Burial of Hopes
Main Characters: Willow, Richard Zeeman
Mention of Willow/Oz
Sequel to 'End of Hopes'
Disclaimer: I do not own anyone from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter books.
Distribution: QPC, WWW, NHA, WLS, Bite Me please?, Twisting the Hellmouth
Note: set slightly Au late season 4. Tara who? Set just after 'The Killing Dance' for Anita Blake.
Willow was packing a suitcase when Buffy came into the dorm room. She could feel the tears still trickling down her face. That call had been so unexpected, so painful...
"Riley invited me to a party on Friday and... Willow, why are you packing? What's wrong?" Buffy reached over, touching Willow's arm, her voice filled with concern.
"I got a phone call. About... about Oz." She could barely whisper the words.
Buffy hugged her, trying to help. "Willow... please don't cry over him. If he wasn't willing to stay and fight for you, then he... he didn't deserve..."
"He's dead." The words came out, flat, almost cold sounding.
"What?" Buffy blinked, going a bit stiff from surprise. "What do you mean Oz is dead?"
Willow looked at her friend, vision slightly blurry from still more tears. "I got a call from St. Louis. It turns out that Oz found a pack there, and he was trying to tame his inner wolf. There was... there was a bad situation, and Oz... Oz and some of the other wolves were killed. I was listed as his emergency contact."
"Oh, Wills..." Buffy hugged her again, voice filled with sympathy. "I know how much you were hoping."
"Yeah, I was sort of hoping. But that's not going to happen now. I'm going there, to St. Louis for the memorial service. I have to go, to say goodbye." Willow tried to explain.
"Are you sure that's a good idea? I mean, I know we've been telling you to get out more, but... St Louis isn't what we had in mind. More like the Bronze, or a local frat party." Buffy sounded worried.
"I don't know if it's a good idea, but I'm going to go. I can't not say goodbye to him again, you know?" Willow managed a tiny near smile.
Buffy sighed, looking at Willow with eyes full of understanding. "Will you at least be careful?"
"I promise. As careful as if it were home." Willow solemnly responded.
"Let's just hope that's a bit of an overkill, okay? But you know.... when in doubt, overkill's always the best bet. Safest." Buffy smiled a little.
"I guess so. I did call Mr. Zeeman back, to let him know I'd be flying out to attend the ceremony, but..." Willow shrugged, knowing that there was no reason not to promise to be careful.
end part 1.
Willow sighed as she hunted for her luggage at the St Louis airport's baggage claim. This was always the most nerve-wracking part of flying for her, not that she'd had a lot of flights. Some family trips with her parents, mostly to conventions or places that her parents had always wanted to go, and once to visit her Dad's parents in Maine, but this was her first independent flight. She just wished there could be a better reason behind it, better than going to say a last farewell to someone that she loved.
Luggage finally reclaimed, along with her carry on, Willow made her way out of the airport, hoping to catch a bus or a taxi to find a hotel. She wished that she'd been able to bring a few solid weapons with her, but there was no way to slip anything that big and metal past airport security, although there were a couple stakes, some holy water, and a spell book in her luggage. Maybe she wouldn't need any since there was no hellmouth? Willow stretched, enjoying the fact that there was no oppressive taint in the air, no evil hellmouthy aura.
There was a man pacing outside, someone tall, with gorgeous brown hair and lots of muscles. He had the sort of body that generally implied lots and lots of time working out, and there was a sort of aura about him, a wild energy... Willow smiled, placing it at last. He was a werewolf. Currently rather unhappy, but a werewolf. Could this be...?
Taking a deep breath, Willow voiced her suspicion out loud. "Are you Richard Zeeman?"
He turned, an expression of surprise on his face. "Yes. You're Willow? I was hoping to be able to pick you up... from the airport, I mean. I thought... well, maybe you might not want to stay at a hotel."
"Well, here I am, luggage and all. I guess a hotel isn't that necessary, although I'm not quite sure what the schedule is for the weekend. Maybe you can explain a bit more on the way to... umm... where are we going, anyhow?"
Smiling, he picked up her luggage. "Well then, let's go. I wasn't certain if there was an in-flight meal, but there are some good restaurants if you're hungry."
Willow nodded, her carry-on slung over her shoulder. He probably didn't want people to know that he was a werewolf. People might look at him funny, or be afraid. She'd done a lot of research since they'd found out what Oz was, and while it was legal, and there were laws that were supposed to keep werewolves and other shape shifters protected, they weren't always enforced very well. That had been a bit of a shock, but not as much as the discovery that outside of the hellmouth's bubble of denial, people knew about vampires, about werewolves, and magic. Not the demons, but that there were things going bump in the night.
She still couldn't quite wrap her mind around the idea that vampires were supposed to be legal citizens, with legal protection and bound by the same laws as everybody else. It just... boggled the mind, and conflicted with everything from Sunnydale. To her non-surprise, the Watcher's Council had been horrified at the idea. The rest of the world wasn't quite as willing to take the risks that America had, and only a few other countries had offered any sort of legal recognition to vampires. Willow shared those doubts. But maybe, away from the hellmouth? Maybe... well, she might see.
"Should I ask where the ceremony will be?" Her voice was soft, and if he'd had the radio on, he might have missed it. Of course, with wolfy hearing, he might not, but still.
"The Lupanar. It's... well, mainly it's for the wolves, but you knew Oz, you... you deserve to be there, to say goodbye.
Willow tried to smile, certain the expression looked pained, or wooden. "That's what hurt the worst when he left, the not saying goodbye. It's a bit late now, and things... nothing will be the same, but... It's my last chance. Last chance to tell him goodbye, to try for something, some sort of... I guess closure."
"I suppose... you didn't say goodbye, before? Should I ask what happened?" He sounded curious, but awkward, as if he realized that he was prying but couldn't quite stop.
"There was another wolf in Sunnydale. She wanted Oz. They... he said it was the wolf, and he couldn't stop it, but... she wanted him for keeps. She tried to kill me, and he... stopped her, but then he was changed, and he wasn't thinking clearly, and Buffy had to shoot him." Willow paused, remembering the pain. At Richard's shocked gasp, she tried to reassure him. "Tranquilizer darts. No harm, he just said it felt like a bit of a hangover the next morning."
"He killed her?" Richard sounded like there was more to the question than he was willing to admit.
"Yeah. It wasn't the sort of thing that he'd normally do, but..." Willow paused, swallowing the memories of Oz and his guitar, Oz helping research, kissing. "And then he was gone the next day. He couldn't even stay and say goodbye, and now... I'm not taking this very well, I suppose."
"This isn't the sort of thing that you take well. It just... it is, and it hurts." Richard's voice was sympathetic. After that, he let silence fill the car.
End part 2.
He brought her to a nice restaurant that served all sorts of steak, and they had a quiet meal together. During the meal, she asked normal, safe touristy questions, which he seemed relieved to answer. Things about other restaurants, about local sites of interest, and what places would be safer to avoid. Simple things, normal things.
Willow enjoyed the meal, and tried to enjoy the casual act, respecting his unstated wish to play human. It was almost nice to talk about simple things for once. It almost distracted her from the reason why she was here at all.
After the meal, when they were back in Richard's car, Willow looked at him, asking the question that had been on her mind. "If you were thinking of me not staying at a hotel, what did you have in mind?"
"I thought maybe you could stay with someone from the pack. That... well, it took a bit to try to come up with something, and it looks like you'll either stay with me, or with Sylvie." Richard sounded almost apologetic.
Willow looked at him, considering his words, and the currents of emotion that he was showing. All was not happy in the pack, and if Oz wasn't the only one that had died... well, why would they feel up to company? "I don't know this... Sylvie, and umm... most people don't care much for having someone else invite a total stranger to stay at their house. I guess I'll stay at your place."
"Fair enough, although I am a bit of a morning person." Richard smiled, as if her answer was somehow amusing.
"If that's the biggest danger I run into here, I'll be grateful." Willow smiled, looking over at Richard. How much had Oz shared about Sunnydale? How much did the other wolves know about the wretched, evil place that she called home?
His eyes flickered over to her before returning to the road. "You do realize most people would count a memorial ceremony for werewolves by werewolves as dangerous? Most people count werewolves as dangerous."
"Werewolves are people. Any person can be dangerous, under the right - or maybe that's wrong? circumstances, but that doesn't mean I should live my whole life afraid of people. The ceremony... it's not about being dangerous, it's about remembering, about letting them go and saying goodbye." Willow paused, looking out the window at the city, feeling the tears well up again, blurring everything into gray concrete and blue sky. "Everybody should be able to tell their family, their loved ones goodbye."
"You should be alright then, Willow." He sounded awkward. Did he know that she was crying again? Probably, thanks to that enhanced sense of smell that werewolves had...
"I hope so." She sniffled, trying to pull away from the edge of another crying binge. "It just feels like... like a part of me has been ripped away. It hurts, and I don't know when that will stop."
End part 3.
The rest of the evening passed with that sort of overly careful politeness of people who don't quite know how far is too far, and are uncertain it's worth the risk. They were polite, neither of them asking anything too personal. Willow mainly asked about how Oz had been, and for a bit more about the ceremony. Sylvie and Stephan dropped by later, and Willow offered them polite nods, asking them if they could tell her about the life Oz was trying to build here. They talked about Oz, and how he was trying to fit into the pack, and Willow listened, learning more about werewolves in those few hours than she'd learned in the past three years in Sunnydale.
Gradually, it also dawned on her that Sylvie seemed to be checking her out. The sort of glances that hinted that under different circumstances, she might be asking for a date. Talk about unsettling... except that nobody talked about that, nobody mentioned it. If she pretended nobody was checking her out less than twenty-four hours after she'd learned her boyfriend had been killed, then they would pretend that nobody was looking. Maybe they didn't realize, maybe it wasn't anything personal... or maybe it was just the more touchy-feelie nature of shifters making her feel like Sylvie was looking at her 'that way'.
Willow wasn't certain what the cause was, or even if it mattered. She wasn't ready for a new relationship, not with Sylvie, not with Stephen, not with Richard - although they probably all had people already. She couldn't imagine why they wouldn't.
She almost felt ready for the ceremony tomorrow. It sounded simple enough; the whole pack would go to a place called the Lupanar, which was apparently their special place to go hang out during full moons. They would take turns talking about their memories of those who died, ensuring that their memories would live on in the minds of the others of the pack.
Stephan had frowned slightly before looking at her. "It won't be the full moon. There's no danger... nobody will be shifting, you'll be safe."
Willow had blushed a bit. "It's not... that's not the part that I'm nervous about. I mean, yeah, werewolves, but that wasn't a problem with Oz. It's more the lots of people, and I get stage fright, and what if I break down in tears in front of all those people that I don't know at all? Everyone will think I'm some sort of emotional basket case, and I sort of am right now..."
"No, they'll know that you're grieving." Richard's voice was soft, soothing. "Nobody will look down on your tears. I think there will be enough of us crying that we'll understand."
"If everybody else is grieving, then maybe I won't feel so embarrassed about it." She tried to smile, the words soft and full of pain and worry.
"That's the whole idea, Willow. That all of us will be there to grieve." Sylvie's voice carried pain as well, and bitterness. "It's supposed to help us heal, to know that others miss the departed as well."
"So... it's not letting go of Oz, but starting to let go of the pain?" Willow looked at them, trying to understand, trying to find a way to let herself heal.
"Yeah, letting go of that sort of pain. It's bad pain." Stephan's words were soft, and almost confusing. Didn't 'bad pain' imply that there was 'good pain'? Maybe she didn't want to know...
Maybe there would be something to that. Maybe, Willow mused, she could start to heal by talking about the Oz she'd known, the musician from Sunnydale. Possibly without the Hellmouthy details. But did those deserve to be lost? Maybe it would depend on how things went...
Eventually, Stephan and Sylvie left, after talking to Willow and Richard about the ceremony. It turned out that Richard was pretty important; something called an Ulfric, which sounded like a semi Norse derived word meaning Wolf King. He'd confessed, all the while blushing, that that was the case, he was now the leader of the local pack, although he wouldn't say how he'd become the leader.
Willow had curled on the couch, hoping not to have bad dreams. Hoping not to have any nightmares, about Sunnydale, about Oz. She tossed on the couch, feeling tense and off balance. When she did fall asleep, she kept waking up, sometimes from bad dreams, sometimes because she heard something, or thought that she had. She was more than ready to stop trying to sleep when she heard Richard stirring. More than ready to be around other people, listening and trying to let go of the pain, to help them let go of their pain for their departed friends and lovers.
End part 4.
In the morning, Willow was very quiet as Richard made breakfast. He seemed to be trying to set her at ease, to keep her from being too nervous. The gesture was rather sweet, even if it wasn't working terribly well, and Willow offered a soft 'thank you' as she accepted a plate of eggs and toast. She meant far more than a thanks for the food, and Richard seemed to know that.
"We'll need to drive a ways to the woods, and then there's a bit of a hike to the Lupanar. We didn't want it to be too close to the city."" He sounded almost apologetic.
Remembering some of the tough nights fighting beside Buffy, Willow smiled. "I think I can manage a hike."
The drive was quiet, filled with something that was not quite tension, not quite anticipation. But there was a definite awareness that there would be... something. The woods were... amazing. Willow looked around her, trying not to gape at the green of it all. The towering trunks of trees, not as large as the Redwoods, but so many of them, and the air was just... thick and rich with humidity and scents and something else, a sort of wild magic. Willow breathed in, feeling it, hearing faint whispers that she couldn't quite understand. "And you come here every month? It's just... wow."
Richard just chuckled, starting along a thin tracing, not a hiking path, but a worn depression in the ground, traced out and worn down by dozens, hundreds of feet passing through over many years. This would take her to the Lupanar... And Willow allowed herself to become lost in the whisper of the magics, the songs of birds and insects and tree frogs, all washing over her like a wave of life and intensity and sensation.
The next thing that she knew, she was standing at the edge of a clearing, grass brushing at her ankles. There were others here, dozens of people that she didn't recognize, didn't know. She could feel them, feel their auras, all buzzing with the same feeling of wild life and intensity that she'd felt earlier, could feel throbbing and pulsing all around her. This was the Lupanar... If it was this potent, this intense during the daylight, how powerful would it be under a full moon? Her mind tried to imagine it, and failed.
"Willow? Are you alright?" Richard sounded worried, and there was the impression that this wasn't the first time he'd spoken her name.
She blinked, glancing at Richard. He seemed to belong here, to fit in with the meadow, and the power that lived here. "I think so. I just... I think I zoned out for a bit there. But now we're at the Lupanar, and I can feel it."
Richard reached out, his fingers just brushing her arm. It was as if he didn't want to startle her. "How does it feel to you?"
"So very alive... it's like... sunshine and... everything, if that makes sense. Warm, and alive and there's this intensity, like everything here is somehow more real than things else where. There's magic... I can taste it, sort of like ginger and honey." Willow struggled to find words to describe what she was feeling.
"I think you'll be just fine then. If you feel like there are too many people, just close your eyes and feel the Lupanar, and it will help you to be calm." He smiled, and Willow had the oddest feeling that for once, someone had completely understood her babbling.
Turning to face the assembling people, Richard spoke again, his voice projecting to fill the clearing. "Hear me, wolves of Thronnos Roake! We have come here to remember, and to mourn our fallen. Who will speak first in their memory?"
The person who stepped forward first was wearing... well, it looked like a net shirt and a few bits of leather. Goodness, someone was certainly confident in the way they looked... "I will speak in memory of the fallen. I remember Kate, who loved detective stories and thought men with glasses were sexy. I remember Donovan, who wanted to finally see the Harry Potter books made into movies. I remember Cole who drove too fast."
A slender blonde woman spoke next, her voice having the raw quality of someone who's spent a lot of time crying. "I am Elaine, and I r-remember Todd, who collected teddy bears and b-brought me lilies every month. He would hold m-me..." Her words fell away, replaced by soft sobs and more tears. Someone standing next to her pulled her in for a hug, rubbing at her back soothingly.
"I remember Cole, who liked peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and always bit the heads off of candy bunnies first." This was a medium sized figure, across the clearing. Willow thought it was a guy, but she couldn't quite tell. Maybe it didn't matter.
"I remember Danny, who wanted to make music, and knew every song John Lennon ever wrote." A young sounding guy off to the right.
A tall figure with long dreadlocks came forward. "I am Jamail, and I remember Danny, who never lost his temper, and Todd who wanted to build a future with the woman he loved, and Kate who wanted to be a writer if she could find a publisher who wasn't a prejudiced ass."
"I am Paris, and I remember Marcus, who wanted to lead us out of the darkness of the past, and into the modern era."
"I am Stephan, and I remember Karen who loved ballet, and Todd who loved bad fifties horror movies."
"I am Willow, and I remember Daniel Osborne, who wanted to make the world a safer place." Willow's own words rang into the air, for once entirely fitting, entirely confident.
The reminiscing continued until the moon rose, a slightly shrunken amber mass, large and warm in the sky. She could feel it prickling at her skin, the light and power and magic of the moon dancing through the clearing. It danced in her, in all of them, and Willow found herself remembering. Remembering Oz, Kate, Cole and Marcus. Remembering Karen, and Donovan, and Todd, as if she'd known all of them for all her life, even the ones that she'd never met before. She knew their scent, knew their wolves, and they lived in her memories.
Willow smiled at the moon, grateful that she'd come here, that she'd been allowed to be part of this ceremony, to share this magic. She wasn't all right yet, but she would be.
End Burial of Hopes.