This was written for the weekly challenge community, tamingthemuse for challenge #348: papaya. This is my first week writing for the tamingthemuse challenge/comm, and I'm looking forward to see how many weeks in a row I can fulfil the prompts. I've spent most of the past week watching The West Wing instead of doing productive things, so I apologize for it's somewhat suspect quality. I procrastinated, and pushed the deadline more than a little.
Title: Southern California Internationalism
Characters: Willow Rosenberg, Daniel "Oz" Osbourne
Rating: PG-13, for language
Word Count: 1,756
Disclaimer: I don't own anything mentioned in this unofficial fanwork. All characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
Summary: Willow's going to UC Sunnydale for the next four years, and she wishes she could see the world outside of Sunnydale borders. Oz does his best to help out.
A/N: Again with the fluff, because clearly my RL bad mood isn't translating into my writing. Also, I made up the UC Sunnydale mascot. Considering that the UC San Francisco mascot is the banana slug, I think we can all agree that the UC Sunnydale Spider Monkeys aren't too unbelievable. The use of papaya (the prompt) is kind of tangential, but this is what it inspired me to write. I hope you enjoy it, and feedback is always appreciated!
Willow could feel Oz’s heart beating below her ear, comforting in its stability. Just hours ago she’d been held captive, and now, twined around Oz in the safety of her bedroom, the terrified rush of adrenaline was just starting to wear off. She felt safe, wrapped in a blanket and tucked against Oz, but she couldn’t forget the feel of Faith’s hands wrapped around her arms, cold knife brushing against her neck, and every time she closed her eyes, the Mayor’s cold smile made her shiver in fear all over again. It had been the most terrifying night of her life, and she hadn’t slept since she got home, too busy turning thoughts over in her mind. She had too much to think about, and there were so many things she wasn’t sure of, still. But, after the night she’d had, there were some things she was suddenly, completely certain about.
“I’m going to UC Sunnydale,” Willow announced with no warning, sitting up to look down at Oz anxiously. He pushed himself up more slowly than she had, taking his time to turn her words over in his head as he sat up on his girlfriend’s bed.
“I see,” Oz murmured, running his fingers down her arm, from shoulder to palm, and winding their hands together.
“Do you think I’m making the right choice?” Willow asked softly, looking down at their clasped hands. She imagined that she could see their pulses beating in their wrists, blood thumping in time with their heartbeats, keeping time as her world spun madly on. It seemed like everything was maddeningly crazy, and with so many things (the Ascension, college, Faith, graduation, her parents) weighing her down as if she carried the world on her back, it was reassuring to think the tempos of their pulses lined up, keeping a beat steadier and sturdier than the uncertain ground she stood upon.
“Hard to say,” Oz shrugged, absently tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear and grazing the planes of her forehead and cheek with his fingertips. Oz’s skin was warm, as if he’d been raising his hands up to the sun, instead of hiding beside her in her bedroom, tucked away from the night and from Faith and from any sort of monster. Everywhere his warm hands brushed against her skin, Willow felt warmer too, and she wished she could take that warmth and hold it inside, to heat up the places Oz couldn’t reach. “Why are you making it?”
“I think I need to stay here, on the Hellmouth,” Willow answered slowly, as if she was holding each word in her mouth for half a beat longer, to see how each word tasted on her tongue. “Buffy needs us, you know, and I can’t leave her alone here. She needs her friends, so I need to stay.
“And,” another weighty pause, laden down with all of the things Willow couldn’t put into words easily. She wished she could learn how to speak the way Oz did, communicating sentences in just words, telling stories with silences, but she was given to words the way he was to weighty silences, and she could say far more when she was tripping over syllables and tying her tongue around itself. Words were important, were heavy, careful things, and right now, trying to put anxious, fragile feelings into speech, Willow felt as if she were trying to glue the pieces of a shattered glass back together, trying to fit each piece into just the right place, gently, so as not to nudge any of the others out of alignment. “And I want to stay, because, I’m just starting to get a hang of magic. I’m not very good yet, but I really think I could be, Oz. I could be really good, but that means staying here.
“This is really important, protecting Sunnydale, and I don’t know if I can walk away from it. I want to help people, Oz, and this is the best way I know how. It’s dangerous and really scary, but somebody has to do it, and I think I have to be one of those somebodies.”
“Sounds like your mind’s made up,” Oz answered blandly, but when he looked at Willow, his eyes were warm and happy. “And it sounds like you made the right choice for you.”
“What about you?” Willow asked, with a sudden anxious tremor building in her stomach and shooting out to tug at her fingers and toes. “You never told me what you had decided for next fall.”
“I wanted you to make up your own mind, without worrying about me,” Oz smiled, squeezing her hand in his and rubbing his thumb against its back. “But it turns out we made the same choice, which is kind of funny.”
“UC Sunnydale, Class of 2003,” Oz said, giving her a funny little half smile that made her blood run just a little warmer and made her fingers tingle where they touched his. “Go UCS Spider Monkeys.”
“Oz, are you just…?”
“Nah, this isn’t just because of you,” Oz told her, slipping his hand under her chin when she blushed at her assumption, and lifting her chin to make eye contact. “Though I won’t lie, I applied to a number of schools right by Ivies, just in case you ended up leaving, but I can’t leave Sunnydale much more than you can. I’ve got a cage and people with tranquilizer guns here. I wouldn’t have been able to leave that to follow you to Boston, even if you had chosen Harvard.”
“Okay,” Willow smiled goofily, a little bit more in love with Oz after his confession. “I’m glad. I like being near you.”
She pulled his head towards hers to kiss him quickly, and when she pulled away, Oz smiled a loose, lazy smile at her, murmuring, “That’s what I was going to say.”
Willow’s giggle was cut off by a yawn, and she flopped back onto her back with a sigh. “I think I’m kinda sleepy,” she admitted sheepishly.
“Makes sense. It’s almost 5. You should get some sleep, Will.”
“Probably,” Willow agreed, tugging her sheets out from under her.
“Night, Willow,” Oz murmured, standing up and pressing a kiss against her forehead.
“You don’t have to leave,” she whispered, blushing. “It’s late. You could just sleep here, with me.”
“Are you sure? I don’t wanna impose.”
“Yes, I’m sure, Oz,” Willow smiled through her blush, turning the covers aside to make room for him beside her. “I don’t really want to be alone right now.”
Willow shifted until she was comfortable, arranging the covers and blankets around her like a nest. She leaned her head against Oz’s shoulder, slipping an arm across him, and smiled in the dark when she felt his arms wrap themselves around her.
“You know,” Willow whispered near Oz’s ear, “I always thought I’d go somewhere far away for college, somewhere exciting.”
“The Hellmouth isn’t exciting enough for you?”
“Somewhere exciting in a different way. Somewhere exciting in a lots of history and pretty architecture and different, non-demonic animals sort of way, I mean.”
“Yeah, it does,” Willow sighed wistfully. “I wonder what the rest of the world is like.”
“We’ll see it,” Oz told her, his voice promising her evenings in London and mornings in Istanbul, and hours and hours going from city to city, just to see all of the little places in between.
“I’d like that,” Willow murmured sleepily. “Tomorrow, maybe.”
“Maybe.” Oz leaned over to kiss her goodnight, whispering “Sleep well, Willow. I love you.”
“Mmm, love you too,” Willow breathed as she fell asleep.
* * *
Oz was gone when Willow woke up and, for a minute, she wondered if the whole night before had been a dizzy fever dream, terrifying and vivid and false. But there was an Oz-shaped indentation in the bed beside her and a note on the pillow, so chances were good that all of her memories of the night before were real. The note (Morning, Will. Had to run out to pick something up, but I should be back before you wake up. I love you. Oz.) was, unsurprisingly, unspecific, so Willow pulled on her bathrobe and monkey slippers and ventured downstairs to wait for Oz.
She found him in the dining room, setting the room table with her family’s old German table settings, as The Beatles played softly in the background. He’d set up a little model of a pyramid in between the two steaming mugs and plates, which were filled with rice, crepes, and a moist looking orange fruit, and he’d hung a world map on the empty dining room wall.
“Oz?” Willow called, startling her boyfriend as he tucked a spoon beside the second plate. “What’s all this?”
“Last night, you said you wanted to see the world. I can’t take you everywhere you want to go just yet, but I thought I could bring some of it here for you.”
“Really?” Willow smiled at him, grabbing him in a tight hug when he nodded yes. “Oz, this is so sweet, thank you!”
Oz gave her a kiss on the cheek before pulling back and murmuring, “You don’t need to thank me.”
“I love you,” Willow said instead, finally breaking away from Oz to take a seat at the table. “Okay,” she grinned excitedly, “the crepes are French, the rice is Japanese, and the tea is from-”
“India. It’s herbal.”
“India, right. But I don’t recognize the fruit. I don’t think I've ever seen it before.” Willow speared a piece of the orange fruit on her fork, raising it to her face to peer at it curiously.
“Try it,” Oz suggested, watching fondly as Willow examined the fruit. “It’s papaya,” he continued as Willow took a bite. “I’m told it’s from Central America and Mexico, which makes it a little odd that we’ve never had it before, living in California and all.
“How do you like it?” he asked once she’d swallowed a piece, waiting to try his first piece until after Willow had gotten to taste it.
“I like it,” Willow decided, peering at another piece of papaya curiously. “It’s nice!” She ate another piece and, securing a third piece on her fork and extending it toward Oz, she smiled, “You have to try it, Oz.”
Oz leaned across the table to kiss Willow, tasting lingering papaya juice on her tongue. “You’re right,” Oz responded, smiling crookedly at his girlfriend. “Very nice.”