Feral (Chapter Fifty-Eight)

It was strange and even sort of eerie for Buffy – going through Willow's stuff and packing her bags. There were clothes Liam had worn lying on the bed. Good thing Willow hadn't come in here, because it even freaked Buffy out a little.

Liam had saved Oz. He had.

Willow wasn't the only one having seriously mixed feelings right now.

She went through the closet and drawers, remembering to choose Willow's favorite clothes and not the stuff Buffy wished she'd wear. With a pang, she left the leather mini on its hanger and grabbed the grotesquely fuzzy and shapeless sweater hanging next to it, along with the floral patterned skirt she hated but that Willow wore too often to assume she'd be okay with it somehow meeting a violent end.

More fluffy sweaters, baggy shirts, and baggier pants and skirts followed and then, after a stop at Willow's underwear drawer, the packing was done. Well, almost. She added Willow's makeup bag and then headed into the bathroom to grab her shampoo and toothbrush and stuff. There.

Uh oh. She'd better grab Willow's laptop. Turning to the desk she saw it… and Liam's. Would Willow want that one too? What if she didn't?

Well, she decided, picking up both and shoving them into another bag, she'd tell Willow what she'd done and she could make the decision to just toss the thing in a landfill or whatever you did with old computers if she wanted. But maybe something on this thing could give her closure or at least explain why Liam had turned so evil and that was a good enough reason to give it to her as far as Buffy was concerned.

And yes, she did hope that Willow would share at least a piece of that explanation if she found it.

Taking a box of photos and mementos from Willow's dresser and adding it to the extremely-well-packed-if-she-did-say-so-h

erself suitcase, Buffy hoisted it and the backpack of electronics and papers and – turning off the light – left Willow's room and headed back out to the van.

Willow sat uncomfortably in the parked van, waiting for Buffy to come back with her clothes and stuff. It was suddenly so very real – she was leaving Sunnydale. She was leaving home. "I really appreciate you guys doing this."

"No problem." Oz smiled kindly at her.

"I just couldn't face…"

"I get it." The smile remained, and so did the wisdom in his eyes.

"I guess you're gonna skip the whole 'rock star touring' scenario, huh? Go to UC Sunnydale?" she asked –out of nowhere, even by her own wacky conversational standards.

"Yeah. Pretty much decided to go with the whole academic thing." He looked down shyly as he spoke and Willow knew it was way more of a Buffy thing than a school thing keeping him tethered to this town.

"I think you made the right choice. Bet Buffy thinks so too." She smiled at him, letting him know that she really was on board the Buffy and Oz train. Oz had never seemed so content… not even during their best times together.

Then he turned the 'insight guy' thing back on and fixed her with a long look. "You made the right choice too. Leaving." He paused. "I'll miss you, though."

Her eyes filled with tears; they'd been doing that a lot lately. "I'll miss you too."


Was he really so unsure? "Of course we are."

He smiled and she did too. Then the van door slid open. "Hey!" Buffy was hearty and cheerful as she hoisted her cargo into the van and Willow's whole life was now reduced to a suitcase and a backpack. Gosh she hoped Buffy had packed the right stuff.

"Thanks," Willow said with a smile and Buffy could just tell that she was resisting the urge to open the suitcase to see what was in it.

"I packed only clothes I've seen you wear in the last three months," Buffy assured her, noting with glee that she'd been so right – that was totally a sigh of relief from Willow just now. Sliding the side door closed, she noticed that Oz had leaned over to open the passenger door for her. A gentleman. She liked.

So she got into the van. "Where to? Giles's place?"

Angel hung up the phone, chuckling to himself for now considering people who insisted on phone calls instead of email to be hopelessly old-fashioned. How quickly he'd become a computer snob, thanks to…. Well, mostly Willow, but… Yes, it had been Liam's interest which had first sparked his own.

How had Liam become so different? What in that other world had managed to change his twin into the crazed demon who had tried to drain him? It would be easy to blame his captivity but… Angel had been to Hell - for centuries – and anyway, Liam seemed to have been different even before that. The friendship with Ted, never having been in love with Buffy, his warmer relationship with Darla… so many ways in which his counterpart was unlike him.

Questions – he had so many, and now there was no hope of ever getting answers. Add to that his guilt over having failed to subdue Liam himself, thus forcing Willow to have to kill him and he wondered if perhaps this was Liam's ultimate revenge. How could Willow ever love him now? Now that he'd forced her to make such a terrible, brutal choice. Maybe she didn't hate him now, but with time to reflect…

No, he couldn't see how that could happen. Not because Willow loved him, because she didn't yet, but because she'd made the choice in the first place. His was the life she thought worth saving.

Oddly – or perhaps not oddly at all for a demon – that made him understand why Liam would fight so hard to have her all to himself. Because she wasn't Buffy. There was no calling inside her working its will to make her serve it. There was only Willow – one soul and no purpose save the one she created for herself.

It made them perfect for each other and he hoped someday she'd see it the same way. In the meantime… in the meantime he'd be the best friend he could be, try not to push or pressure her, and focus on making their way in Los Angeles – the so unsuitably named city full of everything but angels, the city that needed them.

Heading to his closet, he began packing his own things. There was more than he'd thought… hmmm… now that there was not going to be any Buffy around to raise objections, maybe he'd wear those leather pants again.

Willow could still feel Giles's arms around her as she got back into the van… for what might be the last ride she ever took in it. Maybe this had been the last time she'd see Giles too. Sure, she'd told everyone she would come back for visits, and she'd meant it, but… No, she wasn't sure now at all. The future was a road made of fog and all she knew was that it was there.

Not that she was going to say any of this to Buffy or Oz. She wasn't sure what she was feeling meant anything anyway; there was too much going on in her head and her heart to be certain of anything.

Well, there was one thing – she knew she was a murderer. That was a fact. And yeah, okay, maybe it looked like she was running away from it, but she wasn't; she couldn't.

Giles's words echoed in her head like mockery, 'You're still the finest of us all.' How could he say something like that? He couldn't possibly have meant it. "Thanks, guys," she said, trying to act as if she wasn't torn up inside. She missed Giles already, missed them all already… and yet somehow she was ever more sure that she couldn't leave Sunnydale soon enough. Numbness settled over her and she stared off into space, not seeing anything. At least it was better than seeing Liam turn to dust.

With a glance at Oz, Buffy climbed into the back of the van just before he pulled away from the curb. She pulled Willow into a hug. "He loves you, Will. Just like we all do." Her arms stayed around Willow, but her best friend said nothing. She didn't cry and she didn't speak.

If only Buffy knew what was going through her head. This was… weird. Because Willow always talked about her feelings. Right now Buffy wanted to kick herself for complaining about Willow's babbling in the past, because boy did she wish she could hear it again. Anything was better than this silence, this clueless void where she had no idea how to help someone she loved so much. "We do," she repeated, but it didn't seem to get through.

"I know," Willow finally said, and Buffy pulled back to see her face, almost convinced by the soft smile. Guess she could understand if it wasn't all the way there. She remembered how she'd felt when she'd run Angel through with the sword and sent him to Hell.

She had the briefest thought – what if Liam came back too? – but it faded quickly. This was different, after all. Liam had been supposed to die back in his own world. Now there were more thoughts – she was having thinky thoughts.

One minus one equals one.

Faith's words echoed in her head. Was that why Liam had somehow been brought here? Had he been here to right the chaos in the Slayer line which had happened when she'd died and then wasn't dead anymore?

Maybe, huh. She didn't say anything to Willow, though. Willow had lost her virginity to Liam. Had she loved him? Buffy hadn't asked, but it seemed pretty likely. The last thing Willow needed to hear was something which implied that everything she'd gone through might have been all about Buffy – or Slayer stuff anyway.

They were pulling up to Angel's mansion and Buffy suddenly felt all the breath leave her body. Oh God. Willow was leaving. She was really and truly leaving. Grabbing her friend again, she held her tighter than she ever had. "I love you," she said through a sudden onslaught of tears.

Willow could hardly breathe, but she didn't complain. She was going to miss Buffy very much. "I love you too," she choked out. This was it. This was goodbye. Buffy's hold finally loosened and she could take in enough air to add, "I'll call you guys the minute I have a phone, okay?"

"Take care. Remember what I said." Oz's words were delivered with a half-smile, but the last were deadly serious and Willow was touched. She wondered if he realized that he knew her better now than he had when he was her boyfriend.

She smiled back and said, "Thanks. You take care too." Turning to Buffy, she added, "Both of you."

Another crushing hug from Buffy and then Willow gathered her belongings and got out the van, walking slowly toward the mansion. "Call me!" Buffy cried out and Willow turned back, but only for a second. Then she finished the walk to the house… and away from what had been her whole life. She was going to have to make a new one.

Angel sensed Willow's approach before she entered what wasn't going to be his house for much longer and he waited, wondering in what frame of mind she'd be.

The moment he saw her, the blotchy skin and scent of recent tears told him that her goodbyes had been as emotional as he'd expected. He noticed the bags she set down. "You went back to the house?"

She shook her head. "Buffy packed for me. I couldn't…" He'd thought she was done when she surprised him. "Liam's laptop is in there," she said, nodding toward the backpack.

Oh. How to feel about that. What was lurking on the hard drive? He'd thought of so many questions earlier but now that there was some concrete possibility… no, he wasn't certain at all that he wanted them answered. Still, having the laptop at least gave them the option... they could talk about it later. He turned the conversation back to the girl standing before him. "Are you okay?"

"This is really happening. I'm really leaving."

"We are," he affirmed. Without thinking he interjected a practical detail. "The rental company should have the car here any minute."

It seemed to be the right thing to say. Her posture straightened and a certain determination crept into her mien. That determination was one of the things he loved about her. "Good." She chewed her bottom lip and it was clear she was keeping her emotions in check. Unlike the humans around her, Angel knew that not everything needed to be let out immediately. Repression was just fine for the time being. She could talk later – when she was ready, when they weren't here. "It's time."

And so it was, Angel realized, as he heard the footsteps which heralded the approach of the rental car company employee… or employees, he should say. Well, it was a logical sort of idea – sending a pair of employees to back each other up – and if Sunnydale's problem was human, it would have been a good one. Of course, to vampires and other demons, it just meant a heartier meal. Lucky for them that Angel wasn't the usual vampire.

Willow heard a very tentative knock and heard some whispering voices. She caught the words 'dude' and 'creepy' and she almost laughed. It was the oddest feeling in amongst all the pain and guilt roiling around inside her, but she couldn't say she didn't like it. Angel nodded at her, so she went and opened the door. The two guys standing there seemed to relax when they saw her. Good thing they didn't know she was a killer, huh? "You guys brought the car?"

"Yeah." The taller of the two spoke. Blond, acne… Willow vaguely remembered him as a senior when she had been attending some advanced classes on the high school campus back when she was still in middle school. He hadn't changed much. "A 4Runner, just like you asked for."

They'd asked for a 4Runner? Okay. Guess Angel had, but did they need anything… it was then that she turned back and finally saw Angel's luggage. He was bringing a lot more stuff than she was. Guess the big car was a good idea after all. "Thanks, guys."

Angel came up behind her, the waning sunlight barely a danger, and Willow zoned out of the manly discussion about mileage and return policies. She only reentered the here and now when Angel reached in front of her to take the keys and the two rental guys headed back the way they'd come. "Guess they came in two cars," she offered. "Which makes sense since otherwise, how would they get back to the agency and… I'm sort of babbling. Sorry."

He pulled her against him and kissed the top of her head. "It's okay. I like your babble." For a brief – achingly brief – moment, she almost felt like her old self, but it was lie and she knew it. Maybe the new Willow would babble, but that wouldn't mean she was the same girl she'd been before she turned killer. "It's almost sundown."

"It is," she agreed. "Guess it's time to leave." Oh god. No more Espresso Pump. No more Bronze. No more… "Is L.A. nice?" she asked, her voice more plaintive than she liked, but it was too late to fix that.

"It's a great place to get lost," Angel replied. It was exactly what Willow needed to hear. She leaned back into his embrace as they waited for daylight to hurry up and leave already – just like they were going to do.

"I miss her already," Buffy almost sobbed as she sat with Oz in the back of his van, grateful to have his arms around her.

"I know." He held her close and didn't try to say anything to comfort her; she appreciated that. Not like anything anybody could say would help and Oz got it.

He smelled good, she noticed. Some kind of spicy body wash and something else that was just him. She liked it. It was… comforting. And human. There was something to be said for a boyfriend who didn't trip her Slayer senses in a bad way – well except for a couple of days a month. She could live with that.

Thanks to Liam, she'd have the chance to.

Should she tell Oz what she thought? About Liam and why he'd been brought here? Probably. But it could wait. Right now she just needed to cry and think about Willow and then cry some more. She needed help. "Oz? Can we go to the store?" She stared up into his questioning face… which looked just like every other one of his faces unless you knew him as well as she did. "I'm out of Ben and Jerry's." He smiled and let go of her, climbing back into the driver's seat without a word of complaint.

Willow wouldn't mind, she decided, if Buffy took a moment to be really, really grateful – and even happy. Oz was pretty much the perfect guy, at least for her. Someday… someday Willow would have this too, maybe even with Angel. That was a cheering thought and Buffy allowed it to make the impending tears not impend anymore, at least for a little while. She climbed into the passenger seat; she still wanted ice cream.

Angel had driven cautiously, never going over the speed limit – much to the seeming annoyance of a number of his fellow drivers – and so the trip hadn't been as short as the online guide had suggested, but now… here they were. He stared at all the tall buildings. It hadn't been that many years since he'd lived in the even larger and far more imposing city of New York and yet, inexplicably, he'd grown unaccustomed to the towering structures and gleaming lights. He realized, much to his shock, that he'd missed them – well, not the graffiti or the smog whose haze reminded him uncomfortably of the fire-lit world from which he'd emerged, but yes, he'd missed the modernity of it all. Without knowing it, he'd been evolving into a twentieth century vampire even before he'd taken up computers.

He looked over at the seat next to him, which was reclined far back, allowing Willow some much-needed and blessedly dreamless sleep. Honestly, he didn't want to wake her up, but here they were, at the hotel where they'd be staying until the apartment was ready, so he had no choice.

A hand gently nudging her shoulder woke Willow from a sleep so sound that it took her a few seconds to realize where she was. "Waah," she said incoherently as she struggled to sit, before realizing that she needed to adjust her seat. "We're here?" she asked as she stared out the window. You know, she'd never thought of herself as some yokel, but just this little glimpse of Los Angeles…

But this was her home now, wasn't it? She stared past Angel and at the imposing and kind of gaudy door of the hotel. What was it he'd said back at the mansion? Oh yeah. She took a deep breath before she turned to him and smiled. "Let's get lost."

The End