Rating: PG, nothing objectionable
Feedback: Yes, thank you. Melpomenethalia@aol.com
Spoilers: Through the entire series of Buffy.
Distribution: Fanfiction.net and the Bunny Warren. If you're interested, please let me know.
Summary: A year after the events of "Chosen," there have been a lot of changes, but some things remain the same.
Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy. Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you. Thank you.
Dedication: I think RyAn may possibly like this one.
It was just another ordinary Tuesday for most of the world. There was no holiday, school wouldn't let out for a few more weeks, and people went to their jobs as usual. A few news reports mentioned it since it was such a slow day: the first anniversary of the giant sinkhole that had swallowed Sunnydale, California, whole. That was, of course, the story everyone believed. Denial wasn't limited only to the denizens of the now defunct city.
Willow shoved her hair behind her ear as she stared at the computer screen, trying to weave her way through the labyrinth of codes for the web page she was building as her final college project. In a month's time, she'd hear "Pomp and Circumstance" play as she walked across the unniversity's auditorium to receive her diploma. It was a year late, but considering how many times she'd had to avert he apocalypse in those five years, she thought she'd managed pretty well.
Things were so quiet that it was almost distracting. She was living alone in an off-campus apartment in Boston. She was almost willing the phone to ring with Buffy on the other end, or Xander or Giles. The lives of the remaining Scoobies had scattered them to the four winds after the demise of Sunnydale, but that hadn't kept them from staying in touch with each other. Still, ever since Kennedy had left six months ago, there were times Willow couldn't help feeling awfully lonely. The thought of her ex-girlfriend intruding upon her thoughts decided the matter.
"Time for a hot chocolate break," she said firmly as she got out of her desk chair, cracking her back as she did so. She glanced at the clock and realized she'd been working for nearly six hours straight. Groaning slightly, she stumbled into her kitchenette and took out her favorite coffee mug. Dawn had sent it to her for her last birthday. In wildly decorative script, it loudly declared "Don't mess with me or I'll incinerate the earth!" That it could be a joke now gave her a good feeling.
She filled the mug with milk and Hershey's syrup, then popped it in the microwave and watched the cup turn around and around inside. After several months of this she'd become an old pro, never once getting a skin on the milk anymore or ending up with luke-warm hot chocolate. When the timer rang, she pulled out her mug and flipped in a few little marshmallows. The marshmallows were actually kind of odd. She never remembered buying them, but they were always there in her cupboard. She shrugged and chalked it up to one of the more pleasant supernatural occurrences in her life as she sipped her drink.
The wafting steam made her feel sleepy as she watched it rise slowly and evaporate, and her thoughts wandered again, though not to a particularly happy place. Kennedy. It hadn't taken Willow long to realize that the other girl did, indeed, usually get what she wanted. Unfortunately, when they'd moved to Boston together, it turned out what she wanted was the underwear model down the hall. The brunette had been rather shocked when Willow had confronted her about the other woman. Apparently, Kennedy had been under the impression that living together didn't automatically mean they were exclusively seeing one another. She'd actually suggested that maybe Willow might want to see other people too although they could still have "fun" together. The witch had shaken her head in disbelief at how self-centered Kennedy had proven to be and had firmly stated that the other girl needed to move out by the end of the week. It had broken her heart, but it seemed to be for the best now.
Buffy had come in from Cleveland to visit her for a while as she handled the situation. It had been good to see her again. The Slayer, who was now no longer quite so alone in fighting the forces of evil, looked healthier than Willow remembered her being for a very long time. She'd put on a little weight, just enough so that she wasn't all angles, and she smiled more, all the way up to her eyes. Things were finally going well for her friend. She, Dawn, and Xander had all taken up residence at the other Hellmouth after Sunnydale imploded, setting up a training facility for the Slayers who had been called. Of course, to the rest of the world, Buffy was just an aerobics instructor, but after hours she taught a handful of girls at a time how to survive. Dawn was in her last year of high school and would be going to college in a few months. She'd already picked her profession: Watcher. There were a few members of the Council who hadn't been there when the headquarters was blown up, most of them Watchers who had been on the outs with the Council due to their rebellious behavior. Although being a Watcher usually ran in families, with so many Slayers called all over the world, they weren't about to be choosy. Dawn would be going to school at Oxford, taking a few extra classes that weren't on the normal curriculum while majoring in ancient languages and mythology. Giles did his best to appear utterly unmoved by the situation, but Willow was sure he was more than a little proud and would probably be quite happy to have Dawn drop by his flat in Bath occasionally.
Buffy had been able to sympathize with Willow over the end of an ill-fated relationship. She and Xander had tried to make a go of it in Cleveland, but things didn't really go according to plan. It became plain after a while that, while Buffy and Xander did love each other, they weren't in love with each other. They did manage to remain close friends, though, and when Buffy had come to visit, it was Xander who checked in on Dawn while she was gone. He was working for a cabinetmaker in the city and moving up rapidly through the company, and, almost unbelievably, was dating a perfectly normal girl who was not a demon. At least, she said she wasn't. Willow couldn't help wondering about her slightly pointed ears.
Faith, who was now going by the name Diana, had settled in Phoenix. She'd taken a cue from Buffy and begun teaching some of the new Slayers the ropes. Exactly how she managed to elude the police was a matter only she and Angel, who seemed to suddenly be remarkably well connected, knew. It was strange, but the near-apocalypse washed away much of the bad blood between her and the rest of the group. It wasn't uncommon for Willow to get a phone call at 3:00 in the morning only to hear "Dude, how the hell do you use a search engine again?" on the other end of the line. She might have reformed, but that didn't necessarily make her polite.
So here was Willow, alone as usual these days, staring at a cooling cup of hot chocolate. It wasn't a bad life, but occasionally, she'd have liked a hug. Still, it was good to know everyone was okay.
A knock on the door broke her out of her reverie, and Willow jumped, spilling the last of her hot chocolate on her sleeve. It was nearly midnight, and she obviously wasn't expecting anyone. Cautiously, she looked through the peephole in the door and saw the last person she'd ever expected waiting on the doorstep and wearing a pensive expression. She undid the door chain and fumbled with the lock in her haste before she swung open the door.
"Oz!" she squealed. "Come on in!"
The currently purple-haired bass player half-smiled and walked inside, looking around the room curiously.
"Um, so, what are you doing here?" Willow asked. "Not that I don't like having you here, because, well, big happy to see you."
Oz sat down on the couch and took a deep breath. "I was living in a little village in the Amazon rainforest for a while. Nice place. Lots of trees. Shaman there helped me out a lot with the wolf. Didn't hear about Sunnydale until a group of tourists came through five months afterwards."
Willow's eyes got very large as she realized what must have happened. "You didn't know if we were okay, did you?"
"Not exactly. I tried calling Angel after I hitchhiked into Rio, but he'd moved and there wasn't a new number, so I went to L.A. and tracked him down. Took me a while. Not really where I expected him to be. He told me where to find you," he said softly. "I knew you weren't dead. I mean, I just would have known, you know?"
"Yeah, I know," Willow said. "So, you want a cup of hot chocolate?"
"Sounds good," Oz said with a smile. "But can I have a hug first? Is that, like, okay?"
Willow smiled back happily. "Yeah. Yeah, that's okay."
They embraced tightly for a moment, Oz reassuring himself that she was really there, really safe. Eventually, they let go and sat down over cocoa. A pleasant silence filled the room. Neither was sure about anything in the future, but for the moment, it was just nice to be near one another again.