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Before All Answering Love

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Daniel Osbourne, it cannot be denied, was a man of few words. When he did speak, he spoke with purpose, without guile, and if he spoke more than a few sentences, he really meant what he said. His actions were, on every occasion, as hard or as easy to follow as his words, but always done with purpose and meaning.

When he said he loved Willow Rosenberg, no one could doubt the veracity of that truth. Especially considering the day to day actions that bore witness to the statement.

It wasn’t that Oz hadn’t been in love before. There were several girls who had, by his senior year in high school, caught his eye and been treated to the pleasure of being called his girlfriend. But that wasn’t enough. A typical high school romance was not at all the same as what he was involved with now.

Oz himself would have found it hard to articulate exactly how his love had come about. But he knew it was a gradual process that started from a glimpse across a crowded room. He could well recall the night when he had stood on the Bronze stage, guitar in hand, well content to let Devin have the spotlight and indulge his own hidden passion for music. The room was full of bikini clad island goddesses and ancient queens, but there was only one girl who had the audacity and originality to wear an Eskimo suit.

This mystery girl completely captured his imagination and he played mechanically for the rest of the night wondering what kind of a person would think of doing something like that. She was covered from head to toe in fur and leather and knocking over food left and right and he couldn’t picture anything better.

Yet when he went to meet her at the end of his set she vanished from in front of him as much as if she’d been conjured than just hurriedly leaving. He was disappointed to his bones, yet all he could do was wonder who the girl was. If he had been the hero of a fairy tale Oz probably wouldn’t have rested till he’d scoured Sunnydale High and gone through all his previous yearbooks and asked everyone he saw if they knew the girl in the Eskimo suit. But Oz was a teenage boy who had classes to ditch and tests to ace and guitar to not practice and while his mind teased and wondered about her, he didn’t do very much about it.

Since Oz lived in the town of Sunnydale he was well used to the occasional odd happenstance and though he wasn’t sure why he’d been accosted by a foul-smelling pirate and a miniature Frankenstein monster on Halloween it wasn’t something he was going to let bother him. It had been an interesting day all around, bumping into a ghost in the hallway, having to deal with Cordelia, and one of his guitars had broken three strings while fending off the pirate. So he was glad to be driving home that night. Then he saw her striding across the crosswalk and everything else about his day melted away. She had the same face but she was a whole new creature, as far from Eskimo as one could get, in a cleavage-showing, midriff-baring, mini-skirted outfit that he would never have pictured her in. Not that he was going to complain about it at all.

She walked with confidence and her whole manner was different to the other time he’d seen her. He felt more confused and intrigued than before and his whole self did become a little bit more invested in discovering everything about her that he could.

He did ask around at that point, behaving as much like a detective as he could without derailing his life entirely. But it was not his fate to discover her that way and he knew nothing else about her for some weeks.

Oz was under no delusion as to how well he did in school. He got by, and sometimes he didn’t, but he knew how to take tests and he knew how to use his brains. It was a slight surprise to him to be taken aside to the curtained-off lounge area on Career Day and be presented with an immense opportunity offered to only one other student. He was more interested in the hors d'oeuvres provided than who the other student might be. Still, when he turned and saw that she was the one sitting nervously next to him, he wasn’t a bit surprised. She would be the one.

Today she was neither Eskimo nor runway model, fuzzy sweaters and something he thought might be referred to as geek chic, made up her wardrobe. He had a momentary thought that he liked her this way best of all before his brain stopped and any clever opening remark was completely cut off and all he could do was offer her some pate.

He had the honor of learning her name and it was as unusual as the rest of her. She was obviously brilliant or she wouldn’t be up there in the same lounge as him. She was practically mute with shyness until computers were mentioned and then she nearly ran out of words to describe them. He found himself listening and retaining, grasping every word she spoke and hanging onto it.

They said goodbye outside the lounge and if he didn’t think it would make her utterly confused he would have asked for her number. But he did know her number in one way because he knew her name was Willow Rosenberg and that her favorite class was Miss Calendar’s computer class and that she was a junior and she thought Mr. Giles the librarian was the smartest man alive and that her best friends were Xander Harris and that weird Summers girl who was always getting in trouble and slamming Oz into locker doors for no reason the next day.

Oz had no trouble finding Willow later that week now that he knew where to look for her. He watched her with her friend and he watched her blush and then he took a bullet for her. It was as much a surprise to him as anyone. As infatuated as he was, he never really considered dying for her as being part of the package deal. So when the cop from the police booth pulled a gun and started shooting, Oz didn’t expect to leap in front of Willow and shield her, but he did. And he got shot in the arm and it was much, much more painful than anything he’d ever experienced before. So that was the end of that encounter because they were busy getting him to the hospital and all that that entailed.

Oz was the type of person who didn’t seek attention and when Willow sought him out to thank him, he did not want to be thanked. He simply wanted to spend more time with her and if delving into the contents of an animal cracker box was the way to do that, he would not shy away from the task.

It began that way, with moments in the halls and shared laughter over jokes and him finally asking her out. He was confident enough of her answer that he didn’t need to be nervous but happy enough with her counter offer that he didn’t need to be disappointed. Up to that point he hadn’t really had any encounters with her friends that didn’t involve some type of violence so it wasn’t really a surprise when Buffy arrived by smashing a window, involved in a vicious fight. The vampire was a surprise. Less surprising was how much sense it made. It really wrapped his life up in a neat bow and gave him a brand new perspective actually. Yet Willow was ever solicitous to the shock she surmised it must have given him and a little bit more of him was given over to her.

It had not escaped Oz’s notice that Willow was not wholly free from other romantic entanglements. The one-sided attraction that had been building since childhood was probably painful for her so he didn’t mention how much he noticed her behavior toward Xander until he had to. It happened, oddly enough, while said Xander was stealing from the Army. Not something Oz had ever really been a part of, but he wasn’t adverse to it, especially if it would help get rid of an evil demon of some kind.

Willow’s nervous request to have him make out with her did take him by surprise. One couldn’t even call this a proper date and yet she was going way faster than she had probably ever gone in her life. It didn’t take a genius to figure out it had something to do with Xander and Cordelia. Which hurt just a little bit and wasn’t something he expected from her. Yet it made sense to him and he couldn’t say he’d never do it if given the situation and opportunity. Still, he had to treat the next few moments carefully.

So he told her the truth. About how much he did want to kiss her, about how she occupied his thoughts, about how she was his mystery woman, not yet completely his. Because he didn’t want her on other terms. To do so would cheapen every thought, feeling, and experience he’d had about or shared with her since the night of the Eskimo suit. Oz didn’t claim to be a saint, but he was very sure about the kind of relationship he wanted if he was going to have one.

He didn’t really wait to see what her response was because, after all, they were in the midst of a highly illegal theft situation. And there wasn’t much time after that because they were fighting evil and that was new for him. It involved firing rocket launchers in the middle of the mall and it was definitely an experience that he didn’t think could ever be entirely topped in the sheer fear and adrenaline category.

Until the next big Willow event in his life. He cooled things way down after that incident, willing to wait until she’d decided what she wanted, until she could put some Xander feelings to rest. He spent more time with his family, babysitting his teething cousin Jordy. He still spent time with Willow, but he didn’t want to come on too strong.

And then it happened, the time when he woke up in the woods, completely naked, with no idea how he got there.

Oz was a calm guy. He didn’t panic easily. But this was different. This was life changing in a way that he could never come back from. Oz was a werewolf. And Oz panicked for perhaps the first time in his life. It involved pushing Willow away, not telling anyone what was going on, and being very very anxious when Willow turned up on his doorstep.

His last thought before he changed was that he hoped his last act before he got shot down like a dog wasn’t killing Willow.

He did not die but he was changed. He was slightly gratified to find how accepting the group was of his new supernatural status. That was something he had not hoped for at the realization of it himself. But he still felt that this would ruin all chances of anything lasting with Willow and he walked out of the library, hoping to be the bigger man.

But Willow was still something he didn’t quite understand and she came after him, being what he would term as adorably logical, and asking for a chance. He would never regret saying yes. Never regret receiving his first kiss from Willow.

She was quite the human and he was blessed to have her in his life. To finally hold the woman he’d fallen for so quickly.

But it wasn’t ever boring and it wasn’t ever final. There came a time when Xander used magic to try and get revenge against Cordelia. The spell ended with every woman but Cordelia in love with him, and that included Willow. Willow who already loved Xander. Oz’s relationship with Willow was so new at that point that he didn’t even have time to feel jealous. No, his response was anger, but because of Willow’s hurt and not her love for another man. One good punch to Xander’s face later and he was pretty much over it and ready and willing to help put the world back to normal.

Willow apologized over and over, but Oz would not be the man he was if he couldn’t see that it wasn’t her fault and told her so.

He had not fully understood how dangerous their world was. Even being involved in the events that led to Angel becoming Angelus hadn’t really struck that home. Miss Calendar’s death was tragic and upsetting and it scared him, but it wasn’t until Willow was attacked and lying in the hospital that he truly realized the danger they were all in.

To hear her calling his name was the best part of all. He slipped beside her, held her hand, and kissed her forehead. He loved her then. Truly loved. It was not just infatuation or attraction or deep feeling, it was simply love.

And that was how Oz fell in love, but that was not all Oz did in love, nor the end of his story. He and Willow were only just beginning and whatever words he could not say to describe the beginning would be equally as incapable of describing what came after.