Monosyllabic Eccentricity

Title: Happily After All
Author: Trinity
Rating: PG
Spoilers: Post New Moon Rising
Summary: Oz tries to help Willow's misery.
Disclaimer: Joss owns everything.
Author's Note: Okay, this can get confusing. Within this story you've got your basic plot, then bits of past happenings in the present tense. And don't forget the dreams sprinkled in. SO, if you get to a bit and are like "Trin's on crack." just keep reading, and hopefully, it'll make sense soon. Oh, and 'Ubi est' is Latin for "where is..". This baby's dedicated to a number of people (hey, I don't finish fics often!): Karen, because of the insane amount of times that I've made her read it. And for all of the ego boosting that she dumped on me. It's been in progress since when, August? Pixie, because she's this, like, fic god(dess) to me, and kept me going when I first started it. Little Faith, thanks for reading this, even if I can be the most scatterbrained beta ever. And, nothing can ever happen minus Lily, because without her, this wouldn't make any sense what so ever. Besides, she rocks. *grins* And Shannon, if you're out there.remember this? Let the insanity begin.


She had seen the word crumble before her eyes.   Boy meets girl, girl likes boy.  But boy likes girl number 2.  Girl spends time mooning over boy, then meets *boy* number 2.  Girl grows to love new boy, but old boy gets jealous.    Girl and boy kiss.  The world shatters.  Second boy forgives girl.   Relieved girl lives.  Then comes the third.  She steals away the girl's boy, and he never comes home.

* * *

"And so I said, 'oh yeah?  Well, eat this!'"  The petite blonde took a bite out of her BLT before making a series of motions in the air with clenched fists.

"Great plan of action, Buff!  So, the world is now rid of another fanged puppy because of quick thinking and air punches, all over lunch, amazingly enough," a male voice jokingly broke in.

"Exactly.  It's nice to know that someone was listen--hey!"  Buffy leaned across the table and playfully punched the brunette in the arm.

"Hey!  Ow.!" Xander trailed off, edging his chair slightly to the left.

"Speaking of.nothing in particular, where's Willow?  She usually shows by now." Buffy studied the cafeteria scene, puzzled.

"I certainly don't know," replied another voice, seating herself at the table.   I don't see why you even care.  It's not like I do."

Xander turned to the new arrival and took her hand.  "Anya, how do I say this.   Willow's our - " Anya raised her eyebrows  " - okay, Buffy and my friend.  When a friend is later than promised, especially one that resides on the Hellmouth, we tend to worry about them.  Hence our Will-age worry."

"Oh.  Well, whatever.  Personally, I don't see the problem.  I have you," she gestured to Xander, "So." Anya shrugged.  Xander sighed heavily.  Buffy destroyed her BLT.  Somewhere, a girl sat, her heart ripped out and shredded, lying exposed at her feet.  So it goes.

* * *

Willow made her way down the halls of Sunnydale High.  She knew that she was late for class, even though the bell wouldn't ring for a time yet.  Still, Willow had to find him.  She sensed that he was around, somewhere - all she had to do was look.   Which was no problem.  She had all the time she needed right there in her backpack.  Satisfied, Willow stopped next to a locker and reached in, pulling out a guitar and examining it closely.  Smiling, she took a step back from the lockers and gripped the neck of the instrument in both hands.  Swinging with all her might, Willow felt the strings cut into her palms when the guitar splintered apart, making contact with the side of a locker.  Good.  Now it felt like she did inside.   Broken.   Humming to herself, Willow continued on her way down the hall.   He'd have to come back now, she mused.  Two of his favorite things were broken, and he'd be very angry.  From far away, a loud ringing began to sound.   Not another air raid, groaned Willow.  She was just about to take refuge under a plant when -

Willow squinted her eyes against the shafts of morning sunlight that penetrated the shades of her room.  Reaching to the left, she hit her alarm clock, and its annoying drone was immediately silenced.  Rolling over, she sleepily contemplated her dream, which was already fading from her memory.  A guitar, plants and high school.  Huh.   A regular ol' trip down memory lane.

They'd get a good laugh together out of her latest dream, Willow mused.  She could already see his half smile, and felt her own lips turn up as she reached for the phone.   But they soon fell, in sync with her outstretched fingertips as reality hit her hard.  There was no Oz on the other side of the line.  In fact, this was the end of the line.  He was gone.  Had her sub-conscience managed to forget that small fact?

Apparently so.

Aware of movement to the left of her, Willow shifted her body weight so that she was looking down on the girl beside her.  A smile flickered to life across her face, full fledged in power, replacing the previous look of confusion.

"M-m-morning," the blonde softly stuttered as she turned blue eyes towards Willow, enveloping both of them in warmth.  Fabricated dreams slowly unraveled and slipped away, and as Willow settled back into bed she was dimly aware of a forgotten tune weaving in and out of her mind.  But who had she ever known that had played guitar, particular the E flat, diminished 9 chord?

* * *

She drags out the family's worn lawn chair and strategically places the well baked plastic into the sun.  Gingerly lowering herself onto it, the girl settles back and tucks fiery red hair behind ears before situating headphones and sliding down sunglasses.

~*Strummin' my pain with his fingers.*~

A single tear slowly makes its way down her cheek.  Then another.  As they continue to flow, the girl makes no attempt to brush them away.  Instead, she sits, unmoving.  As soon as the sun erases one tear's track from her face, another takes its place, stemming from behind yellow tinted glasses.  It's the only way that she can cry.  Soon the girl will go back and face them all, but for now she is content.   For now no one can see her.  And for now she can get away.  Not a sound escapes past her lips, but her shattered heart falls like sharp glass from her eyes, stinging all the way down.

~*Killing me softly with his song.*~

~*Killing me softly.*~

* * *

A stone skipped across the pavement, driven by the slight kick of a shoe.

"You know, an object in motion will remain in motion until another force." Xander paused briefly as the small rock hit the edge of a building and came to a stop.   ".acts upon it."  He looked around, obviously pleased with his contribution to the conversation, or current lack there of.

"It's nice to see that someone gained something from his high school career," Buffy replied seriously.  Xander flashed a grin over his shoulder before quickly altering his path to avoid a streetlight collision.

The slayer shook her head.  "Now, would you like a gold star?"

* * *

Dragging her feet, Willow pushed open the heavy oak door that would lead her into the bathroom.  Spying an open shower, she skitted across the white tiled floor towards it, leaned in, and turned on a steady stream of hot water.  Slipping out of her clothes and under the steaming liquid, the red head found herself stifling a yawn, eyelids drooping.  Why was she so tired?   Wasn't water supposed to make you feel more awake?  Maybe it was the temperature.  She had never thought of the phrase "Take a cold shower!" seriously, but.Willow reached for the "cold" knob, and her fingers came away clutching a Pez Witch.

"Do you like it?" The boy asked, a hint of hopefulness present in his voice.

"I like.I more than like.but aren't you supposed to be taking me to Oz?  I hear the real estate there is something else," she questioned, puzzled.  The boy's blue eyes lit up, laced with an undercurrent of electricity.  Yet the matter surrounding them remained blank, void of surface emotions.

"That's the plan.  You don't get motion sick, right?" He questioned, intertwining fingers with hers.  Flesh on flesh.  Pulsing.  Again.   She looked down at the ground beneath her feet, brushing a string of stars from her eyes.

"Only when I'm in the midst of the spin cycle," she replied as they were hurtled into the night air.  "All the soap makes my eyes sting."

Once they had passed over the remains of Sunnydale High, Willow again turned to the slight frame flying next to her.

"You look familiar.  Have we met?"

"Most definitely.  We're actually sitting somewhere over that rainbow." he gestured mindlessly to their left, at the array of hazed colors that spread across the night sky.

"Oh." Stated Willow, unable to tear her gaze from the large shape looming on the horizon, straight ahead.  The dark sky enveloped the pair, swishing softly against their skin.

"The gas will surely kill us," Willow spoke, eyes reflecting that of the Big Dipper.

He turned his head towards her own and opened his mouth.  But, before he could put his voice into words, the dingo collided with a gigantic, tarnished star, a yelp of pain ripping their fingers apart.  Willow turned her own head as she continued on alone, watching the animal until it rolled to a standstill and disappeared from view.

"Checkmate," she whispered as the rain began, cool against her skin.   Teardrops fell all around her body, blinding her sight on contact.  Salt stung newly opened wounds, and somewhere that was else a girl stood, cold tile burning against her body, her own tears undistinguishable from those that fell from the head above.   And then the shower shut off.

* * *

It seems strange to her, the fact that his most prominent feature to remain imprinted within her mind is his hands.  She still reaches out in the dark for the familiar fingers, waits for them to in close hers, to run fingers through hair, or even to beat out a tune on the table top.  Yet time after time she comes away with nothing in her grasp.  But the girl still stretches out, hoping to brush something this time, and if not then, possibly the next.  He used to kiss the pain away.  Now he is only there to start it.

* * *

*    ~    * Somewhere that is else.a few days prior to the beginning of this tale*    ~    *

Smoke rose above the crouched figure, eating away at the surrounding air.  As the last lighter burned out, he slowly opened his eyes to face the music.    Literally.  Smiling in spite of himself, the boy gazed out among the sea of people spread before him as he swung his guitar over his head, but stopped suddenly, in mid-motion.  Examining the polished wood closer, his eyes could just make out the crack running from the tenth fret on.

"Huh."

Yet, when had he managed to knock his instrument into something hard enough to create such a mark?  Must have been one of the roadies.but, to get such a result, it looked as though the instrument would have had to be gripped by the neck and deliberately swung.

Oz shook his head clear and turned his attention back to the crowd in front of the stage.   Picking up the first chord in the next set, his hand involuntarily dropped to his side as a flash of red caught his eye.  Following the color as it wove in and out of view, the guitarist briefly wondered how she'd managed to find him.and a part of him wished that-

  No way.  Oz blinked his eyes open and stared up at the ceiling.  The lack of light streaming in from the open windows showed him that it was still dark outside of his van, and as Oz rolled into a sitting position, he grimaced when a sharp crack sounded.   Reaching beneath him, Oz's hand came up with a framed photograph.  Although still connected, the glass had splintered, separating the two figures by a distorted line.   The pale moonlight seemed to highlight the girl's fiery red hair, making it burn brightly behind the glass.  She was staring straight at the camera, one eyebrow raised, the smug look of satisfaction clearly written across her face.  The smitten boy that stood next to her was also facing forward, his auburn hair spiked this way and that, as if he hadn't expected to be dragged out in front of a lens.  Or maybe he just didn't care.

Oz raised a hand to his own hair, running his fingers through the now bleached locks.   His blue eyes had lost their sparkle as the weeks had turned into months, and as the months began to add up, day by day.  But the eyes in the picture still held hope, a trait that Oz had come to envy as time after time he had found himself sitting in the very same position, staring at the same picture, wishing that there had been another way.   But there hadn't been.  He'd let the one thing in his life that counted slip away, only to have her snatched up by another contender.

Tara.

Oz fought down the growl that was forming low in his throat.  Some days it seemed that she was the only reason that he was apart from Willow.  Unwillingly, Oz remembered the day that he found the old sweater of Willow's, discarded and forgotten in the back of the van.  He had picked it up, inhaling her scent, reveling in the moment.  Wrapping himself in just her.  But it had been over almost as quickly as it had been initiated.  Not because Oz didn't love the way Willow smelled-

      *like vanilla*

     -But rather, because of the last time that he had really smelled her.  Really recognized her scent.  On someone else.  And that someone had just happened to be Tara.

He hadn't ever lost control of his inner beast since leaving Sunnydale that last time, and had spent many nights just staring at the ripened moon from the driver's side of his van.   Then came the morning that he awoke, the sweater beside him, only the fuzzy fabric had been shredded and frayed.  Almost as if a teething puppy had managed to get a hold of it.  Which one had.

Oz sighed, a brief release of breath, and carefully stowed the memory away beneath a beanbag, readying it for the next trip down that particular road.  As he stood, his hand brushed a stack of accumulating junk to the car's floor.  Crouching once again to retrieve it all, the werewolf's eyes hardened as they came to rest upon a thickly bound book, hidden from view for months by various papers and trash.  Oz's stomach chewed at his other intestines, lips smoothing into a thin, tight line.  He settled down once more on the floor, running his hand lightly over the leather bound volume.

It belonged to the other of the picture.

It belonged to Willow.

And, if Oz played his cards right, might just help him forget about the 2 people frozen in time stashed beneath the chair next to him.  Opening up to the first page, Oz wondered where the nearest store with "Eye of Rat" in stock was.  And how quickly he could learn Latin.

* * *

Plunking her form onto a stool, Buffy focused on the band at hand before turning her attention to Xander.

"You did tell her 8, right?"  She questioned, an exasperated note edging her voice.

"Aye fot ewe id," he replied around a mouthful of Twinkie.  "Ey migha meh ond eh," Xander continued, licking the gooey filling lovingly off his fingers.

"You might have mentioned it?  Xander!  I'll go for her.  God only knows she needs to get out.or.I'll be back."

"Upps."  Xander turned back to the other half of his Twinkie, shrugging absentmindedly to the already retreating Buffy.

"At least you've got the Twinkie talk down!" He called after her, swallowing.

* * *

Clothes were strewn everywhere.  A chair was overturned next to the dresser, and a pair of pants dangled from a nearby lamp.  As Buffy entered the room, her first thought was that there had been a struggle, and that Willow had been captured by some local baddie.  Then she was hit square in the face by a flying sock.

"Oh! Hey!" Willow called over her shoulder as she strode towards the closet and began frantically pulling clothes from their respectable hangers.

"I know that we're in need of some spring cleaning Will, but - oof." Buffy suddenly found herself using slayer moves on a halter top.  "-all things aside," the freshman tossed the shirt to the floor, "What exactly are you looking for?"

"My sweater," came the muffled reply.  Willow emerged from the closet and sat heavily onto her bed, pushing more socks to the carpet.  "The cute, fuzzy purple one?  Which makes it sound like I wear small animals, but I. I haven't seen it since, well." she glanced over at Buffy, who raised her eyebrows right back.

"If you're over it, I think that you should be able to talk about it," interrupted a voice from the doorway.  Both girls turned to face the intruder, armed and ready with, surprisingly enough, socks.

"Willing to defend the fort no matter the situation.I like that in a woman.    Finding it in two is ever more the chocolatey goodness."  Xander entered the dorm room and plunked himself among the many articles scattered by the refrigerator.  "What hit here, a hurricane?  Wait, I forgot.  The only disasters that we get here come in the demon variety," he continued sarcastically.

"Xander's right," the red head whispered.

"Well, it's about time someone recognized - I am?"

".I haven't seen it since..."

"Oz?" Buffy questioned, supplying the one name that, unknown to her, had momentarily slipped Willow's mind.


"Yeah."  The Wicca replied shortly, stifling a yawn.  "Maybe you guys should go.  I think that I'm going to do the sleep thing, and it's kinda impossible if I'm talking."

".and if your bed is still covered in last weeks laundry.  It's alright, we can take a hint," Xander grinned.  "C'mon, Buff.  I told the big demon that we'd meet her back at the Bronze tonight."  Willow's best friend grabbed Buffy's arm and dragged her in the direction that he's first appeared from.

"An evening with Anya.  Makes me wish that I had a psyche paper to write or something." Buffy's words slowly faded from Willow's hearing as she and Xander disappeared down the hallway, leaving Willow alone with her thoughts.   Or lack of.  Flopping onto the bed, she suddenly realized how bright the lights were.   Closing her eyes against the glare, Willow couldn't help but wonder how she could have forgotten his name.  It just wasn't normal.  Sure, she'd come up without names for numerous people when talking about them, but this was.Oz.  As she drifted to sleep, Willow was dimly aware of a knock on the door.

"Being late for Anya!  Not the best of ideas!  And Xander, if you want food, get a job and buy some!"  Willow looked towards the door expectantly.   "Oh!  You're not Xander.  Nope!  In fact, you're my very Tara shaped friend," she spoke as the other witch stepped into the room.  "You don't even look anything *like* Xander!  Or even Buffy!  And especially not like-"

She glanced over at her bedside table, a framed picture coming into view.  Two people stood in it, a boy and a girl.  But no one knew who they were anymore, because the water had washed it all away.  And now there was confusion.  Everywhere.   Even in the box of Twinkies that she had somehow kept hidden from Xander.

"How did we get in your room?"  Questioned Willow as she surveyed the change in scenery.

"Easy."  Spoke the boy.  "It's your dream.  I just stopped in on my way by."

"Oh," replied Willow as his form morphed slowly into that of a blonde girl.   "What are you doing?"

"Going," she replied after a short pause.

"That's it?"  Willow choked out  "That's your solution?"

"That's *y-your* d-decision."

"Don't you get a say in all this?" Continued Willow, feeling as though she had already had this dream.  Once upon a time, that is.  When you touched what you loved and it loved right back.  Even after you broke it.

The picture on the bedside table silently cracked.

"I always meant to fix that theory," Willow stated, attempting to remain logical.  ".shouldn't I be doing something?  Right about now?"

As if on cue, the tears started to fall.

"I'll find someplace," the other girl was saying, fighting her own tears.

"Well, how long?"

"I don't know."

"Tara, it's a simple question.  How long does the popcorn go in for?" Willow questioned, wishing that her eyes would stop running blue liquid.

"My whole life, I've always pushed for 5." Willow blocked the other girl out as she began to think.  This wasn't how the dream always went.  Where had that boy gone?  You think you know a person.

She didn't even notice when Tara left the room and drove away into the sunset, it's colors slowly consuming the blonde, burning like the emotions Willow used to feel, but that now just ran uselessly down her face.

* * *

"And then she just left." Explained Willow the next day, rotating her coffee cup between her palms.  "The thing was, I didn't even care.  Not even a little!   And when I woke up, I thought that she was truly gone.  And still didn't!   Didn't care!  Non-caring, carefree Willow here!"

"Willow - " Buffy began.

"No!  This is wrong - is this wrong?  Tara's been this huge part of my life, and now, suddenly, it's like 'Let's re-evaluate the situation!'"  Willow took a deep breath before continuing.  "And everything felt so familiar, like I'd had the dream before." she trailed off, lost between thought and her own confusion.

"Will, you know where all of this is stemming from, right?  It's an exact re-enactment of last November, when - "

"When what?  Buffy!" The red head interjected, "I just don't know what to make of all this!  I mean, talk about 'Hello changes!'  Puberty all over again!  Plus, it's not like I've ever had someone in my life that I loved completely bail on me.well, except when you did the whole "Anne" thing, but that had special circumstances, and."

Buffy's eyes snapped as they met her friend's.  "What about." the Chosen one paused, unsure of whether to go on or not.

"Oz?"

Willow looked up from the coffee stirrer that she'd broken in two, confused.

"Well, what about him?

* * *

Oz pulled up his parking brake and sat back in the driver's seat. <This is it.  No turning back now> Closing his eyes, he briefly reconsidered what he was about to do.   Then he climbed out of the van, backpack in one hand, book in another, and set off into the woods.

As he walked, shadows seemed to slip off of the trees and run underneath his feet, daring him to cross the dark river that they formed.  Oz only plowed ahead - he was used to the night, and liked to envelope himself in the darkness.  Pushing aside a small fir tree, he gazed at the clearing that spread out before him.  Counting twenty paces towards the center of the defined space, Oz knelt in the dewy grass and unzipped his bag.

"Ubi est the salt?" He wondered aloud, pulling out various items and arranging them before him.  Carefully settling himself down within the circle that he had created, the werewolf turned to a marked page in Willow's book, and began to chant, his voice growing louder as he continued down the page and onto the next.  Then everything changed.

****

Colors swirled together like a child's finger paint, yellows into oranges, oranges into bananas.  Wee Willie Winkee and they all fell down crashing to the ground breaking the silence that had never been so loud.  Fingers on the glass why didn't you stay it was for the best.

<The best.>

Walks by the library you probably don't remember me but I went with you everywhere to the ends of the earth or at least the Hellmouth.  Yeah, remember that place it was the best night of my life the only night that I keep all the time hidden away to look at.

<Could you just pretend to care?>

Quiet little places quite little moments that we are dear.  But do you remember at all because I do every time that I look at your face and see what I finally broke what you finally ruined.  Crushing me crushing you killing us both while the candy witch sits in her little plastic castle and laughs.

<You think I don't care?>

Not that I don't want it no it's just no longer existent and the more I wish the higher it flies out of my reach.  So I give up and fall down wishing you were here with me but you're not instead I know that you're on your own and all alone and still I wonder who sent you when you fell from the sky.  Cause only angels do what you did and why couldn't you be one yourself I'd believe it.

Bananas into apples and apples into pie.

<I'd still>

If I could only see where things would lead maybe they'd be better but who knows? I don't, neither does the monkey over there


<All monkeys are French>

sitting by you and you didn't know that not that it matters but still.  Like emeralds in water I drown in your eyes but it never makes a difference because things don't mend themselves.  Rome wasn't built in a day and I'm out of time plus the calendar's outdated so it's finally over and all I want to do it hold your love in my hand but like cupping water in your palms it all leaks out eventually.

****

Opening his eyes, the first thing that Oz picked up on was the presence of light.   Blinking against the sun's harsh rays, he looked around at the extinguished candles and other odds and ends that littered the grass near by.  The purple sweater, now whole again, waiting to be worn.  The leather book, shut and at his feet.  And the picture frame.  Gathering all of the scattered items, he hastily threw them into his bag, eyes focused not on what he was allowing in, but rather what he had done.   Had the former Dingo been looking as he placed the last key element away, he might have picked up on something out of even the Hellmouth ordinary.  While the red haired girl still smiled smugly at the camera, the scene was lacking one particular feature.   A short boy, with spikey auburn hair, seemed to have wandered away from the focus of the lens.

Disappeared.

Or maybe he had just been forgotten.

* * *

The cool glass burns her fingers as she reaches out, attempting to break the thin barrier that separates them.  Will separate them.  Always has separated them.  As the blue van stalls, a tiny spark ignites inside of her heart and continues up into her eyes.  Catching her breath, she feels the barrier becoming transparent beneath her own palms.  Then the engine roars to life, and the salty liquid dropping from her eyes drowns the tiny flame, leaves him just out of her reach once again.  Not knowing that this time, they were playing for keeps, and that she's just lost in overtime.

* * *

A coke slid across the wooded table, hitting the outstretched palm opposite it with a wet slap.

"Sorry, Buff.  No go on the diet.  You'll just have to count calories with the best of us," apologized Xander, popping open his own can and taking a shot of the cool, sugary liquid.

"You only got two carbonated beverages," stated Anya, the disappointment evident in her voice.

"Yeah.so?"

"What about me?  Don't you care about my need for fluids at all?"

"Anya - you don't even like soda!"  Replied Xander, exasperated.

"Oh.  I suppose you're right." She slumped farther down in her seat as Xander turned his attention back towards the Slayer.

"Not to bring up old news, but Willow?  Not looking so good."

"I know," sighed Buffy, moving her can from hand to hand.  "And every time that I ask her what's what, and who's who, she's too tired to talk.  Or has no idea what I'm talking about.  She hasn't been like this since-"

"Wolfboy left?"  Supplied Xander.

"Yeah.  I talked to Tara this morning, and she claims that Willow hasn't been by for a few days.  Which leaves the question of what she *has* been doing.  And with who - Xander!"

"What?!"  He jumped, looking quickly around.

"What if Oz is back?  We might not even know it!  He could be hiding out in *my* closet, for all we know!  And Willow, knowing all along."

"Buffy," Xander spoke, eyeing the blonde suspiciously, "I think that I'd - *we'd* know if the teenage werewolf was homeward bound.  Sunnydale's no LA even with its lower levels.  Plus, Willow?  Not exactly the world's best secret keeper."

"You're right," Grinned Buffy, sheepishly.

"Of course he is.  Xander's always right."  Anya beamed up at the brunette.

Xander and Buffy sighed, taking simultaneous swigs of their sodas.

* * *

"You're a horrible person," Willow scolded the other girl, staring her down.  "You made the only person that cared about you disappear."  The girl's face crumpled, attempting to hold back her tears.  "Don't cry to me now!  It's your fault that they left!  It was stupid, for you to think that they'd just be.waiting."  A spark of recognition went off in Willow's mind, momentarily making her pause, trying to recall where she'd heard that line before.

<Must have been from some movie that Xander made me watch> she concluded.  Turning back to the mirror, Willow continued.

"Tara left!  Yesterday!  Gone!  Fini!  And when did you actually notice?!  This morning!" She exploded, pressing five fingers to the reflective surface.  In her other hand she clutched the only thing that she'd found left in Tara's empty dorm room - Miss Kitty Fantastico's favorite stuffed mouse.

"Tara said that she'd miss it, but that the mouse was only a toy to be played with.  And that she was sick of playing the mouse."  Willow collapsed on to the bathroom floor, sick at analyzing what she believed to be the root of the problem: Herself.

* * *

Oz didn't know where he was going.  He'd been driving aimlessly for days, his body automatically shifting, braking, and taking exits every few miles.  His mind was elsewhere.  And filled with someone else.  He'd realized two things the morning after the spell: one, how stupid he'd been to attempt something that he obviously had no clue to execute.  And two, to check the pages in any future books to insure that they hadn't stuck together over time.

Grimly smiling, Oz turned the knob on his radio as he continued down the highway.

~*This feeling won't last cause I cannot survive.*~

He lowered his foot on the brake as the next exit sign came into view.

~*I tell you I've been here before.*~

His lips formed the words as the van slowed.

"Sunnydale."

~*When it's moving this fast, it's a matter of time.*~

He put on his blinker.

~*.one of us walks out that door.*~

He could at least give the books that Giles had lent him on werewolf lore back.  And if he saw her.Oz pulled onto the exit ramp.

<What if she doesn't remember you?> A voice nagged from within his head.  The werewolf almost laughed.

How could she forget?

* * *

She sat, slumped in a chair in the student lounge.  Others passed by her sleeping figure, not taking any particular interest.  They'd all had their own similar days.  Some even looked on in envy before heading off to their problems.  The rest didn't even notice, forgetting the scene almost as soon as they'd passed her.
~*~
A shot shattered the still night air.  Willow jumped, startled.  Setting down her copy of "The Call of the Wild," she shrugged and headed off in the direction of the noise.  Reaching up into a tree, she pulled down a flashlight and a box of animal crackers.

<Yum. Provisions> She thought, biting into the bright bulb.  Continuing on, Willow found that the trees gave way to a large clearing.  Standing in the center were Riley and another, shorter figure.  They were studying something that she couldn't make out at their feet intently.

"He was mocking me!  I've never been mocked before," she heard Riley claim before delivering a swift kick to something lying on the ground.  Willow stopped between the two men and looked down at the broken monkey on the ground.

"He pantsed you?" She questioned out loud, playing with a guitar pick in her fingers.

"No dignity," the shorter boy replied, turning away.  Then she started to shake.

"Willow?"

She tried to reply to Riley.  She really did.  But then her eyes snapped open, and the Wicca found herself staring into a pair of hazel eyes.

"Gah!" She cried, jumping into a standing position.

Buffy took a quick step back, startled herself.  Regaining composure, Willow offered up a small smile.

"What cha doing, Buff?  Besides scaring the sleeping out of.sleep?  Shouldn't you be patrolling?  I mean, with it being." she glanced down at her watch, ".um, 11 p.m. and.oh."

"You've been asleep there for a while, Will.  Patrols over and done with.  Buffy, 5, Vamps, none."  Willow made an impressed noise.  "So, I figured with you all rested up, and me living off a Slayer rush, a girl's night was in store."

Willow's eyes lit up as they started for the stairs.  "Ooh! And I got a new CD! Hey," she said, eyeing her friend's skeptical look.  "I, too, have been known to pick out some good tunes in my day.  Plus, this band is different.  See, the lead singer mysteriously disappeared a few nights after a local gig.  But, you know, the body?  Never found."

"Color me intrigued," replied Buffy as Willow unlocked their door.   "What's their name?"

"Shy," called Willow over her shoulder as she continued into the room.

Buffy stopped in the doorway.  "Um, not to be the one to bring it up, but 'Shy?'  Isn't that the name of the band that includes the V-word?  Like, as in 'Veruca?'"

Willow's eyes widened.  "You have heard of them!"  Her smile faltered.   "Is this some big thing that I missed out on?  Because, before now I'd never even - Buffy?  What's wrong?  Oh!  I knew it!"  She covered her face with her hands.  "You hate them!  I'll be like Kathy all over again!  Um, I'll try not to.what?!"

Buffy continued to stare at a spot on the wall next to Willow's bed.

"What happened to your Dingo's poster?" The Slayer questioned softly.

"Oh, *that*!"  Willow laughed, relieved.  "I figured, since they're at the point where they're kind of, well, sucking, why take up wall space?  So I gave it to Xander."  She made a face.  "You know, they pretty much lost me after their guitarist left the group.  Not a whole lot going on with them now.  Plus, this CD came with a limited edition poster thing," Willow explained, gesturing towards the 40" by 25" picture of a girl hanging over a microphone.

"Neat, huh?"

* * *

Never has she sprinted so fast.  The harsh wind whips at her hair, blinding her vision.  She stumbles up the steps and amongst the headstones, words running through her mind, jumbling her sub-conscience into one large blob.

<"I know how it feels.I remember">

Crossing her arms against the pain, the girl attempts to protect her crumbling heart.  Slowly, automatically, her body makes it way across the street.  The horn is a dull noise, barely breaking through her anguish.  By the time that it registers, she feels another force pushing her out of the way, and back into the world.Now the only person that she has to blame is herself.

* * *

*Clink-cl-click clink clink* Oz gave the bent soda can at his feet one last snub with his foot before continuing on.  He'd left the van in the Bronze's back parking lot, figuring the fewer people that saw him, the better.  Zebra stripes had the odd tendency to attract more than a few stares.  So he'd pocketed the keys, and was currently striding down Sunnydale's main drag.  25 feet from the corner, the temporary blonde stopped to get his bearings.

* * *

Saturday.  Willow stifled a yawn and eyed the clock.  9:10 am, the red digits cheerfully informed her.  Absently wrinkling her nose, she pulled on a pair of corduroys and yanked the closest shirt on without stopping to see what it was.  Shaking her head, Willow pulled a hat over her hair, not noticing the sun beating down outside of her window.  Grabbing a wad of bills from her wallet, she tip-toed around a sleeping Buffy and crept out the door.  Skipping down the stairs, Willow turned right once she hit the door leading outside, and headed for town.

* * *

The ceramic mug fell with a loud "clink!" before rolling beneath the table.   Glancing hastily around, the boy ran a hand through his hair before quickly retrieving the piece of dishware.  Slapping some money onto the Formica tabletop, Devon stood and made his exit out of the front door of The Expresso Pump.  Attempting to take off his sweatshirt in the rising California heat, the singer's vision was momentarily blocked as the soft cotton passed over his eyes.

"Christ," he muttered as the hood got stuck around the crown of his head.  Continuing walking, he gave a mighty tug, and he was free.  Unfortunately, he was also too late to avoid the girl walking in the opposite direction.  With an in sync "Oof," Devon crashed into her path, sending her tumbling hard to the cement sidewalk.  Attempting to regain his own balance, Devon quietly cursed before turning his attention to the girl still sprawled at his feet.  Retrieving her hat from a few yards away, he didn't immediately register her features until he was offering her a hand up.

"Cool hair, man," he commented, pulling the disoriented figure to her feet as he admired her blue tinted locks.  As she raised her eyes to thank him, Devon's face lit up with recognition.

"Dude!  Haven't I seen you around before?  You're that chick that plays for the other team- what was your name again?  It had something to do with nature." he made a face.  "Fern?  No, wait.was it Chrysanthemum?   Nope, that was the girl that I went out with last night.  Moss?  I don't know.who are you again?"

"Willow," she replied, jamming the hat again over her aqua strands.   "Sorry to be so clumsy and in the way like."  She scuffed her sneaker on the sidewalk.

"Hey, not a problem.  Not everyone is born with my coordination.  So, what's up with- " He pointed towards her hair, indicating the new color.

"Oh!  That.  Um, see.Buffy?"  He nodded his head in recognition before she continued.  "She decided that it would be fun to try out her new hair mascara.things."  Willow grimaced.  "She forgot to mention the 'permanent' part.  So, I'm currently blue, and attempting to forget the obvious fact."

"Cool," stated Devon, suddenly bored with the conversation.  "Um, I'm going to jet.  I think that I'm supposed to be sleeping now."

Willow glanced at her watch.  "But, it's 10:30 am."

"Yeah, I know.  Talk about a bone.  I should have been in bed an hour ago.   If I hurry, I'll bet that I can be asleep in 15 minutes or less."

Willow watched the older man as he shuffled down the sidewalk a few moments before continuing on herself.  Breathing in, she could almost taste the coming fall at the back of her tongue, a sensation that caused her to smile.   Looking up ahead, Willow realized that she'd have to take the next right a few yards ahead.  Picking up her pace, the Wiccan rounded the corner onto the almost deserted Sunnydale main drag.  Glancing around, she realized that the only visible soul was the guy standing about 25 feet from her.  Willow could see his gaze flicker from her clothes to her face, and finally to rest on the few locks of hair that had escaped the hat.  Staring herself, she found her eyes locked with his, unable to tear them away.  Somewhere a spark caught her attention, flickering for a moment in Willow's mind before she snapped her gaze away from his intense eyes, immediately extinguishing the flame.  Turning her head slightly to keep some contact as she strode by,
Willow realized that she was humming.  Or was he the one making the lyrics fall into place?

<<She knows that/She knows that/She knows that side of me.>>

Continuing on, the techno pagan felt a smile slowly spreading, growing until it consumed her whole face.

"Who is that boy?"

* * *

He stood, watching the pavement long after she'd disappeared from view.  Not ready to process the scene quite yet, Oz shook his head and squinted up at the street sign above him.

"Huh," he said to no one in general as he started walking down the once again deserted stretch of cement.  But the street name burned in his mind: Istan Boulevard.

* * *

"So.What's the what that's up?" Xander questioned as he entered the small apartment.

"I hope that it's good.  I'm missing the History's Channel's special on the Plague for this," continued Anya, following him into the room.

All eyes turned to the ex-demon as she sat on the couch.

"What?"

From her spot on another chair Buffy shook her head, then spoke up.  "It's about Willow.  She's been - "

"- different much?" Chimed in Xander, raising an eyebrow.

"Exactly.  The other night I walked into our dorm, and do you know what she was doing?"

Two heads shook in unison.

"Figuring out her Halloween costume."

"No!" Xander jumped up from his seat.  "Wait a second.huh?"

"I agree with Xander on this one." Came a voice from the other room.  Giles walked over the thresh hold, a half-eaten apple in one hand and a book balanced in the other.  "So she's debating All Hallows Eve costumes.  I myself was on the fence between two of my own."

"No more sombrero," commented Buffy absently.  "The thing was, though, that she was all set up to re-use her Eskimo outfit."

"So she decides to bring back a costume.  Not exactly a world threatening issue to invade my privacy for.  Yet again," stated Giles tartly, snapping his book shut.

Xander ignored the older man, lost in thought.  "Wasn't that the outfit that she threw in the Bad Will bin last summer?"

"Honestly, Xander, everyone knows that the bloody service is called 'Good Will.'  Really, sometimes I wonder how you made it through high school at all."

Xander shot a "duh" look in Giles' general direction.  "I know.just making with the reference.you know, the stuff wasn't something that she wanted, so it was bad, and.never mind.  Anyway, she mentioned something along the lines that it was pointless to take up closet space, because she had no one to wear it for." he trailed off, his thoughts derailed.

".Oz," Buffy finished for him.

"You Americans never leave anyone alone!  Most likely Willow got rid of that ridiculous article of clothing because she wished to put the past behind her."

Buffy sighed, exasperated.  "That's the point!  She doesn't remember getting rid of it!  I tried to explain to her what she did with it last summer, but she just laughed and said that I was remembering wrong!  And, she claimed that she had never worn it out in public.  I may.not so noticing in some aspects, but I can remember what a person has and hasn't worn.  I mean, hello!  Cultural thing back in the old school days."

Giles continued to look pained.

"Yeah," Xander sat up straighter.  " About a week ago, I think it was, we were walking down past the Bronze, and - Oh, wait.  Did I mention the animal crackers that I was eating? - And she started to have this conversation with me about.Hippo dignity and monkeys with pants and the whole mocking aspect of it all.  Anyway," he paused as Giles made a muffled "Har-ump" in the back of his throat. "Okay, so maybe not quite as pertaining to the subject at hand.  I can take a hint.  But, here comes the point - don't you all remember the fetish that those two had?  More precisely, in the cracker form?  Mention the first syllable in the word 'animal crackers, and - "

"Xander, that's two words," Anya corrected.

He turned.  "Anya, is there any chance that you could keep your ex - demon opinions to yourself?  Thank you. Anyway, get out the first word," he looked pointedly back at her, "and she'd get all flustered.  Even mention the word 'Pez'- "

".and she got all watery.  God, the amount of tissues that we went through," Buffy recalled.  "For a while she was writing letters to the company to retire the witch."

"Exactly, Buff.  But my animal crackers?  Not a problem to her.  She actually asked if she could finish off the box."

Giles perched on the edge of the loveseat, looking bored.  "It may be odd behavior, but sit back and think about it.  Don't you all think that this could be the poor soul's way of trying to get over someone and move on?""

Buffy and Xander opened their mouths to argue, then shut them again in agreement.

The sudden silence was broken as the door clicked open.  Turning and walking to the open threshold, the librarian crouched down and ran his fingers over the lost leather bound volumes that had been set on the stoop.  Scrawled on a piece of paper was the phrase "7 o'clock at the cage" and drawn next to them a lone stick man holding a guitar.

~*~

The slayer carefully picked her way down the decaying stairs of the crypt, pulling her coat tightly around her body against the whispering of death.  Xander tumbled down after her, gravity slowing his decent as he hit the cement slab of a floor hard.

"I'm okay."

Anya stepped over his crumpled form and stood next to Buffy as Xander scrambled to his feet.  Joining the two, he surveyed the room.  Stale air wove its way around the three, caressing their faces with dead promises.

"I don't see anything.  This bores me.  Xander, you promised that tonight we could stay in the hole that you call a room.  It isn't even laundry night," Anya informed, latching herself onto the male's arm.

"Anya," Xander began, but the end of her name fell form his lips as a shadow blocked the little light entering the tomb.  Slowly turning, three pairs of eyes adjusted to the slight frame standing solidly at the foot of the stairway.

"Hey."

* * *

Surrounded by complete darkness, she touches the others skin.  Smoke of a
candle past it's time weaves in and out of the night, binding the two forms,
so similar, together.  In the back of her mind she remembers the boy and the
last time that her life was truly in danger.  He had made it all go away
with a word, casting shadows of doubt back under the occupied bed where they
belonged.  Now it was her turn to push him under as she focused back on the
girl in front of her, pulling the replacement close to keep out the unknown.
  But she has to work now, to make the shadows go away.  And in the morning
they will still linger, just beyond her sight.  Because she's powerless to
stop them.

* * *

Anya looked skeptically down at him.  "What are you doing here?"

"Something's not right.  With Willow."

"Wait," Xander stepped in.  "No offence, Wolf Boy, but it's not like you've been hanging at home with the kids.  How do you suddenly know so much on the subject of Will-isms?"

Buffy and Anya nodded their heads in silent agreement.

Oz studied them coolly, deciding whether or not to continue.  Even in opening his mouth, he knew that it wouldn't be enough.  "I ran into her," he said simply.  "She didn't know me."

"Didn't you have the sense to think that she might be trying to forget all things Oz? To - " Buffy shut her mouth, attempting not to sound like Giles.

Shaking his head, Oz continued into the room and stopped in front of the makeshift cage.  Speaking to the cold bars before him, he continued.

"It's my fault," he said slowly, trying to make them understand.

Xander raised an eyebrow skeptically.  "I'll be the first to admit that she's been of the weird.  But you've been.and not near her.where have you been since you.weren't here?"

Oz turned, his facial expression barely flickering.

"Right. Not the point now." The brunette sighed.  "So, Oz man, what's the deal that makes you think that whatever may or may not be going on.is.  Going on."

The werewolf looked at each one of them in turn before speaking.  "We may need Giles.  What I did - definite mistake.  Ranks right up there with pushing the large red button that has "Don't push" printed on it."   Suddenly a book was in his hands.  Oz passed it to Anya, whose eyes widened.

"Hey!  HEY! You used the Book of Genisiah?" She asked, thumbing through it.   Not looking up to see Oz's nod, she plowed ahead.  "The power that this book holds.dates back to before my time.where did you.and damn!  These two pages are stuck." She looked up at Oz.  "You couldn't have," she stated with certainty.

"But I did."

"What?!" Chorused the other two impatiently.

"He preformed a forgetting spell.  Simple, if you know what you're doing and have access to the proper materials.  Not so if your pages stick together and you mess up the ingredients."  Anya looked back up at Oz.   "You really screwed this one up, boy."

Oz remained perfectly still as Buffy spoke for him.  "How do we right it?"

"That's the thing," replied Anya.  "You don't."

* * *

Willow kicked the door to her room open and angrily strode in.  Of all the times for the pharmacy to be closed due to "Issues," it had to be in her time of need.  She felt like a Smurf.with an unusual amount of hair.  Throwing herself onto the bed, she tasted sleep gently lapping at her sub conscience.  Frustrated, the blue headed girl crawled beneath her comforter and squinted back the tears that threatened to fall.  Briefly wondering where Buffy had gone off to, Willow was soon engulfed in sleep.

* * *

Having Giles confirm Anya's information only twisted the knife Oz felt in his stomach.  After leaving the apartment and the rest of the Scoobies in it, he'd found himself standing in front of the student housing on the UC Sunnydale campus.  For a minute he'd considered dropping in on Devon, but instead decided to face the pain that he mentally felt, as opposed to having it physically inflicted upon him.  Slowly climbing the stairs to the dorm closest to him, Oz pushed open the outer door and let himself in.  Making his way up to the second floor he continued down the cheaply carpeted hall and came to a halt outside of the wooded sheet that served as a door.  Taking a deep breath, Oz raised his knuckles as if to knock, but decided against it at the last moment.  Reaching for the doorknob, he slowly pushed away the wall and stepped beyond it.

As he entered, the werewolf's senses picked up on a sharp, sweet scent.  Walking towards the occupied bed his eyes picked up on the forget-me-nots that sat in a vase next to the sleeping girl's head.  She'd let her hair grow out a bit since he's last seen her, and it now fanned around her face like a halo of ice.  Her delicate features stood out sharply in the dimming light of the day, and Oz couldn't help but remember the story of the winter princess that he'd been told as a child.  Mind and body no longer connected, Oz watched as he leaned over and smiled as his lips met hers.

* * *

She was running through an endless forest of willow trees, attempting to do as her fairy godmother had told her and follow the yellow brick road.  The branches whipped her in the face, sending hot tears stinging down cheeks.  As she reached the homestretch,  the princess felt her foot catch on the road to Oz, and soon was tumbling to the floor of the room.  The florescent light reflected off of the white tiled space, giving it the illusion of a glowing orb.  The smallest noise was amplified to that of something larger, and only the growing smear of crimson on the floor separated reality from the pure, snow white surroundings.  Crimson and clover.over and over.  The door clicked open, and a shout pulsing with slurred syllables cut through the still room.  Vision became blurred, she felt the tears begin to drown her, salt stinging irises, blinding as the rivulets trailed down her cheeks and onto the cool floor.  The princess almost didn't see the white knight, his form blending in with the rest of her world.  Remembering how the story went, she watched as he leaned over her collapsed form and their lips met.

Then, Willow woke up.

* * *

Girl forgot boy, as most try to do. Boy left, and Girl made a new Friend. When her Boy came back, the Girl turned the other way. Girl fell asleep until the spell was broken by a Lost Boy.

* * *

".And they lived happily ever after." The woman smiled as she gazed down upon the sleeping beauties tucked under their blankets.  Gathering her red hair behind her ears, she turned to face the slight figure leaning against the doorframe.  He matched her smile with his own as she rose and kissed the two girl's foreheads before meeting him at the door.

"Happily ever after.  Has a nice ring to it."  Oz's smile turned to a grin as he embraced his wife.

"Happily after all," she corrected him with a kiss.

"Happily after all."