punch_kicker15: (WOz)
[personal profile] punch_kicker15
Title: Between Past and Present Tense
Author: punch_kicker15
Rating: PG-13
Characters/Relationships: Willow/Oz
Summary: Set in Season 6 after Gone. Sparks fly when Oz returns to Sunnydale and offers to help Willow with her magic addiction. Can Oz and Willow rekindle their old feelings, or will their past wounds get in the way?
Word count: 7835
Notes: Written for the [livejournal.com profile] nekid_spike minibang. Title is from the Weakerthans song "Aside". Plot bunny courtesy of[livejournal.com profile] tiny_white_hats
, a terrific Willow/Oz author who is greatly missed. Super-duper art by [livejournal.com profile] emmatheslayer and [livejournal.com profile] rbfvid


After a few weeks, the routine of hosting Willow on the weekends had started to set in, and Oz found himself looking forward to hearing about the latest events in Sunnydale, or what she’d learned in her classes that week, or whatever random topic happened to catch her interest. Or just being in the same room with her while she quietly read or studied. The apartment now seemed unnaturally quiet and still when she was away.

One Saturday, the comfortable routine was broken when Willow came back from the coven reeking of sadness.

“What’s wrong?” He hoped the coven hadn’t declared her a hopeless case.

“They said they don’t think I’m addicted to magic.” Her lower lip trembled, and it looked like she was holding back tears with extraordinary effort. “They think the withdrawal effects I had were psychosomatic. They think I should keep doing magic, and just learn how to control it.”

“Oh. Why is that bad news?”

She collapsed on the futon, pulled her knees up to her chest, and stared down at the floor. Her voice lowered to a barely perceptible whisper. “If I’m not addicted, then every bad thing I did with magic is my fault. And then I convinced myself that was addicted so I wouldn’t have to be responsible for it. I’ve been horribly selfish.”

“Ok,” Oz said.

That made her look up at him. “Seriously? You’re completely cool with that?” And then she crumpled again, and said softly, “Or did you already figure that out a long time ago?”

Oz sat down beside her. “No. What I mean is, if you’re selfish, then join the club. We’re all selfish. I nearly got you killed because I didn’t want Buffy to kill Veruca. That was selfish. Buffy abandoned the mission on graduation day, because thought saving Angel was more important than stopping the Mayor. And that was selfish. Giles left you to defend the Hellmouth, because wanted to go back to England and grieve. That was selfish, too. So you’re not that special just because you had some selfish moments.”

She started to cry, curled herself up so tightly it looked like she wanted to disappear. As always, he wished for something, anything to make her feel better.

But he’d learned that trying to ignore negative emotions and pain would just prolong them. Better to let her work through them, no matter how much it tore at his heart.

She sniffled, and dabbed her eyes with a Kleenex. Then she clenched her jaw and composed herself. “So how do you live with being selfish?”

From her tone, he understood the question wasn’t about how he, personally lived with it, but how anyone did. “Just by being aware of it. Stopping and thinking about whether there’s some selfish component in what you’re doing, and how much of that is a factor.”

She said, “That sounds--hard.”

He nodded. “Yeah, it’s complicated. Always.” He wouldn’t sugar-coat it for her.

***
Older and Far Away
The lavender in Sara’s backyard had its first bloom; Willow knelt in the grass with a pair of gardening gloves and a basket and started picking. The sun beat down on the back of her neck, sending a trickle of sweat dripping down her back.

She was so focused on her task that she didn't notice Oz approach until he crouched down right next to her. “Can I help?”

“Yeah, we’re just picking the ones that have a few flowers open. If half the flowers are open, it’s too late for them.”

Oz sat down and plucked a few lavender stems.

“Oz, there’s a--” Willow bit her lip, feeling oddly nervous. She’d been having little flashes of attraction to him, ever since they’d fallen asleep on the futon together. But that had to be just nostalgia or something like that. This wasn’t asking him on a date; she was still getting over the breakup with Tara.

He was waiting patiently for her to finish her question.

“There’s a birthday party for Buffy, and I was wondering if you’d like to come.”

He stripped a branch of flowers. “I don’t know--Buffy’s birthdays have been kind of fun-free.”

“But maybe this year will be the one where she gets a good birthday.” She added, “And if it’s not, I’d rather be fighting demons with friends than have a quiet night at home.”

He smiled. “All right. Put me down for a night of fun or demon fighting.”

***
Buffy’s party was officially a disaster. Willow wanted to smack her few-days-ago-self for being so stupidly optimistic to think the universe owed Buffy a normal happy birthday. No, of course, the universe hated Buffy, so now they were stuck in a house, for some unknown reason.

Even worse, Buffy wanted to use magic to escape the house.

Tara said, “It's just, obviously I didn't bring any supplies.”

Buffy said, “Well, we don't have any in the house. We got rid of everything.”

“Um, I do have some supplies here,” Willow said, and cringed under Tara’s disapproving glare. Buffy looked un-thrilled, too, but it was Tara’s look that scorched. Willow was about to explain why she had them, but before she did, Tara jumped in.

“Just bring me what you have. But I'm doing this alone. You need to stay away from it.” She stalked off to the kitchen.

Willow waited by the front door with Spike, Anya, and Oz. Then Xander’s friend Richard came downstairs, upset about something. Willow was focused on the scent of burning herbs. Finally Tara called out, “Release!” and then “Try the door.”

Spike struggled to open the door. Willow could feel magic under the tip of her tongue. Tara had released something, but it wasn’t the door.

Then a demon came crashing through the living room with a sword. Willow scrambled away, trying to think of a defensive spell that wouldn’t backfire. While she hesitated, the demon slashed Richard across the stomach.

There was a quick scuffle as Buffy and Spike tried to capture the demon. Then the demon disappeared.

Willow knew it was wrong, but she couldn’t shake the thought, at least I’m not the only one whose magic has unintended consequences.

***
After hours of trying and failing to kill the demon, everyone’s nerves were on edge. Willow listened to everyone argue about what do next.

Anya said, “We're sitting here with an incredibly powerful witch ... much more powerful than you, Tara, I'm sorry ... only no one seems willing to say it.”

Oz said, “Think we should talk about the work you’ve been doing lately.”

She wanted to crawl under the sofa and just disappear. “Uh, this isn’t the way I wanted to bring this up. The coven thinks that I can learn to magic responsibly.”

Spike snorted and rolled his eyes. Xander ignored this and said brightly, “Well, now’s your chance to prove them right.”

“But--when Tara tried, she released a demon,” Willow felt more than a little awkward to argue against doing a spell, but If she was going to apply the lessons she’d learned from the coven, it would have to start somewhere.

“Because she wasn’t strong enough to do it right.” Anya’s voice was taking on that nails-on-a-strident tone that made Willow long for a muting spell--no, noise-canceling headphones. No need for a magical solution when a technological one existed.

“Or maybe throwing more power at it might release even more demons. Maybe we’re approaching this from the wrong angle.” Willow shot back.

“Why are you suddenly arguing for caution when your magic might actually be useful, instead of your usual power-tripping?” Anya’s voice had gone from strident to venomous.

Tara glared at Anya. “She said no, and that's it. You're not gonna make her do something that she doesn't want to.”

Wow. Tara was standing up for her. She hadn’t expected that.

Oz said, “Ok, but we need a backup plan for our guy up there. Gut wounds are nothing to play around with.”

Something about his tone made it sound like this was something Oz had learned first-hand. And that sent a shiver of worry through her. But whatever had happened to Oz was a question for some time later. Because Oz was right. How had this argument gotten so far away from Xander’s friend upstairs?

“I could try a healing spell. That could buy us time,” Willow suggested.

“Oh, Willow.” Tara’s Disapproval Face returned in full force.

Disappointment stabbed at her heart. Tara wasn’t supporting Willow. She was supporting Willow’s abstention from magic.

There was no time for hurt feelings now. Time to try to save a life. No matter how far she’d fallen away in the last few months, life-saving was the reason she’d started learning magic.

***
Oz helped Willow carry magic ingredients upstairs.

Willow burned twice-blessed sage. His nostrils filled with the scent, and his eyes began to water. Under any other circumstances, he would have left the room to clear his head. But Willow needed someone who was here for her. Not Anya and Xander, who saw her as a solution to their current entrapment. Not Tara and Buffy, who were invested in Willow’s magic sobriety.

She looked at him, and said, “If things get out of control, get Tara. And Anya--she knows her way around a spell or two.”

He nodded. “Ok, but I know you can do this.”

She rolled her eyes at that, but turned to Richard, and put a hand on his belly.

Oz felt the air start to quiver with Willow’s magic. Drops of sweat broke out on her forehead, and for a moment, her eyes flashed black. The air crackled with electricity, and then Willow, her voice shaking, said, “Let the spell be ended.”

The air went still again. Richard woke up. He looked at his surroundings. “Must have had too much to drink. I don’t remember anything about how I got here, and I had the weirdest dream.”

They helped him downstairs, where Anya stood with a triumphant expression on her face. “We can go now. I just got us out.”

Tara glanced at Willow, and then turned and hurried away.

“You alright?” Oz asked.

She shook her head. “I just feel all cringe-y and guilty when I’m around her.” She stared off in Tara’s direction. “She doesn’t trust me. And she doesn’t have any reason to. I broke it, and I can’t fix it.”

I know exactly how you feel.

But his empathy wouldn’t help her in this situation, so he just said, “That sucks. I’m sorry.”

***
Hells Bells
Willow let herself into Oz's apartment. "Hey, what smells so good?"

Oz called out, "Pork vindaloo and tandoori chicken from Taj Palace." He put plates on the kitchen table next to the takeout containers. They sat down and started eating.

"Did I misunderstand something on the phone last night, or did Xander just leave town, even though he loves Anya?" Oz tilted his head slightly, looking slightly quizzical, which Willow understood as an Oz-expression of complete incredulity; the Willow-equivalent expression would be opening her mouth wide and gaping like an idiot.

"Yeah, please don't ask me to explain it, because I don't get it, either." She spooned some pork vindaloo over her rice, and handed the container to him.

"It's just, after watching me make the biggest mistake of my life, he learned nothing from it? He thinks he can hurt Anya, leave, and then maybe pick things up again like nothing had happened?"

Willow felt her face flush, and not just from the vindaloo spices. "What do you mean, the biggest mistake of your life?"

Oz broke off a piece of naan. "Thought that was obvious."

This was just--weird. She shoved some rice around on her plate, trying to figure out how he could possibly say that. But the only way to truly know was to ask.

"I don't understand why it was such a big mistake, since you weren't really into me. You thought Wolf Girl was way hotter. Why wouldn't you want to find someone who was hot like her, but without all of the annoying murdery character flaws? Don't you want something more than just a cerebral relationship?" Her voice was shaking, which was so annoying--why couldn't she figure out some way to hide her feelings, instead of wearing them on her sleeve all the time?

"I could have had that with you, if I--"

"Enough with the revisionist history, Oz! I was around when it happened. It took the freaking Apocalypse to get you to have sex with me!"  Wow, she hadn't realized she was still carrying that particular insecurity around.

Oz flinched, but didn’t look away. "What I was going to say was that I could have had that with you, if I hadn't been terrified of hurting you. With Veruca, it was powerful because I knew I couldn’t hurt her, so I could just let go. But I underestimated how tough you are. You fought a god and raised the dead. The wolf was no big compared to that. I think if I'd stayed, if I'd trusted you to protect yourself, it could have been powerful, too." A rueful smile crossed over his face. "Or Tara could have shown up and none of that would have mattered anyway."

"Yeah," Willow said, even though she wasn't sure how true that was. The Oz-missage had been so painful when she and Tara had met; it had permeated every interaction that she'd had with Tara for months. What would it have been like to meet Tara without it? Would Tara have ever expressed an interest in a girl who had a boyfriend? And would Willow have even looked at Tara if Oz had been there? There were too many ifs, and Willow wished she could say that she would have fallen in love with Tara no matter what. Or that she’d stopped being attracted to Oz once Tara entered the picture. That would be simple.

Unfortunately, nothing was simple lately.

CHAPTER FOUR

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