Angel returned to Oz’s house in the morning hours before sunrise, but Oz was still up. He nodded a welcome from the stool where he sat in the small living room, strumming an unplugged guitar. Angel nodded back, took a few aimless steps, and opened his mouth to speak, but before the words were out, there was a knock at the door.
Oz hopped up and set down the guitar carefully before going to answer it, and Angel, lurking behind him, heard Howell’s voice, frank and urgent: “I need to use your cage.”
Between the two of them, Oz and Angel coaxed the pilot into sitting with them and discussing where this new sense of alarm had come from. Angel hadn’t even yet had a chance to tell Oz about the new prevailing theory on whom was hosting the Wolf, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to bring it up around Howell, but the man beat him to it: “There’s a woman. Young, pretty. Turns into a wolf, not a wolf, it looks like one but it walks on two legs, and she rips them up with her teeth. I don’t know why I know. She was there the last time, and she’ll be at the next one. Follow her, see for yourself. She’s been there all along. I wasn’t. I don’t know how I know.” He took a deep breath, waved away the beer that Oz offered him, accepted a glass of water from Angel instead. “That was the important part,” he added.
“What else do you know?” asked Angel.
“I know I’m not finished. I brought you here for her, and she’ll take you out, you and Buffy, when she’s ready. But I’m not done. There has to be more, more blood, more chaos. As long as I’m free I’ll be hunting.”
Oz leaned his elbows on his knees, looking grim. “That’s why you want the cage?”
“How do we know you’re not saying this to throw us off your scent?” Angel inquired. He felt terrible for the man, but they couldn’t afford to get sentimental now.
“Jesus, I don’t know. Just follow her. I know exactly where the next death will be, and when. I can take you there.”
Oz made a placating gesture. “So do we. It’s alright, Howell. I’ll go get the cage set up now.”
Temporarily left alone with Howell, Angel turned the interrogation to a more personal note. “Do you have any idea why the Wolf wanted me and Buffy to be here? Does it just make it easier for her to kill us?”
The man looked pensive, taking a few moments to consider before answering. “I don’t think you can trust me to answer that,” he said finally. “If she doesn’t want you to know something, I’ll lie to cover it up. That’s why I had to tell you the important part all at once, before I could think about it too much.”
“Okay,” said Angel. “Thanks.” He stopped himself short of asking another question. What good would it do? Anyway, if Buffy was directly in danger from the Wolf, protecting her was his own duty, not Howell’s.
Oz returned and showed Howell downstairs, explaining that a cage was a cage but he had dragged in all the furniture that would fit through the door, plus a broomstick to bang on the ceiling if for any reason he couldn’t reach Oz using his cell phone.
“This is temporary,” said Oz when he returned alone. “This has definitely got to be temporary.”
“Mm,” Angel agreed. They sat back down in the living room, and Angel summarized what he and Buffy had learned from their evening with Nina and Mr. E. Oz listened attentively, with a deepening frown on his normally expressionless face.
“So what do you think?” Angel concluded. “Have you noticed Nina acting strange at all lately?”
Oz answered with a reluctant nod. “I didn’t think it was anything supernatural at the time, but now it all makes sense.”
“They invited us to the Independence Day cookout, so we’ll be able to see if there’s anything new going on with her transformation. Other than that, I guess the plan is just to show up at the next scheduled crime scene, like Howell said.” He supposed the plan should include something about how to deal with Nina if she was there, but he wasn’t ready for that. “And Oz, I’m going to have to ask you to keep this a secret for now. At least from Nina and Eric.”
The word was so unexpected yet so casually spoken that it took Angel a moment to comprehend it. “What?”
“I said no. Hey man, I get that cloak and dagger is your MO, but they’re my friends. They’re my pack leaders. Take a couple days to figure out how to break the news, but make sure it gets broken, or I’ll do it.”
Angel met his eyes across the room, and neither gaze wavered as the seconds ticked by. “I’m not going to hurt Nina,” he said.
“Good,” Oz replied. He stood up. “There’s clean towels in your room. Sleep tight.”