Oz took an aspirin in the kitchen and then remained there for a minute, gathering up the strength he needed to face his visitors. He had only been awake for two hours, and he wasn’t sure how bad his injuries had been before Willow healed him. The last thing he remembered from last night was Nina flinging him to the side before marching into Satellite 3 with Wolfe and Howell.
Buffy and Angel said they had found him lying prone on the sidewalk when they left the club. They were anxious to know why there hadn’t been any officers waiting out there, or indeed anyone at all, when they knew that the scene had been monitored since at least the point when Faith had entered. Oz had only a hazy memory of Nina commanding everyone to leave, but Buffy accepted it as the sole plausible explanation.
What he really wanted to know was why he was alive. It made some sense that Nina wouldn’t send him away with the cops -- he knew her better than they did, and that might affect her suggestive powers -- but leaving him unconscious by the road just seemed sloppy.
Willow stepped furtively into the kitchen, and without hesitation he told her what he had been thinking. Her eyebrows came up in a sad tilt. “Don’t mention it to Buffy and Angel,” she whispered. “It’s so hard for them already, and if they think that enough of Nina was left in the Wolf that she spared your life on purpose…”
“Don’t mention it?” he echoed softly. “Willow, can’t you see how we got here?”
She dropped her gaze the floor, cheeks burning, and he reached out to pull her into a hug. “I’m sorry. It’s as much my fault as anyone’s. I won’t say anything.”
“It was the Wolf,” she insisted, dropping her face into his chest without resistance. “None of us would have acted the way we had if we weren’t being influenced.”
Oz stroked her hair, but had nothing to say that could comfort her. At the time, it had seemed best to plan for her arrival without informing Buffy; to place all of their hopes on the spell she had said herself was a long shot; to send Eric and the pack into Satellite 3 for Nina’s protection. Had it really been the Wolf making those choices for him? He didn’t think he would ever know for sure.
They returned to the living room together. Buffy and Angel were on the couch, Faith was on the chair, and Spike was standing next to her. Everyone looked up, which just emphasized the fact that they clearly had not been speaking amongst themselves. Nobody seemed to want to start now, either.
“I’m packed up,” said Angel, closing up the silence before it stretched too far. “We’ll leave at sunset.”
“You can swing by my place to pick up Buffy’s stuff,” said Faith, and he nodded in acknowledgement.
Oz surprised himself by saying, “Sooner would be better if you can cut it.” It drew a mixture of reproachful glares and hurt expressions, but he didn’t apologize. “Eric isn’t an empty threat kind of guy. He’ll be actively hunting you, and most of the pack will back him up. You need to get out of here.”
“What about us?” Spike wanted to know. “Lehane ‘n me. Werewolf vendetta, or no?”
“I don’t know,” said Oz, exasperated. “Did you kill anyone?” They all seemed to expect him to speak for the entire pack, but he hadn’t even witnessed most of what had gone down at the end. He only knew how they felt inasmuch as he knew it wasn’t far from what he was feeling himself.
Faith spoke up, her voice tired but unwavering. “We’re staying, Spike. We have work to do.”
“I thought maybe I would stay too?” Willow sounded timid, a far cry from the powerful spellcaster she had become. “I can help. No one’s mad at me, they saw me healing them.” She shot a hopeful glance at Oz, and he felt a rush of gratitude. His high school sweetheart was still in there after all.
It was time someone asked Buffy and Angel, so Oz took it upon himself: “Where are you going? Back to LA?”
They looked at each other before Buffy shook her head and Angel took a folded piece of green paper from his pocket and handed it to Oz. “Howell wrote this down before he died. You know how he was keyed into the Wolf’s plans. I think this was all he could do to give us a head start.”
Oz unfolded the slip of paper; it was an advertisement for a local band called Lobo, but he flipped it over and saw the handwritten note that Angel was referring to. It was just a few letters, scrawled out large with a lot of pressure:
He passed it to Willow and asked Angel, “You’re thinking he’s telling you where to find the next fight?”
“The Ram,” Angel agreed. “OH means Ohio, where we are now, so we’re headed to New York.”
“We have a Slayer office there,” said Buffy. “Dawn and Xander will be glad to see us. Unless one of them turns out to be infected by the Ram and I have to kill them too.” She said it almost like a joke, making Oz flinch, but he knew enough to recognize it as a sign of her misery. Buffy had told him about her execution of Nina immediately when they saw each other, and she seemed like she was still waiting for someone to punish her for it.
Instead, they all looked at her with sympathy, and Spike said, “You saved the world again, Slayer. No matter what else happened, that was a good day’s work.”
Buffy stood up abruptly, jerking her arm away from Angel’s hand. “I need to go get a thing not in here,” she said, and hurried into Oz’s guest bedroom.
“Someone had to do it,” said Faith into the following silence. “She knows that, right?”
Angel leaned forward, shoulders drooping. “You said yourself there would be magical consequences on the one who did. I thought it would be me.” He shook his head. “But I thought if it was her, that somehow, she would find another option. That’s what she’s always done. Quick thinking at the eleventh hour, and she takes it all on herself and saves everyone. If I hadn’t believed that, maybe I would have gotten there first. Now she’s paid a higher price than any of us.”
“Tell that to my uncle,” Oz replied, more sharply than he had intended. Angel wasn’t exaggerating about the harm this must have done to Buffy, but none of them had the luxury of moping over it. Uncle Ken had been teaching his son how to sail, and had invited Oz to join them nearly every weekend. He shouldn’t have come to the club last night, and deciding whose fault it was that he had wasn’t going to bring him back.
Oz felt Willow’s hand on his shoulder, steady and warm. She would help him rebuild, he knew. She would stay in Cleveland for as long as he needed her. Someday she might even kiss him again.
“Angel.” Faith was looking across the room at him with old eyes. “I was there. I watched her go down the spiral. I even heard what she said to Nina -- to the Wolf -- until I had to leave to come get you. They talked about you. Buffy knew what she was doing. She didn’t want you to be there in her place. Um…” She stumbled and shook her head to clear it. “All I’m trying to say is, she understands you better now. I think we all do.”
Willow was nodding. Even Spike cast a sorrowful look toward Angel, then quickly dropped his gaze. Oz made a sound of agreement deep in his throat: it was hard to be strong, and he was here now with the strongest people he knew.
The Wolf was dead. The wolves would howl for her, every full moon, for years to come.