The Slow Path to Fixed
Rated SAFE
Written for Teryl_brat42

Willow stirred the ingredients in the glass bowl carefully, feeling the tentacles of power reach out as she added the silver pellets to the swirling mass. Willow chanted softly, the moonlight flowing in through the open window, the one that allowed in the breeze that gently stirred her hair.

Dropping another pellet in, she watched as the mixture flashed the red color, the tentacles strengthening until she could feel the power slide past her skin. She began the last incantation, but before she could finish, the kitchen light flicked on, and the tendrils snapped to that power source. Instantly, the bulb exploded, and Willow yelped as she flinched away from the breaking glass.

"Are you okay?" Tara called immediately, and Willow flinched again at the sound of the worry in that voice.

"Um, except for my pride... well my pride and possibly my arm," Willow amended herself as she felt the warm tickle of blood slowly wandering down her arm. Tara didn't say anything, but a warm hand touched her back and nudged her toward the dining room. Willow went without protest as she tried to figure out a way to clean up the spell before Tara could get a good look at the ingredients. With the kitchen light out, she still had a chance.

"I'll be back," Tara said as she helped Willow to a chair, and Willow considered making a Terminator joke, but Tara had ducked back through the archway to the kitchen and the sound of water running meant she wouldn't hear it anyway. Within a few seconds, Tara returned, flipping on the dining room light, and Willow flinched away from the light.

"Oh sweetie," Tara whispered, and Willow looked down to find a shard of light bulb glass embedded in her skin.

"Oh boy, that's not really good in the I wish I hadn't seen that because now it hurts kinda way," Willow said as she resisted the urge to yank the glass out. As deep as it went, she knew it would bleed a lot when she did that.

"Let me get something," Tara said as she hurried from the room. Returning a minute or two later, she had a number of wide leaves, an herbal poultice, a pair of tweezers and a number of towels.

"Ow," Willow reiterated as she looked at her injured arm. Tara pulled a chair up close to hers and took the arm in her hands as she looked at the glass from either side.

"This will hurt," Tara warned her softly, and Willow looked up at those worried brown eyes, and she worried about more than the pain. She worried about Tara finding that spell. She worried about the power that had just whipped out of her control. She worried about the feeling that she had to be afraid because she didn't have enough power to defend herself and the people she loved from the darkness that always surrounded them.

"Um, kinda hurting now, so that's not really a problem," she told her lover. Tara took a firmer hold on Willow's wrist before bringing the tweezers close. While Willow wanted to look away, she found her eyes locked on that glittering piece of glass as Tara closed the tweezers around it. With one sharp motion, she pulled the curving glass free, and Willow yelped as the edges cut deeper. Dropping the tweezers, Tara quickly smeared poultice over the wound before pressing a towel tightly on the wound.

"I think I really need to work on that spell. Too much silver. Or maybe not enough water. I could have added the wolf bane too quickly," Willow babbled. Her spell had those three ingredients, but by mentioning *only* those three she knew she was tiptoeing on the not so good side of lying, but it was for a good cause, and Tara would forgive her.

"Or too much poke root," Tara added. Willow opened her mouth to protest that she would never add poke root to silver, but Tara's knowing expression stopped her within a few stuttered syllables. Tara continued to hold the towel over the wound, and Willow finally quieted.

"I know what I'm doing," Willow finally said as she felt a defensive aggravation rise.

"What *are* you doing?" Tara's quiet, curious words derailed all Willows righteous indignation.

"I just wanted to be able to protect you--protect us," she admitted just as quietly as she looked down to her throbbing cut. Just like always she ended up hurt and Tara had to look after her. She couldn't even protect herself in the kitchen, and how much of a chance did she have to protect either of them. If Buffy couldn't even... Willow stopped that thought knowing the abyss of fear that waited there.

"We all protect each other," Tara said, and Willow flinched at that.

"And if I had more power, if I could protect him, maybe Xander wouldn't have turned to Spike for protection, and maybe Buffy wouldn't have died at all, and maybe I would know what to say to Giles to put things back the way they were. I don't know how to fix this. I don't know how to fix any of this," Willow wailed as she pushed away from her chair, pulling her arm away from Tara and smearing the bloody poultice across her arm.

With tears warming her eyes, she went to the window and looked out on the dimly lit street. She tried to track when she had first lost control. When Xander disappeared maybe. Maybe back when Spike showed up chipped or even when she'd been too slow to put Angel's soul back in place. Which of a hundred mistakes had led to this feeling of despair that sometimes overwhelmed her when she lay in bed next to the woman she loved?

A strong hand circled her waist and pulled her back into Tara's soft body as Willow felt the first tears escape. Tara rested her chin on Willow's shoulder and held on tighter.

"You don't have to fix anything," Tara finally said after minutes of them just standing in the weak light of the crescent moon.

"Yes. I do. No one else is doing anything to put things back again," Willow could hear the childish sob in her sentence, but she couldn't help it. She struggled against this feeling of being pulled under by an undertow that threatened to pull her to the bottom of the ocean.

"There's nothing to put back. Things changes. That tree," Tara nodded out the window to a half-grown oak. A lower branch had bent in a storm and now pointed awkwardly downward, but the canopy shaded a low wooden chair Willow had set up for nice days when she just needed to have a moment of silence in the outdoors, without doors or walls or locks around her.

Tara continued, "it doesn't look like it did ten years ago." Tara hesitated for just a second. "If the only tree you'd ever seen was that spindly sapling, you would look at that tree and see a monster grown out of shape: an ugly, heavy monster of a tree that needed to be fixed."

Willow felt the tears roll faster as Tara traced fingertips over her uninjured arm, each touch feathering over skin reverently. Willow gasped for air harshly as she felt the despair crash into so that only Tara kept her upright: the warm strength at her back, that arm wrapped around her waist, the finger tracing rune patterns on her bare forearm. Willow closed her own fingers around her lover's wrists, desperate to hold on to Tara even when it felt the rest of the world fractured and crumbled.

"You don't need to be fixed," Tara whispered in her ear, her warm breath stirring Willow's hair.

"But I want to be fixed… I want to make all this pain go away… I want to be strong enough to keep this from ever happening again, and I just…" Willow stopped as she realized she just didn't know. "I don't want to feel like this anymore," Willow finally answered, and a sob nearly choked off her words.

"I know, baby," Tara muttered as she tightened her arm around Willow. "I sometimes feel like that too, but we're okay, and every day will get better."

"But the spell…"

"No quick fixes," Tara said firmly, and Willow heard the determination in her voice.

"I don't know if I can do this," Willow admitted softly, feeling like an even bigger failure for the fear and despair and loss she couldn't seem to process.

"You don't have to do it alone. We'll do it together, and when you can't remember feeling good, I'll remind you," Tara promised. Willow shivered as the arm that had held her so lightly now moved, sliding under her pajamas top so that Tara's warm hand explored her curves. When Tara gently kissed the spot just below her ear, Willow shivered like a tree shaken by a sudden breeze.

"Come back to bed," Tara asked, and then her lips teased the earlobe. Willow felt another tremor as Tara nipped at the tender skin.

"I love you," Willow said as she allowed Tara to pull her through the living room toward the stairs.

"I know," Tara answered teasingly. Willow followed with a small smile. Maybe, just maybe, she could do this.

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