay, maybe go look for him just to be sure. He held the urge back for a good month before he had to know. Just find Oz, see heís okay and leave. No reason for Oz to even know that Angel had been there. Even if Oz sensed him there would be no need for words.

Oz wasnít okay when Angel finally found him. He could hear the sounds first. Smell hit next and Angel knew it was Oz. Smelt his anger, fearÖ blood. Arousal but that wasnít Ozís.

Angel broke into a run and skidded to a halt when he rounded the corner, ending up in an alley. Stared in horror at the scene heíd known he was going to see. A pained moan from Oz who didnít seem to notice him and Angel snapped out of it. Snarled and lunged forward, slipping into game face and tearing the fucker that was ramming into Oz off. Threw the man into a wall with the satisfying crunch of ribs breaking. Angel stalked up to the man who now cowered before him. Wanted to kill. Sent of blood and fear and anger in the air. The man smirked at him and he hesitated.

"ÖAngel." Painfully spoken and quiet. Loud enough for Angel and he turned, ignored the man who took the moment to escape.

Oz was on the ground, having slid down the wall. The game face was shaken off as Angel stepped quickly forward, crouching down next to Oz to help.

Oz who pushed Angel roughly away and stumbled to his feet on his own. The anger soared. Anger now directed at Angel. Oz jerked his jeans up roughly as Angel watched in bafflement. Clearly he had no clue what was going on here. He had just saved Oz, hadnít he? Angel got to his feet as well but stepped back at the anger that Oz turned on him. Calm, unflappable Oz.

"Stay out of my way, Angel." And stay out of his life. Angel got the unspoken words. Didnít understand them at all.

"What? I-"

Oz snarled. Literally and Angel took a mental step back. "I didnít need your help."

Angelís turn to get angry now and he raised a hand to gesture in the direction that the man had gotten away. "He was raping you!"

A raised eyebrow was Ozís only response.

"YouíreÖ"

Oz sighed as shocked realization lit on Angelís face. Shook his head sadly and turned to walk away. There was a tang of salt in the air. Angel watched him in dismay. Oz whoring himself out. Oz reaching a breaking point.

"Wait." Angel reached a hand out to Ozís arm to stop him. Oz stopped. Didnít turn. Didnít speak. "If you need a place to stayÖ" The offer was left open.

A moment of tense silence from Oz. "No." Then he pulled away from Angel and walked on. Angel let him. Felt guiltily relieved.

#

Early morning five days later and knocking on Angelís door had him waking five minutes after he had managed to fall asleep. He ignored it. Tried to get back to what he had been doing. The knocking only stopped after a good few minutes and Angel smiled. Let himself drift off back to sleep without a second thought for it.

He didnít wake until it started to get dark. It was natural now. Tradition these days. He wandered to the fridge to grab a bag of blood but the unmistakable sent of Oz made him stop. Frowning, he set the blood on the counter and went to the door.

Oz was sitting leant up against the wall and looking mostly asleep. He jerked awake when Angel stepped out of the apartment though and blinked up at him. Didnít bother to stand and Angel just looked down at him and waited.

"Offer still good?"

Angel paused. Nodded.

"Just for a day. Or two," Oz was quick to reassure him.

Angel reached out a hand for Oz to get to his feet. It was taken and they stood silently for a moment before Angel spoke. "Are you hungry?"

Oz smiled. Nodded. "Yeah." He sounded pleased and they both walked back in.

#

They didnít talk. Not really. Maybe there were conversations but they didnít *talk*. Didnít ask questions. Not Oz about what had happened to Angelís team. Not Angel about why Oz was on the streets. Never brought up the whoring. Oz didnít leave after two days. Angel didnít comment.

They settled into a rhythm around each other. Both went out at night, both slept during the day. The bed was more than big enough for them and since neither moved in their sleep it wasnít a big deal.

Oz came back most nights smelling of sex and passed out as soon as his head hit the pillow. He wouldnít let Angel buy him food again because he could fend for himself just fine. Had his pride. Angel didnít press. Heíd tried that once and Oz had just clamed up on him.

Angel was afraid that Oz might leave if he pushed to hard. Selfishly didnít want to lose the human contact Ė such as it was Ė that he had become so accustomed to in his years with the AI gang and was now being accustomed to again with Oz. He missed them. Oz was the best he had now. All he had now.

He had to get rid of Oz before it was too late. Too late and Wolfram and Hart figured out Oz was there. Figured they may as well take care of Oz like they had the others. He couldnít just tell Oz to leave though. Not now. Maybe if it had been someone Angel hadnít known from before.

It was the first morning Oz was late. Maybe he wouldnít come back this time. Angel knew he was stashing money. Preparing for the time when he did leave. Heíd left his bag though so heíd have to come back for it. Could be he was simply out eating. Or bleeding out in some alley from a trick that got too rough.

The knob on the door turned Ė Angel rarely bothered to lock it Ė and Angel schooled himself not to appear too relieved. Or worried. That didnít last long though. The door opened and the strong sent of blood wafted into the room. Angel leapt to his feet, vampire reflexes catching Oz before he could fall through the doorway. Oz wasnít so proud that he refused Angelís support over to the bed. Never would have made it otherwise.

Angel carefully set him down on the edge of the bed, Oz hissing slightly at the increase in pain.

"Sorry." Quietly spoken and Angel meant so much more than just this. No answer from Oz who was hanging his head heavily, breathing deep. Angel watched for a moment before kneeling, reaching under the bed for the med kit he now kept. It wasnít the first time Oz had come home in less than good condition. Never like this though.

Sitting back up on the bed next to Oz, Angel began rooting though the med kit for what he would need. "Strip." Curt demand that he knew Oz would follow. Except Oz couldnít. Tried to get the shirt off but only hissed again in pain and shook his head.

"Canít." Easy to hear the pain through gritted teeth. Angel moved to help but didnít want to jostle Oz by trying to pull the shirt off over his head so carefully ripped it away instead. Luckily Oz had a few extra sets of clothes in his duffle. The jeans were a little easier to get off. Didnít have to rip them, just carefully slide them off. Angel wasnít surprised to see that blood soaked through the seat.

"Come on, you need a shower." Bath would have been better Ė easier Ė but the tiny apartment didnít have one. Oz didnít say anything which was fine as Angel hadnít expected it anyway. He wrapped an arm around the boys shoulders to help him up and over to the shower. Much as Oz tried to walk on his own he never would have made it even the short distance without Angel. Angel could feel Ozís legs ready to give way under him. Contemplated just carrying Oz but knew it would be going too far.

They made it to the shower anyway where Oz pulled away to step into the stall on his own. He had to brace himself against the tiles while Angel stepped forward to turn the taps and adjust the water to hopefully comfortable levels. No need to tell Oz to brace himself against the sting of water on wounds. Oz flinched but relaxed marginally once the pain subsided.

Angel stood back just outside the shower as water poured over Oz. Washed the blood away to reveal the scrapes and bruises, old and recent. "Gonna be okay here on your own?"

Oz merely glanced at him and gave a miniscule nod. Hesitating only a moment, Angel turned and walked out, leaving the door open so heíd be able to hear easily if anything happened. Oz hardly needed to slip on top of everything else. Angel went and sat on the bed to wait for Oz to be finished so he could bandage the wounds. Do whatever he could to make Oz better.

No way was Oz going out to do this again.

#

It was several days before Angel felt good enough about Ozís condition to bring it up.

Oz hadnít left the room. Hadnít felt well enough to. He carried himself with care and stayed as silent as ever. Never once complained or asked for more from Angel. Angel watched him but kept quiet as well. When Oz seemed to decide that Angel wasnít going to push the issue he relaxed slightly. Stopped acting like he was waiting for some bomb to drop whenever Angel was around.

Angel gave him another day to rest before doing just what Oz had so clearly been fearing. Had to do it before Oz got it in his head to go back out.

Angel came home in the morning as usual the next day and found Oz on the bed and reading one of the many books that Angel had kept around. He looked up when Angel walked in and offered a small smile of greeting. Went right back to the book.

Angel went through the usual routine of heating and drinking a bag of blood before moving over to the bed. Sat on his side of it and wondered at the best way to bring this conversation up. Anything he said would set Oz on the defensive. It would probably end in an argument but Angel couldnít see how to avoid that. May as well get it over with though and he spoke almost hesitantly.

"You canít go out and do this again." Not a demand, just something being put forth.

Oz didnít say anything for a moment before marking his place in the book and setting it down. He gave Angel a look that said to drop it now.

Angel sighed, feeling almost frustrated. "Why are you even doing this?" Surely someone with Ozís intelligence could get an actual job.

Oz shrugged. Looked away and picked up the book again. End of conversation. Not for Angel though. He grabbed hold of Ozís wrist to stop him and got a pissed off looking raised eyebrow.

"If you need money that badly why donít you just ask?"

"I donít need the money."

"Then what?" He tried not to make his voice sound too sharp but it still came out with that frustrated Ďwhat the fuck is going on hereí tone.

Oz pulled his wrist out of Angelís grip. "It doesnít matter." He moved to get up and leave. Angel didnít let him, got hold of his wrist again.

"Tell me, Oz."

Instead of answering Oz fell to absently fiddling with the charm necklace that was wrapped around one hand. It was a motion he did often. Angel remained silent to let him think, letting go of his wrist as it was obvious he no longer planned to bolt.

"Iím not doing this for money."

"Then what?"

Silence for several long moments. Oz seemed to contemplate whether it was worth it to tell Angel. Slumped shoulders and a sigh told Angel that Oz would talk.

Drugs. Oz did it all for drugs. Not your regular kind either. Black market magic cocktails. No outward side effects that would allow Angel Ė or anyone Ė to know that something was up. Meant to stop Oz from ever turning back into the wolf. Heíd been terrified of it ever since heíd nearly killed Tara. Now he didnít have to worry about it Ė at least not as much Ė but he paid the price.

Angel listened in silence. Had to curb the growing anger that someone would take advantage of Oz Ė of anyone Ė like that.

The man gave Oz a bit of money every time as well. Living expenses, he wanted to keep the boy around. And it was hard to get a job when each morning you came home barely able to walk.

It hadnít struck Angel as odd that Oz had never come home every night smelling like different men. All he had smelt that mattered to him had been pain and exhaustion. Anything else was ignored.

So surely Angel could see why Oz had to keep doing this. It wasnít so bad really. Especially now that Oz had a bed to come to. A place to stay, someone to talk with about inconsequential things. Someone to offer support.

Angel couldnít see it though. There had to be better ways. But when Oz said he was going out again that night Angel didnít contradict him. Nodded.

#

He looked everywhere. Spent every night not helping the helpless on the streets because he was too busy trying to help the helpless in his own home. Was determined to find a better way for Oz to control the wolf. Maybe get rid of it altogether.

Oz didnít know. He wasnít about to tell Oz just so that he could be told to stop. Because of course Oz could handle it. Which was why when he came home one morning and crawled into the bed beside Angel the sent of tears were in the air.

No words were spoken. Oz just laid on his side away from Angel and fought back tears that he couldnít hide. Not from a vampire. Angel didnít move though. This wasnít a first either and Oz usually managed to drop off to sleep fairly quickly.

That didnít seem to be the case this time though. A quickly cut off, muffled sob had Angel turning onto his side against his better judgments. He stared at Ozís tense back for a moment before lifting a hand to rest lightly on a shoulder blade. Felt as Oz took a deep shuddering breath but otherwise didnít move.

"Hey." Softly spoken because Angel truly had no idea what to say. Had no clue what the line was between them and sort of doubted that Oz knew either. There was no response for a moment and if Angel didnít know better heíd have thought that Oz fell asleep with the amount of time it took.

Oz was still awake though and spoke in a voice quiet enough that it was barely there. "Sorry."

Hard for a vampire to miss the barely perceptible shift back against Angel's hand that told him how much Oz really craved the comfort. Even if Oz didn't realize - or want to admit - it himself. Angel slid his arm over and around Oz's chest. Didn't stop when Oz instantly tensed and pulled the boy back against him. It took a few moments but Oz relaxed back against him. Not completely, there was still some tension there, but it was a start.

It was still hours before Oz relaxed enough to sleep.

#

A new tradition easily started. Oz would come back in the morning, more often than not later than Angel. Strip down to boxers and crawl into the bed, relax against Angel until Angel automatically raised an arm. They'd sleep curled around each other for the rest of the day until Oz would get up to make something to eat from the now slightly better stalked kitchen. Heated a mug of blood for Angel as well.

Angel was definitely getting too attached. Oz hadn't even truly done anything to bring him out of the brooding depression he had fallen into with the death of the others. Yet Angel could feel himselfÖ just starting to relax, starting to really care about things - Oz - again. And he didn't mind. Didn't want to chase Oz away so he could go back to his solitary darkness.

Hopefully Oz being there wouldn't matter anyway. Oz had nothing to do with Angel's fight. He was here for his own reasons. Oz wouldn't get in Wolfram and Harts way. At least that's what Angel told himself. Could even convince himself that it was true. That he wouldn't have to tell Oz it was time for him to leave. Not often, anyway.

It seemed far more prudent to convince Oz to stay actually. Oz still stashed whatever cash he could come by. Was still obviously planning to leave as soon as he had enough. Or started to fear that he had worn out his welcome. Angel couldn't let him leave. Not now. Angel doubted if he ever really could have despite everything.

Early morning, when Oz came home and curled up next to Angel, was proving to be the best time to bring anything up. Oz was tired - exhausted - and more willing to talk. As much as he was ever willing to talk. At least Angel knew he'd get a somewhat honest answer from a - if only slightly - less closed off Oz.

Arms wrapped around Oz and the heat from Oz's back pressed against him soaking in, Angel spoke quietly.

"You don't need to save money. You can stay here."

"Okay." And Oz shifted back against him. Angel tightened his arms.

The next time rent was due Oz paid.

#

Every night Oz still went out. Angel went as well, searching for a cure that didn't seem to exist beyond what Oz had already found. He went to see every mystic he knew, hunted down the one's he didn't. None knew what the magical cocktail Oz was taking could be. Had never heard of something like that being done.

But Angel was stubborn. Didn't know when to quit trying. Didn't care if the people he normally tried to protect every night were being virtually ignored. Oz mattered more than them and Angel couldn't remember when that had happened.

He tried old contacts of Wesley's that the man thought Angel hadn't known about. Only one could give him any type of a lead. It was only a name but it was at least a start, the most he had managed to get so far. Ciro. Supposedly he knew a way or if not, could at least find out.

If not then Angel would be forced to go to the back up plan and rip the throat out of the fucker that had been hurting Oz. The only reason he hadn't already done that was because he could imagine Oz's reaction at having the only sorta cure taken away. Angel didn't want Oz to be so pissed off that he'd leave.

Now he had the lead though, shaky as it was. It meant leaving town. Leaving Oz on his own. As much as Angel hated it he couldn't find another way. He wasn't about to leave without letting Oz know first though. Waited until he was actually ready to leave and Oz was eating a hastily thrown together breakfast/dinner.

He had a bag packed with what he'd need at his side when he stepped up to Oz at the small table which was little more than plywood set on crates. Low down enough that chairs were useless and Oz sat cross-legged on the floor. He had to look up when Angel stepped alongside him, eyebrow raising as he caught sight of the bag in hand.

"ÖGoing somewhere?" Simple inquiry after the obvious but Angel thought - or maybe hoped - that he could hear disappointment in the tone.

"Yeah. There's something I need to take care of. Probably be a couple of weeks."

"Oh." Oz seemed at a loss for what to say. Looked down and this time Angel knew he saw disappointment on Oz's face.

"I'll see you went I get back though." Which was only another way of asking if Oz would still be here when he got back.

Oz looked back up. Smiled. "Yeah, of course."

It was all Angel needed. Oz wouldn't say he'd see him unless it was actually true. Which meant he wouldn't be planning to run while Angel was gone. He'd still be here when Angel got back and Angel felt a wash of relief at the thought. Said one more brief goodbye and turned to leave. He could feel Oz's eyes watching him walk out.

#

Oz wasn't there when he got back.

The trip hadn't taken him as long as he'd thought it would. Ten days. Surprisingly easy.

Ciro proved to be rather accommodating. Had threatened Angel with magic when Angel had threatened him. Then waited until Angel backed down and patiently listened while Angel told him what he was doing there, what he wanted. Why he wanted it. Because it was to help a friend, someone he cared about. Ciro seemed agreeable after that.

There was no cure. There never had been, there never would be. There were ways of calming the wolf, however. Uncommon and hard to come by but there were ways.

So Angel came back with one of those ways. A magical cocktail not unlike Oz was already taking every week. This one was to be taken on each day of the full moon. Angel trusted that it would work. In return Ciro could call on him if he ever needed a favor and Angel would come.

But none of it mattered because Angel came back and Oz wasn't there.

Hadn't been there for some time as his scent was beginning to fade. What meager possessions he had were still there though, leaving only one conclusion for Angel to draw on.

Angel was back out the door only a few short moments after he had stepped in. Had dropped his bag carelessly and left the door swinging open. He ran back out onto the streets and looked around wildly. He shook his head at himself. As if Oz was just going to suddenly pop up and say hi.

Taking a moment to gather himself briefly he took a deep breath. Couldn't catch even the faintest trace of Oz which was not unusual in a city where scents were washed away almost instantly. He stood for a moment uncertainly before turning and heading at a jog to the alley where he had found Oz the once.

There was a stronger sent of Oz here but it was still old by several days. Still enough for Angel to follow. The trail faded once he stepped out of the alley and into the busy streets. Concentrating though, Angel could pick up minute traces of it. Oz's blood, Oz's fear. Angel was becoming far too familiar with both.

Losing the trail several times but always - through grim determination - managing to pick it up again, Angel found himself in a fairly quiet almost family type neighborhood. The house that stood before him was nothing remarkable. It did pose a problem if Oz was inside though. Plus it would be light out in a few hours. He was running short on time.

Taking a chance that luck might be on his side just this once - though he doubted it - he took up hiding behind the hedges that lined either side of the driveway. Waited and procrastinated the sense that would be leaving until the sun was nearly out.

The door creaked open and someone stepped out onto the steps. Angel didn't hesitate before honed reflexes had him on the man in a flash, hand in a crushing grip around his throat. Only a brief pause to make sure that this was the man he had caught hurting Oz and Angel could feel the rage build. His hand flexed. The man didn't have any chance as his windpipe collapsed under the grip.

Another moment and Angel had free entrance to the house. A nice normal house. Nothing there to indicate what a sick fucker the owner had been. Nothing to indicate that there'd be a clearly injured - beaten - naked man sprawled out on the bed and waiting, half unconscious.

"ÖOz."

No response. Oz just continued his blank staring up at the ceiling through half closed eyes. Seemed resigned to whatever was about to come.

Angel made his way to the side of the bed. Oz was a wreck. Cut and bruised. Looked as if a half-hearted attempt had been made at cleaning him up.

Swallowing, Angel made his way up to the side of the bed. Made sure that he was in Oz's line of sight and tried again. "Oz?"

Oz blinked. Seemed to focus and clear his gaze. "Angel? Hey. You're back early."

"ÖYeah. Yeah, I am." Angel watched Oz with worry but Oz was too out of it to notice. He closed his eyes and seemed about to drift off. Angel let him. Watched a moment longer before leaving to hunt through the house for a med kit or some supplies to clean Oz up properly.

It was awhile before Angel managed to get Oz properly cleaned up and he sat back on the bed and waited. For Oz to wake. For dark to fall so they could get home.

#

Dark came before Oz woke.

Angel remained at his self-appointed vigil at the edge of the bed. Already Oz seemed to be looking better than when Angel had first stepped in. Mostly that was due to the simple fact that he had been properly cleaned and treated. Angel liked to imagine that maybe he looked a little less strained as well.

Oz tensed the moment he woke, a wave of fear/anger washing over him. Angel was there instantly, leaning over him slightly and trying to reassure. Oz's eyes blinked open and he stared at Angel in obvious confusion.

"Angel? What are you doing here?" He spoke slowly, like he had to concentrate in order to form the words.

"Saving you. Think you're okay to get out of here?"

Oz shook his head slightly, still seeming confused. He sat up with only a slight grimace of pain and the blankets that Angel had pulled up over him fell to pool at his waist. "No. I can't leave yet and you're not even supposed to be here." He was beginning to sound a little panicked, eyes darting quickly to the door. Afraid that someone would walk in.

"He's not coming back, Oz."

Oz turned his gaze back on Angel. Frowned. "What?" His eyes narrowed almost angrily. "How did you get in here?" Dangerously calm and Angel knew he had to back peddle quickly.

"Oz, it's not-"

"You killed him. He was my one chance at-"

"No, it-"

"Shut up. Get out." He'd closed his eyes and the voice that had been about to rise became quiet once more as Oz forcibly calmed.

"Just listen, Oz." Oz didn't say anything. Kept his eyes closed and held himself tense. "You don't need him. I found another way, that's what I left for. So I could come back with another way that wouldn't involve you selling yourself." Angel spoke firmly, hoping to drive the point home to Oz.

Oz just stared at him, slight furrow to his brow as if he couldn't quite comprehend what Angel was telling him. Angel let the silence continue, met Oz's gaze until Oz looked down and spoke softly. "It's really over? I didn't ask for help."

"It is and you didn't need to."

Oz nodded, looked down once again and Angel frowned at the almost shamed appearance it gave him. The boy took a deep breath and - someone what startled - Angel could recognize it as the start of a sob. Oz seemed to lean slightly towards Angel, silently asking without words. Angel didn't hesitate; slide further onto the bed and gathered Oz into his arms. The same instant Oz broke, sobbed hard against Angel who could only hold him tighter.

#

They finally made it home in early pre-dawn hours, Angel having to carry Oz most the way as he lacked the strength. By the time they had made it back Oz was nearly passed out, head rolling against Angelís shoulder. He would be fine. Angel still worried.

Back at home, kicking the still open door wide. No one had been in, everything still in itís place. Not so surprising as there was nothing of value here anyway.

Oz was placed carefully on the bed but instantly sat up, hands moving to the buttons on the shirt he wore. Angel had had to put Oz in what clothes could be found in the dresser as Ozís own were beyond use. Angel didnít comment, moved forward to help when Ozís fingers kept fumbling. Oz was trembling, his eyes gleaming again with moisture.

Angel got all the buttons, moved his hand up to Ozís shoulder and slid the shirt off. Watched as it pooled at Ozís hips. Oz looked down as Angelís hands moved to the fastenings of the too large slacks and Angel ignored the twitch as the zipper was lowered. He was about to raise his hands to the waistband to tug the offending slacks down but Ozís hands suddenly around his wrists stopped him. He looked up. Waited.

"Please." Longing in the strained word. Angel could guess what he wanted. To forget, be cleansed. For Angel to do that.

Angel shook his head. Carefully pulled free of Ozís weak grip and took his hands gently. Spoke gently as well. "No."

Ozís gaze instantly dropped. Shame flushed over his features and there was the tang of blood as he bit the inside of his cheek. He clenched his eyes shut but it couldnít stop the new flood of tears. Angel released Ozís hands and pulled him down into a hug. Oz went willingly, practically falling off the bed so Angel could hold Oz properly from where he was kneeled on the floor.

Oz was breaking down now that he could, now that he didnít have to stay strong for the next time. Because there wasnít a next time. Never would be. It shouldnít surprise Angel but it did. Stoic Oz, crying in his arms. Wrong. Nothing more Angel could do but hold Oz and offer what comfort he could.

When the tears finally began to taper once more and Angel could feel Oz beginning to drift off, Angel stood. Held Oz close in his arms and placed the boy back on the bed. Mostly asleep, Oz didnít complain. He lifted his hips in compliance when Angel finished tugging the slacks off but otherwise didnít move.

Not bothering with stripping himself, Angel just manhandled the boneless Oz around until he could pull the covers over them both. Gathered Oz back into his arms and waited until there was nothing but deep breathing filling the room.

#

Horrors were gone, vanished. Things were brighter, happier. No more huge shadow seemed to hang over them. Not Oz at any rate. Angel would always have his shadow in the form of Wolfram and Hart. But OzÖ Oz seemed lifted, buoyant. Better.

The new drug worked. Three full moons Oz had used it now. Claimed it was the closest he had ever felt to being normal since he had been bitten. To not always worrying about the wolf inside. Now Angel could see the he was getting ready to leave. Ready to move on. Leave this horrible Ė traumatizing Ė chapter of his life behind. Leave Angel behind. And Angel couldnít see any way to stop it.

Oz would leave.

It was what he wanted. What was best on all accounts. Because Wolfram and Hart would come. Angel couldnít see Oz hurt more.

Oz got a crap job. Stashed the meager amount of money that it paid. Never outwardly told Angel that he would leave, it was simply understood. They both knew this.

It loomed over the horizon and Angel knew when it had unaccountably arrived. He spent the day holding Oz without ever wanting to let go. But evening had Angel going out on patrol as usual. Saying goodbye to Oz. Oz saying goodbye to him.

When he came back the apartment Ė his life Ė was empty again.