Monosyllabic Eccentricity

Title: Love's Labor Lost
Author: Ailie
Rating: PG
Spoilers: Post Full Moon Rising
Summary: Willow's been keeping a secret that could change everything.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. All belongs to Joss and UPN.


Chapter 1: Revelation

"This thing looks pretty good, considering you drove it overseas."

"Well, it broke down outside of Mexico, and I traded my bass to have it fixed and garaged."

Willow's brow furrowed in concern. Oz wouldn't even look at her anymore, just stared at the steering wheel as he talked. Maybe that was a good thing, though. Her back was killing her, and she kept shifting in her seat as they talked, trying to find a more comfortable position. She wouldn't want him to take her restlessness the wrong way.

"I shouldn't have come back now. I just thought I'd changed."

"But you have changed!" Everything in her wanted to reach out to him, to touch him, to tell him that everything would be ok. But she couldn't, and settled for a smile instead. "You stopped the wolf from coming out. I saw it."

"But I couldn't look at you." And he still couldn't. "I mean, it turns out ... the one things that brings it out in me is you. Which falls under the heading of ironic in my book."

Willow shifted in her seat again. The pain was becoming almost unbearable, coming in short spurts now. She waited until it abated slightly before continuing, hoping Oz wouldn't notice. "It was my fault, I upset you."

"Well, so we're safe then."Oz finally turned and looked her in the eye, taking Willow's breath away. His intense eyes had always done that to her, even when they first met. "'Cause you'll never do that again."

That was the Oz Willow remembered. That small smile, sarcastic and witty. She smiled slightly in return. No matter what, she had faith that he would be okay now. If he could smile after all this, he would be okay.

"But," Oz paused slightly. "You're happy?"

Willow was about to answer when the pain in her back finally overcame her. It spread in a wave through her lower back and sides, pulling the skin of her stomach tight. A low moan escaped her lips. "I ..." she looked up at Oz with terror brimming in her eyes along with unshed tears. "I think I'm in labor!" Chapter 2: Secrets Kept

"She's what?" Buffy said loudly, drawing stares from passing nurses and doctors. She lowered her voice slightly before continuing. "I mean, how?"

Giles shook his head as he polished he glasses. "I'm not exactly sure."

Xander shook his head. "I understand the how. I mean, we all watched that video in fifth grade, right? My question is the other how, like how did she hide it from us?"

The three friends stood outside of Willow's room in the obstetrics ward. Inside Oz sat by Willow's side, the two ex-lovers speaking in quiet tones. Buffy glanced through the window of the soundproofed door, wondering what was going on inside. "I should have known," she finally spoke. "I mean, Oz left six months ago. My best friend was at least six months pregnant and I didn't even notice."

"You can't blame yourself," Giles put a hand on the Slayer's shoulder. "None of us knew. Some women simply don't show their pregnancy as much as others."

"Yeah," Xander added. "I mean, how often have we heard about the girls who give birth at prom, and then go back out on the dance floor, and nobody knows. Besides, if anyone should have known, it was me. I've known her all my life." He picked the closest wall and gave it a good strong kick. "Ow."

Buffy looked to Giles for guidance. "So, what do we do? I mean, do we need to call Tara? Or ... or her Mom? I mean, we can't just sit here."

"I think if she wanted them here, Will would've called them herself." Xander said softly.

"For whatever reason, Willow called us," Giles added. "For now, all we can do is wait until she decides to tell us what we can do to help."

***

Oz sat by Willow's bed, unsure of exactly what he was supposed to be doing. As a boyfriend, or even a friend, he wanted to hold her and tell her it would be alright. But as an ex ... that made things complicated. The ex and the father. It was still a bit much to take in. So he just sat in his uncomfortable plastic chair, watching her.

"So ..." he finally spoke.

"So." Willow answered. "I ... I'm so sorry. I should have told you right away."

Oz smiled slightly. "Well, I think we've both done our fair share of hiding things from each other for our own good."

"I just ... didn't want you to feel pressured to stay, you know? You needed to make your own decision, regardless." She looked away, and the following words were barely audible. "And I needed to make mine."

This was not the right time to press on that subject, Oz knew that much. So he changed gears. "How far along?"

"Twenty-six weeks. If you do the math, that's the ... the last time that we ... you know."

Oz nodded, understanding Willow's reluctance to mention the act that led to her present condition. She never had been very comfortable with the word to begin with. Silence descended again, only to be broken by the arrival of the doctor.

"Ms. Rosenberg? I'm Doctor Haskel. And this is?"

"Oh!" Willow searched for the right words. "This is Oz. He's my ... um ... the father."

Doctor Haskel nodded. "Then I guess he should hear this as well. Ms. Rosenberg, I'm afraid that you are in labor."

Willow inhaled sharply, and without thinking took Oz's hand. Without taking his eyes of the doctor, he squeezed back.

"The good news is that you came straight in, and the earlier we get started, the better. Now there are several avenues we can take to attempt to halt the labor and carry you to full term. Our best chance is to start with drug therapy."

"Would that harm the baby?" There was terror in Willow's voice.

Doctor Haskel sighed. "There is a slim possibility. But in all reality this is the best chance your child has for survival."

Oz had tried to keep silent, something that wasn't usually that difficult for him. But at this point he felt he had to speak. There were nagging thoughts dogging him. "Can you tell us why?"

"Why is this happening to your child? There is no one answer." Doctor Haskel looked into Willow's eyes with sympathy. "There is the possibility that something is wrong with the baby, but considering the level of prenatal care you've received, I doubt that is the case. Most often there is no explanation for these occurrences. We just have to deal with them as best we can." He offered a small smile before continuing. "I'll be back shortly and we'll get started with the IV."

~But it's still a possibility~ Oz thought to himself as the doctor walked out the door. ~That this is all my fault. The wolf's fault. Again.~

Chapter 3: Searching for Answers

Oz smiled at Willow before walking out into the hallway, but the instant the door closed behind him the smile faded and shoulders sagged. To Buffy it looked as if he had aged ten years in ten seconds. He lifted his eyes to hers. "She wants to talk to you."

"Okay." Buffy put a hand on her friend's shoulder and tried to smile. "It's gonna be okay." Oz simply nodded, and watched Buffy pass through the door.

"How is she?" Xander asked with concern.

Oz shrugged. "Okay, I guess. The doctor started an IV with some drugs that should stop the contractions."

There was a pause, as none of the men could think of anything to say. In the end, it was Oz who broke the silence. "Giles, I need your help."

"Of course. Anything."

"Research," Oz said with a pained look. "Find any cases of werewolves having children, and what happened those children."

Giles was concerned. "Oz, you can't possibly think that you are to blame for this. These things ..."

"Happen. I know. These things just happen." Oz's normally calm tone was colored with anger. "But if there is any chance this is my fault, I need to know. Maybe then we can do something to stop it."

"Alright." Giles doubted there was anything he would find that could be of any help, but it was obvious that Oz needed him to look, to be certain.

"C'mon, Oz," Xander said softly. "Let's go find some coffee or something."

***

"Hey Will," Buffy stuck her head through the door first, trying to smile. Willow looked so pale, so scared lying in that hospital bed. It reminded her of the last time she had visited Willow in the hospital, almost two whole years ago.

Willow smiled in return. "Buffy! Come in!"

As Buffy got closer to the bed, she couldn't help but look for signs of the pregnancy, anything she might have missed. Now that she knew what she was looking for she could almost make out the slight bulge in Willow's stomach, even underneath the blankets. Thinking back, she couldn't remember the last time she had seen Willow change in front of her, which would have given her secret away long ago. In a small dorm room like their's, it was quite difficult to avoid occasionally seeing one another somewhat semi-clothed.

"So ..." Buffy searched for the right words. "How are you?"

"Frightened. Terrified." Willow looked into her best friend's eyes. "Kinda ashamed."

"Ashamed?" Buffy took her seat next to Willow's side. "Of what?"

"That I didn't tell anybody. Especially you." A single tear slid down her cheek. "I just ... it was like, if I didn't talk about it, it wasn't real, you know? And then I kept thinking 'Oh, I'll tell everyone tomorrow' but there were always so many tomorrows, and it seemed so much easier to wait. And now here we are and ..."

Buffy reached over and took her best friend's hand, careful not to dislodge the IV needle inserted in the back. "You don't have anything to be ashamed of. It's a scary thing. I don't know how you dealt with this all by yourself." A thought struck her. "Does Tara know?"

Willow shook her head and more tears began to fall. "No. I couldn't ... couldn't tell her yet. And I don't want to tell her here if I don't have to. So I figure we'll wait and see if this works. If not ..."

"Don't say that! It's going to work."

"I don't know about that." Willow was crying uncontrollably now, and her words came between heaving sobs. "I mean, it's like I said. I pretended it wasn't happening. So ... so I kept on with my life the way it was. I kept doing magic. What if ... what if the spells affected the baby? What if I did something to hurt it while I was on patrol with you, or like last night when we went to rescue Oz? This could be all my fault!"

"Willow, you can't ..."

But Willow didn't even hear her. "I did some research on babies and stuff. Did you know that my baby is 9.2 inches long? He or she only weighs two pounds, but it's a person now. If this had happened earlier I think I could have dealt with it, 'cause ... 'cause it would just be cells, right? Or just a fetus? Well it's a baby now, really. It has fingers and toes and in a week or two it'll be able to suck it's thumb and, and if I did anything to hurt it I don't know what I'll do!"

There was nothing Buffy could say that would help, and she realized that. Instead she just moved to sit on the edge of her friend's bed, and held her while she cried.

Chapter 4: Wheels in Motion

"Hey Will," Xander grinned as he entered the room with Oz by his side. "We just took a little trip to the snack machine. I thought you might like a Milky Way."

Willow shook her head. "Thanks, but I don't think I could eat anything right now. My stomach's kinda icky." Despite the fact that she had been sobbing just a few minutes before, Willow couldn't help but to smile back at her childhood friend. Seeing Xander's smiling face always cheered her up, even when she didn't particularly want to be.

Buffy stood and allowed Oz to reclaim his seat. "How's it goin'?" he asked as he took Willow's hand in his.

"Um ... okay, I guess." She realized that she had been the one to initiate this hand holding thing, but she still wasn't sure exactly how to feel about it. "It still hurts, but I think it might be getting better. It's kinda hard to tell."

"And it's still early anyway, right?" Buffy chimed in. "I mean, you gotta give the drugs some time to work. Can't jump to any conclusions too fast. With all the miracles of modern medicine and ... I'm helping too much, aren't I?"

Willow nodded. "It's okay. You don't have to try to cheer me up or reassure me or anything. I mean, whatever's going to happen is going to happen, right?"

At that moment, Doctor Haskel walked back through the door. "It got a bit crowded in here since the last time I visited."

"Oh," Buffy moved from Willows bedside. "Is that okay? I mean, we don't want to get in your way or anything."

The doctor laughed. "No, it's perfectly alright. Quite good for her morale, actually. Just try not to tire her out."

"Check. No calisthenics."

Everyone watched with concern as Doctor Haskel read through Willow's chart and checked the monitors beside her bed. "What's wrong?" Oz asked as the doctor's brow furrowed slightly.

"Probably nothing," he continued making marks on the chart. "But the contractions aren't slowing as much as I'd like. I think we'd better try a different medication. It's slightly stronger. Unfortunately everyone reacts differently to different medications, so some of this procedure is trial and error. I'll have a nurse come in and change the IV right away."

After watching the doctor leave, Xander spoke up. "You'd think with all the miracles of modern medicine they'd be able to do more than 'oops that didn't work let's try something else.' I mean, they can transplant hearts from monkeys to people and stuff, right?"

"I think you've been watching too much Chicago Hope," Willow commented.

"Hey!" Xander said defensively. "I know they only re-run it on 'Lifetime - Television for Women' but that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy it too!"

Buffy glanced out into the hall, noticing that it was empty. "Hey guys, where's Giles?"

"Uh ..." Xander tried to come up with an answer that wouldn't alarm Willow. "He had to go check on something. He should be back soon."

"Check on something, as in research checking on something?" Willow's eyes widened in fear. "Is something wrong? I mean, do you guys need to be researching or slaying or something?"

Oz tried to comfort her "Shh," he whispered as he scooted his chair closer to her bedside. "Nothing like that. Promise. He'll be back soon. We won't leave you."

With that reassurance, Willow was finally able to close her eyes and get some rest.

***

The next few hours passed without much action. Willow managed to catch a nap here and there, in between being awakened by nurses passing through or by contractions; although they had slowed somewhat, they were still very present.

Willow was in a half-doze when she noticed that her bedclothes were soaked. Her first thought was that Xander must have spilled something, but when she opened her eyes she realized the room was empty save for herself and Oz, who was also sleeping. "Oz, Oz wake up!"

"Hhm?"

"Oz," there was panic in her voice. "I think my water just broke!"

That comment snapped him out of his stupor right away. "I'll get the doctor." Oz ran out of the room and returned a few minutes later with Doctor Haskel in tow.

"Well then," the doctor was trying to keep his tone light, but Willow could read the worry in his face. "Let's see what we have here." He instructed Willow to put her legs into the stirrups at the bottom of the bed and gently reached into her.

Xander chose that unfortunate moment to walk into the room. "Whoa!" The young man's face changed to a bright shade of red at the sight, and he turned to face the wall. "Way more Willow than I ever thought I'd see."

"What's going on?" Willow asked.

Doctor Haskel replaced the covers. "You're dilated to four centimeters. I'm afraid we have no choice but to deliver this baby now."

Willow turned pale. "But, but it's too early! The baby is so ... so small and ... and will it be able to survive?"

"At twenty-six weeks?" he sighed heavily. "We'll do everything we can. But you should know ... the survival rate for a babies born at twenty-six weeks is only fifty percent."

Chapter 5: Pain of Life

Giles struggled to right the large stack of books he was carrying and press the elevator button at the same time. He didn't succeed. "Blast," he muttered as the texts tumbled to the floor, even as the doors began to close behind him. This was one of those days when he sorely missed the quiet sanctuary that had been Sunnydale High School's library.

"Hello all," he said breathlessly as he passed through the door to Willow's room. "I trust everything is ... not at all alright." Giles could read the bad news on the teen's faces.

Willow attempted to smile. "Hi, Giles. Whatcha got there?"

"Oh, these? Nothing. Just ... I thought we might be here a while, and that perhaps I could do some research while we were waiting." Giles set the books down on the bedside table and moved to Willow's side, smoothing her hair with his left hand. "How are you?"

"Um ... there was this movie once where a woman said something about trying to squeeze a watermelon out of an opening the size of a lemon. That's about how I feel." Willow suddenly found her blanket extremely interesting. "I'm only 26 weeks, and they can't stop the contractions, Giles."

"Oh." The Englishman was at a loss for words. "Oh, Willow. I'm so sorry."

Willow pulled herself up to a sitting position. "Nope. No more of that. I've been sitting here feeling sorry for myself, but the truth is this baby is going to be born, right? And being all sorry isn't going to help. So ... good vibes from now on. I mean, the baby has a fifty percent chance, right? So lets not treat him like he's already dead. Okay?"

"Yes ma'am." Xander stood at attention and saluted.

Buffy took Willow's hand. "But aren't you scared, Will?"

"Scared? I've never been so scared in all my life. Not even at the ascension! But right now there's nothing I can do but wait, so I figure why be miserable?"

Oz nodded appreciatively. He hadn't realized until this moment how strong Willow had become in his absence.

"Well then, are we ready to go?" Doctor Haskel entered the room, covered from head to toe in blue scrubs. The only recognizable part of the doctor was his glasses, which under other circumstances Willow would have found quite amusing.

Willow swallowed hard and nodded. "I guess so ... I'm not sure I'm ready to be a mom, but I guess I can't put it off any more, can I?"

"I suppose not. I can allow you to take one person into the birthing room, if you would like."

Willow locked eyes with Oz. Some sort of communication passed there, a silent understanding. ~I want you to be there, but that doesn't necessarily mean I want you back.~

"Okay then," Oz looked to the doctor. "Let's go."

***

"Alright, Willow. Push!"

The redhead's sweat-soaked brow furrowed with pain as she pushed, gritting her teeth against the pain. Oz marveled at her strength; Willow was squeezing his hand so tightly he thought the bones of his fingers might snap.

"Wonderful. You're doing great. I can see the head. Now on three, I want you to bear down and push, okay?"

Willow nodded wearily. Eight hours of labor felt a lot longer than it sounded.

"Ready? One, two, three!"

This time, Willow could not hold back the cry of pain. It was as if something was ripping her open, trying to tear it's way into the world. She had nightmares when she first learned of the pregnancy, dreams in which she had given birth not to a human child but to a wolf that literally clawed it's way into life. For a moment, she wondered if this might really be the case.

Then it was over. The pain and pressure dissipated, and Willow knew she had become a mother.

But why was it so quiet?

Oz helped her to a sitting position, and together they watched the team of doctors and nurses work on their child.

"You have a baby girl," Doctor Haskel said as he walked over to the new parents.

"Can we see her?" Oz asked quietly.

The doctor shook his head. "We're moving her to the neo-natal intensive care unit right now. You can see her there in a little while."

"Why isn't she crying?" Willow was crying herself. "Is she okay? What's going on?"

Doctor Haskel sighed. "We're concerned that your child isn't getting enough oxygen into her lungs. At this stage of development, a baby's lungs aren't developed enough to breathe air. There really isn't anything we can do right now but wait, and see how she fares. If she survives the night ... there's a good chance she will survive in the long run." With that, he rejoined the rest of the team attending to the child.

"Survives the night?" Willow turned to Oz with sheer panic in her eyes. Last night had only been the second night of the full moon, which meant that tonight ...

Oz closed his eyes. "Wolf moon." Their child was on the very edge of survival. Would she be able to survive the trauma of the transformation?

Chapter 6: With Bated Breath

"She's so tiny," Buffy whispered, as if her words alone could blow the child away.

Xander leaned closer to the incubator. "I know." Willow and Oz's child. Unbelievable. The child was only a smidge over 9 inches from the top of her head to the tips of her toes, weighing two pounds, looking all the smaller surrounded by tubes, wires, and machinery that dwarfed her frail body. Taped to the end of the plastic cradle was a sign which read "Rosenberg."

"So," Buffy searched for something, anything to say. "Do you know what you'll name her?"

Willow shook her head. "If it was a boy ... well ... I had been thinking about Alexander Daniel." This caught both boys attention, neither knowing exactly what to say to that unexpected compliment. "But a girl ... I hadn't really thought much about it. Well, that's not true. I just couldn't find a name I liked. And one that meant something to me."

Oz stood by Willow's side, the same place he had been ever since her labor had begun. He was slightly shocked that she would still consider naming the baby after him, considering everything that had happened. Xander he could understand, Giles he would have expected, but him? What did that say about the place he held in her heart?

Xander, looking for a way to break the tension, spoke next. "Well, I might suggest that Alexandra would make a good name for a girl."

"I dunno if I want to name her now, anyway," Willow sighed softly. "Maybe it'd best if it just say 'Rosenberg Child' on her tombstone."

"Willow," Giles stood across the incubator from the girl. "I know you may feel that way now, but regardless of whether or not ... of what happens, you will look back on this moment and feel differently. That bonding, the act of naming your child, it is extremely important."

"I guess. I just can't think about that right now." Willow tried to shake herself from her dark thoughts. After all, she had been the one to encourage everyone to think positively. "So, I'm assuming you didn't lug all those books up here for your health. Any luck in the werewolf baby department?"

Xander looked shocked. "Werewolf babies? Why would you think ... well no. We didn't find anything. No."

"But one shouldn't jump to conclusions based on that fact alone," Giles added quickly. "We shall continue on, see what we can find before nightfall."

Oz looked to the window. The sky was beginning to grow dimmer. Even though the phases of the moon no longer brought out the wolf within him, he could still feel the change from night today, especially when that night brought with it the wolf moon. Night would be on them soon, and with it the greater possibility that he would lose his first born child.

***

"I guess we'll know soon."

"Guess so." Oz squeezed Willow's hand in his own. Giles and the others kept their own vigil in the waiting room, leaving the two new parents alone with their child.

"Maybe," Willow blinked back tears. "Maybe Giles was right. We should name her, before the moon rises. Just in case."

Oz tested the wind. "Doesn't give us much time." He pondered the situation for a moment. "Aijou."

"What?"

"Aijou. It's Japanese," he explained. "I picked up a little while I was traveling. It means 'beloved daughter.'"

"Aijou." Willow sounded it out, letting it roll off her tongue. "Aijou Rosenberg. Not a traditional name, but a nice one. A meaningful one. I think she'd like it."

Oz stiffened slightly, feeling the change in the air. "It's coming. The moon."

"Oh. Oh god. Oh no." Willow began to sob openly now, leaning her head against the incubator. "Aijou, stay with us. Please, try! Please?"

Oz was by her side in an instant. He meant to just stand with her, to be close, maybe hold her hand. Instead, he found Willow in his arms, her tears soaking through his shirt and dampening his skin. Did he pull her there or did she come to him? It didn't matter. None of it mattered. All that mattered was the tiny life encased in a plastic bubble, the life they created.

Willow's voice was muffled as she pressed her face into his chest. "I can't. I can't. Just ... tell me when it's over."

A chill ran up Oz's spine, tiny fingers of ice, fire spreading through his limbs to all of his extremities. The moon had risen. Dreading what he might find, Oz turned to watch what may well have been his child's final moments.

"Willow."

"Is it over?"

"Take a look."

Willow looked up and gasped. Her child looked no different than it had when she looked away. "She didn't ... she didn't change!"

Oz smiled in return. "Nope." He tightened his grip around Willow's waste, overcome with the joy of life and the feeling of just being close to her.

And just as neither of them remembered how it was the embrace began, neither could recall how it came to be that their lips met in a kiss.

***

Chapter 7: Decisions

Almost as soon as their lips met, both pulled away. "Oz, what ..."

But before they had a chance to talk any further, Buffy stuck her head into the room. "I'm sorry. We couldn't wait. How is she?"

"It's okay," Willow hoped that the rapid beating of her heart wasn't evident in her voice. "She didn't change."

"Oh my God, really?" Buffy smiled widely, then turned and called over her shoulder. "Guys! C'mere! She didn't change!"

Soon the entire gang was assembled around the child, laughing and exchanging hugs. No one noticed that for the first time that day, Oz was standing as far from Willow as possible.

***

"I can't remember the last time we were all up this late," Buffy yawned, stretching her arms over her head.

Xander lifted his hand from his chin. "I do. Mayor. Ascension. Lots of explosives."

"Oh yeah." The five friends were sitting in the waiting area directly outside of the neo-natal intensive care. The large leather chairs were quite comfortable for a hospital; a little too comfortable if you didn't want to find yourself falling asleep in them.

"I'm exhausted. I guess being in labor all day'll do that to you," Willow added. "But I just can't imagine going to sleep now. I want to be here, in case anything happens."

Giles nodded. "Of course you do. Perfectly understandable. But we all are a little tired ... perhaps Oz and I could go get some coffee for everyone?"

Oz looked up, about to say that he didn't need any coffee, and didn't feel like going anywhere anyway. But something in Giles' eyes told him this wasn't really about coffee. "Sure. No problem."

"Oh, bring me an extra large!" Willow called as they walked down the hall. "I haven't had any caffeine in six months!"

As soon as they were out of sight, Xander leaned over. "Will, is there something wrong?"

Willow looked at her friend as if he had antlers growing out his head. "Well, Aijou still isn't in the clear you know. All the doctor said was that if she survived the night that was a good sign."

"That's not what I meant."

"Is it that obvious?" Willow was concerned.

"Willow," Buffy said softly. "Oz wouldn't even let go of your hand until a few hours ago. Now he's barely even looking at you."

Willow sighed. "See, this is why I didn't want to tell him about the baby. It complicates things. Before it was just me he had to decide about, and for me it was between him and Tara. With Aijou thrown in the middle, it makes it ... hard."

"But that's the way it is. So what happened?" Buffy leaned closer, so that Willow wouldn't feel like she was telling the intimate details of her life to the entire nursing staff.

"He ... we ... kissed." Willow began to ramble. "We weren't supposed to. We didn't mean to. It just happened. And now I'm all confused again."

"You're not the only one." Xander looked puzzled. "What's to be confused about? Oz is back. That's a good, right? And what's this about choosing between Tara and ... oh. Oh!"

Willow smiled sheepishly. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. It was just ... I didn't even know what it meant."

"Okay. Okay. My best friend since I was two was both pregnant and possibly a lesbian and I didn't know." Xander frowned as he attempted to process the information. "Okay, I can deal with that. No more secrets though, okay?"

"Deal. No secrets. Bad for the complexion," the new mother agreed. "But that still leaves the bigger problem. What do I do about Oz?"

***

"I take it you didn't just want coffee."

"Hhm?" Giles had been deep in thought, considering exactly how to broach this delicate subject with the boy. "How did you know?"

Oz shrugged. "I watch people. It's a gift."

"Well," Giles cleared his throat. "You must know that in a way I feel like a parental figure to you all, to Willow in particular. And since her father is not here, there are some questions I feel I need to ask about your intentions towards the girl."

"Oh." Silence descended, thick and almost impenetrable.

Eventually Giles continued. "In the course of my research I discovered something interesting. It seems that the reason your transformations are now beyond your control is because you broke the natural order."

"Natural order?" Oz asked incredulously. "There's a natural order to being a werewolf?"

"Well, yes." The watcher pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose before going on. "The lunar cycle is supposed to control the transition between human and wolf form. Now that control has been broken, and your will is not yet strong enough to finish the job you began."

"So if I gave up the chanting, the charms ..."

"You would be back at the mercy of the moon," Giles finished. "But the uncontrollable changes would stop."

Oz frowned, not quite sure how he should feel about this new information.

"I know it would be a lot to give up, but you have a lot to gain. And as a father, you also have new responsibilities." Giles laid a hand on the shorter boy's shoulder and looked him in the eyes. "But the decision, ultimately lies with you."

"I wish it were that simple," Oz's gaze fell to the floor. "But it also lies with Willow."

Chapter 8: Ties that Bind

"So ..."

"So."

This conversation was beginning to feel frighteningly familiar. Willow was lying in her hospital bed, on doctor's orders. Buffy, Giles and Xander were taking shifts near the ICU, promising to come retrieve the new parents if there was any change in Aijou's condition.

"I ..." They both spoke at once.

"You first," Oz insisted.

Willow sighed and shifted in her bed, turning on her side so she could see Oz more easily. "I've been thinking. A lot. I mean, everything's different now, you know?"

"I do. That's why I'll be staying in Sunnydale."

Willow's eyes widened. "You're ... you're staying?"

Oz nodded slowly. "Aijou deserves a family. And I'm not saying you and Tara can't be that family, but ... I mean, I'm her dad. I need to be in the same city ... the same continent."

"Oh."

A pained look crossed Willow's face, and Oz knew what she was thinking. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry it took this for me to realize that this is where I belong. I was selfish when I left before."

"No!" Willow shook her head and tried to reassure him. "You ... you had to go. I mean, you'd taken a life and that changes things. It changed you. And you needed to deal with that. I understand. And you learned so much while you were gone."

"I didn't deal with killing any better than Faith did," Oz said quietly. "I ran. Buffy, Giles, Xander ... you were all here for me. But I decided I could fix this on my own. That's just being selfish."

Oz could see the wheels turning in Willow's head as she tried to process all this new information. He attempted to make things as clear as possible for her. "Just so you know, I'm getting rid of the chanting and charms and stuff. Giles thinks that if I do, I'll just go back on the lunar cycle, which is the way it's supposed to be. That way you won't be in danger. Neither will Tara. Because I don't want to interfere with that. It's not why I'm staying. I mean, I still ..." he took a deep breath. "I love you. And I'm not sure that's ever going to change. But you have a life now, and I don't want to disrupt that."

"Well I think this whole day pretty much disrupted my life," Willow said softly, hoping that she wasn't blushing. "But thanks. I just ... we kissed, Oz. What does that mean?"

"It means what you want it to mean. You know how I feel. Now you need to decide about you."

***

"Willow?" Tara cracked open the hospital door and stuck her head through.

"Tara! Come in."

The blond woman rushed to her girlfriend's bedside and wrapped her arms around her. "Oh, I'm so glad you're ok. When I didn't see you at all yesterday ... and then Xander called and told me you were here. I was so worried."

"Yeah. Sorry. I just ... it was a long night," Willow struggled to find the right words to explain her situation. "I asked Xander to call you, but um, did he tell you why?"

Tara looked down, her long hair covering her eyes. "Kinda. Yeah. I mean, plus you're in obstetrics. I probably w-would have figured it out anyway."

"Oh, yeah." She had forgotten about that. "Well, they say I can probably go home tomorrow. But I think I'd kinda rather be here. Closer to Aijou."

"Is that what you named her? It's ... it's really pretty."

"Thanks." Willow was silent for a moment. "Tara, I'm really sorry. I should have told you. It's just ... I didn't know how, and..."

Tara raised her head. "No. I m-m-mean, I understand. This is something that's difficult for you. And there are some things I haven't been completely open about either. Some things are just really h-hard to talk about."

"But is that the way things should be? I mean, if two people love each other, shouldn't they be able to share everything?" As soon as the words were out, Willow began to regret them. It felt so hypocritical. After all, she had lied to Oz about Xander, Oz had hidden the truth about Veruca. But there was something about this that felt different.

"You're right. I was just so afraid that you wouldn't understand." Once again, Tara was finding the floor more interesting than anything else in the room.

And there was the difference. Although there had been some lies and mistruths when she was with Oz, there was never the fear of misunderstanding. However misguided, everything had been in hopes of protecting each other from harm or hurt. "So was I. We can't build a relationship on fear."

"No. I guess we can't." Tara's voice was so soft Willow barely heard her.

"So."

"So ..."

"Can I call you in a few days? We could do some spells."

Tara shook her head. "You'll probably be b-busy with mom stuff. You shouldn't worry about me."

Willow took the girl's hand. "I'm never too busy for my friends."

***

Oz was busy pacing the hall outside of Willow's room. He just wished he knew what was going on in there. Not that pacing would change the outcome any, but it made him feel better, so he continued.

Finally, Tara came out of the room. Oz walked up to her. "Look, I'm sorry about earlier. I didn't mean to ... that had never happened before."

"I know. Willow explained the whole thing. It w-w-wasn't your fault." Tara looked at the boy through strands of blond hair.

"I'm still sorry."

Tara started to walk toward the stairs, then turned. "Take good care of her?"

Oz smiled slightly. "Always."

Chapter 9: Epilogue

Article from the Sunnydale Times:

LOCAL GIRL COMES HOME

After spending two months in a local hospital and nearly eleven at a special children's hospital in Los Angeles, Aijou Osbourne saw her home for the very first time yesterday afternoon.

The one year old child seemed slightly overwhelmed by all the presents and attention, although the truth is she has been the subject of much attention since her birth. Born after only twenty-six weeks of gestation, she is the most premature child to ever survive at Sunnydale Hospital.

"It's just so wonderful to have her home," beaming parent Willow Osbourne commented as she watched her husband Daniel play with the child. "At first we didn't even know that she'd live, and now she's a perfectly normal child. It's unbelievable."

Since Aijou spent her first birthday in the hospital a few weeks ago, yesterday's home coming also served as a party for that occasion. Other neighborhood youngsters attended; the child's first experience with people her own age.

Daniel credits his daughter's survival to the support of friends and family. "The doctor's did their work too, obviously. But all these people here, their caring and support has been really above and beyond."

Buffy Summers, friend of the family, had her own opinion about the child's life. "Willow and Oz [Daniel] are really amazing. They'd give up anything for that girl. It's almost like Aijou survived on their love alone."

Pictured above is Aijou with her godmother, Tara.