TITLE: Secrets Not Long Buried
EMAIL: seraphcelene@yahoo.com
SPOILERS: Bargaining and Tabula Rasa
ARCHIVING: Essential-Imperfect, Near Her Always, Buffy Fiction Archive. All others please ask.
SUMMARY: It's only a matter of time.
FEEDBACK: Is like air and highly addictive. In other words, yes please!
DISCLAIMER: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all related characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Warner Company, UPN, et al. I'm just taking them out for a little exercise. Epigraph is from Gregory's Maguire's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.
THANKS: to Moonwhip - as always for her encouragement and patience.

". . . brightness, as you know, decays
- Nanny, Wicked

Secrets Not Long Buried

She doesn't feel his fingers, slick with almond oil. He traces the length of her spine, kneading muscles in firm strokes; but she never feels the skating touch of his palms or the gentle press of his fingers.

Sighing lightly, stretching dead skin beneath those insistent, callused hands Willow remembers the broken words Tara shouted and the angry sound of the slamming door.

She is healing slowly. No magic.

Just. Because. She. Can.

Despite the power itching and seeking beneath her skin, Willow insists that time will be enough.

"Time," she told Oz breathlessly. "Heals all wounds." He stroked the hair away from her sweaty face and rubbed her neck until her breathing slowed and she fell back to sleep.

Time, Willow has decided, is all she needs.

Oz tried to talk to her about the nightmares. She woke, nearly every night for the first few weeks, covered in sweat and screaming Xander's name. He asked her what she saw in her dreams.

Willow still insists that she doesn't remember.

Herbs burning and the sound of Osiris laughing in Giles' voice. "Little girl. Playing at witchcraft. Making promises you can't keep. Arrogant fool. Stupid child."

There are some things that Oz is better off not knowing.

The empty house and the fire and the thing that wasn't really Buffy tied to the bed. Persuading the Fire Marshall that it was an accident hadn't been difficult.

The truth, if it were worth knowing, was that Buffy hadn't come back right.

There were questions (everyone wanted answers). The vessel was broken before the spell was complete. The blood wasn't pure enough. The sacrifice wasn't humble enough. Their faith wasn't strong enough.

But the truth was that Willow had failed and somehow that was the worse truth of all.

Tara said: "Too much magic." So Willow didn't kill it like she could have. It would have been simple enough.

The figure on the bed, despite the sneer and dead eyes, looked too much like Buffy so the pillow wouldn't do either. In the end Willow struck a match and watched the bed burn.

What she told Oz was that she remembers the flame and something Buffy once said in that lilting young girl voice of hers. "Fire bad. Tree pretty."

"But she was wrong. Fire is beautiful."

Willow believes in the strong, cleansing, hungry heat of fire.

"I didn't realize Buffy was inside." Her eyes always slide away from his at this point in the story. Oz has a way of looking at her and knowing.

Oz's hands reach up to caress her shoulders and that is something Willow can feel, the coolness of his skin against her own. She sighs.

"You like that?" Oz asks. Willow can hear the smile in his voice.

"Yea," she replies, stretching again. Seeking. Searching. She misses the crawling under your skin shimmer of power. But now is not the time.

"You're so quiet. Far away," he pauses. "What are you thinking about?"

"Nothing," Willow says as she remembers Dawn streaking past her into the burning house before she could stop her and Spike going, too. It was unfortunate but, like Oz, he had a way of knowing things.

She remembers Xander following closely behind them, and the sudden awareness that his eyes shined with too much knowledge. The first explosion blew him back onto the sidewalk before he could reach the front steps. Willow threw her body over his to protect him from the second explosion.

The doctor's said Xander hit his head when he fell. Xander says he doesn't remember what happened, only fire. Glowing and beautiful.

Willow keeps a crystal, blackened, in a jar at the back of the closet.

Giles returned for the funeral but didn't stay long enough to say hello to Willow. She saw him speaking, earnestly, with Tara. He looked at her sharply (Willow felt) before hugging Tara and leaving with the woman at his side. Willow remembers meeting Olivia only once.

The memory of Tara, her face wreathed with grief and anger, is a dream that Willow cannot shake. She vaguely recalls a visit to the hospital. There was more damage to her back than anticipated and they had drugged her.

Willow remembers Tara standing over her, blue eyes brittle. She remembers reaching -- and then Oz's fingers twining with hers.

"All done," Oz announces, capping the bottle of oil.

"Thanks," Willow says lightly, although she does not smile.

"You okay?"

"Fine. Just relaxed. Sleepy." Willow allows her lids to droop, her lashes hiding the lie in her eyes.

"Okay," Oz says. Willow can feel the hesitance in his body. "Anya called today. She said she's having a dinner party. We're invited, but she wanted to know if it would be too weird if she asked Tara to come."

Tara. Willow remembers Tara's cold, hard fire-lit eyes. She hasn't spoken to her since the funeral. Tara had leaned down to the wheel chair and whispered in her ear: "I know."

It's been months now and Willow no longer needs the wheel chair.

Willow keeps her eyes closed when she replies. "You know, I don't think I'm up to a dinner party yet. Maybe next month."

Willow lays still and pretends to sleep. The next time she sees Tara she wants to be healed. Without magic. Just because she can. She also wants to be strong.

Willow doesn't feel Tara anymore; she can't smell her presence on the air. Oz says he doesn't remember what Tara smells like, only that she once smelled of Willow.

Willow isn't worried. They will meet again.

It's only a matter of time.