SUMMARY: Willow runs into Oz while she's in England
SPOILERS: Through Buffy season 7, Lessons
ARCHIVE: More than likely okay, but please ask first
DISCLAIMER: I don't own any of these characters, though I really wish I did. Unfortunately, for me, they all belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and Fox.
NOTES: Huge thanks to hold_that_thought for pushing me to write anything, then for pushing me to write seriously, and then for pushing me to finish this. Thanks also to Shadowlass, who will one day make me remember how to use ellipses properly. Thanks to rustydog for cheering me on and making me think someone wanted to read this. And huge thanks to all the above for helping me find and fix mistakes. Love y'all.
Sometimes, I'm terrified of my heart
How its constant hunger for whatever that it is it wants
The way it stops...and starts
--Poe, "Terrified Heart"
The wind picked up speed and sky seemed to get darker, promising rain.
No big surprise there.
Willow closed her diary and stood up, brushed the dirt from her pants, and started walking towards the house slowly. She sighed and stared up at the sky. She'd only been in England for two weeks and already she felt like she'd experienced enough rainy days for a lifetime.
She loved sitting outside, where the trees didn't judge her, where she could write her innermost thoughts in her diary in peace. The worst thing about the rain was the way it kept her indoors, unable to escape the whispers, the stares, or the tension that seemed to surround her whenever she left her room.
She knew she had no right to complain. She should just appreciate the fact that she was still alive, and that Ms. Harkness took her in at all. And that Giles had some kind of faith in her.
She wrapped her coat around her tightly and shifted her gaze to the ground. When Giles had told her that he was taking her back to England with him, she had just assumed he was going to bring her before the Council of Watchers. After all, she was an unregistered witch, dabbling in the black arts, threatening to end the world, and the Council was like the supernatural police. Willow had fully expected to be locked up, or beaten, or even handed over to the wet works department to be taken care of for good. And none of those could possibly be punishment enough for the things she had done.
Instead, Giles had taken her to a coven, had given her another chance. And they were good to and for her. But she always saw the fear behind their eyes. The flicker of terror that would run across their faces if she expressed any emotion. She could feel their eyes on her when she left a room. Ms. Harkness had told her that it would pass, eventually, but even Ms. Harkness was careful not to do anything that might upset Willow in any way.
At least Giles was still here with her. He was the only person who didn't look at Willow like she'd explode at any minute, the only person who was treating her like she was still Willow.
"Too bad I don't feel like Willow anymore," she said with a sigh.
The sound of a door closing jarred her out of her thoughts. She looked up to see a man leaving the side door. Something about him seemed familiar, but he was turned away from her so she couldn't see his face. Curious, she stopped and stared at the figure as it walked towards the front of the house. All that was visible was the back of his coat and his head, but that was enough. She knew that head. The hair was a little longer than she remembered, and a lot bluer than she'd ever seen it, but there was no mistaking it. She quickened her pace, hoping to catch up to him.
She watched him round the corner and she began to run.
"OZ! Oz, wait!" she cried out. She reached the house and turned the corner and nearly collided with a familiar face.
"Tara," she choked, reaching out her hand as she stumbled over her feet and fell to the ground. She swallowed hard and looked up to find that Tara was gone and a terrified young girl was in her place. The girl backed away slowly, then turned and ran.
The rain began to fall, soaking Willow to the bone. But she was too lost in her own tears to care.
The setting sun spread its rays over the English countryside, increasing its intensity as if to maintain its hold over the land. Willow stepped outside. She put her hand up to shield her eyes, and saw the silhouette of a lone figure. She approached the figure slowly and cautiously.
"Willow. I've been waiting for you."
"Oz, what are you doing here?" Willow asked.
"I'm here for you. I heard about…I think I can help you. But not like this," he said, shaking his head.
"What do you mean? What's wrong?" Willow asked, bewildered.
"Just wait. You'll see," Oz said, glancing up at the sky.
"The sun is going down. It'll be night soon," Willow said, as she watched the sunset.
"Yes, it will," Oz replied.
The sun slowly dipped lower and lower, touching the horizon and sinking into the ground, the moon becoming more and more visible.
Oz turned to Willow and smiled. "It's almost time."
"Time for what?" Willow asked, beginning to feel a little nervous.
"For me to show you something."
Oz grabbed Willow's arm and pulled her closer to him.
Willow watched the sun disappear with a bit of sadness. She sighed heavily and looked at the moon, bright and—
"Full. The moon is full! Oz, the –"
His grip on her arm tightened, the claws began to dig into her skin.
She turned to face him. His nose elongated. Ears sharpened into points. Hair sprouted all over his body.
"Let me go," she cried.
"But I have to show you," the wolf growled. "I have to show you where you belong."
"NO!" Willow screamed. She kicked the wolf hard, clawing at the arm that held her until she was free.
She began to run, but with each step she took, her feet seemed to grow heavier. Dark clouds filled the sky, hiding the light of the moon. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
Willow stumbled blindly, trying only to escape the beast behind her. She cried out for help, only no sound would leave her body. Her feet felt so heavy she was straining with every step.
She lurched forward and began to fall. She screamed soundlessly as her weighted feet pulled her further and further down into a black abyss. Her arms flailed about, looking for something to hold, to stop her descent, but finding nothing but air.
A fog appeared all around her and she came to a sudden stop, her body paralyzed. There was someone in the fog, someone who was walking towards her.
Her body ached, she couldn't run, she couldn't scream.
She waited helplessly as the figure moved towards her, in front of her.
Her jaw dropped open as she tried to cry out, but all the air in her body seemed to leave her completely.
"Willow, what have you done?" Tara asked.
Willow couldn't speak. She started to cry. She wanted so badly to reach out and touch Tara, to feel her face, but she couldn't move. Willow looked at her arms and legs, and found them encased in heavy chains.
The image of Warren appeared behind Tara, as though on a movie screen. Willow watched as Warren's skin began to peel off in slow motion. She could hear the skin as it ripped from his body, saw the fear and pain in his eyes. She wished the screaming would end.
"You can't be Willow. I can't live with what you've done," Tara said as she began to move backwards, away from Willow.
Willow tried to deny it. She tried to call out Tara's name, but Tara didn't seem to hear her.
Willow watched as Tara disappeared into the fog. She could do nothing but watch as the image of Warren reset itself. She could only scream when the Warren turned into Tara. She could only watch helplessly as Tara's skin ripped from her body. As Tara's muscles were ripped off one by one. As Tara's eyes pleaded for some respite.
Tara's skeleton began to walk towards her, bones falling off, littering the ground. Tara's skull fell at Willow's feet.
Willow stared at Tara's eyes, still in the sockets. The skull grinned at her.
"You did this to me," it said. Tara said.
"You did this to all of us."
Willow saw that the ground was littered with the bones of her family and friends, all staring accusingly at her.
She felt like she couldn't breath. The world started to spin. Her head filled with the pounding of her own heart.
Willow woke up screaming.
"Willow, are you alright? Willow!" Giles called through the door.
Willow calmed herself down as best she could, the memory of her dream still blazing in her mind and churning in her stomach. She put on her robe and opened the door to her bedroom. Giles stood in front of her, his hand reaching for where the doorknob was. If his hair was any indication, he had just woken up.
"I heard you screaming. Are you okay?" Giles asked, a look of worry on his face.
"I'm no worse than I was before," Willow replied, unsure whether that was the truth or not. "I just had a bad dream."
"Would you like to join me for a cup of tea? I'm wide awake now and could use the company," Giles said with a small smile.
Willow nodded and followed Giles into the parlor. She sat on one end of the sofa, while Giles went into the kitchen to put the kettle on. She pulled her feet up on next to her, pulled her robe tighter around herself and curled into herself, trying to forget the images that were floating around her mind.
Giles returned from the kitchen and sat in an oversized armchair across from the sofa. They sat together in silence. Willow was so lost in her thoughts she didn't even notice.
Giles let out a small sigh. Willow looked up and gave him a small smile.
"I'm sorry Giles. I guess I'm not really good company these days," she said sadly.
"Don't be silly," Giles said with a reassuring grin. "I can't think of anyone else I'd rather be sharing tea with at four o'clock in the morning."
Willow's smile widened, then faded quickly. "I dreamt of Oz, and… and Tara," she said softly. "It was so vivid and scary and—" she trailed off. She looked at the ground for a moment and then looked at Giles. "Giles, I think I'm losing my mind."
Giles' brow furrowed, concern written all over his face. "Willow," he said with a shake of his head. "One bad dream is hardly reason to believe—" "No," Willow said, cutting him off. "It's more than just that. Yesterday I thought I saw them. Both of them. Oz and Tara. I've seen her before. When it first, when she first…" Willow stopped, closing her eyes, fighting back tears. She took a deep breath. "I used to see her everywhere, all the time."
"I know," Giles said tenderly. "I still see Jenny sometimes, late at night. That's just part of the grieving process. It doesn't mean you're going crazy, though I can understand how it could feel that way."
"That doesn't explain Oz though. I've never, I haven't even thought about him in so long. The only thing I can think is that I'm hallucinating. What other explanation is there?" Willow asked, slight fear in her voice.
Giles let out a heavy sigh, stood up and began to pace. "There is one other explanation." Giles paused, removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Oz is, uh, well he's actually here. And very good friends with Ms. Harkness," Giles continued, avoiding eye contact.
"Oh! Oh," Willow said, surprised. She sat up and frowned. "Does he, does he know? About what I… and that I'm here?" she asked, hesitantly.
"Yes," Giles said, still not looking at her. "I told him. Not in great detail, but enough for him to understand why you were here."
Willow's face fell. She sunk back into the seat. "That explains why he didn't stop when I called after him yesterday," she said glumly.
"Not entirely," Giles said, looking at her finally. "I told him why you were here for a reason. I wanted to ensure he understood why—"
"Why I'm dangerous," Willow interjected, sullenly.
"Why I didn't want him contacting you," Giles finished.
Willow stared at him with a hurt look on her face. She felt almost betrayed. Giles was the only person on her side, but he was keeping secrets from her. She thought he had faith in her but he sounded as skittish as the rest of them. She opened her mouth to speak, but her mind couldn't process the words and feelings she had spiraling inside.
Giles sat down beside her. "Willow, understand that I was only trying to help. I know from personal experience how delicate this situation is and how easily someone as close to you as Oz once was could hinder your progress. While I don't necessarily think Oz's presence would be harmful to you, it wasn't a chance I wanted to take."
The kettle started to whistle, but Giles waited for some response.
Willow swallowed hard, then looked at him. "What do you mean 'personal experience'?"
"Remember Eyghon?" Giles asked.
"You mean the demon you summoned that tried to kill you and all your friends?" Willow asked.
"I was young, I didn't know any better," Giles answered with a glare.
"So, you had to go through magic rehab too?" Willow said, amused.
Giles let out an appreciative chuckle. "How do you think I met Ms. Harkness?" he said with a grin.
Willow smiled as she watched Giles stand and leave for the kitchen. It felt good knowing she had someone she could depend on and relate to, and though she felt guilty about it, she had to admit that it also felt good knowing that Oz was somewhere close by.
"Willow," Giles walked into the room carrying tea and biscuits on a tray. "How did you happen to see Oz? He only comes to the house during your class hours." He set the tray down on the coffee table, poured himself a cup of Earl Grey, and sat down next to Willow, staring at her expectantly.
"Well, I kind of, sort of, don't always go to my lessons," Willow replied, looking down to avoid his disapproving look.
"Willow—" he began, a hint of consternation in his voice.
"I just think maybe being around magic isn't the best thing for me right now," she said in a small voice.
"Willow, it is imperative that you go to your lessons. The coven teaches, above all things, understanding, respect for, and control of magic. This magic you have – it isn't going to go away. Ever. It's not something you can just swear off, like a bad habit. It's a part of you now and it's powerful. If you cannot learn to control it…." Giles stopped, unwilling to consider what would happen to her if she couldn't gain control, reluctant to say any of it out loud.
"I'm sorry, Giles, I know. And I'm trying."
"I just, I just can't stand the way everyone looks at me, and talks about me. I see the other girls giggling and getting quiet when I get close to them. No one talks to me because they're all afraid if they say or do something wrong I'll go psycho on them." Willow began concentrating hard on pouring her tea. "And maybe they're right," she said, almost under her breath.
"Do you think they're right?" he asked softly.
"It's so hard, sometimes. Isn't there some spell you could do? Strip me of my power or bind me forever?" she pleaded.
"It's not that simple. Magic can't always be the answer. And even if such spells existed I wouldn't use them on you."
"Because I believe in your ability to learn how to control and respect the power you have, and to use it responsibly. I know it won't be easy, but I've never known you to cower in the face of anything challenging and I don't expect you to start now," Giles answered, meeting Willow's eyes with a gaze that conveyed pride and confidence.
"Why do you have so much faith in me, Giles? I don't deserve you," Willow croaked, wiping a tear from her cheek.
"I have faith in you because I know you. And you deserve better than I can give you, which is why I brought you here," Giles said as he pulled Willow into a protective embrace.
She looked so helpless and small, like a scared child. Quentin Travers was right about one thing. Giles had a father's love for those in his care. All of them – Buffy, Willow, even Xander. He held her for a moment, wishing he could do more for her, to make it easier on her.
"Now promise me you'll make more of an effort to attend your lessons," he said, releasing her.
Willow sniffled and nodded. "I promise."
Giles stood and stretched. "I'm suddenly feeling quite exhausted. Would you like something to help you sleep?"
"No, I think I'll be alright," Willow said as she stood up, wrapping her robe around her tightly. "Goodnight, Giles."
Giles watched Willow walk back towards her room, hoping he was right. His concern for her grew every day. Ms. Harkness didn't seem to think Willow was making much progress.
He sighed heavily. He knew Willow well enough to know that she was doing the best she could, but it didn't seem to be enough. He didn't know how to make it any better. He only knew that something had to change.