A/N: The Buffy reruns have just started season 4, so my adoration of Willow/Oz and heartbreak over their break up has been rediscovered! I've told this from Willow's perspective because of how easy she is to relate to, but I might write as Oz at some point. And I know the writing gets lazier towards the end, but that's only because I started this when I couldn't sleep and finished it when I realised that I actually could. And hopefully it doesn't sound too OOC because I know that I, for one, hate reading fanfics that are totally OOC.
Anyway… please review!
I couldn't help but feel safe as I patrolled side by side with Buffy. It wasn't the monsters of the night that had been scaring me lately—it was the prospect of seeing Oz. I didn't know what I'd do when I did come face to face with him again, but it comforted me that there would be less of chance of me running immediately into his arms if Buffy was there to stop me. She'd been telling me all the things a best friend should, all the things I'd told her after Angel left. He doesn't deserve you. You can do better. And a lot more which I wouldn't feel comfortable repeating.
I knew I should be mad, furious, and charging to his house to throw stuff at him. Any sane person would have him claiming on the insurance by now. It wasn't that I couldn't—I could—but rather that, if I did, it would make me feel better about everything that had transpired. Once one started to feel better, one started to forgive. I wasn't ready to do that yet.
Buffy had offered to make him hurt. Xander had offered to let her. Even Giles had asked if there was anything he could do as he cleaned his glasses. I'd refused them all. There was a reason I couldn't curse him. As much as I wished it wasn't true, I loved him. Despite all he'd done to hurt me, he was still my Oz. And I still belonged to him. That much would never change, no matter how much I wanted it to.
By the time I actually tuned in to what Buffy was saying, she had returned to her he's a fool routine. I cut her off mid-comfort to substitute my pain for hers. "So, have you seen Parker?" I chirped. She got my point, because she immediately stopped babbling and didn't answer my question either. But that didn't mean I wasn't sympathetic. "Really, Buffy," I pleaded. "You can talk to me."
She shrugged. "I don't know. I mean, I've seen him around and everything… It's stupid."
She kicked a pebble, which was good enough for me. We walked in silence after that, although I knew we were both praying that a vampire would leap out of the bushes and try to kill us. We both needed the distraction, but alas, we had no such luck.
I concede that it wasn't my finest moment, shifting the focus to her, but I was entitled to a touch of selfishness at this point. I didn't need her reminding me about Oz, and the only way to get her to feel even a fraction of what I did was to bring up what she least wanted to talk about: Parker Abrams.
But Buffy hadn't finished. "So how have you been? Since you and Oz broke up?"
Taking in a deep breath and looping my thumbs through the straps of my bag, I decided to just get it over with and put it behind me. "Not good, Buffy," I started, hearing with shame how pathetic my voice sounded. "I mean, part of me is angry, like, really angry and just wants to throw stuff and hex him and never see him again. But… there's always gonna be this part that loves him and wants him to call and I'm really scared that that's gonna be the part that comes through when I see him next. It's Oz, Buffy! He's not like the other guys, it's not like you can tell me there's plenty of fish in the sea because there aren't a lot of Ozes around! You know that, I know that! But then I start thinking, you know…" I stopped my rambling immediately, suddenly realising what I was about to say.
She stopped and touched my arm, looking into my eyes comfortingly. "You start thinking what, Will?"
I breathed out, but only upon doing so did I realise I'd been holding my breath this entire time. "Did he ever love me?"
It came out as a squeak, followed by several heavy tears. Without saying anything, she pulled me in for a hug and rubbed my back. My hands gingerly found her waist, but I couldn't find the strength to fully accept her embrace. "Oz loved you," she told me. "It was just the wolf. You know that."
That was the first thing she'd said in Oz's defence since he'd slept with Veruca. I didn't know if it was supposed to make me feel better—that he'd never meant to hurt me—or worse. After all, that way, it made it harder for me to hate him, and easier for me to forgive him. It would be easier to hear that it had all been a lie.
By the time I heard my name, it was two minutes later and we'd started walking again. I was faintly aware that my cheeks were still wet from crying and the pained look in my eyes was lingering. But Oz had popped out from behind a tree and stood there, hands in his jacket pockets, wearing the most emotive expression I'd ever seen on him. I should have been touched, but seeing him evoked the fury I'd been hoping it would. I wasn't going to crumble, and I was proud of myself for that.
I raised my chin shamelessly and felt Buffy stiffen beside me. I could tell how awkward she found the situation just by knowing her, but refused to feel sorry for it. How many times had she made me feel uncomfortable since I'd known her? I was entitled to this.
"Oz," I returned; my voice level and unwavering. In reality, I was having an internal celebration about my strength of will. I looked right into his eyes, feeling no pity or guilt or regret. I felt nothing except the faint skip of my heart which was residual from before the incident. Surely it would go away? But then, I wasn't even sure I wanted it to.
He took a tentative step closer, and Buffy got ready to pounce. But he wasn't looking at her. He only had eyes for me. "Can we talk?" he asked of me gently.
I shrugged my shoulders. "Sure. Talk."
His eyes shot to Buffy for half a second, which he clearly meant to mean in private. I pretended like I hadn't seen. I just stood there, waiting. But I wished he'd hurry up. The longer we stood here, in this deadlock, and the closer we were, the more the butterflies rose and my throat closed up. It was the same uncomfortable feeling I'd had when I was young and starting to crush on Xander. It was the same nervousness I'd felt when I'd started going out with Oz. And I hated it.
As usual, Buffy saved the day.
"Oz," she snapped, causing him to reluctantly draw his gaze from me. "Unless you have something you can say in front of me, why don't you go home? I'm working here."
He looked at me, and when he saw that I wasn't going to ask him to stay, he licked his lips and slowly turned his back on us and left. I couldn't take my eyes off his form as he got smaller and smaller and disappeared, but felt Buffy's hand on my shoulder. "You did good, Will," she said. "You didn't cave."
"But I wanted to, Buffy!" I whined tragically. "You don't know how much I wanted to."
I instantly realised my mistake, but rather than mention Angel, she put her arm around my shoulders and continued walking, taking me with her. "You're gonna be fine. I mean… there's still hope for you two, isn't there?"
Her statement took me by surprise. "Do you want there to be?" I know she'd only been insulting Oz for my benefit, but I'd genuinely thought she didn't want us back together. Did she think that he would make me happy? Or did she actually consider us to be the perfect match? I was simply trying to understand her train of thinking, because it had baffled me so far.
"Well," she tried, taking her arm back and putting her hands in her jean pockets. "He made you happy, right?"
"Until he slept with Veruca."
"But you were happy, right?"
"Buffy… Does this have anything to do with Angel?" It was a risk I'd have to take, although I began fearing for my life the minute I brought up that specific part of Buffy's past.
"Why would it have to do with Angel?" she asked, her gaze wandering to the path under our feet as her mind wandered.
I didn't know why. I just knew. "Well… Something to do with lost love, and there's no hope for you so you want there to be hope for me, and the more I'm talking I wish I would just shut up." So I did. Then, casting a glance at her from the side of my eye, told her, "Sorry." It was sincere.
She looked at me and forced a faint smile. "Don't worry about it, Will. You can stop walking on eggshells around me. I'm fine."
I didn't think she was. "But I don't think you are, Buffy! I'm sorry, it's just that… well, you got Angel back but then he left… and with this whole thing with Parker, I just want to make sure you're okay. You've been through a lot."
"I'm not the only one who's going through stuff. I'm not all bad, I do know when my friends are hurtin'."
"I'll make you a deal," I said, "I won't talk about Angel or Parker if you don't talk about Oz."
"Done." She held out her hand, which I shook as we gave each other mock-serious looks.
We walked on, and then she said, "Am I the only one who's noticed a serious lack of vamp-activity?"