So We Meet Again

She'd always said she wouldn't be surprised if she turned the corner in Istanbul and he was there, but this wasn't Istanbul. No, it was Los Angeles. Her eyes widened in the kind of shock she'd believed she was finally too jaded to feel. "Oz!"

He smiled and for a moment she could have sworn his hair was purple, not brown with just a hint of grey at the temples. Wasn't he too young for that? "Hey," he said and his voice was almost the same as she remembered. Sadder, maybe, but on him it was so hard to tell.

"What are you doing here?" Oh God. Could she have managed to be a little more rude maybe? She blushed – one more thing she thought she'd outgrown. "I didn't mean it like that. I just…"

"Yeah. Me, too." Still inscrutable after all these years. And yeah, she noticed that he didn't answer her question.

"So…umm…wanna get some coffee?" Was it her imagination or was she suddenly back in high school? Because she hadn't been this awkward in a long, long time. Definitely one of the positive changes wrought by her relationship with Kennedy.

Maybe now wasn't the best time to think about Kennedy because Oz's eyes got curious and he asked, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." He could tell she was lying, but he let it go and she was impossibly grateful to him for that.

"Coffee sounds good," he said a moment later. Now, of course, Willow wasn't so sure she wanted to sit across from him, letting his silence draw words from her, words about wounds that still bled, but there was no taking back the invitation.

"Okay." And she led him to the fly-specked and unwelcoming little place with the really expensive brew that she had designated her favorite spot because it wasn't a chain and you had to make a stand against corporatization when you could. Even if it meant cutting back on other things because $7 a cup was a lot to spend on admittedly-not-that-tasty caffeine.

"You live here now," Oz said rather than asked as they sat down at a table by the window.

That took her a bit by surprise; he was doing that a lot today. Okay, twice, but still…"How'd you know?"

"This place." He shrugged as he spoke and once again she was back in high school, commiserating with Buffy over their shared affection for taciturn men. "It seems pretty local."

The waitress came and Willow ordered a cup of regular coffee, black. Oz followed her lead and the woman sullenly wrote down their order and walked away. Willow sighed. That very waitress had seen her here dozens of times but never acted like she was a regular. Willow hated to admit it, but she was starting to regret standing on principle. There was a Starbuck's less than a block away.

"I kinda work for Angel," she said, hoping that would be the end of it.

It was and it wasn't, because there was that thing he did where he just looked at her, expressionless, and it was some sort of mind control that made her spill her guts. "I sort of felt bad after I let Giles talk me out of helping Angel. So I…we" – Kennedy. Why hadn't Willow just stuck with 'I'? – "decided to come to Los Angeles after all. We got here in time to help. Guess that was good." Except for the part where some demon of a species Willow had never seen before ripped her girlfriend's head off and threw it at her. She'd killed the creature quickly, resisting the urge to give in to the darkness. Kennedy would have been proud. Now there was irony for you.

"Yeah. I heard you had a new girlfriend."

Dawn. That had to be Dawn. Not like she knew…not like any of them knew. "I did."

Oz looked at her curiously. "So you and she..?"

"She died. In the battle. We were in L.A. for all of ten minutes and she was dead."

Oz reached across the table and took her hand. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"It's okay. Not like I told anyone. I'm not really speaking to them anymore."

A sagacious nod from Oz followed and then an unaccustomed rush of words. "I miss the old days, you know? Fighting evil was more fun when…"

"None of us died?" Except Buffy – but she always came back.

He smiled. "Yeah. I mean, The Mayor? Now that was an apocalypse."

Willow found herself smiling back. "It sure was. The explosion was pretty cool."

"Don't forget when he ate Snyder."

There was laughter and Willow was stunned that it was hers. Had she laughed since she came to L.A.? Probably not. It was odd and strange.

But nice.

"Yeah, that was good too." And somehow it seemed perfectly okay to talk about other people dying as being sort of fun, because it was Sunnydale all over again and there was that insularity that had kept them safe. The Hellmouth, she suddenly realized, had been a blessing in some ways. It kept things balanced. Out here? In the real world? Either the good guys died or when the bad guys were the ones to get slain, no one seemed to know or care and nothing changed.

"I miss it," Oz said, repeating himself. Oz never repeated himself and Willow was thrown. But then she saw that he was looking at her hand and she thought maybe he meant something else.

"You never got around to telling me what brought you to Los Angeles."

"Guess not." Funny how those words seemed to answer Willow's question… and explain why he hadn't actually asked if she lived here.

"Me?"

He shrugged and looked out the window and Willow said nothing. The waitress finally brought the coffee, setting it down on the table with little grace and no particular courtesy.

Taking a sip, Oz grimaced. "You've been here before?"

Rather abashed as she sipped her own cup of the indifferent brew, Willow explained, "It's sort of a political statement."

He chuckled. "Nihilism never seemed like you to me."

"No. It's just that they're not a chain and…" There was an impish cast to his eye and she realized he was joking. She reached across and swatted his shoulder playfully.

There were sparks. Not fireworks, but still… She realized that she'd meant what she said all those years ago when she'd chosen Tara. "It's too soon," she blurted out.

"I know." There was a pause before he said, "But I can wait. A part of me will always be waiting for you."

Willow felt the faint traces of tears forming in her eyes. "Thanks." She held his hand across the table and they stared out the window. Their coffee grew cold. It didn't matter. It wasn't good coffee anyway.

The End.