Monosyllabic Eccentricity

Title: Butterflies
Author: Little Faith
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Body, Crush - AU split off
Summary: Oz returns to Sunnydale when his mother is killed. Believe it or not, things go downhill from there.
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other characters are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and the WB. The Body was written by Joss Whedon, I used a transcript by Joan the English Chick for the scenes taken from that episode. The Subtitles for parts 1 and 3 are from Funeral Blues by W.H. Auden.
Author's Note: Butterflies are associated w/death b/c they would gather on corpses, looking for salt, which they need to survive. Because of their three-part life cycle, (larval, pupal and adult), they are also associated with rebirth. Thanks to dear Felicity, who sent me some of the pics I used to make a promo collage. Special thanks go out to Rakshar, Melanie, and HAKirby for beta-reading this for me. Special thanks also go out to Emilie and Emily (*L*) for helping me decide the villain’s fate. And at some point this became the fic that would not end.


Part 1 (Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone)

As the phone rang at the Magic Box, everyone jumped. Anya reached for it but Giles stopped her.

"It’s after hours," he said. "Let the machine get it."

Anya shrugged and picked up the book she’d been looking through. The phone rang twice more before Giles’s pre-recorded message began.

"You’ve reached the Magic Box at an inopportune time, most likely when we are closed. Our hours are nine a.m. to five p.m. daily. If you’ll leave your name, number and reason for calling, we’ll gladly contact you during regular business hours." The tone sounded and the gang heard the caller sigh softly.

Willow’s head shot up and her eyes widened. "Oh god…" she breathed.

"Okay," the caller said. His familiar voice filled the silent shop. "Mrs. Summers said you were there and either you aren’t or you aren’t answering the phone…"

Giles searched frantically for the talk button.

The caller continued, "This is Oz. I’m in town…and…"

"Oz," Giles said, after finally hitting the right button.

"Giles," Oz replied. "You are there."

"We’re all here," Willow said, silently thanking the inventor of the speaker phone feature.

"Willow…" Oz seemed to falter. "I…ah…God. I shouldn’t have called, I’m sorry. I know I have no right calling you guys for this but…uh, well…" Emotions were seeping into Oz’s usually calm voice.

"Where are you?" Willow asked anxiously. "What’s wrong?"

"I’m at the Sunnydale hospital," Oz said. Willow clapped her hand over her mouth; her eyes went wide with horror. Oz stammered as he continued, "There’s been some sort of…my mo-mother was, uh, hurt…" He sounded upset and it was terrifying.

"We’ll be there in five minutes," Willow vowed.

"Um, the hospital is, like, at least 15 minutes away…" Anya pointed out.

"Five minutes," Willow reiterated forcefully.

*~*


Oz didn’t move from the hard black plastic chair where he was seated when the Scooby gang walked in. His hair and clothes were rumpled. The harsh, buzzing fluorescent lights stripped all color from his pale skin. He looked up at them. His jade green eyes were rimmed in crimson, and full of distress. The dark circles beneath them stood out starkly against his ashen face. Oz pursed his parched lips as he stood to greet them.

"What happened?" Willow asked.

"I don’t know yet," Oz confessed, shaking his lowered head.

"I’m sure it’ll be okay," Tara said. She tried to sound reassuring.

"I’m not." Oz’s voice came out small and frightened. The others gathered sympathetically around him.

"Daniel Osbourne?" a firm voice called.

Stricken emerald eyes locked onto the doctor’s face. "Yeah," Oz squeaked. He cleared his throat. "Yeah?" he repeated in a voice that sounded much more strained than usual.

"Your mother was badly hurt when she was brought in," the doctor began haltingly. "She’d suffered blunt force trauma to the entire torso and had lost a great deal of blood." He paused, watching the young man before him sympathetically. "We tried everything we could but the injuries she sustained were too severe and despite our best efforts, we were unable to save her," the doctor said gently. Oz grew paler with each word.

"Can I see her?" he whispered.

*~*


The lifeless body sported pale skin, fine red hair and a very obvious bite mark on the side of her neck. The slayerettes exchanged worried glances. A police officer approached them a bit hesitantly. "Are…are you all family? We don’t allow many people back here," he explained.

"Do you have any idea what happened?" Oz asked. "Besides the obvious."

"Well…ah…" the cop stammered. "Are you…family?"

"I am." Oz made no reference to the others.

"I’m very sorry for your loss," the officer began. Oz shrugged off the apology and the cop continued. "We found some blood on her shirt that we think came from the killer. Also, her jaw was broken, implying that someone might have forced her mouth open. It’s common in these vampire cult killings. The murderer drains some of their blood down the victim’s throat," he said, then paused. "You probably don’t need to be hearing this. Again, I’m very sorry," he said.

Oz looked at him but made no reply and the cop slunk off.

*~*


"I can’t help feeling like this is all my fault," Buffy quietly confessed. "Between my mom and Riley and the whole thing with Glory, I’ve been neglecting the whole ‘vampire’ part of my slayer duties."

"Buff, no one blames you," Xander assured her.

"Speak for yourself," Oz said coldly. The slayer winced.

"I am so sorry about this…" she began.

"You’re too busy saving the world to save the people who live on it," Oz snapped, cutting her off.

"Oz," Tara said softly, "I know you’re upset."

"You don’t know anything about me," Oz growled, then turned and stalked away.

*~*


"We shouldn’t let him be alone right now, he’s upset," Willow insisted.

"Maybe he needs to be alone," Tara objected. "I mean, I didn’t want all my friends around when…my mom died."

"Your mom died?" Xander asked sympathetically.

Tara nodded shyly. "When I was seventeen."

"But Oz called us from the hospital, he wouldn’t have done that if he wanted to be alone…would he?"

"It doesn’t matter what he wants, it’s almost dark. I’m going out, I want the rest of you to stay here," Buffy said decisively as she headed for the door.

"Buffy, w-w-wait," Tara stammered. The slayer was gone and the young witch frowned. She was about to follow but Willow grabbed her by the arm.

"Let her handle this."

*~*

Buffy strolled between the neat rows of headstones, watching carefully for any signs of life or unlife. She spun quickly when she saw something move just within the range of her peripheral vision.

"Oz…" Buffy’s tone was gentle. "You don’t have to be here." Oz leaned against a tombstone with a stake in one hand and his pocket-knife in the other. He carefully honed the tip without looking up at Buffy. "I’ll take care of this, it was my fault to begin with."

"I was upset. I don’t really blame you," Oz said quietly.

"You don’t have to do that," she replied, gesturing to the stake in his hand.

"Have you ever noticed, when you’re cooking, if the blade is sharp enough, you can cut yourself and not even know it until you see the blood?"

Buffy frowned. "Yeah…" she said, not following his train of thought.

"I was just thinking that if I got the stake sharp enough, she wouldn’t feel it, you know?"

The slayer’s expression crumbled. "Oz, go home or go back to the Magic Box, I told the others to hang there…. Let me do this. It’s my job," Buffy said. Oz hesitated for a moment but stood. He held out the stake he’d been sharpening and Buffy took it.

"This wasn’t your fault," Oz told her. "It was mine. I shouldn’t have left."

"You gotta do what you gotta do," Buffy replied. "Now get!" She shooed him, trying to lighten the mood. It was hard to tell if it worked. The slayer mused over Oz’s stoicism as he headed back to the Magic Box. He was barely out of sight when the vampire rose. Buffy staked her before she could pull herself out of the grave. As the former Mrs. Osbourne was reduced to ash, the Chosen One patrolled. She was more diligent about it than she’d been in months and wound up getting only an hour and a half of sleep before her morning classes began.

*~*

After class, Buffy headed home to ask her mom which of them was picking up Dawn from school. The house felt strangely empty as she let herself in through the front door. "Mom?" Buffy called out; her voice was loud in the silent rooms. "Mom?" she called again, louder still and hating the sound, as she stepped into the living room. "Mom?" Buffy’s voice faltered as she saw her mother lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling. "Mom?" No response. "Mommy?" a frightened little girl’s voice squeaked past Buffy’s lips.

Joyce wasn’t breathing; she didn’t have a pulse. She was so, so still…and cold. Buffy picked up the phone and for a moment she just stared at it. Numbers…numbers…nine, one, one. There was a voice on the line now. They wanted to know what her emergency was. In Buffy’s mind she saw the word ‘emergency’ printed in all capitals, bright red. "My mom, she, she's not breathing."

"Is she conscious?" the operator asked. Conscious? Awake, Buffy’s brain simplified for her.

"No. I-I-I can't, she, she's not breathing." Address. The operator needed…the address, for the ambulance. Ambulance, the word appeared in Buffy’s mind backwards, as it was printed on the front of the vehicle. "Si-Sixteen thirty Rivelo, it-it's a house, Rivelo near Hadley." Did Buffy know CPR? "No, I don't remember." Why couldn’t she remember? She’d learned it, she knew she had learned how.

"I know this," Buffy whispered, putting the phone down. She took hold of Joyce's legs, and pulled her down across the sofa so that she was laying flat. "I can do this," Buffy told herself quietly. She tilted Joyce's head back, opened her mouth, pinched her nose shut and breathed into Joyce's mouth twice. Chest compressions. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight...Two more breaths. More compressions. One, two, three, crack. "Oh! Oh God!" Buffy fumbled for the phone.

"I, are you there? I, I broke something," she told the operator in a panicky voice. No, Joyce still wasn’t breathing. The paramedics were coming. "She's cold," Buffy added. There was a pause.

"The body's cold?" the operator asked. Body? What body?

"No, my mom! Sh-should I make her warm?" Wait for the paramedics. Buffy lowered the phone and looked up at the window. She stood up. Bright sunshine was streaming in the window. It was silent except for the faint sound of the 911 operator's voice. Buffy brought the phone back up to her ear. "I have to make a call," she said in a very small voice. She pressed the hang-up button. She needed to remember the number…no; it was on the speed dial. Easy. He answered after two rings. "Giles. You have to come," Buffy said flatly.

"Buffy?" he said in a slightly fuddled voice.

"She's at the house," Buffy informed him. She turned the phone off, and looked over her shoulder. She walked to the front door slowly and deliberately, opened it and looked out. The ambulance had arrived. Buffy retreated to the living room, leaving the door open.

Joyce’s skirt had bunched up a bit; her slip was showing. With an anxious glance to the door, Buffy pulled the skirt back down over the slip. "She's in here," Buffy called to the paramedics. They entered, carrying equipment, and put down the tools and supplies. Buffy watched in a daze as they laid Joyce on the floor, checking for any sign of life. Their voices sounded muffled to Buffy as she looked on. She managed to answer their questions without ever truly hearing them. The paramedics performed CPR but Joyce didn’t respond. She simply lay on the floor like a doll. Then the paramedics were gone. Buffy’s mom was dead and there was nothing they could do, nothing, they assured her, that she could have done.

Buffy walked into the kitchen. She felt nauseous as she set the phone on the table and went back towards the living room. She didn’t get there before falling to her knees and vomiting on the floor. Outside, wind chimes softly sounded. Some part of her brain registered the sound. Her mother had hung the wind chimes there. Buffy stood and walked to the back door, then back through the kitchen for a roll of paper towels. She was cleaning up when she heard her name.

"Buffy!"

She turned towards the sound and saw Giles. He stood in the doorway, winded. She told him she had to wait for the coroner, but he didn’t seem to understand. Buffy began to explain that she had to tell Dawn then Giles saw Joyce. He rushed towards her and knelt, calling her name, shaking her. He wasn’t listening, he didn’t understand.

"We're not supposed to move the body!" Buffy shouted desperately. Giles looked up at her. She covered her mouth with her hand. The body. Her mother. Giles stood quickly and put his arms around the fragile slayer. She stared in shock at her mother’s lifeless face.

*~*

Buffy entered the classroom and went over to the teacher, dreading every step. Joyce’s elder daughter walked down the aisle toward the younger girl. "Dawn," she said quietly. Dawn turned toward her, smiling; Buffy stared and Dawn’s smile faded. It hurt to watch the carefree expression drain from the young girl’s face. "I have to talk to you," Buffy said in a controlled voice. Dawn looked uncertain as Buffy lead the way out of the classroom. What would bring Buffy to her school in the middle of the day?

"It's bad news," Buffy began. Dawn crossed her arms across her chest worriedly. How bad? And why was Buffy the one delivering it?

"What? What happened? Where’s Mom?" Dawn asked, her voice frightened.

"Mom had an accident. Or, um..." Buffy’s voice quaked tearfully. "Something went wrong…from the tumor."

Wrong. From the tumor. But they took that out. It was gone now, and Mom was supposed to be okay. They took the tumor out so it couldn’t hurt her anymore.

"Is she okay? Is she ... but she's okay?" Dawn said, terrified. "But ... it's, it's serious, but..."

"Dawn..." Buffy said softly. It was a gentle tone, reserved for only the worst news possible. Dawn slowly began to cry, her hand over her mouth.

"No…" She shook her head and backed away from Buffy. This was not happening. It couldn’t be. "No, it’s not true. No! You’re a liar, she’s fine!" Dawn shrieked tearfully. She crumpled to the floor, overwhelmed by sobs. Buffy knelt, trying to comfort her sister.

*~*

Tara stood by the window, looking outwards. There was a car downstairs. She turned and spoke. "I think they're here." Willow looked down at the shirt in her hand and tossed it onto a pile of clothes on the bed. Not right. She pulled two more shirts out of her closet and turned towards Tara. Xander and Anya were there to take them to the morgue and Willow wasn’t ready. She couldn’t find the right shirt. Everything in her closet was wrong.

Willow began to cry. She wanted just one thing to be okay but nothing was. She was drying her cheeks when Xander and Anya walked in. He seemed angry, Willow tried to reassure him. There was no one to hold responsible. He had nothing to fight but his grief.

Willow had begun to worry about her clothes again and Tara left to check the laundry room, searching for Willow’s blue blouse.

"Are they gonna cut the body open?" Anya asked.

A horrified look clouded Willow’s features. Cut the body open? Joyce’s body? Who would think of such a thing?

"Oh my god!" she said angrily. "Would you just ... stop talking? Just shut your mouth. Please."

"What am I doing?" Anya asked, confused. She only wanted to know what was going to happen.

"How can you act like that?" Willow accused.

"Am I supposed to be changing my clothes a lot?" Anya asked, looking from Willow to Xander. "Is that the helpful thing to do?"

"Guys..." Xander started.

"The way you behave…" Willow snapped.

"Nobody will tell me," Anya objected.

"Because it's not okay for you to be asking these things!" Willow screeched.

"But I don't understand!" Anya cried desperately. Willow and Xander looked at her in surprise. Tears streaked down Anya’s face as she continued. "I don't understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she's, there's just a body, and I don't understand why she just can't get back in it and not be dead anymore. It's stupid. It's mortal and stupid. And, and Xander's crying and not talking, and, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch ever, and she'll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why." Anya stopped, put her hand over her face, and cried. Willow looked at her with tear-filled eyes.

Xander went over to Anya but she pushed him away.

"We don't know how it works or why…" Willow explained, as she sat on the bed. There was a moment of silence broken by a loud bang. Willow and Anya jumped.

"Sorry," Xander said. "Sorry, some pent-up..."

"Xander..." Willow got up. Xander’s hand was buried in a hole in the wall. Willow and Anya examined the wall and Xander’s wrist and were glad for the opportunity to discuss anything but death.

"Did I miss something?" Tara asked as she returned.

"Xander decided that he blames the wall," Anya answered helpfully.

Willow worked to free her best friend. Xander managed to pull free of the wall. Blood ran over his knuckles and all three girls made sympathetic, concerned noises.

"It's okay," Xander said, demonstrating by flexing his fingers. He washed away the blood and Anya found Band-Aids. They were soon ready to go.

"I, I wanna be there for Buffy," Willow said.

"You're right," Xander remarked, "The avengers gotta get to the assembly. We'll go. We'll deal. We'll help. That's what we do. We help Buffy." The four of them left together.

As they headed down to Xander’s car, Anya asked, "How are we going to help?" No one answered her.
 
Part 2 (Eyes that only Cry)


As Giles, Dawn, Buffy, Xander, Anya, Willow and Tara gathered in the waiting room, the coroner walked down the hall. The friends hugged each other comfortingly and sympathetically and exchanged quiet greetings. Giles noticed the man in the hallway.


"Doctor?" Giles addressed him. Everyone looked over at the doctor. He walked forward and Buffy, Giles, and Dawn came forward to meet him. The others stayed behind in a close group.

"Okay, I've examined your mother's body," the coroner said in a compassionate tone.

"Can we see her?" Dawn asked. If it could been seen and touched, then it was real.

"Dawn, not now," Buffy said swiftly.

"Your mother had what looks like an aneurysm. A sudden haemorrhaging from a ruptured arterial vessel near the, uh ... where the tumor was removed."

"Shouldn't we have known about that, that ... was a danger?" Buffy asked.

"Sometimes these things are detectable, and sometimes they're not," the doctor replied. "Joyce was aware of the possibility of a rupture, and the effects. She didn't even get on the phone, so clearly this was very sudden. She, uh, may have felt a little nausea, and probably passed out as it happened." In her mind, Buffy clearly saw her mother, lying on the couch. "I doubt there was much pain," the doctor continued, "and ... even if someone had been by her side...it's doubtful that this could have been dealt with in time." He looked at Buffy sympathetically.

"Uh, thank you, Doctor," Giles said.

"Are you sure that there wasn't a lot of pain?" Buffy asked.

"Absolutely," the doctor confirmed with a nod.

"What, uh," Giles began, clearing his throat, "what, uh, needs to be done now?"

"Well, there, uh, there'll be some forms, and some decisions you'll need to make," the doctor said.

"Uh, Buffy, why don't you let me handle those as much as I can," Giles offered. He was determined to spare the girl as much of this as he could.

"Please," Buffy replied.

"We will need you to ... sign a couple of release forms," the doctor informed Buffy.

"Yes, thank you, Doctor," Giles said. The doctor nodded and moved away. To Buffy, Giles added, "I'll, uh, figure out which ones you need to see."

"We'll be here," Buffy replied. Where else would they go? Giles followed the doctor down the corridor and the others crowded around Buffy.

"What'd the doctor say?" Xander asked.

"Nothing. Uh, it's, you know, it's what we thought, the tumor," Buffy responded, dazed. The Tumor. It was capitalized in Buffy’s mind. The Tumor was a thing of great importance. It had killed her mom.

"Why don't we sit down?" Willow suggested. She led Buffy and Dawn to a sofa, where she and Buffy sat. Tara sat on Buffy’s other side while Anya, Xander and Dawn remained standing.

"Giles says he's gonna go over the paperwork," Buffy said.

"Man, if there's one day they should not give you homework," Xander muttered.

"Dawnie, do you wanna sit?" Willow offered. Dawn shook her head and excused herself to use the bathroom. She didn’t want to sit. She didn’t want to talk.

"I wish that Joyce didn't die..." Anya said, a bit too loudly. The others looked at her and she softened her voice as she continued, "because she was nice. And now we all hurt."

"Anya, ever the wordsmith," Xander remarked, embarrassed, but Anya looked at Buffy.

"Thank you," Buffy said quietly. The simple truth. They’d all known Anya was master of that, but it had never seemed so important to hear it.

"Do you want anything? Something to eat, or ... soda?" Willow offered. Helpful, supportive, sympathetic.

"Honestly," Buffy replied, "I ... couldn't tell."

"Well, I-I think you should try to eat something," Willow said.

"Yeah, maybe Dawn could use a snack," Buffy considered.

"I'll, I'll find something," Willow said, getting up. "Xander, do you have any money?"

"We'll come with," he answered.

"We'll be right quick," Willow assured Buffy, and she, Xander and Anya left.

Buffy and Tara sat on the sofa next to each other. They looked at each other, then away. Buffy, softly, speaking to the floor, said, "I'm sorry ... you have to go through all of this."

"You don't have to worry about me," Tara assured her.

"Everybody wants to help," Buffy continued and Tara looked at her. "I don't even know if I'm ... here." Tara looked away. "I don't know what's going on. Never done this." Buffy paused. "That's just an amazingly dumb thing to say. Obviously ... I've never done this before."

"I have," Tara said softly. Buffy looked at her. She’d mentioned that before.

"Right, I’m sorry…"

"No, no, I didn't mean to ..." Tara said, then sighed. "I'm only telling you this because ... I know it's not m-my place, but ..." She paused. "There's things ... thoughts and reactions I had that ... I couldn't ... understand ... or even try to explain to anyone else. Thoughts that ... made me feel like I was losing it ... or, like I was some kind of ho-horrible person. I know it's different for you ... because it's always different, but ... if you ever need...." She trailed off. They sat there looking at each other. Then they both looked down at the floor. There was a long silence.

"I’m sorry," a quiet voice from the doorway offered condolences. Buffy and Tara looked up at Oz. Buffy stood to greet him as he approached. "How’re you holding up?" he asked.

"Terrible," Buffy admitted. She and Oz hugged briefly then stepped apart. The three of them exchanged glances and Tara stood.

"Look at us," she mused quietly. "All half orphaned." There was a moment of hesitation, then she and Oz embraced.

"You need anything?" he asked Buffy. She shook her head.

"Willow and Xander and Anya are getting snacks, and Giles is taking care of all the forms and things…" Buffy trailed off and looked into the shadowy corridor. "Dawn hasn’t come back yet."

"I could go check on her," Tara offered. Buffy gave her a grateful, tearful smile and Tara left. Buffy turned her watery-eyed gaze towards Oz.

"Is this, like, Karmic payback because of…" she began, her voice cracking.

"No," Oz said with certainty.

"I…" Buffy squeaked. Tears began to flow freely and she covered her face with her hands, sobbing. Oz’s arms closed around her, warm and sympathetic, and she leaned into him miserably. Willow, Xander and Anya returned but didn’t speak, gathering around Buffy and Oz. Tara led a tear-streaked Dawn back to the group. Children all, the friends formed a strange family.

*~*

"We discussed it before we came to the hospital," Tara said softly.

"We can handle patrol for as long as need be," Xander added.

"You need to take some time off, Buffy," Willow said kindly. Buffy looked at her friends’ concerned faces. There was no point in arguing.

"You guys be careful," she insisted, "I can’t lose anybody else."

"Take care of yourself," Oz said quietly.

"You too." As soon as they left, Buffy picked up the phone.

"Uh…Angel Investigations…"

"Angel…" Buffy’s voice cracked as she whispered his name.

"Buffy?" The slayer began to sob into the phone as she told him what had happened.

*~*


Willow lashed out with her foot, putting all her force behind the kick. The demon stopped advancing but had enough momentum to knock Willow to the ground. Xander thrust a short sword through the demon’s chest cavity and it turned to attack him. Xander’s eyes widened and he fumbled back to escape it. The demon staggered and fell, dead. Xander sighed with exaggerated relief while Tara helped Willow to her feet. "You okay, Will?" Xander asked. Willow nodded and smiled weakly.

"Sure. He wasn’t even that big," she replied. A scream rang out and the trio of slayerettes looked up in alarm.


"An…" Xander breathed. Anya shrieked again and they took off running in the direction of her cries. Two more of the big demons, which looked like scaly, anthropomorphic rams, were fighting with Anya and Oz. Technically, one of them was fighting Oz as the other chased Anya around the gravestones. She screamed at every opportunity. Xander rushed towards the demon chasing Anya. He hit the creature sword first, slamming it into a tree and impaling it. It slumped to the ground.

Tara raised her crossbow and steadied her aim. She held it, waiting. Oz and the remaining demon were too much in motion for a shot. There it was, her chance; she took the shot. The crossbow bolt grazed Oz’s ear and buried itself in the demon’s throat. Black blood bubbled forth from the wound as the demon collapsed. Oz panted and turned to thank her, his own blood streaming down the side of his neck.


"Oh," Tara said in an alarmed tone. "I’m so sorry about your ear," she stammered. Oz’s hand went to the wound.

"Oh. Just a scratch," he said. He gestured to the demon’s corpse. "Thanks."

"I really didn’t mean to shoot your ear," Tara struggled with the words.

"I know. It’s fine; you just nicked me, and you got the demon so, again, thanks," Oz said. Tara smiled a little bit.

"You’re welcome."

*~*

"And I was thinking…since, I’m not so good at the whole thing with, you know, weapons and fighting, that I should, or we could, you know, together, learn some combat style magic…" Tara suggested. She paced anxiously across the small room that she and Willow shared. Willow frowned.

"We’re nowhere near ready for that. I know you want to help but I just don’t think this is a good idea." Willow was physically and emotionally exhausted. She couldn’t argue with Tara; she didn’t have the energy. Tara furrowed her brow. Willow was losing interest in magic and in her.

"We could try though…couldn’t we…Willow?" Tara insisted. The redhead’s frown deepened.

"Can we talk about it later?" Willow asked. Tara’s face fell but she nodded reluctantly. Willow crawled into bed and Tara lay down next to her. As soon as she was certain that Willow was asleep, Tara rolled out of bed again, careful not to awaken the sleeping redhead. She kept her body between the bed and the small ball of light she had created as she began paging through their books. If Willow didn’t want to help, Tara would just have to do this on her own.

*~*

A small group of teens gathered in the waiting area at the hospital. Their faces were troubled and pale. Buffy fidgeted with her arms across her chest as though she were cold while Anya chewed on her fingertips nervously.

"The spell was too much," Willow sobbed. "She…she tried to c-cast it anyway…She stopped breathing. It’s all my fault."

"It’s not, Will," Xander said, giving her shoulder a squeeze.

"This is in no way your fault," Buffy added. "And I know she’s gonna be okay."

"You don’t know that," Willow whimpered dejectedly.

"She’s going to be okay," Oz said quietly. Willow looked up at him hopefully. "I just talked to the doctor, they revived her but she hasn’t regained consciousness. They’re going to move her and then we can all see her, okay?" Willow nodded sombrely.

*~*

Tara’s face was very pale; the hospital lighting cast deep shadows into the hollows around her eyes. Willow perched at the edge of the bed, grasping Tara’s hand gently. "I should have stopped her," Willow whispered tearfully. "Or I should have been helping her…."

"You couldn’t have known this would happen…" Xander said reassuringly.

"Thanks…all of you, for coming, but you guys don’t have to stay. I know it’s late…" Willow said.

"You’re sure you’re gonna be okay?" Buffy checked.

Willow nodded softly. "I’ll call you guys if I need you."
 

Part 3 (Nothing Now Can Come to Any Good)

"I’m really worried about you," Willow whispered to Tara, clutching her hand. "But I’m also really, really thirsty. So I’m just gonna run to the drinking fountain and I’ll be back before you know it," she promised. "Okay?" Tara, still unconscious, didn’t respond. Willow blinked rapidly, trying to clear away her tears as she hurried down the hall.

"Hey, Red."

Willow straightened up, brushing short strands of hair away from her face and wiping the water from her lips. She scowled. "Spike," she said sternly.

"What brings you here?" The vampire asked casually.

"My friend. What brings you here?" she hissed.

Spike smirked. "The red cross."

Willow wrinkled her nose. "Tara’s expecting me."

"Tara’s out cold," Spike corrected. "I looked in on her." Willow’s eyes opened wide.

"If you hurt her…" she began, but stopped short. Spike couldn’t have hurt Tara, she assured herself. He couldn’t hurt anybody. With that in mind, Willow stepped past him. He grabbed her by the arm and jerked her into a janitorial closet, clamping one hand over her mouth. "Mrgh, grrf," Willow struggled. Spike tightened his grip on her…it hurt. Spike was hurting her…which meant that somehow he was dangerous again. Willow struggled more frantically, her eyes as big as dinner plates.

Spike slammed her against the wall and her shoulder hit the light switch. The light came on and Willow stared up into Spike’s game face. "Guess who’s back?" he whispered menacingly just before he sank his teeth into her neck.

*~*

"You’ve regained consciousness, which is very positive and your vitals have improved drastically. We’d still like to keep you overnight for observation but I think you’ll be ready to go home in the morning," the doctor informed Tara cheerfully. Tara smiled weakly. "Why don’t you get some more rest," the doctor suggested. Tara nodded and pretended to relax. She wanted to stay awake for a little while. She was sure that Willow was at the hospital somewhere, and Tara wanted to see her. She blinked drowsily. Willow wouldn’t be anywhere else, not if she knew Tara was sick. Tara frowned and fought off a yawn. She settled back against the pillow with a sigh.

*~*

Buffy led the gang through the hospital’s crowded hallways, dodging doctors and patients on the way to visit Tara. The slayer paused as she saw someone familiar. It took her several moments to recognize the woman standing near the drinking fountain.

"Mrs. Rosenberg?" Buffy asked, frowning. The group stopped in its tracks. The woman looked at Buffy, Xander, Anya, Oz and Giles. She smiled weakly but the expression didn’t reflect in her eyes.

"Oh…Bunny, is it?" she said in a strained voice. "Did you hear about Willow?" She had been crying. It was a tone of voice they all recognized.

"Willow?" Xander asked in confusion. "What about Willow?"

"She was…she was attacked here at the hospital last night," Mrs. Rosenberg said in a quiet, teary voice.

Xander’s heart dropped into the pit of his stomach. "Is she…" In his mind, he began a silent, desperate prayer. Let her be okay. Four words, repeating endlessly.

"She was killed."

Xander looked faint, and all the color had drained from Buffy’s face. Anya’s eyes were wide. "How?" she squeaked softly. Sheila Rosenberg shook her head sadly.

"I’m very sorry for your loss," Giles said haltingly. They silently shuffled down the hallway towards Tara’s room.

"Oh. My. God," Buffy breathed the words out once they were away from Mrs. Rosenberg.

"Guys…" Anya said in a small voice. She was staring at a gurney waiting to be taken to the morgue. A sheet rested over it but a few strands of red hair were visible over the cloth, strewn across the thin mattress. Anya took a few small steps towards it.

"Anya…" Xander said hoarsely. "Don’t…."

She reached out and lifted the sheet slowly.

"Oh God…" Buffy squeaked.

Blood, stark crimson against the pallor of Willow’s skin, clung to the body’s lips. It had smeared over her chin and all around her mouth. Anya let the sheet fall. The fabric wrinkled and bunched as it slipped from her hand, leaving part of Willow’s face exposed. At least someone had closed her eyes. Anya hesitated and squirmed for a moment before she smoothed the sheet, covering Willow completely. Everyone seemed frozen for a moment. They drifted down the hall wordlessly and slipped into Tara’s room.

"How could this happen?" Buffy asked softly.

"What happened?" Tara asked.

"Willow…" Xander replied.

"What?" Tara sat bolt upright. "What happened to Willow?" She didn’t even stutter. There was a moment of silence; no one wanted to answer her.

*~*

"You can’t be serious," Tara insisted as Buffy gave her crossbow a cursory glance. She slipped it into her bag along with a couple stakes. She would take Willow out from a distance if she could.

"I’m very serious. I have a sacred duty to uphold," Buffy said coldly.

"You can’t kill her, we’re talking about Willow," Tara screeched.

"That is not Willow. She’s evil, she’s a demon, she’s a vampire now," Buffy shouted.

"Vampire plus slayer equals dead vampire," Xander agreed.

"But…Willow…"

"She’s not going to be Willow when she rises. This ain’t rocket surgery, our Willow is dead. What I’m going to kill is a vampire. It’s not Willow," the slayer insisted. Tara looked at Buffy with tear-filled eyes. Xander reached out and gently took Buffy’s hand. She looked at him.

"Rocket surgery?" he remarked.

She smiled tearfully for a moment. "Willow’s body is gone," the petite blonde informed the others.

"She rose already?" Giles asked, his voice a whisper.

"She must have…where’s Oz?" she asked, noting the absence of the werewolf.

*~*

The chains rattled as he checked to be sure that they would hold. It hadn’t been easy lugging Willow all the way out to this place. She had been, Oz thought, hating the pun, dead weight. She slumped against the trunk of the tree, chains wrapped around both girl and tree. Oz settled down on the ground to wait. He began to dredge up recollections of the time he’d spent with Willow.

His heart was leaden in his chest as he reveled in the memories. His mind traveled down a familiar path, which began with the first time he’d seen her. He’d looked across a crowded room and there she had been. Willow, all beauty and innocence and unique flair, had been dressed as an Eskimo. That night, Oz had barely slept, fearing he would never see the girl again.

But he had seen her again. He’d seen her on Halloween. Oz had seen her twice and never known her name. Halloween she crossed his path in the literal sense, wandering across the street as he drove down it in his van. He hadn’t been entirely clear on what her costume was but it bared the pale, smooth skin of her stomach. He remembered when he finally learned her name. He recalled how certain he had been when he pushed her out of harm’s way and ended up shot and how uncertain he had been the first time he asked her out.

He remembered every date. They’d gone to the movies; they’d seen a play. They’d eaten countless dinners. Willow had loved everything. It seemed impossible not to make her happy. It was beautiful to make her happy. He remembered her smile. The sweetest smile Oz had ever seen.

Everything that meant anything had been shared with…or caused by…Willow. Oz had never even imagined pain the way he’d felt it when she’d kissed Xander. He had forgiven her; of course he had, without reservation. By the time she kissed Xander, it had been too late for Oz. He had fallen in love with her. There was no going back after that.

He wouldn’t have wanted to go back. He knew what came next. More dating, more of him falling deeper in love with her. Then, graduation day, high school and childhood were over. He wanted nothing more than her for the rest of his life. He wanted to wake up with her in his arms and to banish her nightmares with a word and a kiss. He wanted to wake her early in the morning, drive out and sit beneath this tree, snuggled close together for warmth against the pre-dawn chill, to watch the sun come up.

He had ruined everything. Oz had cheated, lied, and left. He had made such an enormous mistake, but in his heart he had always believed that she could forgive him. When he was ready to be forgiven, she would. He came back to find that he was both forgiven and forgotten. Oz had left again.

He had never felt it after that. Oz hadn’t been able to feel the sort of simple joy that bringing out Willow’s smile had caused him. Even after the phone call, when he had come again to Sunnydale, the air had changed. It wasn’t home anymore.

Oz’s reverie broke at the sound of metal against metal. The chains were clattering; Willow had risen.

*~*

"She’s going to hunt down her old friends and her family," Buffy said, trying to ignore the fact that ‘she’ was Willow.

Xander regarded her vacantly. The loss of Willow had hit him hard.

"I want you guys safe inside tonight and don’t invite anybody in…"

"We know," Anya said sharply. "You’re going to…stake her?" Buffy sighed.

"I have to. She’s not Willow anymore. She’s a vampire. Evil and dangerous…not our friend," the slayer said firmly.

Giles gave her a gentle hug. "It’ll be over soon."

"I know."

*~*

"Oz?" Willow’s quavering, uncertain voice split through the darkness. A chill shot down Buffy’s spine as she ran towards the sound. Buffy stopped, she didn’t think Willow could see her. The newly made vampire was chained securely to a sturdy California redwood…facing east. "Oz?" she called again.

"I’m here, baby," Oz said in a soft voice.

"Why are you doing this? Let me go, Oz…I’ll be good…I promise…"

"You know I can’t do that." Buffy felt a twinge of guilt for eavesdropping on them. "Do you remember when we used to come up here to watch the sun rise?" Oz continued.

"Yes," Willow said desperately. "I remember. I loved that so much. The colors were so beautiful in the sky…"

"I liked the way the sunlight looked on your face."

"Oz…" Willow called. She could feel the dawn approaching and there was fear in her voice.

"Just a little longer, Will," he assured her. Willow’s mind raced. Last chance for freedom…she summoned tears.

"Don’t…don’t you love me?" she whimpered. Oz froze. He looked at her for a long moment.

"My whole life…" he squeezed out each word in a pained rasping voice, "I’ve never loved anything else." He bent down near Willow’s wrists and for a moment, Buffy thought he would unchain the vampire. He placed a gentle kiss on the back of Willow’s hand, near the knuckles. He stepped back, stood before her, looking at her.

"Was that…a kiss goodbye?" the redhead asked, tears streaming down her pale face. Oz nodded, the gesture was barely visible as the first hint of light appeared on the horizon. "I don’t deserve a real kiss? No biting, remember?"

"There’s no time…" Oz whispered, sinking to his knees. He stared up into her face as the sun rose behind him. Flames engulfed the girl chained to the tree and she shrieked. It was over quickly and only ashes remained. A breeze ruffled the leaves of the tree and carried away the dust. Buffy couldn’t bring herself to leave Oz there, alone and grieving. She remembered…killing Angel… Tears shimmered in her eyes as she approached the kneeling man. He heard her approach, or maybe it was her shadow falling over him that alerted Oz to her presence, but he stood as Buffy neared him.

The slayer laid a gentle hand on his arm and Oz turned to face her. Buffy sucked in her lower lip, her teeth grazing the skin as she tried not to let it tremble. "It’s okay…" she squeaked, her voice unnaturally high and quavering. The tears spilled over, streaking down her face.

*~*

Giles, Xander, Anya and Tara looked up as the door of the magic shop opened; the bell over the entrance pealed crisply. A look of dreadful anticipation filled their eyes as they regarded Buffy and Oz. Tara stood, trembling. "Did you…"

"It’s over," Buffy whispered, her voice hoarse with tears. "Oz…" Tara turned her gaze on the guitarist.

"You?" she squeaked.

He nodded weakly.

"You killed her?" Tara’s voice grew louder and trembled.

Another tiny nod of his head.

"How could you?" Tara screeched. Buffy stumbled back in shock as the normally soft-spoken witch shrieked at Oz. "You…bastard," Tara spat the word in Oz’s face, her half-open fist struck his chest. "You killed Willow…" She clawed at him, her fingernails drawing blood at the base of his neck, as she crumpled towards the ground, sobs racking her body. "My Willow…" she whimpered. Tara turned her tear-streaked face up to confront Oz, but he stared blankly past her hunched form. Giles gently pulled the witch to her feet and she stumbled out the door, swatting at Giles for daring to touch her.

Buffy’s tears had begun to flow again and Anya was trying in vain to comfort Xander. Giles looked at Oz worriedly. "Oz?" the watcher said in an uncertain voice. The young werewolf swayed on his feet slightly and hurried to the bathroom.

Oz stood, trembling over the toilet; he gagged, he’d barely eaten anything over the course of the last few days…. He nearly choked as his stomach emptied itself nonetheless. Oz shook, panting raggedly. Willow…dead…his mind reeled as he staggered to the sink. He’d killed her. He splashed water over his face and looked up into the mirror. His eyes refused to focus. Oh God, Willow…

Oz collapsed. His head hit the side of the sink as he crumpled to the floor. Blood flowed from the point of impact as the cold tile caught him. His eyes still refused to focus. Darkness crept over the edges of his vision. "Willow…" he murmured. He reached up and touched his forehead; his fingers came away bloody as he found a small split in the skin along his hairline. He heard the water running down the sink. Everything blurred. The harsh fluorescent light that stared down at him seemed to grow further away as darkness advanced.

"Oz?" Giles’s voice sounded muffled. It echoed slightly off the tile. "Oz?" The voice grew more distant. Oz tried to force himself to focus. Red droplets appeared on the tile, glistening like rubies. "Oz, try to stay conscious…" A shadow moved across his vision.

"Giles?" Oz’s voice sounded distant and slurred to his ears.

"Yes, try to stay conscious, Oz. You could have a concussion…"

"…hit my head on the sink…"


"Bad idea," Giles remarked. "Do you need a doctor?" He glanced to the doorway, and the slayer, Xander and Anya experiencing the first stunned stages of grief in the storefront.

"No…I…I killed Willow," Oz whispered, his mouth seemed unable to form the words properly as his jaw hung slackly. "I killed Willow," he repeated, more clearly but with a quavering voice. He gasped as the first sobs caught in his throat, choking him. His moans dissolved to ragged whimpering, unable to form tears, as he lay balled up tightly on the cold hard tiles of the grimy bathroom floor.

*~*

Three shattered individuals gathered in a silent room. It seemed no matter how tightly they drew together, a space remained. Xander trembled, looking for all the world like a lost child. Buffy clung to her friends and to what was left of her life. Oz stared vacantly at something other than what he was looking at. Giles noticed his hands shaking as he picked up the phone.

"Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless," Cordelia’s cheerful voice greeted Giles.

"Hello, Cordelia…"

"Giles? Ohmygosh, Giles!" She grinned and leaned back in her chair. "What’s up?"

"I’m afraid I have some bad news…" Giles paused to gather his thoughts.

"What is it?" Cordelia asked, the joy had disappeared from her tone. Angel, Wesley and Gunn gathered around her curiously.

"I’m not sure quite where to begin," Giles began in a weary voice. Cordelia remained silent, despite the inquisitive and insistent staring of her coworkers. "Cordelia…is Angel there?" Giles suddenly determined that it might be better to talk to Angel. Cordelia frowned and wordlessly passed the phone to Angel.

"Hello? Giles?" Angel said in concern. "What’s going on?"

Giles looked at the trio of grief stricken youths and immediately had to depersonalize what he was about to say. "I regret to inform you that there has been a death…."

"You mean Joyce?" Angel asked gently.

"No," Giles said softly. "Another… death in the family."

"Family? Buffy’s family?" A note of panic entered Angel’s voice. Gunn, Cordelia and Wesley frowned at him worriedly.

"Ours…. Our collective family." It was like losing a daughter. She’d been so young.

"Who?" There was a moment of silence on the line. "Giles? Who?"

"Willow."

"How?"

"She was turned. Oz had to…ah…dust her." There was a moment of silence.

Angel began to say something but Giles hung up. He leaned heavily against the wall, setting his glasses on the counter and crying silently into his closed fist.

Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn were staring at Angel. Angel, for his part, was staring at the phone.

"What did he say?" Cordelia asked after a long silence. Angel sighed and didn’t respond.
 

Part 4 (Revenge)

Oz wiped away the last of his tears; he drew a shuddering breath and held it, exhaling slowly. Buffy watched him for a moment. As far as she knew, he hadn’t really cried before that. Walking her home, the darkness all around them, he had been silent. He’d just broken down when they reached her door.

"Do you feel any better?" she asked softly.

"I feel emptier."

Buffy slipped her arms around him, pulling herself as close to him as possible. She felt his arms wrap gently around her warmly. She wiggled closer to him, settling into his embrace. He closed his eyes held her gently, breathing her scent…as if he had a choice. Her lips pressed into his, soft, warm and insistent, and so he kissed her. Her hands slid up under his shirt, icy fingertips on his back. Buffy pulled at Oz’s shirt purposefully and he let her peel it off of him.

"Buffy…"

"I know it’s not right," she replied with her hand on his bare chest. "But I just don’t want to be alone."

Oz reached out, his touch was light against her skin as his fingertips traced the line of her jaw. Buffy’s frowned…she shouldn’t have…. He kissed her.

"You don’t have to be alone."

"Thank you." There was a brief hesitation before they kissed again. He had warm lips and strong arms. "Are you tired?" Buffy asked. "I’m tired." She sat on the edge of bed.

"Yeah, I’m tired."

*~*

"Why so blue? And black?" she reached towards the collar of his black shirt. "Black and blue…"

Angel stood up so quickly that his chair scuttled away from him and fell over. "Drusilla…what are you doing here?" he snarled.

"I could taste your tears…why are you crying?"

"I’m not…" Angel said, confused.

"Now is the time for rejoicing…but you aren’t allowed to have any more parties…is that why you’re so glum?"

"Someone died," Angel informed her coldly. He never took his eyes off of Dru as he pulled the drawers roughly from his desk, pawing through them for a stake.

"The slayer?" Drusilla asked, suddenly bright-eyed. "Oh…I knew Spike would come back to himself."

Angel frowned, pulling open another drawer. He hissed as his hand hit a cross that someone had put in the drawer.

"No…not Buffy…" he said. Dru’s face fell. "And Spike can’t kill anyone."

Drusilla giggled. "Couldn’t hunt. Couldn’t kill. Couldn’t join in our little vampire games…but mummy made her Spike all better."

Angel’s eyes darkened with concern. "How…. How did you make him better?" he asked suspiciously. He wanted to lunge across the desk and choke the crazy vampire until she told him all she knew. Angel was smart enough to realize that such an act would be a mistake. Drusilla would tell him nothing she didn’t want him to know and she’d probably enjoy it if he hit her.

"I told him what’s true," Drusilla purred. "He’s stronger than their fish and chips, stronger than the little blue sparks."

Angel frowned, clenching his jaw, and slammed shut the desk drawer, grabbing the phone. He had the receiver at the ear and his fingers were poised over the keypad when he realized that he didn’t know the number. It was written down somewhere. He began rifling through the drawers again, this time, watching what he was doing. He looked up and Drusilla was gone. He considered going after her, but he had more important things to do. He had to warn Giles and the others in Sunnydale. He grabbed the address book off of Cordelia’s desk. Angel nearly tore the pages out of it as he flipped frantically through the book, searching for the number. There. He dialed and tried to calm himself as he heard the phone begin to ring.

"You’ve reached the Magic Box at an inopportune time…."

"Damn," Angel hissed. He hung up and began to pace.

*~*

Buffy woke up warm and calm. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept so well…then she remembered…with Riley. She liked waking up not alone. Buffy sighed.

"Morning," Oz said softly.

"I know what to do. I have a plan, a goal."

"Which is?"

"In a word, revenge." Buffy rolled out of bed. "I’m going to Spike’s crypt to see if he can tell me the name of the vamp who turned Willow. If he can’t…I’ll try Willie." She glanced at Oz. "I’ll meet up with you and the rest of the gang…which…I guess is pretty much Xander, at the magic box and we can go after this vamp together."

"What?" Buffy said when Oz didn’t respond. "I need this. So…say something."

Oz glanced at the clock. "If you aren’t at the Magic Box by noon, I’ll send out a search party," he said. Buffy smiled.

"It’s a deal."

*~*

Oz got to the Magic Box just as Giles was opening the store. Anya was already behind the register and the phone was ringing. "Can I answer it now? Are we open?"

"Go ahead," Giles called to the former vengeance demon. "Hello Oz," he added.

"Hey," Oz said, addressing the whole group. Xander was playing checkers with Dawn and losing on purpose. Tara was shelving a few books.

"Where’s Buffy?" Dawn asked.

"Giles!" Anya shouted, her hand over the phone’s receiver. "It’s Angel."

Giles frowned as he took the phone from Anya. "Hello?"

"Giles," Angel said, relieved. "It’s about Spike…"

"What about him?" Giles replied, sounding a little blasé. "We’re really no longer associated with him."

"I can’t tell you how glad I am to hear that, because I think he may be dangerous."

"The Initiative…"

"I know what the Initiative did," Angel interrupted. "I also have some experience with translating Drusilla…I think she somehow deactivated whatever it was they put in Spike’s head. Thought I might let you guys know."

"Thank you, we’ll be doubly careful."

There was a brief pause before Angel spoke again. "How’s Buffy doing?"

"As well as can be expected." Both men said good-bye and Giles hung up the phone.

"What did Dead Boy have to say?" Xander asked.

"He believes Spike may be dangerous again," Giles said.

"Guys, I recommend weapons," Oz said. The others looked at him.

"Why?" Anya asked.

"Buffy went to talk to Spike."

*~*

"Spike."

"Slayer," he countered coolly. She grabbed his arm and yanked him off the crypt. Spike hit the ground, rolled and quickly got to his feet. "Something on your mind?" he tossed out the question casually.

"I want to know the name of the vampire that killed Willow," Buffy demanded coldly.

"I bet you do…" He lashed out with his foot, the kick connected with Buffy’s jaw and she fell back, crashing into the wall of the tomb. She was still stunned as he grabbed her and tossed her against the massive stone sarcophagus at the center of the room. Buffy quickly realized that something must have happened to Spike’s chip as she bounded to her feet.

He punched her hard. "I’ll give you a little hint. He’s bad," Spike said with another blow. "He’s blond." He swept her feet out from under her with a smooth low kick. "And he’s about to do the same to you." Spike’s features twisted into the visage of the demon as he grabbed Buffy by the neck, ready to snap her spine if need be. She kneed him hard in the groin and he released her, slapping her forcefully across the face. Buffy’s head hit the wall as she recoiled from Spike. She saw stars…pinpoints of light dancing in her field of vision. She felt pain shoot through her as Spike sank his teeth into her neck. Why had she come here unarmed? Wasn’t he supposed to be unable to hurt humans? The two questions alternated in Buffy’s mind as she grew weaker.

The door of the crypt was flung open and Spike turned away from Buffy with a snarl. The slayer couldn’t get her eyes to focus on the figure in the doorway. They were fighting. Spike had attacked whoever it was…or they had attacked him. A stake clattered to the floor. Buffy couldn’t concentrate; her head throbbed heavily.

Oz growled; his eyes were pure black. Let it out…just a little more…keep the control, use the strength. Claws tore through Spike’s skin. Golden eyes flashing, he decked the werewolf. Oz lunged towards Spike, sending them both skidding towards Buffy’s feet. She jumped back startled, and stumbled. Dizzy, Buffy slipped towards the floor, leaning heavily against the wall.

"Spike…killed Willow," Buffy said as her voice slurred. It was so hard to keep her eyes open. Spike grabbed a discarded beer bottle and shattered it. He swung at Oz with a handful of broken glass. Shards split the skin of a face that was beginning to lose humanity. Spike dove towards the stake Oz had dropped in their initial scuffle; Oz leapt after him but was a fraction of a second too slow. Both scrambled to their feet and gold eyes locked with black ones. Blood streamed down the left side of Oz’s face, half blinding him. The werewolf lashed out; his claws aimed to inflict damage similar to the wounds he bore. He struck and Spike reeled. The vampire’s ruined left eye ran down his cheek, mixing with fresh spilt blood. With a cry of pain, he thrust the stake into Oz’s thigh and turned to flee for his tunnel access.

Oz’s hand clamped down on Spike’s wrist. He grabbed the vamp by the shoulder and dragged him outside. As Oz collapsed, Spike was pulled to the ground, his skin already beginning to smoke. He shrieked. His skin was bubbling. Flames burst forth and the wolf gained leverage as pain screamed through Oz. He forced himself to ignore the fire licking at him. Spike burned, thrashing and screaming but Oz refused to let go of him.

Buffy stumbled out of the crypt; her hand pressed over the wound on her neck, as Giles, Xander, Anya and Dawn raced across the sunlit grass. Spike was quickly becoming ash; the fire was dying out. Oz rolled away, driving the stake further into his leg, but extinguishing the flames that had spread to him.

"I guess this means we’re too late," Anya remarked.

"Dawn go and call an ambulance," Giles ordered, blocking the young girl’s view of what had happened. She looked at him with large, scared eyes.

"Is Buffy hurt? Let me see…"

"It’s not Buffy," Giles said sharply. "Now go." She frowned and hurried away to find a pay phone. The others gathered around Oz. He opened his eyes slowly. They were normal green. He was in control…it was just a question of keeping things that way.

"Oz? Oz, man, hang in there," Xander said. "There’s gonna be an ambulance here any minute now."

"Can’t do that. I can’t go to the hospital."

"You need medical attention…" Giles said gently.

"Abnormalities in the blood work, they’ll want to keep me there, run tests…"

"Alright…I’m sure I can get you patched up sufficiently…" Giles replied. "Xander, help me get him to the car. Buffy, I want you to take the ambulance when it gets here, get checked out, you’re bleeding."

*~*

Xander and Dawn were listlessly playing black jack on Giles’s front step when Buffy arrived. "How’s it going in there?" the slayer asked with a frown.

"Giles sent us out here," Dawn stated obviously. Buffy’s frown deepened and she stepped past them, opening the front door timidly.

"Giles? Is everything…." Buffy’s voice trailed off. Oz was sitting on the coffee table in a half lotus position, shirtless. Giles fussed with a roll of gauze. Buffy stared at the angry red burns and charred black skin on Oz’s arms and chest. His eyes were closed and small bandages covered the wounds on his face. Buffy’s gaze dropped to his blood-soaked pants. She shifted uncomfortably and looked at the floor. "Do you need any help?" she asked shyly.

"Buffy," Giles said, looking up at her. "No…I think everything’s all right. I mean…as much as can be expected. The bleeding has stopped and the cuts on his face didn’t require stitches. I’m a bit worried about these burns though…he really should see a doctor."

"I bounce back quickly," Oz said reassuringly as he opened his eyes.

"Werewolf healing factor…" Buffy remarked.

"Almost as good as being the slayer. Speaking of, how are you?"

"All good," Buffy said reassuringly. "No concussion. A little more blood loss than is really recommended, but…all good."

"Ah, well that’s…good," Giles replied, fumbling with his glasses. "Anya and Tara should be back soon."

"They went over to my hotel room to find a less bloody pair of pants and a shirt which hasn’t recently been set on fire," Oz explained.

"Probably a good idea. That wasn’t, like, your favorite shirt or anything, right?" Buffy asked. Oz shrugged nonchalantly.

"Can we come in now? The others are back," Dawn said from the doorway. Xander peered over her shoulder. Giles smiled and motioned them in. Tara and Anya followed Dawn and Xander into the house.

"Sorry it took so long," Anya said. "Tara wanted to stop at the dorms."

"I thought that you might want s-something that, that had been hers," Tara said slowly. She held out her hand. She offered Oz something plastic, orange and red and gleaming green and black. "I know sh-she t-t-treasured it…she never told me why."

A strange look came over Oz’s face as he accepted the witch pez dispenser. "Thank you," he whispered in a choked up voice.

"Here’re your clothes," Anya said helpfully, shoving the pants and shirt into his arms.

"Thanks," Oz said in his normal voice. "I’m gonna go change." He disappeared into the bathroom.
 

Part 5 (Loss, Strain and Butterflies)

"So, I was thinking," Buffy began.

"Uh-oh," Xander interjected.

Buffy silenced him with a dirty look.

"As I was saying, I was thinking maybe we should take sort of a little road trip." Silence greeted her suggestion. "All of us. To LA. It wouldn’t be far, but…well, I think it’d be nice to get out of this town for a day or two. Just a day or two."

"I think that’s a great idea," Anya said enthusiastically.

"Some of us would have to stay here to man the fort, so to speak," Giles replied.

"I don’t think I want to go to LA," Tara stammered quietly.

"Okay, so you and Giles could stay here and keep the bogeymen at bay and the rest of us could go," Buffy suggested. "Unless no one wants to go."

"Well, LA is home to Deadboy and my fire-breathing ex-girlfriend, but you, Dawn and Oz have fun," Xander said. Buffy sighed sulkily.

"That is not a fun road trip," she argued. "Dawn’s my sister. That’s practically the dreaded family vacation. Hours in a car with your relatives does not equal fun. Hours in a car with friends, that’s fun."

"Cordelia’s not so bad," Anya said coaxingly.

"See, Anya’s with us on this. Dawn, you wanna go, right?"

"Sure," Dawn said agreeably.

"And," Buffy added, "you wouldn’t want poor Oz to be the only guy on our trip."

"Who said Oz even wanted to go?" Xander responded.

"Of course Oz wants to go, doncha, Oz?" Dawn said, getting in on the argument.

"Sure," Oz answered with a noncommittal shrug.

Anya, Dawn and Buffy looked at Xander expectantly.

"Okay, I’ll come too," Xander said, rolling his eyes and throwing his hands in the air as a gesture of surrender.

*~*

The van zipped down the highway en route to the city of angels. Buffy was riding shotgun but Xander had picked the cd. The music wasn’t exactly blaring from the speakers but it was loud, despite repeated glares from the others. "Blink 182 needs to be played at a high volume for it to sound good," Xander said defensively as Buffy reached out to turn the music down.

"Um…Oz…" Dawn said awkwardly, straining to make herself heard. "Did you see the sign we just passed?" The sign had said ‘Rest Stop – 1 mile’.

"Did you want to stop?" he replied.

"Yes," Dawn said without hesitation.

"Alright."

Dawn sighed with somewhat exaggerated relief. "Thanks."

A few moments later, Oz parked the van and everyone piled out. The girls headed to one side of the building, Oz and Xander headed towards the other. They met up again near the van.

"Anyone else want to walk around for a few minutes? Stretch their legs?" Buffy asked. The others agreed and the group wandered around the sunny, park-like area that surrounded the rest stop. Small signs identified various types of native grasses and wildflowers. Everyone froze as a shadow drifted across the sky towards the rest area. Bits and pieces of the shadow began landing on the flowers, blades of grass and trees.

"They’re butterflies," Dawn gaped quietly. Thousands of monarch butterflies filled the air as the travelers marveled. Xander noticed a small sign, which he read aloud for the others.

"Twice each year, thousands of monarch butterflies fly through this area on their way north in the spring and south in the fall. Many will stop here to rest and refuel. If you see any butterflies, please try not to disturb them."

"They’re beautiful," Anya said softly. Xander clasped her hand gently. The group stood for several minutes, watching the graceful insects in awe. Xander, Anya, Buffy and Dawn began heading back to the van. Oz remained behind for a moment, watching a pair of monarchs chase after each other, skimming over the top of the grass and spiraling into the deep blue sky. Their wings vied with the sun in brilliant, fiery oranges and golden yellow hues. The orange colors made him think of Willow and he might have watched the butterflies until they moved on had Xander not come back to get him. No one bothered to turn the music back on and the rest of the trip to L.A. passed in relative silence.

*~*

"Buffy…guys…" Angel said, rising from behind his desk. "What are you all doing here?"

"We’re on vacation," Buffy replied. "After everything that’s happened, I felt like I just had to get out of Sunnydale. So I thought maybe we’d come here and I could say thanks, in person, for warning us about Spike."

"You’re welcome."

"So, how’re you guys doing?" Cordelia asked sympathetically. "Do you want to do any sight seeing? I could show you around the city," she offered. Before they had a chance to respond, she continued, "Oh, I have a great idea. Why don’t we take them to Caritas?"

"Caritas?" Dawn said, confused.

"It’ll be fun. I mean, as long as they don’t kill any of the patrons…" Cordelia babbled.

"What’s Caritas?" Xander asked.

"It’s a karaoke bar run by this prescient demon called the Host, or else, well, Lorne, ‘cause that’s his name. There’s a lot of supernatural and preternatural regulars, but there’s no violence allowed in Caritas," Cordelia explained. The slayerettes exchanged confused and worried glances. "It’s great," Cordelia said enthusiastically. "Unless you sing badly. Or the person you’re with sings really badly," she added pointedly.

"It could be helpful," Angel commented, oblivious to Cordelia’s insult of his vocal abilities. "The Host is very accurate with his readings."

"Okay," Dawn said agreeably.

"Sounds fun," Anya added with an enormous, toothy grin. The others either shrugged or nodded and soon the entire gang was on their way to Caritas.

The karaoke club was relatively deserted.

"So, uh, who’s going to sing?" Xander asked nervously.

"We all are," Cordelia said as though it were obvious. "The question is…who’s going to sing first? Buffy?"

"What?" Buffy looked at the others, who were staring at her. Her eyes widened. "Oh no, I don’t sing. I don’t even sing in the shower."

The next thing she knew, the blonde slayer was standing on the stage, clutching a microphone for dear life, squinting against the lights and singing her heart out. Her cheeks were bright with embarrassment and her gaze was locked onto her friends’ faces. One by one, the slayer and her friends took the stage.

"Angel," the Host said in a conversational tone. Cordelia leaned in closer to eavesdrop.

"Yeah?"

"You still have the scroll of Aberjian somewhere? Collecting dust in a drawer?" the Host asked.

"I think so…why?"

"You’re gonna need it. How’s your Latin?"

"Passable," Angel replied. "What’s this about?"

"Remember what Wolfram and Hart did with that scroll?"

"Oh, they tried to burn it?" Cordelia guessed helpfully. Angel and the Host looked at her and she retreated to the table where the others were seated.

"Wrong," the Host replied. "They performed a raising ritual. Remember what they raised?"

"Darla," Angel said bitterly.

"Right," the Host replied. "They raised a dead vampire as a human."

Angel looked at the Host warily. "What are you saying?"

"I’m saying that you could use it for the same thing. All you need is an item that belonged to the vampire, five live vamps, a big box and that scroll."

"I thought Vocah had to perform the ritual."

"Nah," the Host replied with a shrug. "I mean, I certainly recommended getting Vocah if you can, but don’t sweat it. It’d help a lot if you had anyone who knew anything about magic, but you can make it work for you."

"That’s great," Angel said, scanning the bar.

"Oh no, you aren’t getting your sacrificial vamps out of my crowd. Take it outside, big guy."

Angel looked at the Host. "I wasn’t…."

The Host gave him a doubtful look. "You forget, I’m prescient."

Angel rolled his eyes and went to talk to the others. "Hey, I just had an idea," he said.

"Good for you," Cordy said in a bright, encouraging tone. Angel glowered at her. "Oh…I mean, tell us all about it," she added with false cheer.

"We’ll need to capture five vampires, take them alive, and we’ll need something that belonged to Willow…" Angel began. He glanced at the stage as the last notes of ‘It Ain’t Gonna Rain Anymore’ faded away. The Host beckoned Oz over to his seat at the bar.

"Not bad, do you do a lot of karaoke? You’ve got great stage presence," The Host began. He liked to start with flattery. "Anyway, you have a bright future ahead of you…though probably not as a singer. You’re a good sport, Oz, is it? Unusual nickname, but it works for you. The good news, well, it’s all good news. I try to shield my clients from the negative stuff, throws off their chi, you know? The good news is that you aren’t going to spend the rest of your life fighting demons and vampires and troublemakers. In fact, I’m seeing a pretty normal future for you. Of course, around here, normal is a relative term. You were destined to join the fight against the forces of darkness but only for a short while. You’ve played your part and now you get to take it easy. Your battle’s over. The war goes on, but you don’t have to fight in it."

"What if I want to keep fighting?"

"Trust me, kid, you don’t. You’ve got too much to live for. Oh, but it looks like you’re about to find out about that from someone else," the Host said as Angel approached.

"Oz, we’ve got an unusual mission. Xander can fill you in, come on."

Oz stood, pausing to shake the Host’s hand, and followed Angel and the others out of Caritas.

*~*

"Buffy?" Angel said.


"Yeah?"

"Maybe you could take the scroll and start setting up the ritual," he suggested.

"And let you guys go vamp hunting without me?" Buffy replied.

"Well…here’s the thing," Angel said, trying to put it delicately. "We need the vamps…alive for the ritual."

"I can bring them in alive!" Buffy insisted indignantly. Xander and Oz exchanged glances.

"Yeah," Oz said, interrupting before Buffy and Angel could get into their argument. "But some one has to do the set up. It’d save time."

"Xander can do it."

"I can’t, um," Xander began. "Read a scroll," he finished, just as Cordelia helpfully completed the sentence in her own way.

"Draw a straight line."

"Oh, for crying out loud," Anya snapped. "I’ll set up the ritual. I probably know the most about magic."

*~*

An enormous box sat in the center of a pentacle chalked onto the floor; the box was empty save for a little plastic Pez dispenser in the shape of a red haired witch. Five vampires were chained to the box and they snarled and struggled as Angel walked from one point of the star to the next, performing the ritual with the help of the others. "Five are without breath," he recited.

"Yet they live," the others said.

"Five are without time."

"Yet they live."

"Five are without soul."

"Yet they live."

"Five are without sun."

"Yet they live."

"Five are dead," Angel continued.

"Yet they live."

"Et illi quinque sacrificum est et illi que est mortuus vivet. Dum vita et mors non duas res sed unas sunt. In tenebris lux est, in luge tenebrae sunt. Serge! Serge! Serge! Serge! Serge! Serge!"

The five vampires turned to dust, ash and bones as the earth shook. A whirlwind spun around the box, sucking the remains of the five sacrificed vampires into the box. A ring of light exploded outward, throwing everyone back against the walls.

They slowly got to their feet, staring at the box. Ragged breathing could be heard coming from within. Cordelia inched forward, carrying a small, neatly folded stack of clothes. "Willow?" she said uncertainly, bending to peer into the box.

"Open it," Angel said firmly. Cordelia glanced at him over her shoulder and unlatched the box, pulling it open. Willow snatched the clothes from her and Cordy quickly retreated.

Willow huddled in the box for a moment before she began to get dressed. She crept out. "Wh-where am I?" she whispered.

"You’re back," Buffy replied.

Xander rushed forward to embrace Willow but she skittered away.

"Give her time," Angel advised.

*~*

"Oz?" Willow asked quietly.

"Yeah?"

"What’s it feel like when you…change?"


He got the distinct feeling she wasn’t asking out of mere curiosity. "It starts with a knot in your stomach and a coppery taste in your mouth. Your jaw is tense and you can’t swallow. This restless feeling worms its way out of your bones and you feel like you can’t be still. Your mind is screaming for it to stop but it doesn’t. This energy that comes from outside and inside both at once burns your veins."

"And the part of you that’s really you wants to find somewhere to hide," Willow interjected hesitantly.

"Just to tuck yourself into the smallest corner you can find and stay there," Oz agreed.

"…With your eyes closed and your hands over your ears, telling yourself that the bad thing that’s outside can’t get to you."

"Yeah…it’s kinda like that."

"I think maybe I get it," Willow said after a moment. She let the silence spin out between them before she spoke again. "Why’d you do it?"

Oz looked at her quizzically, cocking his head to the side and furrowing his brow.

"Or maybe, how… You killed me. I mean, vamp me, not real me. I don’t ever want to be a monster. I don’t want something that used to be me to go around hurting people or killing them but… Remember when vampire me from that alternate dimension got to Sunnydale? And I wouldn’t let Buffy slay her? I’m just weirded out by the idea."

"It wasn’t easy," Oz replied. "None of this has been easy."

"But you did it."

"You were already dead. It wasn’t you anymore." His voice was barely more than a whisper. "You don’t know how many times I’ve told myself that since…"

"Things will never be the same between us, will they?" Willow asked. Oz simply shook his head. Willow looked down at her hands. "Maybe for Tara and me, things can be like they were. She and I could still…"

"But we can’t."

"I’m grateful for everything you’ve done, Oz. I am grateful that you killed vampire me.… I love Tara. Maybe because she couldn’t or maybe despite that, I’m not even sure which." Willow paused again. "I want to be with her. I’m sorry."

"Don’t…you don’t have to apologize. I said good-bye before the sun came up. No matter how much I wanted you back after that, I never expected it."

"You never expected to get what you want? That’s so sad," Willow observed.

"I just want a real kiss goodbye."

"No biting," Willow said softly. Her lips curled into a smile before they met his. There wasn’t passion in that kiss, only the sweetness of memory mingled with the bitterness of loss.

FIN

Afterword: I love Spike. I love him when he’s bad. I love him when he’s good. I adore him. It was simply a matter of needing a villain. And having seen the end of the season, I don’t think this could ever happen. But at the time Crush aired, it was a possibility. Drusilla had just deactivated Spike’s chip (or not) and he was more obsessed than genuinely in love with Buffy. Oh and, this is officially the longest fic I’ve ever written. It’s more than twice normal length for me.