Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2003 6:49 PM
"Come dance the silence down through the morning." -- Counting Crows, "Mr. Jones"
They say I didn't speak a word for a month. I don't remember, really, because it's all blood and screaming to me. Never quiet inside my head.
I think I got lost there, trapped in that moment when I could still taste her on my lips and all of a sudden her voice was trembling out my name and then she was on the floor, blood and sunlight covering us both. So lost, and she wasn't there to find me, the way she said she'd always be.
I used to wonder if there was something about my mind which made people hurt it so much. Glory's fingers scrabbling in my brain, leaving me dirty and trapped. The terrible lurch in my stomach when I recognized the flower in my hand, Willow's bramble lies. Or maybe there wasn't anything wrong with it at all to begin with, but after so much it was just a little too easy for me to collapse inside myself, deep and far from everything else. Like maybe that could change something. Back into the silence of the first time I touched her.
I suppose it must be true, even if it's all muddled in my head. I remember Buffy saying it, her voice very low, silhouetted against the window, and his head turning to look at me.
They let me stay there, the way people do when it's too hard to even think of an alternative. Let me stay in Willow's bed, our bed, whose sheets still smelled of her. The room with all her sparkly Willow things.
Xander replaced the carpet, took the stain away, and the glass in the windowpane. He did it when I wasn't there, without saying anything, because that's how he is. I know why Willow loved him.
He felt like I did, in this way that took him away. His face a fragile veneer hiding so much emptiness and disbelief. I am not the only one who stays here in this house where she ended. It is not many nights before he slips quietly out of Buffy's room in the mornings. There were always the three of them, I know, and it's as if in her absence they two have fallen together, trying to fill with closeness the vacuum she left. Xander moves with clumsy shock and Buffy is rigid and small. There is so little grace here anymore. I am glad they are not alone. I am glad someone isn't.
This is the way my thoughts go: if I had not come back that night. If I had not fallen into her arms so terribly and easily. If we had not had sex again, in that bedroom, that afternoon. If we had had more sex, still been in bed. If I had been the one standing closer to the window. If if if. Guilt like suffocating, like air can't fit into my lungs.
Oz comes after a month. Dawn opens the door and he's standing there, eyes as broken as mine feel, and all he says is "How?"
He knew, like I would have. Felt the same thing, even so far away. His soul suddenly shattering inside him.
Buffy tells him, gently, sitting beside him on the couch, but the whole time he's looking at me. I'm afraid, because I'm sure he hates me, but I can't leave the room. I am glad my hair has gotten so long, so it can fall in my face, around my shoulders, hiding me while I listen.
"We can visit her grave," Buffy says and he shakes his head ever so slightly.
"Tomorrow." His voice is so soft I almost can't hear it.
I have only been to her grave once, since the funeral. I am afraid of it there, or -- afraid of myself there. To look at the ground, knowing her body is lying beneath the grass and soil. To think of all the most horrible spells my mother ever hinted at in whispers, in the darkest hours of the night. Understanding, now, how it would be so easy to try to control this awful world. I remember cockroaches crawling under Willow's skin, snake gagging her, spilling out of her mouth and oh, how small a price to pay all that would be. And then I think of Buffy's terrible, blank eyes, the sobbing, broken mass of her in my arms, the dissonance of her terrible secret. The cruelty of it all.
Oz sleeps on the couch that night, and I can feel his presence all the way upstairs, a pocket of silence calling to my own. His wolf aura, feral and shrouded and still tinged with sparks of Willow, after all this time. They take him to the cemetery the next day, and I don't go. But I try to imagine what he does there, whether he presses his palm wordlessly to her headstone like I did.
At dinner I watch him, wonder about all the places he's been. There are days when I feel I've never left this house. The hairs on his arms shine in the lamplight. All I've ever known of him is hurt: Willow's grief when I first knew her and he was freshly gone, and his own wretchedness when he came back and she sent him away again. For me. For me. Even the idea of it still makes me want to cry. I have always felt I wronged him somehow, without meaning to.
"How long are you staying?" Dawn asks him. He looks up at her like he'd forgotten he wasn't alone. "As long as you want," Buffy says. He nods imperceptibly at her. "'til breakfast," he tells Dawn. They say no, they say stay, and he shrugs and looks at his plate and it's easy to see he's already gone.
I don't sleep much; I am awake when he comes to my room, hours past midnight. I can tell he's standing there even before I roll over to look at him. His face is very quiet, carefully still. He is looking at me, standing just inside the door, like he's not sure it's okay to be here. I look back.
"You still smell like her," he says, and his voice sounds raw and thin, like heartbreak.
"Where?" I say, and I am surprised because I had not meant to speak. I sit up. We look at each other. In a moment he's taken two silent steps to the bed.
He doesn't answer me, at least not aloud. In the darkness, essence of Willow crackles around him. If it were anyone but her, I wouldn't believe it. She flashes purple and silver beside his head. I reach out to touch the air there, close enough that I can feel the heat from his skin. I want to say something, but my tongue is sluggish, my lips unmoving. I want to tell him I understand. I want to say I'm sorry I didn't protect her. He kisses me.
His tongue is hot and wet and focused; it's not me he's tasting when it sweeps quickly across the inside of my mouth. I can imagine him kissing her like this, or rather, not like this; happier, more earnest, when she was younger than I ever knew her. I want to know the Willow I never had, the one he got all of, inexperience and youth and fewer shadows in her eyes. I think of her touching his back like this, feeling the taut, hot skin underneath his shirt.
"There was an apocalypse," she told me, talking about their first time. I wonder if she was afraid, thinking of the end of the world when she let him push her back and down like this, or if she thought only of him. I know what she would have sounded like, as his hands teased her legs into falling apart, that tiny, delighted gasp, quiet as mine.
Oz's eyes are feverbright, immense, unspeakable. They say everything I mean. His fingers trace quick, insistent patterns up the inside of my thighs. The backs of his fingernails through the thin cotton of my pajamas. I reach up, pull him down, bring my mouth to the skin below his ear, like I could taste her ghost in the throb of his pulse.
"Show me," he says, almost too softly to hear. "Show me how you. How she." I cover his hand with mine, slipping us inside my underwear, and his fingers follow the lines and parabolas I trace, the marionette to my lead. His eyes are closed, eyeballs flickering beneath translucent lids, seeing things that aren't here, aren't now.
I touch his cock. It's hot, hard. I am thinking, 'This was inside her'. Together we are all that's left of her. The whispers on our skin, mine and his, the throbbing residue of being who she loved, of loving her so intensely. There's a condom in his pocket and we both watch it unroll, imagining her fingers. They see you in me, I told her once. Willow in me and him and us.
My eyes are shut as tightly as his when I come, learning her once-upon-a-times from the inside out. He shudders and stills after me, silent, far away inside his head. Outside the window the first bird of the day sounds a clear note, and I startle. When I turn my head, the sky is unexpectedly bright with distant breaking dawn. I go to look at it while he pulls his pants on, smelling the clean, cool air of early morning. Touch the place where the glass shattered in that one last instant. Behind me, I hear him shift. We are the same height when I turn around.
"I'm coming too," I say, and my voice still sounds strange. He blinks twice and looks at me hard, and I don't flinch. I have nothing to lose. Nothing else to say either, and he tilts his head like he's listening to my silence. I can still taste us, all of us, on my lips.
Oz nods, quick and unmistakeable and walks out. I am downstairs before he's finished folding the sheets he's used. My bag is light; there is so little left to my life.
Spells, I have long known, are potent even when whispered too softly to hear. The shapes my lips make are pushed into the air by the barest of breaths and words of power take form, do my bidding. Protection spells for the van on cold nights in the middle of nowhere. Charms that wrap around him at the full moon, calming him, strenghtening his amulets and resolve.
We go nowhere and everywhere. I don't ask and he never offers. For now, it is enough to be on the road, to be moving, to be carrying the fragile strand of her between us without being burdened by the thick, dark ghosts of Sunnydale's air. Once I read a book that mentioned bones knitting together and I imagined careful, complex reconstruction, a slow and steady process of delicate, strong weaving. This is how I feel inside now. I am being remade into something new, someone I don't have a name for yet. Not Tara-at-home and not Willow's-Tara.
I cannot tell if I have the same tentative lightness to my step that Oz does, as if he's finally been able to let go of some desperate hope. When he looks at me, his face relaxes ever so slightly like it's an assurance of the new order of the world. This freedom that's creeping over us, in spite of ourselves.
We don't talk, not usually, and this somehow makes me less shy. The long, expected silences which say we are the ones who knew her, loved her. An understanding that doesn't need words and couldn't use them anyway.
When the Beatles come on the radio, I turn it up, and from the corner of my eye I see the side of his mouth quirk upward in unspoken acknowledgement. I know that he's feeling the words in his head, echoing through him, like they are through me. Let it be, Paul says. Familiar verses, well-worn chorus. The steady slip of the road beneath our wheels as we sing along in silence, together.
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Title: Down Through the Morning
Author: Kyra Cullinan [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | NC-17 | 10k | 02/11/04
Summary: A might-have-been.
Notes: a/u from "Seeing Red"; if Willow had been shot instead. Tara/Oz, NC-17. A thousand thanks to Luna for a wonderful beta.
sidenote: new update list for my fic at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/kyrafic
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