Ragged Oasis
by LindaMarie

When things got bad with her and Willow, Tara got out of town.

She told herself she wasn't escaping. She told herself she was moving on. But deep down she knew things back in Sunnydale were spiralling out of control, and she didn't want to be caught in the undertow.

So she drove. And drove. Going north made her worry she'd accidentally hit Utah (as if her family were the only people there) so she scurried through the lower states, passing desert upon desert, alone with her thoughts. The radio was broken.

Her Volkswagon chugged gas, and she had to stop for a few weeks to replenish her funds. She read Tarot cards outside the Alamo, Miss Kitty curled loyally in her lap, a fraying blanket the only thing between her and the scorched earth. At nights she cast wards around the car so she could keep the windows down without worry. She would fall asleep exhausted, Thespia's statuette clasped tightly between her fingers.

When she reached $500, she tidied up the old bus and went back on the road. She wondered when she'd feel safe enough to stop running.

Weeks later, Tara pulled into a little town surrounded by endless sand, and decided she couldn't spend another night without a bed. The full moon in the sky made the dunes sparkle like diamonds.

She checked into a motel, paid cash and smuggled Miss Kitty inside her room. It was one of those dismal little places with no cable television, where the water tasted like pennies and the walls were paper-thin. She took off all her clothes and turned out the lights, falling into the hard bed like it was Paradise.

Something woke Tara up. Her watch now read 12:37, and the moon shone right through her window, bathing the room in light. The cat let out a plaintive little mewl and leaped from the bed to sniff at the opposite wall.

On the other side, chains clanked, accompanied by a savage growl. Tara shivered, wanting to call the kitten back to her, but unable to find her voice. Everything from Sunnydale came back to her. She wasn't a demon, but there were real demons out there, and she'd left behind all the people who knew how to keep her safe.

She buried her head under the covers, and somehow, despite the clattering sounds, the animal whines and moans and roars, she drifted back to sleep.

In the morning her room was hot, but at least it looked slightly more clean. Tara looked down at her body while she showered, realizing she hadn't been eating enough. Her long bones looked ridiculously fragile under their thin covering of skin and muscle. The bathroom mirror revealed hollows under her eyes that hadn't been there before.

When she'd left, she'd meant to start again, not fade away.

She gathered up her sagging duffel bag and Miss Kitty's sandbox, and tucked MK herself in her arms, covering her with a few items of clothing. Tara tucked it all in the car, rolled down the windows for the cat, and went inside to drop off the key.

Leaning against the counter, looking thoroughly drained, was Willow's ex-boyfriend.

Tara gasped, and before she could think--"Oz?"

He turned quickly. He was fast on his feet. His knuckles were bruised, and he had three days' worth of razor stubble. Oz looked at her, his eyes widening, and then slowly let out a breath. "Oh. It's...you."

"Willow's not with me," she said without thinking. "We're not...I...Was that you I heard last night?"

He was just--staring. "Full moon."


And then the desk clerk appeared from a back room, and Oz handed him a key. He did not step away when Tara turned in hers, so that her side brushed with his. She shivered, and automatically turned to go.

When she was just outside the door, a cool hand grabbed her wrist. His eyes were a little desperate, a little crazed, when she looked into them. He was dragging a very large, very heavy bag behind him. "Look--" he began, and then stopped, letting go of her, before starting again. "Look, I never got to apologize. It wasn't about you. It was...Willow."

Tara couldn't look away from him. "Willow's why I'm here. She's...different than she used to be."

"That's what she said about me."

"Me too, before I left." She sighed. "I guess that's something we've got in common, then, huh?"

He gave this little smile, just the very corners of his mouth turning up. He was cute, now that he wasn't staring daggers at her or attacking her. She could see what had drawn Willow to him. He was...magnetic. "Tara, right?"

"Right." She smiled back at him.

"Not to be rude or anything, but you don't look so hot. How long have you been running?"

Tara had to think about it. "Six months, give or take. You?"

Oz shook his head. "A lot longer. But I had...people. Most of the time. It's different."

"I've got a cat."

Another smile, this one bigger. "Ah. Now I see wherein the problem lies."

Tara led him out to the bus, where Kitty waited patiently on the driver's seat. She purred when Oz stroked her cheek.

"Listen," he said, "I had my--people--drop me off here. I can't run with them any more. I was gonna hitch."

She stared at him blankly. "You need a ride."

"No! Well, yes. But I've got some money, and I know some places we could stay. For free. I know this game. I could--I could help you."

What she was really wondering was why he'd want to be around her in the first place. "What about..."

"Wolfiness? I'm back to full-moon-only time. I can--I know the drill."

"No. I meant Willow."

He smiled again, but he looked very, very tired. Like she'd looked in the mirror hours before. "She chose you. If you didn't choose her, then...it's just you. And me."

Tara opened the back door of her car and tried to lift his bag, before giving up and letting him do it instead. "That sounds just fine to me," she said.


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