by Mary Beth Nielsen
Copyright 1999

Disclaimer and stuff: This little bit struck me after viewing Graduation 2 (way back when it was illegal!). One little, hilarious line from Oz and this was begging to be written. It's set, well, sort of between Graduation 1 and 2. I hope it amuses! Joss and co. own 'em. I don't. Just playing.

Oz sat quietly in a chair across from the bed. He held a book in his lap -- something philosophical he'd found on Angel's shelves -- but he had yet to turn a page. He was lost in his thoughts, most of which were centered around a certain beautiful redhead.

The figure in the bed stirred, pulling Oz from his reverie. He reached for the bowl of cool water and the sponge and moved to help Angel. Oz paused when Angel started murmuring and shifting restlessly under the sheets.

These were the first sounds Angel had made in a few hours, though, so Oz let him alone with his inner demons. He did pull the chair closer to the bed should Angel need help. He still felt awkward around Angel sometimes. Not from anything he'd done--Oz didn't believe in holding grudges or blaming a person for what his demon did. No, Oz's own inner demon, dormant save for three days a month, didn't seem to like Angel's inner demon much. The air seemed electrified by Angel's presence--some kind of vamp/werewolf animosity. Plus now, the vampire was sweating profusely, and the odor was starting to get to Oz.

But Oz kept it all in check because he liked Angel. He could appreciate a man of few words, and he certainly respected Angel's love for Buffy.

His thoughts drifted to Willow again, her porcelain skin, her luscious lips, her soft hair. He knew he'd go to any lengths for her, to keep her.

She was napping now in the next room. He didn't want to wake her so soon after sending her off to rest. So Oz leaned in over Angel and began gently sponging off the vampire's sweat-drenched face, trying not to disturb him.

But as Oz moved to rinse of the sponge, Angel stirred. He opened his eyes and stared directly at Oz.

Oz froze. Something was . . . odd.

"I'm sorry." Angel said softly, his voice cracking.

"Uh . . . sorry?" Oz asked.

"I don't want to leave you." Angel whispered. "It hurts so much, to know I'm hurting you, to know I won't be able to see you or hold you or protect you. . . ."

"Uh . . . Angel?"

"I've made promises to you, to myself. I told you I'd never leave you. That I'd never let anything happen to you." Angel swallowed and winced in pain. "I can't stand to think about how I'm breaking those promises. I know that letting you go is the right thing, the strong thing to do. But . . . it's so hard. . . . " He gasped for air before crying softly, "Oh Buffy!"

This . . . was weird.

"Um . . . Angel, man . . . ."

But the vampire was lost in his own reality. "I can't leave you unless I'm sure you understand that if there were any way . . . . that I'd give anything to be with you. I can't leave you. Buffy. I can't leave. . . . I can't. . . ." Angel's voice trailed off.

Oz just stared. Just when he'd decided it was safe to move, Angel's eyes snapped open again. He looked deeply into Oz's eyes and reached up with one hand as if to caress Oz's cheek.

Calmly, quietly, Oz ever so slightly leaned back so that Angel barely brushed Oz's face as he spoke softly, "I love you Buffy." He continued to stare at Oz through fevered eyes.

Oz patted Angel's arm and said the only thing he could.

"I love you, too, man."

This seemed to satisfy the vampire. He sighed and drifted off into another fitful sleep.

Oz waited a few moments until he was sure that Angel was sleeping as soundly as he could, then he carefully rose from the edge of the bed, picked up his book, walked to the curtain, and even though he'd only taken up post 15 minutes earlier, called softly, "Will, it's your turn."

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