Word Count: 5,533
A/N: Based on my earlier fic Survivors (which is actually the first section of this fic), this is a Buffy the Vampire Slayer zombie AU. The name "Walkers" was inspired by the graphic novel and TV show The Walking Dead, but not really, because they call zombies "geeks" there. Also, this fic takes place in 2005 or later (because Willow and Oz make references to things that didn't exist before 2005), so both characters are in their early to mid 20s. Final note: the title comes from the Emily Dickinson poem "After Great Pain," which is all about mourning a lost loved one.
Update: Now that au100 has officially reopened (and my Willow/Oz claim has been approved!), consider this the first 7 of 100 Willow/Oz AU fics. These seven are, in order: 078. Disease, 084. Found, 020. Colourless, 021. Friends, 041. Shapes, and 005. Last.
This is the Hour of Lead
The man with the broken guitar held its neck like a weapon, lashing out at the two zombies edging in on him. A third and a fourth body lay at his feet, one starting to feebly stir, the other still as a gravestone. Silently, sword raised, Willow slipped behind the first zombie and swung, sword ripping through the neck as if the corpse were woven from tissue paper. Before the head could hit the ground she had turned, slicing through the dead skin and bone and tendons of the other one’s neck, and watched the body crumple, head dropping after it and rolling to a stop. Whirling once more, she came to stand by the shoulders of the rustling corpse, swinging her sword like an executioner’s axe and severing her third head. She flowed to a stop, burst of violence clearly over, giving the living man a concerned look. He was standing over the final body, protecting it, makeshift weapon still raised, this time towards her.
“Whoa there,” she soothed, sheathing her sword in the scabbard slung across her back. “I’m not gonna hurt you.”
“It’s not me I’m worried about,” he answered warily, narrowed blue eyes darting quickly to the downed man at his feet.
“Was your friend bitten at all?” she asked, waving vaguely at the body splayed behind the standing man. The still living man was her height, with messy red hair and the same hard look in his eyes that she saw in her own. Surviving this long had been hard on him.
“Uh, yeah,” he nodded, head cocked to the side in confusion. He lowered the guitar neck wearily, letting it fall to the ground with a dull thud, his arms hanging limply at his sides.
“I’m so sorry.” Willow sighed and unsheathed her sword again, whispery hiss of metal on metal like a snake in the grass.
“Your friend is dead. He’ll rise soon, but not all the way, not really.” Willow took a step closer to the undead body, just to find the man stepping into her way. “He’s diseased now. He’ll be a Walker, a zombie, but that’s not alive. That’s just moving.”
He didn’t show any signs of moving or of getting in her way, so Willow slipped behind him, sliding out her sword, and beheaded her fourth Walker that hour. “I’m so sorry,” she said quietly, head bowed, as she walked back in front of the quiet man, remembering the bodies of friends that still haunted her. “But it was better this way. You won’t ever have to see him undead. That’s always the worst part.”
The man stayed quiet for another minute, mind visibly elsewhere, but, just as Willow was starting to worry, he snapped to attention, glowing blue eyes focused on her face. “The zombies or, I think you called them Walkers: what’s their story?”
“I wish I knew, but nobody, nobody that I’ve met at least, has any idea.”
He paused, eyes dropping to his dead friend for just a second, and took a deep breath. “I want to help fight,” he continued calmly, and Willow was struck by the intensity in his eyes. His voice, posture, expression all suggested a casual nonchalance, but his eyes, locked on hers, were angry and grieving and violently mad.
Willow smiled tiredly at him, holding out a hand for him to shake. “I sure wouldn’t say no to some help. I’m Willow.”
“Oz.” He had a firm grip, fingers calloused and palms smooth. He was a musician, not a fighter, but she hadn’t been a fighter in the days before either. He would learn, just like she had.
“I have a place,” Willow smiled tentatively. “You can come with me, learn to fight. If you want to, I mean. You don’t have to, not if you don’t want to.”
“I’d like that. Thanks,” Oz nodded, and followed her out into the street.
“Hold on,” he called as they reached the mouth of the alley. There was a blue van parked there, tired-looking, with ruined tires and rust around the edges, and Oz yanked open the side door to hop inside. Outside, Willow waited, scanning the road stretching out in either direction, until she heard the soft slam of the decrepit van door. “Alright,” Oz smiled faintly, lips just barely twitching up, a cloth guitar case slung across his back like a scabbard.
“Let’s go,” Willow nodded resolutely and, Oz at her side, began walking as far away from the town and the Walkers and his friend’s dead body as possible. It was scarcely believable but, after months all by herself, Willow wasn’t alone anymore.
* * *
The cabin Willow lived in felt just right for two people, but it was big enough for four, if they crammed in. It was tucked away, where Walkers shouldn’t be able to find it, near a clear stream and nestled between miles of trees. There was a yard out front and a vegetable garden in the back, and, as long as the sun was out, nothing was ever dark inside.
The cabin’s walls were lined with countless rows of books, organized by date of acquisition, with genres and authors and titles mingled together with no regard for conventional organization.
“Lot of books,” Oz murmured in the quiet way he had, upon entering the cabin.
“Yeah,” Willow grinned. “I collect them.” She turned to her last unfilled shelf, sturdy and darkly wooded, and unloaded the pair of volumes she’d picked up that afternoon, just minutes before she found Oz. The shelf was nearly full, she noted with satisfaction. She’d have to try and build her first one, soon.
“It seems more important now, you know? Even mid-Apocalypse, especially mid-Apocalypse, somebody has to protect the knowledge. We’ll need it someday, I’m sure.”
“I get it,” Oz nodded, still surveying the room as if looking for his favorite book, and Willow believed that he did understand.
“It’s been a gradual process, building my collection,” she continued, more talkative than she had been the entire journey to the cabin. “I find the books in the towns I visit, looking for survivors. You’re the first person I’ve found alive, but I’ve filled shelves looking.”
“Seems to me they lack organization.”
“They’re chronological, by date of recovery. I remember when I got each book, and they remind me where I’ve been, what I’ve done, who I’ve lost. And they all help me remember the world before, which is probably the most important thing about them.”
“Makes sense,” Oz nodded, gripping the guitar strap that was still slung across his shoulder just a little bit tighter. ”There’s a lot worth remembering.”
“There is,” Willow agreed with a sad smile, and recalled, with an old burning ache in her chest, the image of a young man with dark hair and smiling eyes.
The next time Willow went out searching, she took Oz with her. They didn’t find any more survivors, but they killed five more Walkers, so she counted the day as a win. Willow came back with three books (Anna Karenina, The National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Trees, and Selected Poems of Ezra Pound) and Oz salvaged a beaten up, old violin from the empty silence of an abandoned home. That night, while she read by firelight, he tuned it against his guitar, and started teaching himself to play.
* * *
In the mornings, when marigold sunlight filtered through leaves, and the woods felt alive, Willow taught Oz to fight. He was a quick study, faster than he was strong, and he was so determined to learn. He caught on nearly as quick as she had, fueled by the same silent, vengeful fury that had kept her moving in the days after Jesse’s death, and then, after Xander’s. Oz found his own rhythms and patterns in the violence, turned each strike into a note, each bout into a song, until fighting seemed just like making music. He fought with the same quiet intensity with which he played, sitting by the fireplace in the evening, guitar nestled in his lap and the world out of reach.
“This is all pretty The Walking Dead,” he commented one day, sword in hand, in a pause before they resumed sparring. The sword had been Buffy’s once, like the cabin and all of Willow’s weapons had been, but it was Oz’s now. He couldn’t replace Buffy, not by a long shot, but it didn’t really matter. Oz was something different, but he was definitely something good.
“True, but it lacks the mercy of black and white illustrations.” Willow paused for a moment, teasing smile melting off her face as she turned contemplative. “Sometimes, I think life wouldn’t be nearly as messy and awful if everything was colorless. Zombie guts would be way less nauseating if they weren’t rotting and turning greyish-green.”
“I don’t know,” Oz returned thoughtfully. “Life in a forest would be pretty bland in grayscale.”
“Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore would beg to differ.”
Oz nodded at her appreciatively, lips curled in a suggestion of a smirk. “I like a woman who knows her comics.”
“Yeah?” Willow smiled, raising her sword and lunging without warning. “Well, I like a man who won’t get himself killed.”
“Seeing as I’m alive and you’re referencing comic books, I’d say things are working out well.”
“I guess so,” Willow laughed as Oz parried. She felt like she hadn’t laughed in ages, but Oz made her laugh. More than that, he made her feel happy and he made her remember that she didn’t have to be alone in the world anymore. She hadn’t realized how much she missed having someone to talk to and eat with and to just be around until Oz was in her life, filling up the echoing, empty spaces in the cabin.
She knocked Oz’s feet out from under him and lunged, tip of her sword brushing against his neck.
“That,” Oz smirked up at her, “is not an example of how to fight fair.” He watched her, back on the ground and increasingly familiar ironic smirk still on his face, and Willow felt her stomach jump in a not exactly unpleasant way.
“Walkers don’t care about fighting fair,” she insisted, dropping the sword and extending a hand to help him up. “And, because I thrashed you, yet again, you’re cooking tonight!”
“Yeah, yeah,” he brushed off his pants making direct eye contact. “Anything for you, Will.” Another fleeting smile, then he strode into the cabin, leaving Willow staring at the place his head had been
Yeah, she smiled to herself, feeling giddy and silly and warm, like she hadn’t felt in the longest time, Oz was definitely something good.
* * *
“Do you still miss him?” Willow asked without warning, one night when they sat sprawled out on the ratty couch. She cradled a book to her chest the same way Oz held a guitar to his, as if having something to hold on to would keep them alive. “Your friend who was bitten, the one who I found you with.”
“Devon,” Oz nodded, not elaborating on that for a few mournful seconds. “Yeah, sometimes.
“I grew up with him,” he continued after a pause, feeling Willow’s expectant gaze burning into him like a hot poker. “He was my best friend, I guess. We were in a band. He was vocals to my lead guitar.”
“I’m really sorry about how that ended,” Willow sighed, slipping a hand onto his shoulder. She thought he might tense at the unsought contact, but instead he just gave her the wan, dry bones smile she’d already grown accustomed to seeing on him in place of fuller expressions.
“No blame. It was better that way, not seeing him rise.”
“Yes, it is better,” Willow shuddered, and it was Oz’s turn to inquisitively touch her, his warm hand gentle on the curve of her knee.
“Wanna share your horrific origin story?”
“My best friend and I lived near here, in a town called Sunnydale,” Willow began after a long pause. She spoke slowly, pacing her words with steady measured breaths, as though her whole story would collapse if she lost her rhythm. “His name was Xander, and we had been friends since we were five.”
Willow paused again, curling both hands into fists in her lap, and the pain in her eyes over the loss of this man was so fresh that Oz couldn’t help but feel like he was walking away from Devon’s headless corpse all over again. “You don’t have to tell me, if you don’t want to,” Oz murmured, his free hand reaching across their bodies to clasp one of hers.
“No, I want to finish,” Willow answered, raising her head high and straightening her shoulders. “After the Walkers got our other best friend, Jesse, Xander and I fled town. We found this cabin, where two sisters were hiding out. Buffy, the older one, had figured out that decapitation killed the Walkers. Her mom had owned an art gallery, I think, before she was infected, and Buffy had taken some swords from an armor exhibit when she and Dawn escaped into the woods, so she taught us both to fight with those. She died, maybe eight weeks after we met, saving Dawn’s life from a huge group of Walkers. Dawn cut Buffy’s head off herself, to be sure she wouldn’t walk again, and disappeared into the woods that night. Less than a month after that, Xander got bitten when we decided to give zombie hunting without Buffy a try, and I’ve been alone ever since. At least, until I found you.”
Oz squeezed her hand tightly in his and was quiet for a long moment. “I’m sorry about your friends,” he murmured finally, straining his mind to think of anything that would ease her pain. “But, I am pretty glad you found me.”
“So am I,” Willow smiled, returning the squeeze of hands. It was a weak, watery smile, but it was real, all the same.
Oz looked at her like he wanted to say something, like the words were burning in his throat but he didn’t know how to force them past his tongue. He looked at her with an uncharacteristic desperation, face calm but eyes blazing.
“Oz?” Willow asked quietly, tightening her grasp on his hand. He baffled her, drove her mad in the best possible way, and she understood so few of his secrets. He spent so much time hiding behind silence and blank faces that, even after all this time with him, Willow sometimes felt like she barely knew him at all. She was learning to read the language of his unspoken words and eyes and slightest expressions, but he could be so unfathomable sometimes.
“Just,” he paused, with uncharacteristic abashment, glancing down at their clasped hands. He met her eyes once more, the same unreadable, burning look lighting them up, “Don’t die on me, okay? I’d miss you if you were gone.”
Willow blinked at him, lips parted in surprise, and tried to figure out what to say to something like that. She’d been with Oz every day for the four months since she’d saved him, and she’d never seem him look that vulnerable or emotional. She’d never seen Oz open himself up and put his feelings out in the air like that before, but he had, and now the only way Willow knew how to answer him was with the truth.
“I’d miss you, too,” she smiled weakly, “so don’t you die on me either, Oz, alright?”
Then, after a half second of thought, Willow leaned in and kissed him.
* * *
Even in January, it never really got cold in California, but the winter nights seemed to stretch out like candle wicks. The night fell quickly in the wintertime, darkness encroaching upon hours Willow and Oz had spent outside sparring, just weeks ago
Willow sat on the old blue couch with Oz’s head on her lap, holding a book and absently combing her fingers through his hair. They’d returned from another salvage mission just before it had gotten dark and they’d locked themselves away in the cabin, beyond a sturdy door the Walkers couldn’t breach. Sitting before the small fire they’d built in the ancient fireplace, they took turns reading aloud from Alice in Wonderland, Willow’s latest acquisition, while Oz propped his ankle, sprained in the rush back to the cabin, up on the armrest.
“Hmm,” Willow murmured, handing the hardbound book to Oz for his turn to read, “Do you ever feel like Alice?”
“Awkward and giant-sized?”
“No, like the world went funny all of a sudden, but nobody warned you, so now you’re the same but nothing else is,” Willow answered, eyes locked on the dying fire as if she could divine some sort of wisdom from the patterns of smoldering wood and ash. It was starting to burn down to coals. They would need more firewood in just a minute.
“At first,” Oz nodded, twisting his head around to meet her gaze. “But I’m getting used to it. Turns out, walking corpses are slightly less baffling than giant talking caterpillars.”
Willow laughed happily, brushing her fingers down the side of Oz’s face. “Or flamingo croquet mallets.”
“Agreed. The undead make far more sense than croquet.”
“We’re out of firewood,” Willow observed before Oz started reading aloud, and shifted his head off of her lap. “Tomorrow night, we should remember to bring in more wood.” She stood and stretched before walking to the door and grabbing the makeshift torch she’d made from a tree branch and strips of old cloth, just for situations like this.
“Be careful,” Oz murmured as she lit the torch in the fireplace, worry in his eyes.
“Oh, you know me. I’m Caution Girl! I’m always really big with the careful,” she called over her shoulder, slipping through the door before Oz could protest again. “Don’t read on without me!”
It really wasn’t safe to go out alone after dark, but the woodpile wasn’t far: against the side of the cabin, just beyond sight of the doorway. The torch cast a small ring of light around Willow, like a shadow in reverse, lighting her footsteps but not quite reaching the ragged edges of the forest. The dark woods were filled with the unearthly quiet of hibernation, and Willow could hear her own slow breaths and quick footsteps echoing in her head like a stampede.
With the torch in her right hand, Willow could only gather an armful of wood, but she imagined that it would fuel the fire for long enough. She hummed quietly to herself as she collected tinder and logs from the pile, some song that Oz had been playing on his guitar the night before, feeling desperate for anything to shatter the thick silence of the winter night.
Then, she heard it. The dry, rattling sound of air being forced through rotting lungs and the heavy, sweeping shuffle of the dead. Willow dropped the wood with a clatter, whirling to find two Walkers, one just feet away, already reaching pale, ghastly hands towards her, and another skirting the forest’s edge and making his gruesomely slow way into the clearing. He would never catch her in time, but the closer Walker, the torch throwing her cavernous face into sharp relief and carving deeper shadows into it, was nearly close enough to reach out and grab Willow by the arm.
Willow swung the torch like an axe and clubbed the Walker in the head, knocking her to the ground. She could’ve run for the door and left the Walker lying in a heap of skin and bones, but she wouldn’t. Willow couldn’t bear the thought of this creature haunting her home, beating a path around her cabin like a vulture waiting for its prey to give up and die.
Mechanically, the Walker slowly climbed to her feet, taking another heavy step in her direction. Willow struck the Walker again and again, ever conscious of the second Walker, dragging his way through the grass. Her attacks were ineffective, as if she were beating the Walker with a throw pillow, and Willow spent a desperate second wishing that she’d thought to bring a real weapon. Then, with a sudden rush of heart-pumping adrenaline, she realized that she had.
She took a final swing to bring the Walker to the ground once more and stood still, holding the flaming end of the torch against the walking corpse’s flesh. After a few moments, the Walker’s thin hair and ragged clothes and rotting skin caught fire, lighting up the night in shades of orange and dark yellow. The Walker, writhing in slow motion, let out a horrifying, guttural cry of pain as the fire ate her rotting skin like tissue paper, burning fast and hot. It was over in less than a minute, and Willow was left with a somewhat abused torch, a pile of steaming ash, and the offensive scent of rotting flesh.
She took a second to enjoy her victory, but cut the moment short when she glanced at the second Walker. He still hadn’t noticed her, though he’d be sure to catch the scent any moment, but Willow couldn’t look away from the Walker’s mess of dark hair and the familiar slump of his back.
“Oh, God,” Willow breathed, frozen in place. “Xander.”
She couldn’t look away from the Walker, so familiar even from a distance, even as it drew closer and closer. She’d known, on some basic, intellectual level, that Xander had been turned, but she hadn’t truly believed it until now. She had imagined that he was dead, decomposing while his body lay as still as an abandoned home, because anything was better than the sight of her best friend as a walking dead man. Willow stared at what used to be Xander Harris until Oz called to her through the door, the slightest hint of terror leaking into his usually expressionless voice. With a start, Willow picked up her scattered firewood and ran towards the open door, forcibly not looking back to the monster that looked could only be her dead best friend.
“Are you alright, Will?” Oz asked, running his thumb against her furrowed forehead when she rejoined him on the couch, in front of her newly rebuilt fire. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Willow sighed sadly, trying to push all thoughts of Xander out of her brain. She slid down onto her back beside Oz and leaned her head against his chest. “Something like that,” she murmured, and the giant smile of a dead man imprinted itself against her eyelids.
* * *
“Trapezoid,” Willow murmured, pillowing her head upon her arms as Oz absently traced shapes on her bare back. She could barely see him in the dark, windows shuttered tightly to keep stray Walkers from finding a way in to the cabin and candles unlit to save wick, but feeling him lying beside her was the next best thing.
“Mmhmm,” he pressed a kiss to her shoulder, the shapes he drew on her back dissolving into hazy squiggles, like the messy crayon lines of a coloring book. Oz lay pressed against her side like a wall, warmer than all of the blankets she’d shivered under all last winter, and Willow couldn’t seem to turn off the gentle smile curving across her lips. “Trapezoids are cool.”
“Definitely,” Willow nodded, and she kept smiling, because not every guy in the world was familiar with the intricacies of Trapezoids, but Oz was. “Another?”
Oz chuckled and stopped his aimless petting. He drew two wide curves, first brushing over one shoulder bone, then dipping down and back twice, to slide his fingertips over her other shoulder.
“Now, that,” Willow laughed rolling to her side then flopping onto her back, “was not a shape.”
“Nobody said anything about shapes,” Oz complained good-naturedly, reaching up to fiddle with the ends of her hair.
"Well, nobody said anything about letters, either.”
“I’m equal opportunity,” Oz answered evenly, reaching down to twine their fingers together. “I don’t discriminate.”
“But “W?” That’s not even close to being a shape!”
“I like it. It’s got character.”
“It’s just two U’s!” Willow exclaimed affectionately, leaning her head against his shoulder with a contented hum.
“See? It’s unique.” Oz pulled his hand out of hers, holding her loosely by the wrist and curling his other arm around to trace patterns into her palm.
“I love you,” Willow murmured a few minutes later as Oz drew an oval on her skin, surprising both of them, but meaning every word. She hadn’t meant to tell him yet, hadn’t analyzed every possible interpretation and repercussion of her revelation, hadn’t worried herself half to death over how he would respond and if he would reciprocate. It was unplanned, instinctive, but completely, searingly true. She was in love with Oz, so much that she could feel it burning its way through her bone marrow, beating through her veins, pounding in her head.
Oz kissed her cheek and whispered, “I love you too, Willow,” voice rough and a little bit husky. She’d never heard so much emotion in his voice, and that, more than anything, convinced her that he felt what she did, that same terrifying feeling of wanting to drown completely in him. As he spoke, he traced a heart against her palm and Willow giggled, feeling warm and lighthearted like she hadn’t been since the Walkers had appeared.
“Heart.” She kissed him softly, just a tender brush of her lips against his and giggled again. “You’re just a big sap.”
“I think I can live with that.”
“I’m glad,” Oz breathed against her ear and kept drawing shape after shape against her skin, until he ran out.
* * *
It felt like a nightmare, like the same recurring nightmare Willow had been having ever since the night Xander died. She'd known, from the first time she'd seen his walking corpse, that it would come to this, but that didn't make the reality feel any less like a nightmare.
She could feel Oz just behind her, solid and steady like an anchor, and she gripped her sword just a little bit tighter. This was going to be the last time this particular fear came back to settle in her bones. She was going to lay it to rest, once and for all.
Stumbling between trees at the edge of the clearing she and Oz had found three days ago was a Walker, dark hair and rotting skin, and he used to be called Xander. He’d been her best friend once, but now he was an empty husk, wandering through the woods with Xander’s face. This wasn’t Xander Harris, because he had been dead for months.
Xander was gone. This was just what was left behind.
“Wait here,” Willow murmured, squeezing Oz’s hand in hers in a silent request for borrowed strength. “I need to do this.”
If Oz thought anything strange about her request, he didn’t say it, he just squeezed her hand in return and released it, watching as she slunk along the tree line like a scrap of fog. Every step Willow took brought her father from Oz and closer to Xander, and she forced her thoughts away from Oz. This had nothing to do with him, this was about Willow and Xander and how deeply she had failed her best friend. She couldn’t save him, couldn’t ever right this wrong, but she could bring things to a close. She could save Xander from the monster wearing his face. She could set him free.
Willow crept up behind him, footsteps as quiet and sure as a hunter, avoiding the last crunchy autumn leaves spread across the ground. The Walker turned slowly, catching her living scent in the dead air, and stated at her out of Xander’s foggy eyes.
Oh God, Willow thought, her legs stiff and frozen in sheer, absolute horror and sorrow and pain. This was all her fault. She hadn’t saved him, she hadn’t kept him from getting bitten, and he had died. She had lived, she had walked away from his last fight, and now everything was wrong. She was alive and warm and breathing, and Xander was just a rotting shadow. He was just an empty body that was slowly breaking itself down without a Xander to fill in the spaces between his bones and lungs and the places where something like a soul belonged.
“I’m so sorry,” Willow whispered, blinking as hard as she could to force back her bitter, warm tears. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you, Xander.”
The Xander-Walker just groaned at her, hands stretching out at her as if reaching for a last embrace. On his left arm, Willow could see the wound that had killed him, the gaping bite that had slowed him down until it ate him alive. Willow remembered trying to treat his bite, but leaving him behind when he told her to go without him. He had promised that he would catch up to her at the cabin, and after seven months apart he had caught up, but it was far too late.
“I’m so, so sorry it took me this long to end this for you,” Willow continued, raising her sword and taking a deep breath. “I miss you, Xander, and you’ll always be my best friend.
“And I’m so sorry this happened. You deserved so much better than this.”
Willow swung the sword and, with a rasping whisper, it sliced through Xander’s neck. His body collapsed in a heap of bones and muscle and rotting skin, head rolling a few inches away. A faint trickle of dead blood oozed from his torn arteries, sluggishly pooling like syrup in the dry grass.
Slowly, Oz came up behind her and waited, ready to spend hours in vigil with her. Willow didn’t acknowledge him except to clasp the hand he offered, focused completely on the finally resting body of her best friend. Xander was finally dead, truly dead. His last breath and thought had been forever ago, but his body had just taken its last step, and that felt like an equally important ending.
“I’d like to bury him,” Willow murmured softly after they’d stood there for a few quiet minutes. “I can’t leave him like this.”
“Okay,” Oz nodded, squeezing her hand and starting to walk towards the cabin. They made the trek to and from the cabin in silence, returning with ancient, beaten up shovels and a weathered grey boulder. They dug in silence while Xander’s empty body lay sprawled in the dead grass, and six feet had never felt so deep. Willow rolled the corpse into the grave herself, piling shovels on dirt onto his splayed limbs. She went slowly, remembering a different moment of Xander’s life with each shovelful of dirt she showered on him, dreading the instant when the ground would swallow him up. This would be the last time she would ever see his face.
And then he was gone. He’d been gone for a long time, but Willow had never felt anything more final than covering a body in earth, so deep that it could never claw its way back under the sun. And Xander had been dead for months, but now he was dead and buried and she couldn’t even believe how different it felt. It felt like an ending, like closure, like a funeral. It felt like missing Xander, because she would never stop missing him, and it felt like letting go, because the guilt she’d been wearing like a bag around her neck was buried beside him, below six feet of earth and dirt and a boulder they called a headstone.
“Okay,” Willow sighed, minutes after the grave had been filled until it overflowed with earth. “I’m ready to go.”
And it was, because Willow had been carrying Xander’s death for all of these months and now she had set him free from his miserable half-life. And, walking back hand in hand and telling Oz all of her favorite things about her dead best friend, the shovels that had felt like chains when walking to the unmade grave were as light as golden thread, tying her back to where she had started.
Xander was dead, and she was not, and, for the first time since she’d ran for her life through the woods, promising herself that Xander would catch up, she didn’t feel like she was just barely surviving. Instead, walking to the cabin she called home, with Oz’s warm arm pressed against her own, Willow finally felt like she was living again.
- Current Mood: frustrated
- Current Music:Mumford and Sons- "Awake My Soul"