Sara had been tutoring the young American Witch for more than a month now, and it only took her a few days to understand that the task would be difficult. Her job was to help Willow to regain self-confidence, and to help her controlling her powers and of course to use her magic skills advisedly. The main problem was that Willow wouldn't hear of it. She even refused to talk about spells, potions or anything connected with magic. Even the word itself seemed to scare her. She was okay to study all that Sara wanted, theoretically speaking. Ancient languages, botany, history... and she was quite obviously an quick learner. But she stubbornly refused to talk about what had happened. Or to do any spells, even the most innocuous ones.
Sara was very concerned, and she could feel the young Witch was prey to her own inner demons. Willow was fighting herself. She didn't speak much - she didn't speak at all, indeed, except for the everyday words. But Sara knew. And she could see, day after day, the dark rings under Willow's eyes grow deeper.
That's why she finally decided to talk to the redhead. Straight to the point.
"Willow, tell me honestly, have you slept a wink since your arrival?" Sara asked the girl one morning.
Willow looked at Sara like she was totally crazy. "Of course," she replied. "I've been here for weeks, so I've been sleeping. Inevitably."
"Yes, and for more than one hour a night?" Sara sharply said. She didn't want to give up, not now.
Willow gave her a surprised look. She didn't know exactly why but she felt a little guilty. And she liked Sara, she really did. The thirty-year-old Witch had been a real support these past weeks. She knew she owed her tutor an explanation.
"I don't know... well... maybe I don't sleep a lot, I've been having these... dreams... well, more nightmares than dreams actually... But, see, having nightmares, that means that I can sleep, I do sleep, because you can only have nightmares if you're not awake, well, I mean usually, cos in Sunnydale that could happen, but here..."
Willow held her tongue. That was the first time she has mentioned the name of her hometown in front of Sara.
The older Witch couldn't help but smile.
"Willow, do you realize that sentence is the longer you've said since you've been here?"
The readhead glanced at Sara. If only she knew. If she had met the old Willow, the babbling Willow... but that girl was dead now. Willow wasn't sure of much at the moment, but she was sure of that.
"I can promise to make longer sentences, if it will make you happy," Willow curtly said.
"Willow... I wish you understood that I'm not your enemy. I'm a little disappointed, I thought you knew that..."
Willow looked down, ashamed. She didn't want to hurt Sara, who was actually the only person, except Miss Harkness and Giles, of course, that was kind to her at the Coven.
"I know. I'm... I'm sorry. It's just that... I find difficult to... talk. To talk about... it."
"I can see that; And I can understand. But I can also see that you're far beyond exhaustion, and we have to do something. You need to sleep, Willow. You can't envisage going on, I mean going on living, if you don't sleep. I'm going to talk to Miss Harkness, and I think we can help you with that problem."
"You mean, with a spell?" asked a worried Willow.
"No, not a spell," Sara smiled. "To tell you the truth, I was thinking more about a potion, made with the suitable herbs. You've been studying Botany since you got here, so you know that some plants can have very powerful effects."
At first Willow didn't answer. She was feeling Sara's searching glance on her. She sighed, and after a while looked up. Green eyes locked with black eyes, and she simply said: "Okay."
The following evening, Sara gently knocked on Willow's small room door. She was a little anxious, because she hadn't seen the young Witch at dinner. But she knew by Giles, who had heard Willow's sobs from next room, that the redhead was in there. Giles had gone to find Sara and both had agreed on the fact that it was urgent to do something. And something powerful enough to provoke a reaction from Willow, who was slowly but surely sliding down the spiral of depression. She needed help to defeat her inner demons. A sleeping potion, that was a good idea for a start, but that wasn't enough. The problem was deeper than the lack of sleep Willow was obviously suffering from. Quite evidently, the Witch hadn't forgiven herself for all what she had done to her friends. And of course, Tara's tragic death was still haunting her.
Giles and Sara had talked for a while and they had agreed on the only decision that seemed possible. They had gone together to Miss Harkness' office, to inform her and to get her agreement. The head of the Coven was herself disoriented and moved by Willow's aspect. She even confessed she didn't know what to do. So she quickly agreed to Sara and Giles' request. She gave them a piece of paper with a name on it. And a phone number. That was the information they needed. Giles had immediatly headed off to make the phone call.
And now, Sara was standing behind Willow's door, a steaming mug in her hand. She had finally made the beverage that was supposed to help Willow sleeping. Receiving no answer from her knock, she decided to come in.
Willow was lying awake on her bed, staring at the ceiling. She had no reaction when Sara entered the room. The brunette Witch sat on the edge of the bed and gently touched the redhead's knee.
The young Witch slowly moved her head to watch Sara.
"Hello" she said in a weak voice.
"We didn't see you at lunch tonight?"
"No hungry…" Willow sharply said. Then she quickly added, seeing Sara's concerned face:
"Sorry… but really it wasn't possible for me to eat something, and I wasn't in a… sociable mood…"
Sara couldn't help smiling.
"Because usually, you are..."
"OK, usually… it's not really better. But I can make it, even if I have to fake sometimes. And I try not to notice the angry looks at me. I'm good at it."
"That bothers you still?" Sara softly asked.
Willow sighed. She could feel the tears coming up, and she tried not to cry. She was really becoming the weeping-type.
"I can't... I can't prevent people from being afraid of me. I can understand, and I think I deserve it. But it's... it's difficult to deal with... with these looks."
"I know, Willow. What you're going through... it's not supposed to be an easy way. But you're not alone; We're here, I'm here, and Giles, and Miss Harkness too. You can talk to us. Whenever you want. You know that, right?"
Willow nodded. Tears were now running down her cheeks.
Sara sighed. "Not eating… not sleeping… that is not a solution…if you try to punish yourself, it's not worth it…"
"It's not that," Willow said. "It's not that, Sara, I promise. But…I can't… and I'm so afraid…about what could happened, about the dreams I could have if I sleep… well I mean the nightmares…"
"It's a normal reaction," Sara said. "And you know, you won't be able to avoid some nightmares. You'll probably have to deal with them."
She handed the mug to Willow.
"First, you're going to drink that. It's the potion I told you about. It's a very powerful one. You should sleep… the time you need to rest fully. It depends on the condition of your health."
"And that means?" a puzzled Willow asked.
"That means you might sleep maybe one full day, or who knows, more."
"But I'm gonna wake up finally, right?" Willow asked with a small voice, a voice which sounded like younger Willow's.
Sara smiled. At least the redhead seemed to have given up thoughts of death.
"You will wake up, of course. And, Willow... you will have a nice surprise then."
Sara saw the emerald green eyes widen, and the young American's face lit up in a brief smile.
"Really? A... a surprise ?...for me? What is it?"
"Oh, you know what we say. A surprise won't be a surprise anymore if you talk about it before it happens. So the only thing I can tell you, is that it might please you. Really."
Sara gently gave a little flick on Willow's cheek, which was still wet from the tears.
And then Sara saw, for the first time ever, the ghost of the famous michevious smile - the Willowy smile Giles told her about so many times, and even if it was just for a few seconds, the English Witch knew that was a first victory.
The two young women remained silent for a little while, as if they were holding the precious moment that just had happened.
"But about this surprise... Willow finally said. "It's you... it's you and Giles who made it, right?"
"Yes, and Miss Harkness too. But don't dwell on it, I won't tell you more. Above all, you have to drink the potion now. No bye-byes, no surprise."
"Hey, come on, I'm not a child anymore."
"Really?" Sara teased. "Sorry, I thought you were. American girls... real kids, you know."
"Oh sure, you English girls, are so more mature," Willow replied before realizing. She bit her tongue. She was teasing Sara, her tutor, one of the most powerful Witches of the Coven, like she used to tease her old friends Buffy or Dawn.
But Sara didn't seemed shocked, not at all. She nodded once to encourage Willow to drink the potion which was beginning to get cold.
The readhead obeyed her tutor, and couldn't help grimacing.
"It's not really tasty, I know," Sara said. "I guess that's why it's so efficient."
Willow smiled. "They told you to say that, didn't they?" she whispered.
"Busted" Sara said blinking.
Willow bravely drank the whole beverage, and held the empty mug to Sara.
"How long will it take ? Before I fall asleep?"
"A few minutes maybe, but it can take more time if you're... tough."
"Oh," Willow said. "Well, so I guess it will take some time. I'm said to be a tough girl. A pigheaded so and so, according to my friends."
"Hum, why I'm not even surprised?" Sara smiled.
She was heading to the door when she heard Willow calling her back.
"Can you... can you please, stay until I fall asleep ? Please?"
Sara looked at the young Witch. She seemed so tired, but so hopefull too. And that was new. And that was good.
"Okay, then" she said. She sat on the edge of the bed, and Willow tucked up to give her some space. Sara leaned with her back against the wall, and looked at Willow. Even with her eyes shut, she seemed focused, on her guard.
"Let it go, Willow,"Sara gently said. "Let it go..."
Without opening her eyes, Willow nodded once.
Sara was ready to stay there all night, if it could help Willow. But surprisingly, it only took a few minutes for the redhead to sink into sleep.
A smiling Sara listened for a while to the peaceful breath of the young Witch, before slipping silently out of the room.
Willow opened her eyes and blinked. She looked at her watch, and was a little disappointed to see that she had only slept for one hour. "This potion, no big deal after all," she thought.
She felt surprisingly better though, as if her body was now rid of the tension she had been living with for weeks. She streched, and realized with satisfaction that her back didn't hurt any more, and the headache was gone, too. Maybe Sara's remedy was a little effective, after all.
She got up, and headed to the bathroom. She opened the tap and let the cold water run on her fingers. Then she looked at herself in the mirror. What she saw surprised her. She still looked sad, but less tired, and her face seemed smoother.
Her eyes, however, were still pale, far from their original emerald color. And her red hair, once so bright, was now dull. And definitely too long, she realized. When was the last time she had it cut ? "You really, really need a haircut," she thought, to her own surprise.
"OK, Rosenberg. You lost your love, you almost destroyed the world, your friends hate you, well maybe not Xander, but your other friends, and all you're thinking about is going to the hairdresser. Really appropriate."
She couldn't help but smile to herself. She suddenly remembered this quote she had learnt during Philosophy class, a couple of years ago, it was from a French or Romanian philosopher: "Humour is the politeness of despair." Or something like that.
"That's so right,"she thought. "I did not understand what he meant at first, but I sure do now. God, that man knew what he was talking about."
She got out of the bathroom and went to her wardrobe. She grabbed a jacket, one that Giles had given her. They had left so quickly, she had almost nothing when they arrived at the Coven, not even a toilet bag. Willow realized, while looking at her wardrobe, that she had hardly put on any of the clothes that Giles have bought for her. Since her first day at the Coven, she had dressed the same almost everyday: a pair of black jeans, and a dark shirt. Clothing wasn't really a concern.
She put on the jacket, which was a dark velvet one, with a sheepskin collar. Maybe a little too warm for the season. But she was in England now, after all, not in California anymore. And strangely, the weather seemed to be much cooler since she fall asleep.
She left her room, and headed to the dining hall, which was in the east wing, downstairs. For the first time for what seemed like ages, she was hungry. Really hungry.
The Coven's lobbies were empty. And no noise came from the dining hall. "It must be late," Willow realized, "the students are probably in their room or studying in the Library."
But she was so hungry she was even ready to implore the Coven's employees, if she had to, to get something to eat.
She entered the near dark and quiet dining hall and suddenly froze. He was there. Giles. Sitting at a table, motionless, and looking at her. In front of him, on the table, she saw a plate, and two glasses, one was empty and the other filled with something that looked like red wine.
She slowly moved near the table, hesitating, but Giles smiled at her.
"Good evening, Will."
She started at his unexpected use of the nickname the rest of the Scoobies normally employed. Them, but not Giles. That was probably the first time he'd called her that.
"Good... good evening, Giles," she mumbled while sitting in front of him.
The Englishman looked carefully at her, and smiled.
"You seem... better. Relaxed, at last. Sara's potion worked, I guess."
"I... I think so, yes," Willow stammered. "I... I feel a lot better. That's surprising, though, because I only slept for an hour or so."
Giles' laughter resonated beyond the empty dining hall. Willow looked at him, amazed. What was so funny?
"Willow," Giles finally said, after having cleaning his glasses, the very gesture he had made so often in Sunnydale. "Willow, you've slept two whole days. And not an hour."
"Rea... really?" asked the astonished young Witch. "But which day is it, exactly?"
"It's Wenesday evening. If you remember, Sara gave you the potion on Monday evening."
"Wednesday?" Willow was stunned. "Wow, I believe I really needed to rest."
"That was the point," Giles said. He was looking serious again. "I'm so happy to see that... that you're feeling better" he finally added. "So, did you sleep well ? No... no bad dreams?"
"No dreams. And... no nightmares either," Willow added with a grin.
The Watcher smiled, relieved.
"Now, I guess you're really hungry?"
"A big yes to that question," Willow admitted with a tiny smile. She looked at the empty plate and glass, and frowned.
"Giles, were you... were you waiting for me? I mean, how did you know how long I was going to sleep?"
"I didn't know,"Giles answered. "Sara told me that the potion would probably be efficient, but we had no way to know how long it would last. Sara and I simply checked by your room, several times a day. It was good to see you sleeping so peacefully. And I told the Coven's employees to set the table for you, at every lunch and dinner. I've simply waited for you. There was no hurry."
Willow looked down. "Giles..." she softly said. She didn't know how to thank the Watcher. This man she had deeply wounded, in his flesh and in his soul, still loved her like a dear friend, a father maybe.
A lump seemed to form in her throat, then again. If only she could find the words to tell him how moved she was. But she couldn't. Not yet.
"Willow," Giles softly said. "We'll talk later, if you don't mind. But first, would you do me the pleasure of eating a real meal, for once?"
He gestured towards the kitchen, and almost immediatly, one of the Coven's servants entered the room with a smoking tureen, some bread, and a plate with a typical English meal, "bangers and mash." Willow was relieved to see this plate was for Giles, not for her. She was beginning to like England, but not yet all the culinary specialities.
Giles served Willow a full plate of soup, and dug into his own dish with an appetite. Willow stared at him, realizing the Watcher hadn't probably eaten much, nor slept, during the last weeks. He seemed thiner, probably lost several pounds. And that too, was because of her, she thought guiltily.
Aware of her gaze, Giles looked at the redhead and gently smiled. He pointed out his plate.
"Maybe you'd like this? instead of the good, old soup of the Coven? It was made especially for you, you know, I told them you needed some strenght back."
And then Willow smiled for the second times in two days. A real Willow smile.
"Oh, no thank you," she said. "That thing..." she grinned, looking at Giles' plate. "I'd rather..." she was about to say "I'd rather die," but finally choose to say "I'd rather swim back all the way to America!"
"That's what I thought. You don't know what you're missing, though," Giles said with seriousness.
He looked at her while she was eating her soup, to the last spoonful, and then wiping her plate with the bread, and then eating it, to the last piece.
She was thirsty too, and she drank three glasses of water in a row, while Giles had some wine.
Then the servant brought them some cheese, and Willow grinned when she saw it was some Cheddar, with crackers.
She glanced at Giles, who seemed close to laughter.
"I promise, Willow," he said. "I didn't choose the menu. I only asked for the most... energizing meal for you. I guess Cheddar has to be a part of it."
He knew, of course, that the readhead disliked all kinds of cheese. Especially Cheddar.
"Well, OK then," the Witch said with bravery. "So, Cheddar it is. But only if you have some, Giles," she added with mischevious eyes.
And they tasted the cheese, and to her own surprise Willow liked it, it wasn't so bad, not at all, and the crackers were definitely good.
When they'd eaten everything, a serious Giles put his right hand on Willow's, and gently said: "Willow, do you remember what Sara told you on Monday ? About a surprise?"
"Oh," Willow said, realizing she had totally forgotten. "Oh, I didn't think... but yes, of course, I do, I mean I remember." She felt her heart racing. She was anxious and eager at the same time.
"It's... it's a good surprise, Giles, isn't it?" she asked with a tiny voice.
"That... you will decide yourself," Giles answered. "But I would say... yes, it is."
He stood up, took a step back and pointed out a small door that was leading right to the Coven's gardens. This door was usually closed, but this time it was open, and Willow could already feel the coldness of the night.
She took a glance at the starry sky and shivered.
"Someone is waiting for you," Giles simply said.
She recognized him immediately, even though she first saw him from behind. She knew it could only be him, his outline was so distinct, and there was this familiar scruffy hair, just another color.
And he smelt her, of course, the werewolf in him had detected her essence since his arrival at the Coven, and almost before that, because he could still smell her for miles around. Willow. Willow's smell, firmly rooted in his memory. Was it forever? Despite the years, despite the distance. Despite their lost love.
He turned back and smiled at her. She moved closer, hesitating, and he noticed she was shivering. He looked carefully at her. She wasn't the same girl. She was still Willow, with the red hair and the sweet freckles, but she wasn't his Willow anymore; Obviously this girl had been through a lot recently, a lot of pain and sadness, that was written in her eyes.
She could feel his glance on her, and she looked down, embarrassed.
"Oz," she softly said.
"Yeah" the tousled haired boy said. He didn't know what to add. The silence was beginning to get awkward, so he came near Willow, and simply hugged her. She was trembling all over, until he said in her ear: "it's okay, Will."
He felt her relaxing a little, and she leaned her forehead against his.
"Oz...how..." she whispered.
"Shush," he grinned. "Please just come with me."
He took her by the hand and they went to the back of the garden, which was plunged in darkness.
They sat on a small wall that divided the terrace. He was still holding her hand tight.
She looked at him, there were so many questions in her eyes. He knew that, but he just smiled. He still was not that talkative. Unlike her, she thought. Well, unlike her before, the former Willow.
As if he had guessed her thoughts, and that too, hadn't changed much, he cleared his throat and softly asked:
"Willow, you're probably wondering why I'm here. I.. I was aware of your presence here, since your arrival."
He could read the amazement in her eyes, and maybe the sorrow, so he quickly added:
"But Giles and Miss Harkness asked me not to contact you. Not for the beginning, at least."
"You... you've met Miss Harkness ? And you know about the Coven?"
Oz smiled, and squeezed Willow's hand.
"Of course. I've spent some time here, before when..."
He broke off, because both of them knew what he was talking about. The time when he was trying to master the beast inside him. The werewolf who almost killed Willow once, and their friends.
"Well, to sum up... let's say I've taken a lot of classes and potions and... I guess I succedeed," Oz added with a grin.
"No... no more wolfie?" asked Willow. "Even on full moon nights? And... and even when you're near me?"
"Even," a proud Oz said. "See?" He squeezed her hand. "You, me, and the moon. And everything's all right." He pointed out the sky, and for the first time that night Willow saw the moon. Round and bright. Undeniably full.
She felt her heart racing, that was so unbelievable, and great. And then memories came back to her mind, roughly. She remembered that other full moon night. That night he had came back to Sunnydale for her. That night she had told him she'd chosen Tara. And not him.
Oz saw Willow's chin trembling, tears beginning to fill her green eyes. He leaned closer to her, looking for her gaze.
"Will... look at me. I remember too. And... I know. Believe me, I know."
"You can't really know, Oz. How much it hurts. Having lost her for ever, I can't... Oz, did Giles tell you? What happened?"
"Yes," Oz gently said. "Giles told me, about... about Tara, and for the rest. I'm... I'm really, deeply sorry, Will. But I wanted to tell you... I know you feel guilty, but you really shouldn't."
Will took a deep breath. "It's not only that. The guilt... I'm learning to cope with it. And as strange as it may sounds now, I'm beginning to live with it. But... but the pain..."
"Yes?" asked Oz.
"It's... I don't know how to explain... it's so... overwhelming... it's like, I don't feel alive. When I arrived here, last month, I don't know if I wanted to die, but the fact is...I did not want to live. Not after what happened. Not... not without her."
"You know, Will," he said carefully. "I'm not sure of much. But I try to guess how you must be feeling. And... you know... I will always be there for you. Not only during full moon nights," he added with a small grin.
Willow smiled between the tears.
"You're so kind, Oz. I... I'm really glad you're here, you know. But I must be honest with you, not like before."
She wiped her tears with her sleeve, and stared at him. He smiled bravely. She sure still had the power to make him feel all moved.
"Go ahead, Will. Whatever it is, I'm ready."
"I don't know who I am anymore. I don't know who I am, Oz. And... I'm sure I won't be able to love someone anymore, anytime. A women, or... or a man. See," she sniffed. "Even that. I don't know if I'm gay, or not. Nothing really new here, you'll tell me."
"Will, I don't think that's the problem now" Oz said after a silence. "You... you know I still love you. But I'm not expecting anything right now. The important thing is... for your heart..."
"Not to be totally broken," Willow ended. "I can't guarantee that, really I can't."
They remained silent for a while, looking at the stars which seemed brighter than before. Oz's mind was racing, trying to find out the words that could, maybe, help her a little.
And then, to his own surprise, Willow had a weak smile and pointed out some stars in the sky.
"You see that one ? That constellation?"
"Yes, it's... Cassiopeia, if I'm not wrong."
"The Big Pineapple," Willow firmly said.
The young Witch looked at her former boyfriend.
"Tara used to call these stars... the Big Pineapple. She has... she had, sort of, her own names, for each constellation. She said it was because she couldn't remember the real names, but I know this was because she thought it was more poetic to... to create some names."
Oz took a glance at Willow, who had her head up, looking at the sky. He saw her damp eyes, and her half-smile, too. For the first time that night, he could feel the warmth of her hand in his. Maybe the former Willow wasn't dead, after all.
"Tell me the others," he softly said.
Willow startled. "The others what?"
"The other names. The ones Tara used to name the stars with..."
Willow smiled, and this time it was a real, broad smile. She pointed out each star to him, one after another, telling him all the strange and poetic names once found by the blonde Wiccan. Short Man Looking Uncomfortable, Moose Getting a Sponge Bath, and Little Pile O'Crackers. She hadn't forgotten a single one. She even added some names of her own.
The night was getting colder, but that didn't bother them, they could feel the warmth between them, like a link once broken and now restored.
And Willow could feel, for the first time since she was in England, the noose around her heart come loose. She could almost feel Tara's spirit, surrounding her. For the first time since the death of her soulmate, she was feeling alive. Not completly. But so much more than the past weeks.
When she finally stopped, after having re-named each constellation, Oz leaned over her and softly said in her ear:
"Myself, I know who you are. You're Willow. And you always will be."
Author's notes: A big thank you to Garner Johnson, who was kind enough to read my story, who helped me a lot with his piece of advice, and of course who corrected the silly grammar or/and spelling mistakes I still make. Thank you, Garner, you're the best (not to mention you're the author of the wonderful "Journal of Tara Maclay").
Well, I hope you liked this lil' story, folks. It's my first fanfic ever, so I promise I will do better next time ! But I really needed to write that.