Southern California had barely any seasons, it was hot all year round. In winter it might get cooler at nights and a jacket would become necessary.
Of course that didn't include that one time when it snowed. But that was Powers That Be versus First Evil stuff.
Christmas for the Scoobies had always been a festive family affair, they worked hard enough throughout the year and they deserved it. Giles returned from England bearing 'illicit' goodies such as foie gras, stinky cheese and utterly decadent Belgian chocolate, and proceeded to take charge of the Christmas feast preparation. They had long gotten used to turkey roasted with bacon strips on the breast, and Buffy and Dawn fought over the Paxo stuffing.
Xander and Anya announced that they were pregnant, which led to a flurry of demonspawn (or as Dawn called it, human-demon mixed race child) research before Giles finally declared that the child would be 100% human. The sigh of relief could be heard all the way to Wolfram & Hart's headquarters where what remained of Team Angel sat down for their first Christmas without so many dear ones.
New Year came by without further excitement and the gang settled in for another year of fighting the good fight.
Willow tried to be a part of the celebrations. At best, she quietly participated. At worst, she excused herself and retired back to her apartment. She felt hollow. She would trudge to and from work every day, occasionally helped with patrol, but she felt more like a Willowbot than real Willow.
She knew it was because of not seeing Tara that day at the Espresso Pump, but she would not allow herself to get angry at the Tara of the past. Her letters betrayed some of her depression, but she managed to cut most of it out, keeping to upbeat and neutral topics.
Winter turned to spring and though the weather got warmer her spirits did not.
Then, when she thought she'd hit bottom and was on the way up, Oz came back.
Walked in during a Scooby Chinese dinner at the Magic Box. Pushed open the door a little, just enough for the bell to do its tring-ling-ling chime, then stood at the entrance with his hands in his jacket.
Anya noticed him first, she being ever in tune with the ringing of the door chime. Then Xander, Giles and Buffy together. Willow was sitting at the research table behind the shelves and at their stilled movements, moved over and craned her neck to see what they were looking at.
A blast from the past.
She thought she was over him. She was over him, until the non-Tara non-meeting.
Xander was the first to recover.
"Oz, man," he said as he moved across the room and the two shook hands. "How've you been?"
His shoulders moved up and down a couple of inches. "Not bad."
His gaze passed over the group before it settled on Willow. Who had stood up and was doing her best to hold onto the last dregs of dignity she had left, her hands clenched once, then unclenched.
"What are you doing here?" Buffy glared at him.
His gaze did not falter from Willow's. "Can we talk? Tomorrow?"
"I have class in the morning, but I'll be free after lunch," her voice flat, as if answering on automatic.
"I'll meet you in the cafeteria? One-ish?" he asked softly.
She closed her eyes for a second, and nodded.
"Would you like to come in? Join in the consumption of lukewarm noodles?" Anya piped up. At the others' shocked looks. "What? He's back, and Willow's not slapping him, so all's good, isn't it?"
"I'll pass. I'm heading over to Devon's," Oz replied. "It's good to see everyone. Really."
They sat in pregnant silence while all around them college students went about their noisy daily routines, their lunches barely touched.
It isn't supposed to end like this.
"This is kinda awkward," she held back a nervous little laugh.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't be putting you through this," he apologized.
"Oz, why are you here? I mean, it's your home town and you have as much right as anyone of being here, but what I mean is, is there anything specific you want to talk to me about?"
"I can't just leave things like that, I feel like I owe you an explanation."
"If that makes you feel better."
He winced, she was not making this easy.
"It's hard to live in New York, it's like people there have this special code of behavior that's completely baffling to outsiders. I was missing home, missing you. But believe me, I wasn't planning for things to turn out this way, the last thing I want to do is to hurt you."
She barely bit back the "but you did" that was at the tip of her tongue.
He continued, "You know how it is when you aren't looking, that's when life catches you unawares. You meet someone and despite yourself, despite none of it making any sense, despite every obstacle that's thrown in your path, you're still helplessly drawn together."
Three months ago she would have dismissed what he just said as a poor excuse by someone desperate to justify his infidelity. Her perspective had changed since then and what he said struck a chord. But it was not enough. Some nameless, unknown, force that mysteriously binds two people together forever, like soulmates? It was never as easy as that, was it? Was it?
"That's such a lame excuse, Oz. You were lonely and you needed someone? Guess what? I missed you too, I didn't go and hump the nearest warm body, or seeing that it's Sunnydale, a room temperature one. Doesn't what we had mean anything to you?" she spat.
"Of course it did, does!" he protested. "But it's complicated, I had trouble understanding it myself at first."
"What's there to understand? We were doing so well, then you decide to go to New York, which by itself is a good thing, even though I got all teary about it, the merits of a scholarship can't be beat. But you get there and you forget about everything that was us and you thought, hey why don't I try stomping on Will's heart, see if it breaks into a million pieces, that'll be fun. Oh and what about -," she ranted.
"You don't understand," he interrupted. "She, she ... Veruca, she's a wolf."
She stared at him like, no she believed him, the pieces began to click into place.
"And that makes everything alright? Okay, so you have that in common, but us, what about us, Oz?" she asked.
"I, she, we met and I could sense something about her immediately. I got better at the meditations to control my wolf and one moon night I went looking for her. I only wanted to help her, I didn't mean for things to escalate so quickly, it's like we couldn't control that side of us," he explained, painfully.
"Does it matter how-"
"Nearly a year," he replied, resigned.
"Memorial Day weekend?" she was almost afraid to ask.
"Yes," he could only nod miserably.
"Oh god. You jerk. You took me sightseeing and everything you said to me. And when I asked if you're ok you said everything's fine. All that time, as soon as my back's turned. That's as bad as, as ..."
"I know how it feels. I remember."
"Oh, so, what, this is payback?"
"No, no, no. It's not about that."
"Because I thought that was behind us, it was so long ago. And you know, what happened then, the fluke, it doesn't compare."
"I know, I'm not trying to justify myself or anything."
"I know what you want. You want closure, to make your little guilt-ridden heart feel better. So you've talked to me and what, you have my forgiveness? You know what, sorry, that isn't so easy to come by. I don't think we have any more to talk about."
"Fuck you, Oz."
She stood up, gathered her stuff and walked away. Did not look back at his incredulous face. Did not turn back at his half-hearted attempt to call her back.