Oz is my favourite of Whedon's characters, hands down. Not a popular choice, but I love Oz regardless. So, even though it's a somewhat heavy handed episode with rather weak costuming, I adore "Phases." When I chose "Phases," because Willow is fantastic in this episode and because this is the only Oz-centric episode that isn't heartbreaking, I planned to write Oz/Willow fic, because Oz/Willow is my absolute favourite pairing, but instead Oz + Buffy happened. I hate that Oz only ever seemed close to Willow, when I think he should've been friends with the others, so here's Oz + Buffy genfic, to make up for that a little. ( Conversations with Werewolves )
Oz kept expecting people to scream and run when they saw him, kept looking for fur and claws in every pale reflection in windows and panes of glass. He still looked just like he had a day ago and a week ago and a month ago, and the idea that he could hide such a terrible, monstrous secret within him, the idea that nobody could see him for what he was, was almost as fearsome as the beast inside his chest.
From where he sat leaning against a sturdy oak tree, waiting for Willow, Oz could see Buffy, leaving the school without her best friend. Buffy looked at him differently now (so did Xander, but Xander hadn’t liked Oz much in the first place, even before the wolf). Even though she tried to hide it, Oz was fluent in wordless languages, could read Buffy’s pained silences and furtive looks and enthusiastic babbles as easily as a graphic novel. Buffy would make a great comic book superhero, but she’d be an awful spy. She was far too easy to read. Buffy wasn't comfortable with Oz anymore, and that was spelled out in their every interaction. As Oz studied her profile, thinking about what it was about him that made her uncomfortable, Buffy started towards him, much to Oz's surprise, waving cheerily with a plastic grin when she got close.
“Hey, Oz,” Buffy greeted, dropping to the grass beside Oz and pulling her legs beneath her to cross them. She gave him a warm, but rather weak, smile, before breaking eye contact and looking down to watch her fingers nimbly tie blades of grass into knots.
“Buffy,” he nodded and looked at her patiently. She was here for a reason, and it was no good pushing. She would talk when she was ready. Oz had never minded silence, never seen it as the uncomfortable elephant lurking in the edges of conversations in the way everyone else always had. Silence was comfortable and familiar to Oz, in the same way idle, meaningless conversation had always felt foreign and sour in his mouth.
“I wanted to apologize,” Buffy finally said, looking up to meet Oz’s gaze. She smiled a little bitterly, and for the first time since he’d learned what a Slayer was, Oz saw just how deeply being a Slayer was part of Buffy, and just how heavy a curse that was. Being a Slayer, having the terrible power and responsibility that she had, palpably hung across her shoulders like a death shroud, weighing Buffy down so heavily that Oz was amazed she could stand so tall. Her eyes, as they met his, were ancient and piercing, nothing like the average girl she pretended to be and everything like the tortured hero of the people she had never asked to become. She had something living inside of her, just like he had, something that set her apart from all the other billions of humans, and it was mysterious and primal and deadly, all at once. And for the first time, now that he had something pounding away within his chest, Oz understood what Buffy had spent so long running from, and he understood that she would never outrun it. They weren't so different, wolf and Slayer.
“I know I haven’t been awesome about the wolf thing.”
“Yeah?” Oz commented blandly, sill puzzling over Buffy’s inner killer.
“Yeah,” Buffy chuckled wryly. “Will really chewed me out over taking this long to talk to you, too.”
“She did?” Oz snapped back to focus, feeling a warm buzz of contentement at the thought of his girlfriend looking out for him like that.
“Mmhmm. Resolve Face and everything,” Buffy affirmed. “So, here I am, ready to apologize.”
“Have at it.”
“Sorry about the whole wanting you dead thing, because I don’t really. I don’t want you dead, I mean.”
“Glad to hear it.”
“And I’m sorry,” Buffy paused, taking a deep breath and audibly blowing it back out between her lips, like a plume of smoke. “Oz, I’m really sorry that this happened to you and that I couldn’t stop it. It’s my job to protect people from monsters, and I’m so sorry that I couldn’t save you.”
Oz didn’t respond, thinking quickly. There were a lot of things to say to that, endless tessellations of words and gestures, but only one of them was right, and it was an imperative that he created just the right arrangement. Words were important, critically, dangerously so, and they needed to be considered and counted and savored before they were thrown around in handfuls.
“Okay, so here’s how I see it,” Oz answered her after a careful, steady pause. Buffy had slowly grown tenser as his silence persisted but, as Oz began his slow and measured words, she froze in place, a sharply colored snapshot in place of the blurred film of her usual careless motions. She was worried, incredibly so, that he would reject her apology, that he would hold her responsible, that she had lost a new friend, and her furrowed brow and tense hands, clasping and unclasping around each other showed it. “I’m not thrilled about this werewolf thing or anything, and I wish things were different, but they’re not. So we’ve gotta go from here.
“And I don’t blame you for this. Things happen, Buffy. You do your best. All anybody could ask.”
“Maybe you should blame me,” Buffy answered plainly, voice matter of fact and devoid of self-pity, blue eyes level and steady when they met his. “I’m the Slayer, Oz. I’m supposed to kill the monsters, not create them.”
“Maybe I’m overstepping my bounds here,” Oz replied, “so feel free to shoot me down or whatever. But, is this a me thing or an Angel thing?”
Buffy winced as if stung, drawing a hissing breath between her teeth. "Nobody ever wants to talk about Angel," she said plainly, sounding more resigned than heartbroken. "Everybody avoids his name like the plague, like they think I'll completely break down every time I hear his name," Buffy smiled wanly, tired and worn like a much older woman. "I won't, you know. I'm not made of glass. I'm actually pretty tough.
"I mean, I'm not saying I'm not upset, but I can hear his name. I'm not totally pathetic."
"Oh, I don't think you're at all pathetic," Oz smiled slightly, "I think you're pretty impressive."
"Thanks," Buffy blushed, looking down for a second, before meeting Oz's gaze again. "And maybe you're right, but not completely. I feel guilty about Angelus and how that happened, and that eats me up every single day, but this is a you thing, too.
"I'm just sorry you're going to be stuck as a werewolf for the rest of your life. It's supposed to be my job to keep things like this from happening."
"What could you have done? Stopped me from babysitting my cousin?" Oz asked reasonably, eyebrows raised a hair.
"I don't know," the Slayer sighed, "But, I should've done something."
"You kept me from killing Willow, or hurting anybody else. That's something."
"I don't blame you. You shouldn't either.
"World's a big place. You can't save us all, Buffy. You had to figure it out sometime, might as well use me as your object lesson."
"I guess," Buffy sighed, not looking especially like she believed Oz. "We'll chalk this one up as a big 'screw you' to the powers that be and move on. But I still think you're too laid back about this."
"I'm a fairly laissez-faire kind of guy," Oz shrugged, thinking of how spectacularly ironic it was that he was the one talking Buffy down when he'd been on the verge of panicking all morning. Maybe it wasn't ironic so much as indicative, that even when he was in turmoil, he looked completely calm; he'd never been emotionally available, but he was reaching new heights of being closed off and emotionally internalized. Maybe it wasn't a good thing.
"No kidding," Buffy chucked warmly, "But it's good. It's what makes you good for Willow."
"Yeah. You two balance each other, I guess. She needs someone like you."
"I think maybe I needed someone like her, too."
Buffy smiled blindingly at him, giving him the sappy, chick-flick grin of someone watching their best friend fall in love for the first time. "I'm glad. I've been rooting for you two," she said sincerely, before her smile turned predatory. "But if you hurt her, if you do anything to hurt her, I'll reach down your throat to rip out your small intestine and I'll hang you with it."
"That's fair," Oz nodded and shuddered, a little taken aback by the imagery, as much as he appreciated the sentiment.
"Okay," Buffy laughed brightly, sounding absurdly light, as if putting voice to her problems had made them heavy as air. "And, sorry for unloading on you like that, Oz. You hardly know me and here I am, throwing all my issues at you at once."
"It's cool," Oz nodded, "I'm told I'm a good listener."
"You are," Buffy smiled gratefully, bumping her shoulder into his. "Though I'm not sure where you find the time to listen with all the talking you do."
"It's part of my charm," Oz smirked.
"I'm sure." Buffy rose to her feet, standing in one graceful motion, shaking her joints and muscles out like a cat. "I've gotta run, Giles duty, so I'll hand you off. There's an adorable redhead who's crazy about you headed our way."
"So there is," Oz remarked quietly, happily smiling in his girlfriend's direction. "Good talk, Buffy."
"It really was. Thanks again, Oz."
"Anytime." As Buffy began to walk away, Oz called out to her, while she was still just a few paces from the tree, "Thank you, Buffy."
"What for?" she asked, turning around in bafflement.
"For not treating me like a monster."
"Oz, you're not a monster," Buffy insisted. "You're just Oz."
"Three nights a month, most experts would disagree."
"Yeah, okay, you've got a furry problem. So what? That doesn't make you a monster. Are you going to lock yourself up in the cage next full moon?" Buffy asked imperiously, staring him down with hands on her hips. Oz nodded and Buffy grinned, "And that's why you're not a monster. You're choosing not to be.
"See you later, Oz."
"Sure," Oz nodded easily, turning her words over and over in his mind. It had never occurred to him that being a monster was as simple as choosing to be one, hadn't considered for a second that he would every be anything but a monster. Buffy had certainly given him a lot to think about. But soon Willow arrived, and gave Oz something entirely different to focus on.
“Hi,” Willow announced her presence a little nervously, coming to stand beside Oz under a wide oak on the school’s front lawn. Oz could faintly smell her on the afternoon air, fresh and sharp and sweet, like strawberries and cinnamon and rainwater mixed with lightening. He'd never smelled anything sweeter. "What are you doing, Oz?"
"Oh. Mind if I joint you?" Willow asked with a blush, looking nervous and excited and love struck all at once. She was beautiful, Oz mused fondly, and she didn't think he was a monster either. Willow was intelligent and smart and kind and funny and the fact that she wanted to be near him, much less the fact that she had kissed him yesterday after school, still blew him away. He didn't deserve her, but he was too much in love to leave her now.
"I'd be crushed if you didn't," Oz smiled, grabbing her hand to tug her down beside him. He pressed a quick kiss to her lips once she'd settled in, and took a moment to appreciate the perfect flush that spread across her cheeks. "Stay for a while?"
"As long as you'll let me," Willow grinned dizzyingly, and Oz idly imagined that if he hadn't been sitting down, her smile would have knocked him off his feet.
"I'd like that," Oz murmured and gave Willow a rare grin, because now that she was here, he was starting to believe that he wasn't a monster at all.