Author's Note: This story is meant to be a behind-the-scenes look at events taking place in issue #31 of Season 8. If you haven't read the comics, it won't make much sense, but there isn't much plot anyway-- I just wanted to honor some of the romances that are happening at this point in canon. Buffy is deliberately left out of this one in favor of those who are more sure of their footing.
If you're wondering what happened to my promise to keep updating "Older," I had some more computer problems which were even more vicious than the first time, but I'm pretty sure I really am back now. And then I got kind of stuck on that story so I decided to work on some other stuff first. It'll be back.
Happy Valentine's Day! Especially if you're a romantic single, like me.
Anyone trying to get from one side of the room to the other had to navigate a labyrinth of patients on cots, packed in tightly enough that only narrow spaces were left between. Oz had been back and forth enough times to have worked out the easiest route to Bay's bed, but an hour ago she had been deemed well enough to be moved, and now she was in their own bedroom getting the rest that she needed. The vacancy she left downstairs, Oz saw, was already filled.
The house had never been so crowded, but after that battle, it wasn't nearly crowded enough for his liking. He wondered if they would need to find ways to send the bodies of the fallen Slayers home, or if Twilight would make any effort to recover those of his own men. Seeing so many wounded around him was almost a relief for Oz. Wounded meant alive. He began picking a new path around the room, looking for anyone who needed immediate attendance. There wasn't enough real medical knowledge to go around, but those who were unharmed still had their hands full acting as caretakers, and Oz's hands needed something to do anyway.
No distinction had been made between "us" and "them" as far as treatment went, but it was still fairly obvious, even without knowing any individuals by sight, which sides they came from. Nearly all of Buffy's warriors were Slayers, or had been before relinquishing their power: teenage girls. Nearly everyone on Twilight's side was a voting-age male. The only time any of them caught Oz by surprise was when he walked past a reclining soldier while making the rounds, and the soldier said, "Oz. Long time."
Oz turned. Riley was harder to recognize when he was horizontal, but it was definitely him. "Hey. Look who's alive."
"No fault of my own." Riley's voice was weak, but he was making a game attempt at a smile. "Nice place. Sorry if we tracked in some mud."
"Don't sweat it. Soon as Bay's on her feet she'll have all of you set up with mops and buckets."
"Bay." Riley stated her name as if it were a puzzle; his mind must have still been partially clouded by his last dose of morphine. "Your wife. Is she…?"
Oz sat down cross-legged beside the cot and inclined his head. "She's okay. Doing the recuperation thing. Like you." He didn't really want to discuss Bay's condition any further; she was doing okay, but she was so in tune with him that talking about her in her absence always made him feel like he would somehow attract her awareness, and he didn't want to disturb her rest. "How's yours?"
For a moment Riley looked so sad that Oz feared the worst, but then he closed his eyes and confided, "I miss her. I'm glad she's away from all this, but I miss her. She doesn't even know about Twilight. I wasn't allowed to breathe a word about the mission. And you know what?" He raised one hand in an incomplete emphatic gesture. "She was okay with it. She's that cool."
Oz grinned. Riley's body might be battered at the moment, but his heart, it seemed, was cured. News about the Scooby Gang's personal relationships was always vague and fragmented when it made it to Oz at all, but from what he had seen before leaving Sunnydale, Riley wasn't the type to give up on Buffy easily, and Buffy wasn't the type to offer her unconditional love to his type. Their breakup hadn't been unlike his own with Willow, and it was good to know that such hurt was in the past. For all of them.
"Hey," said Riley. "Don't you have a baby?"
"Yeah. Willow's watching him."
Riley's drugged weariness dulled his expressions to a point, but his surprise at hearing this statement was evident. "You left him with Willow? Sweet girl, crazy intelligent, tried to end the world one time?"
"She's fine." It was the truth. It had always been the truth, even if Willow needed to be talked into it every time. "She won't go dark unless she's way off kilter, and that's the kind of possibility that's not. Kelden's a very calming influence."
For a few long seconds Riley lay silent, eyes wide with concern, and then he sighed and rolled his head into his pillow. "You're right. You're the dad, it's none of my business. I'm not all here."
A few people came in from outside, and Oz looked up to see who it was. Riley tried to look too, but winced as soon as his torso moved, and Oz laid a hand on his shoulder to keep him still. "It's just Dawn and Xander. You need another dose of anything?"
"No. Buffy's gonna want a full Twilight report. I'm working up to maximum coherency."
Oz nodded. In his opinion, Riley was going to need to sleep first, and Buffy wasn't around anyway, but there was no point in voicing it. Telling a soldier to relax was a surefire way to induce to opposite reaction. "You want kids?" he asked instead.
The distraction worked; Riley's face lit up with enthusiasm. "Yeah. Soon as I'm out of this, we're gonna start trying. Only, we've got some disagreement on how many."
"Sam wants a dozen, and I think ten is plenty."
They talked about their families for a little while, keeping their voices low to avoid disturbing the other invalids, until Oz could see that Riley was beginning to drift off. He sounded like he was still trying to talk but couldn't concentrate on any single thought, and his eyes kept opening and then closing again. Finally he looked right at Oz, smiled, and said, "You got me into such a big fight with Buffy. Dangerous. Shades of grey. There are good werewolves…"
He was snoring a few seconds later. Oz stood up and slipped between a few rows of cots to get to the corner of the room where Dawn and Xander were talking over an arrangement of medications. Ice Nose, who seemed to have taken a liking to the two of them, was in Xander's arms, but Oz wasn't surprised to see him set the puppy down so he could squeeze Dawn's hand, or to see her respond by lacing her fingers into his and lingering there. They had been quiet about whatever was between them, but some kind of bond was there and growing steadily stronger. Both looked up when Oz approached, nearly identical in their movements.
"How's our mole holding up?" asked Xander.
"Pretty happy to not be a mole anymore, sounds like," Oz replied. "How are the rest of them looking?"
"Stable. Ish. No losses in the last…" He checked his watch. "…Forty-three minutes."
Dawn—who must have gone through a growth spurt in the last few years, and now very nearly towered over Oz—took a long, unhappy look in Riley's direction. Then she turned back and said urgently, "Oz, you have to answer something for me."
"What's green and fuzzy and can kill you if it falls out of a tree?"
Oz's immediate reaction was to look at Xander for more information, but he didn't get any; Xander was peering at Dawn with one brow arched far over his eye patch, and Dawn was altogether ignoring him. "You have to tell me," she persisted. "You said it like six years ago and you never gave me the answer!"
After a few additional moments of silence, Xander was the first to speak. "This has actually, legitimately been on your mind for that long, hasn't it?"
Dawn threw her hands up. "It's not like, top of the list, but what if we're dead before we see Oz again?" She looked aghast at herself as soon as the words were out of her mouth. "And now I'm giving us all the sad. Just great."
Xander put an arm around her shoulders for a sidelong hug, and Oz, thinking quick, picked up Ice Nose from the floor and handed him to Dawn. "Puppy therapy," he said as she got her face licked. "It's one of our secret meditative techniques here."
"You ever going to tell us why you call him Ice Nose?" said Xander.
Oz shrugged. "It makes Bay laugh." He ruffled the puppy's ears and smiled at Dawn, who seemed to be reacting well to the therapy treatment. "I'm going to see how Willow and Kelden are doing. Come get me if you need help in here."
"Hey!" said Dawn before he was three steps away. "What's--?"
"Oh, right. It's a pool table."
Leaving the makeshift infirmary was more of a release than Oz would have liked to admit. He was still sensitive to odors with emotional significance, and the smell of the wounded and dying was especially intense. He breathed easier as he walked the halls, thinking about Kelden, and almost forgot that there were other people around until one of them stepped right into his path and stopped him from taking one step further.
"So you're Mister Puppy-Love-Heartbreaker-Disappearing-Act-Guitarist-Joe-Cool, huh?" said the Slayer into his face. "That not enough for you? Think you can still screw things over a little more?"
"Uh," said Oz, racking his brain for the woman's name.
"I don't care what kind of nostalgia's involved. No head games with my girl. Got that?"
"Married," Oz explained. Was it Madison? Roosevelt?
"I'm not asking about your personal life. You have any idea what you did?"
"No," he assured her.
Kennedy—that was it—gestured broadly at the door behind her. "Now she wants a kid!"