Title: Awakening Truth (1/1)
Feedback: Please be gentle.
Distribution: Gimme credit and a link. Plus, archived at http://fanfiction.net/profile.php?userid=62966
Rating: I'm gonna go say PG.
Spoilers: Up to a slightly altered Graduation.
Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to the almighty Joss. I'm just borrowing them for a while.
Summary: "And the truth shall set you free."
Author's Note: Yet another bit of W/Xness from me, the author of the six-part (so far) one-shot That Way. ^_^' Much thanks to Garrett for his largely underappreciated beta work. Also, credit to Cri for beta reading this and pointing out a couple of clunky parts.
* * *
The battle was over. The Demon Snake Mayor was dead.
"Where's Willow?" came Oz's anxious voice.
Buffy turned and scanned the ruins of the school, "I... don't know. Xander?"
But Xander, too, was gone.
Cordy frowned, and her eyes narrowed suspiciously, "You don't suppose..."
She was interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone. Answering it, she spoke, "Hello, Cordelia Chase here." Pause. "Xander?" Pause. "Oh my God. Yeah, I'll tell them." She pressed End and looked up, "Xander's in the hospital. Willow's been hurt."
* * *
Xander hung up the phone and hurried back to Willow's room. He sat next to her bed and took hold of her hand. "You've gotta stop doing this to us, Wills," he muttered. He knew she couldn't hear him, but it helped.
"Good God, Wills, I can't stand this. I still love you." He rose and walked to the window, gazing out at the not-so-spectacular view, not noticing the redhead's fingers as they twitched slightly. "Heh. Isn't that just typical? I can only get myself to admit it when you're in a coma and about to die. Oz probably appreciates the irony there. I wonder if you even know it was me? Me and Oz, we talked about what I said that night, that I love you, and I know I promised him not to tell, but I wonder if _he_ ever told you?"
Xander froze for a moment, then whirled around, the color draining from his face. "Willow. Y-you're awake. H-how long?"
"Long enough," the redhead said solemnly.
He licked his lips nervously, "I'll, uh... I should go call your parents. Let them know."
With that, he bolted from the room, leaving one distressed witch trying to sort out what she had just learned... and what it meant.
* * *
*Oh, God,* Xander thought as he rushed toward the phones, hunched over, his hands in his pockets, and his head full of confusion and fear. *She knows. She knows, and I'm gonna lose her again. Lose her friendship 'cause she's gonna feel weirded out. What'll I do? I can't live without my Willow!*
His train of thought was interrupted when a hand grabbed his elbow and nearly yanked him off his feet. He blinked and turned, "Buffy. Oz."
The blonde Slayer looked at him strangely, "How's Willow?"
"She's awake now. I-I was... just gonna call her folks."
"Phones are over there," Oz pointed out helpfully.
He flushed and nodded, "Right. I, uh, got a little lost."
"Uh _huh_. Right," Buffy nodded skeptically, but she let it slide. Whatever it was that was bothering Xander, it could wait. Right now, Willow needed them.
* * *
The door opened.
"Oz," Willow said simply. "Buffy. Hi."
Buffy frowned, "Is something wrong, Willow?"
She hesitated, then shook her head, "No, no. I-I don't think so. B-but I think... Oz and I need some... alone time."
Grinning, Buffy nodded, "'Kay. I'll check on ya later." So saying, she stepped out and closed the door. *They make such a cute couple,* she thought. *Well, maybe I should go find out what crawled up Xander's butt.*
Inside, Oz sat down in the chair next to Willow's bed. It was warm. *Must be from Xander,* he thought absently. He reached out to take her hand, but she pulled away. "Willow, what's wrong?" he asked.
"How could you?" she asked, her voice cracking.
Oz blinked in confusion, "How could I what?"
"How could you lie to me like that?" Willow asked.
"Lie about what?"
"That night, in the hospital. I thought it was you. You lied to me."
Oz flinched. There was only one thing she could be talking about. "So, he told you?"
"He didn't know I was awake," she replied bitterly. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I talked to Xander about it. He thought it would be best not to tell you, so you wouldn't be worrying about hurting him."
She glared at him, "How dare you? How _dare_ you try to pin this on Xander?"
Oz's eyes widened, "You... don't believe me?"
"Why should I?" she croaked. "You lied to me. I trusted you. I loved you. I _gave_ myself to you. All because I thought it was _you_ that night!"
"Get out! Get out of my room! Get out of my _life_! I gave you something I can never get back... all because of a _lie_, so get out of my life, you lying son of a bitch!"
As soon as she said it, she regretted it. She saw something die in Oz's eyes in that instant. Her love might been based on a lie, but that didn't make that love any less real, and she felt an icy dagger of hurt and guilt thrust into her heart as she watched that something in his eyes die by her hands, her words.
"Oh, God, Oz..."
He stood and turned away, "Goodbye, Willow."
And he walked out of her life.
* * *
"That was _you_?" Buffy's jaw hung open.
Xander nodded gloomily, "And now she knows."
"Willow told me about that. She really thought it was Oz. Why didn't you ever tell her?"
He shrugged, "What difference would it have made? She called out for him. She made it pretty obvious who she was really in love with."
"You big oaf!" Buffy growled. "She only called out for him because she thought it was him! She told me she knew she couldn't leave him after the Fluke because she could feel how much he loved her when he said that. Only it wasn't him, it was _you_."
He stared, "You mean..."
"If she'd known, she would've chosen you," Buffy finished.
"Is that so?"
They both looked up. Xander spoke first, "Oz, man, I thought..."
"I know. I guess this is for the best. She'd have found out sooner or later."
"Would she?" Xander asked, looking up, guilt clearly written on his face. "We're the only ones who knew."
Oz met his gaze, hesitated for a beat, then nodded slowly, "Yeah. She would have. Eventually, she'd have asked me about it, and I'd have told her, and she'd have left me anyway."
It took a moment for the implication to sink in, and Buffy asked, "She left you?"
"Told me to get out of her life."
Xander shook his head, "She didn't mean it, Oz."
"You didn't hear her."
"Maybe not, but I know my Willow. She didn't mean it."
"That's just it," Oz smiled faintly. "In the end, she's your Willow, not mine. I can't stay."
"You can't go," Xander said quietly.
Oz looked at him, "Why not?"
"Because if you do," the other boy explained evenly, "you'll hurt Willow. You love her enough to not do that to her." He looked up and said with dead seriousness, "And if you _did_ go, I'd hunt you down and kill you myself."
Oz's eyes narrowed, "I'd like to see you try."
"Whoa!" Buffy stepped between them. "Time out! No one will be killing anyone on my watch, got it?"
Oz turned and walked away. "I need to pack."
* * *
When Buffy stepped in, she found Willow -- already back in her own clothing -- struggling to get to her feet.
"Help me up, Buffy. I need to talk to them."
"You're in no condition to be going anywhere right now, Willow," the Slayer scolded.
"Resolve Face," Willow snarled. Her voice softened and broke as she explained, "I need to talk to them... before I lose them both."
There was something in Willow's voice that was familiar. It took Buffy a moment to recognize it. It was how she felt when Angel told her he was leaving Sunnydale... leaving her.
* * *
He turned toward Buffy's voice and saw her with Willow, the redhead leaning heavily on her, one arm around her shoulders.
"Hey," he said, with false cheer. He quickly sidled over and pulled Willow's other arm over his shoulders, easing some of Buffy's burden.
Willow turned to Buffy and said, "Buffy, some... privacy?"
She nodded wordlessly and left, leaving Willow's weight on Xander's shoulders and shooting them one last concerned look before she re-entered hospital, leaving them effectively alone.
"Wills, you shouldn't be up," he said, looking at her pallid cheeks in worry.
"I'm okay," she insisted. "I just... I needed to talk to you... a-and Oz."
He nodded, "We'd better get moving then. He's planning on leaving."
"No! Not... yet," she hissed through the pain. "I need... to talk... to you... first. Alone. And not in a bed," she added the last when she recognized the look on his face.
"But he's going to leave," he protested.
"If he does... fine."
"He loves you, and you love him," Xander said bluntly, "and if you let him go..." He left the statement unfinished.
"So what if I do?"
"You'll lose him, Willow. I can't let you do that."
"Damn it, Xander!" she cursed. "I thought you said you loved me!"
"I did," he said. "I do."
"Then..." her voice caught for a moment, "then why are you pushing me to Oz?"
He looked away, "Because he can make you happy. All I can do... is hurt you."
"How can you say that?" she demanded, a horrified look on her face.
"Because... it's true," he said bitterly. "I'm just like Dad, only worse. At least bruises heal. What I did to you... that stuff doesn't heal."
She whirled on him, standing up and swaying unsteadily on her feet but no longer leaning on him. She grabbed his shoulders and forcibly turned him to face her, leaning slightly on him. Her Resolve Face on, she bit out, "Listen to me, Xander. You are _nothing_ like your father."
"You sure about that?" he asked, a haunted look on his face. "I hurt you, Wills, just like Dad. I cheated on Cordy... just like Dad. I couldn't even keep my pants on around Faith. Just like Dad."
"_Yes_, I'm sure about that," she said firmly. "My parents hate your parents. If you were _anything_ like your father, they wouldn't have let you _near_ me. But they trust you. _I_ trust you. I love you."
"But, Oz..." he managed.
"Will you shut up about Oz?!" she yelled in exasperation. She looked around the deserted parking lot guiltily for a moment after her outburst before she continued, "I love him. But I can't trust him. Not anymore. Not after... this. And he can't trust me, not after the Fluke. Love can't work without trust, Xander, and Oz and I can't trust each other anymore. But I trust you." She looked up at him, "Do you trust me?"
"Always," he replied automatically.
"Then close your eyes."
And felt her lips press against his. Her lips were cold and dry, but he didn't pull away. Instead, he enfolded his arms around her and pulled her close, sharing his warmth with her, even as she draped her arms awkwardly around his neck.
He needed her.
More importantly, she needed him.
He drank in her sweetness, inhaled the strawberry and cinnamon scent of her hair, intermingled with the antiseptic smell of the hospital. It was just as he remembered, just like the Fluke... only a thousand times better.
No guilt, no fear, no shame... just love.
"Well, it's about time," boomed a familiar male voice.
They jerked apart, and Willow's pale face turned scarlet, "Mom! Dad!"
"Mister R," Xander waved awkwardly, equally red in the face.
The big man winked at Xander and mock threateningly stage whispered, "We'll talk about this later, young man." He turned and said jovially, "Right now, I need to take my little girl home."
* * *
Oz looked around. The room was bare, stripped of everything that meant anything to him. In one hand, he carried the last suitcase -- everything had already been packed into the van -- and in the other, he carried his most precious possession: a photo of him and Willow. He glanced at the picture and solemnly tucked it into his pocket.
He started out and opened the door... to find Her standing there, leaning against the side of his van.
He felt his throat catch. She was so beautiful, with the sun in her hair, but the paleness of her skin made her seem almost... ghostly.
She looked up and smiled, "Oz. We need... to talk."
"No. Just... listen," she said, grimacing for a moment. He watched her, concerned. She looked like she was in pain. "I love you, Oz. I really do. But I can't trust you, and you can't trust me. This... bedside confession thing... the Fluke. It won't work, the two of us, because we can't trust each other."
"I _do_ trust you, baby."
"Do you?" she looked up sharply. "Can you... honestly tell me... that you don't... feel jealous... when I'm... around Xander?" she gasped out.
He flinched. She was right. He changed the subject, "You... you should get back. To the hospital."
"I'm fine," she spat. Her voice softened, "I just... I just wanted you... to know... why. And to say... good bye."
Finally finished, she sagged back against the van, her strength draining from her, and darkness claimed her.
* * *
She was drifting in a void, an endless sea of black. She felt lightheaded and a little dizzy.
What happened? Where was she?
Her thoughts were hazy. She remembered... talking to... who? Oz. Yes, she was talking to Oz. Telling him... why they couldn't be together. Saying good bye.
Then what happened?
She didn't know.
She tried to move, tried to will herself out of this cold, dark place, but she couldn't.
Then she latched onto a memory -- two memories. It was foggy, faded, but she remembered being here twice before. And she remembered who brought her out.
"Xander?" she muttered, her eyes fluttering open.
When her vision cleared, she found herself looking at Oz. The werewolf's face was a clashing study of pain and relief, and he said, his voice raw, "He's coming."
She blinked at him, "You're still here. Weren't you...?"
He shrugged, "I couldn't leave, not until I knew you were gonna be okay."
She smiled, "Thank you, Oz."
* * *
Xander hurried through the hospital halls. Willow was in danger again, this time, from her own stubborn Resolve Face. Shock from blood loss from her injuries last night.
He made a beeline toward her room, then stopped when Oz stepped out, a devastated look on his face.
"How is she?" he asked with mounting dread.
"She's awake." His voice distant, the guitarist said, "Full circle."
"Huh?" Xander blinked.
Oz looked up, "We've come full circle. I told her. I told her I loved her. And she called for you."
The revelation rocked Xander on his heels.
"Don't tell her, okay?" Oz asked.
Xander shook his head, "I have to."
"She knows me too well," Xander said with a faint smile. "She'd find out."
Oz looked at him for a long moment, then nodded, "I guess she would."
* * *
"What's wrong, Xander?"
He looked away from her and spent a few minutes collecting his thoughts. Finally, his voice ragged, he said, "It was Oz. This time... it was Oz."
"What?" she shook her head, not comprehending.
"He told me," Xander said thickly. "He told me he said he loved you... and you woke up... calling for me. I just... I had to let you know."
Willow stared at him, trying to understand what he was saying. There was a mixture of pain and a sizeable amount fear on his face.
He was afraid.
Of losing her.
She shook her head, "I didn't hear him, Xander. I just... I remembered you... telling me you loved me. Th-the last two times. A-and I just... had to come back." She looked into his eyes and added, "For you."
He stared at her, speechless for a moment, then said, with all sincerity, "I love you, Willow Danielle Rosenberg."
"I love you too, Alexander Lavelle Harris," she replied giddily.
And although they didn't live happily ever after -- they _did_ live on a Hellmouth, after all -- they had each other until the end of their days.