Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (tv)
Characters: Tara/Oz
Summary/Teaser: Music and the Southwest
Warnings: mature themes
Spoilers: "Dead Things" (BtVS 6.13)
Notes: Inspired by lyrajane's hometown challenge. Written for voleuse for the Tara ficathon. (The request: Tara/Oz, Music, Willow's not the only thing they have in common.)
Word Count: 1455

Standard Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and co. own the characters, I'm just playing with them. I do, however, own this story, so don’t steal it. Archive it anywhere; just ask first.

Feedback is always appreciated. Make me blush with praise or rip apart the story with criticism, or both.

Notes: I didn't participate in lyrajane’s hometown challenge, but considering signing up got me thinking about “Where have I been that I feel capable of writing about?” and I got thinking about the trip to the Southwest my family took a few years ago.

Thanks to BuffyWorld.com for episode transcripts and to my family for the 2000 trip to the Southwest which enabled this story. Thanks particularly to my father for filling in the gaps in my memory and generally being helpful with information and research (plus, the whole Southwest trip was his idea). As previously mentioned, thanks to and the hometown fic challenge. And of course, thanks to the Internet for a variety of research capabilities including Greyhound.com and the official Petrified Forest National Park site.


The Beauty in the Stones
by Elizabeth Scripturient

Tara couldn't handle it anymore. She thought she could do it, could stay in town, stay close to Dawn, remain civil to Willow, but she couldn’t. Seeing Willow falling apart inside and trying not to show it, watching her act like she was a drug addict. And now Buffy was falling apart because she was in some sort of fucked-up relationship with Spike. She just couldn’t do it. She couldn't keep being the strong one.

It was early enough in the semester that she could apply for a leave of absence. UC Sunnydale was pretty lax that way. It wasn't exactly like kids were clamoring to go to school there, so as long as you wrote them a check they were happy to have you.

Okay, so there was Xander and Anya's wedding, but she didn't expect either of them would miss her that much. Even after two years she still didn’t really feel like any of them were her friends. And she knew it would be awkward being at a wedding of all things with Willow. So really, it was better for all involved if she just didn’t go. Maybe she'd send them a nice gift from the desert. So many people made beautiful pottery out there; she could buy some mugs for them.

Her mother loved the Southwest. They used to go there every summer, just the two of them, for a week. They never went to the big tourist attractions like the Grand Canyon. It was always the smaller places. Well, smaller in terms of tourist attendance anyway. Things like Bryce Canyon weren't exactly any smaller than the Grand Canyon, and she was willing to bet that they were in fact rather more impressive.

One year they had gone all the way to Colorado, to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Her mother said that was her favorite of all the places they'd been. Standing on the edge gazing down at that sheer black. Tara couldn't do it. Gave her vertigo. She needed to be grounded. That was why she was going now. She wanted, needed, to be grounded again.

She'd always loved the red rocks, just sitting, baking on them. Feeling the heat radiate off of them. Sitting still so long you see all the little animals start to come out.

Yes, that settled it. She would stop in to see the dean first thing tomorrow morning.

***

Tara began with a bus to Los Angeles, since that was about the only place that Sunnydale Bus Company would take you. Her ultimate destination was the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest. She wanted to deposit herself in the heart of all the rocks and beauty. The closest she could manage was Holbrook.

She thought about trying to hitch a ride on a tour bus to take her the rest of the way from there, but then she decided that after 14 hours on a bus (with a few brief layovers) all she really wanted to do was walk.

She got off the bus at Holbrook. The air was so much hotter and drier than she was used to in Sunnydale. And it looked just like a regular city. She felt rather let down. She knew it was silly to expect this place to be different, to be better, just because it was 14 hours and a couple states away from where she had started.

It was too hot to want to walk very far. She was gonna have to get a cab or something anyway. If she walked all the way to the Petrified Forest, wheeling her suitcase, she'd be near dead by the time she got there.

She hadn't packed much besides clothes. Figured she didn't really need much else. She had money in the bank and every place took plastic nowadays. She'd find herself a job at some point if decided to stay long, but for now she should be able to just wander. Which is what she wanted. Much as she needed to be grounded, there was a difference between that and being tied down, and the latter was part of what she was trying to get away from.

She'd find somewhere to eat, then check into a motel so she could leave her stuff, spend the afternoon in town, then after a good night's sleep in a real bed she'd head out.

She had walked for a while when she heard someone playing guitar. He was sitting under a tree in a park. It was an old Bob Dylan song she recognized. She shrugged off her backpack and pulled out her flute. She joined in when he got to the refrain. When the song was over, he looked up. It was Oz. She froze.

"It's okay. I won't hurt you. I promise," he said.

"I -- . Willow -- . We aren't together anymore. She started abusing magic, and I left, and now you're mad aren't you?"

"I know what it means to have to leave. I don't blame you."

"She's doing better now. She -- "

"It's okay, Tara. You don't have to explain."

Tara breathed. "I'm going to the Petrified Forest. Just wanted to get something to eat before settling in to my motel for the night. I'd better be going now."

"Okay. I enjoyed playing with you."

"Thanks. You too." And she headed back the way she had come.

***

It turned out there was a tour bus leaving in the morning for the Petrified Forest, and it had some spots open. She was glad to not have to spend any money on a taxi.

She spent much of the day there just absorbing the atmosphere and thinking.

The sun began to set and she headed back to the park entrance where she learned to her dismay that Petrified Forest didn't have camping facilities, so she would have to find either a tour bus or a taxi to take her to a motel for the night. As she looked around the parking lot, she saw a familiar-looking man. "Oz."

"I thought I might find you here."

She was silent.

"Have you ever been to Chiricahua?" She shook her head. "It's much farther south in Arizona. Beautiful place. You can camp there, beneath all these beautiful trees. And the other campers aren't that far away from you, but you don't see them much, so it’s almost like it's just you and nature."

"It sounds lovely. I don't have a tent, though. Silly, isn't it? I run away to the Southwest to commune with the rocks and I don't think to bring a tent. I'd better invest in one soon before I blow all my money on motel rooms."

"I have a tent in my van. It's big enough to hold two people. And I've got bedding materials so we could sleep in the van and then go down to Chiricahua together in the morning."

"I think I'd like that."

***

Tara and Oz were lying next to each other in their sleeping bags, looking up at the patterns the trees made on the top of tent with the sun coming in.

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold," Oz said.

Tara looked at him confused.

"Hunter Thompson. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Opening line."

She nodded. "Barstow. I transferred there, on my way to Holbrook."

"I spent a lot of time there when I left the second time. Didn't really know where to go, what I wanted to do. A lot of drifters, well they drift there. It's an interesting place.

It can be a very dangerous place. I turned a lot of tricks there. The drifters rarely want anything but drugs and sex. Money flows like water through that place. I don't touch drugs. Never did, especially won't now with the whole wolf thing. I can't risk letting myself lose control."

She reached over and touched his shoulder. "You worked as a prostitute? Did anyone ever hurt you?"

"No. You learn fast who gets violent when he's tripping, and you stay the hell away from those people. I did what I had to so I had enough money to eat. Eventually I couldn't do it anymore. It started making me sick. I decided I'd head out to the real desert."

"And that's where I found you."

"Well Holbrook's hardly the 'real' desert; I'd been in Holbrook for a while before you met me, and been all over the Southwest before that."

"Seen it all?"

"Oh, I haven't been out here quite that long."

"But you'd been to the Petrified Forest before, right?"

"Yeah."

"So why were you there when I was?"

"I had forgotten what it was like to want someone, to love someone."


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