Avox in Arcadia (perpetual) wrote,
Avox in Arcadia

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Older (Part 13 of ??)

Title: Older
Author: Kairos
Wordcount: This part, 2490
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Boss Whedon.
Notes: Don't think this means I'm back on the actual horse now. Both parts were already written; I just split up the episode when I realized that it was twice as long as my other "Older" chapters.

The library felt oppressive and foreign, though nothing had changed about it since Willow had last been there. Cordelia and Xander were arguing, hotly but quietly, in a corner so that Willow couldn’t make out the shape of their disagreement. Giles and Miss Calendar were shut up in his office, but they were probably arguing too. Willow had nobody to argue with.

Last night, the werewolf had crashed through the ceiling of the Bronze and chased Willow and Cordelia outside. Willow knew precious little about what had happened after that, except that now it was daylight and they still didn’t know where - or who - the werewolf was. She wanted to say that most of the others inside the club had evacuated safely, but from what she had seen, it was less of an evacuation and more of a mad rush for the doors. For hours she had waited outside, watching the exits, while Giles and Miss Calendar had attempted to cast a spell that would hold the creature safely until daybreak. Apparently it had run off in the meantime through the doors on the opposite side, unseen by anyone.

The only real surprise about the failed plan, which Cordelia had explained to her and Xander this morning, was that the spell had temporarily worked. Miss Calendar, who was exactly as inexperienced in casting as she had claimed to be, was unable to keep it in effect for very long, and neither she nor Giles had the physical strength to restrain the werewolf through any other means. Cordelia had been furious, accusing them of being too proud to ask for Buffy’s help, and Willow could easily imagine that she was now turning the blame onto Xander.

The contention between Buffy and Giles was more complicated than that, of course. Willow knew that.

She just didn’t think it was a detail that mattered much to the two mauled bodies that they had found that morning in the Bronze.

“Has anyone told Buffy yet?” she asked to no one in particular. Xander and Cordelia both looked up and shook their heads.

Giles and Miss Calendar finally emerged from the office, releasing their continued conversation as the door opened. “...In the seating area while we were backstage, or how would we have missed it?” Jenny was saying.

“That was far past midnight,” Giles countered. “It’s extremely unlikely that two victims would have been available so long after everyone else had left the building.”

“The guy was clearly a werewolf hunter! He had probably tracked it there and tried to shoot it down.”

“And poor young Theresa, she was his assistant perhaps?”

They both stopped near the table. “Hardly matters now, does it?” said Miss Calendar, her shoulders slumping. “Knowing how it happened isn’t going to make them any less dead.”

“Who’s dead?”

Everyone looked up. Oz had just come into the library. Willow’s shoulders tightened: she was still bothered by the way he had been acting toward her lately, but this was no time to be dwelling on it. “Theresa Klusmeyer. And some older guy that nobody recognized. The werewolf got into the Bronze last night.”

Oz took this news with evident shock, but followed it with nothing but a long silence. Xander was the first to leave the library, investigating a hunch about Larry, but Oz excused himself soon after, with no better excuse for it than being busy.

Theresa had been a kind, soft-spoken girl that Buffy liked very much. Cain had been a sexist bully messing with dangerous forces. Neither of them should have had to die, but Buffy didn’t take herself to task for visiting Theresa’s coffin at the funeral home and skipping any such gestures for Cain. She didn’t know what had been done with his body anyway.

Xander came along, having finished his interview with Larry and crossed him off of the list of suspects for reasons he didn’t seem keen to discuss. For once, Buffy assumed that they would be in the company of corpses without any lurking danger, but she was feeling tense and it was hard to keep herself from kicking in the door to the showing room when she saw it close right before they reached it. Instead, telling herself that Theresa was bound to have visitors other than herself and Xander, she turned the knob slowly and entered with a respectfully quiet step to avoid startling whoever was in there.

It didn’t work: Oz seemed just as surprised to see them as she was to see him. He had one hand flat on the closed coffin, which struck her as odd, and for a second he almost gave the impression that he was about to bolt. “Hey,” he said cautiously.

“I forgot you knew her,” Buffy offered, to cover the silence after she and Xander awkwardly returned the greeting.

“Not really well,” said Oz, still keeping the coffin between them. “I just had to see…”

Xander was looking suspicious, though in all fairness he had been that way toward Oz ever since Willow had started dating him. “See what?” he asked. “Theresa? That’s a little over the average level of morbidity, even for Sunnydale.”

“They said she was all ripped up,” Buffy added gently. “I think it would be better if we kept the lid closed.”

“That’s what they said.” It was clear now that Oz was on edge, and heedless of Xander moving slowly toward him. “We don’t know for sure if it was the same thing that killed those animals. It’s worth checking.”

“Oz -” Buffy started, but the coffin’s lid went up before she could say any more.

For a moment it hid both him and Xander entirely from her view, and then one of them pulled it down and their faces were revealed again, rattled and white, as the coffin clicked shut.

“And that’s why you don’t open a closed casket in a funeral home,” said Xander. “‘Yours Truly, The Werewolf.’”

Oz ignored him. “Buffy, I need your help. You can knock me unconscious, right? You’ve got to do it, as in now.”

“Why?” said Buffy, her brain less occupied with anticipation of his answer than it was with the question of whether she still wanted her best friend to be involved with this guy.

“Because the moon’s gonna rise soon,” Oz informed her. “And because I killed two people last night.”

Cordelia looked over the completed quiz on World War II that Willow had just handed back to her, and frowned. “I don’t get it.”

For once Willow couldn’t bother to hide her exasperation. “Cordelia, I didn’t leave you anything to not get. It’s a multiple choice and all the right answers are circled. See?”

“That’s what I don’t get. Aren’t you supposed to be all ‘teach a man to fish’ with homework? The only thing I asked you for was a reminder on who was Axis or Allies.”

Willow sighed, embarrassed. “Sorry. It was just faster to do it that way, and I really need to help Giles and Miss Calendar figure out how to catch the werewolf.”

Cordelia glanced over to where the two teachers were hunched over a pile of old books on the countertop. “How are we supposed to figure that out?” she complained, rolling her eyes. “I already told them they need Buffy for this. If they’re not going to listen to that, why would they listen to some decrepit factoid on wolfmen we dig out of their tomes?”

“Giles always listens,” said Willow. “I was kind of hoping we’d have more help tonight, though. Where’s Xander?”

“Tagging along after Buffy, which should come as a shock to nobody.” There was a lot of venom in Cordelia’s tone, and Willow couldn’t say she blamed her, especially when she added, “What about Oz?”

“He wanted to be someplace that was away from me.”

“What’s his problem? Ugh. Guys!”

Feeling a little better, Willow tried to explain the real reason that she wanted to concentrate on the research, without letting Miss Calendar overhear. The threat of Angel was still hanging over all of them, and even though Willow knew it was unrelated to the werewolf case, she couldn’t shake the feeling that if Miss Calendar had some time to work on it, she could find out how to restore his soul. Then everything would get better. Buffy and Giles would reconcile, the team would be a team again, and Oz would...well, no. Oz was still a guy.

As if those very thoughts had been a summoning, footsteps pounded up to the library double doors at a run, and the doors crashed open. Buffy and Xander had Oz between them and were ushering him forward, but he appeared to be sick or hysterical, hampering their efforts with wild convulsions.

Everyone in the library leaped to their feet with questions and exclamations on their lips, but Xander shouted over them, “Get the cage open!” and Giles rushed to unlock it without any demand for more information.

Willow soon saw what he must have understood instantly: Oz wasn’t just flailing, he was transforming. It was him. The monster, the killer - it was her Oz. She swallowed all the dread welling up at that realization and ran over to help Buffy and Xander, who were still struggling to get him into the library’s book cage. She could see Cordelia coming up behind her, with the same apparent purpose but much more reluctance to get close to Oz.

Every inch of progress was harder and more dangerous than the last, as they could now see fangs in his mouth and claws on his fingers. He was growing, too, which Willow knew would impede Buffy far more than his strength. They were nearly at the open cage door when he twisted in their grip and turned to face Willow, snarling through a furry face. He swiped at her with one hand - no, it was a paw now - and then Buffy kicked him square in the chest, pushing him back and into the cage.

They had the door shut and locked before Willow registered the pain in her left forearm, which she had flung up a moment ago to protect her face. The werewolf, now fully transformed, pressed against the chainlink door and made terrible sounds, but as far as Willow could see, she was the only one who had felt its claws.

Buffy turned around instantly and hugged her. “I’m so sorry Will. Don’t worry. He’ll be fine. It’s gonna be okay.”

Willow returned the hug briefly before disengaging, but as she stepped back she held up her arm, dazed. “Is it?” Three parallel lines were raked into her skin, gleaming red though not bleeding.

Everyone but Oz went silent. Willow looked desperately at each face, needing answers and knowing they weren’t there. “Giles? Jenny? Am I gonna be okay?”

Buffy found Giles in his office the next afternoon, alone. He looked surprised to see her but welcomed her in and offered her a seat, waiting to let her speak first.

“What are we doing about Oz?” she began.

“I’ve offered him the library as a shelter during the full moon,” he said. “We spoke for some time about his, ah, his condition, and I assured him that we won’t be revealing his secret or turning him into the authorities. He isn’t a murderer, Buffy. Fear may have led him to make some mistakes, but the...casualties of his attack are weighing on him heavily enough without adding any, ah, blame from us.”

“I wasn’t going to bring in authorities.” Buffy felt weary. “I just wanted to make sure we’re all safe.”

Giles took off his glasses. “Yes, of, of course.”

The silence carried on for a few beats before she plunged into the rest of what she had to say. “Giles, this has been a disaster. Two people dead, Willow maybe turned into a werewolf, Angel showing up just to toy with me. We can’t let it happen again. You and I can’t go on like we’re not fighting on the same side.”

He sat very still, not even cleaning the glasses in his hand. “Have you forgiven me, then?”

Buffy shook her head. “No. But I need you.” She brushed a hand through her hair, hoping to hide her emotion. “Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever really forgive you. I just think that for now we can live with it. Maybe Travers was right. An effective team just gets weighed down by a personal relationship.”

He was hurt by that, she could tell, but she didn’t try to soften it for him. It hurt her too. “So I just need to know one thing,” she continued.

“What’s that?”

“The Watchers’ Council fired you, and I don’t like adding this adverb, but, supposedly. I told you to get lost, and that wasn’t supposedly. You might as well have just packed up and moved somewhere normal, but instead you’ve spent the last two days trying to save Sunnydale from a werewolf based on a rumor that Cordelia brought you.

“Who do you work for, Giles?”

He gave the question enough space to show that it was carefully considered, a gesture which she trusted more than she would admit. Finally he replaced his glasses on his face, looked her in the eye, and said, “As long as you’ll have me, I work for you.”

Willow wore long sleeves when she went to talk to Oz. It didn’t help.

“I’m sorry about how all this ended up,” she said.

“You’re sorry,” he replied, toneless but for the slight emphasis on you’re signifying the irony he intended to convey. He had been staring at the ground when she approached him, and he was still doing exactly that.

“Hey, I know you didn’t mean to, and I was kind of, so it’s a little bit my own - anyway, I’ve been studying werewolves a lot. None of the books say that a scratch is enough to transmit the condition.”
“But none of them say it isn’t.”

He was right, of course. She tried again. “I’ll be okay. Even if...I’ll just get locked up three nights a month, like you. Hey, m-maybe we could be like, cellmates. Moon buddies.”

Oz gave her a sorrowful, desperate look with no sign of laughter in it. “Willow, I destroyed an innocent girl and an experienced killer and tore their bodies into pieces and I don’t even remember doing it. We’ll find out next month how bad I hurt you, but until then I’m just going to stay out of your way.”

“I don’t want--”

“I’m sorry.” He said it sharply, a red light on any attempt she might make to change his mind, but when he repeated the words they were a true apology. “I’m sorry. It’s got to be this way.”

Next chapter.
Previous chapter.
Start at the beginning.
Tags: older'verse

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