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Axis Mundi

by Sophia Jirafe

[Story Headers]

I can't remember if I know how to drive a car.

I know, I know I knew, I will know. But now?

I am in the righthand seat of a car. I am driving. I am so small my feet don't touch the ground and my mother is driving. I am falling asleep against the window and my oxygen tank rests between my crooked knees and my son is driving. I am moving forward, away from his anger.

I climb the spider's web. The joins snap beneath my feet. The strands wrap around my wrists, sticky, tangling in my hair. I break them all with a whispered word. I keep climbing upwards, away from the drifting shreds, looking for a place where we can try it again.

Second day of research. One more to go. We've been in this library for so long it's like the inside of my own head. Smell of mold, smell of pizza, smell of sweat and fear and sugar. I know Oz can sense them all. He's reading next to me, arms spread wide on the table as he leans slightly forward, that look of perfect, peaceful concentration on his face. I remember him on me, in me, not quite smiling, so gentle and so present I couldn't think of anything else, couldn't even get my breath without his taking one. His hands are quiet now, braced against the table, like they didn't know how to touch me everywhere, make me melt, make me moan. I'm blushing.

I look away, to the rest of them. Buffy is wrapping pieces of her hair so tightly around her index finger that I can see the red blood trapped there, strangling. Xander chews his lip, pulls on his ear, jiggles his foot under the table. Cordelia is asleep, her face sulky. Wesley just keeps pacing, chanting under his breath.

Three of them are dead now, I think. It's not then-me who thinks it; it's now-me. But then is now.

I turn to see behind me and there he is. Hunched over his desk in the office, fingers to his temples, his face -- god. In his face there is despair and fear and utter resignation. He's given up. No one sees.

Then-me never saw it. I don't know how I know to look now. But he turns to meet my eyes, his open and unhidden by glasses or artifice, and I feel, oh, I feel something then-me never knew. I open my mouth, words ready, but only faint pink glimmers of power drift out, floating across the still, heavy air. He frowns and turns away.

I climb again. This wasn't the place to make it different; he's afraid to touch this me, afraid to touch anyone at all. The web sticks to my hands.

I know I've gone too far this time, but I can't tell him. His anger is so hot, sharp and punishing, and I push back, but all I can think is I missed you. I want to get right up in his face; I want to hit him, touch him. I want to cry and say I'm sorry, say he's wrong, until I fall asleep in his lap, here on the kitchen floor.

He calls me names, foolish and amateur, and I think -- I think now -- that this is only the first fight of many.

There's a window open, bringing in the cool night air, a lingering scent of dry summer grass. He's looking away, fingering something in his pocket; I know it's another plane ticket. I know he wants to leave again, tonight, as fast as he came, even with her asleep upstairs, breath in her musty lungs and dirt under her nails.

I touch his elbow. I try to say don't go away again, but I only say don't.

I'm tired of travelling, I want to be somewhere, he says, moving his arm.

This is somewhere, I say. I take his hand. I know where the scar on his thumb is, the burns Angelus gave him. I know it like my own hand.

There's that frown again. I am not then-me. She would not have done this.

It's not even worth talking about he says, going to the stairs.

Up, up, the web tugs me. His anger here, in this time, is not transmutable to love. Up I go.

The silence is so loud in here. Our flat is so small. The books take up room, yes, and the clothes I've piled on the floor, the weapons he's hung on the walls, the big empty unmade bed in the middle of the room, but nothing crowds us like this awful silence.

We hit each other tonight I think, but wonderingly, like I'm thinking it from a long way off, this someday-me. And then I put the thought away.

I'm reading U is for Unidentified, mostly to make him more angry; he hates it when I read stupid things off the bestseller lists. I can't make him see that sometimes I need to stop thinking so much. When we've been up for days, spurred on by stimulants and sex and fear, reading in seven languages and fighting against time on top of everything else, I need something soft and easy to wrap myself in. He just drinks.

Now-me watches it all unspool, lost and wondering, holding on for the ride. I don't know any of this. Someday-me remembers sex, angry sex, sex like I've never yet imagined, with hard things and hard words and finally a slap across his face, fingers digging into my arms, elbow digs into ribs and knees knocking together. I quail, shivering, but someday-me just sets her face in a small, blank frown.

The web is wrapping tighter again, threads trying to stretch back into their proper places. I fight, breaking free of a few strands. I will not follow the old pattern. I won't let this future happen.

He's angry again, but sad beneath it, so sad that his anger is just a brittle shell over this endless grief. We're sitting on a bench in a wild, tangled public garden; children swarm all around us through tires, over trees, under stone. We've walked a double labyrinth, seen standing stones, raised our eyebrows at silly gnome houses. And now we've come up the serpent's path, through a dark little glade, and here is the thing I keep trying to break apart now, right in front of then-me.

You know he starts to say, but he doesn't finish. I have never felt such a stranger with this man whose arm is around my shoulder, holding me in restraint instead of affection.

I haven't trusted myself to talk much in days. My voice is a thing of power, bending others to my will, burning my throat with bilious hatred as I kill, as I killed.

He sees me pointing at the thing spun of reeds and vine, stretched against the dark trees. Misunderstanding, he gets up to read the little plaque to me, but I shake my head. The sun goes behind a cloud. Even the sky is cold in England.

He sits down again, looking at me, but there's more wariness than tenderness in his gaze. I have only been here two weeks, and we both know the little black dots still move beneath my skin, making the ink stains on my fingers twinge, making my eyes go dark and my mind blank. It's why he sits so close.

We need to talk about Tara he says. I shrink from him, breath catching. We need to talk about why you did what you did.

I don't want to talk about it, but I can't say anything with my raw throat -- and he knows it.

It's terrible to lose someone you love, he says. I know. But it happens, Willow. People leave. And you can't keep --

I move quickly this time, pressing my burned mouth to his before he can draw away, and it almost works. He kisses me back, the hand around my shoulder sliding up into my hair, for a long, sweet moment before pulling away.

He looks into my eyes, his wide with fear, and clutches at my hands. He stares at the written runes there, but they aren't moving like they do sometimes. His face softens, just a little, and he nearly presses that firm mouth to mine again before he catches himself. But he doesn't frown this time. His smile is sad, instead.

A new direction, I think, pulling away. He keeps saying the same things to me. He won't change. I find a new strand and follow it.

It's the night, oh god, the night, when she said words I didn't know she knew, her voice strong and steady and quiet. I'm weeping, clinging to her clothes as she pushes them in her bag, trying to talk to her but strangled by sobs.

Let go, she says, almost angry.

I reach for her, the soft skin I love to kiss, the hair always brushing into my face, but she pulls away.

I'll try, I promise, I babble. I'll change, I love you.

If you loved me you'd stop doing this, she says, angry at last. Stay out of my head, Willow. That's all I want. And I can't even trust you to do that!

I want her to trust me; I want her to let me in and believe that I'll be careful. I won't break her soft, tender heart. Oh, Tara, I could make everything perfect forever, you and me, made safe by magic and love.

Just stop, she says, quiet again. You have to learn.

Now-me knows there's more to this -- I try to kiss her, spells on my lips. She pushes me, not hard but so unexpected that I stumble backwards, falling onto the bathroom floor. But I won't do this again.

I stand there for a moment, fighting for breath, and wipe away the tears with the back of my wrist. She stops packing to look at me, waiting to see what I'll do.

Her face is covered in tears too, her eyes bright and hurting, and I can't do this again. She fades away like water in the desert.

My hands tremble as I climb, blindly. The strands of web quiver beneath my fingers. Something is coming.

Where are you, says a voice in my ear. The voice of the spider? No, hands on my shoulders, arms wrapping around me from behind, pulling me close.

Come back, come back, says the voice, faint but compelling.

Slowly I open my fingers, releasing the shredded webs I clutch. The pattern is broken, but not beyond repair. Even I can't do that.

I have unknotted time, I know. I stood here and I said the words, slinky, curling, sharp words that cut and broke things until I was sliding in a million directions at once. Any direction that took me away from him and the too-small flat and the tears I knew were coming, the fights and the anger and the leaving. Always the leaving.

Please, let me help, he says. His hands are on mine.

Together we begin to piece it back together, weaving the web, putting everything in its place, its time. I'm not the center of a thunderstorm anymore, just another star spinning in the universe, another leaf on the tree of the world. I belong.

I turn and here I am in the garden, still tangled, still wild. I stand in front of the spiderweb model, the one that seemed so powerful to me years ago, the first summer we found it. We've been here lots of times since, exploring the ordered formal gardens and the twisty paths of enchantment, and it's no wonder he found me here.

Sunlight on his face, mixed with frantic worry and relief. I don't even really remember what we fought about this time.

"Why did you -- what were you -- " he starts to ask, fear giving way to anger now.

"I thought it was going to end up wrong," I answer, looking down. He sighs, a sharp sound.

"You can't keep trying to change things this way, every time," he says, the anger building. "You can't keep disappearing and trying to build a new life, or rewriting history, or mixing new potions. Love doesn't -- " he chokes a little " -- life doesn't work that way. You can't spell yourself into eternal happiness!"

I know this, oh god, I know this, but I can't help this fear.

"I don't want to be left again!" I shout. "I don't want to be alone!"

"You're going to have to be if you can't stop reordering the world to suit you," he says through gritted teeth, and I shrink from the coldness in his voice. "Perhaps it's time you learned how to be alone."

We're both quiet for a minute, sounds of birds and children intruding on our silence.

"We'll try it again, Willow," he says at last. There's softness in his voice, but also resignation. I've failed him another time.

I look up, and he seems to see something in my face worth loving, because he kisses my forehead. He loves me. I know it. I just wish I could be sure forever.

He puts his arm around me, and together we leave the garden.

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Fandom:  Buffy
Title:  Axis Mundi
Author:  Sophia Jirafe   [email]   [website]
Details:  Standalone  |  PG  |  het  |  11k  |  08/22/04
Characters:  Willow, Giles
Pairings:  Willow/Giles
Summary:  Willow isn't such a fast learner after all.
Notes:  Spoilers through season six Buffy and season five Angel.
Disclaimer/Other:  Written for Voleuse for the Willow/Giles ficathon with the required elements "ink-stained fingers" and "a New York Times bestseller." Thanks to Nestra, Hossgal and Kyra Cullinan for beta, and to Glossing for some lyrical inspiration.

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