* * *
It wasn’t Istanbul.
That was the funny thing, Willow thought later, that it was the good ol’ U.S.A where she finally found Oz again. And sure enough, she was hurrying around the corner of Charlotte and onto Treasury Street when she ran into him.
Right outside the Pirate Haus.
He was coming down the stairs, which, quaintly, had the pirate song painted on the steps and she didn’t quite notice, her nose buried in the little local map she’d picked up at the tourist center across from Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. And since neither of them actually noticed each other, Willow’s map and touristy-type stuff went flying one way and Oz’s musical scores went the other and they both started apologizing without realizing...
...but that didn’t last long.
“You’re here!” she’d said, realizing she knew that hand and that forearm and that shoulder and neck and profile and, well everything. “I didn’t know you were here!”
“I didn’t know you were here,” Oz said, rocking back on his heels where he crouched on the ground, looking up at her. “Why are you here?”
Willow gestured at the papers, completely mixed up on the narrow, cracked sidewalk. “Sightseeing?”
Oz made a non-committal sound and swept everything up together. “I live here. Well, not here here,” he said as Willow eyed the pirate steps and the Jolly Roger playing in the sea breeze over her head. “In town. I was just checking in with Ronnie, upstairs. He’s giving me one of his gigs over at the Milltop tonight.”
“Oh, you still play?” Willow asked, offering her hands to help sort through their papers. At least they were easy to tell apart, hers were brightly colored and slick, Oz’s were mostly white. “I mean, of course you do.” She hesitated. “Don’t you?”
Oz’s smile reminded her of the sun, rising up over the bay. “Yeah. Better than I used to.”
She bounced in place, a little scowl forming. “I thought you were good,” she said.
His smile faded slightly. “My very own groupie.”
The words reminded her of another time, another place. Was it really simpler back then, she wondered, or was it just memory made it so? “Um, so, you’re living in St. Augustine.” She gave him her best puppy dog eyes. “Mind showing me around?”
He considered it briefly. “Okay. But I’ve got the gig tonight, so I can’t show you a lot right now.”
There was a pause between them and Willow heard herself saying, “I’m gonna be here for a few days. If it’s no imposition....”
“Oh, no,” Oz told her seriously.
“Then it’s settled,” Willow said and later wondered exactly what was settled. Was it the ‘not an imposition’ or the ‘showing me around’ part? Whatever it was, it included her and him, and them, and Oz took her with him to the Milltop, which was a tiny little bar that would’ve fit on the stage of the Bronze, where he played an acoustic guitar while she drank the girly rum drinks she’d grown to love so much in Rio. And then he walked her home, or what passed for home in a strange town; a nice hotel overlooking the bay. He pointed out sights along the way, a casual thing; the Bridge of Lions, that every few years got fought over, because it was narrow and a draw bridge and surely something more New and Impressive was needed; the Castillo de San Marcos, one of the oldest structures in the whole U.S.; the St. Augustine light house, shored over on Anastasia Island, supposedly one of the most haunted structures associated with the town.
“I’ve got my bets on the Castillo,” Oz said, “for the most haunted place. There are ghost tours just about every night, if you’re interested.”
“Not really.” She shook her head and braved the thing that needed to be said. “Oz,” because she had to say it, didn’t she, “about, um, what happened back in Sunnydale.”
“You’ll have to be more specific.” He didn’t remember? She felt crushed when she realized he had that little quirky smile in place. Willow glared at him until he almost seemed to repent, spreading his hands open. “Willow, I remember it all. You made your decision. I hope it made you happy.”
“Oh, it did.” She found herself smiling in memory of Tara and how long ago had it been that she could do that? “I had everything. Emphasis on the ‘had’ part of that sentence.”
“She,” it still hurt, “she died.”
“Oh, Willow.” Oz looped an arm around her shoulders and she let herself turn into him. His comfort was so familiar, so right.
“You still smell the same,” Willow said, trying to keep the tremor out of her voice. “I mean, I wasn’t going around smelling you but.”
“I know.” He smiled as she pulled away, a real smile, not the little quirk. “You do, too.”
They met the next day for lunch, which turned into a sightseeing walk around the city. Oz knew where the quirky things were, like the houses with palm tree trunk sidings; the most photographed gate in the city; the murder house. “I knew a girl who lived there,” Oz said. “She went to Flagler College, here in town.” So he had to show her the campus, with its dormitories set inside what had been an exclusive hotel in the late eighteen-hundreds. “There’s three of Henry Flagler’s hotels right on this corner,” Oz pointed out, “the Ponce de Leon, now Flagler College; the Alcazar, right across the street, with the Lightner Museum inside and the Casa Monica. It’s still open for business.”
“Maybe I shoulda stayed there,” Willow said, eyeing the grand facade of the hotel.
“If you have lots of money,” Oz said.
“I have lotsa money,” Willow said. Not really loud, of course, who knew what might be listening in. “Or, well, the Watchers do and I’m sorta on the Watchers’ Council and I have an expense account and everything...what?”
Oz had an expression on his face and, wow, an actual expression. Willow would’ve marveled but it was a pointedly amused one and the point was at her. “The Three Musketeers,” he said.
“You, Buffy, Xander.” He ticked off the names of your friends. “Still together.”
“Well.” She hedged, picking at a strand of hair. “Not really. I mean, we call each other and all but...Buffy’s in Rome and Xander, well, I’m not sure where he is now. I was in Rio with Kennedy until,” her voice trickled off and Willow’s mouth went into a straight line at the thought of Kennedy.
“Not ‘all for one’?” Oz waited for her negative.
“Not for a long time.” Sad but true. Oh, she could call them any time and they’d drop whatever they were doing and talk but it wasn’t the same.
Oz took Willow to Crescent Beach, where the sand was the color of moonlight. “Sugar sand,” Oz said. “Most of Florida seems to be made of it until you get to the center of the state. Around Ocala and Mount Dora, you can pick up flint. Must be the backbone. And there are actual hills there.”
“Hills?” What was special about hills?
“Florida’s pretty flat. C’mon, you’re gonna get burnt.”
A week of Florida passed, slow and easy going like the sea breeze through the Spanish moss that clung to the live oaks. A swollen moon rose, golden, over the bay. Willow watched it with Oz at her side. “I’m good,” he said when she gave him an asking glance.
And he was.
And she was.
And Willow realized she’d be better off, money-wise, if she rented a place so she did, on the south side of town, because St. Augustine might not be much like Sunnydale but the walking distance was often better than driving anywhere.
So time slid by with visits to Mount Dora for the art show and to fix Willow’s jonesing for tea and crumpets and drives to Ocala for the horse shows and to Crescent City for the Catfish Festival and Palatka for the Blue Crab Festival and of course, they had to go to Orlando to play at the theme parks (Willow had Oz pose with Beauty and the Beast for a photo she kept stuffed into the space between the mirror and the frame) and to Cassadaga to talk to the Spiritualists and to Ybor City to watch women roll cigars on their thighs.
And it seemed familiar and natural that Willow would go with Oz to the Milltop to listen to him play and that he would go with her when she got a call that maybe there was a Slayer in Florida, would she mind checking it out?
And Willow realized one night, with Oz sitting on the cement picnic tables and playing his guitar while she spun around and around on the sugar sand. that she didn’t need Istanbul or Rio or Sunnydale any more.
* * *
It was like a little reunion, all of them getting together in England and Willow was surprised to see how much Dawn had grown. “You’ve grown!” she couldn’t help but squeal when she hugged the girl she’d looked on as a little sister.
“You’ve shrunk!” Dawn said and her eyes widened as she noticed Oz standing just behind Willow, guitar case in one hand, a soft duffle slung over one shoulder. “Oz?”
“Hey, Dawn,” he said, holding out a hand for her to shake.
She ignored it entirely, enveloping him in a hug. “Willow,” Dawn said, when she released him, “you’re evil.”
“Hey, now,” Oz said, linking his hand with Willow’s. “She’s not that evil.”
“No, you’re,” Dawn’s mouth hung open in surprise and she pointed, speechless, at their joined hands.
“These?” Willow twisted their hands up together to show off her diamond. “Surprise?”
Dawn made gasping sounds and flung herself at Willow and Oz again.
“Think she’s pleased?” Oz asked.
“Yeah,” Willow said, patting Dawn’s back. “I think she is.”
“Was that all one word?” Oz asked.
“I don’t think so.” Willow grinned. “You’re the first to know, Dawnie.”
“Outside of us,” Oz said.
“But you,” Dawn flushed and bit her lip but stumbled on anyway. “And Kennedy. And-and Tara.” She flashed an apologetic look at Oz.
“Doesn’t mean I can’t love more than one person,” Willow said gently. “Or one sex. Can you be happy for me, Dawn? For us?”
She nodded, a slow smile starting. “Yeah. Yeah, I can.” Dawn linked her arms through each of theirs. “C’mon. Let’s go find the gang. I can’t wait to see Xander’s face.”
* * *
married a music man...
must have seen her,
dancing in the sand....
“Tiny Dancer”, Elton John