Did Venus Blow Your Mind?
(A Buffy Fic)
"Cheer up, Will," said Buffy. "After all, you were the one who decided to break it off with Kennedy."
Willow sighed. "I know, I know, it's just, I've never been good at relationships, you know? I never figured dating out. And I was just using Kennedy to get over Tara, but now what? Do I go find someone else?"
"I don't think any of us are here to find someone new," said Xander seriously. "We're here to get drunk and make fun of the losers more pathetic then us. Hey look, there's one." He pointed towards to bar.
They all rotated their heads in the direction of Xander's finger. They saw a girl in horrible clothing, frantically turning her head.
"She's definitely looking for someone," said Buffy.
"Is she even old enough to be in here?" Willow wondered aloud.
The girl didn't look much older than sixteen, though it was hard to tell from her outward appearance. She was very skinny and pale, someone who would go lobster on any beach. And her clothes! They were atrocious enough for even Steve Urkel to call the fashion police. She was wearing pants at least three sizes to big and she didn't seem to be wearing a belt. She kept pulling up her pants every few seconds. Her shirt was also extremely large. It nearly went down to her knees. The black T-shirt had some writing on it that Willow couldn't make out. And to top it off, the girl was wearing an dirty, orange baseball cap under her greasy, black hair.
"I guess Halloween came early," commented Xander.
The girl pointed her nose in the air and sniffed, or at least it looked like a sniff. The bar wasn't exactly lighted enough to make out such fine details from across the room. The girl slowly turned her head in their direction. Suddenly, a huge smile broke out on to her face and she ran towards them.
"Thank God, I found you guys," she said, taking the table's extra seat. "I've been looking everywhere..."
"Excuse me," Buffy interjected. "Do we know you?"
"What? Of course not. Why would you know me?" She seemed slightly perplexed.
"Well, you sat down proclaiming that you 'found us!' That kinda implies that you know of us," said Xander.
"Who are you?" asked Buffy.
"Oh," her face cleared. "My name's Sarah McGinley. I'm a friend of Oz."
"What?" asked Willow. "Where is he?" She started looking around the room, as if hoping to see him walk by.
"Not here, obviously," said Sarah tersely. "He's been kidnapped, or wolfnapped, it really depends on how you look at it."
"What?" they all asked in unison.
"I said he's been kidnapped," said Sarah impatiently. "Don't you people listen at all? Anyway, I need you to help me get him back."
"What happened to him?" asked Willow, who was having flashbacks of Oz and the Initiative. Oh, Goddess, let him be okay, she prayed.
"Well, it all happened a few months back..."
"Wait," said Willow. "He's been missing for months?"
Sarah looked annoyed. "He won't be missing much longer if you don't let me finish the story." Willow said nothing. Sarah waited a few seconds before continuing. "Okay, as I was saying it happened a few months back, in March. We were in Michigan. There had been rumors floating around about a wild, vicious, overly large dog seen in the vicinity of a town called Weeping Waters. Oz just had to check it out, despite me being avidly against it, but no, screw what I think, he just had to investigate." She looked angry for a brief second before resuming her calm demeanor. "We got there just in time too, first night of the full moon. So, we're out in the woods sniffing around for this guy..."
"You're a werewolf?" Buffy cut in.
An expression of shock passed through Willow's eyes. A werewolf? "Oz didn't, didn't bite you, did he?"
"You mean did he sire me?" asked Sarah with a bemused look on her face. "I couldn't even picture him trying. No, I was sired a long time before I met Daniel Osborne."
"Oh," said Willow. She visibly relaxed into her chair. "Okay."
"We knew he was close, so we split up, trying to cover more ground." Sarah's eyes looked distant. "Then, we heard this scream. Actually it was two screams. A woman and a small child. Then, there was this growling. There was the sound of people crying and, and of something feeding... Oz arrived first, too late, of course, to do much of anything.
"The other wolf, I think his name was Smitty, he didn't take to kindly to his meal being interrupted so they started fighting..."
Willow's face had a troubled look to it, She remembered all to well the last time Oz had fought another wolf.
"...I was still too far away to see what was going on, but I heard the gunshot. Thankfully, the bastard hit Smitty and not Oz. I managed to get there in time to see Smitty fall. From the look on that man's face I gathered he was the husband and father of the meal..."
"The meal?" said Buffy, clearly disgusted at Sarah's choice of words.
"I'm sorry if I'm not being PC enough for your liking, but that's what they were," she said curtly. "Anyway, the man had just come out of his house and was crying something fierce. He was about to shoot Oz and probably would've had I not been there to distract him. I came out of the brush and started barking like crazy, or whatever the werewolf equivalent is. Oz managed to get to the woods in time, but I was to slow and that yokel is mighty quick with the gun. He got me right in the shoulder. It didn't hurt that much, but I hate being shot."
"As do we all," quipped Xander.
"Yeah," Sarah smiled dryly. "It's not a pleasant feeling. I, myself have only been shot about six or seven times." She looked pensive. "Oz found me in the woods the next day and bandaged me up. Of course, we weren't going to stick around for that man, or anyone else for that matter, to attach us to the crime, so we left in quite a hurry. I spent the next few days trying to convince Oz to not feel bad about the man's family. After all, it's not like he killed them. Still, he was depressed for days afterward, even when I told him that Smitty was a psycho who was totally in control of his inner wolf and he liked maiming people..."
"How did you know that?" asked Buffy practically.
She sighed. "How did you know that this Smitty could control the wolf?"
Sarah smiled ever so slightly. "Most of us can. I know a lot of things I'm not supposed to. To many things." She paused. Her eyes again had that faraway look in them. It was as if she were trying to piece together all the facts that were better left forgotten. "We decided to head back to the West Coast. I had always wanted to see Salt Lake City and considering the last place Oz chose to go was where I got shot, he wasn't really fighting me for a better spot. It was in Utah, that we realized we were being followed.
"I had suspected it for a while, but I convinced myself that it was paranoia. I kept thinking that I smelled that Michigan dude. It was strange, but sometimes I would be walking down a particular street and I would catch the faintest whiff of him. At first, I ignored it, but after two or three times I told Oz. In his own calm way, he brushed me off, saying that there was no way that guy could have known who or what we are, let alone track us half way across the U.S.
"He was right, of course, but something was gnawing at me. I asked him if he had ever found his wallet." Her audience looked confused. "You see, he had lost it in Michigan. We had previously thought that it had somehow fallen out of his pocket. We looked, and looked but never found the damn thing. Luckily for us, there was only about ten dollars in it. Unlucky for him there was also his license and favorite photos in that wallet." Sarah stopped talking and evidently became fascinated with one of the tables' napkins.
"Well," said Willow. "Go on."
Quietly, Sarah said, "He must have been following us from the very beginning we left Weeping Waters. He could have found that wallet in the woods and used it to track us, but we moved around so much. In addition to being a red neck this guy is a phenomenal hunter. He was so good that we didn't realize his presence until he was almost on top of us."
In her normal voice she said, "We pulled into Salt Lake relatively early, it was barely noon. Oz went to get food. I went to the nearest Cyber Cafe. After doing a quick search on Google, I found some newspaper articles about what happened in Weeping Waters on March 17, 2003. They all said the same thing: Mother and small daughter were maimed in front of house. Unidentified dead man lying beside them. Husband nowhere to be found. But, the articles did give me some very important facts. Fact one: The gun guy was no longer in Weeping Waters and has not been seen since March. Fact two: The red neck's birth name is Jeff Jones. Of course, I don't know how usefully that bit of info is," Sarah said logically. "Jeffy's probably used dozens of alias' since leaving home.
"Well, I told all this to Oz and made a believer out of him. But there was still the problem of Jeff Jones. Now that we knew he existed, what to do about it? I wanted to kill him, but Oz had issues with that. But neither of us could think of a better solution. It's not as if we could confront the guy and tell him ever so politely that we didn't off his family, it was the other guy. Given the opportunity, he'd shoot us both dead before we could even blink, let alone spout the whole 'not guilty' defense. It was a troubling dilemma.
"There was also the question of staying or leaving. We couldn't keep running forever, but staying in one place just wasn't an option. We figured one night in Utah wouldn't hurt. We got this cheap hotel room because neither of us wanted to sleep in the van. Not when we knew Jones was out there." Sarah visibly shivered.
"It was late when I left the room. I wanted a soda and there was this 7-ll across the street. I went alone, Oz was asleep and there were too many people in the 7-ll for Jones to safely try anything. Or so I thought. When I came back Oz was gone. The room was a mess, the bed sheets were torn, the lamp was broken and there, there was some blood on the floor. Oz's blood by the taste of it."
So engrossed in the story, the three Scoobies didn't ask how Sarah had known what Oz's blood tasted like. Instead, they stared at her openmouthed as the shock and horror became more and more evident on each of there faces. "There was also a, a..." Sarah's voice cracked briefly, "...note on the hotel door. Jones actually took a knife and used it the tack the message up. There was more blood on that knife, Jones' blood. I think he meant it as a warning, but I'm not sure. In short, the note said that Oz would die by the next full moon and that we're next."
"Who's we?" asked Xander.
"Whoever was in his wallet," she said, grimly. "There was a nice, before-the- Ascension graduation picture of you three, Giles, and Dawn. There was also a separate picture of you, Red."
"Her name's Willow," said Buffy defensively.
Sarah waved her hand. "I know your names," she dismissed. "After I read that lovely note I, what is that expression Oz uses? Wolfed out. That's it, I wolfed out and started tracking them." She laughed, though it seemed forced. "It was ludicrous. There was no way I could have caught up with them, but I wasn't exactly thinking straight at the time. I spent the rest of the night and most of the next day hunting them before I collapsed in exhaustion. When I woke up, I stole some clothes off a hang line and hitchhiked with truckers to Sunnydale. Of course, I get there and there's this huge crater where the town should be. Damn, was I pissed. I had to go wolfie again to track you guys to Cobleskill, not an easy feat. I barely knew what you smelled like. There were only scant traces of you guys on Oz's van that I vaguely remembered from a few years ago."
"A few years ago?" echoed Willow. "How long have you known Oz?"
She looked surprised by the question. "Only about three years. Why?"
"No reason," Embarrassed, Willow quickly amended, "Just wondering." That's about how long Oz has been gone. She began to wonder what Oz had been doing those three years. What had happened to him after he left Sunnydale? What kind of stories did he have to tell? Guiltily, Willow realized that she hadn't really thought about him in years.
Sarah shrugged. "Whatever. Anyway, looking back I should have told the truckers to back off and go back to the van. Oz taught me how to drive it a while back, but I was so worried about wasting time. And when I found out Sunnydale was basically a hole in the ground, I spent nearly two days tracking you guys in wolf form. When I went back to person mode, these were the only clothes I could swipe," she said gesturing to her oversized garments. "And once I changed back, I spent even more time trying to locate at least one of you people with my limited senses. It took hours! And now I've found you," She grinned. "A few days ahead of schedule and half the picture accounted for. Now about the other half..."
"That won't be a problem," said Buffy. "We're all in this town."
"That's good," Sarah yawned. "Now that that's out of the way, could I trouble one of you for some food? I haven't eaten anything cooked in days."
After they picked up Dawn, they took Sarah back to Giles' place. They really didn't have another place to put her. Dawn had been kind enough to lend Sarah some of her clothing so she didn't look "funky." While Sarah was showering, Buffy filled Dawn and Giles in on everything she had heard at the bar. She was just about finished when Sarah walked in. They all looked up.
"Don't mind me, I'm just getting food. Keep talking," she said as she walked towards the fridge. "Do you got any meat? Never mind I'll just have banana." She started to walk out.
Not missing a beat, Giles continued talking, "Now the question remains, what do we do with this Jeff Jones character once we rescue Oz?"
Sarah stopped in mid-step. "What do you mean 'what do we do?'" she asked, clearly angry. "We kill him, that's what." She said this as if she were talking to a toddler.
"But, he's a human being, an Innocent. We can't just kill him!" exclaimed Giles.
Sarah looked a him as if he was a moron. "You can't, but I can. That's the trouble with being human, too many restraints. But for, let's say a wild dog, the restraints aren't at all similar."
"It's not right," said Giles flatly.
Sarah looked at him with a newfound disgust. "Who are you to decide what's right? Think about what's he's done to Oz. Think about what he'll do to all of you. He needs to be stopped."
"And I suppose you're the one to do it?" asked Xander coldly.
Sarah grinned. "Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying."
Willow ignored the bickering in the kitchen. She was trying to concentrate on a tracking spell that would enable them to find Oz. But she couldn't do it. There were too many conflicting emotions. Memories of the last few years kept resurfacing in her mind. Memories that only seemed to focus on Tara and Oz.
She remembered Oz leaving, the anguish she had felt. She remembered Tara and how when she was with her all the pain would go away. She would be happy, whole, if only for a little while. When Oz came back, she felt like she was split down the middle. She had just begun to move on and Oz had thrown a proverbial wrench into it; straining her relationship with Tara. But it had felt so good to see him. Through it all were these two voices; one was ecstatic that Oz was back. The other was in turmoil. He had left her once before, he might do it again. The first time he left out of love for her, the second time it was because of Tara. He couldn't bear to see the two of them together. She had chased him away, this time, forever.
It hurt. Willow couldn't deny that. When she that van drive away, she had this strange desire to run after him. She had wanted to grab him so tightly and never let go. Beg him to stay and to never leave her ever again. But she didn't, she just watched him leave. She knew it won't have worked out had he stayed. She loved Tara, she wanted to be with Tara. At least that's what she kept telling herself after Oz left. Willow had forced him out of her mind, leaving only room for Tara.
Tara had filled the void Oz had left. She filled it so completely that she had pushed Oz aside. Willow knew that Oz loved her more than she had loved him. Tara had loved her unconditionally, but it wasn't enough. She had moved on too quickly to Kennedy. She hadn't spent enough time mourning Tara, and now that they were all gone, Willow was alone. She hated being alone, being alone made her think about everything. Was losing Oz worth gaining Tara? Tara had died, Kennedy was gone and there was this void, the emptiness that the latter two could never fill. Oz had filled it. Though she didn't want to admit it, she stopped feeling complete when he left.
Willow wasn't worthy of his love. "My whole life... I never loved anything else." That's what Oz had said to her, before he left the first time. At that moment, Willow knew he could never be replaced. But then there was Tara. Tara had told her that she would never leave her and Willow was content. But she did leave, she died. After that, Willow wondered if she had loved Tara as much as Oz. Maybe, but it wasn't the same kind of love, she rationalized. Did she love Tara as much as Tara loved her? No, definitely not. It tore her up inside to realize this, but she couldn't deny it.
Willow had once thought that Oz was her soul mate, then she knew that it was Tara. Willow knew that Tara was her one and only. But after her death, she knew it wasn't so. As close as the two girls had been, it wasn't true love. Willow had loved Tara because of the intensity that Tara had loved her. She forgot about Oz. She had forgotten someone that a few, short years ago had been her everything. It made her sick just thinking about it. Willow was ashamed. She never deserved Oz, she never deserved Tara. She deserved to be alone.
She had rejected Oz and discarded him like he was trash. He didn't deserve the 'I love you, but I'm not in love with you' speech, not from her. Oz deserved everything she never gave him. She needed to tell him that. She needed to find him, she had to see him. With new determination, Willow retried her spell.
"I got it! I got it!" shouted Willow, as she ran into the kitchen. Sarah and Giles immediately stopped arguing.
"You found Oz?" asked Dawn excitedly.
Her confidence wavered. "Sort of," Willow admitted. "I know he's on route 99, a few hundred miles from here."
"Way to go, Red," congratulated Sarah. "But can't you get a more specific location?"
Willow was somewhat defensive. "I can if Jeff's car stops moving."
"Good, now that that's settled, we must plan a form of attack," said Giles, always level-headed.
"I thought that was obvious," snorted Sarah. "I go in and you all cover me."
"What?" asked Buffy. She looked deeply agitated.
"Yeah, I'm with her on that one," said Xander. "Why should you go first?"
Sarah sighed, to Dawn she asked, "Are they always like this?"
"I only want to go in first so we'd have the element of surprise," Sarah explained patiently. "He thinks you're all clueless. He wouldn't expect you guys to be there. He expects me to be alone."
"You just want to get close enough to kill him," accused Giles.
"Don't you?" Sarah looked intently at Willow.
Uncomfortably, Willow said, "She's right."
Xander looked surprised. "About the killing thing?"
"No," amended Willow quickly. "About her going first. It makes sense. After all, she is the one person that Jeff Jones wants to kill more than Oz. She could distract him while we rescue him. And that way, we wouldn't be at so great a risk."
"Gee, thanks, Red. Nice to know that I'm expendable."
Willow gave her a sheepish look. "I didn't mean it like that."
And if that doesn't work," said Buffy, ignoring Sarah's comment. "The odds are slightly in our favor. If things get out of hand we could, you know, fight him. He's only one man."
"That's brilliant!" exclaimed Xander, sarcastically. "Where do you get your ideas?"
Willow couldn't sleep. She kept having these weird dreams about Oz. One of her favorites: Oz marrying Sarah, while she sat crying on a nearby pew. It was unbelievable. Sarah was way too young for Oz. And Sarah did say she was his friend, not boyfriend. In the unlikely event that they were together, so what? Big deal, Willow had dumped Oz, not the other way around. If he had found someone else, good for him. He should have moved on. Hadn't Willow "moved on" with Tara? It made absolutely no sense to be even remotely jealous of some slip of a girl who happened to be a werewolf. Who happens to be a werewolf. Veruca had been a werewolf. Oz had slept with her, and later killed her to save Willow's life. He had felt drawn to Veruca because of the part of her that was wolf. The part of him that Willow could never fully understand, but Sarah did...
Willow awoke with a start. She was on Giles' couch. What am I doing here? Most of the light were turned off. Why didn't anyone wake me up? She heard a noise. It sounded like a chair being scraped against the floor. A late night snack? She got up and made her way into the kitchen.
"Hey, Red," greeted Sarah, as she entered the room.
"Hey, what are you still doing up?" asked Willow, slightly confused. "I figured you'd be the one who'd want to sleep the most." You know, with the whole homicidal werewolf hunter out to get you thing. I'd want a nap. Unwillingly, Willow remembered Cain. How many werewolves had he killed since high school. A dozen? Two dozen? Maybe he was dead. A werewolf could have gotten the better of him. He would have deserved it. Buffy had told her about his tooth necklace. One tooth for each wolf he had killed. A bloody trophy.
"Nah, I'm more nocturnal then anything else. It's the wolf in me," she explained casually. "How about you? You strike me as a day person."
"Oh, nightmares," replied Willow lamely.
Sarah nodded, understanding. "I get those too. More often than I would like." After several seconds of awkward silence, "Is Giles a vegetarian? Because I've thoroughly searched that refrigerator top to bottom and I haven't found so much as a hot dog."
"No, Giles just doesn't eat meat that much anymore."
"Not eat meat?" Sarah looked appalled. "I can't even imagine eating salads for the rest of my life. And I haven't had a steak in over a month, so I'm getting pretty desperate."
The conversation drifted into obscurity. "So, um, where is everybody?" ventured Willow bravely.
"Oh, McDonald's. Xander and Dawn were feeling peckish and they all went to pick up some food. They didn't was to wake you. They should be back in a few minutes." Sarah turned her head towards the door. "You know, maybe I should have gone with them. Houses make me uncomfortable."
Sarah did turn her head from the door. "They just do."
"Oh," said Willow, who had quickly run out of things to say. Which was funny because she had many things that she wanted to ask Sarah. The problem was, she had no idea how to phrase them. Thinking it was best to start forward, Willow took a deep breath. "How's Oz?"
Sarah looked at her strangely. "What?" Her voice was like ice.
"I mean before the kidnapping," said Willow, mentally kicking herself. She hadn't meant to be that forward. "You said you've known him for three years. How's he been? Does he ever talk about us?" Goddess, I must sound like such a loser.
"Mostly only when he's drunk."
Willow was surprised. "Oz, doesn't drink."
"Sure he does. Not that much any more, but the first few months I knew him, he'd get plastered every night. Now he only gets drunk certain times of the year."
"Really," said Willow, feeling guilty.
"Yep," said Sarah matter-of-factly. "That's how I met him."
"You met him drunk?" asked Willow, not quite believing what she was hearing.
"Sure, in a bar, too. I was looking for some loser to pick pocket. See, I only had about two dollars left in my own pocket and I had it in mind to buy myself something to drink. They wouldn't give me liquor, so I got stuck with a cherry coke. While waiting for it, Oz, who was sitting right next to where I was standing, asked me if I was a little young to be in a bar. I told him that's why I ordered a cherry coke on the rocks. He sort of laughed and said it was a good choice. By then, I had taken an interest in poor Ozzie. He seemed drunk enough to rob blind and if he tried anything I could have beat him up. I tried to get him talking about something, anything that would distract him long enough for me to swipe his cash. He started bitching about Sunnydale. The Dingoes, his friends, his family, you."
"Me?" She felt horrible. I made him into an alcoholic, she thought childishly. It's all my fault.
"Yes, you, Red, but I won't get into that. The point is, I began to feel sorry for the poor guy. I had been talking to him for an hour and I still hadn't gotten his wallet, but he offered to pay for my soda, so I called it even. He got up, said he was leaving and asked if he could drive me home."
Willow forced a weak smile. "That's Oz, always the gentleman."
Sarah laughed. "Yeah, he was great that night. He couldn't even walk straight. So, I'm walking out the door, basically carrying Oz, telling him how upset 'Momma' was going to be when she found out he was drunk, again. He was so out of it, he called me 'Sis' and asked me not to tell her because he'd get grounded. I was actually surprised when he directed me to his van and told me he was home. I'll tell you right then and there, I was glad I didn't steal his wallet.
"He staggered into the drivers seat and asked where I lived. I said he shouldn't be driving and grabbed the keys out of his hand. He didn't get mad like I thought he would, he simply asked how I was going to get home. I told him I didn't have one and demanded that he go in the back and get some sleep. I helped him stumble there and he told me that I acted more like a mother than a sister. He passed out a couple of seconds later and me, having no place to go, hopped in and fell asleep on the opposite side of the van."
"I can only imagine how he acted when he found you there the next morning," Willow giggled nervously. "It must have been an interesting sight."
"He was pretty calm about it. He asked why I was in his van and mentioned that he had a headache. I said going on an all night bender would do that to a person. He sort of blushed and asked if he did anything too embarrassing. I said no and recapped last night's fun events. He thanked me and offered me a ride to the next state." Sarah chuckled softly.
Willow smiled, this time, genuinely. "What's so funny?"
"Sorry, I just keep thinking back to that little road trip. As you know, Oz is not much of a talker, so the first hundred or so miles were in relative silence. He didn't even seem curious about why a fourteen year old girl would be hitch hiking to South Dakota let alone form more than two word sentences. I didn't much care at the time. I like quiet. It's calming. Too much noise screws everything up.
"Anyway, sitting in a car with this guy for hours made me realize that there was something off about him. You see, all humans give off a specific scent that enables other animals to distinguish it from themselves. Oz had that human scent, but it was different then what a normal human's should be. There was this underlying smell that was almost invisible. Oz, in his lack of experience, couldn't pinpoint mine but I could figure his out. It took me about two and a half hours to do it, but I did it. You should have seen his face, Red. Out of the blue I ask him, 'So, how long have you been a werewolf?' He almost crashed his van into a nearby tree. It was hysterical!
"From that day onward we stayed together, teaching each other about the wolf. Let me tell you, that Oz is one dedicated individual. He used potions, meditation, charms, you name it to control the wolf inside of him. Pity he got it wrong. I told him that the wolf was never meant to be controlled. It was meant to be embraced. Oz said that he was trying to figure out where the wolf stopped and he began. Oz didn't understand that there is no separation between the two. The wolf is you, you are the wolf. Once that is embraced, the wolf is tamed, because, really, it's just another facet of your personality. Something that you can control because it's you."
"But what about..." Willow began.
"Veruca?" said Sarah, pretending not to notice Willow flinch. "She didn't embrace the wolf, she merely accepted it. She gave in to it. She didn't try to control it, she gave the damn thing free rein," she said, vehemently. "Her little philosophy was, 'I'm a werewolf, I do what werewolves do.'"
"They kill," she muttered, remembering.
"Yes," replied Sarah. "We kill. The problem with Veruca was that she liked letting go, she liked the killing a bit to much. She thought she was above the humans, above their restrictions. She lived with them for most of the time, but for three nights out of the month, she was stronger, faster, superior. She loved the power, the intoxication it brought."
"Then she deserved to die." The vehemence with which Willow said this surprised even her.
"Yes, she did," Sarah agreed. "And I'm glad Oz was the one to do it. It was a very wolf thing to do. Well, Red," she said, getting up. "I'm going to bed. Goodnight."
"Goodnight," said Willow, who was left alone to ponder Sarah's curious statement.
Oz knew he was going to die. Not that he was trying to be less than optimistic, but he knew he wouldn't last the next full moon. He didn't much care about death as much as the way he was going. Murdered. That was an interesting word. It rolls off the tongue. Murdered. Suddenly, Oz remembered a line he had memorized for English class, "This is the way the world ends... not with a bang, but a whimper." Funny, how he remembered nothing else about that damn poem but that one line.
He would die alone. No one would save him, not even Sarah. That fact hurt him more than he would ever admit to anyone. He had no doubt that she was trying to find him, but she couldn't possibly get to him before the next full moon. Jeff Jones moved around far to quickly. How long had it been since he had last seen her? A week? Three? It was impossible to tell. Oz was drugged too frequently to make sense of night or day. He barely felt the beatings now. He only felt the call of the moon. Ironically, the drugs made him to weak to wolf out and give Jones what he wanted. God, how he wished Jeff would just kill him, already. Why wait until the moon forced the change? He had no problems drugging and beating a chained human, why not just off him? Oz knew that Jeff wanted to make him suffer, but hadn't he done enough of that?
For the past three years and a half years he had done the whole bohemian thing, and he hated it. Living in a van with almost no money at any given time. It sucked. The only good thing that came out of his travels was Sarah. She was like family to him and it was good to have company on the open road. She was his only current friend. His old friends were... Where were they? Probably still in Sunnydale, fighting the good fight. He wouldn't be surprised if Tara and Willow had gone up to Canada and had gotten married. Wait, no, Tara died. He had forgotten. Drugs did that. He was actually kind of glad when he had phoned and Giles told him. He had regretted that horrible feeling immediately. Tara seemed like a nice girl. Who made Willow leave me.
Now that was uncalled for, another voice whispered. It was stupid to think Willow would wait for him while he traveled the world in a broken down van and then pick things up right where they left off when he came back. He didn't even tell her when, if, he was coming back. Oz stupidly assumed that he could trust her to wait for him, but he was just being selfish. Why should she wait for me when UC Sunnydale is swarming with hot lesbians?
He wondered what the old gang was doing now. Probably have great jobs and a fairly stable life, thought Oz miserably. No cages for them. He should have finished college. Not at the U.C., but somewhere else. His grades were pretty good. He could have tried to get a job, but he couldn't stay in one place for very long. Settling down for long periods of time, made him think of Sunnydale, made him think of Willow. Willow. His ex-girlfriend of nearly three and a half years. He still got a lump in his throat whenever he thought about her. He was still angry at himself for not getting over her. Sarah had been telling him to at least get laid every once in a while with some bar whore. Oz could never go through with it. They all reminded him of Veruca. The only girl he wanted didn't like men any more.
Back during Willow's birthday, 2001, he had brought a bottle of whiskey and pulled over to the side of the road. He proceeded to have a lengthy, drunk conversation with Sarah about what he did to turn Willow into a lesbian. He didn't remember much about that particular talk, but he distinctly remembered telling Sarah to get away from him before he made her gay too. He thought she had laughed, but he couldn't be sure.
Oz was pathetic, still being upset that Willow dumped him. He should he gotten over it by now, but he couldn't. He didn't want to let go of Willow. He should have tried harder to get her back. He would have gotten on his knees and begged had he thought it would have made a difference. He should've done that. But, no, he just said goodbye and went on his merry way. He was a fool. Walking out on the only girl that ever meant something to him, excluding Sarah, of course. He had to go. He couldn't have stayed knowing that Willow and Tara would be together. It still hurt like Hell to even think about it.
Was his quest to overcome the wolf worth it? Now where was he? In the back of a van, waiting for it all to end. Thinking about it, he didn't really want to die. He had too many regrets. He would never see the old gang ever again. He would never see his parents or visit his cousin, Jordy. He would never say goodbye to Sarah and thank her for her years of friendship. He would never get to kiss Willow again. She probably wouldn't let him, but if he could, he'd tell her... Tell her what? That he still loved her? She wouldn't want to hear it.
The door opened, Jeff was back. Suddenly Oz knew that more than anything, he wanted to see them all one more time, just once more. Just so he could say goodbye. Jeff wouldn't allow him that and Oz hated him for it. This man had no right to discard him as if he wasn't human. But at the same time he had every right. His family was dead. He needed someone to blame, why not the werewolf who was there at the scene of the crime? Smitty's death wasn't enough, Jones needed more.
He'd probably go after Sarah when he was done with him. Oz wasn't worried. Sarah could take care of herself. She had wanted Jones dead from the very beginning, right after he had shot her. Oz had said no. He didn't think Jones was a threat. And when he became a threat, Oz still didn't want to kill him, or give Sarah a chance to do so. Oz had vowed never to kill anyone else after Veruca. He liked it too much. Oz was an idiot. Where had his mercy gotten him? Locked up in a cage, lying in his own excrement.
She had left Giles' place before they had come back with the Mickey D's, shortly after Sarah had gone to bed. Willow had gotten up and went home. For some reason, she couldn't stay in that place. Chalk it up as temporary claustrophobia. It was now nearing lunch time and Willow hadn't spoken to the gang since last night. She didn't know where Sarah or the others were and right now she couldn't care less.
Willow couldn't concentrate, couldn't focus. She didn't even realize that her hands were shaking until she had been sitting in a nearby Starbucks for several minutes. Jeff Jones was coming closer. She could feel it. His hatred, his thirst for vengeance. She could feel Oz, too. His gentleness, his pain. It was all so clear. Their spirits where entwined. Oz and Jeff, they were like one being. Their souls were calling. They were everywhere and nowhere at the same time. They were calling out to her.
Well, not to her, specifically, but to whoever would listen. Willow listened. Subconsciously, they both wanted the same thing. They wanted to be saved. But from what? Oz obviously wanted to be saved from Jones. But what did Jeff want? Redemption? Did he fear death? Did he fear the fire? Worse things then death, better things then life. What did he want? What did he...
"Excuse me, may I borrow a pencil?"
"Huh?" asked Willow, cruelly jolted from her thoughts.
"A pencil?" the woman asked again.
"Oh, sure," said Willow, reaching for her purse. She found a pencil and handed it to her. "Keep it."
"Really? Thanks," said the woman, walking away.
Shortly afterwards, Willow got up and left Starbucks without finishing her Grande. Why would she need a pencil? she thought angrily. We were in a coffee shop! You drink coffee there and eat muffins, not ask for writing utensils. Unless she was trying to pull a J.K. Rowling. Willow had been so close to finding out the truth. It only she had more time. But she had none. Soon they would arrive and then there would be the confrontation. There was always a confrontation.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was over. They had fought the good fight and saved the world on numerous occasions. They defeated the First for Goddess's sake! They had all sacrificed seven years of their lives to keep the damn world healthy and thriving. They had lost friends, family, lovers. People that would still be around if they just let someone else handle it. Anyone could have saved the world. Not Buffy, Xander, Giles or anyone else that Willow cared about. The fate of the world resting in the hands of a bunch of kids, what a joke. The world had magically survived without the Scoobies for billions of years. It could survive when they were gone.
They weren't supposed to get involved anymore. That's what the other Slayers were for. This was their retirement. They were all supposed to get normal jobs and live normal lives. No more demons, vampires, or ancient evils, just normal. But they could never be normal. There was always something supernatural that required their undivided attention. The world is ending, ex-boyfriend, who happens to be a werewolf, is kidnapped by a revenge obsessed nut who wants to kill people. Why the Hell did this have to happen?
She had been at a bar with Xander and Buffy complaining about insecurities and relationships. A normal night among friends. How did it get like this? The past had been the past. Now everything was getting mixed up. Then and now didn't exist. It was all jumbled together. Willow hated it. Why did she have to come and muck everything up? Why did Oz have to go and get himself kidnapped? Whoa. Where did that come from? thought Willow. It's not Sarah's fault anymore than it is Oz's. This is just how it's supposed to be.
Willow suddenly felt a strong urge to cry. She hadn't done that in such a long time. Too long. Nothing was what it should be. Everything was broken into a million pieces. Why did I think that? Had she become so selfish that nothing else mattered but her security? No, that was impossible. She was Willow, just Willow. She cared about her friends and family. Or maybe it was all a mask. She was just so tired. Tired of worrying. Tired of fighting. She wanted it all to stop. The pain, the regret. She wanted to be happy again. But she couldn't be. Not with so many people dead and Oz in the hands of a murderer. She needed him. She needed Tara. She needed everyone who wasn't there with her right now and could never be again. "I'll get you back, Oz," she whispered. "No matter what."
They were in a graveyard. It was cold, dark, and no one came there after the sun had set. It was big; covering nearly three square miles. It was blanketed with many crypts and tombstones, some dated as far back as 1856. An exceptional place to temporarily hide a werewolf, and some bodies. At least in a town like Cobleskill. "Perfect," a voice said. "Now for the rest."
Dawn rolled her eyes. "Why is it always graveyards?"
"You mean as opposed to a four star hotel?" said Xander. "Maybe he doesn't want to come off as vain."
Buffy just rolled her eyes.
It was late, around 11:30. From her magic, Willow could feel that they were close. Oz and Jones were within a two mile radius. She had used another tracing spell to find their exact location: Cobleskill memorial.
Why are they taking so long? Don't they know what is at stake? "No more talking," said Willow irritably. "Let's go get Oz."
Buffy glanced at Willow. "She's right. Let's get this over with."
"Right, of course. Now about the plan..." started Giles.
"Again with the plan?" asked Buffy. "Fine. Here's a plan: Giles, Xander and Dawn will be in the van, about a hundred feet from Jeff's location. They will be surrounded by medical supplies." Buffy deliberately looked away from Willow. "Should anything go wrong you guys will be on hold. Willow, Sarah and I will leave the van once it is in position. Willow and I will get Oz, who is, no doubt, nearby, while Sarah confronts Jones. Is that a good enough plan, Giles?"
"Given our limited knowledge, that would be quite sufficient." He took off his spectacles and began to clean them with a handkerchief.
"I like it," Sarah spoke up, after being uncharacteristically quiet throughout most of the night. "I think we can pull it off."
"Can I be one of the rescuers? It'd be good practice..."
"No, Dawn," said Buffy, curtly. "You stay in the van."
"This is not open to discussion."
Dawn crossed her arms over her chest. "I never get to do anything," she sulked.
"Oh, cheer up, Dawn, doing stuff gets old after a while," said Xander.
Willow had always hated graveyards. Even before she knew about the things that go bump in the night. Graveyards held death. From beneath you it devours... Willow shook her head. Think happy thoughts. Think happy thoughts... She tried, she really did. But she kept seeing Oz lying on the ground. Not moving. Not breathing. So cold. So still. His life force was weakened. She could feel the faintness of it. No, don't think about it! she ordered herself. Thinking about Oz like that made her blood boil. To think of him dying caused her so much anguish. When she thought about it, the darkness would come. It called to her, beckoning her to embrace it. You know you want to do, it seemed to say. After what it did to Oz, it deserves to perish. Kill it, kill it, kill it...
It would be so easy to become Dark Willow. To go after Jones and destroy him. His body would have to be incinerated, but it was no loss. Oz would be back. No one important would have to die. So easy, he would just disappear. Just like Warren. Just like Warren... No, stop it! Willow commanded. Nobody needs to die.
Willow looked around the van, hoping to find something to divert her attention away from her wicked thoughts. She found herself staring at Sarah. She looked so calm, bored, really. Like she was going to Temple. How much like Veruca is she? Does it even bother her that she might very well have to kill a man? Perhaps she's done it before. Thinking about it, Willow realized that they didn't know much about Sarah, other then her name and that she was a friend of Oz. Or so she said. They couldn't rule out the possibility of her lying, though it seemed very unlikely and paranoid.
They were coming closer to the graveyard. Soon, Giles would stop the van and they'd have to get out and walk. Willow was beginning to feel very nauseous. What if something were to go wrong? Then it would get very, very bad, Willow thought. Why was she so worried? It was just a man. Flesh and blood. He wasn't a demon, a god, or pure evil. Just a man. A problem easily taken care of. Like fighting butter. But Warren was a man. Look at the damage he caused...
"Alright," said Giles, as he pulled into Memorial's parking lot. "We're here."
"Gotcha, Giles," said Sarah, quickly getting out of the car. "Buffy, Red, you guys coming?"
"We're coming," said Buffy. They both left the car, clearly armed with wooden stakes. "Just like old times, huh, Will?"
"Huh?" Willow forced a smile. "Oh, yeah. Just like high school."
"I don't want to sound negative, but don't you need a weapon?" asked Xander, noticing Sarah's lack of arsenic.
"No," she smiled. "I don't want to give Jeff the wrong impression."
"Be careful," said Dawn, more to Buffy then anyone else.
"We always are," said Buffy. "See you in a few minutes."
They walked towards the entrance. Willow thought it looked like the gate to Hell. She looked over at Sarah and felt a surge of anger. Why is she so calm? Does she even care? thought Willow. Of course she does. If she didn't then why would she be here?
"The spell said that they would be by the Thompson crypt," whispered Willow.
"Where's that?" asked Sarah.
"Towards the left, past the angel monument. If you follow the main path, it will take you directly there," said Willow. "The smaller path to the right, plus a few shortcuts will take us behind them."
Sarah crinkled her nose. "We really should have discussed this earlier."
"Well, we were in a hurry," said Buffy. "Sarah, are you sure you want to do this? Going up against him, unarmed..."
"I'm a werewolf. I've got it covered. You play your part and I'll play mine." Her eyes seemed to glitter maliciously. "And I am a phenomenal actress."
"Well, alright, then. See you back at the car," said Buffy, as she and Willow walked away. Neither heard her whisper, "Hopefully," after them.
Sarah heard Jeff Jones long before he saw her. He was rather loud for a human, shuffling his feet like he was. Pacing didn't suit him.
"Hello, Jeffy, remember me?"
If he was surprised by the she wolf's sudden entrance, he hid it well. "Why, hello, Sarah McGinley, is it?" The mask was firmly in place. "You're two days early, but all the better for me. So glad that we've had this chance to meet before I kill you."
She suddenly looked coy. "My, my aren't we overly confident? What makes you think you'll succeed?"
He took a small, handgun out of his pocket and aimed it at her. "I don't see how you'll stop me. Silver bullets, wolf. It's loaded."
Her coyness became a distant memory. "A bullet? That's it?" Sarah asked condescendingly. "No torture? I expected more from you."
"You'd be amazed at what you can live through." He cocked the trigger.
"Now, now hold your horses." She put up her hands. "I'm unarmed."
"So? You think that'll make a difference?" he sneered.
"Not in the slightest, but I think you'll want to hear what I have to say."
Curiosity got the better of him. Sarah reasoned that Jones wanted a physiological answer for the killing of his family. They all did. Ah, the question of why. So powerful. "Talk fast, wolf."
"How fast?" she asked innocently. "If I talk to fast, you won't be able to understand me and then I'll have to repeat it. That might take some time."
"You're right. I've other places to be and you aren't the most fascinating person I could be talking to at the moment. Maybe I'll just shoot you right now and get it over with."
She laughed. "Silly, little man, if you kill me then it stops being fun."
"My fun's just beginning, wolf."
She shook her head. "I wasn't talking about you. Is Oz in that van?"
"Yes, Osborne's in there."
Sarah looked idly at her nails. "Have you been feeding him?"
"What business is it of yours?"
"Just curious, is all. Banter's very important, you know. Without it, nothing is ever learned. You haven't been feeding him. That's bad. You get what I'm saying, Jeffy?"
His eyes narrowed "You're rambling nonsense."
"I'll be the judge of that. Why did you take Oz? Why have you kept him without killing him? I doubt you wanted a new pet."
His face, so stoic up until this point, contorted into pure rage. "You know why," he said, barely keeping his voice even. "You've known for some time now."
She frowned. "Do I? Because my mind's a little foggy. I am a trifle absent-minded." She bit her upper lip. "Oz has never been a good werewolf. He's so compassionate and into the whole help your fellow man..."
"He's not a man, just as you're not a woman!" he screamed. "You're monsters, all of you!"
She rolled her eyes. "Touché. If you're going to let one bad experience ruin your entire opinion of werewolves..."
His eyes were nearly bulging out of his sockets. His face had gone a nasty red color. "One bad experience?! One bad experience?! MY FAMILY IS DEAD, YOU BITCH!"
A sadistic grin warped her face. "I'm sure they're in a better place, sweetie." He said nothing to this. He was beyond words. Sarah could see that there was very little keeping his finger from moving, just her eyes. Her gaze never wavered, never left Jeff's face. He couldn't shoot someone who was looking him in the eyes. It was too human. Sensing a slight victory, Sarah continued, "Now, back to Oz, he's kind of like the diet coke of werewolves. On calorie, not even enough. You see, he was turned too late. What was he? Seventeen? Eighteen? But the exact numbers aren't important." She frowned. "But age is very important. It's a bit of a paradox. Remember that."
What is she doing? thought Willow. She's practically prodding him with a pointy stick! She and Buffy were slowly inching themselves towards Jeff's van and had been listening to the conversation for several seconds. Willow had been trying to make eye contact with her earlier. She knew that Sarah had noticed them, but she wasn't taking her eyes off Jones. Buffy reached the van and pulled back the handle. It clicked. Willow took a deep breath, but Jones didn't even turn his head. He couldn't have been more than fifteen feet from them, how could he not hear them? It would be so easy to get him while his back is turned...
Buffy quietly pulled open the door and there was Oz. Willow let out an uncontrollable gasp, followed by her slapping her hand over her mouth. Black and blues covered his body. So many, that it was impossible to tell his original skin color. His hair was long and he had a full, greasy beard. He was so thin. He couldn't possibly weigh more than a hundred pounds. Like a Halloween skeleton. His clothing was so bloody and torn that Willow could make out his protruding ribs. He's not moving. Willow took another deep breath. She was very angry. Every fiber in her being told her to kill Jones, but there was a small part of her mind that instructed her to stay put. Killing a person changes you, it's makes you less. But right now, Willow didn't care about keeping her hands clean. She just wanted Jones dead.
Buffy, realizing what was wrong, reached over and grabbed Willow by the arm. "We need to get Oz out of here," she mouthed. "Don't."
That brought her back to reality. She nodded.
"Oz didn't kill your family, I did."
Jeff took a step back. "You?" For a homicidal guy with a death wish, he seemed to be having trouble digesting this bit of information.
"Yes, me." Sarah took a step forward.
"No, you couldn't of," he choked out.
"Why on Earth not? Because I'm young? Because I'm a girl? You've got the wrong wolf, Jeffy. Accept it." She moved closer to him. "I'm here now. You can kill me if you like." His entire body was shaking in rage, but still he did not pull the trigger. "What's a matter? Losing your nerve?" Another step, Sarah was now about seven feet from him. "If it makes you feel better, it was nothing personal. I was hungry. And there's something intoxicating about women and children. Their flesh is so soft..."
Jeff screamed and fired the gun. What should have hit Sarah dead center flew past her and into a nearby tombstone. Somehow, Sarah managed to knock away his gun and place her fingers securely round his neck, effectively cutting off his air supply. "That's another werewolf thing. Super speed. We're kinda like Clark Kent." Her eyes became darker. He tried to break away, but her gripe was too strong. She whispered in his ear,
"I'll let you in on a secret, werewolves don't need the moon to change." His eyes widened and Sarah began to transform. Her teeth become longer and her nails became sharper. They turned into claws that wrapped vice-like around Jones' neck. She picked him up and threw him across the graveyard. "Super strength. Another plus. Oh, FYI, I've decided to stop the transformation part way so you'll get a fighting chance. Now, come on, get up. The night is young and you're the only entertainment in town."
He lunged at her, but she dodged him easily. He stumbled on a nearby tombstone. A small one, very inexpensive. He fell to the ground and cried out in pain. Hot, bitter tears ran down his face as he whispered sweet nothings to his family. He's praying! Sarah laughed. The fools always pray. Or is it the crazy ones? She knelt down beside him. "Shhh," Sarah whispered. "You don't have to cry. You'll be with your family soon. Isn't that what you wanted?" So sure was she of victory that she did not see him remove a knife from his boot and raise it to her gut.
Willow was running, trying to keep pace with Buffy's frantic movements. After they had inched away from Jeff and Sarah, they took off at full speed. Willow found it amazing that, even carrying Oz, Buffy was still in the led. They were almost within sight of the car. Willow fought a strong urge to call out to her friends. Let them know that they were coming, let them know that they had Oz. Oz. Willow couldn't process it. Oz, he was so close, so sick. What if he... No! He's going to live. We're going to help him. He's going to be fine. Just fine. But Willow couldn't shake the feeling. What if he wasn't going to be fine? What if he never woke up? She'd never get to see his green eyes again. There'd be no more talks on the weirdness of animal crackers. She'd never get to tell him...
Buffy kicked the backdoor of the van. Xander opened it. "Hey, that was..." He stopped smiling, noticing Oz. "Oh my God."
"Xander, move!" commanded Buffy. We need to get him in there."
He tore his eyes off Oz and looked at Buffy. "Yeah, sure." He hopped out of the van and stood next to Willow. "Lucky the back seat was removed otherwise I don't think he'd fit."
"Hey," said Dawn. "What's going on?" She was sitting in the front with Giles and neither of them had fully seen Oz. They didn't realize how badly he had been hurt.
At the sound of Dawn's voice, Willow snapped out of her shock. It was replaced by fear and terror. We're at the van. "Dawn, get some bandages, disinfectant, water! Get something!"
Giles turned around, seeing the extent of Oz's injuries. He wasn't expressive. In fact, him seemed to be quite nonchalant. Willow somehow found this encouraging. "Right, of course," he said. "Here, lay him down, gently."
Buffy put him down across the floor of the van. "Ya know, Giles, I won't have thrown him."
"Right, sorry," he said sheepishly. It constantly amazed Willow how, after all these years, he still got embarrassed when the Slayer gently reproached him.
He and Dawn grabbed the supply bags and quickly got out of the car's front seat and moved towards Oz's prone form. After examining him for several minutes, Giles frowned. "His injuries are quite extensive. They seem mostly superficial, but there are so many of them, and they're infected. Not to mention that he's malnourished and dehydrated. I'm sorry to say it, but he's above over level of expertise."
"But we can make him better, right?" asked Dawn, sounding for all the world like a kindergartener who was just told that her favorite puppy was terminally ill.
Giles didn't look at her. "We can try, but he may not survive long enough..."
Willow was desperate. "We have to get him to a hospital!"
"We can't do that, Will," said Xander sadly. "The doctors will run tests. Oz's werewolf blood, it'll get noticed..."
"I don't care! We can't just let him die!"
"Nobody is going to die!" said Buffy forcefully. "All we have to do is clean him up and give him something to eat. That's not that hard is it? Dawn, pass the disinfectant."
"Sure." She found the bottles and passed it to the people around her.
"We need to get Oz back to Giles' place," said Xander.
"What about Sarah?" asked Dawn.
"Huh?" said Buffy, as she poured the contents of the bottle on Oz's arm. He yelped in pain, but did not wake up. Willow nearly dropped her bottle, fearful that pouring it on Oz's leg would only hurt him more. "What about her?"
"Well, she's not here. Shouldn't she be back by now?"
"She must still be in the graveyard," murmured Willow distractingly. Come on, Oz. Please wake up. Please. I need to tell you something. She tried to hold back the tears that were cascading down her face. "We have to get him out of here." She said this more to herself than her friends, but Giles still heard her.
"We can't go without Sarah, she may also require medical attention..."
"What if she's dead?" questioned Dawn. "Then we wouldn't have to wait."
Willow felt a sudden urge to slap Dawn, but she suppressed it. She had to settle with her fingernails digging into her balled fists. She should have been slapped a long time ago. Buffy could never do it. Joyce would certainly never have done it. Despite previously living on the Hellmouth, the kid was still a pampered, spoiled brat. There was no sense in denying it. But there was sense in not voicing it.
"Dawn!" exclaimed Buffy.
"What? I was speaking metaphorically!"
Sure you were, thought Willow angrily. She loved Dawn, she really did, but sometimes that kid really pissed her off.
Xander, seeing that tensions were high, tried to reach a compromise. "We could always come back later."
"No," said Buffy. "We will not come back later, because I'm going to go find her." She prepared to leave the van.
"Buffy..." said Giles, worriedly.
"Don't worry about me, Giles. I'll come back. I always do."
Buffy seemed to be gone an eternity. Where is she? thought Willow anxiously. Too much time has gone by. Though, in reality, it had only been a few minutes. Incredibly long minutes. Willow wanted desperately to leave without them. It won't have made a huge difference, but this was Oz! He didn't deserve to be treated on the floor of a dirty van. Why did Buffy go back for her? She could have just let her die! Willow's eyes widened. Did she just think that? Sarah was the only reason that they had gotten Oz as quickly as they did. Now Willow was ready to condemn her? She knew Oz would never forgive himself if Sarah died. She was important to him, therefore she was important to Willow. Consider her the newest Scoobie. She wanted so badly to get Oz out of there. He was so dirty...
"He needs a bath," said Willow suddenly.
Xander looked at her as if she had gone off the deep end. "What?"
"A bath. He'll need a bath to get all the grime off. Also, we should probably shave off the beard. Oz never liked beards. He said they made him feel old and that they itched," she said softly.
When Xander's expression didn't change, Giles cut in. "She's quite right, a bath would be useful, more useful than disinfectant. You and I," said Giles, referring to Xander, "Should bathe him when we return."
"Can I help, too?" asked Dawn.
"Maybe when you're older," said Xander, letting out an exaggerated sigh. "Oh, the sacrifices I make for friendship."
Willow allowed herself a small smile before her attention focused back on to Oz. He looks too small, like a baby bird with a broken wing. Why won't he wake up? She was shaken from her thoughts by the sound of... running? "Is that Buffy?"
"Let me check," said Dawn, as she slid open the van door. It was Buffy. She was running full speed and noticeably missing something. That something was Sarah.
"Gone," Buffy wheezed, when she arrived. "All gone."
"Gone?" echoed Giles.
"Yeah," Buffy panted. She took several deep breaths. "They weren't there." Pant "Jeff or Sarah." Pant. "There was some blood, but I..." Pant. "...Couldn't find either of them."
"Oh," Dawn muttered. The Scoobies were silent, unsure of what to do next. They clearly didn't want to abandon Sarah, but there was Oz to think of.
"We'll have to come back later," said Giles resolutely, repeating Xander's previous statement. "After Oz is taken care of."
"Right," Willow whispered, somewhat relieved. "Let's get out of here."
"I'll drive," offered Xander.
Willow felt cold. Freezing, really. She felt that she would never be warm again. Her entire life would become one big snowball. There would be no more singing and dancing. There would be no more sun. To a California girl, this was intolerable. But there was no light, only darkness. All Willow could think about was Oz. It was the little things she remembered most. She remembered how Oz looked when she first saw him all the way back in Junior year. He looked so bored yet somehow fascinated, examining those canapes. When she had sat down next to him and his face seemed to brighten. Not obviously. Obvious was never Oz's style, but subtly, his face changed. It was like he was actually glad to see her! Her. Willow. Quiet, little, nobody Willow.
At first, she couldn't believe it. Why would anyone like her in that way? Not that she was trying to sell herself short, but she was never what could be considered a catch. In about seven years she had had a total of one boyfriend and two girlfriends. In Willow's defense, most of those relationships had been long term. But, still, it wasn't as if people were queuing up to date her. But Oz, he didn't care that she was a geek or that she fought evil on a regular basis. Maybe that was why he had loved her so much. Just because she was Willow. Just because there was nobody else like her.
Willow fought back a fresh sob. How could she have given him up? Tossing him aside for Tara. He had tried so hard to tame the wolf for her and when he did, it was goodbye. Willow never told him that the wolf didn't matter. Had she ever said to him that death would be a small price to pay as long as he was with her? Not that she wanted to be disemboweled anymore than Oz wanted to do the disemboweling, but she needed him to be with her. Without him there, it was agony. And Tara, beautiful, sweet Tara, the other ache in her heart. So many holes that could never be filled in. She couldn't have been with both of them. And it wasn't fair to either of them to being boomeranging back and forth. One of them had to be out of the picture. One of them had to go.
It made sense mathematically. Three's a crowd. And she had loved Tara, but she had been so confused. She had needed more time to figure everything out. Saying that Tara had won by default was an insult. But would she have eventually gone back to Oz if he had stayed? That would have been too cruel to her sensitive Tara. She could never have done that to her. But what about what she did to Oz? Wasn't that equally cruel? Hey, Oz, you've been gone for a few months and I've already found someone else. I've come out of the closet and I'm also dating a fabulous girl named Tara. I do believe you've met. Willow gritted her teeth. She should not be feeling badly about this. He had said his 'goodbye' and went off. Why shouldn't things have changed in his absence?
Suddenly, Willow wished she was back in high school. Everything had be great then. Angst levels were normal. Not that much depression, minimal number of personal deaths. I was happy then. I smiled more, I joked more. There was no magic addiction. I was floating pencils! She wanted to go back to that ignorance. That blissful ignorance when she was so optimistic about the world and there was no end to the nifty possibilities. Wow, college! I wonder what's going to happen there! The beginning of the end, that's what happened there. Soon, the light had gone away and all that remained were the shadows.
Lying awake at night she would picture how Tara used to hold her with such tenderness. It was like they were the only two people in the entire world. It was a great feeling. Then, Willow, would remember Oz, though she would push him out of her head seconds later. He had looked at her in much the same way Tara had done. Both had whispered 'I love you' into her ear after they had first made love to her and she had instantly repeated it right back to them. But what did it mean? Was it possible to be in love two people at the same time? It was twisted, having her heart divided like it had been. It was like being cut right down the middle. And it hurt. Maybe that's why she had chosen Tara, so Oz would go away. She had told herself it wouldn't hurt anymore. But it did. It hurt so much.
Had she made the right choice? All these years later, the question still plagued her. Maybe, that's why she had been so quick to label herself as a lesbian and a victim of latent discovery. If she could have just forgotten about her crush on Xander and her great love for Oz, then everything would have been okay. Willow thought that if she could just convince herself that she only wanted men because society told her to, then Oz wouldn't matter. He could be labeled as a beautiful mistake from her "confused years." Oz could become someone she greatly loved, just not someone she desired in a sexual kind of way. That answer would have made everything right again, it would have all made sense. But the numbers didn't work. He messed everything up. Xander was the best friend that Willow had had an embarrassing long, long-term crush on. Oz had been so much more than that. He was Oz. No other word could describe him.
She could have gone with him. She could have forgotten her new Oz-less life and those moments when Tara would look at her. And there would be nowhere else in the world where Willow wanted to be, as long as she was with her. Willow should have remembered that Oz used to make her feel like that. Why couldn't she have thrown caution to wind and hopped into the passenger seat? Screw him wanting to be alone. She could have helped him. It would have been so easy. Then Tara would still be alive and Oz wouldn't be lying upstairs in Giles' bedroom fighting for his life.
Buffy walked into the room. "I'm going to go back to the graveyard to..."
At the mention of that horrible place, Willow couldn't hold back her tears any longer. They poured down her cheeks and her body began to shake with huge, wracking sobs.
The sudden outburst clearly surprised Buffy, but she tried to hide it. She put her arms around Willow and hugged her. "Willow, he's going to be okay..."
"No he won't," sobbed Willow. "He can't die, Buffy! I don't know what I'll do if... Oh Goddess!" Her sobs were uncontrollable and she was finding it difficult to breathe.
Then, the doorbell rang. "I'll get it," Dawn called from the kitchen. Willow saw her walk into the vestibule and open the door. There stood Sarah. She was leaning against the doorframe, her hand clutching her bleeding stomach.
"What? You couldn't wait?" Sarah spat out, before losing consciousness and falling forward. Dawn managed to catch her and they both tumbled to the floor.
"Buffy!" Dawn called out. "I need help! Fast!"
Oz regained consciousness slowly. To him, it seemed to take hours to fully wake up. He didn't realize why he was trying so hard to open his eyes. He knew what he'd see: Jeff Jones grinning at him, ready to unleash some more of that pent-up anger. Besides he was delirious by now. He'd probably see some small kid holding a lollipop instead of a nut with a pointy knife. Oz took a breath. A small one, he didn't want to alert Jones that he was coming to. Oz breathed again, this time through his nose. The air is different. And when did I get sheets? He sniffed the air experimentally. No, it couldn't be. He opened his eyes. "Willow," he breathed.
There she was, sitting right beside him, looking for all the world like an angel. Her clothing was dirty and her face was haggard, but Oz didn't notice any of that. All he saw was Willow Rosenberg, the girl he never thought he would ever see again. At first, Oz thought he must have died, because waking up next to Willow was a sure sign of being in Heaven, or at least Purgatory. He could have stared at her forever, memorizing every hair, every wrinkle, every freckle that dotted her face. He just hoped to God that he wouldn't pass out again and wake up in Jeff's van.
The way she was looking at him, with such worry and joy and perhaps... love? No, she would never look at him like that. Never again. Willow smiled. God, she still has the sweetest smile I've ever seen. It had been too long, far too long, since he had last seen that smile. She put her hand on his. He swore a jolt of electricity had just sped up his arm. At that moment, Oz didn't care how he had gotten in this pretty, little room or how Willow came to be watching over him. He just cared that she was with him at exactly the right second. "Oz," he heard her say. "Hi."
Oz tried to smile back at her, but all he managed was a grimace. Moving lips, not the smartest thing to be doing. For all he knew his jaw was traumatized. Oh, well. "Willow," he said, testing out the name on his tongue. "Hey." Thinking back, Oz realized that this dialogue was similar to their first few conversations in high school: short, stilted, and nervous. There were so many memories. The good, the bad, it didn't matter to Oz. What mattered was that they were there.
"Hey," said Willow uneasily. Oz couldn't help but attempt another smile. Just like high school, before Veruca, before Tara. Tara. Oz grimaced again, and this time, not entirely from the smile. "How are you feeling?" she asked.
He looked intently at Willow before responding. He could see Tara on her; could smell Tara on her. It was like a sickness. And Oz knew he couldn't lie to her. "It really hurts to look at you right now."
Willow looked pained. Oz immediately wanted apologize for saying such a stupid, albeit true, thing, but talking seemed to be taking way to much effort. His body desperately wanted to go back to sleep. "Oh, I, I can leave now if you want." She sounded so sad.
What? No! Oz panicked. Don't leave! There hasn't been enough time! I don't want to go back! Oz knew he wouldn't last much longer, but he wanted her to be with him for as long as possible. He weakly squeezed her hand before she could remove it
from his palm. "I don't mind the pain."
The moment Oz opened his eyes, Willow knew that she could spend the rest of her life with him. It was like the last four years never happened and he was back. Not quite safe and sound, but that would be fixed with time. When he spoke her name, it was like everything melted away, even Tara. Tara. How could she have forgotten about her? A new wave of guilt washed over Willow. How quickly did she discard love? One minute, it was Oz, the next minute it was Tara, and then it was back to Oz again.
What was wrong with her? She couldn't continue to think like this! Willow had wanted to spend the rest of her life with Tara. Tara, not Oz. He was her first love, but another had come after him. Should Tara be forgotten just because... Willow swallowed a lump in her throat. She didn't want to think about it. Why did it still hurt? Why didn't it go away? It was like the pain was meant to go on forever. True happiness would never again reveal itself. All Willow had was the leftovers. Scattered memories, scattered feelings, and one boy's face that kept popping up when she least expected it to.
Xander stood in the doorway. "Hey, Will," he greeted with forced cheerfulness.
Willow turned her head. "Hi, Xander."
"How's wolf boy?" he asked. "Any change?"
Willow wished he would go away. She couldn't bear to have company, not now. She wanted to be left alone. "Oh, yeah, kinda," she said evasively.
"Is that why you're crying?"
"Huh?" Willow wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Hey, what do you know? "Oh, I didn't realize..."
Xander sat down next to her. "It's okay, Willow."
Willow's eyes flashed. "Why does everybody keep saying that?"
Xander recoiled slightly. "I didn't mean anything by it, Will."
Willow sighed. It would probably be easier to make Xander leave if she was honest. The question was, how honest did she want to get? "I know you didn't. I'm sorry." She sniffed. "Oz woke up a little while ago."
"Really? That's great! Did he say anything..."
Apparently not being clear on the details was a big part of that honesty. "Yeah, that werewolf regeneration thing's a plus. He said some stuff, but then he conked out a minute later."
Xander was curious. "What did he say?"
Willow shrugged, dodging the question. "Just some stuff. Nothing important."
Xander, finally realizing that he should back off, responded to that with a simple, "Okay." He then sat in respectable silence for a few moments. "Ya know, I never expected to see him again. Especially not like this."
This was unexpected. Willow hadn't known he felt like this. For some reason, she thought she was the only one. "You actually expected to see him again?" she asked glumly. "I thought I had chased him away." She was becoming increasingly aware of the fountain of tears pouring down her cheeks.
Xander put a comforting arm around her. "You didn't chase him away..."
She didn't want to be alone anymore. Willow leaned into Xander and started to sob on his shoulder. "Yes I did!" she cried. "I did and I shouldn't have. It's all my fault!"
Xander cupped Willow's chin and looked directly into her eyes. "Now you listen to me, Willow Rosenberg, you did what you knew was right. You had to let him go..."
"Why Xander? Why did I have to 'let him go?'" she asked fiercely. "I didn't want to. Not in the way it turned out! I wanted... Oh, I don't know what I wanted!"
"Willow..." he began.
Willow's tongue seemed to possess a mind of its own. "Tara's dead, Dawn cried. I cried and tried to nuke the planet! But no one else shed a Goddamn tear! She's gone and no one cares!"
Xander tried to calm her, though he knew that he was painfully inadequate in this particular field. "We care..."
"No, if you cared then you wouldn't have forgotten! I don't want to be like you! I don't want to forget!" she said hysterically.
"You're not going to..."
"Yes, I will! And then I won't care. I'll be just like you selfish sons of..."
"Woah, Willow slow down..."
"Oz was gone and I forgot about him! Why did I do that? It was like he wasn't here, so who cares? I'm scum. No, I'm worse than scum. What's lower than scum?"
"Um, I really can't answer that."
"Try," Willow persisted.
"Listen to me, Willow. You're not pond scum. You will never be pond scum."
"Then why do I feel like this?"
"You feel like this because Oz almost died," answered Xander gently. "You feel like this because he was so important to you..."
"Was?" she asked, brushing her tears aside. Willow pushed Xander away from her so that they were each back in their respective chairs.
"Huh?" asked Xander.
"You said was," Willow clarified. "He's still important to me." She was careful to annunciate the word "still."
Xander realized that he had definitely said the wrong thing. "Oh, sorry," he mumbled.
Willow dried the last of her tears with the sleeve of her shirt. With decisiveness, she said, "I don't want to talk about Oz anymore."
"Um, okay." Xander was clearly uncomfortable.
"How Sarah?" Willow asked quickly. She was anxious to change the topic of discussion to something less to do with emotional stability.
Xander relaxed slightly. "She's doing better. We managed to sew her up. Actually, Buffy and Giles did the sewing. I kind of stood there holding the bandages."
"Oh," said Willow, somewhat relieved. "So, I'm guessing she hasn't told you guys what happened? With Jeff, I mean."
"She hasn't even woken up yet. Giles thinks the knife was silver lined so Sarah's recovery isn't going to be wacky fun."
"But she'll still get better?"
"Yeah. But it'll take some time."
A new depression settled over Willow. "He could still be out there. Watching, waiting for us to let our guard down."
"No," Xander reassured. "He's gone."
Great, like I need another empty reassurance. "How do you know?" she asked bitterly.
Xander grinned. "It's amazing what a girl whispers under pain killers. Though it could be the fever," he said pensively. A new thought occurred to him. "Hey, in the short time Oz was among the land of the awake people, did you tell him that Sarah's here?"
Too lost to be saved, thought Willow. She was thinking of Jeff. He never got his redemption. A part of her was glad. "No, it didn't come up."
Xander rolled his eyes dramatically. "Just another thing to do on tomorrow's to-do list."
Willow smiled a smile that did not reach her eyes.
Oz felt like he was trapped. Not in a cage, but in his own mind. The more he tried to escape the nightmares, they would drag him back in. Jeff, he would find them. He would find them all. He'd kill them and make Oz watch. He saw the blood. He heard the screams. Willow... "No!" Oz shouted. He sat up in bed, his eyes frantically darted around the room. They rested on Willow. She was safe. She was alive. "Willow," Oz said calmly. "Hey."
"Hey," she answered, obviously concerned. "Oz are you okay?"
"Me? Yeah, I'm fine," he said a little too quickly. "Are you fine?" I just had the scariest dream in my entire life, but at least my jaw doesn't hurt. Or the rest of me, for that matter. A plus.
"Um, yeah, I'm good."
That was a relief. "Good."
Oz looked intensely at Willow and she returned his gaze. So much pain was reflected in his eyes. But there was also relief and worry. Staring into his eyes was like reading a novel. The story was laid out before her, all she had to do was turn the pages. Oz looked away first. He didn't want her to read him. To many memories were leaking towards the surface. Oz knew he had to leave before either one of them ended up saying something that they'd both regret.
"So, I, um, I suppose you want some thing to eat..."
Despite himself, Oz smiled. Willow was cute when she was nervous. Then again, she was always cute... Shut up! Oz ordered himself. If he stayed around her much longer he wouldn't be able to leave. He didn't even care how she had gotten him away from Jones. He didn't care how badly he was injured, or where he was, or why he wasn't dead. He just knew that he had to get away. If he stayed... Oh, God, how he wanted to stay! He wanted to reach over and kiss her. He wanted so badly to tell her how much he loved her. But, he knew it would be better for both of them if he didn't do a damned thing. In another place, in another time he could have done that. He could have done that without thought. But, now, now it was far to late to do anything of the sort. Their paths divided a long time ago. He had made his choice. She had made hers. There was no going back. Suddenly, Oz remembered Sarah. Sarah, I have to find Sarah...
"Oh!" Willow exclaimed. "I'm such a doofus. You probably want to see Sarah..."
Oz's ears perked up Well, that was fast. "Sarah?" he asked, not quite believing what he had just heard. "She's here? Is she okay?"
"Uh huh. For about four days now."
He raised an eyebrow. "How long was I out?"
"About forty-two hours."
I didn't miss the moon. The thought was strangely comforting. "Oh, no biggie." Silence. "I should probably get up." He pushed the sheets aside and did just that, but his jelly legs wouldn't hold him. He fell back on to the bed. "Or I can stay in bed. Either way."
"Oz, are you okay?"
"Yeah, just dizzy." And hungry. My stomach's probably eaten half of itself by now. Oz became aware of an ill feeling that was creeping up his body. Maybe I shouldn't be thinking about anything edible.
"I'm going to go get you some food."
Hey, I didn't have to say anything. That could be considered a positive. "Okay." Willow left the room. Oz thought her walk was a cross between a reluctant skip and a mad dash. He was sort of glad to see her leave. Maybe he could suppress his feelings for a little while longer and get out just a smidge later then he expected. He was Mr. Stoic. He could control himself around Willow. Now that she was gone, maybe he could begin to focus on all things not her. Like trying to get across the room to the bathroom without falling flat on his nose.
Willow ran down the stairs and into the kitchen. She was trying very hard to not think about Oz in great detail. Oz is awake. Oz is alive. Oz is hungry. She should never have gone past the basics. Now everything was so complicated. Too complicated for her liking. She walked into the kitchen. Keeping things simple, now that's the way to go. Okay, kitchen, so far, so good. Willow took a tray out of the nearby cabinet and moved briskly towards the refrigerator. Upon opening the refrigerator, Willow realized that Giles had no decent food, that is to say, no meat. Stuffy Englishman, would it kill him to stuff up on protein?
"Hey, whatcha doing?" Sarah was standing next to her, munching on a leftover burger from Mickey D's. The only leftover burger.
Willow hit her head on the fridge's top shelf. Where did she come from? "Ow! You startled me." Sarah made her jumpy. Ever since she had woken up from the whole slash wound thing. She still hadn't told them exactly what happened with Jones. All they knew was that he was dead. Where his body was or how Sarah had beaten him were still unknown facts. From the way Willow had seen Sarah toy with him made her think that she didn't want to know. The others had questioned her on it either. She guessed that the old adage was true: "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, do no evil." Maybe not knowing was better for everyone.
Despite her nervousness with Sarah, Willow beamed a joyous smile. "Oz woke up! I'm getting him some food."
"Really? That's great. Here," said Sarah, dumping her half eaten burger on the tray. "Give this to Oz. It's better than tofu. Though I'm not exactly sure that it's real meat, but it beats a salad. Hands down."
Sarah's mediocre response caught Willow off-guard. She expected Sarah to be a, well, a little more emotional. "Um, I'm sure he'll appreciate it, but, don't you want to see him?"
Sarah raised her eyebrows. "You mean, like, right now?"
Now Willow was definitely confused. Where were the tears of joy? Willow thought Sarah would be practically sprinting up those stairs to see Oz. She had briefly stopped in his room many times over the last two days. Wouldn't she want to see him when he wasn't drooling? "Yeah, I mean right now," Willow said somewhat rudely. "He just woke up. He might want to see you."
Sarah leaned against the counter. "Well, you see, Red, I've talked to him every day for almost three years. I'm pretty much talked out."
"What?" she asked angrily. Sarah's callous response was unexpected. No, it was worse than unexpected, Willow thought that it was downright cruel. "Don't you..."
"Don't get me wrong" continued Sarah, effectively cutting Willow off. "I love the guy. I really do, but I see him, like, all the time. You, on the other hand, haven't really spoken him in three years. I think you might need the conversation a little more than I do."
What's that supposed to mean? "But..."
"It's not as if Oz is Mr. Motor Mouth. You'll be caught up in a manner of minutes. When you're done, I'll see him. In the meantime, I will continue to read Great Expectations. Pip's harrowing story of wealth and love is one that I shall not want to miss. Tell Oz, I'll be out on the front stoop if he wants to chat. See ya, Red." With that, Sarah exited the kitchen.
"See ya," Willow echoed, before returning her attention to the still opened fridge. Well, that was interesting.
"Hey," said Willow. "I got the food."
"Thanks," Oz said politely. He was doing his best to be cordial, but he was having a hard time keeping his eyes on her face instead of off the tray of food she was holding. He couldn't even remember when he had last had a good meal, or even a bad one for that matter.
Willow, noticing the hungry look on his face, quickly put the tray down on his lap. "Sorry," she grinned sheepishly.
"For what?" he asked between bites of his burger. He didn't seem to care in the least bit that it was half eaten by someone other then himself.
Willow smiled. Typical Oz. "Sorry about the burger," she said nervously. "See, Sarah got to it first and..."
Oz finished the burger and took a huge gulp of water. "No worries. The fact that she gave it up says a lot." He smiled and started munching on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. "She doesn't like to share."
"So you're not mad..."
"That's she's not here?" Oz finished. "She's not big on the whole visiting thing." He said this with his mouth full. She had never heard Oz talk with his mouth full. To Willow, it was cute. He swallowed the rest of his sandwich and began tearing through a mini-loaf. "I'm glad you're here."
He said this with such warmth. Willow couldn't help but say back, "I'm glad you're here too."
Oz gave her another smile before finishing the last of his bread. They sat in silence for the next few minutes. When he finished eating, Willow gave another apology. This time, it was over the lack of meat.
Oz shook his head. "The burger had some meat extracts. I'm okay."
"Oh." Well, there goes the conversation, thought Willow.
Strangely, it was Oz who started it up again. "This is a nice house."
Okay this isn't a bad way to start. "It belongs to Giles."
"Did he remodel?"
"What? No, he bought a new one."
"What was wrong with the old one?"
The conversation was veering towards the more important issues. Damn, Willow had hoped to keep the talk light and simple for at least a few more minutes. "Oh, it collapsed into the Hellmouth."
Oz had been hanging on to every word that Willow said, but now he showed the first signs of visible interest. "Just his house?"
"That and Sunnydale." Seeing the mildly freaked out expression on his face, Willow quickly added. "We evacuated the town, very few people were killed."
Some of the tension left Oz's face. "Oh, that's good. The entire town?"
"I missed out on a lot." Oz looked sad, he had lived there for most of his life. Willow knew that even with the evil thing, Oz had loved Sunnydale as much as she had. "Then where are we?" He seemed to be having trouble getting those words out.
Willow was having some difficulty speaking about it as well. Her voice was shaky. "Cobleskill, it's, its's only a few miles from where it happened."
"Are Xander and Buffy..." He began hesitantly.
"They're fine," Willow assured. She remembered Anya. "Most of us are."
"Good. So where is everybody?"
"Jobs, well not Dawn. She has school."
"What about you?"
Willow couldn't believe that Oz would think that she would rather work then be with him. That hurt. "I, I'm kind of in-between jobs at the moment." And I'm living with my parents, she added silently. It was ironic really. She didn't have a job and she was the only one out of the Scoobie gang besides Giles who actually graduated from college. It was sort of depressing.
"Oh, cool, so am I."
Willow smiled. He always knew how to make her feel better. "Yeah, it is cool."
Oz suddenly turned a light shade of red. "Um, I don't suppose I should be asking how I came to be this clean shaven or why I'm wearing clothes?"
She wrinkled her nose impishly. "Well, Giles and Xander..."
Oz became redder. "I was right."
That impish look did not leave her face. "We girls wanted to help, but Giles won't let us." He laughed and Willow felt a warm tingly feeling in the pit of her stomach. Her own smile wavered. The awkwardness was back. Suddenly, Willow realized that Oz had been sitting up in bed with an empty tray on his lap for several minutes. She leaned forward to remove it. "I should probably get you some more food." She didn't look at him.
Somehow his eyes locked with hers. "I'm not hungry." Without thinking she kissed him full on the mouth. He was surprised at first, but he quickly got over it and began to kiss her back. The kiss became more fierce and passionate. The tray clattered to the floor and neither one noticed it. At least the plates and cups were plastic. To Willow it was the most natural thing she had ever done. Kissing him, it was like the most wonderful thing in the world. Suddenly the pain was gone and she was whole. She was whole because she was with Oz; because he was with her. She didn't want it to end. She didn't want him to stop kissing her, to stop loving her.
Oz broke the kiss. "We shouldn't be doing this."
"Yes we should." She leaned in for more kissage.
He dodged her. "We can't."
Willow looked like someone physically injured her. She sat back into her chair. "What? Why? Is it something I did?" Doesn't he want to...
Where was the sense in that? "What do you mean wrong? I though you..."
"Believe me I do. Sometimes, when I was on the road, I would think of you. Like all the time. I'd think of you and I couldn't stop. Sometimes, I would feel all this pain, like someone was cutting off my arm. Other times, I would only feel this stump. I'd be numb." He looked at her intensely. "Every day, every hour, there was something that made me think of you. Like, I'd be driving down this street and I'd be looking for you. I kept expecting you to show up for no other reason then you could. At those times, I wanted to go to Istanbul. Sure neither of us is old or blue-haired, but if there was a chance, a small change that you would be there..."
Willow could feel the tears welling up behind her eyes. "Oz..."
"But you didn't do that. You were happy without me. Happier then you were with me." He started to get up.
"Oz, maybe you shouldn't..."
He looked directly at her. In a surprisingly strong voice, he asked, "Would you still want me if Tara was still alive?"
Willow could only stare at him openmouthed.
"Wait, cancel that. I already know. I just don't want to hear it again." He started to move towards the door.
"Oz," Willow called weakly. The tears were pouring down her face. Oz's eyes were looking a little red too.
"Willow, I think I finally know my lines." He left the room and Willow didn't go after him. She didn't have the strength. She just sat in her chair and cried.
Oz could still hear Willow crying. He hated that sound. He wanted so much to go back into that room and comfort her. He wanted to tell her that he would never leave again and mean it, but he couldn't. It was better if he went away. Out of sight, out of mind. He had to move on. Willow kissing him, it was like a memory. A beautiful memory that could never become a reality. They could lie to themselves all they wanted, but sooner or later, Willow would realize the mistake she had made and go back to girls. Oz didn't think he could deal with that again. He had to find Sarah. the sooner he found her, the sooner they could erase this horrible episode from their lives and go back to how it was before. Why didn't he believe that? "Sarah," he called. Where is she? Oz went into the kitchen, then the living room, he even locked on the door of downstairs bathroom. She wasn't in the house. He was just about to give up, when he caught a faint scent. With certainty, he opened the front door. There she was sitting on the front porch reading. He saw her smile, but she did not get up.
"Oz, hey. What's up?" she greeted casually.
He smiled. Oz found her detached act endearing. It reminded him of another time. He knew she cared about him. She just rarely showed it. Sarah could never hide anything from him. "Oh, not much. We're leaving."
Sarah disbelievingly looked up from her book. "What?"
Now she emotes. Oz walked past her. "We're leaving," he called back.
Sarah got up slowly, but her stomach still reacted violently. She suppressed the desire to sit back down and followed him. "Hey, wait up! Hey, slow down!" He slowed down but did not stop completely. She grabbed his arm as they reached the end of the driveway. "Could you please think about this for a second?"
He stopped walking. "There's nothing to think about," Oz said firmly.
"Since when is impulsiveness an Oz trait? Get back into that house!"
His shoulders shagged and he looked very small. "I can't."
"Oz," Sarah said softly. "Think about this for a second. I'm not well. You're not well. We have no money. Our van's in Utah. Where exactly were you planning to go?"
"I don't know. Just away." Logic clearly wasn't a big part of his plan.
"You've done that before. It didn't work out."
Why did she have to scratch up old wounds? "I can't stay here."
"Why not?" asked Sarah.
Why was it so hard to say? He could talk to her about anything, just not this. "You know why."
"Jesus Christ, Oz," she erupted. "First it's 'I hate being away from Willow.' Now it's 'I can't stand being with her?' Make up your freakin' mind!"
Oz was somewhat affronted by Sarah's trivialization of the subject. "It's not that simple."
"Yes it is! There's a girl in that house who has been thinking about you since I first said your name to her! At least talk to her!"
It was only getting harder. Oz felt drained. The last thing he wanted to do was talk about his relationship problems on the front lawn. But he knew Sarah wouldn't come with him if she didn't get some answers. She's too stubborn. "I did talk to her. We ended up smooching."
"Then what's the problem?"
He sounded tense. Though he didn't show it, Oz found it difficult to speak the next words. "My 'problem' is that she doesn't want me. She just thinks she does."
Sarah showed no sympathy. "Kissing implies disgust now?"
Oz really wanted to change the subject. Transitioning wasn't as easy as the average English teacher made it seem. "She made her choice. I wasn't it."
She rolled her eyes. "So this is about Tara?" Oz flinched. "I am so sick of hearing about Tara. Tara, Tara, Tara! I feel like I've stepped into a goddamn Brady Bunch episode!"
"When have you heard about her?" Oz was genuinely curious.
"See, you can't even say her name!"
What? I can so. "I've said her name."
"Only when you have to! I first heard of her when you were halfway through a bottle of Jack Daniels! And even then it took some coaxing!"
Now he definitely didn't like the direction this conversation was heading. "Sarah..."
"Did you know that when you're really drunk, and I mean plastered, you can't even say my name because it reminds you of her? You start calling me Sally. My goddamn name is not Sally!"
"I know your name."
"Really?" she asked sarcastically. "That's super. You're a real gem."
Oz looked away from her, obviously ashamed. "I'm sorry."
Sarah's eyes expressed regret, but her tone didn't change. "Don't apologize to me, Oz. I find it annoying. Did you even think about it when you stormed out of that house?"
Okay, change of topic. This is a good thing. "Think about what?"
"Why we're here in Cobleskill."
Oz sighed. "You came and told..."
"Stop right there! Why did I find them?"
Oz said the only thing he could think of. "Because you wanted to help me."
"I could have helped you on my own. Do you think I seriously needed them? I'm the reason parts of Jeff Jones is now six feet under in the middle of the Goddamn desert!"
What? Oz's ears perked up. "So he's dead?" It was sadistic to hope such a thing, but Oz couldn't help himself.
"For several days now. I scratched his jugular with my claw and exchanged him with some graveyard demons for a ride home. They needed him for some kind of ritual. But that's not important. I sought your friends out so that I could make you happy."
"I am happy."
"Don't lie to me!" she accused. "I know you too well for that. You've been miserable since the day I met you and I'm getting sick of it!"
"I'm not..." Oz began to deny.
"Yes, you are! You've been depressed for years. And you want to know why? I'll sum it up in one word: Willow."
Okay, conversation's going South again. "That's not true."
"That's utter bull and you know it!" She said her next words quietly, "Oz, you know I love you like a brother, but you are aware, that, if I was your true sibling, then I'm meant to be replaced."
This talk was just getting weirder. "Replaced by what?"
Her voice rose. "An actual life! When was the last time you seriously thought about your parents? I don't mean how are they doing, but what are they doing. How are they getting by without their only son?"
Oz couldn't remember, but in his defense, he called them every week. They probably think I'm dead right now. I really should find a phone. "I don't know."
"That's because childhood family is meant to be replaced by the ones you make. You're friends become your family. Your parents become Christmas dinner once a year."
"I think you warped the text."
Her face darkened. "I warped nothing!" Softly she said, "I tried to help. I really did. I tried to make you forget, but I couldn't. You chose her, Oz."
"What?" he delayed.
"Wolves mate for life. The wolf made the choice even before you did. There can be no other unless she dies. Or ever."
Oz could think of nothing to say to this. It was like his voice decided to take a vacation and leave him standing there with a somewhat stupid look on his face.
"You chose her over Veruca. It is done. Now you will never be at peace until she is with you."
Oz's voice came back, though it was strangled. "That's deep."
"Look, Oz," she pleaded. "You got a shot, a real shot at having a normal life. Well, normal enough. No more traveling the globe performing in cheap bars. No more whining about how life screwed you over because that is getting old. So, for the love of God, quit your bitching and at least try to be happy!"
Oz's stupid look disappeared. It was replaced by one of clarity. "You really know how to put things in perspective."
Sarah smiled. "I learned from the best. Now give me a hug. I missed you."
He hugged her. "Thank you."
She winced, the hug was a little too long for her protesting belly. "Hey, watch the stomach. I got stabbed there."
He pulled away, concerned. "What?"
"I'll tell you later. Now go back to Willow."
Oz nodded and started to leave. Then he turned back. "Do you need any help?"
"I'm fine." He left and Sarah looked around the yard. She saw an elderly lady, sitting in her garden across the street. It was evident from her shocked expression that she hadn't been weeding for a very long time. Sarah glared at her. "What? You've never seen two people rehearse a play on their front lawn before? I had no idea that Cobleskill was a culturally dead town. Nice to see you have proven me wrong!" With that, Sarah held her head high, and walked slowly back to her book.
Willow felt like her heart had just been cut out and thrown across the floor. He just walked out on her again! What were the odds? She shouldn't have kissed him. If she had just talked to him, maybe he wouldn't have run out as quickly as he did. She should be used to people leaving by now. Why was this time any different? Willow heard someone knock on the door. If that's... "Go away, Xander!" She didn't want him to see her lying across Oz's bed crying her eyes out for, like, the millionth time in one week.
Oz walked in. "I thought he worked."
Willow looked up. Then again, she didn't want Oz to see her cry either. She stared at him. He came back. Realizing that she looked like a gaping fish, she shut her
mouth. He came back. "You're right," she said dumbly. "It's too early for him to be here." She had lost track of the time.
Oz mustered up the courage to look Willow in the eye. "I shouldn't have left."
"But you came back." She seemed to be having difficulty comprehending this information. "Why?"
"Because I shouldn't have left to begin with. In college, now, I should have stayed. I'm sorry." Oz took a deep breath. "You can't possibly understand how sorry I am." Losing his nerve, he tried to leave, but Willow used her magic to shut the door.
She stood up and pointed an accusing finger. "Don't you dare!" ordered Willow. "Don't you dare come in here to say you're sorry and then walk out of my life! I'm not going to lose you again."
"Do you know how much I loved you? Do you know how much I cried when you left? Now you're back again and you want another goodbye? No way!"
"No, you listen! I loved Tara. Nothing will ever make me say that I didn't, but that doesn't mean that you were just a space filler! Do you know I could have married you? Werewolf and all. I didn't care. I still don't care. I never cared!" Willow lowered her voice. "So, I guess what I'm saying is that I love you. And maybe what I'm saying is that it was always you. Not Tara, you."
That was it. She had done it. She had cut the last of the strings that had bound her to her dead girlfriend. It was painful, yet somehow freeing to let her go. Willow had thought that loving Oz would cheapen her love for Tara, but now she realized that it wasn't so. Loving Oz was something she had always done. She had loved him throughout her relationship with Tara. She had loved him all the years that they were parted. She loved him so completely. The love she had felt for Tara was true and pure, but it was never the everlasting love that she felt for Oz. Life had sent her Tara, fate had sent her Oz. She knew that now. Strangely, this self-revelation did not cause her to collapse into herself and weep for what never was. Tara was not betrayed. She was at peace.
Oz clearly hadn't been expecting that. It showed in his face, which had a very unused bewildered stare on it. "What?" he croaked.
Did Willow have to spell it out for him? "I think I love you." Goddess, it felt so good to say!
Oz couldn't think of a decent thing to respond to this. In truth, he could barely think, he was so overcome with emotion. Never in a million years had he thought she could ever love him again; not like he wanted her to. He managed to whisper, "I think I love you too."
Willow moved closer to Oz. Their noses were almost touching. "What are you going to do about it?" she asked boldly.
Oz smiled. "Well, we could talk." he suggested.
Willow pressed herself against him. "I don't feel like talking."
"Me neither." He kissed her. Their kiss became more frantic, more passionate. They clung to each other and the rest of the world faded away.