Defining Moments

Description: While in L.A. visiting Angel, Buffy drops in on Oz and confronts him about Willow.

Disclaimer: None of the characters appearing in this story belong to me, they belong to their owners/creators. I just wanted to let Buffy and Oz work out some issues.

Rating: PG, for general themes and intensity.

Time Frame: After "Pangs" and "I Will Remember You," during Buffy's visit to L.A.


I got into the elevator in the deserted office building and pressed the button marked "S10." The elevator hummed and descended for what seemed like forever before it ground to a halt and the doors opened again. I saw a long corridor, with unmarked doors running as far as I could see, along with an uncovered concrete floor. I carefully counted the doors as I walked along, stopping in front of the sixth door on the left. I reached into my pocket and took out the key that Angel had given me, then opened the door with it.

The open door revealed a short hallway and a steel bound door that probably would have defeated even my Slayer strength. I walked up and pressed the button on the wall next to the door. I heard the faint sound of a buzzer going off, and after a moment the door opened. Oz stood there, looking about the same as he had before he had left, and I tensed, expecting a hostile reaction. I was surprised to see him smile softly and beckon to me as he invited, "Come in, Buffy."

I walked into the room, and saw that, except for Oz's personal items, it was as bare as the corridor outside. A cot was in the far corner of the room, along with his guitar and a few other things. I was quickly distracted from those items when I saw the massive vault door on the far wall. I raised an eyebrow and commented, "Planning on starting your own bank, Oz?"

Oz smiled again and motioned for me to follow him as he walked into the vault. I could see a crude sleeping area, troughs for food and water, and other amenities that an annoyed werewolf could use for its comfort. Oz frowned and explained, "Angel says that an acquaintance of his intended this to be a private vault for storage of exceptionally valuable items. Apparently, the guy in question made other arrangements, and was only to glad to loan the place to Angel as a favor. That vault door is eighteen inch thick steel. No werewolf. . .or Slayer for that matter. . .could get out of here. The locking mechanism is controlled by a time lock: no getting out before sunrise." He nodded at me and commented, "No more messing around with heavier cage bars and fancy electronic locks."

I nodded and replied, "Looks like you've got a nice little setup for dealing with wolfy problems, Oz. . .you don't seem surprised to see me."

Oz motioned that we should leave the vault, and we walked over and sat in the two overstuffed chairs sitting across from his cot. After a moment, he replied, "Angel and Doyle are the only ones with keys to the outer door. . .but I told Angel that if you ever came by asking for me that he could give you a key."

I was annoyed, and decided to vent: "He made me nag him for ten minutes before he gave me that key. . .he's going to get it big time the next time I see him."

"Don't bother." Oz still looked somewhat amused, but I could hear his tone turn a little more serious as he continued, "I told him to make you work for it a bit. . .I didn't want you coming by for a social call. . .but I figured that you might come by on serious business. . .and here you are."

I blinked at that, then replied, "I'm a little surprised you would be willing to see me at all, Oz. . .aside from the immediate business of finding Veruca and saving Willow, the last conversation we had wasn't exactly friendly."

Oz looked at me sadly, then responded, "You had your reasons. . .including that Willow was so upset that she wandered into traffic. You're her best friend, and I screwed up."

Oz was nothing if not to the point, and I owed him a little more honesty, too. "It wasn't just that, Oz. . .we all know the first time wasn't your fault: heaven preserve us from a werewolf in the mood." Oz managed a bitter laugh, and I continued, "But damn it, you could have come to me and we would have dealt with Veruca together. Willow still would have been hurt, but it wouldn't have been as bad, and it would have been a lot safer. What if Veruca hadn't come to you? A lot of people would have been in danger, because you didn't trust me to help."

Oz nodded and replied, "I know. . .but I thought that it was my problem, and I tried to come up with a solution. . .and that plan was all I could come up with. Even if I came to you, Buffy, what could you have done? Locked her up all of the time? Killed her? You would have had some serious choices to make, and I'm not sure any of them would have turned out better. If I had known she was planning to come after Willow. . .I would definitely have come to you first."

I nodded and replied, "All right, Oz, given my own record about inappropriate secret keeping, I'm ready to let bygones be bygones. . .but what about you? You've got a place now where you can lock yourself up during the full moon safe as safe can be. . .why don't you come home? We all miss you. . .and Willow's an absolute mess. . .I'm really worried about her."

Oz looked down, then replied, "I know. . .if she's feeling as badly as I am right now, I'd be surprised if she can walk in a straight line. But I can't, Buffy. . .I just can't."

"Damn it, Oz, why not?" I was angry and puzzled, and I needed to understand what he was thinking. "We had a close call, but you've taken more precautions, and you two obviously still love each other, so why not just try to make it work?"

He looked at me, and replied, "I thought that you would understand if anyone would, Buffy, considering how things went with you and Angel."

I got to my feet and paced for a moment, then turned to him and snapped, "Our situation was entirely different, Oz! The curse, the limitations put on us by his problems with sun, mirrors and other little things like that. . .you and Willow could have a normal relationship for all but three days a month. . .why throw that away?"

Oz looked up at me, then looked down again and responded, "On the surface, maybe. . .but, Buffy, remember how Willow and I watched over Angel while you went after Faith?" I nodded, and he continued, "He was delirious, Buffy. . .slipping in and out of consciousness. Most of the time he thought it was you watching over him, and he was talking about his decision to leave. . .Buffy, he was saying that he couldn't leave you. . .that it had been a mistake for him to think he could."

I blinked, feeling the usual pangs of guilt and horror that came over me whenever I allowed myself to think about that terrible night, then replied, "Oz. . .he was out of his head. . .he didn't mean what he said. I mean, he left the very next night."

Oz looked back at me, and his eyes met mine with unusual intensity as he shot back, "Yeah, Buffy. . .but a few things happened in between. . .like you coming back and offering to feed yourself to Angel to save his life. . .and Angel refusing."

My voice went cold as I shot back, "What are you saying, Oz?"

Oz didn't back down an inch, and continued, "Buffy, Angel told you that he would die rather than hurt you. . .and it wasn't the first time, either. That snowstorm out of nowhere was the only reason he survived the first time, and you beat the hell out of him to change his mind the second time. The only way that he could be sure that he wouldn't be able to hurt you any more was to leave you."

I gave him a glare as nasty as any I've ever used on a demon, and I whispered in my most menacing tone, "What are you. . .psychic? How can you possibly know that?"

Unperturbed by my death stare, he calmly replied, "I asked him."

I blinked and felt dizzy as I sank back into my chair, thinking about the recent events that sent me storming over to L.A. to have it out with Angel. He had lurked in the shadows, careful not to let me know he was nearby, and he had been very firm with Giles, Willow, and Xander that I should not know he was there. . .that it would only hurt me. I had always been preoccupied with the abundance of pain that caused us to have to be apart. . .I never really knew before just how terrified Angel was of hurting me. . .or killing me, even after the whole thing last Christmas. I looked back at Oz and could see compassion in his eyes as I responded, "Oz, it's still not the same thing. . .with Angel, the danger was constant. . .you're perfectly fine most of the time."

Oz looked and me and asked bitterly, "Am I? Maybe now. . .but what about a few months or years down the road? Do you think that Veruca was always like that? She had started to identify more with being the wolf. . .she was remembering what it was like. I'm not there now. . .but I could be there someday, and Willow won't be safe. She'll start covering for me, or I might get out of hand when we're fooling around. . .one bite, and she's in the same boat I'm in. Buffy, I'm in the same place with Willow that Angel is with you: I'd rather be dead than hurt her any more. . .and I'm not giving her the chance to take that choice away from me. Don't get me wrong: I'm glad you saved Angel, but you'd be dead right now if you weren't the Slayer, or if Angel hadn't recovered quickly enough. Willow doesn't have that edge. . .and I'm not giving her the chance to do something along the same lines. I'm not going to see her again until this problem is dealt with. . .no matter what."

I swallowed hard, and played my last card: "Oz, this is hurting her too. . .maybe worse than anything you're likely to do to her because of your condition. Maybe you should give her a chance to help you deal with it."

Oz shook his head and turned away, replying, "Buffy. . .that's what our whole relationship has been. . .her trying to help me deal with it. This whole thing with Veruca. . .it's been a defining moment. . .I had to face whether I could deal with this and still have Willow in my life. . .and I'm sure that I can't now." He smiled sadly and continued, "When I decided to forgive her after the thing with Xander, I told her that being without her was like being without my torso. . .I never thought it could get any worse." He closed his eyes, then concluded, "But I can deal with it. . .I just have to remember what's at stake-Willow's safety. I know she's hurting, Buffy, but she'll get over it. . .get over me. She's strong, maybe stronger than any of us, and I just have to hope it's enough."

He looked up at me, and I found that I didn't have anything else to say. We both stood up, and I gave him a firm hug, then turned to go. He called out, "Buffy."

I turned back, and he met my eyes with a pleading look as he whispered, "Don't tell her where I am."

I held his gaze for a long moment, then nodded and left him there. On the way up the elevator, I thought about what he had said, and realized that there was one thing I had to do before I left L.A.

I opened the outer office doors and saw Cordelia and Doyle quietly talking: they looked over at me, concerned. I nodded at them and went into Angel's office.

He was sitting there, quietly reading, and his expression made it clear that he was ambivalent about seeing me again this soon as he greeted me with, "Buffy."

I put the key on his desk and elaborated, "He's determined to stay. . .I promised him I wouldn't tell Willow where he is."

Angel nodded and prodded, "You could have mailed me the key, Buffy. . .was there something else you wanted to talk to me about?"

I nodded and sat in his client chair and looked at him for a long moment before whispering, "I'm sorry, Angel."

Dark eyes that had seen two and a half centuries looked into mine, and he replied, "You did what you had to do, Buffy. . .just as I have. You don't owe me any apologies. . .but I think that it would be a good idea if we didn't see each other again for a while."

I nodded, and left the room, pretending not to hear him say, "I love you, Buffy," after the doors had closed. Cordelia and Doyle remained respectfully silent as I left the office. I flagged down a cab, wanting to get back to my dad's place to pack and catch the eight o'clock train to Sunnydale.

It was time to go home.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired