Title: Lover’s Moon (4th in the Lover’s Series)
Timeline: Takes place around the episodes “New Moon Rising”, “The Yoko Factor”, and “Primeval”.
Summary: Willow’s relationships, old and new.
1. Oz’s Night
Rupert Giles walked into what he could only describe as a dive bar. It was the last stop on the way out of Sunnydale as one drove into the vast and beautiful Mojave Desert. He crossed the creaky, sticky floor and sat on a stool at the bar. When the bartender stood expectantly before him, he said quietly, “Another for my friend here, and I’ll have the same.”
The bartender gave him a dismissive look and glanced over for conformation on what to do.
“It’s all right, Pete. He’s a friend,” Oz nodded. The bartender shrugged and went to pour the beer. “Don’t mind him,” the young man sighed, his eyes still on his drink. “He probably thought you were trying to pick me up. Pete has a protective streak.”
“I wouldn’t have considered you such a regular at a place like this.”
“Dingoes used to play here sometimes. We were too young, but the owner didn’t care ‘cause we were cheap. Pete took it on himself to watch out for us. Keep the creepers off of us.”
Giles gave a small, appreciative smile. “Ah. Well, I’m not sure I’d have the confidence to be so forward. At least, not with a young man so far out of my depth.”
“A guy could do worse,” Oz said lightly, taking a sip of his beer.
The Watcher gave a soft chuckle. “You sound like…” he hesitated.
“She sent you to check on me, didn’t she?”
Nodding his thanks to the bartender, Giles took hold of his glass and sighed. “Willow only wants to be sure you are all right. She may have grown past what you once had, but that doesn’t mean she loves you any less.”
“I know. And I knew it was a long shot she’d still be waiting when I came back. But part of me had to hope.”
Giles took a gulp of beer and made a disappointed, disgusted face. It almost pulled a laugh from his stoic friend. “She is a very bright and beautiful girl. Someone was bound to notice.”
Oz slowly looked over at him. “I thought it’d be you,” he stated softly. “When I left her so heartbroken, part of me thought she’d be okay because she still had you to turn to. That’s kind of why I went to your place first yesterday. I thought it was only fair to give you a chance to run me off, or, I don’t know, give me a good hiding for what I put her through. But, when I saw her there, nothing else mattered.”
Ducking his head a bit, the older man couldn’t keep a twinge of shame from his face. “It was a near thing. She spent a long time being lonely for you, and then Spike returned to remind us of past evils. When Willow did come to me… If I were any less of a gentleman, I don’t know what might have happened. Or, perhaps, less of a coward,” he muttered.
“If you’re a coward, what hope is there for any of us?” Oz shook his head with a snort.
The blush deepened on Giles’ cheeks. “I only try to live up to the example of the young people around me.”
“Will you please let the others know that I never meant to hurt Willow? I did what I thought I had to do to keep her safe.”
“I will,” the Watcher nodded, “though I believe they already understand that. But I’ll give them the message… whenever I might see them again.”
The young man didn’t miss Giles’ frown. “Is there something wrong?”
“Oh no… I’ve just been dealing with some of my own insecurities. Coming face to face with how alone I am much of the time these days.”
Oz gave a sigh of commiseration. “Does Willow know you feel this way? I’m sure, if she did…”
A small smile broke through at the thought of what she might do. “Willow already spends too much of her precious time making sure I’m well. She needs to live her own life. Believe me, if everyone doted on me like she does, I would be complaining about how I was being smothered. Please pay no attention to the mutterings of an old fool suddenly set adrift after a lifetime of rigid structure. It’s my problem to deal with. I’m not needed like I was, and for that I couldn’t be any more proud of all of you.”
“I know how the being adrift thing feels. I’ve spent so much of the last few months focused on getting back to Sunnydale. After learning all I have, for the first time I have no direction to travel in.”
Giles looked at him kindly. “Willow tells me that you’ve mastered your change. The moon has no hold on you anymore. That is a wonderful achievement. You should be proud.”
Oz chuckled bitterly. “I may have broken the moon’s hold, but not Willow’s. Funny isn’t it? The one thing that will set me off is the same thing I went and learned control for.”
“What a force is love,” Giles sighed. “It brings chaos to our order, and yet we crave nothing more intensely.”
“I guess Willow has brought a little chaos to both our lives.”
“And we wouldn’t have her any other way.”
Both men grinned and drank to that.
After a few minutes of comfortable silence, Giles spoke, “You’re not planning on returning to Tibet, then?”
“I don’t know,” Oz shook his head slowly. “It’s a wonderful place, and I was welcomed there, but it’s a long trip and I’m not sure I’m ready for it again.”
“And your parents?”
“They think I was backpacking through Asia. To tell the truth, I couldn’t make a pair of old hippies any more proud. They’re great parents and raised me the best they knew how, but it’s time for me to let them follow their own dreams now. They’re moving up north. Somewhere on the Oregon border.” The young man smiled at the thought. “Really, I’m kinda glad they’re getting out of this town.”
“As you should be,” Giles chuckled. “I haven’t met them, but I’m sure they are fine people judging by the man they produced.” His young friends nodded his thanks. “This town wasn’t built for good people.”
“Well, technically it was built on a gateway to Hell by a guy who spent a hundred years trying to become a demon, so…”
This pulled a full laugh from the Watcher. “Yes. What sort of a person would move half way around the world to end up in a place like this?”
“From what I’ve seen,” Oz said quietly, “The sort who knows how to teach an odd bunch of kids to become heroes.”
Giles closed his eyes for a moment, every second he had spent fearing for his young friends’ lives flooding over him. He could never shake the feeling that his presence had done nothing but put them in more danger than they would have otherwise found.
Oz noticed, but didn’t let on. He only added, “And the sort with just enough knowledge and compassion to save a confused werewolf’s life.”
The Watcher murmured, “Buffy and Willow would have--”
“…Not had the resources to figure it out in time or the contacts to get the right tools. You had nothing to do with my little cousin biting me, but everything to do with making sure I never hurt anyone. For that, I owe you more thanks than I’ve ever tried to say.”
“I…” Giles blinked at the sincerity in the deep wolf eyes. “I’ve never considered it that way. I, um, I guess all I can say is… you’re very welcome.”
Oz gave a nod and picked up his beer for another drink. After a moment, Giles filed the thought away in his mind for later evaluation and dipped his hand into a pocket of his leather jacket. He slid the small card he’d retrieved across the surface of the bar.
“What’s this?” the young man picked it up curiously.
“A direction, perhaps. It’s the name and address of a sanctuary run by two sisters who are acquaintances of mine. I thought… if you needed a safe place to figure out what you truly want to do next, they’d be willing to help.”
Oz shook his head. “Sending me to the home for wayward freaks?” Only someone who knew the young man well could have ever caught the bitter note in his voice. Giles did.
“Actually, no,” he stated, knowing the true answer would be more of a reprimand than any remark he could make. Besides, the boy was entitled to some disappointment in his circumstances. “The sanctuary itself provides homes for animals in need. They specialize in large or dangerous species that have trouble finding homes elsewhere. Bears mainly, I believe. But also reptiles, big cats, birds of prey, and, yes, wolves. It is also true that many of their keepers have a bit more in common with their charges than the park visitors might realize.” Giles sighed at the hint of confusion in his friend’s eyes. “All I’m suggesting is that, if you do end up there, the sisters would be happy to give you a bed and meals with the family in return for a full day’s work. Sometimes a bit of manual labor under the warm sun can bring a clarity we might not find otherwise. Also, you’ve spent all this time conquering the beast within you. Perhaps it’s time you look into the eyes of the natural creature your demon is a corruption of. Maybe they’ll help you find an ally in yourself you were unaware you had.”
“You think I should go commune with the wolves?” Oz seemed a little amused at that.
Giles snorted. “I’m saying I think you should go shovel shit,” he said bluntly. “You’re young and strong, and these lovely ladies will use that to its fullest. And sometimes using the strength we take for granted to help those already working hard for what they love is a reward we forget to cherish.” The Watcher gave a heavy sigh. “At the darkest time of my youth, I was lucky enough to be sent to work for these ladies in the peaceful place they had built. They worked me to exhaustion every day, and I had never been happier. Being depended on by innocent creatures who need to be cared for and fed no matter what excuse you might have for not wanting to do the work… The experience taught me lessons I’ve never forgotten.”
Oz picked up the card and looked it over again.
“It only gives you another choice,” the older man continued. “You don’t have to end up there, but it’s somewhere you’ll always be safe and welcome. Also,” he gave a quirky smile, “I might have a small, selfish desire to send my friends a new workhorse to repay their kindness to me.”
“I’ll think about it. I promise. And thank you for this, really. It means a lot that you care where I end up.”
“Your circumstances don’t dictate the friendship any of us hold for you. Just because your path lies away from Sunnydale… You’ll always be one of the group.”
“To the Scoobies,” Oz lifted his glass. “May the apocalypse always be one step behind.”
Finishing his beer with the toast, Giles politely declined when the bartender asked if he wanted another. “I have to drive home,” he mumbled.
“They do have other stuff,” Oz whispered with a knowing chuckle.
“I see that,” the Watcher scanned the bottles of low-end liquor behind the bar. “I think I’ll stand by my excuse, thank you. But I’d be happy to buy you another.”
“I’ll be fine nursing this one for a while.” He held his hand out. “I know this isn’t your kind of scene. You can tell Willow I’m all right. Thanks for hunting me down.”
Giles shook his friend’s hand automatically, but didn’t move to get up. Oz shrugged and welcomed the familiar, peaceful company while it was there.
“According to Willow, you traded your guitar a while back…” the older man eventually spoke.
“Yeah,” Oz nodded. “I was stuck until the van was fixed. Did what I had to.”
“Do you miss it?”
The young man gave a sad chuckle. “Willow told me about catching you playing the Expresso Pump. Always knew you had more music in you than you let on. So I guess you can already guess the answer to that question.” He smiled. “The Pump is a good spot for a solo, they’ll treat you well.”
“It has been nice to play again,” Giles admitted. “Only a slight bit of grief for it from the others.”
“Teasing you is how they say they care,” Oz laughed knowingly. “I knew you were an animal. Only wish I could have seen you in action.”
“Well, perhaps it’s better you weren’t disappointed. But I do know how not being able to play can feel. That’s why I wanted you to have this.” He reached down beside his stool and pulled up a battered guitar case. Opening the case, he revealed a worn, but lovingly cared for, six-string acoustic guitar.
“Man,” the young musician shook his head with longing in his eyes, “I can’t take this. I know how long you’ve spent missing the music.”
“It’s all right, Oz, I’d really like you to have it. You won’t be depriving me, as I had a friend recently bring two of mine last time she visited from England. This one,” he stroked his fingers tenderly along the wooden face, “I’ve had since I was your age. It… She kept me company when I thought I had no one else. And I know it will be just as cherished in your hands.”
“Giles… Man, it’s too much. I can see how much it means to you. I wouldn’t feel right…”
The Watcher plucked the instrument from its case and handed it over to the other man. Oz cradled it carefully on his lap, learning the feel of it. With an encouraging nod from Pete, he began to play.
When the song ended, Giles smiled. “Hearing that was all the proof I needed. Now I’m even more convinced she’s in the right hands.”
Oz had a glint in his eyes as he looked back up. “I promise she’ll be loved. But I’ll only accept her on one condition.”
“And what would that be?”
“I want to hear how she sings for you.” He handed the guitar back over.
“I-I’m… I’m not prepared,” Giles stammered.
“You were prepared enough to play for a room full of strangers…”
The older man ducked his head. “Their opinions didn’t mean as much,” he murmured.
Oz only watched him expectantly. With a deep sigh, Giles positioned the instrument in his lap and began picking out a tune. “No one knows what it’s like…”
He finished with a contented smile and closed eyes.
“Music does you good,” the younger man said. “I’ve never seen you relax that much. Thank you. I knew it’d be like that.”
“Still a bit rusty,” Giles murmured self-consciously.
“You know,” Oz smiled. “Willow loves listening. For some reason, she never considered herself special enough for someone to share the gift just with her. Sitting down and singing for her is the fastest way to make her melt.”
“I’ll keep that in mind and try not to let her catch me practicing. The last thing I need on my hands is a melted Willow, thank you.” He gently laid the guitar back in its case, giving it a final caress. “I know she’ll be well looked after.”
After closing the case, the Watcher looked up to find a very serious expression in Oz’s eyes as they bored into him. “That’s one of the things making it easier for me to leave,” the young man said. “I know she’ll be well looked after.”
“…Someone who’ll be there no matter how many of us screw up and break her heart. She’ll always love you, Giles. And I know how much you care for her. If anyone she chooses to be with can’t handle what you two mean to each other, then they don’t deserve her. You promise me one thing. Don’t back out of her life. No matter how much you think you’re in the way or worry about how someone else might see you. She needs you. She always will. More than either of you even realize.”
Giles blinked at the serious tone. “I… I’ll promise to look after her as I always have. But Willow needs to lead her own life. I will never stand in the way if someone else chooses to love her.”
Oz gave him an odd, almost quizzical look. “She hasn’t told you yet. You don’t know who it is.”
“I, well, I know Willow has mentioned a possible new love interest. But no, she hasn’t brought him to be introduced.” He gave a small, mirthless chuckle. “Sometimes I don’t know if she fears I might judge him as something of a father figure, or as a rival lover. It’s a rather uncomfortable thought to tell the truth. I take it you did find out who this new interest is?”
“I did,” the boy smiled guiltily. “It was an… unfortunate meeting. The wolf…”
“Willow told us her friend Tara saw you change.”
He nodded sadly. “I think Willow’s a little afraid to trust her heart, yet. That’s likely my fault. But, she will. When she tells you, she’ll need your support… maybe even more than any of the others.”
Giles nodded, “She’ll always have it, no matter what.” He then huffed a laugh. “But I dare say that the others might be a bit more open to just about anyone… as long as he’s not me. That was a revelation that wasn’t very welcomed.”
“Maybe only to people who aren’t paying attention,” Oz murmured. “You guys need each other. You always will.”