If a valley is reached by a high pass,
only the best friends or worst enemies are visitors.
– Tibetan proverb
She wasn't sure why she found herself awake at a time when she very clearly shouldn't be – be it worries about the battle with Twilight that was no doubt coming, if she could manage to finish this whole magic-suppression thing, or simply the Tibetan food that disagreed with her very western stomach.
But she was, and not even after half an hour did the rigorous study of the grains in the wooden ceiling above her—there was one that looked like Africa, and one above that that reminded her distinctly of a yak wearing a baseball cap—helped to weigh her eyelids down. Her mind was tired, but her body was not.
The room they had been given was pretty, charming even. Simple but sufficient, with a few eastern decorations lining the wall, a soft bed in the center and an old closet to store their things in. Compared to the other girls she and Kennedy were lucky; where they had a room all of their own, almost all others had to share their bedroom due to the simple fact that there were many girls but much fewer lodgings. At the moment, she wasn't sure if that actually made it better or worse, though: many girls with many other people in their rooms could all probably sleep just fine, while she, with only one other occupant, couldn't.
Kennedy stirred beside her, and careful not to wake her, Willow swung her legs over the edge of the bed, wrapping a brightly-colored cloak one of the monastery women had loaned her around her, and slipped on a pair of slippers she found lying nearby to protect her feet from the cold stone floor.
It had been some time since they arrived here, but she still wasn't quite sure what was where in the extent of the monastery when she peeked around the bedroom door. More bedrooms down the hall, bathroom 'round two corners on the right... Not that it particularly mattered – she had no goal of going anywhere other than stretching her legs in an attempt to recapture her sleep. Besides, a bed always seems much more alluring when the warmth of it is inviting rather than suffocating.
After some moments of drifting through the obscurity of night—she was sure the halls she currently found herself in were very pretty, though she counted herself lucky she thus far hadn't knocked something over or broken a toe by stubbing it because she simply couldn't see a darn thing—she was becoming distinctly aware of the murmur of voices behind the profound silence the dwelling lay bathed in. There was babbling, much too excited for this time of night, and behind that a deeper, hushed voice: shhh, you'll wake everyone up.
The sound becoming a beacon in the darkness, and with nowhere better to go, Willow trailed after it, the random bursts of burbling tugging at the corners of her lips. The increase of light together with her heightened ability to see her surroundings told her she had come to one of the outer sides of the building, the windows allowing the faint light of the waxing moon to filter through.
Eventually the voices seemed to have come at a stand-still in a room a few paces further down the hall. She had known who the voices belonged to from the first moment on, of course, but when she peeked around the corner the actual sight of it made her smile just as much: Oz, clad only in a pair of boxers and an old bandshirt, bare feet padding the stone floor, Kelden squirming in his arms. They were in the kitchen, a weak fire burning on the primitive stove with a small pot standing over it.
The sight involuntarily stirred an old memory: lazy mornings before classes when they were the only ones awake yet in his house, trying to cook breakfast with the meager supplies of college food they could find lying around, and if both of them were even half-decently clothed it was a rarity.
Willow hovered at the threshold, her fingers unconsciously worrying the door-case. “Hi,” she quietly greeted. Her voice felt like it hadn't been used in weeks.
Oz turned, and from the way he smiled at her she knew that he'd known she'd been standing there. “Hey.”
“What are you doing?”
“Trying to get someone to sleep, actually.” He glanced sideways at her, a lopsided smile on his face. “Though it seems I now may have to be doubling my efforts.”
“Sorry,” she said in mock-shame. She stepped over the threshold and wandered further into the kitchen, coming to a stop at one of the wooden tables near him and leaned against it weakly. “Though I guess at the moment I would be happy with pretty much anything you have to offer me that would help with that.”
“Well, all I can do for you at the moment is offer you some baby milk and maybe sing you a lullaby.”
“It's not yak milk, is it?” she asked. “'Cause I think I've had my share of that.”
Oz let out a chortled laugh. “Nah. Baby formula.” He gestured towards the pot. “You could test it and tell me if it's the right temperature, though. I could use the extra troops.” On her bemused frown he continued, “There's this whole bunch of laws concerning baby milk and temperature. Always half a battle. Harder to get right than certain guitar chords.”
That earned chuckle. “I bet.”
There was silence again, a profound silence, heavy with meaning, but she was surprised at how uncomfortable it not made her. The only sounds breaking the quiet came from the crackling of the fire and Kelden's random babbling, sounding like he may have started narrating Shakespeare at some point but gave up in favor of much more fun syllables. The incongruity of it all still astonished her.
“It's kinda weird – I, I mean not weird weird, in that it's bad or anything, but you know, you know? You. Here. Him.”
“Hmm. I think you'll find nighttime adventures sorta come standard with being a parent.”
She was a bit peeved at his avoidance of her question, her voice sounding through more of it than she intended. “That's not what I meant.”
Silence again, and this time it wasn't a very comfortable one. Willow pulled her cloak a bit tighter around her and worried the edge of the fabric. She looked up again when Oz broke the silence with soft voice, his face illuminated blue by the moonlight.
“Wouldn't have it any other way, though. I mean, it's not what I had in mind when I filled in the test for career day, but...”
Willow smiled. “Yeah. You must be happy. I mean – I understand why you're happy.”
“I am.” Oz shifted Kelden in his arms, furrowing his brow. “I hope it'll stay this way, though.”
“The battle. The – war.”
She knew she wouldn't believe the words even before they came out of her mouth, but she said them anyway. Maybe because she knew Oz wasn't the only person in the room she was trying to convince. “We've done battles before. Really big battles, like apocalypse-big. And-and we won. And back then we were younger and with much less people who were all much less experienced, so...”
Disappointment struck her when his expression didn't change, but seemed to take a turn for the worst even as he studied the floor. “Yeah, but— Those were apocalypses. These are... people we're up against.” He smiled wryly. “Man is wolf to man.”
“I'm surprised you're not quoting the 'we have a saying in Tibet' deal at me,” Willow replied. “You know, 'If a problem can be solved, there is no need worrying about it; if it can't be solved worrying will do no good'?” Please tell me that, she thought. It would help if you told me that.
“Oh, I worry alright.” Damn.
After a moment of silence and internal struggle, she confessed, “Me too,” her own pep talk forgotten.
Oz smiled before saying, “We'll make it through,” his voice reminding her very much of the way he had spoken that time in the back of his van right before graduation.
“You're being very confusing, you know. This is not a time to be confusing,” Willow groaned.
“Sorry,” he said, letting out a short laugh, his lips quirking at the corners.
Apparently Kelden took the sound as his cue to join in and squealed loudly, wriggling in Oz's arms so that he had to shift his grip on the boy.
“Sounds like someone's hungry,” the redhead said, smiling as Kelden continued cackling.
“Yeah.” A playful shush managed to quiet the boy a bit, though the cheeky expression that graced the young face stayed intact.
Oz glanced over at the fire. “I think it should be good by now. Uh, could you...?”
Willow looked up and understood the unfinished question when she saw Oz's eyes glancing questioningly between her, Kelden, and the pot of milk on the stove. She loosened the cloak around her shoulders and held out her arms: “Sure.”
Kelden reached out for her when Oz handed the bundle over and as soon as he was in her arms the boy grabbed on to her hair with eager hands, the power of his grasp making it feel like he wasn't intending in letting go of it any time soon if it was up to him.
“Let's not do that, sweetie. Ow,” the girl said as she gentry tried to pry his hands loose from her locks. It wasn't of particularly much use.
Oz grinned at the sight. “You can't really blame him.” He turned to attend to the stove, putting out the small fire and producing a baby bottle from one of the small cupboards nearby while Willow minded the baby.
It was hard to find a game that Kelden didn't seem to like, all the while trying to curb her own enthusiasm by reminding herself that it was very much the middle of the night and a lot of people were trying to get their well-earned and much-needed sleep. With all the 'physical exertion' and intense meditation sessions, trying to rid yourself of your own inherent magic-abilities was not all it was cracked up to be.
“So, you want me to test that milk for ya?” Willow chirped up, looking up from a very intense game of blowing raspberries.
“I think it's pretty good, actually,” Oz said, coming over to her with a filled baby bottle and wiping the milk on his wrist off on his t-shirt.
“Here.” He pulled out a wooden chair from under the table and gestured for Willow to sit down. She did so, and placed Kelden on her lap, his back against her stomach and her arm around his waist to hold him there secure. Oz took her place against the table, and Willow tentatively accepted the warm baby bottle from his hands when he offered it to her. She hadn't expected this, wasn't sure... Her eyes looked up at him questioningly.
“He likes it when you hold it for him,” Oz said simply.
Trust was a wonderful thing, and, sure enough, when she held the bottle in front of him with her free hand Kelden latched on to it eagerly, the warm milk going down in big gulps. The sight of the little life on her lap melted her, sparking feelings within her she didn't think or didn't know were there.
“He's adorable,” she said, unable to keep her eyes from the dimpled cheeks and tiny hands sporadically reaching up to hers while he drank.
“He is,” Oz answered in soft voice. “And he's so much more.”
“Yeah. Kids always are.”
“No, I mean— He is, but—”
Willow looked up from Kelden at Oz's uncharacteristic stuttering, frowning. She studied his face: an internal struggle seemed to be playing out on it, his eyebrows knitting together in thought, green eyes far away. When he spoke again, it was quiet, hesitant, his eyes looking past her like he temporarily forgot she was there.
“Bay and I... He's our... confirmation. Of us. Of our humanity. 'Cause— how else could two werewolves have a child together that's... not?”
Willow didn't know what to say, the significance of his confession rendering her at loss of words. It struck something, somewhere, deep within. She found his eyes with her own and smiled.
The serene moment was broken almost violently when Oz spoke up again, shocking her with the sudden volume. “And you know what the worst thing is?” The previously steady beating of her heart sped up with apprehension.
“What?” she asked worried.
Oz looked at her in askance. “All those stories your parents told you, about sleepless nights and all that...?” He grinned impishly.
A relieved sigh silently escaped her lips, the tension flooding from her body making her head swim. If she hadn't had her arms full she would've punched him in the arm for sure. “All true?”
“Great. I'll remember that,” she groaned, finding herself too tired to argue with him about the sudden veer-off to another subject, but understood it too. She didn't blame him.
Kelden audibly drained the last bits of liquid from his bottle, and Willow let him suckle on it for a few moments before taking it away and handing it back to Oz. The boy fussed a bit over his bottle being taken away, but ceased his protests remarkably soon – an indication of the desired somnolent effect setting in.
Willow raised from the chair carefully and handed the child over to his father after Oz put the bottle away. “Let's get you back under the covers,” he said to him, kissing his cheek, before continuing, “Your mom'll be complaining the bed's getting cold.”
“Could you maybe walk me to my room?”, Willow asked. “I'm afraid I'll end up somewhere in the Mongolian mountains if I take the wrong turn somewhere in the dark. Or at least lose some essential body part doing so,” remembering the pitch-darkness she had worked her way through to get here.
Oz led her out of the kitchen, and she instinctively pulled the cloak tighter around her against the cold, the sudden chill causing her to shiver now that they had left the relative warmth of the kitchen from the fire that had burned there behind. Regarding his bare legs, Willow idly wondered how cold Oz must be, but figured he was probably used to it. Apparently Californian boys and Tibetan highlands did mix.
Finding herself within the halls again inadvertently raised up the uncertain feelings that she now knew were the likely cause of her first wandering them in the first place, and worry started to gnaw at her insides. The serene feeling that had settled within her breast earlier on was slowly but steadily getting overshouted by the worries, and while she violently tried to shove it down, her anxiety soon got the better of her.
“Oz, I know I asked,” she whispered imploringly, conscious of the many people sleeping nearby, separated from them only by thin walls. “But... do you think we'll make it? I mean, not just this, but after this? The whole world's against us now. And it's going to be hard to overpower the racket Harmony's caused... With all the noise going on, I don't think people'll even hear us.”
Oz smiled serenely in the darkness and for a moment Willow wondered if he knew something that she didn't. “Goodness speaks in a whisper, evil shouts.”
He smiled again, softly. “The Tibetan saying I owned you.”
“Oh, Oz, you didn't— I didn't mean—” She took a deep breath. “Thanks.”
“Your room,” he said finally, coming to a stop near one of the doors lining the hall. Kelden had fallen asleep in his arms, the dark-haired head resting against his neck. Oz touched a warm hand to the redhead's arm before he was off. “Good night.”
Back inside her room, Willow crawled under the covers and slept.