Chapter 11: Realizations

Warning: I don't know; maybe language and innuendo somewhere along the way.

Challenge: #2789: '"I'm looking over a four leaf clover" Challenge' by halfbloodpuffskin and #2886: 'Handcuffs of love...' by Methos. This is for the 'Hug a Donor' challenge. Thought I'd mix two together.

A/N: This is the last chapter of this story. I may consider turning this into a series at some point in the future though – if there is enough interest…both of readers' and Musie's.

Thanks to my betas: zigpal and AerynSpeedleCaine.

Disclaimer: BtVS characters belong to Joss Whedon / Mutant Enemy. I claim no rights to any copyrighted material. Please do not copy or take this story without my permission.

Summers home

Once dinner was over with, Buffy and Oz offered to do the clean-up, much to Joyce's amusement and gratitude. Amazingly, they worked together well to clear the table and get the kitchen back in order.

"What's the matter? Are you worried that Angel will cause problems?" Oz asked as he put the last dish in the dishwasher. She had been pensive ever since they left the library – though she carefully hid it from her mother during dinner.

Buffy seemed startled by the question, almost to the point of jumping when he spoke. "Huh? Uh, not really." Then she reconsidered her words before adding, "I mean, sorta; he was pretty pissed off. But at least we know where we stand with him."

Leaning back on the counter next to her, Oz inquired cautiously, worried that he already knew the answer, "What do you mean?"

"Did that seem too easy with Willow? I know she's my best bud and everything, but still… If the situation were reversed, I don't know that I would give up that quickly," Buffy admitted. "Or is it that I'm not as good a person as she is?"

He narrowed his eyes at her question – especially since it sounded serious. Suddenly, Oz realized that the self-confidence Buffy appeared to exude was just a mask; in some ways she was more insecure than Willow. That was shocking to realize. "First of all, you are just as good a person – maybe better. After all, you haven't cheated on your boyfriend, right?"

She just shrugged half-heartedly in return. Remembering her time in LA wasn't exactly the highlight of her life. "To be honest, I kinda did back before I was Called. We never made with the smoochies, but there was serious flirting going on. And my social life since then has been pretty odd. Apparently, I don't like normal guys anymore."

"I would feel offended by that comment, except I'm rather proud not to be normal. That's just another way to say average, and who really wants to be average?" Oz asked with a smirk.

Buffy thought about his words carefully, then graced him with a bright grin. "I never thought about it like that before. Huh. Thanks for the lesson in perspectives, Oz."

He bumped shoulders with her to ease the tension in the room even more. "No prob. So you think we should expect some trouble?"

"Well, I can't imagine what she could do to us that Angel couldn't do worse." Buffy saw the question in Oz's eyes and continued, "He'd be the physical threat and she would be the computer threat. I can beat him if necessary; so the question is, can you beat her?"

"What about her magick?" Oz pointed out.

She just shook her head dismissively. "She isn't that good yet, is she? Other than the re-ensouling spell, what has she managed to do?"

Her casual mention of the spell surprised him – as well as the way she didn't seem to be concerned about the power Willow must have had to pull it off. "Nothing that I know of, but isn't that enough?" he inquired with a hint of worry.

Buffy shook her head again. "Not really. I ran into a balance demon in LA after I sent Angel to hell, and he told me that the Powers That Be basically used Willow as a conduit for completing the spell. They couldn't directly interfere by making her do the spell, but they could nudge her abilities along so that she had the power to finish it. After all, it took the ruling members of the gypsy clan to do the spell in the first place; Willow being able to do it with barely any magick training? Not likely," she said with a snort.

Realizing that what she said actually made a lot of sense, Oz recalled his own doubts about what happened. "Would explain some stuff about that day. Thought it was a little strange how she suddenly started spouting fluently in a different language. She isn't possessed or anything, right?"

"Nah. They just shoved some power into her temporarily. My guess is that if there was going to be any side effects from it, it would most likely be addiction. Having access to that much power must have been quite the rush." Her eyes widened a little as she just thought of something. "Suppose I should tell Giles about that; kinda forgot about my talk with Whistler until just now."

Not really feeling up to anymore revelations, Oz allowed himself to yawn, then asked, "Do you mind if we hit the hay early tonight? Keeping these shields up is getting easier, but it still wipes me out."

"Fine with me. I'm beat from all the drama of tonight."

A couple hours later…

Whimpering and frantic movement roused Oz out of his sleep. He carefully shifted in place so he could look at his friend and possible future romantic partner. When he saw she was still asleep, he gently shook her. "Buffy, wake up! You're having a nightmare."

"No! Let me go!" she cried out before her eyes flew open. Seeing that she was safely in her own bedroom, Buffy shook her head to clear her mind of the dark images hovering there. "Oz? What's going on?"

"You were having a nightmare. Want to talk about it?" he asked softly, putting his arm behind her head so they could be more comfortable.

Buffy took advantage of the change in positions to bury her face in his chest. "Not really," she murmured.

Oz tilted his head so he could see her face. "Was it just a nightmare? It felt awfully real to me," he commented, letting her know that he knew what she dreamed about.

Her eyes widened again, but this time in dismay. Those weren't memories she ever wanted to have again – much less share with anyone. "Oh my gosh, did you see my dream?"

"Guess it's part of the mind-sharing deal," he replied calmly. Oz could tell she wasn't going back to sleep anytime soon, so he slid off the bed, pulling her with him. "C'mon, let's go get some hot chocolate and sit in front of the fireplace while we talk about this. I think it will help." When she still hesitated, he offered, "If it will make you feel better, I'll share something painful from my past, too."

"I don't think it makes me feel better that you have something as bad as that to share," Buffy said with a sad voice. She let him lead her out of the room though. "But I do like the idea of the hot chocolate and cuddles in front of the fire."

They made the hot chocolate in silence, then got comfortable on the floor in front of the fire – having moved cushions and a throw blanket to make it even cozier. When they were all squished into place, Oz began the tender questioning, "So I take it the drugs and restraints were real?"

Buffy leaned back into his chest, unwilling to face him just then. "Yup. I told my parents the truth about the vampires when the Hemery gym went up in flames, foolishly thinking they would believe me. When I heard about a couple of the interns who liked to use the cuter female patients, I decided that lying to get out sounded really good to me. So that's what I did. I told the doctors that I was smoking because I was stressed out about my parents' divorce and that the fire was just an accident."

Guessing that Buffy wouldn't let innocent women be at risk – even from human evil – Oz asked, "What happened with the interns?"

Her answer confirmed his belief in her goodness. "The state got an anonymous tip about them. Lucky for the state, one of the interns wasn't very good at remembering to use a condom and got a patient pregnant. Not so lucky for the girl, though. But she was in a catatonic state, so…" Buffy trailed off helplessly.

Oz shuddered at the idea. "Still, that's sickening!"

"Hey, no arguments from me," Buffy quickly agreed. Then she snorted in amazement. "You know, the surprising thing is, Mom doesn't remember me telling her back in LA. At least not that it was about vampires; she remembers me saying that I was trying to save people."

"Sounds like a different take on the Sunnydale Syndrome." Sensing she was done with her hellish story, Oz gave her a brief hug, then asked, "Ready to hear my sob story?"

Reveling in the feeling of his embrace, Buffy finally shook off the bad memories to say, "You don't have to, Oz."

She could feel him shake his head behind her. "Actually, I think I do. The only one who knows outside the family is Mark from the Dingoes. We don't talk about it very often; just on my birthday," he admitted softly.

Hearing the pain in his voice, Buffy decided to let him tell her. "Why your birthday?"

His arms tightened again and he rested his head on her shoulder. His whispered answer tickled her ear. "Because it was Katie's birthday, too."

Buffy made the intuitive leap of who Katie was. "You had a twin sister? What happened to her?"

Swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat, Oz rushed to get it out, "She died of leukemia when we were 3 years old after fighting with it for almost 18 months."

"God, Oz! I'm so sorry that your family had to go through that!" Buffy exclaimed, turning so she could give him a real hug.

They stayed like that while Oz kept going with his story, "They couldn't even use my blood 'cause I was too weak. See, we were premature and almost died a couple times before we left the hospital. It took until I was like 13 before I stopped having health problems all the time. Up until then I was homeschooled to lower my chances of getting sick from the other kids. Irony is, becoming a werewolf has caused me to be healthier than ever. Too bad it didn't happen earlier in the school year; I may have been able to graduate."

"Wow, didn't anyone ask why you suddenly started school in what? Seventh grade? I can't believe you didn't get an exemption for being sick. Snyder is such a--" she broke off with a growl. Next time she saw that troll, she would figure out a way to make him pay.

"He stated the rule that said I had to attend so many days, and that if we had a problem with the rules, we were more than welcome to have me finish my schooling at home. Personally, I thought it was because he found out I was dating Willow, and since she's part of the Scooby Gang…" Oz stopped talking, worried that he said too much.

Her next words were exactly why he stopped. "He took out his hatred of me on you. God, I'm sorry, Oz."

Oz shrugged carelessly. "Don't be. My folks and I don't care. Heck, if I wanted to, I could take the GED test anytime and get out of Snyder's school of hell."

"So you really did just stay for Willow." Buffy felt proud of his loyalty, yet at the same time, she was worried that she'd never be worthy of that kind of loyalty.

"Yes and no. Being part of the Scoobies has made me feel part of something important, and I didn't want to give that up just yet. I love the Dingoes, but it's just a band. You save the world, and it is an incredible feeling to know that I help you," he admitted. "Or at least I hope I do."

Buffy hastened to assure him, "You all do – even Cordelia. Seriously though, I don't know how much you know about what a regular Council-trained Slayer is like."

"Just what I learned from meeting Kendra." Oz couldn't say he was too impressed with her. She didn't have the same fire as Buffy did; she was almost like life-sized robot doll, programmed to slay.

"Well, she's the poster child for the 'perfect Slayer' – including her life expectancy. She died almost right on schedule for a normal Slayer. Every Council Slayer for the past 400 years had died within 2 years of being Called." Buffy let out a short, bittersweet laugh. "Heck, so did I; except, in my case, I had 'unapproved' friends who didn't let me stay dead. I don't know if it would have made a difference in any other Slayer's case, but I know that if I followed the Council rules, I wouldn't be here right now. Having you guys as friends gives me something to fight for…to live for. That's something Kendra didn't have."

Oz couldn't stop himself from hugging her again; it was becoming somewhat addictive. "From a selfish standpoint, I'm glad you want to live. Life wouldn't be the same without you here – and I'm not just talking about you as the Slayer. I mean, we have Faith for that. But she isn't you, so even as a Slayer…I prefer you. More importantly, I like Buffy more, too."

Grinning madly in her mind, Buffy carefully schooled her expression so she didn't freak him out with how happy he just made her. "Thanks, Oz."

The next morning…

Oz woke up when he realized that the wonderful dream he was having wasn't just a dream. He peeked through slitted eyelids to find they were still lying in front of the fireplace. He stifled a groan as he grabbed Buffy's hand to remove it from that sensitive part of his anatomy. "Uh, Buffy? As much as I'm really enjoying what you're doing with your hand right now, I don't think the floor in the living room where your mom could walk in on us is the best place to be doing this," he whispered huskily.

Her eyes flew open at his words, instantly awake and mortified. "Oh my god! I can't believe I was-- You must think--" she stammered while hyperventilating.

"Breathe, Buffy. It's okay; no harm done." When she stopped panting, he asked, "You better now?"

"I am sooo sorry, Oz. I don't know what my slutty sleeping mind was thinking." Buffy's face flushed, then she admitted, "Okay, I have some clue."

He couldn't help but chuckle. "Oh, you know you're really cute when you blush like that?"

Buffy glared at him, but he could see there wasn't any real anger in her eyes. "You better watch the teasing, mister, or you're gonna get a Slayer-smack from me."

"No teasing. You are very adorable right now." Oz's expression turned very serious as he cupped her face with his right hand. He locked eyes with her and he said, "In fact, I'd very much like to kiss you."

"Really?" Buffy squeaked in a decidedly non-Slayerish way.

Oz nodded, "Really, truly."

Buffy started to lean in, then pulled back abruptly. The action startled Oz. "Can it wait for a minute? I have something to say to you first."

"Sure, what's wrong?" he asked warily.

"Nothing wrong…exactly. Or I guess it depends on your viewpoint; mine is split between 'yay' for me and 'boo' for my friendship with Willow," she rambled semi-incoherently.

Oz stopped her with a gesture. His face was a mask of confusion. "Okay, I've gotten better at Buffy-speak, but I can't say I fully understood that."

"Well, depending on your viewpoint, this could be really, really good for selfish-me, but at the same time, it's bad for the part of me that is Willow's best friend." She took a quick, deep breath, then blurted out, "Okay, here goes… I think I might be fallinginlovewithyou."

"Wow, what made you realize that?" Oz inquired, stunned at her admission. He really thought it would take her longer to say it – especially after the disaster that was her relationship with Angel.

Buffy played with the front of his nightshirt as she recited a partial list of the top reasons, "A bunch of little things that I've learned about you over the past few days. Like, you have fabulous parents who are uber-supportive; you're a very caring guy; your life has sucked more than mine and you never complain about it; you've got a nice body, and an even nicer mind."

"Here I thought you just liked me for my guitar skills," Oz teased. "By the way, since I didn't say it earlier, I love you, too. At first it was just as a friend, but the last couple days it's become something bigger. The way you care for others more than yourself is incredible. However, can't say it seems the healthiest thing to bury all the hurt you feel inside so you don't have to ask for somebody else to share your burden. I hope you know you don't have to do that with me," he said, pleading with his eyes that she'd let him in.

She snorted in response, "As if I could. You can read my thoughts, remember?"

"Not if you don't want me to. Unless it's an emergency situation, I don't want to invade your privacy," he promised.

"I understand; same goes for me reading your thoughts without permission." She moved her left hand to a more comfortable position, only to have the cuffs slide off. She smiled brightly at Oz, shaking the cuffs in his face. "Ooo, hey! Looks like we broke the spell."

Oz returned the grin, then leaned back in with darkened eyes. His intent was clear before he even uttered the words, "Does that mean we can have our celebratory kiss now?"

Once Buffy thought she could talk, she managed to gasp out, "If you don't mind the morning breath."

"I think I can deal if you can."

Before she could say anything else, he captured her lips with his. It started out soft and hesitant, then grew in passion. Within seconds, they were in a heated embrace, only breaking apart when oxygen became a vital necessity. Knowing that they weren't alone in the house, they reluctantly stopped themselves from returning to the kiss. They could always continue when they were alone later.


A short time later…

Not bothering with knocking, Willow burst into Angel's mansion, startling the brooding vampire in the living room. "We have a problem!" she declared.

"Willow? What are you doing here?" he demanded, knowing by her tone that nobody was hurt. She sounded angry, not worried.

She started pacing around the room, trying to calm herself down. When that didn't work, she yelled, "I just came from Buffy's house and saw them…all snuggly and making with the smoochies!"

Angel's face showed his confusion. "I thought you were okay with them as long as they didn't rub it in your face."

"That's when I thought it had something to do with the handcuffs!" Willow confessed. "But the handcuffs came off before they kissed! I saw them through the window. Apparently, they aren't worried who sees them. Geez, her mom could have come down and caught them!" she said, her disgust plain.

"So what do you want to do about it? What can we do about it?" Angel asked.

"I'm not sure…yet." Willow's eyes grew wild with jealousy. "But Oz belongs with me – just like Buffy belongs with you."

A/N: I'm an evil stinker for leaving it like that, I know. But no worries, there is a bunny hopping around with ideas for a sequel if you really want it.