The day after Willow was turned, Oz went back to church for the first time in years, wanting to relearn how to hope. Willow was damned and he was damned and the whole of Sunnydale was damned as well, but only if there was a hell. Otherwise, they were just blips on a radar, just a few molecules in the great, grand whole of everything, and there was no worse fate waiting for them below. That was nearly unbearable, the idea that this was as bad as things could get. Oz held tight to the idea that they hadn’t reached rock bottom, that they still had a few miles to go before they truly woke up in Hell, because as long as he had farther to fall, he still believed that he could keep climbing back up.
The Church preached about forgiveness, about begging atonement for what you had done. They sang “holy, holy, holy” and broke bread and closed their eyes. “Forgive us our trespasses,” the pastor intoned, “And deliver us from evil,” the congregation echoed, and Oz slipped out through the narthex, unnoticed. His trespass, his original sin, was not his own, he was dirty and unholy and broken by a curse he hadn’t brought upon himself, and begging forgiveness for something he hadn’t done wasn’t Oz’s idea of salvation.
Maybe religion wasn’t made for monsters like him.
“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.”
As he walked out, his cross hung heavy like a weight around his neck.
* * *
Willow liked to come to him in the dangerous hours of the morning, when it was still too dark for him to walk without fear, and when morning crept towards the horizon, just waiting to burn her.
“Hey, lover,” Willow breathed in his ear as she appeared behind him on the sidewalk before his parents’ empty house, drifting close around his back like a plume of smoke. “Didja miss me?”
It had been one week after Oz fled from church like a thing possessed, one week since Willow had been turned into the monster behind him, the monster laughing softly in his ear and wrapping her cold, marble arm around his waist like a vise. She’d come to him every night but the night she rose, when Oz sat vigil by her grave, clutching a cross and a stake and thinking of the night he and his cross couldn’t save her, thinking if only, if only, if only.
“It’s not you I miss,” Oz answered quietly and refused to acknowledge her any further, thinking of the feel of a stake in his sleeve and a heavy vial of holy water weighing down his pocket like a stone. His neck felt loose and light where a cross used to hang (the heavy silver cross she’d given him for Christmas, insisting that he’d already gotten her nine Hanukah presents, so the least she could do was get him one really nice Christmas present), but its absence wasn’t as comforting now as it was when he had been running from God and all his saints.
“Really?” Willow asked innocently, her voice mimicking her former, human self, as she trailed her fingertips down his neck, making him shiver. “You think we’re different, your Willow and me? Do you think a different girl crawled out of that grave, Oz?”
Oz shuddered as Willow released her grip on his waist to run her hand up his side and cross in front of him, wrapping her fingers around his shoulder and digging each digit into his flesh like a thumbscrew. He tried his best to ignore her, but Willow grabbed his chin in her hand and turned his head towards hers, catching his eyes with her feral, green gaze. He couldn’t look away, absolutely frozen by the sight of her.
Willow bit her lip gently, green eyes wide and questioning as she stared at him, and for a second it was if she had never died. This was a monster here before him, one wearing Willow’s face, and she wore it so well that Oz wanted to believe this was her. “Have I changed that much, sweetie?” Willow asked, voice questioning and a little unsure, the way she had once sounded.
It would be so easy to forget, to lean in the extra inch and take what she was so clearly offering, and Oz was so tempted. It had been a week since Willow had died, and he was no closer to fighting through the thick, heavy rage and grief and fury that had been clouding his entire world. More than anything, he wanted a break with that reality, a moment where he could play pretend that he’d never lost Willow. He wanted to forget that, without her, even breathing hurt, but not like this. Anything was better than this.
“Go to Hell,” Oz growled, doing his best to push her away, but Willow just squeezed tighter on his shoulder and laughed at his attempts to break loose.
“Oh!” she squealed, lips curving into a gleeful smile that sent revolted shivers down Oz’s spine. Willow smiled like a hangman, like an executioner waiting with bated, joyful breath to strike the killing blow. “Do you wanna play? Is that what you want, Oz?”
She smiled again, grin like a sickly crescent moon, and laughed low in her throat. “I don’t need a full moon to make you my puppy.”
With another manic laugh, Willow shoved Oz to the ground, dropping to her knees and straddling his chest. “Okay, puppy,” she laughed, raking her fingernails down his chest to tear his shirt to shreds, “let’s play!”
Oz reached up to shove her off, bucking his hips and thrashing his legs as if caught in the throes of a violent seizure, doing everything in his power to escape the monster living in Willow’s body. Willow slammed a hand down on against the center of his chest, forcing his head back against the grass.
“I don’t think I like it when you fight back, puppy,” Willow scolded, digging the fingernails on his chest into his skin, tearing through his flesh as if he were woven from spare bits of tissue paper and straw. Blood rose to the surface as Willow slowly dragged her nails down his chest, tearing five stripes into his moon white skin. She leaned down to lap up his blood, dragging her cold tongue against his stomach and chest. Oz could feel her rough tongue pull at the jagged edges of his flesh, and he had never felt so fragile. “I think I’d much rather play with you when you’re too weak to try and stop me. Doesn’t that sound like fun, puppy?”
“Fuck you, Willow!” Oz spat, voice hissing with pain. He’d stopped struggling the moment she licked him, frozen in place in revulsion. Willow sat back up, licking her red stained lips slowly, savoring the last tastes of his blood.
“Somebody’s an eager puppy!” Willow laughed gleefully, clapping her hands together once to clasp them under her chin. “But I think we’ll save that for last, don’t you think? First, I wanna see what you taste like, right from the source. I’m feeling absolutely parched.”
Willow pinned one hand against his chest while the other turned his head to the side, exposing the pale length of his neck. She was being sloppy, starving and so close to blood, and left his arms free. The vial of holy water, a relic of a faith he no longer held, was heavy in his pocket, cold against the side of his leg, and Oz reached for it as slowly as he possibly could, trying not to attract Willow’s attention. She didn’t notice, intent on the pulse jumping in his neck, and Oz fished it out of his pocket (slowly, slowly) and quickly dragged his hand up to his side.
That movement, much faster and sharper, caught Willow’s attention and she laughed again, cruel and biting and so unlike the way she used to laugh, when she saw the vial in his hand. Oz hated her laugh more than anything else about her, and he longed to splash his holy water right in her face, so he could laugh while her lips and tongue smoked and burned.
“On, c’mon, holy water?” Willow scoffed, “You don’t believe in that any more than I do. You’re not even wearing your cross!
“And you know why?” she whispered, drawing a teasing fingertip up and down over his neck. “Because there’s no God for monsters like us. No one there to hear your prayers.”
“Maybe,” Oz acknowledged, “or maybe not.”
He threw the vial, splashing water across her face and down her chest. Willow started screaming instantly, flying to her feet and wiping hurriedly at her face and eyes and neck, trying to brush the water from her skin before her flesh began to sizzle. Oz pushed up from the ground and ran, sprinting down the sidewalk and slamming the heavy wooden door behind him the moment he crossed his home’s threshold. Outside, he could hear Willow continue to scream as he threw the deadbolt.
* * *
Oz still didn’t believe in God, didn’t believe in an Almighty, a great plan, or in much of anything at all. Giles told him that he had to believe in something, that there was some reason why when he held a cross it drove off demons instead of just being a pair of crossed sticks. Oz was willing to entertain the idea, although he didn’t know what it was that he supposedly believed in, so when he and Larry grabbed weapon after weapon in preparation to storm the Master’s factory, Oz grabbed a thick wooden cross and a vial of holy water, and he slipped his heavy silver cross around his neck.
In the factory, everything happened all at once, chaos coming to life in the screaming and running and dying of people to all sides of him. Oz didn’t have time to wonder what it was he believed in, didn’t have time to halfass a prayer to some unknown higher power, didn’t have time to do anything but react, but run and stake and rescue and repeat.
But then he saw red hair and a sickly smile from across the room and suddenly he knew. There had to be a better world than this, Cordelia had said as much, and maybe there were hundreds of better worlds somewhere he would never go. And somewhere in the universe, in one of these hundreds of better worlds, Willow had to exist, happy and safe and alive. Willow was alive somewhere, and, even now, Oz believed in Willow.
“Willow, please forgive me,” he murmured under his breath, in a low voice like a prayer, and he pushed the monster that had killed his Willow into a wooden stake.
“Because everything I do is for you.”