Monosyllabic Eccentricity

Title: Acne Scars
Author: Vashti
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: None - future fic
Summary: I don’t know what the heck this is about! Oz is in it…and he learns to move on. Isn’t that enough for you people?!
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and whole lot of other folks owned BTVS. But now that Buffy’s over…does that mean we can get a piece of the pie? Just wondering.
Author's Note: thank you Crystal for reading this for me, qLiz (better known as my height twin) for being willing to read *anything* I write (you too Shannon), and Karen for always yelling at us to write more Oz


One of the cheetahs kept her spots when she went back human. She said they were freckles. They looked like freckles, dense and clustered around her cheekbones and forehead as they were.

One of her companions, Pieter, said it was because she had been forced to hold form too long. They didn’t like to talk about it. Or so Oz gathered from LoAnne’s pleasantly blank face whenever a stranger asked about them. Or if he brought it up late at night or early in the morning.

Which probably explained their atypical. . . togetherness. Atypical for cheetahs, anyway. They were almost leonine in their sense of family. It could have been their humanity coming through, but Oz doubted it. Maybe it was because there were so few of their kind, but, again . . .

He’d been lucky to be let in their group at all. Of course he’d saved their youngest member from a big game hunter who specialized in weres: a child of six named Shiloh who couldn’t yet change form. (Seven now, his irises became slits in the dark, when he was scared, and once when he had caught a cold from his classmates.) A tiny little thing, fine-boned and fragile looking, Oz had licked the child’s wounds and carried him back to his people on his back. He still didn’t know what had induced him to retake human form -- but he was relying increasingly on his instincts.

The child had submitted passively to all Oz’s ministrations once Oz established he hadn’t been fighting for snacking rights. It wasn’t until the boy’s weaker nose had caught the scent of his people that he voiced that curious chirping Oz had only heard on nature shows. The ones he used to watch with Willow.

“*Shiloh.*” There had been a perplexing moment when both Oz and the mother had been holding onto the boy. But Oz was soon relegated to the background as three pairs of hands inspected young Shiloh.

“It’s just a few scrapes and bruises.”

Six eyes instantly turned his way. Oz hadn’t had much experience with other were-species, particularly those whose animal was solitary in nature. (If only the same could have been said for the Tibetan were-monkey.) Everything Oz knew about cheetahs he had learned from those nature shows he’d watched with Willow: fast, relatively timid, good pets for royalty. Once tamed they were never un-. They were the least aggressive of the big cats, easily forced from a kill, but dangerous in their own right. They were good mothers. Devoted brothers. Something like frats. Territorial.

He might have just done his last good deed.

The two other females closed rank around mother and son. Consequently they blocked the only exit. Shiloh chirruped behind them. “Thank you for returning our youngest . . .”

“Sure thing.” He edged to the left, carefully looking for a way around them. “Guess I’ll be going.”

“We don’t think so,” the left-hand female said, her voice surprisingly husky. The one with the heavy freckling, or maybe acne scars. Oz wouldn’t learn her name or about her spots for another three days. “We’ll wait for Pieter and Bobby to return.”

“That’s okay. No more thanks needed,” he reassured them, trying to sidle around their perimeter.

But cheetahs were the fastest quadrupeds on the face of the Earth, and, although they often lost kills to the wild dogs of the Serengeti, Oz was the only puppy in this cat-house.

“We wait for Pieter and Bobby,” she said with leashed violence, holding Oz down with a wiry strength only suggest by her long limbs.

Oz blinked, wondering if now was a good time to be surprised.

***

Dawn was making a slow burn past the horizon when Pieter and Bobby were satisfied with Oz’s motives. He was sure that young Shiloh’s stumbling bleary-eyed from the upstairs sleeping area, to the dank basement and into Oz’s Indian-style lap -- and then promptly falling asleep -- had something to do with it. The freckled female (two more days till he knew her name) soon followed. Wordlessly she took the boy from Oz and returned upstairs. Bobby, of the blond and mint-green hair, body piercings and creaking leather, grinned ferally. Much as the freckled female had when she’d held Oz down, although Bobby was infinitely more amused. Oz thought. The punk cheetah elbowed Pieter and whispered something in his leader’s ear. Pieter gave him a dark look. Bobby’s grin never wavered.

“You are free to go, Oz,” Pieter announced. His clear, unaccented English marked him as a foreigner more than his name. “Bobby will act as escort.”

Oz slowly levered himself up from the floor, stiff despite his wolfish ways. Not even lycanthropy could counteract interrogation in a cold, damp basement. “I’ll be fine. Thanks for the hospitality.”

“We insist,” said Pieter without the least hint of remorse. And so Oz took a very circuitous route home with a man twice his height and thrice as many holes in his body. It was a quiet trip for the most part . . .except for Bobby’s occasional barking laugh.

***

Two days later: “What do I do with’im, Pete?”

Smells like Bobby Spirit.

“Set the dog on the sofa so I can tend to him.”

One word . . . Sounds like . . .

“Good, now go upstairs and ask LoAnne about a room.” . . . Pieter.

Aaaaaaand . . .fade out.

***

Oz awoke in a bed unlike his familiar nest-like futon. It smelt wrong. Like cats. A female. Not fertile. Familiar.

“Welcome to the land of the living, Oz.”

Very familiar. Oz opened his eyes. The freckled female. “What am I doing here?” he demanded as he struggled to rise.

She was on him in an instant, pushing him back onto her bed. Making him his in pain. “Not yet. You were very badly burned and you have yet to heal.”

“When…?”

But then he was unconscious again.

***

He would later find out that his second jaunt into consciousness was made later that same day, but at the time he had no sense of day or time. The freckled female was there, watching him. He opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out.

She was up and out in an instant. Oz reasoned it was to tell Pieter that he was back among the living…for real. But she came back with a child’s cup, the kind with an incorporated straw. “Drink,” she ordered. And he did. Until she pulled the water away. “Too much will make your stomach cramp.”

Which Oz knew, but his stomach was oh so empty. As was his mind -- of answers. “Why am I here?” he asked with a voice that had seen better days. His throat felt like he had swallowed splinters.

“Bobby pulled you from a fire in your loft. The hunter you rescued our Shiloh from tracked you down and tried to incinerate your apartment complex.”

“Were there--”

“No, there were no casualties,” she answered the unfinished question with the same calm assuredness she had displayed three nights ago. “Apparently someone, probably you, sounded the alarm before any serious damage could be done. Your loft is a total loss.” She offered him more water. “Even if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be safe for you to go back there.”

Oz nodded. So they hadn’t killed the hunter. Oz wished he knew the man’s name so that he had a name to curse along with a face.

“Pieter has offered you Blood Rites on him,” she added when she took the water back.

Oz was so surprised that he didn’t realize she had asked if he could sit up until she repeated herself. “I’m not sure.”

“I’ll help you.” And she did, bracing his weight with her body. “I’ll have to get extra pillows from the other beds.”

“Don’t bother. I’m good.”

Quirking a brow, she wordlessly left. And came back with a hand mirror. She handed it to him. She watched him study his skin, runny and mottled like wet pink clay in places, leathery in others. “It will heal. It would heal quicker if you could change, but you are too weak now to come back quickly enough.”

“Quickly enough?”

She looked away for a moment, an emotion Oz couldn’t read passing through her eyes, as she ran her fingertips over her freckled cheeks. “If you hold form too long your body forgets all of what it is to be human. Sometimes it will bring some of your animal back with you.”

“I see.”

“But all you will need,” she continued on as if nothing had happened, “is to regain your strength then you will be able to make the transition safely. After what you have done for us the least our pod can do is offer you shelter until you are well.”

“Thanks.”

She got up to leave, leaving the still half-full child cup beside the futon. “Is this your…”

“Nest? Yes. The house is our den.”

Oz nodded. “One more thing.”

“Yes?”

“What’s your name?”

“I am LoAnne. You already know Shiloh. He and his mother, Toni, nest down the hall to your right. Seraphim nests next to them. Pieter and Bobby nest downstairs.”

“Downstairs?”

“Yes, you are on the second story of a quite ramshackle Victorian house. You’ve already seen our ‘tidy’ little foyer and the mess that is the basement. The attic is worse. Is there anything else you need to know before I go? You understand you need your rest.”

Oz shook his head, already edging back to horizontal and sleep. “When’s dinner?”

“You’ve missed it, but if you wake within an hour I can make something for you.”

He nodded, almost in the arms of sleep.

***

He awoke three hours later but she made him dinner anyway and helped him to the bathroom, downstairs on the boys’ level. LoAnne let Bobby do most of the physical helping. Which didn’t matter much to Oz. He was too busy being concerned over his own weakness. Maybe a steady diet of canned beans *wasn’t* the most healthy choice he’d ever made. Not that his limited funds had left him many options.

“Wasn’t sure what LoAnne meant when she said you were too weak to safely go through the change,” said Pieter as he helped Oz from the bathroom, “but now I understand. Not that I doubted her. She would know.”

“She would?” And he still sounded like someone had tried to run a grinding stone across his voice-box.

Pieter nodded, guiding Oz toward the stairs. “She’s forced shape the longest.”

“ ‘Forced shape?’”

Pieter gave Oz a questioning look.

“I’m not a natural werewolf.”

“I see. ‘Forced shape.’ Forced shape is when you change regardless of the cycling of the moon. Every time you become the wolf and She’s not full you are forcing your other shape to emerge.”

“I thought…” They paused as Oz caught his breath. “I thought our animals were in us all the time.”

Pieter nodded. “They are, but outside of our moon-time they show themselves in our actions as people. Even if you gave in to the urgings of the wolf you would still be considered a mad human. But when you call forth the *form* of the wolf, then you are forcing it’s shape.” They were nearly up the landing. “Did LoAnne tell you that I’ve offered you Blood Rites on the hunter?”

Oz nodded.

“You understand what that means?”

“I get first shot at killing him.”

Smiling Pieter reminded Oz forcibly of Bobby. “You’re not as ignorant as I was afraid you might be.” He helped Oz settle into LoAnne’s bed. “We’re going to have to find a room for you. Probably on the boys’ floor. I’ll tell Bobby--”

“You said LoAnne’s forced shape longest.” Pieter nodded, saying, “Nearly 48 hours straight. Rapid back and forth for seventeen days.”

“LoAnne said that…that if you force shape too long your body brings part of the animal back with you.”

They stared at each other for a while, both understanding the unspoken question. Finally Pieter broke the silence, rising as he said, “I don’t think it’s my place to talk about such things. You will have to ask LoAnne.”

***

Which he did when she came in to check on him.

“My spots.” She drew a finger from the corner of her inner right eye down to the corner of her mouth, and brushed her hand across her forehead. “Are you all right? Do you need anything?”

But Oz was more aware of how he was just noticing that she wore long-sleeves when most of the house went short-sleeved or sleeveless, and that the line she drew down her face was the only place there weren’t groupings of small brown freckles. Spots. They were two perfect lines of blemish-free skin, like tear tracks. “No,” he said softly. “I’m fine, thank you.”

LoAnne stood. “If you need me I’m down the hall with Seraphim.” She produced a toy bell. “Shiloh says that you should ring this if you want one of us because you may not be strong enough to yell yet.” She looked him over critically. “I’m inclined to agree.”

She left Oz wondering if he should have asked after all.

***

His body responded quickly to the cheetah-pod’s better food, but there only a week, Oz could tell he was putting a strain on their resources. And that he was attracted to LoAnne.

The other members of the pod visited him, Shiloh and LoAnne most often. The boy was exhausting, but it was so obvious that Toni, his mother, was relieved to have him off her hands if only for a moment that Oz didn’t have the heart to send Shiloh away.

LoAnne… LoAnne, on the other hand, was his constant companion. She was often the first person he saw when he woke up and the last when he went to sleep. Oz wondered if there was a reverse-Florence Nightingale syndrome and decided to look it up as soon as he was well enough to go to the library.

And he really had to find another place to live. He asked Bobby to keep a look-out for cheap housing during his ramblings about the city. Bobby cut his eyes from Oz to the door as if expecting someone. “I don’t know about that, mate.”

“What’s wrong?” While the healing process for most of his body dawdled on, his throat had smoothed out within days of waking up with the cheetahs.

“I don’t think the women-folk will take kindly to helpin’ you bounce outta here.”

Oz frowned. “I thought males were in charge with cheetahs.”

Bobby shook his head. “Not even in the wild. Males’ve got their territory but the females do as they please. We bide by them even if it don’t look like it. Hey, I’ll keep a look-out, but don’t go sayin’ nothin’ about it until you talk to LoAnne about it, alright?”

“Sure thing, man.”

Bobby didn’t find anything suitable, so Oz didn’t bring it up. But he *was* getting a serious case of cabin-fever. “LoAnne, I need to do something. I’m just wasting what you guys have worked hard for,” he said to her in the kitchen.

“You are all right, Oz,” she said in the calm way that was sometimes infuriating and made him wonder what he’d have to do to get her show something in the way of emotion.

“I’m another mouth to feed,” he replied matter-of-factly. “At least let me go busking. Bobby managed to save my guitar and playing is the one of the thing I do really, really well.”

“Only one?”

With a quirk of eyebrows that were finally starting to grow back in -- and itched because of it -- “I also philosophize on Animal Crackers.”

LoAnne smiled. “Anything else?”

“I shoot a wicked flaming arrow,” he said in his best deadpan.

And was rewarded with a soft, “I bet you do,” before LoAnne got up to leave. “Guess that means you’re ready to move downstairs.”

“Guess so.”

“And to force shape.”

There was no suitable reply.

***

They did it the next day, upstairs in the cluttered attic.

Oz looked around. “Shouldn’t there be chains or something…just in case?”

LoAnne shrugged. “I think I’ll be able to handle you. You’re not as strong as all that yet, Oz. Would being tied make you feel better?”

And there was something about the way she said it… “Not if you think you can handle it.”

She nodded. “I believe I can. Pieter and Bobby are just downstairs in case something goes wrong. I thought too many scents up here at once might confuse you while in your wolf state, especially males.”

“Okay,” but it was more for himself than her. There was a funny look in her eyes when he asked her to turn around so that he could undress, as if she remembered modesty like his. And missed it.

But then there were no more man-thoughts. Only wolf-thoughts. Flat things made real by their scents. Table. Desk. Dust. Friends below. Female.

Oz-wolf turned, growling at the female. Friend, he decided as her scent hit him in the hot humid air of the attic. She approached and he growled again. She got down on her knees. He didn’t back away. Maybe because she was slow, maybe because he knew her, but he let her get close. Very close.

She grabbed his ears and rubbed her face along his cheeks. He jerked his head away, sneezing. Yes, that had been an undercurrent of cat in her. But that was okay. It even made her more *real.* This was who he had been expecting. She scratched behind his ears and under his chin where it felt good, and he let her run her hands over his body.

She smiled. He backed away and growled.

“Sorry. Dogs. So temperamental.”

The voice was nice. Even grabbing him by the ears was okay.

“Now Oz. Come back. Let the wolf go, Oz. Let go of this skin for your real one,” she said staring into his green eyes.

Oz-wolf whined.

“Let it *go* Oz!”

Oz gasped as he felt fur flow over his skin like water, bones break and re-knit themselves into a shape he knew and soft hands cradling his head.

LoAnne was still holding him when, like a fish, he opened his mouth and filled his lungs as quickly as he could as the change was completed. She ran gently roughened hands quickly and smoothly over his face, the contours of his shoulders. “You’re healed,” she said softly.

And was rewarded with Oz’s arms going around her neck to pull her into a kiss.

She pushed him away and bared her teeth. A soft, feral growl escaped her.

“LoAnne, I’m sor--”

She tackled him. Her purr trembling his body. “You better not be,” she said in her curiously husky way before kissing him.

***

It only takes a month and four days for Oz to learn what to and what not to talk about in the cheetah pod: Bobby’s tattoos are safe, but not the scars they cover. Shiloh’s progress as both a boy and a were is safe, but not his father. How Seraphim, Pieter and LoAnne found this ramshackle old Victorian house is fine, but not the forces that threw them together. Yes Toni’s past life. Not Toni’s past life. Not LoAnne’s “acne scars.”

But he still likes to count them early in the morning while she’s still asleep. He counts them although he knows their place and number. He has his favorite groupings. He’s given them names.

And although she only smiles her serious smile, LoAnne thinks its cute.


Go to Sequel: Bad Hair Day