Chapter 7: Oz

I still remember the night I drove away from Sunnydale. Things hadn't worked out the way I had hoped, and I had not reunited with the loved one I came back for because while I was gone, she fell in love with someone else. Plus, I was being chased down by a sketchy group called "The Initiative" for being something that, at the time, was beyond my control. I had to leave; I had no choice. Still, I was sad, even angry at myself for not being able to control my tendencies and passions better. But a thought crossed my mind: maybe one day, I'll come back.

I was wrong.

Well, not entirely wrong. I am back a decade later, with the love I had to leave because I thought it was better for us both. Only, it's not the same Sunnydale I had known as a child. It is now a giant hole in the ground, probably bigger than the Grand Canyon, that seems impossible to recover or repair.

Wow, I definitely wasn't prepared for this. Willow warned me, I know, but I still could not have predicted that it would be this bad. Our school, the house I grew up in, the Bronze, all of our favorite hangout spots, all burned to the ground. It's getting harder to breath, and not just because it's warmer in Southern California. Ironically enough, Spike, who I always thought was kind of an asshole, was the one who ended up saving them all.

I wish the hero could have been me. Most of all, I wish I had been there, for and with my friends.

I know in a way it's messed up for me to think all of this. I'm a werewolf, not a champion. But I'm sorry that Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles had to endure all of this without me. I was always on the outer edge of their little Scooby gang because I was the significant other of one of the true group members; I knew that. But I still feel bad that I couldn't be there to help them. It seems wrong, in a way.

After we've been standing in silence for a good five minutes, Willow takes my hand, looks at me gently. "I know it's a lot to process. Do you want to talk about it?

My eyes still boggle. "I don't know what to say. I know you told me, but…I just wasn't prepared. I feel like all of our childhood and teen years are just, one big hole that got burned to the ground. Literally. I mean yeah, high school is hell. But it's still a hell you'd like to be able to come back to.

Willow nods. "Yeah, I mean for me, high school was hell at the beginning. But you, you and Buffy, you both made it so much better for me. And I didn't always like this town, but…." She starts to tear up.

I hold her, knowing that this time, I don't want to let her go. No matter what happens. I kiss her forehead and can feel her convulsing into sobs.

"I'm sorry I wasn't here with you." And I mean it. "But, I know no one could have handled it better than you, Buffy, Xander, and the rest of your friends. And because of it, many beautiful, strong Slayer women are still taking this world by the storm."

"It's just, I was in survival mode for so long after it happened. I just couldn't let myself feel, you know?"

"I think that's just how it is when something bad happens." I think about how numb I was after I left Tibet and ended things with Bayaarma, how playing music with Charlie brought life and a sense of self to me, and so did Claire, especially when we were…intimate. Sometimes, I regret those nights I spent with Claire, as I knew deep down I was sleeping with my good friend's girl, regardless of what he said when he left. But we brought each other back to life. I can't let it happen again, though. If I did, then two people I love would get hurt this time.

I can't keep hurting people, and I can't keep running away.

"So, I've decided that I want to stay in San Francisco for a while. I'm going to go talk to my landlord tomorrow and extend my lease to a full year."

Willow looks up, seems to calm down. "Really? That's….that's good news. I don't plan to go anywhere for a while either."

"That's what I want to hear. I feel like I've been running a lot since high school, trying to find a place that sticks with me, at least for a while. I'm hoping that San Francisco will be it. I'm sure it'll be better than the Hellmouth of Sunnydale. Hopefully, I'll steer clear of vamps who want to eat me."

Willow laughs softly. "Well, from what I've heard from Buffy, more of the bloodsucking vamps are in LA."

"Ha, that makes sense. Did Buffy know we were coming here today? Does she know I'm back?"

"I mentioned to her that I was meeting up with you this weekend, but she doesn't know what all has happened since then. And she has no idea that we're here. I'm not sure…she would have wanted to come. That time was rough on all of us, but I think it was hardest on her, y'know?"

"Yeah….I know."

Willow looks on for another minute. "I think I'm ready to go home."

"Then home we will go, my dear." Home is a place, a city. Right now, to me, it's also a person.

My phone buzzes with a new text. It's Claire. "Hey there, I miss you! Call me when you get a chance."

My stomach tightens up. I've kept in touch with Charlie since I left Seattle, but not much at all with Claire, except for a few very short emails. I'm not sure I want to keep talking to her. I'll respond to her. Not tonight, though.

Now, the sun is going down again, and this time, I'm riding to a new home with the woman who very well might turn out to be the love of my life. I don't know what the future holds for either of us, but I know I want to be with Willow. With her, I can face the dark holes of subdued fire, both the ones of our past and the ones still ahead.