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Come Morning

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“It's almost time,” Oz grimaced, turning his back to the makeshift cage to face Willow. They were running out of time, both of them, before the moon took over and the Sisters of Jhe attacked. But Oz was in a new cage, on the worst night of his transformation, and Willow was about to fight the apocalypse, and he just wanted to stay frozen in this exact moment of time, holding Willow's hands in his and breathing in her scent

“I hate leaving you like this,” Willow smiled morosely, strengthening her grip on both his hands, squeezing tight as if he was a kite that might blow away if she loosened her grip for even a second

“I know. I do too.”

“It's just,” Willow broke off, staring at her feet as she scuffed one sneaker against the dusty, grey floor of the school basement. “I worry. About you. And I know you're okay when you’re wolfy-you, and you'll be you-you again in the morning, but, still. I worry.”

“Me too,” Oz brushed a kiss against her forehead. “I don’t like not being there for you.”

“You’re there when it matters,” Willow promised, eyes wide and earnest. Oz could smell the fear on her, he had smelt it on everyone in the library before they left, and it did nothing to calm the wolf. He could feel it, predatory and closer to the surface than usual, howling and shrieking and demanding to run free. It was terrifying and exhilarating and nauseating, all at once

“Not tonight,” Oz leaned his forehead against Willow’s, and hated the wolf more than he ever had for taking him away from her tonight, with the world on the brink of collapse

“It’s awful,” Willow confessed, voice quiet and soft and scared, “but I’m almost glad you won’t be there tonight. I know you want to be there for the fight, and I want you with me, really. It’s just, the thought of you getting hurt…it scares me, Oz.

“I don’t want anything bad to happen to you, and I’m scared it will. And, if you're all wolfy tonight, then I don't have to worry that you'll get hurt or, or eaten, or killed or anything, and that’s good. You’ll be safe and alive, and that’s really important to me, Oz. I want you to be okay, okay?”

“Likewise,” Oz breathed, his lips just a breath away from Willow's, and he leaned in, and kissed her desperately, like he was running out of time, and she was the only thing that could keep him alive

“Please, don't get hurt tonight,” he pled, and then Willow seized him in another kiss, breathing him in like air. Oz wanted to hold on to her, one arm tight around her waist and the other threading through her hair, until the sun rose, not letting her go for anything, not for the wolf, not for the apocalypse, not for the world, but he knew better

“Oz…” Willow began, and he could sense the words that were coming, could read her furrowed brow and terrified eyes, and he cut her off. He couldn't bear to hear her tell him that she couldn't promise him that she would survive, that she could only promise that she'd try. He couldn’t bear to hear it, not when death was such a real possibility

“Willow, come let me out in the morning?” Oz asked, question loaded with more layers and meanings than there were freckles on her face and arms and hands. He'd counted every freckle she bared to the world and planned to count them again, to kiss each freckle and memorize every line of her, if only she came back to him in the morning

“I'll be the one to come for you every morning I can, Oz. You know that,” Willow smiled and kissed him deeply one more time, before she stepped out of his embrace. Oz backed up, not taking his eyes off her face, retreating through the door of the cage he and Buffy had hastily constructed in the boiler room closet that afternoon and kept moving until he stood flat against the wall where his precautionary shackles hung

“Still. Promise me?” he pled once more, fastening himself in, limb by limb

“I love you, Oz,” Willow said instead, stepping into the cage to kiss him one last time and then locking the door behind her when she stepped back out. “You know that right? That I love you?”

“I know, baby. I love you too.”

“I know.”

Willow waited with him for moonrise, wrapping her hands through the bars of the cage and telling him, again and again, that she loved him, and, come morning, there was no place she’d rather be than with him. When the change began, the last thing Oz saw was Willow's soft, scared smile, and his last thought was a desperate prayer that she really was there in the morning to smile at him again.