Disclaimer: "Putting The Damage On" is a Tori Amos song, and all the lyrics in **'s are by her. Any other lyrics are mine. The story's mine, the characters are not, except for Alice, who bears no resemblance whatsoever to her namesake.

This story assumes an alternate ending to the 3rd season "fluke"; in this version, Willow chose Xander instead of Oz.

Putting the Damage On
by Maya Tawi


I wonder at coincidence. I wonder at fate.

I wonder sometimes at the events that brought us together in the first place, at the recruiting officers who put us in that room behind the stage, whom we never heard from again. That it would be just the two of us, from the whole school, selected. Just us.

Of course, everything seems incredible in retrospect.

And now I wonder what brought me down that side street, so that I saw that flyer, advertising that band playing at this little, ratty, rundown club tonight. Your band.

So like the love-struck schoolgirl I've had so much practice at being I sneak into the club and watch you from the shadows.

*now i've got to worry*
*'cause boy you still look pretty*
*when you're putting the damage on*

I know I made the wrong choice. I have known for some time now, or at least it seems like a long time to me. I know I can't just waltz in and make it all okay again. So if you, or anyone else, asked me what I'd hoped to get out of seeing you again, I'd be hard-pressed to answer.

No, not true. I know exactly why I'm here.

I want to punish myself.

I want- I need to see you again. To see what I gave up. Because I already know exactly what I gave you up for.

Every day I justify it to myself. I was young- well, younger- and so na´ve, and I had wanted something for so long that as soon as it was offered to me, well, I just had to snap it up, didn't I?

But whatever I say to myself, it'll never make it the right choice.

So I stand in the shadows and I watch you. Three years later, how could you have changed so little? You tune your guitar with movements I've seen a hundred times before. The lights skitter wildly over the stage as Joe sits in the lighting booth, supposedly setting them up, actually just fooling around. It's all exactly the same and for one precious moment, I could almost be back at the Bronze, the superhyper redhead bouncing around and telling everyone who would listen that my boyfriend was in the band.

*i've never seen a light move*
*like yours*
*can do to me*

A red spotlight hits you full in the face, and as you blink and shield your eyes, I'm transfixed. You look so beautifulů but at the same time, so unreal. So far out of my reach. I was always awed that you actually liked me, afraid that I wasn't cool enough to be the girlfriend of the lead guitarist. Now I feel so much less than uncool. I feel so young, and about four inches tall.

I become aware of a small slip of paper clenched tightly in my fist, limp with sweat though the air conditioning is blasting away at nearly arctic levels. It's a ticket for your show tonight.

I wonder if fate brought me here. I wonder if I should go.

*but i've got a place to go*
*i've got a ticket to your late show*
*and now i'm worrying 'cause even still*
*you sure are pretty*
*when you're putting the damage on*

Maybe, on some subconscious level, you know that I'm here. Because you finish tuning your guitar and now you're playing the song. That song. Our song. You're not singing it, of course- there's a reason Devon's the lead singer and not you, you told me so many times, I can hear you saying it now- but I know the words by heart, and as you play on, I find myself singing along softly, lips barely moving.

"The moon is gone, the night is done / the wind in the willows brings the sun."

It's a sign. You're still playing our song, and I'm still singing along. Do you know, you're the first person I could ever sing for?

I think I will go to the late show tonight. I'll stand in the back of the room and feel the crush of the crowd without you by my side to hold me up, and I'll watch you like I have so many times before. And maybe afterwards I'll go out back as you're loading the van, and we can. I don't know. Talk, maybe, maybe I'll just say "hi", maybe-

And all my rising hopes come crashing down in one instant. The instant she jumps up on stage, and you stop playing. You look thrilled to see her. You used to look at me like that, do you remember? I do. Stupid, stupid, stupidly thrilled. And she grabs you and kisses you hard, and from where I'm standing, you don't push her away. From where I'm standing, you're smiling.

Well. I came here to punish myself.

This girl is everything I never was, everything you used to make me feel like. Cool. Pretty. Desirable. Worthy of a guitar-playing boyfriend, with her jagged purple hair and multiple piercings. Funny, I never knew you liked piercings. You never told me you liked piercings. It seems kinda kinky, from here. What about the whole werewolf thing? Does she know about that? Huh? Could she deal with it like, oh, say, I could?

What am I still doing here? I am so obviously not a part of your life anymore.

Who am I kidding. I know exactly what I'm doing. I'm starting to cry, that's what.

Eyes fixed firmly on the toes of my shoes, I shuffle slowly out of the club, replaying that one moment over and over on the backs of my eyeballs. She kisses you. You kiss her. A kiss, a kiss, a kingdom for a kiss.

And the accompanying soundtrack, playing on an infinite loop inside my head. I deserve it. I deserve it. I deserve it.

I deserve it for that awful moment when you burst into the factory, so brave and so intent on saving me and Xander, and saw us kissing on the table.

I deserve it for Cordelia's fall into the basement, for the terror as she lay with the life draining out of her.

I deserve it for that afternoon in the library, with the shadows growing long across the floor, when I stood next to Xander and made my choice, when I chose the boy who would never be satisfied over the man who really, truly loved who I was. A choice I've only recently come to regret with all my heart.

I deserve it. I'm a horrible, na´ve, stupid person, and I only got what was coming to me for all I did to you.

So if punishment was what I was looking for, why did seeing you kiss that girl make me feel like my heart was being ripped out, piece by piece by piece?

I hit the street running, letting the door bang shut behind me, and quickly disappear into the smoky light of dusk, into the depths of this strange city that I call my home but which will never be a part of me. I feel, rather than see, one small concert ticket fly off into the night sky, along with my very last chance.

*i'm trying not to move*
*it's just your ghost passing through*

That was weird. Playing that song, the same one he played every night after tuning up, he could have sworn he'd heard Willow, singing along softly. He'd practically smelled her, that old familiar scent of flowery perfume and baby powder and Willow-hair.

Lost in the music and the moment, Oz had closed his eyes and played harder, faster, louder, until the sound reverberated off the ceiling and Devon was over by the sound system, fiddling with various knobs and switches and frantically flashing the cut sign.

Then the spell was broken and a not-long-forgotten face bounded across the club. Oz felt a grin spread over his face, but before he could say anything, she grabbed him and planted a kiss directly on his lips.

He just smiled and waited. Actresses.

Finally she pulled away and held him at arm's length. "Daniel, darling, what have you been feeding yourself? You look positively stick-like! We must fatten you up!"

"Been a while, Alice," he returned, cheerfully ignoring her comment. "So tell me, are you gracing us with your talents tonight?"

"You know it, baby." Alice preened and fluffed her violet locks, nudging the guitar case by her foot with one black-leather-booted toe. "How have you been? How's Devon? Still the prima donna?"

"As always." Oz bent and switched his guitar off, laying it carefully on the floor of the stage. "Every day he's complaining 'cause he's not on the cover of some teen magazine. I keep telling him, underground is good, but you know Devon. Never listens to a word I say."

"Ah, but that's part of his charm," she laughed.

"So how about you?" the guitarist asked. "How are things with Judy?"

Alice beamed, the blissful smile common to newlyweds and others madly in love. "We got our own place, Oz, you need to see it. It's simply marvelous. I'll give you the address, stop by any time."

"No prob. Sounds great."

"Oh, but-" She winked suggestively. "Call first. Don't surprise us."

"No problem," Oz repeated with a small smile. He watched Alice affectionately, feeling oddly paternal, or at least big-brother-ly. Young love, he found himself thinking wryly.

The sound of the outer door slamming, somewhere far away, drew his attention, and he remembered something. "Hey, listen. This may sound kinda weird, but you didn't happen to see anyone on your way in, did you?"

She shrugged. "I snuck in the back way. Why?"

"Oh, nothing. Nothing." Oz stared across the room, to the shadowed alcove by the doorway. "I thought I heard... never mind." He paused. "I guess I'd hoped-"

"Yes?" she asked gently, when he didn't continue.

Oz shrugged, looking sheepish. "I guess I'd hoped she'd show. They said she lives around here, you know. Oh well. Tough, huh? Anyway, there's still tonight."

"Oz," Alice said quietly. "I think you should just let it go."

Again he shrugged. "I can't. I'm sorry, I can't. Just... I need a little more time, that's all." And his eyes dared her to argue otherwise.

So Alice didn't. Instead, she just took her guitar from its case, plugged it in, and started to tune it. "Well, come on," she said airily, when Oz stared at her. "Are we playing, or am I wasting time I could be using to get deeply, madly drunk with Judy?"

"We're playing," he muttered, sparing one last glance for the shadows and the phantom of a girl.

*i said i'm trying not to move*
*it's just your ghost passing through*

Then he closed his eyes again and returned to the music.

Email: mayatawi@populli.net

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